Thursday, May 20, 2010

Robert W. Morgan

I’m often asked (just last week actually) who were my comic influences? 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 twelve 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 you 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 Judy Tenuta.

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” . If I pronounced my name Le-Veen and did a night time shift I'd be on from 6-10 in the E-veeng. Fortunately for all concerned, I'm not ) 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 none of the subsequent versions even came close.

Robert W. was only 61 when he passed away. Way too young. Lung cancer. DON'T SMOKE!! He should still be around, probably writing biting comments in this blog.

15 comments:

Ed Blonski said...

Unless I misread it, you have to pay $15 to hear the clips of Morgan on the website you provided.

Anonymous said...

Robert W. was the essence of cool. When I thought I wanted to be in radio, he was the one I wanted to be. He was funny without being jokey and smart without being condescending. He was neither screamer, clown nor character. Listening to him was like being allowed to hang out with the cool kids in school.

Anonymous said...

Yea, Ed hope that doesn't leave you broke. 15 dollars for thousands of hours of air checks of not just Morgan but the real Don Steele, etc. 15 bucks still too much?

Geoff said...

Ken, I'd be curious to know if you ever knew or worked with a guy named Bud Tucker. He did sports for Robert W. on KMPC for a while. He grew up here in Saskatchewan, and a friend of mine was related to him through marriage (he was my friend's wife's uncle).

chris said...

Morgan was a brilliant radio guy, and, sadly, severely bipolar. Day to day you never knew what you were going to get.

On an ENTIRELY different subject... was it more than coincidence that Frasier's agent and the actress who played his ex-wife had the same first name?

Sally creeping down the alley said...

DON'T SMOKE! Good advice. Please, if you see me smoking it probably means I'm on fire--and not in a good way--toss water (unless you think I'm electric--then dump foam) on me, I'll be very appreciative. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

He and Don Imus were great friends, when Robert w. was inducted into the hall of fame Imus introduced him. Imus walked out to the podium looked out to the crowd, and began his remarks with, " ladies and gentlemen there's been a terrible mistake!!!"

Gary said...

Another fine purveyor of radio comedy was Bob Collins on WGN 720, Chicago. He too perished way too young, RIP Bob.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

I had the honor of working along side of Robert W. when we produced the 25th anniversary of "Boss Radio" reunion dinner and show in May of 1990. At first, I was very 'scared' to be working with this icon, but in time I stood up to his sometimes rude comments. He respected me more for not backing down. I always felt like I was being tested by him. Fortunately, I passed the test and we became friends. He even invited me to join him in a studio in Burbank to record the "93/KHJ silver" jingle with the original Johnny Mann singers. From that we produced a CD together that was given out to each guest at the reunion. To this day, I still get chills when I hear him say my name in the credits. Just last week, I was listening to a three hour aircheck I have of him on KHJ from 1970. He was as good as we remember him. I feel blessed that I had a small part in his career. He really was one of a kind.

pandoy said...

it is really cool to hear it than to buy cd.

david russell said...

A Friday question:

Do you find it harder to stay focussed on writing now that the pesky Internet is here to distract you with, say, reading blogs? Do you have tricks, like working on a stand-alone, non-web connected computer or are you just that disciplined?

YEKIMI said...

And to think he got his start in little old Wooster, Ohio on WWST [today a sad shadow of its former self as a satellite fed oldies station with the call letters WKVX with only 32 watts of nightime power!] back in 1955. I never got to hear him because #1, I didn't live in NE Ohio and #2, I hadn't been born yet.

You can also read more stories on Mr Morgan here: http://www.440int.com/440sat.html

graynt1 said...

Robert W may have been the greatest air personality of all time. He sounded great doing Top 40 on KHJ and talk and standards on KMPC. ..and I do recall the great Beaver Cleaver on K100 AND 10Q. What a wonderful era in LA radio!

Clark Kauffman said...

Ken,

I'm a fan of Robert W. Morgan and was wondering whether (or how) one can make a donation to the charity in his name and receive that 2-CD set of highlights from the original KHJ version of "The History Of Rock & Roll." The web site promoting the set is active, but for the past two years it hasn't functioned in terms of accepting any orders. And there's no contact information on the Web site, either.

Clark B. Kauffman

Anonymous said...

Did Robert W. have a brother named Arthur Elliot Morgan?