Thursday, December 18, 2014

The year I got fired on Christmas

A holiday annual tradition.  My post on how I got fired.  It happened on this date in 1974.  Relive this cherished holiday memory. 
One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the 40th 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!”

25 comments:

MikeK.Pa. said...


Remotely related to this post, I remember when the Grass Roots released "Sooner or Later," the opening refrain had the local radio station's call letters in it. I thought at the time, how cool, but later remember how smart of the record company. I saw the Grass Roots perform before a MLB game in the 1970s when teams were trying to cater to the youth demographic by hosting mini rock concerts. I also remember when twi-light doubleheaders - for the price of one game - were common on Friday or Saturday nights.

benson said...

@MIkeK.Pa.

It's was a great way to get airplay back before corporate ownership.

I remember hearing Reunion's "Life is a Rock, But WLS rolled me."

And twenty years later, Sir Mix A Lot did localized versions of "Jump On It". We sent him names of local cities and towns and to this day, it's the most requested song on our station, ever.

And having the heard the generic version, it just doesn't sound right.

benson said...

Oops, forgot to mention Wolfman Jack's customized raps on The Guess Who's Clap for the Wolfman.

Dan Ball said...

Man, you had 45 minutes before you were canned? And I thought I'd been canned quick!

Back in 2011, everybody at the company I was working for got canned in just a little under 12 hours. It was a third shift job (getting paid to take notes while we watched TV & listened to radio, ironically) and we came in at 10pm on a Thursday night, only to find out around midnight that the company was entering Chapter 7 bankruptcy at noon that Friday. So we cleared out our desks, threw all the office furniture into a bonfire in the middle of the office, roasted the marshmallows we dug out of the hot chocolate packets, and sat around telling stories about our time there and what we'd do afterwards.

(BTW, reCAPTCHA just certified me as not being a robot. What an achievement.)

jb said...

Country singers still do customized versions of songs for certain radio stations. A current hit contains the line "country sound / FM on the radio," which for our station is changed to "Q106 on the radio."

But the WLS version of "Sooner or Later" was MUCH cooler.

Ray Barrington said...

It's also done in other ways - a country singer a few years ago had a song with the lines "I wanna do it all, visit Paris in the fall, watch the Yankees play ball" with different sports teams - Packers in Wisconsin, for example.

Mike Barer said...

KKMI fired me on my birthday in 1984/

YEKIMI said...

There was that famous one-hit wonder "High School,U.S.A." by Tommy Facenda where he recorded 26+ different versions listing local schools in various cities. So whereas you'd have one version listing all the schools in Cleveland and in Tampa it would list all the schools there. You can hear some versions on YouTube.
When WKRP was big the station I was on at the time played a version of the theme that used our call letters and city instead of "WKRP in Cincinatti"

Herschel said...

No one enjoys getting fired or getting laid off... It's painful and no matter if you don't enjoy your job, your mind goes through the process of loss.



It is what you do afterwards that matters. Life (human) will go on until the big Asteroid hit or other disaster. So, just use the negative event and turn it into something positive.



Looks like Ken turned his fortunes around and did something positive.

blinky said...

You were starting out and moved on to better things. Last week my wife was laid off from a successful medical device company (starts with a V) in Palo Alto, essentially for the crime of having worked there 16 years and being paid too much. That's two weeks before Christmas and she was given 1 hour to clear out. I am sure in a month there will be a fresh grad doing her job at half the pay.
But anyway, your story was funny.

Hamid said...

Ken, what do you think of Sony's decision to cancel the release of The Interview worldwide?

I'm genuinely shocked. This sets a dangerous precedent, not only because we should never ever give in to terrorism but also because it means future films that have controversial subjects may be threatened in the same way.

I hope whoever's behind this cyber attack and the threats - it's probably some far left anarcho hippie group with communist sympathies, I doubt North Korea has the capability - is caught and locked up for the rest of their lives. Might sound harsh for a cyber attack but when you're threatening to carry out 9/11 style attacks on cinemas just for showing a film, you deserve to be locked up for good.

Mark P. said...

Mike, I remember that. During the intro, they sang "WI...B...G...sooner or later". Never heard it for any other song.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

...the station owner went to church one day and was told his station was playing the devil's music, so he changed format.

You're just lucky he wasn't part of the Manson family...

Bud Wilkinson said...

Geez, and I always thought in Chicago it was "Life is a rock ... but Super 'CFL rolls me."

I do fondly recall "W ... P ... O... P... Sooner or Later" in Hartford.

Doug said...

A friend of mine has told about being retained after a format change, which happened during his shift on the air. "Country Classics" to "Pop Standards." He's said he faded out the Loretta Lynn song and faded up on Nat "King" Cole. Format change accomplished.

