Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The year I got fired on Christmas

A holiday annual tradition.  My post on how I got fired.  Yesterday I talked about actors getting fired.  Today it's me.
One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the 39th 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.  And it ties into yesterday's post.

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.

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!”

33 comments:

Kosmo13 said...

This brings back fond memories of what it was like to work in radio.

The year I was fired a few days after Christmas, the new management notified the announcers we were getting fired by leaving, in the air studio, letters for each one of us. Your station doing it in person seems classy by comparison.

Pete Grossman said...

"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."

Listening to that on the AM station in NY in the car sans FM I felt the same way. Awful records that made me want to drive off a bridge.

Scooter Schechtman said...

People nostalgic for radio before Evil Corporations took over don't appreciate how rancid top-40 really was. I grew up in the Chicago area and the World's Last Station virtually drove me to (relatively) free-form FM rock

Greg Ehrbar said...

NOW I see what San Bernadino is in MUST KILL TV!

Ken -- when you were walking out through the darkened hallways of KSEA to an unknown future, did this play in your head:

"Soon I'll be a stranger in a strange new place,
Searching for an old familiar face...?"

It would have been in mine.

Cory said...

WLS was my favorite station as a kid, living down near Peoria, and to this day when people talk about great radio hosts, I think that Larry Lujack was the best of them all. I have no idea if he is well regarded or not, but his mix of grumpiness at being awake, juvenile humor and long running jokes just screams "morning radio" to me. And, he hated the same music I did! His rants about "You Light Up My Life" being #1 for 3 months were priceless.

It was a damn shame when they switched from music to talk radio in the 80's...their format of a mix of new stuff and older stuff taught me a lot about rock music as a kid and early teen.

Mitchell Hundred said...

So since you got fired for playing Fiddler on the Roof, I guess you could say this is...

(puts on sunglasses)

...a Christmas Tradition.

YEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!

Hamid said...

My claim to fame. OK, it's not mine, or fame. The father of one of my friends appeared in Norman Jewison's Fiddler on the Roof movie. She got to visit the set at Pinewood Studios and meet Paul Michael Glaser.

Lyle said...

I remember the KSEA massacre.

I had worked for KSON, its sister AM station, as a sales rep but had left to take the job as VP and General Manager of KOWN, Escondido.

I heard about the KSEA bloodletting and from that day forward had little or not respect for Dan Mac Kinnon.

Dan was one of those "holier than thou" guys. Preaching to one and all about what a great Christian he was.

He was a bush league Christian.

And a phony. A wealthy one but a phony.

I don't deny an owner the right to fire any or all of his staff. But on Christmas Eve? Wait two days. Let them have a decent Christmas and then drop the axe.

After all, it's the Christian thing to do.

(Sarcasm intended).

Anonymous said...

Larry Lujack was the best of them all.
Your charming and delightful, old Uncle Lar.
His work lives on in Rush Limbaugh ("Talent On Loan from God" was a Lujack line as are a number of his others). Whatever you say about Limbaugh- he knows radio and his first lessons were listening to Lujack and WLS at night in Missouri.
Likewise the smart, sarcastic Letterman shtick is adopted from Lujack, Dave was listening to the blowtorch in Indiana.

(Underrated Boss jock- Greaseman in DC in the 1980's

Anonymous said...

"Natural Neil" Ross ... he was the morning man at KDEO AM 910 El Cajon, CA when I worked my first radio job in 1977.

Rich Johnson said...

This week is the 37th anniversary of my getting the ax at KGAL in the steamin' hot urban jungle that is Lebanon, Oregon. My cheap boss used blatant shame on me: 'of course I expect you to be man enough to work out the two weeks with no problems.' That actually worked well as I did the best shows of my life, knowing I needed a decent air check.
I think the tipping point was attitude - pointing out to the PD that the ad he cut for a local hardware store referred to a 'veritable speed drill.'

Anonymous said...

