Monday, October 18, 2010

Beaver Cleaver

Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver on the classic 50s sitcom LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, passed away over the weekend.  She was 94.  As a kid I marveled at how she cooked and cleaned and always wore a party dress and pearls.  My mom never did.   But for years it was an honor to be mistaken for Barbara's TV son.

I guess that requires an explanation, huh?

Okay, that means a look back at my checkered radio career...

After being fired from KMEN San Bernardino in late ‘73 I sat out of work for six months. Apparently no one wanted a wise-ass disc jockey with a light voice. I couldn’t even land a gig doing all-nights in Fresno. Ironically, when I did get an offer it was to do evenings at WDRQ, Detroit. So I wasn’t good enough for market #100 but I was fine for market #4.

More on my actual adventures in Detroit in future posts but today I want to concentrate on my name. No rock station would let me use my actual name (Levine sounded too… uh, “Red Sea Pedestrian”). And in general disc jockeys had very generic names. Johnny Mitchell. Steve Clark. Bob Shannon. Take any two simple first names and slam them together.

Needless to say, to audiences these disc jockeys were interchangeable. In some cases stations changed personnel but just kept the name. So Bill Bailey could be the afternoon man but over the course of three years that could be four different guys.

In Bakersfield and San Bernardino I was Ken Stevens. When I got the job in Detroit I decided to make a change. I took the moniker Beaver Cleaver.

Why?

I wanted something distinctive. I wanted something memorable. The first time the listener heard, “Hi, this is Beaver Cleaver” I wanted him to say "What the fuck?!"   Any major program director will tell you -- if you can get the audience to say "What the fuck?!" you've won. 

It was a name everybody knew from the TV show. I figured a lot of people would wonder if I was Jerry Mathers (who played the Beav). This might even prompt some discussion in various Detroit high schools. How often did you discuss disc jockeys in your high school?

I also liked that the name was easy to say. As opposed to Illya Kuryakin, my second choice (although it would have been fun to hear jingle singers trying to sing Illya Kuryakin).

I’d like to take credit for being the first disc jockey to do something like this, but the truth is I wasn’t. Art Ferguson debuted on KHJ in 1967 as Charlie Tuna. At the time Charlie the Tuna was the cartoon mascot of the Starkist Tuna ad campaign. Whether it was Art’s idea or a program director I thought it was genius.

One other side benefit to “Beaver Cleaver” was that I could use it for double entendres. Remember this was for a teenage audience. I came on the first night and said, “This is the grand opening of the Beaver.” Yes, it was juvenile but my goal was to make noise. I'm sure I got some more "What the fucks?!" with that one. 

Anyway, it worked. People did take notice and remember. A few years ago I was having lunch with Tom Hanks. He was saying he grew up in the Bay Area and I mentioned I was a disc jockey in San Francisco at that time. “Who were you?” he asked. When I told him his eyes lit up and immediately he said, “Beaver Cleaver! KYA! Boss of the Bay!” I don’t think he would have remembered the name I used in Bakersfield.  (I bet you can't either and you just read it fifteen seconds ago.)  

So I used that handle at WDRQ and future stops as a DJ. Later that year I was hired by K100 in Los Angeles. (A year before I couldn’t get arrested in Fresno.) The station was owned by Bill Drake & Gene Chenault, the architects of the KHJ Boss Radio format that was the rage of the 60s. I was brought in to do evenings, following the Real Don Steele. It was a dream job except I hated the program director. When I say he was clueless, here’s how clueless:

The day I was slated to debut the station had all of the other jocks hyping my arrival. The PD stopped in the booth and midday guy, Eric Chase jokingly asked if I was going to have Wally and Lumpy join me my first night. The PD said, “What are you talking about?” Eric said, “Wally and Lumpy – the Beav's brother and his dufus friend.” The PD was completely confused. Eric said, “Y’know, from the TV show. From LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.” The PD’s eyes widened in horror. “There’s a TV show?!”

How the fuck could this moron not have heard of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER?

