Monday, April 25, 2016

My best radio practical joke

People seem to like my radio stories so here's another one. 

Back in the days when one company didn’t own ten stations in the same market there was such a thing as “competition”. Especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s there were usually two rock stations going head-to-head in every town. This could lead to radio wars. Stations would try to sabotage each others contests and promotions. It was all in good fun.

Best of all was if you could somehow get on the air on the competing station and embarrass them live.

You didn’t have to be employees of the competing station to participate. You could be a diabolical listener just out for a few laughs.

I have been known to be one such diabolical listener (little wonder I became co-writer of all the CHEERS practical joke Bar Wars episodes).  

The irony is that I have since become good friends with the disc jockey I punked – Charlie Van Dyke.  We even went out to lunch recently (along with KHJ Boss Jock Mark Elliott).  Charlie's in the middle.

But in 1973 I had some issues. Not with him.  Charlie's a great guy. He's the voice-of-God on at least one TV station in every market.  "NOW!  It's time for Eyewitness News at 11!"  He's that guy.  Him I love, but I had problems with the station at the time.

Charlie was the morning man on KHJ, Los Angeles. Once a great radio station, the guiding forces had recently been replaced by a martinet program director, Paul Drew, who sapped all the imagination and creativity out of the station.

They were running an on-air contest called Columbo, based on the popular TV character of the time. Charlie announced it was time to play the game and he would take the tenth call. I phoned in and what do you know, I was caller number ten. Using a pseudonym, I played the game. Here’s the result, recorded right off the air.

What I said, for those who couldn't hear clearly was: "Paul Drew for killing KHJ."

And now... Charlie's side of the story.

I asked him if he wouldn't mind sharing his remembrance of the incident.  Here's what he more-than-graciously had to say:

Ken, I remember it well! The format script said I was supposed to say, "Would you repeat that, please!" The small pause you heard before I spoke again was me looking down the contest script for the next line! Think about it, the odds of being the correct caller in a market the size of LA are incredible! You pulled off a one of a kind prank! Classic!

Thanks, Charlie. Oh, I miss those days.

18 comments:

Matt said...

I couldn't quite understand what you said. Could you write it down?

Mike said...

Will someone transcribe this, please? There appears to be a kazoo on the line.

Ken Copper said...

Great to see Mark Elliott! I remember when he was Sandy Shore in the early 60's on KIOA in Des Moines. A very big talent.

Dave Mason said...

I attended a Paul Drew seminar sometime back in the late 70s- and even HE admitted that he pulled some heavy-handed things that in retrospect he wouldn't have done. So much creativity-so many stories. Thanks for this, Ken.

YEKIMI said...

I think the last "Radio War" incident in my area was when Howard Stern came to town to gloat over the fact that he had finally beaten the #1 radio guy [which he only did for one rating period]. You can read all about it here: http://www.fmqb.com/Article.asp?id=154463. I think I'd consider that what they did was more than a "prank" though.

John Hammes said...

A local oldies station used to run a daily contest: three different songs from three different artists, there would be some sort of common thread linking the songs/artists, the listener could then call in and if correct win some swell stuff.

One day the DJs selected Buddy Holly, Jim Croce, and Rick Nelson (you can seriously see where this is going). A bubbly listener called in, "... they all died in plane crashes!!...", the DJ cheerfully told the listener she was correct, and that the prize was dinner for two at some swanky restaurant. The contest concluded as usual with the DJ asking "... and tell me, what's your favorite radio station?..." and the happy listener chirping out the call letters.

This may not have officially qualified as a practical joke or prank - it was after all just another daily contest installment - but clearly something was slipped under the radar. Seriously, that station felt like a damn mausoleum the rest of the day.


Jeff R said...

Every week in R&R (Radio & Records) the trade magazine of the industry there seemed to be an endless stream of really meaningless notes of moves and or promotions at stations around the country...so...after a few beers one night my Program Director and I thought we should get our station call letters some "ink" as well. We created an imaginary jock - inspired perhaps by Captain Tuttle on MASH?!?!
Every few weeks we would send in an update to R&R from his hiring as all night jock to his eventual promotion to Asst PD and finally his leaving the station - we managed to have our station call letters in the magazine every week for months, and no one ever questioned it!
BTW - our fictional radio guy was Zippy Teepoe...who I believe is now retired from his broadcasting career :-)

Michael said...

Out of curiosity, I googled "Paul Drew radio" and found some articles around the time of his 2013 death that were complimentary and even found a blog post http://www.mcrfb.com/?cat=91 from a disk jockey named Big Jim Edwards who worked for him in Detroit who said that although he was demanding to work for him, he also was responsible for making his station hugely successful.

Andy Rose said...

If they were taking contest calls live to air, I guess they kind of got what was coming.

Mike said...

@Andy Rose: How about taking calls live on daytime national television? Eighties British pop group Matt Bianco talk to a fan.

I've posted before how Noel's House Party would hide cameras around a victim's living room, then drop the victim, with absolutely no warning, onto live national TV on primetime Saturday night.

Anonymous said...

When I worked at KHJ (my second go-round, during "the fall of Boss Radio") Paul Drew was nicknamed "Rommel". You could hear him coming down the hall with a transistor radio in his hand, monitoring the station. Either they hadn't invested ear plugs, or he chose to ignore them....

Andy Rose said...

@Mike: When you have a live, interactive show, calls like that are unavoidable (although you're playing with fire if you don't have a delay). But for a "tenth caller" type of contest, there's no real advantage to doing it live, as opposed to recording the call during a commercial or song and then playing it back.

Mike said...

@Andy Rose or anyone: I don't recall delay being used, but I wouldn't know. I do recall callers to TV or radio programmes having to turn off their TV/radio or they are unable to speak. (I don't particularly recall feedback. Delay would kill feedback.) Is that a psychological or a technical effect?

Charles H. Bryan said...

Off topic: Marc Maron's talking with Louis CK about HORACE AND PEETE on the WTF podcast. Very interesting discussion of process. Playwriting and sitcom approach.

Andy Rose said...

@Mike: It's always bad when people have their radios up during a station call. If there is a delay and they're waiting their turn by listening to the radio, they aren't going to hear it when the host talks to them. (Or more specifically, they'll hear it several seconds later after the deejay has already moved on.) If it's an analog broadcast with no call delay, there's a chance of getting feedback or echo through the phone. If there's no call delay on a digital broadcast (which has a small amount of unavoidable transmission delay), then callers will hear everything they say a second after they say it, which is terribly confusing and distracting.

Jim Marven said...

Who is the fastest superhero?
Television

Mike said...

@Andy Rose: Thanks for that. I think it's that latter one-second delay - surprisingly disruptive. I don't think the BBC uses a delay for editing, which ocasionally yields some amusement:
A Freudian slip referencing government minister Jeremy Hunt.
Jeremy Irons regales us with an amusing anecdote.

For radio prank calls, here's Russell Brand & Jonathan Ross leaving a series of messages on Andrew Sachs' answer phone. As part of his prerecorded radio show, Brand had arranged a telephone call with Sachs who was out. While Brand was leaving a message on Sachs' answer phone, Ross mentioned that Brand had enjoyed relations with Sachs' granddaughter, which led to Brand leaving a series of messages, each one apologising for the one before.

Artie in Sin City said...

Beyond awesome radio tale...and you certainly showed some mighty BIG juevos at that youthful age...