Thursday, August 11, 2011

My first brush with show biz

Here's another excerpt from the book I'm writing about growing up in the '60s in the San Fernando Valley.  It's 1964 and I'm a young teenage nerd...
That mystery glass booth at Wallichs Music City record store remained empty until July. And then an odd control panel appeared inside. Ominous with a big circular green fluorescent screen surrounded by blinking pen lights and toggle switches. Was Bond supervillain Dr. No going to move his world domination operation to a shopping mall and fire his nuclear missiles from a Woodland Hills store window?

What the hell was this thing?

Two turntables and a microphone arrived.

Holy shit! It was a radio station studio! And not just any station. KFWB!

Back in the ‘60s radio played a big part in the life of a teenager. As unfathomable as it may seem, kids could not access music through their phones back then. They had to rely on AM radio. A fierce loyalty developed between the listener and station. Most cities had two competing rockers and you were aligned with one or the other. I was a KFWB man over KRLA. Why? I have no idea. They were both exactly the same.

That station loyalty and identification extended to the disc jockeys. A local survey revealed that L.A. teenagers trusted disc jockeys more than their parents, teachers, policemen, even their religious leaders. I still haven’t decided whether that’s admirable or really sad.

But one of my favorites was KFWB’s Gene Weed. Picture David Caruso but younger, not craggy, not a weasel.

Gene would now be doing his show every Saturday afternoon from Wallichs. There is a God!

This would be a two-man operation. The engineer manning the turntables and Gene across from him at the mike. Outside, pimple faced kids pressed their faces against the glass like canned hams. Mine included.

Most would watch for ten minutes and then move on to the similar, and more lively, monkey cages. Not me. My schmooshed face never left its spot. I knew I had to get in there. Somehow. Fate smiled when Gene showed up one day with a cold. I raced down to Kaplan’s mediocre Deli and returned with a Styrofoam cup of their horrible chicken soup. A gofer had been born. From that Saturday on I stood in the corner, watching in awe as he introduced records and made golf reservations over the phone. This was the life for me, I thought. At 14 I had found my calling. Forget that at eight I had also found my calling as a baseball announcer, and at six I saw myself driving a steam shovel.

One week the all-night man, Larry McCormick filled in. Larry was the first African-American to crossover from R & B radio to a mainstream station.

He was also the first person to tell me I’m an idiot if I go into radio. I was stunned. He cautioned that disc jockeys had limited futures and the industry itself was just a cut above traveling medicine shows. I would come to learn years later that he was absolutely right. But at the time I was mystified.

Larry McCormick went on to break the color barrier in local TV news and became the first African-American anchor. And Gene Weed fled radio to become a top TV director.

But in the late summer of 1964 I couldn’t think of a better way of spending six or seven decades than by playing “My Boy Lollipop.” Larry Lujack, a top rated jock in Chicago for much of the ‘60s and ‘70s was often asked, “What do you say to a kid who wants to be a disc jockey when he grows up?” and Larry would say, “You can’t do both.”

17 comments:

Great Big Radio Guy said...

Where it all went wrong...

Great story. And great quote from Lujack who also gave the best advice for buying a used car: Before you even test drive it, turn the radio on. If all the buttons are set to rock stations, it's gonna need a new transmission.

Salad Is Slaughter said...

So you've done DJ and baseball announcer. When do you start the steam shovel job?

Mac said...

Best advice you can give anyone who wants into the entertainment industry, is that they'd be an idiot to do it. If they ignore you and do it anyway, you know they've at least got the right attitude.

Cap'n Bob said...

At least you have that gofer thing to fall back on if your other careers don't work out.

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Gene Weed was my neighbor in Reseda during the time he was working at KFWB. I used to love to go to his house on Halloween. He gave away RECORDS instead of candy. I used to go back twice! He was really a nice guy.

Anonymous said...

Currently KFWB has a studio at the Daily News in Woodland Hills. Doubtful squealing teenagers are in the vicinity.

VP81955 said...

Currently KFWB has a studio at the Daily News in Woodland Hills. Doubtful squealing teenagers are in the vicinity.

Given the quality of some of today's newspaper writing, if anyone's in the vicinity, it's screaming copy editors, not squealing teenagers (with the KFWB correspondent probably reminding those Daily News staffers not to use any of the "George Carlin seven" when the red light is on).

doyke said...

Luijack is good on quotation from great story... even the pictures was so old... but good

Anonymous said...

Gene Weed had one of the best good-bye lines of all time.

When KFWB switched formats from rock to all news, Gene was the last disc jockey on the air. As the record was fading out he back-announced it and said, "...and we'll be back with more music right after the news."

Jeffrey Leonard said...

To "anonymous"...Gene Weed never did really say that quote. It's a myth that someone made up many years ago. I have the tape of his last broadcast on KFWB and he did not say that...

te said...

To Jeffrey Leonard:

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Paul Duca said...

Jewish mammas don't let their babies grow up to drive steam shovels....

Jeffrey Leonard said...

To te...when an untruth is untrue...print the truth!

plastic card said...

wow, so nice and great story..may you have great day..

Anonymous said...

And the photo shows the zombie-byrds were playing that gig.

HogsAteMySister said...

I guess the newspaper and radio businesses share the same warning for wannabees - don't even. And if you do, don't saw we didn't warn ya.

Carol said...

Ken - I thought you might like this entry in the 'Awful Library Books' blog.

http://awfullibrarybooks.net/?p=12738#comments

It's a book from '83 about making it in radio. I'm curious to know if you recognise any of the names on the back cover.