Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Anyone who hates me, I'll be at Jiffy Lube!

I was walking through a mall recently and there was a radio station doing a remote. The disc jockey was in the corner of this store, sitting in front of a microphone, the station’s call letters on a big sign above his head. All of the music, commercials, everything else was back at the station. So it was just this poor schmoe, pleading for listeners to stop on by. Of course, that’s when he was on the air. Most of the time he was not. A song or spot or promo was playing so it was just a poor schmoe sitting alone under a sign. It’s like when you give your kid a “time out”. A few shoppers crossed back and forth but no one paid attention. I passed by and a arctic breeze went right up my sphincter.

In an ideal world remotes would lure more people into the store (for which the station receives a healthy fee up front). It’s kinda like when Jiffy Lube has a grand opening and schedules Greasy the Clown to make a guest appearance so bring all the kids.

Also, the broadcast is supposed to sound more fun to the listeners because it’s unpredictable, the D.J. can interview folks who are there, it’s a big party.

Yeah. Right.

Most of the time no one shows up and the ones who do don’t give a shit. The disc-jockey (thinking it’s a rare chance to be a big celebrity) is pretty much reduced to that crazy guy with a pinwheel hat who talks to himself on the subway.

I’ve gotten roped into a number of these remotes during my checkered radio career. Frequently (i.e. 90% of the time) the equipment doesn’t work, it sounds awful, there’s loud feedback, headphones that don’t work, I never know when my mic is actually on so over songs you hear me saying, “Hello? Is this crap working?” “When I get back to the station I’m going to kill Lenny for setting this damn thing up.” Weather is occasionally an issue. I’ve done outdoor remotes in the rain (“If you’re coming folks would one of you please bring an umbrella?”), the heat, and mostly the wind. All of my commercial copy gets blown onto a freeway.

Usually I’ll have prizes to give away. But they’re always weenie, and I sound so pathetic begging people to drive twenty miles to get free station bumper stickers and kitchen magnets.

The few stragglers that do stop by usually say, “Who are you again?” or tell me how much they hate me or my station. And then they still ask for one of the prizes. “You want this fucking kitchen magnet? Bend over. How about a station ballpoint pen? Let me give you one of those, too.”

I’ve done them in hardware stores, tuxedo rental shops, record stores, a Denny’s, and an exclusive country club. That was fun, telling the thirty-five people in Los Angeles who were even eligible to come on by.

One time when the Dodgers were on XTRA 1150 I co-hosted a pre-game show from a tire store in Torrance. But since it was a day game from the east and we were on west coast time, the show started at 8:00. The store wasn’t even open until 10:00. We sat there alone in the parking lot.

And later that same year we did our broadcast from a car dealership in Anaheim, again set up in the parking lot. The dealer also happened to have his gardener there that day. All the listeners heard for a half an hour was a deafeningly loud leaf blower.

On the other hand -- at least they're LIVE.

They're local. They're unpredictable. All the things that radio used to be before networks, syndicated shows, voice tracking, satellites, simulcasting, and automation took over. Give me a leaf blower over Sean Hannity any day... although that has nothing to do with my views on remotes.

34 comments:

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I sold a remote to a car dealer. It included a country-western band on a flat bed truck. I had the dealership salesmen wear jeans and cowboy shirts, Village People-style.

It was St. Louis in August. Saturday afternoon. 105 degrees. No shade for the band. The bass player collapsed.

No one showed up.

I went next door to Liquorland and bought a bottle of Jack...and shared it with the car manager and his very pissed off sales staff.

Great fun.

Debby G said...

These "remotes" sound a lot like some of the bookstore signings I've done-- begging people to come by, handing out cheap bookmarks or little candies, feeling totally pathetic as the people who do come over to talk to me just want to know one thing: Where's the bathroom?

VP81955 said...

I can recall going to a remote in Syracuse, N.Y. in the late 1960s. It was for WFBL, a middle-of-the-road station that my mom liked, and the site was from a bank downtown (and bankers' hours being what they were then, it was the midday host, an affable if aging guy named Ted Downes, who was on hand). I watched him cue up records, read ad copy and got to chat with him while records were playing. That was the career for me, I thought -- until years later, when I realized I really didn't have the verbal dexterity or vocal chords to make it in the biz; no one would ever mistake me for Milton Cross or Harry Kalas. I did get to do some college radio later on, and that was satisfactory.

