Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Did I really say that?


Natalie Wood -- since I can't find an appropriate photo
Radio program directors always preach preparation for air talent. Spend the time, put in the effort, and know what you’re going to say before going on the air. Make sure beforehand that when you turn that mic on you’re going to say something entertaining, informative, or at the very least, of specific interest to the listener.

I did none of that when I was a disc jockey. No preparation whatsoever. I always felt that the prepared jocks lacked spontaneity. Their material seemed forced and lame. I always wanted to be in the moment. I always felt that if I couldn’t come up with one funny thing to say when given three minutes (the time of most records) there was something wrong. So I lived on the edge. But I felt extremely comfortable working this way.

I never had a program director scold me for being lazy or unprepared. Sometimes they told me to just shut up because I wasn’t funny, but no one ever accused me of phoning it in.

Once I said a funny line I never wrote it down. A few I have used more than once (always on different stations – I got fired a lot), but most of the time I’d say something and never give it another thought.

Recently I uncovered a tape of one of my shows from TenQ in Los Angeles from 1977 (when I was going by the distinguished moniker Beaver Cleaver). I hadn’t listened to this tape in damn near forty years.

I was floored by what I heard.

It’s like I was listening to someone I had never met. I didn’t remember any of the jokes I told. In some cases they were pretty good and I thought to myself, “Wow. Where did that come from?” Full disclosure: there were also some terrible jokes and one-liners of very questionable taste.

But it was very disconcerting to encounter yourself in a younger state and not even recognize that person. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of memory. What we selectively choose to remember and what we forget (whether we choose to or not). I pride myself on having a very good memory. Lots of it useless. I can tell you artist, titles, and record labels from most records that made the charts from 1959-1979. I remember baseball games and players and plays that stretch back years. I watch a rerun of CHEERS and can remember how late the rewrite night went and who pitched specific jokes. But as I listened to that TenQ broadcast, the “me” I recall from that period was clearly not the “me” coming out of that speaker.

I’m sure a number of you have had essentially the same experience. How many of you kept diaries and journals when you were young and you revisit them now and are appalled.  

But if you’re like me, you also miss that person a little. “Beaver Cleaver” was more fearless than I am. He was brimming with passion for what he was doing. He was silly. He was tapped into what was cool.

And yet, a lot of his characteristics wouldn’t fit today. Just as wearing clothes from that period wouldn’t.

Like I said, he was a different person. Looking back, I liked “Beaver Cleaver” and would hope that if he could look into the future he’d like me too. Although I imagine he’d say, “What’s with the fucking Natalie Wood fixation? What are you? Thirteen?”

33 comments:

MikeK.Pa. said...

No specific comment on the post, but never a bad post when there's a photo(s) of Natalie Wood. One of my all-time favorite actresses, who should still be with us. Tragic, short-lived life. No fixation, Ken. Just a normal admiration for a gifted actress.

Jim Grey said...

I think there's prep and then there's pre-scripting your show. Prep to me was about having read about what was going on in the world that day so you could (hopefully) extemporaneously say something witty and/or meaningful about it.

Baylink said...

What... you're not gonna post the damn aircheck!! :-)

peabody nobis said...

" I can tell you artist, titles, and record labels from most records that made the charts from 1959-1979"

So, what you're saying is, you were the model for the Daniel Stern character in the movie "Diner"?

Jerry Krull said...

I have several computer files of comedy I have written over the years, specs, sketches, and stand up. Even some stand up for others where I punched up their routines.

In those I use the strikethrough feature and then used a different color font for the lines I added. Amazed, on the good side, sometimes at what I came up with for someone else's material. Wish I could remember writing the good stuff more often.

The material I remember most often are the clunkers. The top of the heap is the video I have of my improv level one class final sketch show. 10 minutes into watching it, my sister said "Did your group actually think this was funny at any time?" Ahhh, reviews by relatives...

Dan Ball said...

Oh, I hate reading my old journals and blogs! So pretentious and whiny. Sometimes the scripts I played with weren't so bad from those days, but when it came to commenting on life it was rough! I just want to slap that kid now!

What I've discovered is that most of the crises I faced back then could've been resolved if I'd just written scripts instead of whiny journal entries. Again, get me a time machine so I can go smack some sense into that kid.

Bob Summers said...

Ken-Would this be your real radio aircheck? I listen to that to reflect and mellow out. It takes me back to a simpler time.

Bob Summers said...

I mean Reel Radio aircheck.

Eric J said...

I look back at things I wrote over 40 years ago and wonder "Who wrote this shit?" But now that I'm older I look back on stuff I wrote last week and say the same thing. Memory is a tricky thing and gets trickier with age.

BTW, 1977 wasn't over 40 years ago. Let's not rush things unnecessarily.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your Reel Radio Beaver Cleaver aircheck. You weren't "fall on the floor laugh your ass off funny but you were witty! "That's Boogie Feaver and I'm your boogie Beaver."

blinky said...

