Thursday, April 25, 2013

My radio idol wanted to beat the crap out of me

Readers seem to enjoy my radio war stories, otherwise entitled: One Disc Jockey’s Mediocre Career. Several of you have requested I write a book about them. Buy my current book first. But to tease you, here’s another Top 40 tale.

In the fall of 1974 I had finally made the big(ish) time. I was hired to do the evening shift on K100, Los Angeles. This was the first time I was on the radio in my hometown, and even more exciting – the station was owned by Drake/Chenault, the same consultants who created Boss Radio KHJ. And most of the disc jockeys were former KHJ Bossjocks. The great Robert W. Morgan did mornings and the Real Don Steele did afternoons. As Beaver Cleaver, I got to follow the Real Don Steele. Forget that I had to play “Billy, Don’t be a Hero” and “You’re Having My Baby” every ten minutes – how cool was that?

Robert W. Morgan was one of my idols. He was the complete package. Great voice and wickedly funny. Within three weeks of my joining K100 Morgan almost drove down to the station with the intent of sending me to the emergency room.

Here’s what happened:

After my first week the station began a contest called “The Secret Stash.” Ten items (like stereos, trips, motorcycles – things kids wanted back then besides drugs) were in “The Secret Stash” and the first listener who could identify all ten would win them all. We took a contestant every hour and also provided hourly worthless clues. We would tell the contestants when they correctly named an item and eventually listeners were closing in on all ten. The contest took about a week.

When someone finally got the last one, the jock on the air was required to make a huge deal of it. The recording of that exchange was then used as a station promo for several days.

Usually you like your best jock to be the one on that promo. In this case, it was Robert W. Morgan. So once nine of the ten items were identified and we knew we were close, a giveaway clue was to be given on Morgan’s show. The next contestant would easily then win.

So that was the plan. But the night before, on my show, the contestant got it right. I made the requisite big hoop-dee-doo, my voice was on the promo for the next week, and Morgan was steamed. I heard about this but what could I do? It wasn’t my fault the skeesix won.

The station liked the contest so much they ran it again. Secret Stash #2 was rolled out. Same deal. Listeners narrowed down the items. We were primed to give it away the next morning on Robert W.’s show when, wouldn’t you know, a listener on my show got it right. So I’m screaming on the air how thrilled I am for this person while inside I’m going, “You stupid asshole! Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve caused, you dick?”

Sure enough, Morgan had had one or two adult beverages, called the Real Don Steele and said, “I’m going down to the station to beat the shit out of that kid!?"  

Now he had warned me beforehand that if I gave away Secret Stash #2 instead of him he would hurt me, but I just assumed that was an idle threat. But now I was thinking -- was it? I knew Morgan had a temper. What if he did come down to the station? I hadn’t been in a physical altercation since the 7th Grade. I didn’t want to fight him. He was my idol. On the other hand, if your idol is kicking the crap out of you that takes away some of the adoration. Would I swing back? Three weeks ago I was truly honored just being in the same room as him. Now I’m trying to get him in a headlock?

Fortunately, Steele talked him out of driving to the station. He simmered down but wouldn’t talk to me for a month. Eventually we became very good friends. In his last year before succumbing to lung cancer I once joked with him. I said, “We never resolved this Secret Stash business. You want a piece of me? Come on. Let’s do it. Right now.” He looked up at me, in his somewhat frail state and said, “I could still take you.” He was probably right.

God, I miss him.  I don't miss "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" though.

31 comments:

Mike Barer said...

Robert W and Don Steele are spinning wax on KHVN.

The Curmudgeon said...

There can't be many that miss that song. Or the "Ballad of Billy Jack (One Tin Soldier)"... hey wait... here's a contest... the Top 10 Bad Billy songs of all time... starting with "Barnacle Bill the Sailor" from 80 years ago or so. (There's a Louis Jordan recording of that one that can be played on the air... but it would be a shame if that were the listener's only exposure to the King of the Jukebox....)

Anonymous said...

I don't miss "You're Havin' My Baby". I hate that song.

Love the story!

Pam aka sisterzip

Charles H. Bryan said...

For the Top 10 Bad Billy Song Fest: "Will You Marry Me Bill? (Wedding Bell Blues)", from The Fifth Dimension -- although I'll forgive Marilyn McCoo any number of things.

Bob Sharp said...

I worked at a station (automated, using Drake Chenault programming) where the owner loved "You're Havin' My Baby." He had six kids and would wax euphoric about how wonderful it was that these two people loved each other so much that they were having a baby. He went on and on everytime it played.

Finally one of the staff had enough, and said, "You know they're not married, don't you Jim?" He never said another word about that song.

Michael Hill said...

This could have been a great episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.

Jim Davis said...

When I was the PD of KMPC around 1980, Robert W. called me at my home about 2:30AM. He had obviously had a couple of "pops". He told me he was refusing to come to work in the "morgan" because of something he disagreed with (I don't remember it now). He was a man who didn't mince any words... most of them 4 letter. He said "if you are any know of a man you will get your @#$ down here right now and discuss this #$%. So, I got some clothes on, drove to the bar to meet him and had a couple more pops and worked our way through whatever the crisis was until things smoothed out. I drove back to Hacienda Heights and returned just in time to click on the radio to hear Robert W. do his first set of the morning. He sounded so incredibly good, I thought I must have been with someone else at the bar just a few hours earlier. God I miss him!