In the late '80s, I wrote for a broadcast sports wire service where our Los Angeles TV client had broken the news that Wayne Gretzky was going to join the Kings (which, in retrospect, may have saved hockey in southern California). I called the sports guy out there to confirm the information, and he spent a few minutes filling me in. His name? Keith Olbermann. (Sorry if that sounds more like a Paul Harvey "now you know the rest of the story.")

Great Big Radio Guy said...

Oh, man. Phoenix, AZ, St. Patrick's Day 1984.

KOY's Bill Heywood always did a live free breakfast show at a high-profile location on St. Patrick's Day which drew hundreds of listeners and always sounded sensational. KZZP's Jonathon Brandmeier followed suit which catered to Heywood's audience's kids (college and up).

So my station decided to hop aboard by having me do my morning show live from a restaurant on St Pat's Day (actually the Friday before St. Pat's Day which was a Saturday that year). It was 1/4 mile from where Brandmeier's remote was. It was at a very staid and traditional family restaurant. And strike three was breakfast: Seven Dollars. KOY and KZZP picked up the tab for their listeners. We charged them seven bucks.

Needless to say, no one...and I mean NO ONE showed up. However, the entire sales department was there enjoying breakfast - in the private banquet room, far from where I was set up. I repeatedly asked them to come into the main dining room to make it sound like we had actual people there. They did - at around 8:45.

A very concerned restaurant manager asked my where my listeners were. I couldn't hold my tongue and told him they were probably enjoying the free breakfast down the street at the KZZP party. It was then and there that I got on the horn with the program director who was back at the studio and informed him that we were going to end this thing at 9am instead of 10. He told me it's supposed to go until 10, and we were contractually obligated to stay. I let him know that if he goes to me after 9 am, there's going to be the sound of an empty room and my car pulling away outside - the embarrassment needed to be put out of its misery, contract or no contract. I made good on that threat. I was out of there at 9:00 and I'm sure the PD was screaming into the headphones I tossed on the table for fifteen minutes after I left.

That night I had some friends take me out to get insanely drunk and then pour me into my bed. The following Monday, I handed in my resignation and left town.

THAT...was a bad remote.

D. McEwan said...

Debby G,

I know just how you felt. I did a book reading/signing in Sacramento once. I traveled 600 miles on my dime. Two people were in my audience, one of whom was my brother. There were other people in the store browsing, to whom I was just an annoyance, and who would not even come sit for the reading. The store owner put my brother and me up for the night, and there were more people in his living room than at the reading.

I did another once in West Hollywood where there were 7 people, only one of whom wasn't a personal friend of mine.

I remember my Grad Night at Disneyland, a billion years ago. KFWB had a remote going from the center of the park. I forget now who the jock was, but since I was a regular listener (This was while Lohman & Barkley were still the KFWB morning men), I was familiar with him, so for me it was a pleasure to hang there with my buds for a bit. He let me introduce a record, and all I could think was "HEY! I'm on KFWB!" I even remember the record: Frankie Valli singing "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," a song that, even now, when I hear it, reminds me of that night at Disneyland, and making out on the Pirates of the Caribbean.

In 1968, I produced the "Mr. Wonderful Comedy Hour" with Jerry Harms as "Mr. Wonderful," at KEZY, every night at midnight. (A one-hour show that played only comedy records.) It was when KEZY was still in the Disneyland Hotel lobby/mall. Needless to say that, at midnight, The Disneyland Hotel was a ghost town. "We're working naked. Come by and see for yourself!" Crickets chirp.

I remember coming by one afternoon when Ted Quillin was on. He spun a record, and part way into it, off the air, he said, "This record is shit." and poured his coffee onto the record AS IT WAS PLAYING. Now that impressed me.

So they have remotes at places other than Disneyland?

But the all-time worst remote I ever took part in was when I was producing Sweet Dick Whittington's show at KGIL. We did a remote from a balloon, floating over the San Fernando Valley. The idea was to get in the Guinness Book as the first ever people to fly over "The Great Los Angeles River" in a balloon.

("Douglas, look it up in the book. Has anyone ever flown over The Great Los Angeles River in a balloon?" "No Dick. Someone once tripped, and fell across it, but no one has gone over it in a balloon." All bullshit of course.)

Since it was Whittington, we had a big crowd at the launch, and a parade of listeners in cars were following us underneath, but in the balloon was just Dick, me, and the pilot.

However, when we drifted over the hills of Woodland Hills, the pilot said, "We better land. there's nothing beyond these hills but the ocean." Ulp!

We came down on a steep slope, so it tipped over and spilled us down the hill. I was pinned under the balloon's burners, using the monitor to hold the red-hot part off of me until I could be rescued, while laughing hysterically, as it seemed such a ridiculous way to die.