SO let's hear it! Post the show already!

Chris said...

Just came back from Ireland. Found two Cheers bars.

http://s18.postimg.org/efxa0lrkp/IMG_4774.jpg - this one is in Dairy, Northen Ireland

http://s30.postimg.org/cwosdehf5/IMG_4835.jpg - this one's in Dublin

Anonymous said...

Only thing I remember about that station, before it went Spanish, was the jocks would tell listeners calling in: "Ten-Q very much." For some reason at the time I thought that was clever.

Ken Levine said...

The aircheck is on cassette. I'd have to somehow digitize it and figure how to post it. I'll investigate but I'm about as tech savvy as a chimp.

Beau Weaver said...

I was always knocked out by the material you could cram into a 12 second Four Tops intro.....most jocks were just stringing together stock phrases in predictable ways....You had to actuallylisten to Beever Cleever! I always felt you closer to the work of Dan Ingram than to the West Coast guys like Don Steele. You were always subtly subversive. (Okay, occasionally subtle.) Too bad you were in an era when the national PDs were big pipes chauvinists...or else you would have absolutely been on the top LA and NYC stations, and would have become a big money legend. Too bad that writing thing did not pan out for you, or you too could be a bitter, out of work former big time jock, whining about the good old days of three hour shifts like the rest of them!

Scooter Schechtman said...

@Beau: They weren't whining, they just got kind of tired of packing and unpacking, town to town and up and down the dial.

Dixon Steele said...

Just curious, Ken, but how does Mrs. Levine feel about your Natalie Wood obsession?

Anita Bonita said...

I'd like to amplify on Beau Weaver's point about the "big pipes chauvinists" -- it's a subset of the "whip it out" mentality. To wit: they were (and, for the most part, continue to be) guys, who are often in competition with each other. (I saw this play out during my years in MLB as well.) Women have always cared more about what is being said, and how it's being said ... and if more of them had been involved in the management end of things forty years ago (as opposed to my 1982 experience of "We'll even move you from overnights to middays -- we've never done that for a chick before!"), things might actually have turned out differently now for a lot of good people.

As for showprep -- I made a nice living from writing it for jocks across the country who didn't have the time or talent. But when it came to my own time on the air, I generally let 'er rip. Done properly, LIFE is showprep. Keep your eyes and ears open, and you'll never be unprepared. :-)

Hamid said...

I hope this isn't sacrilege, but if you ever decide to stop posting Natalie Wood pictures, may I suggest Kat Dennings photos as a replacement?

http://www.barnorama.com/wp-content/galleries/04/kat-dennings/01-kat-dennings.jpg

VP81955 said...

Whenever I come across an article I wrote -- whether it be from my college newspaper days in the '70s or more recent print material -- I often can't see that person as me, either. ("What was I thinking!" is a typical response.)

The classic Hollywood blog I run dates back to mid-2007, and I still have an edit option for each entry after all these years. I rarely use it unless my mistake is truly egregious or new information on the topic has come up.

Chris said...

Friday question: Who came up with Frasier's "Fetish Seminar" line in "Behind Every Great Man" in Cheers S3? Was it you guys or was that pitched in the room?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I traveled as a solo folksinger in the late 1970s, and I asked the soundman to make a recording whenever he had the option, so I have many tapes of my performances from those days. Fortunately: I've forgotten a lot of the songs and arrangements, though once I hear them I pick them right back up. One tape had a song I'd wracked my brains to remember how I'd performed it. (The secret turned out to be that I played it on a different instrument than I had imagined.)

I try not to listen to the bits between the songs, though.

wg

D. McEwan said...

Not write down a good joke I'd come up with? No, no. A good joke can always be recycled. Last night I reread a short story I wrote in 1972. There's a very good joke in it (There are many good jokes in it, but I mean one specific one) near the end that you'll also find in My Lush Life, written 40 years later. Waste not, want not. So far, no reader of My Lush Live has said to me: "Hey! You used this joke 40 years ago! How about some new stuff, funny boy?"

Mark said...

Perhaps my favorite comic treatment of the tricks of memory:

Coupling -- "Remember This"

Everything I've seen from Moffat blows me away.

Pat Reeder said...

I've been a radio DJ, where I just ad-libbed everything, but then I got into writing show prep for other people. That's when I noticed that sometimes, a line would pop into my head fully-formed and crack me up (Ancient "Little Moron" Joke: "Why are you laughing?" "I was telling myself jokes, and I told one I hadn't heard yet.") Other times, I'd write what I thought was a good line, then three hours later, would think of a much better variation and couldn't believe I didn't think of that one first.

