Sunday, September 25, 2016

Me as a newscaster

Here’s another chapter from my misguided radio career:

As a Top 40 disc jockey in the early ‘70s, I often had to fill multiple roles. In addition to humming the hits,  I was also the engineer on duty. I would have to take the transmitter readings every few hours. To qualify for that job I needed an FCC First Class Radio License. This required five weeks in a school in Glendale cramming five years of electronics courses into one month. The truth is if a transmitter ever did shut off we were fucked because I knew shit. But you couldn’t get a job as a DJ in these medium market stations unless you had your “first ticket” as the license was called.

My other job responsibility was being the newsman. Rock stations in San Bernardino and Bakersfield didn’t have “newsrooms.” News was a turn-off. The news would come on and half the audience hit the car button for another station. The only reason there were newscasts in the first place was because the FCC insisted on it.

Most of the time I had the evening or late night shifts. I was more your “teen jock”. Translation: higher voice and mildly inappropriate jokes. So another of my responsibilities was reading a five minute newscast every few hours.

The news came over teletype machines. Two minutes before scheduled newscasts I would quickly scan the copy as  the teletype machine coughed it out, I would grab a few stories, and go back in to the control room and read it cold over the air. This is called “rip and read.” I can only imagine the number of Vietnamese names I butchered. The newscasts had a format that everyone followed and that included signing off with your name. Since I didn’t want to use my disc jockey name I reported the news as Barely Read (a name I stole from fellow jock Tom Maule).

When I finally made it to KYA, San Francisco in 1974 I was assigned the 10 pm-2 am shift. And much to my surprise, I was expected to do a ten minute newscast at 1:20 every morning. Now this station did have a news department but the last man left at midnight.

At the time I was using the air-name Beaver Cleaver. I figured, I couldn’t call myself that when I read the news. That’s hardly dignified. And this was a major market heritage radio station.  So at 1:00 each morning I looked to see who Tom Snyder’s guest was on THE TOMORROW SHOW WITH TOM SNYDER on NBC and that’s who delivered KYA People Power News at 1:20. So it could be Charles Manson, it could be George Will, it could be Soupy Sales. It could be Betsy Palmer.

One night while delivering the news on KYA I got the hiccups. I decided to just keep going as if nothing was wrong. My engineer (yes, we had engineers there) was doubled-over in laughter. Let’s be real -- I made a travesty of the news department.

Fortunately, no one was listening.

My favorite disc jockey-as-newsman story is this: A jock in San Bernardino was reading the news cold. He reported that the president of Bolivia had just died. Then he saw the name, which was a long tongue-twister. No way would he come close to pronouncing it correctly. So instead he said, “the president’s name is being withheld pending notification of his family.”

You gotta love the fun days of radio.

This is Barely Read reporting.


Lyle said...

Your newsman story brought back a laughable incident in my broadcast career . . .

I was working at WMRO in Aurora, Illinois about a hundred years ago. We had a country DJ by name of Bill Blough - quite popular mid-day program - a 2-3 hour block of country music surrounded by MOR music the rest of the day.

Came time for Bill to rip and read the news and he reported about an earthquake somewhere other than in Aurora. "The country," he said, "was in Outer Chouse." (The news copy read . . . "the country is in utter chaos."

Bill Blough . . . he tried mighty hard, that boy did.

Lyle said...

Your newsman story brought back a laughable incident in my broadcast career . . .

I was working at WMRO in Aurora, Illinois about a hundred years ago. We had a country DJ by name of Bill Blough - quite popular mid-day program - a 2-3 hour block of country music surrounded by MOR music the rest of the day.

Came time for Bill to rip and read the news and he reported about an earthquake somewhere other than in Aurora. "The country," he said, "was in Outer Chouse." (The news copy read . . . "the country is in utter chaos."

Bill Blough . . . he tried mighty hard, that boy did.

Steve Mc said...

Boy can I relate as someone whose on-air career ended in high school in the early 70s because I could never pass the FCC license test. Yes, the news about Viet Nam could result in the butchering of names. But more humiliating is the phone call from your mom after the newscast to say, "I know the word looks like Commune EEK dear, but it's actually Kuh myoon i KAY.'

Stephen Marks said...

George Will said.....

Baseball, it is said, is only a game. Not so for blogging. Blogging, said the ancient Greeks, is morally serious because mankind's noblest aim is the loving contemplation of worthy things. These thoughts come to me as I awake on the 7th day to find my name mentioned in a blog given the respect of none other then Time magazine. The author of said blog, Mr. Kenneth Gilbert Levine, is the creator of merriment and mayhem for the television industry and whose transferable skills as such have allowed him to transcribe thoughts on all things comedic to social media. However, like baseball, blogging is that stake where energy and order merge, and all complexity is purified into a simple coherence. Allow me then Mr. Levine, if you will, the opportunity, in return for using my name for the aforementioned merriment, to inform your readers that my most recent tome, "Baseball and Bowties, How America's Pastime Can Only Be Enjoyed By Elitist Snobs", will be available for purchase in October. Apropos of this is, of course, your debut in the same month of a play on said subject entitled "Going, Going, Gone" which I will be attending for an evening of, given your legacy, much tittering and self-examination.

Mike Barer said...

I love old radio history.

Diane D. said...