Broadcasting in the car - I mean "mobile unit" - heading back to the station, Dick was going on about his bravery in the balloon crash when we rounded a corner, and interrupted two dogs in the act of making puppies. This broke up Whittington as, to him, it put it all in perspective. "I've just faced death..." (Actually I was the one who came closest to serious injury.) "And what welcomes me home? Two dogs doing it!"

Ah, radio.

(Oooh. My word verification letters are my grandmother's name, "Agnes".)

Vermonter17032 said...

I'm sorry, Ken, but I have been under the belief that Sean Hannity IS a leaf blower. Am I wrong about that?

Paul Duca said...

Two words, Ken....flying turkeys. At least you avoided them.


"Oh, the humanity!"

Mike "Beaver" Bell said...

It's always been my argument that a radio remote serves no purpose unless it's entertaining to the 98% of the audience that is not going to show up.


And by 98%, I'm being generous. What qualifies as a remote today is in actuality nothing more than live commercials on site.

And again I'm being generous. As you well know Ken, most remotes aren't even live anymore. They're pre-recorded to be slid into voice-track slots.

When I was doing mornings in Seattle in the eighties, my boss Pat O'Day had the philosophy that we didn't do remotes unless it was an actual remote broadcast. You did your entire show from the site. And you didn't become a shill for the client. You did your normal show. The attraction wasn't "Bob's Tire Barn" and his buy three get one free special, or that you could stop by and get our new T-Shirt/Sticker. It was that "Skippy and Clem in the morning" were actually someplace you could go and see THEM do THEIR thing. Oh! And Hey! There's great deals on tires there too.

My deal in Seattle included a warning in the remote agreement contract: "The KYYX morning show MAY make fun of you and your business during the course of the broadcast." If he client wasn't willing to have that happen, the client didn't get the remote.

When we DID go out, we took virtually the entire studio with us. Microphones on booms, cart machines, the news guy, everythng. The only element that wasn't on site was the music. And sometimes we brought a live band with us as well. It was an expensive deal and the cost was built into the remote contract.

And by the way, I've never performed under the name of "Skippy & Clem." I was however given the name "Beaver" by Pat O'Day.

Something I proudly share with you Ken.

Mike McCann said...

In order to protect the innocent (that's me!) the names and locations have been changed. Some years ago, while on staff for a large market music station, I was booked to appear at a large electronics chain that had just remodeled several stores in a desperate attempt to stay afloat (hint: they drowned). The "bricks and mortars" place did not let our promotions person put a banner up over or beside the front door. They set up my appearance location two floors below ground level. Down by the refrigerators (yep, that's an impulse item you're liable to stock up on). So far below the ground THE RADIO STATION COULD NOT BE PICKED UP WHERE I WAS SITUATED. I think four people stopped by in the two hours. The chain joined such former retailing leaders as Trader Horn, Friendly Frost, Kleins and Korvettes in the morgue a few months later.

Gary said...

As god is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.

JGC said...

Oh, people would almost always show up at many of our remotes. We called those people "prize pigs," and I'm sure we weren't the only ones who called them that, or worse.

These were the ones who seemed destined to furnish their trailers and clothe their kids in KJGC merchandise. And who didn't eat all week in anticipation of free pizza and soda from the local joint that always traded out food for mentions.

And we had prize wheels. The top prize was usually a tee shirt, if not something no one would actually ever win (ONE MILLION DOLLARS). You would think the shirts, though, were made from spun gold. Folks, it's a goddamned tee shirt! Is it really so important that you wear our logo? Really? What the frig is wrong with you?

These people would stand in line, spin the wheel, repeat. Sometimes for the entire four hours of the remote. So they'd get McDonald's coupons and pens and maybe a tee shirt. "More to be pitied than laughed at," Dad would have said. When I jocked, I'd inevitably take calls asking, "Where's the prize wheel going to be this week?"

Sometimes, the sales geniuses would schedule events taking the word "remote" to its literal meaning. I spent Saturday afternoons in valleys and mountain tops where, one day, houses would sit ... and roads would connect actual people to those houses. But that day was not today. So "stop on by [if you can find us and have an hour to spare each way for travel time]."

Understandably, the morning show talent would command larger fees, so clients unwilling to pony up that kind of cash would settle for the rest of the staff or even a popular weekender. Which meant that those poor also-rans had to field questions like, "Where's Larry?" Sadder still was the station I worked for that had a nationally syndicated morning show, so the hunyaks would ask, "Where are Bob & Tom?"

