Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Before I wrote Bar War practical joke wars for Cheers I targeted radio stations

Back in the days when one company didn’t own ten stations in the same market there was such a thing as “competition”. Especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s there were usually two rock stations going head-to-head in every town. This could lead to radio wars. Stations would try to sabotage each others contests and promotions. It was all in good fun.

Best of all was if you could somehow get on the air on the competing station and embarrass them live.

You didn’t have to be employees of the competing station to participate. You could be a diabolical listener just out for a few laughs.

I have been known to be one such diabolical listener (little wonder I became co-writer of all the CHEERS practical joke Bar Wars episodes).  

The irony is that I have since become good friends with the disc jockey I punked – Charlie Van Dyke.

But in 1973 I had some issues. Not with him.  Charlie's a great guy.  But I had problems with the station at the time.

Charlie was the morning man on KHJ, Los Angeles. Once a great radio station, the guiding forces had recently been replaced by a martinet program director, Paul Drew, who sapped all the imagination and creativity out of the station.

They were running an on-air contest called Columbo, based on the popular TV character of the time. Charlie announced it was time to play the game and he would take the tenth call. I phoned in and what do you know, I was caller number ten. Using a pseudonym, I played the game. Here’s the result, recorded right off the air.


Muzicons.com


Oooh, was Charlie pissed when he got back on the phone. Can't blame him. But I was right.

38 comments:

Andy said...

Hi Ken,

A Friday question for you…

I’m in the UK and regularly hear of British TV programmes being made that want to be shown in America. This seems to require the makers adapting them in various ways in an effort to be more American friendly. This has always puzzled me as we in the UK have no problems watching American films and programmes, even if we don’t know all the local cultural references such as (for example) whether the ‘Nicks’ play Basketball, Baseball, American Football or some other obscure regional activity.

So, two questions…

1 – Would Americans really be that confused and unable to watch a show if they didn’t immediately know (and couldn’t guess from the context) what a lift, path, telly or sweets were?

2 – I’m curious if it ever happens the other way round. Do American shows ever try and accommodate non American viewers in a similar way?

Paul Duca said...

Andy, I can tell you one thing...they are putting on an American version of PRIME SUSPECT this fall, and just in the promo they have Maria Belo packing heat--something I'm sure Helen Mirren didn't do.

Dave Williams said...

In 1973 I was PD of KRTH which, as you know Ken, was originally KHJ-FM. I worked for Paul Drew and the less said about that the better. But you WERE absolutely right.

Mike McCann said...

>>
Oooh, was Charlie pissed when he got back on the phone. Can't blame him. But I was right.
>>

Imagine how steamed Paul Drew was.

MikeBo said...

That was street justice at its best, Ken. The Drew treatment of radio creativity may have gotten big ratings at the time, but it started radio down the slippery slope to what it is today.

Charlie sounded unrattled on the air. Did Drew and Van Dyke ever find out who you were?

Anonymous said...

I worked at KHJ (my second time, was there for the launch of the real Boss Radio) when Drew, known as Rommel, would walk around the offices, holding a small transistor radio in his hand to keep monitoring the station when he was out of his office. He left, I think went up to corporate on Sunset Blvd. and we got Bill Watson, who was worse Yes, Charlie Van Dyke was a good guy...

Mlisssa Banczak said...

I can't understand what's being said for the crime. Can someone type that out for me? I'd appreciate it.
Melissa

Great Big Radio Guy said...

Marv Saxon is my hero.

Phillip B said...

A quick Google search brought up an aircheck for Charlie Van Dyke's first day at KHJ,

http://airchexx.com/2010/01/18/charlie-van-dyke-93-khj-los-angeles-january-24-1972/

The comments on this fill in some of the background. As you listen to his voice it is hard to believe he was all of 24 years old....

Light Mayo Smith said...

That was funny. Charlie does have 'the voice,' doesn't he? Is he still w/us?

Catch the game last night? Did you cringe with each revolting development in the 9th? Even I will not concede that the M's could give up 5 runs in the 9th inning! I know the Nats have been red hot, but really, 5 in the 9th? Too much, skipper!

A Non E Mouse said...

A Friday question about topical humor:

Roger Ebert's Twitter comment on the death of Dunn - too soon? Too harsh? Just right? When can you make what kind of joke or comment on someone's death?

More Light Mayo said...

Watching the Dodgers-Tigers game, Detroit up by 2 in the 9th, Valverde puts 2 Dodgers on base via BB (one out). Leyland goes to the mound, the infielders join him. Leyland never looks at Valverde but it can't be any secret what he's saying. As long as Leyland's been in pro baseball, wouldn't ya think he'd know how to say "throw fucking strikes" in Spanish by now?

Mac said...

He's got a great radio voice - got to hand it to the guy, he kept his cool on the air.

MattA said...

Great response on the radio, but wouldn't the on-air talent get in trouble for not "dumping" you with the delay button?

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Such cajones...at such a young age!

Go Beav' !!

selection7 said...

Mlisssa, in response to what celebrity and what crime they committed, he said...

Paul Drew, for killing KHJ.

Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

Regarding Andy's question, the question that I always pose back to Brits whenever they ask it is, "Are there 100 episodes of the British show you're talking about?" If the answer is no, and it almost certainly is, then what makes you think any mainstream channel in the US wants to bother showing it?

A Non-Emus said...

@Paul, English police don't carry guns, American police do. There's no getting around that.

Bryan said...

Light Mayo Smith asked if Charlie was still with us? Why yes, he's the image voice for KRTH, has been for decades and he's on a plethora of radio and television stations. He does the news opens for KABC TV here in LA.

MattA asked why no dump button was used. Probably because they didn't have a delay. Back then music stations rarely used a delay. It was usually used only at talk stations then.

