Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Christmas I got fired

One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the 38th anniversary of the last time I signed off my show with “see you tomorrow” and was never heard from again.   This is a blog tradition:  the anniversary of the Christmas I was fired. 

1974, I’m Beaver Cleaver on KSEA, San Diego, playing “The Night Chicago Died” and “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” five times a night and seriously considering blowing my brains out. Yes, I know – why “Beaver Cleaver”? Ken Levine sounded too Jewish. (Reelradio.com has some of my embarrassing airchecks.)

The fall rating book came out, the numbers were not good, and at 3:00 I was told to hurry down to the station for an all-important staff meeting at 4:00. We all assembled and were told the station had decided to change formats to gospel and we were all being let go. “Even me?” I said in mock amazement. “Especially you.” “But I could change my name to Eldridge Cleaver.” “I’m going to need your station key”.

Quick aside: a year earlier at KMEN San Bernardino they wanted to get rid of me by moving me from the evening shift to the all-night show. The cheap bastards were hoping I’d quit so they wouldn’t have to pay severance (maybe $300 at most) and be on the hook for unemployment insurance. I asked the program director to at least do the humane thing and fire my sorry ass. “Nope”, he said, “Starting tonight you’re midnight to six.” So I stopped off at the local record store, picked up an LP, and dutifully reported on time for my shift.

Like KSEA, we were a high energy Top 40 station. (Our program director was in love with WLS whose slogan was “the Rock of Chicago” so we became the much catchier “Rock of the Inland Empire”.) I signed on and started playing the hits. Then at 12:30 segued smartly into FIDDLER ON THE ROOF….in Yiddish. The entire album. I was fired during “Anatefka”.

Back to the KSEA staff meeting -- Our morning man, Natural Neil asked when this format change was taking place. A month? A week? The program director looked at his watch and said “45 minutes”. And with that we were all canned. KSEA was gone…along with the promotion we were running at the time --

“Christmas the way it was meant to be!”

24 comments:

dgwPhotography said...

This post just makes me want to say, "BOOGER!!!!!!!"

Johnny Walker said...

What a lovely Christmas present to all their staff!

Mark said...

Here's how bad the radio business is: Levine became a writer for job security.

Miserlouise said...

Once upon a time I wanted to get fired from a bar mitzvah band, so that, like you, I could collect unemployment. Please note that they were complete bastards to work for, and they would do anything to prevent an employee from getting unemployment compensation. So I played the "Miserlou" as a horn line on every single song. "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch", "New York, New York", "Cheek to Cheek", EVERY song. Next day I got a call, "You are SO fired." [Note: I do not recommend this technique in an 'employment at-will' state.]

Now let me tell you about the time a lady keeled over dead at a Christmas party while the band played "I Will Survive" (true story!!). What do you think the band played while they were doing CPR on the lady?

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"Girl from Ipanema", of course.

RS Gray said...

Don't the CPR classes tell you that if you have trouble remembering the sequence of heart compressions to do it to the rhythm of "Stayin' Alive"?

SkippyMom said...

The Fiddler on the Roof story is still, by far, the best "How I got myself fired" story.

Thanks for re running this. :)

MikeBo said...

I recall the story that a publicist friend of mine used to tell. He had been a Hollywood publicist for many years. One night we were at dinner and the subject of Christmas came up. "I have mixed feelings about Christmas," he said. "That's when I always got fired." He said the bean-counters were trying to balance the books at year end.

Mark Justice said...

I love your radio posts, especially since they harken back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when radio actually had live midnight shifts! :)

Cap'n Bob said...

I thought you couldn't get unemployment for being fired, only for being laid off.

jbryant said...

A good old school CPR song would be "My Heart Stood Still."

Dan Tedson said...

My girlfriend worked as a board op for years (Radio Technical Director when she was hitting on mathletes). At least you never got fired the way her last job "fired" her - by declaring bankruptcy before they'd even hired her. They told her the first paycheck took a month to pay out, then locked and bolted the employees out come payday. When she called the Porsche-driving Doctor who owned the station and asked about her ~$500 (which is a lot of money to us), he told her, "I've already paid everyone I intend on paying."

Oh, if only justice were meted out with gorilla phermones and a Pon Farry Backstreet Boy.

J S Swanson said...

The moral of this story must surely be - " May God bless and keep the Program Director .. far away from me. "

Johnny Walker said...

I just want to say for the record, whatever record there may be, that even though I said I'd cancelled it in the "Which Shows Have YOU Cancelled Lately?" poll, I've actually renewed 'How I Met Your Mother'.

There was fan campaign, the producers made impassioned pleas, and there was some politics with the studio... It's all lead to one thing: 'How I Met Your Mother' is back on the Johnny Network, and it's getting better ratings than ever (I recently showed an episode to a friend).

In all seriousness, I love the fact that instead of just going broad comedy when coming up with fresh ideas got harder, they decided to go with more drama. Totally ended up working for me.