Worst remote ever: at a beer festival in rural Virginia. Remote's over, we're packing up, but the line of obese beer-swilling rednecks still want tee shirts. You rationalize that maybe if I give this one loud dude a friggin' shirt he'll go away, but you know that all that will happen is he'll either shout, "Yee haw, boys! There still givin' away tee shirts!" or that underlying sense of "free stuff" will cause a swarm not seen since the locusts were last here. My boss thought it was funny; for me, it was the first time in my illustrious radio career that I legitimately feared for my safety.

Schottzie03 said...

I had the supreme honor of doing a remote at a Jaguar dealership in the middle of a blizzard while the radio station was running live coverage of Clinton's impeachment hearing.

Not many people came by looking for a new ride, but at least there was plenty of free cold pizza for the car salesmen.

Mary Stella said...

Thanks for reminding me of my years as a radio station promotion manager -- the person who helped the DJ tote the equipment and display in 90 degree temps with $100% Jersey humidity, hand out cheap stuff and keep kids from barfing on the station mascot. (An intern in a lion suit.) As an added bonus, I was the one listeners abused if we ran out of T-shirts.

We had fun occasionally. Like the time we put the equipment in the back seat of my car, stuck the antenna on the roof and broadcast driving up and down the Jersey shore during a charity walk-a-thon.

Debby G: I've felt your pain, too. Now I make sure I know the bathroom locations so I'm not totally useless. That beats the people who come over, pick up my book, discover it's a romance and throw it on the table like it will give them herpes while proclaiming, "I don't read trash!"

D. McEwan: I'm reading Lush Life. That Tallulah!

On another note, this is the first time that my word verification letters actually spelled a real word. Who the heck is Diane and what does she mean to Blogger?

Finally: GO PHILLIES!

A. Buck Short said...

Now, I only heard them on radio, so can't be sure, but weren't the 3 presidential debates voice-tracked from Ole Miss, Nashville, and Long Island? No? OK, but given the content and distant relationship between any of the questions and answers, is there any reason it couldn't have worked?

Emmett Flatus said...

Sounds like Johnny Fever's remote at the record store (I think) while it was being robbed.

Pamela Atherton said...

I've done all the requisite remotes from car dealerships, furniture stores (get a FREE 2 liter bottle of Pepsi!), hot dog stands and rent-to-owns... in heat, rain, wind and snow. I've even done the "Clarence the Clearance Monster at the Bible Bookstore. But by far, the weirdest remote I had to do was the day after Thanksgiving (yes, folks, the busiest shopping day of the year with all those great bargains at the BIG stores)....and I had to do a remote from 8 - 10 am...at a PAWN SHOP!!!

I sold it to the listeners as "get a gift with a story behind it."

It was their biggest day EVER! Go figure.

Mojo said...

Give me a colonoscopy over Sean Hannity.

jbryant said...

I've never been in the radio biz, but in 1975 or '76, when I was 17, a buddy and I cut a 45 and promoted it at a few area stations (in Kentucky). At one station, the night crew was a couple of guys not much older than us. They entertained us between songs with fake promos made by wacky, bored pros. Quite fun to hear a booming voice announce "We've got Telly Savalas' d*ck in a pickle jar." They also signed us up for an "organization" called the Turtles. The sole purpose of it was to catch a fellow Turtle in a public situation of some kind and ask "Are you a Turtle?" If they didn't answer "You bet your sweet ass I am," they'd have to buy you the drink of your choice. Actually, I'm pretty sure the whole thing was just a ruse to collect the one dollar "membership fee."

I also recall a spot that one station ran for a local butcher shop, with the tag line "You can't beat Benny's meat!"

jbryant said...

Wasn't the classic Dick Van Dyke Show episode "100 Terrible Hours" mostly set at a live remote? It's a flashback to Rob's DJ days, and he has to break the live radio broadcast record just before interviewing for the writing job with Alan Brady.

willieb said...

I've had many, many desolate remotes (try playing Sinatra music to six bar patrons for two hours on a Thursday night, even though your station is running a "Hot Hits" format). Here's a strange experience I managed to inadvertantly share with some peers: showing up at a car dealership on a Saturday morning at 8 for five hours of fun, only to see TWO OTHER stations also setting up for remotes in the dealer's showroom. Apparently, the dealer decided to cover his ass and guarantee big foot traffic by having each different radio format (top 40, country, heavy metal)broadcast remotes from his showroom at the same time.
Being the station closest to the door, I had the priviledge of greeting every listener who showed up and directing them to the table of their favorite station. The guys at the country station gave me a T-shirt, and I gave them a BIC lighter emblazoned with our station logo. The guy from the heavy metal station pronounced the whole thing bullshit and left after ten minutes, so the 18-year-old girl who served as the station's promotions director had to take over.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

jbryant: There was a Turtle society, although very loosely organized.