Scooter Schechtma-Yea Scoot AOR guys were so much more profound playing REO Speedwagon & Styx songs on Twofer Tuesdays. Fact is most AOR jocks were announcers, not personalities. Top 40 required more talent,timing, brevity, and topicality. As for the Christmas firing, get over it. This is nothing, each year Clear Channel, Cumulus and even CBS loves to fix budget issues by firing 2 weeks before Christmas. Clearly Mckinnon made a major mistake, and Bobby Rich at a bigger budgeted operation was able to eventually make B100 dominant. But at a price, I can't remember, but I want to say scale at KCBQ was 500 a week maybe, B100 worked out some chicken bleep deal with the union and paid most jocks 250 a week. This is the reason a lot of FM jocks never made any money in that era. The real money was on AM. AOR, like our friend Scoot, they were lucky in the 70's to make 175 dollars a week.

Paul B. said...

I was fired from only one radio station...a daytime-only classic rock AM that was run by and for high school students to help them learn the radio business. After that experiment died, I was asked to stay on as part of the commercial air staff. I worked my shifts, and then stayed afterwards to paint the walls inside and out of the studio for an open-house the station was having...two weeks worth of all-day work. When I put the time on my time sheet, the PD refused to pay me, saying there was such things as a "love for the station" and that my painting work was voluntary. I disagreed, and he fired me on the spot. Oh well.

Phoef Sutton said...

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

KESY 104.5 at as it was known in the early 90'was way ahead of its time........it actually being self insured decided to drop all insurance on its employees ...which was their right ......except the General Manager had poised himself and his family with health insurance before making the announcement two weeks before Christmas it would at the years end.

I thought Merry Christmas as I had a baby on the way with my wife expecting soon .....several others had cancer or situations they would never be able to get insurance with pre-existing conditions.

Since then left as a station employee ....work for myself and always remember what station administration thinks of as their real priority .....the manager BTW went into financial counseling .......you can bet he would throw his own mother under a bus.......for his well being first .......and tell her at the same ......Merry Christmas Mom........

Bob Leszczak said...

Oh, the joyous world of radio. After over 30 years of continuous service to it, I find myself "on the beach" for the first time. With most stations now employing skeleton crews and voicetrackers, as well as syndicated/satellite programming, fewer and fewer radio gigs are now available each year. One large corporation (CBS) just had a bloodletting in several markets one week before Xmas. I really thought I'd miss being on the air when it happened, but now, some 9 months hence, I'm surprised to find that I don't.

Anonymous said...

I've was fired twice by the same station... I always thought that was weird...

Bryan Simmons (Posted as anonymous because it was easier...)

Lee Baby said...

Y`all, please quit yer bitchin`.
Forty years in the business.
25 markets. 36 stations. 41 jobs.
Fired 25 times.
I loved every minute of it.
Lee Baby.
Merry Christmas.

Greg Edwards said...

I too can relate to the KSEA story...I was the new PM Drive on KSON FM/Sun 97 coming from KAFY AM Drive in Bakersfield. For me a merry Christmas that Year!!! Sorry...

Loosehead said...

Beaver Cleaver reminds me of the only time my mum slapped my dads face. He and I had just come out of the hairdressers, having had very pleasant haircuts from two attractive young ladies, and my dad said to me "I wouldn't mind parting her hair" only to find mum right behind him, having finished her shopping.

Jeffrey Mark said...

Here's how I got fired at K101 in San Francisco. I was to have lunch with the music director of the station, as we were friends. and came to the station around 12:30 to have lunch. The program director saw me in the hall and asked me to step into his office. "Close the door." He fired me right then and there. It was nothing I did on the air as he was quite satisfied with my work. The station had new owners and they were cutting back. At least he was decent about my firing, can't blame him for that.

fred nerk said...

“The Night Chicago Died” and “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” were written by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander, two very successful song writers in the 60's and 70's. They wrote more annoying hits than just those two.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Every now and then, I have a soul-crushing nightmare where I am a jock at a dilapidated radio station whose equipment is unoperable but my future depends on doing a great show. Then, I wake up, which is something some folks in the radio biz today cannot do: they're living it. Ahhhhhhh!!!!!

(...and Props to Lee 'Baby' Sims, one of the great jocks of all time!)