I'm glad a lot of jocks use show prep because it's kept me overfed for 25 years, first as head writer of the Morning Punch, then with our own service, the Comedy Wire. Over that time, I have written easily tens of thousands of one-liners, two or three of which I was actually proud of. But when someone asks me to "tell a joke," I usually can't even recall one I wrote the day before. Oddly enough, the only ones I can pull up out of the dusty corners of my mind are from the Morning Punch days, nearly a quarter century ago. One was the subhead on a story about Willie Nelson settling his IRS debt ("Let's Go To Lickin' Back Taxes") and one was about Avon expanding in China ("Where 'Ding-Dong' isn't the company slogan, it's the Avon Lady's name.") I'd probably have to dig up Sigmund Freud to figure out why, out of all those lines and years or work, those puns are the only two jokes I can remember.

BTW, as politically incorrect as that Avon Lady line might sound now, a morning show host at the time told me he would've paid for a month's subscription just for that one joke.

VincentS said...

I think one of the ways we distort the memories of our past selves is that we imagine ourselves back then knowing then what we know now.

JR Smith said...

I used to listen to you in the late 70s on Ten-Q when I was going to communications school in Hollywood. Little Radio Shack transistor radio in my dismal studio apartment off Hollywood Blvd. I turn you up to drown out the sound of hookers and drug deals going down in the alley outside my window.

DrBOP said...

@Pat Reader

Lickin' Back Taxes =

FREAKIN' BRILLIANT!




And I think it's about time that you featured Natalie on ALL your posts. Indulge that 13 year-old.....while you can still remember him :+)

Pat Reeder said...

Thank you, DrBOP. And I love your jazz.

Kathleen said...

My dad started scripting his material when he worked for Crowell Collier in the early to mid 60's. He worked for a gentleman named Chuck Blore (don't know if he was GM or PD) but he insisted on show prep and my dad said he was one of the biggest influences in his career. Consequently, he scripted shows from early to mid 60's at KDWB in St. Paul then from late 60's thru early 80's in Cincinnati at WLWAM. He spent about 6 hours a day writing original comedy bits featuring recurring characters and a comedic soap opera, as well as lead ins to spots and songs on the playlist. His theory was that prep was the difference between having talent and being great on the air. It's interesting to read how other on air people approached their shows differently and still were entertaining. My brothers and I had boxes of his scripts which we donated to the Broadcast Museum in Cincinnati, which is run by one of his former Xavier broadcasting students.

As a side note, a gentleman who has a web site (it may be Reel to Reel - I'm sorry I don't recall his name) was kind enough to send me a tape of my dad's last show on KDWB in 1967. It was a walk down memory lane because it included news, weather and commercials. How radio has changed! The only thing he asked was if I could provide him with the script of that broadcast. Amazingly enough I was able to find it and I sent it to him.

Ken, your radio posts always bring up great childhood memories of growing up in the biz!

Ron Jacobs said...

Never heard you on-air. Were you more beaver or more cleaver? Or clever.

At KHJ I kept a giant daily diary. Also kept one at KGB. First day in the door there Bobby Ocean ran up to me and SCREAMED, "Preparation! Moderation! Concentration!"

Discovered that my Boss Radio jock memos were being copped and sent around the country.

Next May will be 93/KHJ Golden Reunion. I have video of the 25th at Beverly Hilton. What a crowd that night, sheesh. Should I YouTube it?

Sent you congrats email re. you and "Little Annie." Didja get it? Hope all is well with Levine ohana.

Interviewed Natalie for NBC's "Monitor" in 1955. We were both teenagers. Not so funny how time slips away.

Aloha from daguy eating katsu chicken in tin cup.

Ron Jacobs said...

Never heard you on-air. Were you more beaver or more cleaver? Or clever.

At KHJ I kept a giant daily diary. Also kept one at KGB. First day in the door there Bobby Ocean ran up to me and SCREAMED, "Preparation! Moderation! Concentration!"

Discovered that my Boss Radio jock memos were being copped and sent around the country.

Next May will be 93/KHJ Golden Reunion. I have video of the 25th at Beverly Hilton. What a crowd that night, sheesh. Should I YouTube it?

Sent you congrats email re. you and "Little Annie." Didja get it? Hope all is well with Levine ohana.

Interviewed Natalie for NBC's "Monitor" in 1955. We were both teenagers. Not so funny how time slips away.

Aloha from daguy eating katsu chicken in tin cup.

Pat Reeder said...

Ron Jacobs wrote: "Discovered that my Boss Radio jock memos were being copped and sent around the country."

I once got a frantic call at 5:30 a.m. from a radio station in the Midwest, telling me that the Comedy Wire didn't arrive and asking me to resend it. The station calls didn't sound familiar, so I looked them up. Apparently, they had another station that paid to subscribe in a different market, then forwarded it to them as soon as it arrived without paying us. They had unwittingly called to ask me to resend them the service they were ripping off from us. I could have said a lot of things, but I politely explained that what they were doing was illegal, but I would be happy to sell them a subscription for that market. I can only imagine how many other stations did that, but there was no way to police it. We just had to rely on the generosity and high ethics of people in the radio inddduss-- sorry, I started laughing so hard there, I couldn't type.