I've never been a dj, but I worked for a tiny shop in Campbell, CA, that joined several other tiny shops in hiring a dj to promote us. The guy seemed nice but uncomfortable off the air. On the air he slipped into his motor-mouth personna and did his best to drum up some business for us. We were out of business within a month.

One word about Jiffy Lube: Boycott. They'll always try to sell you a bunch of extras you don't need and their oil change price isn't that good to start with. Their you-need-a-new-air- filter pitch is legendary.

My word verification is NEKTO. I feel like adding BARRADA KLATAU. I know the spelling is off, but it's close.

D. McEwan said...

Cap'n Bob,

I just watched DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL again two days ago, and we never see "Klaatu Barada Nikto" written down, so I think you're free to spell and punctuate it as you choose. (A war was once faught over whether there should be a comma after"Klaatu" or after "Barada" or no comma at all.)

The downside is, if I'm wrong, a flying saucer could land in your yard, and an 8 foot faceless robot may disintegrate you and then correct your spelling. "This is how we spell it on Andromeda, you smeghead."

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Mary Stella said...
D. McEwan: I'm reading Lush Life. That Tallulah!"

Well first off Mary, check your cover carefully, because Richard Price's undeservedly best-selling novel LUSH LIFE, a work of fiction deceptively titled so people will buy it thinking it my book, is a work of fiction, whereas my autobiography, MY LUSH LIFE, is 100% true, except for some of my ages.

If you have the right book (Hint on how to tell: Are you laughing? Then it's my book. Are you depressed? It's Price's.), then enjoy, and congratulations on your good taste.

But leave Little Dougie out of it. He takes far too much credit for it as it is.

Cheers darling.

Mary Stella said...

If you have the right book (Hint on how to tell: Are you laughing? Then it's my book. Are you depressed? It's Price's.), then enjoy, and congratulations on your good taste.

It's definitely your book, Tallulah. I laughed so hard at one point, my friends thought they might need to medicate me. Sorry for shortening the title in my earlier note.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Mary Stella said...
I laughed so hard at one point, my friends thought they might need to medicate me."

I recommend vodka, the universal palliative.

There's another funny point later on.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Lube supply is running low, eh?

Monty Ashley said...

To tie this together with the "favorite sitcoms" posts, I've always thought the "remote broadcast" episode of WKRP was great.

Rachel Legan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Legan said...

I read this to my brother (who is doing the morning show with me now) right before we did a news break this morning and we were laughing so hard I could barely get through the "serious" news stories.DeRoo loved it also because he emailed it to me.
I can't disagree with anything you wrote here.
The worst thing I ever did at a remote was gossip with a peddler about the "station bicylcle",a girl with whom he had just spent a wild night with in a hot tub.We were going on and on about her escapades with various staff members not knowing that the board operator back at the station had actually just gotten engaged to her!Cell phones weren't in use back then so our Promotions Director comes speeding up to the remote (at a pager store) freaking out saying "The Marty is on!The Marty is on!and whatshisname can hear EVERYTHING you guys are saying".
It's been 15 years since then and I learned to never again gossip about other co-workers at a remote (unless the mic is off..lol).As for the board-op,he still married the "bike" but they moved far,far away.

Loved it.
Rach

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Doug: I think your spelling is correct, and the words are in the right order. I have it written somewhere, but finding anything in my junky office takes weeks. BTW, they're supposed to be remaking this classic. I understand Klaatu etc. will be replaced with See Gee Eye.

Tallulah Morehead said...

The remake is all finished, and opens December 12, as I informed by the side of every city bus that passes my home. It stars Keanu Reeves, which means Klaatu this time will be out-acted by Gort.

"Klaatu barada Whoa!"

Paul Duca said...

On the upside, Tallulah....this new version co-stars Jon Hamm, so if it's a big hit it will be a boost for MAD MEN.

And did you consider going into advertising during that era? I'm sure you would have been a big success, as you have the most critical quality needed--the ability to hold your liquor.

Tallulah Morehead said...

In my days, commericals were beneath movie stars, but I did host a 13-week game show called BLOTTO, based on a popular drinking game. For the full story, I refer you to my book: MY LUSH LIFE.

Jim Diamond said...

Hey Truck-ken Stevens, weren't you the guy who put the dead rat in Johnny Mitchell's skid-marked underparts at KERN?