Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Robert W. Morgan

I’m often asked who were my comic heroes growing up? Aside from the usual – Nat Hiken, Joan Davis, and Pinky Lee – I’d have to put at the top of my list Robert W. Morgan. For almost thirty years Morgan ruled the morning airwaves in Los Angeles (and briefly in Chicago). He passed away nine years ago today. I still miss him. I still look at something I’ve written and wonder, “what would Robert W. think?” He was never shy in telling me. We worked together briefly in 1974 at a station called K100. (I say briefly because I was fired long before he was.) Robert W. could be a tough critic on you (if you call threatening to come down to the station and beat the shit out of me tough). But he also could inspire you to new heights if he believed you had it in you. There was no middle ground in his eyes. You had the potential to be great or you were Charlie Tuna. (Tuna -- not his real name surprisingly, was with Morgan at KHJ and tried to be funny by relentlessly reading prepared one-liners.)

Morgan himself on the air was truly amazing. Hilariously funny, wickedly subversive, a master of comic timing, and ALWAYS spontaneous. In the moment. One “morgan” (you never said “morning”, you said “morgan” – he’d really kick your ass for that) when he was on KMPC he had to do a live phone interview with Ray Malavasi, the head coach of the Rams. He asked his first question and Malavasi fell asleep. Instead of trying to wake him, and without missing a beat, Morgan just kept asking him questions and pausing while Malavasi snored.

There is a Robert W. Morgan tribute website well worth checking out containing this and many other classic bits. Comedy on the radio is a lost art. Robert W. Morgan was one of its great artists. Morgan also was blessed with a gorgeous voice. Rich, mellow, and warm (as if I wasn’t envious enough of his talent). In 1969 while at KHJ he narrated a 48 hour radio special – THE HISTORY OF ROCK N’ ROLL. This epic work painstakingly traced the roots and trends of rock music and to this day is considered a masterpiece. (back in the days when the only hits Phil Spector was known for were records)

Over the years it has been revised and redone but the original, voiced by Robert W. Morgan, only aired once and has never been heard from again.

Until today.

Bill Mouzis, the original production wizard of this project has put together a remastered, limited edition 2 CD package featuring highlights and music montages. It is a true treasure, an absolute must for any student of rock music.

And the price? Just a donation to the Robert W. Morgan Cancer Awareness Fund and The Association For The Preservation of Hawaiiana Online established by HRR Producer/Director Ron Jacobs. For details and to order, click here.

It’s a worthy cause and a chance for me to introduce many of you to one of my heroes.

Mahalo (I'm still in Hawaii. Gimme a break. This is what everyone says when they take my money.)

Tomorrow: AMERICAN IDOL with a very special guest...an almost living legend.


Mr. Hollywood said...

Ken, remember when Morgan was on KMPC mornings (having taken over for another legend, Dick Whittinghill). Listening to him and Pat Buttram (one of the truly great comedy minds) together was a joy that I sorely miss. Isn't it a shame that true wit and humor has been replaced by the strident world of the shock jock!

Seymour said...

More Joan Davis stories!

Anonymous said...

Ken, I think we were together the day we first met Robert W. as well as his future wife, Shelly Gordon W. Morgan, at the KHJ studios. My favorite Morgan bit was GUM (giant ubiquitous mass).


Wayne from Maine said...

There will never be another one like him not only because HE was R.W.M. but ( and you know this better than anyone) no radio station in america will EVER allow a jock to gain a following like him again!!! GOD I miss personality driven radio, where jocks were allowed to entertain as much as the music. LONG LIVE BEAVER CLEAVER!!!

Seymour said...

Oh there is still personality-driven radio, it's just that the personalities are appalling.

Ken Levine said...

I'm forwarding this from Ron Jacobs:

Re. The History of R&R: Very few have heard the entire thing, let alone the KHJ version (narrated by Robert W. Morgan) with LONG FORM segments, which aired overnight during the weekend it first aired. It's those treasures that Bill Mouzis has gathered on this new collector's CD.