Ken Levine said...

Honored to have Lee Baby Sims check in. One of the greatest air talents of all-time. No jock I ever heard could use his voice like a fine tuned instrument the way Lee Baby can. Always have been and always will be in awe.

Bob said...

Wow. The memories that come flooding back. We have walked the same path.I was done with radio finally too when they called me in with all the other DJ's on KYCY in San Francisco and told us, "We're changing from Country to World Music, turn in your card keys and have a nice life." Ahhh radio. I'm much happier as a screenwriter because believe it or not the people I'm dealing with looks like Saints compared to radio. Thanks for the post.

stephanie roberts said...

I worked with a guy named Jim at KSDO, San Diego. It was his birthday, and he worked afternoon drive, so we had the cake ready for him...but the program director got to him first and fired him. Jim left with the cake box. My sister had worked with Jim at KSBY TV, San Luis Obispo..and guess what, he'd been fired on his birthday from that station. Sis says he left there with a balloon bouquet.

Jeff Baldwin said...

Ken, I instantly thought of you and how much you will appreaciate this http://www.theonion.com/articles/next-episode-of-girls-to-feature-lena-dunham-shitt,31661/

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

Speaking of Larry Lujack...RIP.

Storm said...

Although the entire piece is funny, there's three simple words in it that make me Krabapple (HA!) every time I read them: "ESPECIALLY YOU" and "Anatefka".

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

Mike Barer said...

I don't know if Larry was from Washington, but have heard that he worked for and was fired from Moscow Idaho radio station KRPL, the principal commercial radio station Washington State University listened to. When I was at WSU, Lujak was already the number 1 Jock in Chicago, but his history in the area was well know. He also worked for Seattle's KJR at some point.

Anonymous said...

Lujack was a top jock at KJR/KJRB in Seattle/Spokane during the early to mid-60's. Part of the all-star line-up (Pat O’Day, etc.) when KJR dominated, I remember guys talking about him when I was at CWU & WSU.

I had the pleasure of getting fired on Valentines Day from the NYC ad agency I was working at, however I did remember to pick up flowers for my wife on the way home!
-dh-

Gary Allyn said...

Ken, I read your "Firing" article every year, and it gets funnier each time. I can appreciate it a lot, as I was the PD who put KSEA Top 40 on the air there, but left to Program WMYQ in Miami just before you came on the scene. People have to appreciate that KSEA was down in the basement area of a shopping mall next to a U.S. Post Office. The "Feds" next door to such DJ's as Neil Ross, Lenny Mitchell, K.O. Bayley, Jack Palmer, Larry Dillon,and D.J. McKay(Bill Stairs) to name a few. Perhaps the owner Dan McKinnon got his idea to go Gospel music after I had D.J.McKay go on the air one night and play one of those obnoxious songs you mentioned over and over for his 3-hour 6-9PM shift. I think the selection was "Seasons In The Sun" by Terry Jacks. He was to play it every time, but intro it as though it was another Hit from our survey. It was an old schtick, but it DID work. We had little or no contest budget, so I thought of this to get some attention. It usually drives the listeners nuts. I told D.J. NOT to open the door down there to anyone! After an hour or two of doing this, listeners WERE indeed in a dither, and thought our 17 year old disc jockey was on drugs and called police who called Dan McKinnon, who had the GM call me at home. I said relax, I expected this reaction. Meanwhile, D.J. was doing what I told him. He played "Season's In The Sun" and intro or back announce as if it was any other song on our playlist. He was into about the 47th replaying of this obnoxious ditty when police raided the downstairs basement of the College Grove Mall and broke the door down! Maybe it was good timing to head to Miami. But it probably set the stage for further firings from an owner who hated this "devil music" anyway. Amen about Lee Baby Simms-the best rock jock EVER! I loved him. Don't feel bad Ken, As his P.D.,I was forced twice by management to fire Lee for on air statements. Who said there's no crying in Radio? Best-Gary Allyn

Cody said...

I can't help but think you gave this Christmas Card to an executive one year and it came back with the same notes:

Christmas Card...with notes