Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Adventures in bad taste


From time to time I like to look back at my misguided, mercifully-brief radio career as a screaming Top 40 disc jockey in the ‘70s. Today’s stop on the road – KNTQ, Los Angeles. The New TenQ.

It’s late 1976. My partner, David, and I are head writers of MASH. I get a call from Jimi Fox, a radio colleague who worked with me in San Diego. At the time, Jimi had the distinction of having the only voice worse than mine. He tells me that he’s been named the program director of KGBS. KGBS is right in the middle of the AM dial at 1020. For years it was a daytime station. It had finally been given clearance to broadcast 24 hours a day and Jimi was going to change the format to screaming Top 40. Jimi was also changing the call letters to KTNQ and renaming the station TenQ. (That was the big trend in the ‘70s – distinguish yourself from all the stations that just had call letters by having a combination letter/number. TenQ, B100, 13K. So many stations adopted this practice that eventually the only stations with a distinctive name were the ones that still just used their call letters.)

Jimi wondered if “Beaver Cleaver” (my DJ alias) wanted to return to the airwaves. I couldn’t work full-time, but I agreed to do the Saturday night 6-10 shift. That should tell you two things about me back then: I just loved being on the radio, and I had no social life whatsoever, despite the fact that I was a head writer of a major network television series.

The mandate was to just have fun. There is not a single radio station in America that has that marching order today. We were allowed to have personality, encouraged to fuck around. As long as we didn’t take coke from any record companies, or at least get caught, we were pretty much free to just blast on the radio.

Our chief competitor was KHJ, by then a very mechanical boring station, ten years past its prime. Think Sylvester Stallone in the last RAMBO movie.

Our line-up was a collection of goofballs. John M. Driscoll, a funny caustic jock from Chicago did mornings. He was followed by Dave Conley, a San Diego radio vet, who spent every dime he owned and many he didn’t at the race track. I’d see him in the hall and say, “How’s it goin’, Dave?” and he would whine, “The fucking goats are KILLING ME!” At noon we had Willie B. This guy had the world’s most beautiful baritone voice. You’d never know he was like nine-years-old at the time.


In the afternoons we had the legendary, the amazing, the REAL Don Steele. Imagine an expansion baseball team with Babe Ruth batting clean-up.

Rich “Brother” Robbin, the human adrenaline rush, came on from 6-10 PM. Poor Joe Nasty did late nights. I say “poor” because for one promotion they made him ride a rollercoaster at Knott’s Berry Farm for 24 straight hours. He still walks into walls today.

Overnights belonged to Nancy Plum. She was every guy’s fantasy. Sexy smoky voice. I feel bad for her, too, because we all had to take requests over the phone. I’m sure half of hers were for blowjobs.

Rounding out the weekends was the very funny Dave Trout. That wasn’t his real name. He moved on to KROQ where he does use his real name – Freddy Snakeskin.

And I can’t forget the TenQ Duck. This was our highly inebriated mascot that went around for public appearances. The gentleman who wore the suit (which I don’t think was ever cleaned) doubled as the morning sports guy, Clete Dumpster with his “short snorts in the world of sports”. Our morning newscaster was Boyd R. Brittan, the voice of God. He’s been “Doc on the Roq” at KROQ for probably twenty years now.

The station was located in what is now called Koreatown, on Western near Wilshire. You ran from the car to the station. The building itself was a former mortuary. It is two-stories and there was a small courtyard in the center. This was used to lift coffins to the second floor. Great vibes for rock n’ roll, right? I used to claim that we were just sharing the building with a mortuary and they always seemed to be busy on Saturday night. I know this is horrible, but I would do stuff on the air like say, “Okay, they’re hoisting our next singer up now” then play a Janis Joplin record.

Beaver Cleaver was not just my airname, it was my alter-ego. All week long I’m writing a TV show that was steeped in humanity, and on Saturday nights I was this raving lunatic King of Bad Taste.

Trivia note: The first movie Ron Howard ever directed was GRAND THEFT AUTO for Roger Corman. There are scenes at TenQ, the Real Don Steele is in the movie, and TenQ is heard throughout the film.

We gave KHJ a good run for their money but still fell a little short.  Playing a Ramones record every five minutes didn't help.  The station has a real cult following among radio people. Many consider TenQ the last great Top 40 station. I never knew it at the time. I was too busy doing Charles Manson jokes over Carpenters records.

19 comments:

RyderDA said...

Shades of PIRATE RADIO.

Rich Johnson said...

Retro-jealousy. In '76 I was in the Willamette Valley, working for a PD who couldn't talk. I eventually got canned for pointing out to the GM the spot in which the PD talked about the sale on a 'veritable speed drill.'

Jeff said...

Ken, any truth to apocryphal story that Jimi anonymously sent a cake to a KHJ staff meeting that rubbed in their ratings demise to Ten-Q? If true, what did it say on the cake?

Mark said...

Man, radio used to be fun (even when I did it, in college in the early '80s; we had a [rare for college] commercial license and actually ran a profitable operation).

The problem with funny jocks of the "outrageous" variety, though, is that Stern came in and absolutely took it to a higher (lower?) level, and I mean that absolutely NOT facetiously; that guy is so funny (or was, anyway, as I haven't heard him in years) that it made everyone else seem like a much lesser talent.

For a different (and much milder) take there was always Jean Shepherd. I recently read a great bio about him ("Excelsior You Fathead!") and found a site that actually streams many of his old shows:

http://jeanshepherdpodcast.blogspot.com/

Ken, were you a Shep fan growing up?

