Thursday, November 03, 2011
This Could Only Happen on Live Radio
In the early ‘70s, while still a student at UCLA, I was an engineer at KABC/KLOS radio. Primarily, I worked for KLOS. Due to union contracts, the announcers could only turn on and off their microphones. Engineers (or “board ops”) did everything else – played all the commercials, records, or on KABC’s talk format – put the callers on and off the air.
So for eight hours a day I sat in a control room playing records and commercials (on cartridges) and adjusting levels while the disc jockey and talk show hosts sat across the glass in studios equipped with a microphone.
The format for KLOS was A.O.R. That’s a radio industry term for “Album Oriented Rock”. This was the FM alternative to high-energy Top 40 stations. Instead of screaming DJ’s geared towards teenagers, AOR stations employed laid back hippies designed to attract that young college student who had discerning taste in music and was stoned 99% of the time.
Both KABC and KLOS, owned then by the American Broadcasting Company when it was a real company, shared the same facility on La Cienaga just on the border of the part of town you never wanted your car to break down in. KABC and KLOS were odd bedfellows to be sure.
KABC was the top rated talk station in town. Commentators in shirts and ties would defend Richard Nixon all day. On the other side of the building, it was Woodstock after the rain. Jocks dressed like the Grateful Dead but with worse hygiene would flitter from the studios to the offices leaving a thick trail of illegal smoke behind them.
The staffs of the two stations were separate except for the engineers. It was not uncommon for me to go from playing Jethro Tull records to presiding over a talk show advocating all hippies be fired off into space. Then back for “Layla” by Derek & the Dominos (a song that is approaching a coveted milestone: It has been overplayed to death for forty years come this December).
But it was the best of America – a true melting pot: the counter-culture and narcs working side by side. Paul Harvey and Mott the Hoople coming out of the same building.
I loved my time at KLOS. Worked with some great D.J.’s like Jim Ladd (who was there until just week before being unceremoniously dumped), J.J. Jackson (one of the first V.J.s), Damian, Shauna, and the late Jim Patton. They somehow managed to create a vibe that was ultra-cool even though they were practically broadcasting from an army recruiting center.
The fun of AOR radio is making the segues from one record to another and that was my job. If you ever have a bar mitzvah and need a DJ to segue “From the Beginning” by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer to “the Needle and the Damage Done” by Neil Young give me a call. The KLOS jocks would tell me which three album cuts to play in a row and they would then just chill for ten to fifteen minutes. Some got high and others hustled the phones trying to get laid.
One of the jocks was notorious for the latter. I always had to get on the intercom and tell him the last record was ending. And one time, remind him he had a live commercial to read.
(One of the revival theaters in town was doing a salute to old Popeye cartoons in tribute to the director of those cartoons who had just passed away)
So the song ends, I tell the jock he’s got a live spot, he scrambles for the headphones, turns on the mic, back announces the songs and thumbs through the copy book looking for the right commercial, all the while vamping. This is what he said:
“Rock n’ Stereo 95 and a half, KLOS. That was Cream with “Sunshine of Your Life” followed by “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills, & Nash and finally “Layla” by Derek & the Dominos. It’s ten minutes to 8 on a Tuesday night, got some great album cuts coming up in the next set, and here’s something you’ll all be happy to know… (he finds the commercial and begins reading)… Max Fleisher, the creator of Popeye died"
Well, that was it. I was on the floor. Seeing this, the jock also broke up and KLOS listeners were then treated to two minutes of truly tasteless laughter. Finally, he signaled me to just start playing records.
So I did. “Funeral for a Friend” followed by “Sail on Sailor”.
What can I say? I yam what I yam.