Thursday, May 16, 2013
In 1974 I was on KYA, San Francisco, doing the 10 pm – 2 am shift and happy as a clam. The program director liked me, the general manager liked me. I was the flavor-of-the-month. In radio that meant start sending out tapes.
The station was sold. This has happened to me numerous times. And the chain of events is always the same. A general staff meeting is called. The new owners assure everyone that their jobs are safe and there will be no changes. One of the attractions of purchasing this station was the format and people. They were honored to be working with all of us.
Almost immediately the program director is fired. Then various staff members get picked off as if there were a sniper on a hill. The format is altered, new rules and memos are generated hourly until three months later you don’t even recognize the station.
So we have the obligatory meeting at KYA. I’m in the Army Reserves and then have to go off for two weeks summer camp at Ford Ord. While I’m gone the program director is fired. Big shock. I know my days are numbered too.
Disappointed but not surprised, I returned to my studio apartment and made a few calls to see what else was available. As luck would have it, a friend who was program director of a station in San Diego had an opening and hired me on the spot. I would report in a week. Being out of work for one hour was far preferable to six months, which is what I suffered through in 1973. (When you're cold, you're cold. I couldn't get a job doing all-nights in Fresno.)
Then I got a call from KYA’s business affairs person. Because I was fired for cause they didn’t have to pay me severance. This of course, is bullshit, but lots of stations did it.
So I went back to KYA and stuck my head into the general manager’s office. Howard Kester was an older gentleman. He had always been very nice to me. Cheery greetings, pats on the back, etc. The one thing I remember about him is that he blinked a thousand times a minute. I’ve never seen anything like it.
He invited me into his office, was very fatherly, and said he was sad to see me go. Hopefully I learned from my wanton irresponsibility and would go on to have a nice career. If it was up to him, he’d pay me the severance, but this was corporate policy. His hands were tied.
I told him I was going to take action. He blinked fifty times then shrugged. “Go ahead. Call the union if you like.”
“I’m not calling the union,” I said. “I’m calling the Adjutant General’s Office.”
“What?” he blinked.
His eyes were now fluttering like a movie projector and I could tell he was a little thrown by this. He told me to hold on and quickly called his business affairs guy and relayed my threat. I could hear over the phone the guy yelling, “PAY HIM! PAY HIM RIGHT NOW!” Howard instructed him to cut a check.
Then he went absolutely ballistic on me. His face turned beet red and he started screaming random obscenities. I calmly sat there and said I wasn’t leaving until I had the check for the full amount in my hand. He said I had to sign a release relieving KYA of any further responsibility. I refused. Howard’s head almost came off.
He got right in my face and said, “I know your kind. You’re the type of person who likes to come back and hang around the vending machine!” Huh? That didn’t even make sense.
He continued screaming at me and sending Morse Code through his eyes until his secretary gingerly walked in with the check for him to sign. He scrawled his signature but just before he gave it to me he said, “If you take this I swear you will never work in this industry again. EVER!” I swiped the check out of his hand and casually said, “I’ve already got another job!”
Now he started screaming “GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT!” I stopped at the door and couldn't resist. I turned back and said, “Would you mind if I got an Almond Joy from the vending machine?” He almost leaped across his desk.
I left and just a few months later he too was fired by the new owners.
I’m still friends with a lot of the people I worked with at KYA. Come to think of it, they all got fired too. But that’s the thing about radio back then – even the bad parts were often fun. I’m glad I was a part of it. And even more glad I got out.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM