Thursday, December 02, 2010

My role in the Patty Hearst kidnapping

Before I became a writer I traveled around the country like a nomad “spinning biscuits” as a Top 40 D.J. Here’s another incident from those heady and ridiculous times.

It was 1974. I was working at KYA, San Francisco. KFRC was the big station then. Throughout my disc jockey career I always worked at the “other” place. There would be a powerhouse number one station like KHJ, KFRC, and CKLW in town, and I was always hired by K100, KYA, and WDRQ.

But KYA was a great station. We had a terrific program director, Bob Whitney, who believed in freedom and fun on the radio. That made us unique… at times amazing, and at other times, uh, well... strange. Our afternoon jock called himself Jimmy Jet and had a chipmunk-voiced sidekick named Wonder Wings. He also had all these airplane whooshes (the same sound Rocky the Flying Squirrel made whenever he took off) and would play them constantly over records. He was a lovely guy but yikes!  (Jimmy is now a commercial pilot, UFO investigator-journalist.  I'm not making this up.) 

Anyway, I was on from 10 P.M. to 2 A.M. I didn’t have any “whooshes” but I was pretty out there. I also had to read the news at 1:30. The name I was using was Beaver Cleaver, but I couldn’t call myself that during a newscast. At the time there was a late night program on NBC called THE TOMORROW SHOW. Host Tom Snyder would interview a different guest from 1:00-2:00 AM. Whoever his guest was, that was the name I chose for that night. So one night astronaut Neil Armstrong would report KYA news and next night it was Helen Reddy.

I used to take phone requests from listeners.  Hey, I was bored. One night I got a call from someone who identified himself as a member of the SLA.

Patricia Hearst, the granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst and great-granddaughter of millionaire George Hearst had recently been kidnapped in the bay area by a radical group that called themselves the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army). This was the big story of the day. Back then heiresses had to get kidnapped to receive notoriety. They couldn’t just make sex tapes like today.

The SLA made their ransom demands through envelopes left in public places.

I guess they were fans of the show. I was told there was an envelope at the station’s front door. Before I could ask if he would say, "Hi, we're the SLA and KYA is our favorite radio station!" he hung up. 

I was a little freaked out I must admit. I wasn't used to actual listeners. I went to the front door and sure enough, there was a manila envelope. I called the station manager (who just LOVED being woken up at 1:00 AM) and he said he would handle it.

I should have called the program director, Bob Whitney.  He would have snapped into action and turned this moment into a contest.  "Guess what's in the SLA envelope and win tickets to the Lou Reed concert!"

So I go back to doing my show as if nothing happened. Five minutes later a hundred FBI agents storm into the building. My engineer was really peeved. He was very overweight and liked to work with his pants off.  Imagine how pleasant that was for me sitting across from him all night.   Now he had to wear his trousers.  I suspect a union grievance was filed.

Normally, the station is empty in the middle of the night.  But now there are agents, sniffing dogs, and SWAT team guys. I’m being interrogated between records.  "What did he sound like?  What exactly did he say?  Did you hear anything in the background?"   I have to excuse myself every three minutes to introduce the next KYA People Power hit and read the Gensler Lee Diamond spot. Just another night at the radio station.

Now an FBI agent begins manning the listener lines, hoping maybe the SLA will call back and request “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero”. So imagine Tim Kang from THE MENTALIST cross-examining and scaring the shit out of all the little teenyboppers just calling in to hear their favorite Donny Osmond song.

I finally signed off by saying, “Hey, I had a great time tonight! Would like to thank everyone listening in their homes and cars and hideouts. See you tomorrow night. Rock on! Be cool! And please don’t shoot anybody!”

I never heard from them again. If I ever actually meet Patty Hearst, or if perhaps she reads this blog, there's something I've always wanted to know.  Since the SLA obviously listened to KYA, why didn't they also kidnap Jimmy Jet?

22 comments:

maroidrage said...

But what was in the envelope?!

Jonathan said...

Ken - This is your best DJ story ever, maybe your best story ever. If you're going to write a memoir, I say base it on your days in radio and have this be the centerpiece. And yeah, what was in the envelope?

Bob Todd said...

Bob Todd LOL Love this Ken. Hope TOBWhitney sees it. In fact, I'll send him the link and copy you in a FB message. Great story. You're right. He would have made a contest out of it. :) Hope we meet someday.

TruSlack said...

Gensler-lee diamonds the store..... with the heart! I'll never get that damn jingle out of my head.

RCP said...