Phillip B said...

I've been told the original shooting script of "FM" was a real classic description of 1970s pop radio - and was ripped to shreds by the commercial urgency of adding more Linda Ronstadt concert footage. (Robbing Alex Karras of an Oscar nomination)

So epic film of this period still remains to be made...

Barry in Portland said...

Amen on Jean Shepherd.

Ajjjj said...

So, I have a question for you. As a young writer about to move to LA and working with a limited budget, what parts of town would you recommend to live in... specifically cheap enough but still not running to your car and back. Also, is there an area of town where you'll be closer to where most of the TV writing happens, or is it spread out?

lucifervandross said...

Ajjjj,

I am in a similar predicament and find that this blog:

http://www.losangelesorbust.com/

is pretty helpful. Just to assure you, I don't run the blog, but the gentleman who does is really nice and usually fields questions.

I met him at Austin Film Festival this year.

Best of luck. Maybe we'll be on the same staff.

Nathan said...

Ajjjj,

The key to finding cheap digs in L.A. is to respond to the ads that use the word "adjacent", as in "Beverly Hills Adjacent", "Santa Monica Adjacent", etc. It won't be in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, and odds are it's a listing for a dumpster in an alley, but you'll be within hiking distance of a desirable address.

YEKIMI said...

Wow, the description of Nancy Plum sounds like the overnight girl who used to work at the station I was on at the time. All the male workers said it sounded like she was broadcasting on the "International Oral Sex Frequency". Of course, we never told her that, but eventually she found out. At first she was super pissed but then just laughed it off. But the station was sold, we all went our different ways and have no idea where she is now [or if she is even in radio anymore].

Eugene B. Bergmann said...

< there was always Jean Shepherd. I recently read a great bio about him ("Excelsior You Fathead!")>

I'm happy that you liked my book on Shepherd. Although it's got some biographical material, even more, it's a description and appreciation of his genius on radio, as well as in other media. There was always Shepherd--at least for two decades on New York's WOR, heard in 26 states. and he was almost never in bad taste. As I like to say, he tickled the better parts of our minds.

Mark said...

>>I'm happy that you liked my book on Shepherd.<<

Hi Eugene,

I'm glad you found this thread! Yes, your book was both terrific and fascinating, and not just for what it said about Shepherd (the contrast between his private and public persona), but for what it said about talent in general; i.e., there are many, many talented people in almost every creative field, and yet just a handful of them are "the best of the best". While Shepherd was a very good writer, his truly STANDOUT talent was telling meandering stories on the radio, and I found it fascinating how he refused to accept that; it would kind of be like Meryl Streep-- who displayed a nice voice in that Abba movie-- abandoning acting to become a lounge singer.

I suppose in the case of Shep it wasn't quite so clear cut, as in the end he was fired from the radio for having only "cult audience-sized ratings," but the fact that in his later life he refused to discuss those years struck me as very sad, as again, there were plenty of funnier screenwriters but there was never anyone as captivating as he was for 45 minutes behind a microphone.

I also think it's sad that Stern had those nasty things to say about Shep and Shep retaliated in kind, as they were both (and Stern still is) extremely talented-- in my opinion, the two most talented guys who ever worked in radio.

Anonymous said...

I hear the Real Don in my head! Look out for the Ten Q duck, he's got your WAM!...Walkin' around money!

Cap'n Bob said...

Didn't the head of the hooker's union (Margo St. James?)in San Francisco have sex on the air with a late night jock?

Moose said...

I just read this post Groundhog Day morning. While sick and at home yesterday I listened to the TenQ aircheck on "The Ultimate Radio Bootleg". What a station!!

jbryant said...

Ken, don't know if you've heard yet, but WUSA is coming out on DVD next week (Feb. 8) from Olive Films.

Mary Payne said...

I really enjoyed reading your blog, Ken and have been hearing a lot more about KNTQ from my friend Ed Ryba in LA and listening to clips via YouTube.

Can you imagine what it was like here in the UK when there was nothing on the radio during the day except the BBC Light Programme and a very limited amount of pop music programming? Then offshore radio arrived in 1964 with Radio Caroline. We finally got all-day music, but the sound was rather staid and the music was pretty M-O-R. Then BANG, in December, in sails Radio London from the US bearing Top 40 radio and PAMS jingles, and also Don Pierson's notion of teaching raw-recruit DJs and old-school announcers to emulate KLIF!

By May 1966, Radio London have got the sound right. The Brits love Big L and Caroline has had to undergo a swift change of format to compete. Then Don sails a bunch of American jocks over the pond to start his second venture, Swinging Radio England. Sadly, the station was gone by the end of the year. The jocks' hyper, echo-filled delivery proved too much of a culture shock for most listeners, whose ears had never as much as heard a PAMS jingle prior to December 1964!

Would we have been ready for KNTQ in the Seventies? Probably not.

Mary Payne, Radio London Webmaster

Shari Boyd said...

I don't think it was misguided at all.. I thoroughly enjoyed having you around the station... and even more so I've enjoyed your work since. Whenever I see your name on a credit roll I smile. Ten-Q and KGBS was a after school job for me that lasted til they closed us down.. but the memories I made those 4 years have lasted a lifetime... thanks in part to guys like you.

Rose Gurrola said...

TenQ wow a blast from the past! You, also had another guy that use to work there his name is Robert Soto what ever happen to him he use to had a car club call Dynasty!!