Thanks again to Elayne Boosler, Rebekah (our producer), and Jeff, (our spark chaser) for making the last two days on the radio such a pleasure. And to the very trusting Stephanie Miller who’s worked so hard to build a large national audience only to leave it to me.
I’ve always loved radio yet hated how transient it is. Like anyone who’s been on the air for more than five minutes, I’ve been fired repeatedly. And today, as I look back nostalgically on my checkered radio career, I am reminded of these events:
I was fired from KSEA in San Diego in 1974 six days before Christmas when the station changed formats and blew out the whole staff. Our promotion at the time: “Christmas the way it was meant to be.”
I was fired from K100 in Los Angeles in 1974. The program director really let me down easy. He called me into his office, didn’t even bother closing the door, and said, “We’re making some changes, babe, and you’re one of ‘em.” Nice.
I was fired from KMEN in San Bernardino in 1973. At first they didn’t want to. It’s not that they wanted me to stay, they wanted me to quit. That way they wouldn’t have to pay any unemployment insurance. So they demoted me to the all-night show. I told the program director to just fire me. Nope, he said. Show up at midnight. Which I did. We were a high energy top 40 station. At 12:30 I said on the air, “Y’know, a lot of stations are playing albums these days. They’re really the cool thing. So I’d like to play an album.” I then played the FIDDLER ON THE ROOF album (Yiddish version) in its entirety. It took the program director fifteen minutes to drive to the station to fire me…and finish my six hour shift.
When KYA San Francisco gave me the heave-ho (new station owners, new direction) they did so while I was on active duty with the reserves. That’s illegal. I almost had to call the Adjutant General’s office to get my severance. When the station manager learned he had to pay me he became enraged and yelled, “I know your type. You’re the type that likes to hang around the coffee machine!” Huh??? What??? He was soon relieved of coffee machine privileges himself.
I did weekends on top 40 Los Angeles powerhouse, KFI, in the early 80’s. In that case I quit the station to devote my fulltime energy to CHEERS. Two years later another disc jockey appeared on that station calling himself Ken Levine. Since the station went to the expense of making a Ken Levine jingle they decided to just re-use the name. I called AFTRA (announcers’ toothless union) and was told there was nothing they could do. For almost a year someone else was on the radio as me. If only he had taken my place in the Army and on the MARY show, too.
And finally, I was doing Saturday nights on TenQ in Los Angeles in 1978 while serving as head writer on MASH. After a truly fun year our program director got the boot. He called me at home to say he didn’t know if any other changes were forthcoming but “I should be okay because I had that MASH thing to hold me over.” Right, thank God for MASH to keep me afloat until my next four hour a week at minimum union wage job came through.
Interestingly, the only way I was able to get respect in radio was to get out of it. Once I was writing for television, suddenly all the bits and jokes I told on the air that resulted in memos to “shut up and just play the music!” were replaced with “hilarious! Just keep doing what you’re doing!” EXACT same jokes and bits.
But all the craziness was worth it for the good times. When I was at K100, I followed one of my disc jockey idols, the Real Don Steele. He had dominated the LA market in the 60’s as one of the KHJ Boss Jocks. Now he was on this insignificant little FM, working his own control board, battling equipment failures, headphones feeding back, low ratings, etc.. He once said to me, “Beaver (yes, that was my air name back then – Beaver Cleaver), do you ever wonder why I, the Real Don Steele, would be sitting in this shithole?” He gazed out the window at the Hollywood skyline and said, “Because when it was good, it was REALLY good.”
And these last two mornings it was just that.