I will never be able to hear about the Hearst kidnapping again without remembering this story! (Including the fatty without pants).

Ian said...

This sounds like the core idea of a great little movie. I grew up in Marin (just north of SF) and remember clearly the hysteria surrounding the Hearst kidnapping. It was a HUGE deal in the Bay Area. KFRC was our station (hey, I was in middle school) but I'd listen to KYA when Mt. Tam got in the way. It's likely I heard you at least once. Thanks for taking me back.

lucifervandross said...

These are the kind of experiences I grew up dreaming about having.

Anonymous said...

Yeah--what was in the envelope??

Wil Wheaton said...

You know, Ken, I love all of your blogs, and I've grown several levels as a writer and storyteller by reading them.

But stories like this? This is just amazing, and highly entertaining. You've had such an interesting and unique life; thank you for sharing it with us.

John said...

Ken, after you were finished working on "MASH", you really should have sent this story idea into "WKRP In Cincinnati" (Venue gets overnight phone call from alleged urban terrorist group; Mr. Carlson comes in next morning to find Johnny hiding in stairway over outstanding warrant from 1972 and FBI agents and SWAT team members surrounding Jennifer in lobby).

carol said...

For the love of all that is good and pure in the world, please tell us, if you can remember, what was in the envelope.

I agree with the person who said this would make a good little movie.

VP81955 said...

I think Johnny Holliday worked at KYA in the late sixties (and his last DJ job in a city other than Washington). I know he was the emcee for the Beatles' final concert, at Candlestick Park in late August 1966.

Wonderful story, though I doubt it will get you a discount on tickets at Hearst Castle.

l.a.guy said...

Got any good Zodiac killer stories?

My one and only trip to Hearst Castle was shortly after the SLA detonated an explosion that blew 10 bricks off the facade of one of the buildings. An attack so devastating that they were able to resume tours within a week.

I love reading your stories but they do make me feel old-- Why must I suffer for your art? :-)

VP81955 said...

My one and only trip to Hearst Castle was shortly after the SLA detonated an explosion that blew 10 bricks off the facade of one of the buildings. An attack so devastating that they were able to resume tours within a week.

Had never heard about that one. I suppose the ghost of Marion Davies made certain San Simeon wouldn't suffer significant damage.

Anonymous said...

Cool story. Two points I would make having grown up in the Bay area.

1. KFRC was truly, madly, deeply awful in the way that only a top 40 station can be so.

2. In the late 70s, my folks got me a telephone line of my own, and the number was 268-5320. The request line for KFAT was 268-5328. Anybody here remember dial telephones? It was interesting getting calls from their listeners.

Cheers,

Alan Tomlinson

Mac said...

Great story, but the image of the chubber in his underpants is going to haunt me for some time.

Kirk Jusko said...

"Back then heiresses had to be kidnapped to recieve noteriety. They couldn't just make sex tapes like today."

Hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see an HBO, SHOWTIME or AMC comedy series about radio in the 70's, with Ken as the showrunner.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I lived in the south bay in '74 and I remember KYA but I don't think I listened. I certainly would have remember a dj calling himself Beaver Cleaver. I listened to the FM "underground" station.

Do you remember a dj/promo guy named Danny Holliday? He worked for a station in Seattle before he retired in the nineties. He was a treasure.

Craig Russell said...

Ken...Not True! You did work at some of the "Top Tier" stations back in the day...and thanks to You Tube, I have the proof! Ernie Anderson proclaiming "KFM...BFM...San Diego" STILL gives me goose bumps...

I give you, Beaver Cleaver and Rich "Brother" Robbins on the Legendary KFMB...B100 San Diego...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFVNHbI6FO0&feature=related


2 points...wow you were a screamer back then, and say hi to Dave Benson when you talk to him next...we used to work in radio together about 10 years ago...

Anonymous said...

My gosh, Ken, you do have a knack of dredging up old memories that perhaps are best forgotten. Back in the days of primitive rock, I also had an overweight studio engineer. Thank goodness this guy kept his pants on, oops, bib overalls on. His car was an old Checker Cab because it was the only car big enough for him to get behind the wheel. If that wasn't bad enough, there was another engineer on the other side of the glass who would read aloud from his Bible every time the Beatles came up in rotation. Keep the stories coming!

Paul Duca said...

Amazing....you, too, had a peripheral role in the kidnapping of Patty Hearst--ust like Nina Van Horen (Wendie Malick's character on JUST SHOOT ME)


WV--an actual word "cobble"