Bob Oscar Johnson said...

MattA, the delays that were used in the 80's and later were digital delay boxes...no such thing existed in 1973..

Back then if you had a delay it was done by reel-to-reel tape..you ran the station's audio into the reel-to-reel that was modified to place the play head farther down the tape path and then the audio that went on the air was coming from the play head, delayed several seconds..pretty primitive..

Bob Oscar Johnson said...

Mlisssa, the crime is "Paul Drew for killing KHJ"..

Since Mr. Drew was Charlie Van Dyke's boss, Charlie had to ponder that for a few moments before answering...

Bob Oscar Johnson said...

By the way, Ken, did KHJ send you your picture of the "celebrity suspect" as your consolation prize?

I assume you probably gave them a phony address to go along with the phony name?

MikeBo said...

Walking around with a transistor radio stuck in one's ear was a rock radio hallmark back in "Boss Radio" days. Drew had one. I remember Bill Watson walking around with one in later years at KMPC. One day I spotted Watson's radio on the table in the deejay's lounge. While he wasn't looking, I changed the station from 710kh to some Christian radio station. He never left the radio lying around again.

jbryant said...

I love that he says your answer is "not quite right." But I guess it was in the ball park!

Megalion said...

Any chance of a transcript for your deaf readers?

Johnny Walker said...

Sure thing, Megalion:

Columbo: Hey, this is Columbo again. Er, it's time to guess the name of the celebrity suspect and the crime he committed, for a $1000 in KHJ cash.

Charlie (DJ): Marv Saxon of Woodland Hills, remember that you must answer both questions correctly to win. Marv, what is your deduction?

"Marv" (Ken): Paul Drew, for killing KHJ.

-very brief pause-

Charlie (DJ): That's not quite right, man. I will be sending you a picture, though. The KHJ Celebrity Suspect. Stand by for another clue...

-jingle-

Anonymous said...

I should have pointed out, Drew did not have an ear piece. You could hear him coming down the halls for minutes before he arrived......

Catherine said...

Ken,since we're on Cheers, I have a question.

Rewatched the series recently and enjoyed the Sam/Diane arc a lot becaue they seemed so evenly matched. Some shows were questionable, but mostly, good. Then came Rebecca. Seriously, what did the writers have against either Rebecca, or Kirstie? She was pummelled continually and it was painful to watch. I'm not directing this to you specifically, because I wasn't reading your site then and so wasn't particularly noticing the writers of various episodes. Just want to know if there's an explanation for the Kirstie/Rebecca hate. And didn't you all miss the hell out of Coach? I surely do/did.

Johnny Walker said...

Catherine, I asked a similar question that Ken answered a while back. It may (or may not) answer yours, too:

http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2011/03/friday-questions-about-pilots-cheers.html

Johnny Walker said...

Catherine, I asked a similar question that Ken answered a while back. It may (or may not) answer yours, too:

http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2011/03/friday-questions-about-pilots-cheers.html

Anonymous said...

I hear Charlie's voice on three different media outlets where I live--an FM oldies station; a local TV station; and a local cable sports channel.

Catherine said...

Thanks, Johnny. It does address the Sam/Rebecca issue, but I was also interested in the way Rebecca put herself down all the time, the ways in which she lost out in different ways (jobs, men (Roger Rees' Robin Colchord, Tom Skerrit's Evan, etc.)and just in general, compared to Diane. Sam and Diane both had episodes, or scenes, in which he or she was definitely in the wrong in some major way, (i.e. the other character got the laughs) but also had contrasting arcs in which they were "on top," as it were. This was never true for Kirstie/Rebecca, and it was really painful to watch. Maybe seeing the shows so often (usually two a day in syndication) made it more forceful than seeing them once a week. Just don't know. But thanks for the link.

Don Jennett said...

Ken, sad coincidence that just two days after resurrecting your famous 1973 "Lt. Palumbo" prank, Peter Falk passes away.

Johnny Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Walker said...

(Spelling mistakes.)

If Rebecca had been a guy, would you be saying the same thing, I wonder? Coach, Woody, Cliff... none of these guys were ever "on top".

That said, I don't remember Rebecca ever having moments of being "on top" in the way that Sam and Diane did, come to think of it. An interesting point, now that you mention it. Hmm.

Catherine said...

Johnny, I think the ways in which Coach, Woody, Norm, Cliff were "on top" is the affection in which they were held by other members of Cheers, and with the audience. (Except for Carla, of course, who had her own niche as the smart-ass who disliked everyone except Sam). And you may question Cliff as being thought of affectionately, but I see him as the lightning rod for people's putdowns and eyerollings, which gave him a unique position in the Cheers universe. Rebecca was not thought of affectionately by anyone, as far as I can remember.

Speaking of Coach, god, could he deliver a line, especially the ones in which he seemed like an idiot, which only made him more lovable. I miss Nick Colasanto so much. Do you remember the episode in which Sam tells the gang that Coach is attending a family reunion? The family is black (Coach got an invitation by mistake, but goes every year) and he is known as "Uncle Whitey." Too much.

Ed Dempsey said...

Hi Ken,

Got a Friday question for you that I meant to send out a while back. I was watching "Friends, Romans, Accountants" from Season 1 on Netflix. Was it my imagination or does George Wendt actually mouth the words "What the Fuck" as he's being carried off by his coworkers. If so was it in the script or just one of those things that happened in the moment.

Thanks for one of the most enjoyable blogs I've come across yet. Its the only one that I read on a consistent basis.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, I needed a laugh.

Rest in peace, "Short and Shiny."

Maybe The Real Don Steele is polishing his bald spot. God knows he finally have enough time.