(Sorry, it's amazing the number of things I find myself doing in order to avoid packing.)

McLoffs said...

Not to be nitpicky (translation: I'm about to be nitpicky) it's the 37th anniversary, not the 38th.

Pat Reeder said...

My various radio firings were all pretty routine. But the one I remember is when I was fired by mail after doing a lot of creative work as the head writer on a new children's video series. The reasons given were bogus; the real reason was that I criticized the destruction of the material by the production company owner's daughter-in-law. I applied for unemployment, and discovered they'd told state authorities that I was fired for not coming into work. They hadn't counted on the fact that I am a pack rat. I hauled up the letter from the owner of the company, giving me permission to work at long distance, and the case moved up to regional appeal.

So then they claimed I was fired for doing substandard work. I hauled up the letters raving about my work and the paystubs showing the raise I got halfway through. (I also discovered at this point that the company routinely did this as a delaying tactic, in hopes that the people they laid off would become too desperate for money to continue and drop their unemployment claims. But again, they did not count on how persistent I can be when pissed off.) The case moved on to a state-level hearing under oath.

The day came for the conference call, I was loaded for bear with papers all over the bed, and the judge said, "Let the record show that the employer has failed to call in on time. We find summary judgment in Mr. Reeder's favor." All their lawyers had chickened out before a comedy writer who had them nailed. It won me only about $2100 in benefits, long after I'd landed another job, but the satisfaction was worth it.

BTW, that video series was Barney the Dinosaur, and they went on to make about a billion dollars off of it, not a cent of which ever came to me (Yeah, I know, but believe me, my original scripts were much smarter; objecting to what it became was the real reason why I was fired).

And this is why I snort derisively every time I hear Barney tell kids about the importance of "sharing."

Jeff Randall said...

How about the entire staff getting radio station jackets as a "christmas bonus" and then the whole staff getting fired in January?!?!

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to remove my name from a post made a couple of years ago? I left my full name and location at your suggestion of "please leave a name!" and now it's the first thing that comes up in a Google search of my name/location. Not ashamed to be associated with the blog, but I'd rather keep my personal surfing habits private as potential employers spy on me. I'll check back here if you have an answer. Many thanks.

Ken Levine said...

Email me at bossjock@dslextreme.com with the info and I'll see what I can do.

Paul Duca said...

Pat, call yourself lucky perhaps...you could have been working with that woman. She must think all young children are as simple-minded as her Barney treated them--and like the show, I' think that even when HER kids were breathlessly close to pubescence, she still saw and treated them as preschoolers.

Anonymous said...

Actually, JBryant, you can get unemployment for being fired -- if the charming people doing the firing did so because you were a union member and they couldn't lay you off, per union agreement, unless they offered you a job within a 50-mile radius. So they fired you. And maybe had a guilty conscience about it. But I really doubt that.

jbryant said...

Anonymous: It was Cap'n Bob who asked the unemployment question.

Lee McGowan said...

Hello Ken,
Stumbled on your blog. Met you in early 70's when visiting Tom Greenleigh (Albert Flasher) at KSEA. We all met for lunch. I was at KDES in Palm Springs...used to DX you on KYA. Loved your KSEA firing story. If the phrase "Paul Drew for killing KHJ" means anything, it's my all time favorite Rat Fink on KHJ. Saw Greenleigh a few years ago...he's in Utah with Sherman doing web stuff. Worked briefly with Pearl in '84. Can't believe the KSEA thing was 38 years ago...do you know the KSEA logo was still on the office door in the old shopping mall through the late 80's...nLSMcGowan@cbs.comearly 15 years after moving out!
Regards from KyXy San Diego,
Lee McGowan

Bob Oscar said...

Did you have an account with U-Haul in 1974, Ken?

It looks like your DJ resume for 1974 was WDRQ/Detroit, KYA/San Francisco, KIQQ/Los Angeles and KSEA/San Diego all in the same year....crap...you were the poster boy for itinerant DJ...if you know what I'm talkin' about...

Chuck Wheeler - Bob Publicover said...

Ken, I remember that day very well. I was working at KSON as Chuck Wheeler. Really wanted to be on KSEA but KSON was an AFTRA gig and paid well. But I spent a lot of time over on your side of the Mall's under belly. Niel, you, DJ Mckay, etc. Not only was Dan McKinnon's decision to fire everyone just before Christmas COLD, to be fired to make room for a Christian Radio station the afternoon of the company Christmas Party was STONE COLD.

Six months later I was fired because the new KSON PD had a friend he wanted to hire. Several years after that when I was working under my own name, Bob Publicover, as the news director of KCBQ I ran into Dan. He said, "Well, you turned out OK and are doing well." My reply was, "at least I wasn't fired just before Christmas so you could start up a Christian format". He said, "what better time have a Christian radio station than at Christmas?" He didn't get it and I told him that. We never spoke again.