Anonymous said...

Odd memory I have of Morgan when he was on KHJ, if memory serves...

Donny Osmond's "Puppy Love" was at the top of the charts, and I guess Morgan had enough of it.

One morning, he introduced the song with great fanfare, then played it. After it was over, he introduced the song with great fanfare, and played it. After it was over, he introduced it again, with great fanfare, and played it.

After it was over, the guy who read the news interrupted Morgan to tell him the owners had called, and they wanted him to stop playing "Puppy Love," because listeners were getting annoyed. Morgan apologized profusely. He agreed that it was wrong to play "Puppy Love" all morning. Then he introduced "Puppy Love," with great fanfare, and played it again. And again.

I counted 8 times before I had to leave for school, laughing my ass off. Funny I still remember that incident from so long ago. I wish someone kept a recording of that one.

Morgan was a funny person.

Roger Owen Green said...

Funny story!

My Bill song is Big Bad Bill is Sweet William Now by Van Halen.

Bob said...

Who can forget the awful "My Girl Bill"? You, if you're very, very lucky.

chuckcd said...

Should have taped Robert W. Morgan congratulating the winner and played that when the person won on your show.

I do miss real radio...

Anonymous said...

Great story!

Mac said...

Great story. I always hated "Billy Don't be a Hero." Even as a kid with terrible taste I knew it was awful.

YEKIMI said...

I think my "fed up with this song" moment came when in 1979 when I was at a station with a disco format, every other person was calling in [back in the days when DJs actually took requests] and begging "Can you please play 'Ring My Bell' by Anita Ward? I LOOOOOOOVE that song!" For the most part we played the 12" singles which went on for twice as long, if not longer, than the 45s. It got to the point where I finally went on-air and said "I am so SICK of this song, I am never playing it again and to make sure I am destroying this record!" at which point I proceeded to smash the hell out of the record along the edge of the console. {Hey, we had a couple of back-up copies stashed away}. You would have thought that I had slaughtered a basketful of kittens, drowned a dozen puppies in the toilet and beaten up Mother Teresa the way listeners carried on. I went back to playing it twice a shift the next day....at the "request" of the program director. I guess enough time has passed by because I recently stumbled across a 12" copy of it in a used record shop....and bought the damn thing for a buck just for the memories it brought back.

Bobby Rich said...

I guess he's been gone long enough for some of these Robert W stories.

I joined KHJ just a week after Steele exited and 3 weeks before Morgan left. So I was already not popular with any of the real Boss Jocks (although Johnny Williams and Bill Wade were congenial).

The morning of my break-in show (we all had to practice a few days during the overnights before starting our own show) RWM came in studio about 5:30am for his 6am start. As was the tradition, I greeted him by saying "Good Morgan!". Without looking at me he responded "How the fuck would you know."

So I laid back and said nothing. When he returned at 5:58am I quickly picked up my stuff and headed for the exit. That's when I realized Johnny Williams was literally holding RWM's arm, which was cocked back to let fly at me.

There's a little more to the story but I'm saving it for a book. Which I will write someday. But only if Beaver Cleaver will write some dust cover comments. (I buy ALL of Ken's books;)

Carol said...

I bought your first book already. And read it twice. Can I be allowed to beg you for a sequel?

I love the radio stories, want to hear more about your foray into writing, and I really want to know how you met your wife. You shared your bad dates, first loves and ones that got away. Now I want to know how you met your kids' mother!



Bob Oscar Johnson said...

Oh come on, Bobby...don't leave us hanging...what's "the rest of the story?"

benson said...

@Carol. You'll have to wait eight more seasons and by that time you won't care.

@Bob I always liked his 1981 song "Cow Patti"

Ken, Bobby, Jim,
You realize you're not exactly painting a flattering picture of this industry giant.

Steve Michaels said...

Robert was the absolute best. I first met him at KHJ in November of 1965, shortly after the launch of Boss Radio. I sat in the studio with him for the last hour of his Saturday shift. Something i will always remember. Many years later, I was thrilled to get a phone call from him at home one morning asking me if I would do afternoons at a station in Tuscon that he and Bob Scholz owned.(KHYT) Of course I said yes! I miss him too, Ken.

Cap'n Bob said...

Just to balance the scales, I like Wedding Bell Blues. I also enjoy hearing these stories. I feel I missed a lot by not growing up in SoCal, although the 9 years I lived in the Bay Area weren't always great.

MikeBo said...

I was at KMPC during Robert W.'s first time through in the early'70s. (God help you if you left the "W" out of any introduction or greeting). And while I will grant that he was one of the most talented radio people I've ever known, he could a world class prima donna. I think "The Beaver" pissed him off because he thought you were trying to upstage him. That was a capital offense in his mind. Ken, you were indeed fortunate.

rick said...