Besides Steve Allen reading do-wop lyrics, a Dylan Time Sweep and a mini-history of American pop music going back to the 1800s ... one can hear the 15-minutes I spent with Phil Spector doing an audio version of Downbeat Magazine's "Blindfold Test." It was the first use of a four-track recording and mixdown in an AM station production room. The KHJ engineers built the electronics for the thing in our third floor tech lab a 5515 Melrose,

The Spector feature was recorded with him commenting on various hits while he heard them play, with no advance notice of the records.

Phil was at the top of his game then. He and I had become friends and hung out (most often at his Sunset Strip mansion, the one with the shrine to Lenny Bruce in the entrance room.) Innocent or guilty may he be in his ALLEGED shooting trial, there's no taking away that Spector was a seminal genius who contributed much to the rock genre that, by extension, continues on through today.

It's what was generally NOT heard on the HRR that makes Mouzis' new CD a must for hard-core Top 40 freaks.

ʻIkuwā Ron Jacobs
Kaneohe, Hawaii

Paul Duca said...

This holiday weekend, the Boston oldies station (owned by the same folk as K-Earth) are re-airing (as they do every year or two) the syndicated, Bill Drake narrated version of HOR&R--of course, it IS re-edited to fit everything before the Beatles into an hour or two.

Rob in Long Beach said...

I'm only 37 and I long for the morning drives of Robert W. Morgan on KMPC and Lohman & Barkley on KFI. This is coming from someone from which "morning drive" meant mom and dad taxied my butt to elementary school.

I didn't understand listener demographics or TTLs nor did I care. I found Lohman and Barkley's "Light Of My Life" soap opera parody hilarious right along with my folks even if it took me a few more years to really comprehend the irony and double entendre wordplay that was at churning at it's core. I might be the last of my generation to fondly remember the late great traffic copter reporter "Bruce Wayne - KFI In The Sky".

To this day my family nickname is "Bobert Bowsersocks", named for the hapless paper boy that needed to sell more newspaper subscriptions so he can finally see those topless dancing ladies in Las Vegas. All stemming from a lustrous past of a radio that seems so very far away.

Robert W. was always my dad's favorite and I still crack a smile and wish people a "Good Morgan" even though most if not all give me funny looks. I'm too young for the Boss radio days but through the magic of the internet I have many of LA radio's greats like Robert W., Bill Balance, Gary Owens, Bob Crane and even Dr. Demento at my disposal to listen and appreciate and hopefully pass along to my kin.

Maybe I'm part of a few in my generation that can quit rushing toward moving forward to take a step back and appreciate what the past has cemented. These gems should never be ignored nor forgotten. I may have been born 10 years too late fully appreciate their original impact but feel confident that there are some of us that will keep such memories alive.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Charlie Tuna needs to be trashed here, Ken. He was a much more popular and important air personality than you ever were. Its a cheap shot for a guy who was mostly a weekend or late night scrub (not a main player at any of these stations)to throw a sucker punch at Art. This is not a put down of your work, just a reality check.

Ken Levine said...


First off, I wish you had given your name.

There's no question that Charlie Tuna has had a better radio career than me. As it should be, he's a better jock than me. Sure has a better voice by a thousand miles.

But I honestly think he's a much better jock now than he was 40 years ago when he and Morgan were on KHJ. There have been articles, even an interview with Charlie for Claude Hall where he talks about his prepared one liners in a notebook and Morgan's disdain of them. I think Morgan's feeling (from talking to him about it) and certainly mine was that Charlie had the potential to be better than that. As he has showed.

So I'm sorry for any disrespect.

Hey, I still listen to Charlie sometimes on KBIG.

Thanks for your note. But next time please leave your name.

Anonymous said...

Ken. Love your piece on RWM. I was searching for an interveiw he did with the classic rock band "America" from around 1978-79. Would you happen to know where I could find a copy of that particular interveiw in it's entirety?~Sioncerely~Steven Sage