Chris said...

A few years back I was the Bord Operator / Sidekick for an AM Sports talk station. We were doing our Lunch time talk show and had just gone to a commercial break when someone walked into the control room and told me and the shows host "You need to talk to the station manager right now." I asked if i needed to add some commercials to the break. The reply was "Don't bother we cut the signal to the transmitter 5 minutes ago."

So I was fired (and the station taken off the air) in the middle of a show live on the air in the middle of the day, and effectively had already been let go 5minuets before I knew it.

benson said...

His blog is behind a paywall, but you probably can google the whole story.

A month or so ago, Robert Feder, longtime media columnist posted that WGN was killing their sports talk station "The Game" before the staff was told. So the guys on the air found out right in the middle of their show. I'm sure there's audio floating around, too.

The more things change, the more they...well, you know.

Loosehead said...

I was canned by voicemail on New Years Day one year, one of my six redundancies that decade. The boss man had decided he needed extra funding sometime around Christmas Eve, and wandered round the City (of London)from the day after Boxing day until New Years Eve looking for a venture capitalist who would give him some cash. Curiously, there was no-one at work that week, and he spent New Years Day phoning each employee (there was about a dozen of us) to tell us the good news. I was in the pub at the time, with my wife and my mum, and that put a downer on the holiday. Never went back, and received 3.4p in the £ from the official Receiver for my outstanding notice and holiday pay. All part of life's rich tapestry.

Loosehead said...

My first redundancy that decade, I was informed in a most subtle way: "Here is an org chart of the department up to the end of March, and here is the org chart from April 1st onwards" (imagine it in a strong Japanese accent). My name and three others was on the first chart and not on the second. My boss resigned on the spot, in protest - sort of a westernised seppuku.

Johnny Walker said...

Congrats to Kim Jong Un. He apparently not only controls the media in his country, but now ours, too.

In other news, Sony just announced a new five part series, NOT SUCH A BAD GUY: THE WISE AND GLORIOUS KIM JONG UN.

YEKIMI said...

A few years ago worked for one of those big box home improvement stores [won't say the name but "orange" you glad you don't work there?]. They hired a whole lot of people {around 200} with the promise that some of them would become full time when their 90 day probation period was up. Found out I wasn't one of them when I checked the schedule for the next week and my name wasn't listed. Found the HR director for the store and asked why I had to find out I was no longer employed by checking the schedule and her response was "They never told you?". Basically blasted her and told everyone withing earshot that was a shitty way of treating employees. 15 minutes later the manager called me back and gave me a letter terminating me but he asked me to stay for the rest of the week. Oh....they didn't hire ANY of the part timers for full time positions. Nice scam they have going.

I only left one station on my own and that was because at the time I had been hired they promised me a raise if the ratings on my time slot went up. They did [1 full point] and I was up against a popular & powerhouse of a DJ morning team. When brought to their attention, they reneged on the raise so I walked. All the other stations went through format changes or were sold so I was out the door along with everyone else.

Buttermilk Sky said...

It's terrible to lose your job that way, with no notice, but it's just as bad for dedicated listeners. I remember when our local jazz-and-classical station went country overnight. Stumbling out of bed grabbing for some Miles or Bird, and getting Conway Twitty instead, can probably induce seizures. For sure it will louse up your day. People who went by to complain found the record library dumped on the sidewalk. Radio is a heartless business, as I don't need to tell you.

Did you write the "Frasier" episode where KACL goes all-salsa?

Michelle Maren said...

I just love the way you write, Ken! Recently I purchased the first 5 seasons of CHEERS as a Christmas present to myself. It really is best sitcom ever--from the casting, to the acting and (especially) the writing--no other show can compare. Tonight, I found myself Googling to find out more about the show and came upon your blog. I have a little blog too. If you have a moment, could you please take a look and let me know your thoughts? I just finished a documentary about my life and will be blogging more often. Your words of advice would be so appreciated! Thank you for your time...

Sami said...

I got fired on Christmas Day once, too. Via three messages on the machine --that's right three, just to make sure I knew not to show up on Dec 26. And the lady said it like she was doing me a favor--saving me from driving to the office and finding out I was "no longer required." I found the message when I got home from visiting family. Merry Christmas to me. Me and Bob Cratchit. Also got fired once the day before my birthday. This may be part of the reason I'm not all that big on celebrating holidays or birthdays--they make me vaguely anxious. My comfort is that supposedly people have a high likelihood of having heart attacks after firing people. So there is that.

Martin said...

You probably shouldn't have said "booger" on the air.