Saturday, May 23, 2015

Robert W. Morgan

I’m often asked who were my comic influences? Aside from the usual – Nat Hiken, Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon, Marshall & Belson, Kaufman & Hart, and Dan Ingram – I’d have to put at the top of my list Robert W. Morgan. For almost thirty years Morgan ruled the morning airwaves in Los Angeles (and briefly in Chicago).

He passed away seventeen years ago yesterday.

I still miss him. I still look at something I’ve written and wonder, “what would Robert W. think?” He was never shy in telling me. We worked together briefly in 1974 at a station called K100. (I say briefly because I was fired long before he was.) Robert W. could be a tough critic on you (if you call threatening to come down to the station and beat the shit out of you tough). But he also could inspire you to new heights if he believed you had it in you. There was no middle ground in his eyes. You had the potential to be great or you were Judy Tenuta.

Morgan himself on the air was truly amazing. Hilariously funny, wickedly subversive, a master of comic timing, and ALWAYS spontaneous. In the moment. One “morgan” (you never said “morning”, you said “morgan.”  If I pronounced my name Le-Veen and did a night time shift I'd be on from 6-10 in the E-veeng. Fortunately for all concerned, I'm not ) when he was on KMPC he had to do a live phone interview with Ray Malavasi, the head coach of the Rams. He asked his first question and Malavasi fell asleep. Instead of trying to wake him, and without missing a beat, Morgan just kept asking him questions and pausing while Malavasi snored.

There is a Robert W. Morgan tribute website well worth checking out containing this and many other classic bits. Comedy on the radio is a lost art. Robert W. Morgan was one of its great artists. Morgan also was blessed with a gorgeous voice. Rich, mellow, and warm (as if I wasn’t envious enough of his talent). In 1969 while at KHJ he narrated a 48 hour radio special – THE HISTORY OF ROCK N’ ROLL. This epic work painstakingly traced the roots and trends of rock music and to this day is considered a masterpiece. (back in the days when the only hits Phil Spector was known for were records)

Robert W. was only 61 when he passed away. Way too young. Lung cancer. DON'T SMOKE!! He should still be around, probably writing biting comments in this blog.

24 comments:

LouOCNY said...

You'd be making comments in HIS blog...

AlaskaRay said...

I'll never forget his giant ubiquitous mass routine.

theloganshow said...

I remember visiting LA in 1971 and hearing Morgan spend the better part of his show that morning swapping and trading items until he managed to turn them all into a van for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Los Angeles. Another time he managed to overload the entire LA phone system and basically shut it down. He was a force of nature.

Oat Willie said...

From back before radio people became bytes of profit formulas which now make up the serene landscape of Clear Channel, sorry, it's Iheartmedia now.

Mike Barer said...

We in the Northwest know RWM from his syndicated work.

Mark said...

Poor Judy Tenuta. Why did we ever think she was funny? For the record: I never did.

Artie in Sin City said...

What did you expect about Robert W...

He was a RADIO guy...

We're all a bit off...and thankgoodness for that!

Neil said...

You could point to a DJ here or there who might have been blessed with a better voice or better timing,a couple who were maybe a bit funnier, but in my opinion,nobody put the whole package together the way Morgan did. He was a consummate professional who took the job seriously, worked very, very hard at it, and had little patience for those who didn't.I used to follow him on KMPC. He was even a pro when it came to vacating the studio. A lot of DJs take their sweet time getting out of the chair and leave the work area strewn with papers and half empty coffee cups. One second after saying, "Thank you, Los Angeles," Morgan would stand up,briefcase in hand and say, "Have a good show!" Then he'd exit the studio which he'd left immaculate. As I said. A total pro.

Roger Carroll said...

Robert W. worked for me. My company RC Enterprises syndicated Robert W. My brother the Beverly Hills attorny did RW contract when he went to Chico
My brother and others said he was TOUGH When i hired him I told him you give me or my people any BS tough stuff you are history HE WAS A PUSSY CAT

Rodger OBrien said...

I grew up in NJ listening to Big Dan Ingram walking to work listening on my little transistor radio!

Pete Grossman said...

So that's who narrates The History of Rock and Roll! We here (hear?) the east coast listened to this incredible special on 101 WCBS FM. Man what a voice. Dan Ingram, a fave, too. Miss is delightful silliness and winking attitude. Sharp as a tack.

deko said...

I guess you're suggesting that Judy Tenuta is somehow the nadir of comedy?

Why such a mean dig at a unique woman comedian who's got a funny patented shtick, has done many voiceovers and had her own specials, and appeared in some campy films?

You may not like her, and she may be hit or miss (as many comedians are), but she paid her dues for a long time and has had success in many forms of media.

I used to go see her (and Emo) at comedy clubs in Chicago, it didn't always work but she kept showing up and trying things out. Watched her once walk home from a club at 2 am in the rain, in a bedraggled prom dress, carrying her accordion. Like an old-time vaudeville character.

Point is: she's odd, takes risks, may not be to your taste or one of your comedy gods, but she IS a comedy goddess for some people. Successful and not someone to revile.

Kevin H said...

One morning Robert W. was bemoaning the fact that he had a new boat but didnt have anyone to go fishing with, well my dad was retired and a regular listener so he called kmpc and volunteered to be gilligan to robert w.'s skipper. Well my dad met Robert W. at lake but t he winds had come up at Lake Castaic, and they both concluded it was too windy for the boat.

Lee said...

My dad says he can remember when it used to be common for radio guys to smoke because they thought it would enhance their voices.

Kevin H. said...

for roger carroll, did robert w. succeed you in doing the morning show on sundays before the Rams games or was it , you did the RC get together before angels games and robert w. did before rams games. I still remember listening to Robert w. before the rams played the cowboys in the NFC championship game, so confident of winning, then rams came out flat and got stomped

tom estlow said...

The best was his bi annual time changes...'spring back and fall forward'...people would jam the phones complaining he had it reversed and he never gave in...

tim said...

Morgan and Ingram certainly influenced a lot of people, but not that many had access to both. Did you get airchecks or other tapes on the West Coast?

Ken Levine said...

I did get airchecks from radio friends in NY. And then went back to NY in 69. Had to hear him coming out of a radio. I was not disappointed.

tim said...

As a Pittsburgher, I appreciated his remark, "Bad news, WABC has dropped to number three in the latest ratings... in Pittsburgh." That was probably no exaggeration, at least after dark when the signal boomed in. Ah, for the exciting days of skip! Now, KDKA AM is not a reliable signal in some areas. And WABC always fades out after a few minutes...and I like John Bachelor.

BobSharp said...

Pete Grossman

Morgan narrated the original version of The History of Rock and Roll which aired over a 48 hour period in February 1969 on KHJ. I believe when RKO made the special available to its other stations, they provided a script so that a local jock from KFRC or WRKO or wherever could voice it.

By the time it was made available to stations outside RKO Morgan certainly wasn't the voice. Humble Harv (Miller) did some of the syndicated versions. That may have been who you heard on WCBS-FM.

Michael Hagerty said...

TheLoganShow: I remember the bit, but it wasn't Morgan, it was Charlie Tuna. Morgan was still at WIND.

lee woo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nancye said...

I still have a cassette tape from a 1977 Robert W. Morgan "Special of the Week" on the Electric Light Orchestra.

Anonymous said...

I remember when he overloaded the phone system. Was funny then, but I am sure that anyone who had an emergency at that exact time did not find it amusing.....oh well, those were the good old days...