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.
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?