Here’s another chapter in my early checkered radio career. The first installment is here.
1971 and I’m doing weeekends at KERN in Bakersfield. I was five at the time. (All TV writers older than twenty who hope to work lie about their age.) As mentioned before, the station was this shack out in the middle of nowhere. And since Bakersfield itself is in the middle of nowhere, the station is really REALLY in the middle of nowhere.
It was my second week. I was holding down the coveted Saturday 6-midnight shift. At about 10:00 the doorbell rings. Who would be coming to call at this hour? Maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses work late in this town. I put a record on and like an idiot went to the front lobby and opened the door.
There was a full gang of Hell Angels – probably thirty of the scariest leather clad, chain wielding, tattoo sporting (before it was fashionable), chopper riding, engine revving, ass kicking (and in my mind, Jew hating) dudes you’ve ever seen. And their girlfriends who could beat the shit out of me.
So I’m Jello in a windstorm. Picture Ralph Kramden as the “Chef of the Future”. “Hummina hummina hummina” The leader (at least I thought he was the leader. I didn’t ask for ID.), growls, “You the fucking guy on the radio?”
“HUMMINA hummina hummina.”
I’m thinking, “What offensive thing did I say that is going to get me killed?” And “This will be a good indication of how many people are actually listening to KERN. Let’s see how long it takes for someone to discover my body."
Mr. Leader of the Pack says, “Do you have Sweet Cream Ladies?” (A late 60s moderate hit by the Box Tops)
A request? That’s why they’re there? To make a song request?
Somewhat relieved I mumble “Sure.”
He signals to the others and they roar off to terrorize someone else. I lock the door, check my underwear, and go to the record library PRAYING that it's in there.
There is a God! They had it.
I run back to the studio and cue it up. It’s my next record. I completely break format but who gives a shit! I could be dead by the time the format says to play an oldie.
A half hour later the doorbell rings again. What to do? They know I’m in there. And they all smoke so they all have matches. Any one of them could set the building on fire. I could just see them dismantling the tower and welding it into more bikes.
I reluctantly open the door. There they are again. The leader hands me a beer and says, “Thanks, man.” They drive off.
Usually I don’t drink beer while on the air but not that night. Anything to settle my jangled nerves.
The next week, same thing. At about 10:00 they're at the front door to request Sweet Cream Ladies. A half hour later they return with a beer as thanks for playing it.
The following week I just play the song at 10:00 and at 10:30 receive my reward.
Thus began a ritual that lasted almost a year. And it really proved to be a Godsend on Halloween.
Houses get T.P.ed, and cars get egged and vandalized on Halloween in Bakersfield. It’s a proud tradition. And my car is alone in a lot next to the shack in a dark empty field. I figured I’d get off of work and there would be nothing left but a drive shaft and maybe one hub cap. Instead, the car was completely untouched. Guess word got around that I was BFF with the local Hells Angels.
Sorry to say me and the gang haven’t stayed in touch. Especially during network note meetings.