So he calls me into his office panicked. There were already promos on the air. What if we got sued? I tried to calm him down. “If we get sued,” I said, “it’s the best thing that could ever happen to us.” Now he was really perplexed. I reasoned that in the highly unlikely event we were sued this would become a big story. The local TV stations would probably cover it. K100 would get more free publicity than it could ever imagine. I would stop using Beaver Cleaver and the station could invite listeners to come up with my new name. Fortunately, owner Bill Drake thought that was brilliant and I was allowed to keep calling myself Mrs. Cleaver’s Beaver.

For the record, I was never sued. And continued to use the name until 1980. By the way, Frank Bank, who played “Lumpy”, is now Jerry Mathers’s investment adviser.

16 comments:

Mark said...

>>Levine sounded too… uh, “Red Sea Pedestrian”<<

Lol... The line of the year!!!

thomas tucker said...

Here's what I've always wondered- did the writers of the show actually intend the name Beaver Cleaver to be a double-entendre?
Also, did the writers of Petticoat Junction intend the name Hooterville to be a doube-entendre?
Ken- what say you?

cc said...

Holy cow, you mean there were other stations in Detroit besides CKLW and WJR in 1973?

Mike said...

It's a good thing I Googled "Red Sea Pedestrian" before I came on here to say I was going to steal it from you. Still, though, the fact that it is already a band name is kind of a bummer.

Bob Claster said...

With a name like "Frank Bank," what else is he gonna be but an investment guy? Happy that the Beav's still got some money for him to invest, actually.

Dryca said...

*-*

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Was the P.D. at K-100 a guy named Bill Watson? If so, I agree with you completely. The guy was a complete idiot. My first radio job was at K-100. He was one of Drake's henchman, that's how he got the job. What a bozo he was...

RockGolf said...

What goes around comes around. The morning jock on a Buffalo top 40 station about 20 years ago was Sam Malone.
And you're right. I heard his show maybe twice, twenty years ago, and still remember that name.

Ted said...

Boy, could she ever wear pearls!

Friday question:
I love Mad Men, and I've always thought that, like The Sopranos, the sharp writing comes from a staff in a room. But Matthew Weiner does a lot of publicity for the show, and he doesn't seem to mind if you think he creates every word, character, and storyline. So what's the truth? Is Mad Men room-written or not?

Mac said...

Love it. What other blog gives you Aaron Sorkin one day, and Beaver Cleaver the next? Cheers Ken.

l.a.guy said...

Great story as usual. You know what's depressing? Looking at those single and album rankings from 1975... I can remember vividly when those songs came out more than 35 years ago. Thanks for making me feel old. (But not as old as you. :-)

Anonymous said...

You could practically write a PhD thesis on "Contemporary Culture of the mid-70s" using that song chart alone. A real sea change taking place there.

The fading "singer-songwriter" contingent with McCartney and America. The equally waning rock of Zeplin and Aerosmith. The early wave of Disco (which really shook up local radio stations less then a year later) with The Hustle and Kool & the Gang rising fast. But "The Way We Were" is right in the middle of it all (was 15 is 8!). And then there's Bowie, foreshadowing the 80s.

It's unlikely that a contemporary radio station would have such a mix of songs these days (oldies stations excepted, of course!).

Tom Quigley said...

Saw Jerry Mathers interviewed on a couple of shows today regarding Ms. Billingsley's passing, and it made me think about how old I must be getting... He's starting to look like Mike Wallace!

Jedzenie Na Telefon said...

I don`t watching this movie, but I want too have in my kitchen nice clothing woman who cook great thiks :)

Throatwobbler Mangrove said...


>>Levine sounded too… uh, “Red Sea Pedestrian”<<

Lol... The line of the year!!!



Yes, but the year was 1979. Thank you, Python!

Paul Duca said...

To be honest, I can't understand why MCA/Universal (the successor to Revue Productions and thus the owner of the intellectual property "Beaver Cleaver" ) never made a fuss. I read the bio of MCA founder Lew Wasserman you touted as the big beach read one Christmas in Hawaii. While he may not have been as anal about copyright infringement as Disney, he didn't seem like the type of man who would blithely let someone appropriate something than was his, right in his own backyard (maybe he didn't listen to K100 or 10Q, but some of his younger underlings could have, and informed him).

And by this time, I'm sure you have heard of the passing of another model pop-culture parental figure, Howard "Mr. C" Cunningham--aka Tom Bosley