Sunday, December 10, 2006

A touching Christmas story


Winging back to Los Angeles. Thanks again to Peter Casey. I'll have more FRASIER stuff when I get home tomorrow.

In the meantime...

I posted this a year ago but some Christmas stories are just so touching they need to be retold every year. Gather the whole family and enjoy this new holiday tradition.

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One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the anniversary of the last time I signed off my show with “see you tomorrow” and was never heard from again.

1974, I’m Beaver Cleaver on KSEA, San Diego, playing “The Night Chicago Died” and “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” five times a night and seriously considering blowing my brains out. Yes, I know – why “Beaver Cleaver”? Ken Levine sounded too Jewish. (Reelradio.com has some of my embarrassing airchecks.)

The fall rating book came out, the numbers were not good, and at 3:00 I was told to hurry down to the station for an all-important staff meeting at 4:00. We all assembled and were told the station had decided to change formats to gospel and we were all being let go. “Even me?” I said in mock amazement. “Especially you.” “But I could change my name to Eldridge Cleaver.” “I’m going to need your station key”.

Quick aside: a year earlier at KMEN San Bernardino they wanted to get rid of me by moving me from the evening shift to the all-night show. The cheap bastards were hoping I’d quit so they wouldn’t have to pay severance (maybe $300 at most) and be on the hook for unemployment insurance. I asked the program director to at least do the humane thing and fire my sorry ass. “Nope”, he said, “Starting tonight you’re midnight to six.” So I stopped off at the local record store, picked up an LP, and dutifully reported on time for my shift.

Like KSEA, we were a high energy Top 40 station. (Our program director was in love with WLS whose slogan was “the Rock of Chicago” so we became the much catchier “Rock of the Inland Empire”.) I signed on and started playing the hits. Then at 12:30 segued smartly into FIDDLER ON THE ROOF….in Yiddish. The entire album. I was fired during “Anatefka”.

Back to the KSEA staff meeting -- Our morning man, Natural Neil asked when this format change was taking place. A month? A week? The program director looked at his watch and said “45 minutes”. And with that we were all canned. KSEA was gone…along with the promotion we were running at the time --

“Christmas the way it was meant to be!”

9 comments:

knxdave said...

Ken, your experience is classic Top-40 of the 60s and 70s.

Once, while on the air at KROY, Sacramento, I got a phone call from the Program Director at 11:45PM telling me the weekend guy would be filling in at midnight, let him in. Then he told me to be sure I DON'T let in the usual all night guy, whose key didn't fit the lock anymore.

My first on-air shift was at KOBO, Yuba City, California in 1969, where as a part-timer I was called in to work because management had fired the all night guy, a married guy with four kids, ON CHRISTMAS EVE! I was told I would be relieved by the Program Director at 6AM Christmas Morning. He showed up at noon.

Writing and wradio both pay off if you're willing or stupid enough to suffer.

Dave

Heywood J. said...

I keep thinking of the WKRP ep where Johnny Fever gets stuck on graveyard shift, so he changes his name to "Heavy Early" and plays Pink Floyd's Animals and such, sidelong epics that usually make the listener assume that either the DJ's girlfriend dropped by the studio, or he had to drop a deuce.

Loved the Frasier stories this week, btw. I've been enjoying your blog for quite some time, in fact. Being a jerky political blogger, I don't get the chance to check out too many entertainment-oriented blogs, but I gotta say I really enjoy all the inside-baseball stuff here.

Jack Ruttan said...

With all the nasty stories I've heard abuot film and TV types, I find them much nicer and easier to work with than .... many print journalists and editors (assorted horror stories, but maybe these are just symptomatic of working on the lower end of something).

Johnny Pez said...

Now I've got "Billy Don't Be a Hero" stuck in my head. I could have happily lived the rest of my life without being reminded that that song existed. Thanks.

max said...

Ken,

Write a book, please. Combine your experiences with a discussion of writing for tv. These are the best blog posts about comedy and writing and life I've seen.

Mike Barer said...

KSEA was once the call letters for a beautiful music station in Seattle. It was KIRO's FM

VP19 said...

I did a little work in college radio in the mid-'80s, enjoyed it immensely, and briefly entertained the idea of becoming a DJ in commercial radio, albeit as a part-time, weekend gig. Never quite worked out, and by that time some of the joys of radio's classic Top 40 era had faded. They're apparently all gone by now -- thank you, Clear Channel.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Anyone who would call himself Beaver Cleaver is okay by me.

alaskaray said...

You guys should ask Ken about some of his other radio names, like Johnny Lizard the musical wizard and Zilbert Wombroomen. I was Zorro Schwartz to his Johnny Lizard.