As usual, your "radio days" stories are some of the funniest blog posts you write! I wish I could have heard the hiccup news delivered by George Will, hopefully. I LOVE these stories. Thank you for a hilarious history lesson. It will be a sad day when no one is left to tell these stories.

Stoney said...

At my first radio job in small-town upstate New York in the late 70s, there was a cautionary tale about a DJ on temporary news duty who got fired four years earlier. Local obituaries were part of a morning newscast and this "newsman" decided to type "...kicked the bucket..." into the copy of one obit. (but did not read it on the air.) Well, somehow, that copy got passed on to the real newsman on the next shift and, guess what happened!

Another story was that Rod Serling was in the production room cutting spots for a local clothing store owned by friends of his. The newsman asked him to read a story and he kindly obliged. Next newscast: (something like) "Fire destroys a lakeside cottage. With more, here's Rod Serling"!

There was a time when it might have been a little dangerous to assign me a news shift because I had really gotten into this aircheck tape, "CKLW 20/20 News". But I resisted the temptation to try to be like Lee Marshall or Bytron MacGregor!

YEKIMI said...

I think I may have told this tale before but back at one AM station I worked at we had a newsman that came in to do the news in the afternoon who was incredibly inebriated......not once, but everyday. He must have had something on the GM, PD or station owners because he never got fired until the station was sold. He'd come stumbling in, slurring his words, knocking stuff off the console. Any thing liquid was placed far out of his reach so he wouldn't knock it over and short out something. Eyes and nose redder than a traffic light, fumes coming off of him that could peel a record label off a 45. But as soon as that light went on *BAM* you would have thought it was Edward R. Murrow doing the news for that 5 minutes he was on. No slurring of the words. Nary a mistake was made, all news clips fired off by him in correct order with split second timing, not missing one commercial spot. Soon as that light was off he was back to a stumbling, bumbling wreck and disappeared till the next news spot. We assumed he was probably across the street at the bar but no one dared to follow him out the door in case he did something that would get THEM fired. I wanted to follow him one day and was discouraged by the PD who said "Don't. Just.....don't." We didn't really have a newsroom and I know the TTY was somewhere in the back of the building. For all I know he could have been curled up behind it with a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20. To this day, I don't know what became of him after the station was sold and everyone was fired.

Don R. said...

One year when I was "between jobs" in radio I was hired to fill in for two weeks while the afternoon newsman at the #1 station in town was on vacation. I basically ripped-and-read. One day the teletype reported that Pennsylvania's governor was undergoing a heart transplant the same day Pennsylvania US Senator Arlen Spector was having a brain tumor removed. My lead-in headline: "Politicians getting new hearts and brains -- when will they get some courage?" The jock liked it so much he had me repeat it every newscast all afternoon.

A Friday question: the basic premise of CHEERS was that Sam Malone was an alcoholic who owned a bar. To my knowledge, there was never a story that had him falling off the wagon, or getting close. Was that a deliberate decision by the producers?

bruce said...

I was listening to KFWB when it was an all-news station in LA in the early 70s about 3 in the morning.
The reporter described a "heroin bust' (HEH-ROYN) that evening in "Sheepshead Bay" (SHEEP-SHEED).
Hard to go back to sleep after all the laughter.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Hi Don! If I recall there was a first season episode that addressed it, plus it was a main reason why Diane returned to Cheers at one point when it looked like she was about to start a new life with Frasier.

Paul Duca said...

Dan Rather wrote about giving a news report in his salad days about a "heh-royn" bust, pronouncing it that way until a woman in the news room got up and began screaming 'NO, YOU IDIOT! It is "heh-roh-in"! "heh-roh-in"! which was heard over the air.

ScarletNumber said...

Howard Stern also has an FCC First Class Radio License except he went to school in Virginia for his.

Pat Reeder said...

At my first radio job at KHBR in Hillsboro, Texas, DJs just needed a 3rd Class FCC license. But that's more than anyone is required to get now.

KHBR also served the nearby Czech community of West. Doing evenings, I was the only one there, so I had to do everything from DJ-ing records to gathering, writing and reading news, which included local obituaries. Not being Czech, I would mumble and slur my way through long lists of names of survivors, each of them at least 20 letters long, none of those letters being vowels. Then I'd have to brace for the calls from the angry next of kin: "How could you mispronounce good ol' Wladslieu Rzwjchgwisc's name? Everyone knows it's pronounced 'Rock-way!'"

I also had to play a prerecorded polka music and public affairs show called "The American Czech Hour," which was 90 minutes long. Apparently, even time doesn't translate accurately from Czech to English.

Andy Rose said...

A guy who worked at a small town Tennessee radio station in the late 70s told me this story. I hope it really happened, because it's almost too good to be true.

They hired a young lady to do a weekend shift, and she became enchanted with the teletype. Particularly the "Urgent" stories that literally set off alarm bells. It occurred to her that if she got an Urgent immediately to air the moment it finished printing, she might be the first person in the entire country to broadcast the news.

So one Saturday she hears the bells go off and runs to rip the wire and get it back to the studio. The Urgent read "ETHIOPA -- A coup d'etat is reported in the capital, Addis Ababa."

Reading it cold, she said, "This bulletin just into our newsroom... uh... Something... has happened... uh, somewhere. More details as we get them."