I've read horror stories about Morgan's temper. He was so successful and talented, yet seemed insecure. By 1974 Morgan's status in radio was legendary. I read his ratings at KIQQ were not the greatest, and that could have had something to do with his temper.

Always wondered how Charlie Tuna and Robert W got along? Ken..you have got to write the radio book. Loved the 60's saga.

Paul Duca said...

Bob Sharp...imagine the reaction if that guy told Jim the station owner "You know, that woman singing with Paul Anka is black"

Cap'n Bob...thank you for answering back Charles Bryan. How can anyone hate a Laura Nyro composition?

Mitch said...

In the 1970s Morgan's production company was looking for a producer. I was beginning my radio career as a news writer and reporter and figured I'd try out for the Morgan job.

His description of the work was simple. I'd go to concerts and tape interviews with the performers. Then I'd edit out my voice, just leaving the answers on the tape. A disc would be made of this, and sent out to station DJs, along with the questions I'd asked, neatly typed out on a couple of sheets of paper. Then the DJ would record his or her voice "asking" the questions. When the interview was played back, the listeners would think the DJ chatted with the talent.

Morgan said the job was mine if I wanted it. I told him I did, but that I wanted to do it while continuing to work at the radio station I was employed at, and also that I wanted to keep working for the newspaper I was writing for. I figured I could handle all three jobs, since all of them were part-time.

Robert W. disagreed. "Who do you think you are, Superman?"

I didn't take the position. I wouldn't quit my other jobs, and I got the feeling Morgan would have been a difficult guy to work for. I didn't realize then that this is a business filled with difficult -- and talented -- people. Sometimes I think I should have quit the other two jobs and worked for Morgan, though I'm sure he would have worn me out in two weeks.

Norm said...

I too was a HUGE Robert W. Morgan fan and experienced BOTH sides of his personality.

He was sooooooooooo gracious when I interviewed him for my senior project at SDSU in 1972.

In 1974(?), there was a possible opportunity to work in the KHJ program department so I sat in on his radio show at KHJ as his "gopher" That included running over to KGBS to get a jingle from Don Imus.

On the other hand, there were times when my "exuberance" seemed to piss him off. At the 25th anniversary dinner of KHJ, he points to me and (play on one of their jingles) says: "Pain In the Ass - THEN, and Pain In The Ass - NOW.

You would "think" that for the betterment of the station, Morgan wouldn't care when the winner was chosen, but, egos sometimes get in the way.

Mark Steinberg said...

I still remember how pissed he'd get when I beat him on our pinball machine at my mother's annual Chanukah party.

But nothing was more than fun than listening to Jeff Gonzer of KMET fame help with the 4 Questions at Passover Sedar.

Mark Steinberg

Jeffrey Mark said...

I heard an aircheck of Robert W when he was at KHJ that was too marvelous for words. Seems a young LAPD officer stopped Morgan because he thought he was carrying a gun. It was a hair dryer but the cop wasn't buying it. It was around 5:30am and Morgan was running late to get to the station. Once he got on the air he began to lambast the "punk cop" on the air. Every song he talked up he tied in the song with the trouble he had with the "punk cop." He came out of a song and kept on riffing on what an idiot the cop was. He kept this up for well over an hour and received a lot of phone calls pro and con for what happend to him. He even talked to an LAPD cop who told Morgan the procedure. Morgan was still steamed and wasn't buying it. It's a hilarious long bit with Morgan's ire waaay up. You can listen to this aircheck on reelradio.com. It was in 1969. Priceless bit.

At one point he was talking up a song and said, "You are under arrest!" Another talk-up he said, "shoot the disc-jockey." Priceless.

Jake Mabe said...

I'm forever thankful that I came along in time to enjoy the tail end of the "colorful local personalities" era of radio.

We had a guy on WIVK-FM here in Knoxville named Claude Tomlinson. He was in the business for at least 40 years, if not longer. He played a variety of music over the years, but by the time I came along, he was at IVK, which was a country station, back when country music still mostly sounded country. Claude's show was called "The Great Day in the Morning Show." He performed three characters: himself, a guy named Old Man Schultz and another guy named Lester Longmire. I never will forget being crushed when my dad told me those three guys -- characters I really liked -- were voiced by one guy. My sadness quickly turned into admiration for Claude's talent. He died way too soon, 20 or more years ago.

I used to love to call and harass the DJs until they'd play whatever song I wanted to hear. One guy said, "I'll play your damn song if you quit calling!"

Do kids still do that today?

RockGolf said...

No love/hate for "Which Way You Goin', Billy" by The Poppy Family? Or "Ode to Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry?

Bob Gowa said...

Ken, thanks for sharing that wonderful story. I worked with some of my heroes and even the surly ones have a special place in my heart. Again, thanks.

George Junak said...

Robert W. was a nice enough guy to me the one time I met him. I called him on the request line at KMGG to see if I could shoot some video of the morning show for the California AIrcheck Video Aircheck series.

He kept putting me on hold while talking with me and I was probably on hold for at least an hour total. He finally asked if I had shot any video of Rick Dees and I said no. He told me that in that case, I was welcome to come by and shoot video. A few weeks later he was nice as could be at Magic 106. So I guess we didn't piss him off.