Where the nickname came from

docdaveMy given name is David. Family members still call me that. Everybody else calls me Doc. Since people often ask me where that nickname came from, and since apparently I haven’t answered it anywhere I can now find online, here’s the story.

Thousands of years ago, in the mid-1970s, I worked at a little radio station owned by Duke University called WDBS. A nice history of the station survives, in instant-loading 1st generation html, here. ‘DBS veterans, who are many, owe a giant hat tip to Bob Chapman for talking Duke into buying the station in 1971, when he was still a student there. (Try doing that, average undergrad.)

As signals went, WDBS was a shrub in grove of redwoods: strong in Duke’s corner of Durham, a bit weak in Chapel Hill, and barely audible in Raleigh—the three corners of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. (One of those redwoods, WRAL, was audible, their slogan bragged, “from Hatteras to Hickory,” a circle 350 miles wide.)

As a commercial station, WDBS had to sell advertising. This proved so difficult that we made up ads for stuff that didn’t exist. That, in addition to selling ads, was my job. The announcer’s name I used for many of our fake ads ads, plus other humorous features, was Doctor Dave. It wasn’t a name I chose. Bob Conroy did that. I also had a humorous column under the same name for the station’s monthly arts guide, with the image above at the top of the page. That image was created by Ray Simone.

After leaving the station (but while still writing and performing as Doctor Dave, Ray, David Hodskins (both devoted WDBS listeners) and I started Hodskins Simone & Searls, an advertising agency. Since two out of us three were named David, and Hodskins was especially insistent on using that name (even though his given first name, I learned years later, was Paul), so everybody at the agency called me Doctor Dave, which wore down to just Doc. Since my social network in business far exceeded all my other ones, the name stuck.

I did see a chance to change it back to David when I left the home office of the agency to prospect for business in Silicon Valley. So I market-tested the two names when I attended my first trade show in the West: Comdex in Las Vegas. There I had two badges made, one with Doc Searls and the other with David Searls, and wore each on two of my four days there. Afterward, nobody remembered David and everybody remembered Doc. So that we were. And still are.

5 comments

  1. Gerri’s avatar

    What a cute story. I love that you made up ads for non-existent product. 🙂 Very creative, and hilarious, I’m sure.

    Always a pleasure reading you, Doc.

  2. Brad’s avatar

    This is a funny story! It makes sense with the radio industry loosing listenings and people getting more frustrated with ads.

    Thanks for sharing, Doctor Dave 🙂

  3. Paul’s avatar

    Love your story, “Doc”. How long did that ad agency last for?

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Paul. The agency was born in North Carolina in 1978, moved to Silicon Valley in 1985, and was acquired by Publicis in 1998.

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