Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Podcasting in captivity

Kids in the ‘50s-‘70s who were radio geeks and dreamed of being disc jockeys (what a lofty goal) would often have “bedroom stations.” Generally, this was when no one else in the family was home because you sounded like a blithering idiot, but you would get a tape recorder, a microphone, your record player and records, and you would do faux radio shows. I also used to grab magazines for commercial copy. The hell with “more music,” I wanted to talk.

Thank God those tapes of me no longer exist. I can’t even fathom how terrible I was. My emphasis, of course, was on comedy. I did different voices and characters (not my gift) – tried to be Bob & Ray, Lohman & Barkley, Stan Freberg, Dick Whittington, Don McKinnon, Elliott Field, Gary Owens, and Emperor Bob Hudson all in one. I only had about twenty records so even the music part would have be excruciating if God forbid I did have listeners.

Some radio geeks were way more elaborate than me. Some had two turntables, some had thirty records, and some even made transmitters so they actually did broadcast, even if it was only five yards. For the sake of my neighbor, thank goodness that wasn’t me.

Looking back in my development, the bedroom station was probably very helpful. By the time I did get on a real station – KLA, the UCLA campus station – I had shed all the voices and skits. I was still abysmal but marginally better.

Thus launched a fifty year radio career as a disc jockey, talk show host, satirical commentator, and play-by-play announcer for major markets and at times nationally.

And now I’ve come full circle. Podcasting. Out of my office not bedroom, but otherwise the same. Yes, there are a couple of slight differences. I think I’m a slightly better broadcaster, and my podcast can now be heard in every corner of the world.

Fortunately, I can do my podcast from home. The acoustics are excellent and I don’t need to rent a studio somewhere. And it’s a great diversion during this time of self-quarantine. Usually I try to have guests half the time, but for the immediate future it will just be me. I am not reprising one of my hilarious voices. I also don’t like doing phone interviews. I think they sound awful.

But I’m not at all worried. I can usually talk for a half hour even if I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. I’m planning some interesting things for the coming weeks including an “experiment,” commentary tracks, and I’m waffling on whether to do this one week: For a media class at UCLA, fellow-classmate Bill Pearl and I made an audio documentary for our term paper. It traced the state of Top 40 radio from the late ‘50s to the early ‘70s complete with samples, programming analysis, and a lot of bullshit intellectual blather. At the time it went viral in the industry. Copies circulated throughout radio stations around the country. My question: would enough listeners be interested were I to play it on my podcast? You tell me, and my feelings won’t be hurt if you say, “God no. I could care less!”

For now my podcasts will continue every week with no interruption due to self-quarantine. Coming up in the next episode: I recommend comedy movies you might want to see while under House Arrest yourself.

Stay safe and thanks for listening (if you do).

42 comments :

1955david said...

I think it’s a great idea. Love to hear it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, comedy movies help with this situation.
Humor and funny movies help make us stronger , happier and helpful to others.

Thanks for your great post.
Best,
Telly

John Mazur said...

Reminds me of my radio days & ‘hitting the post’/
talking up to the actual vocal flush to the song intro.
‘Night & morning low clouds on the coast, otherwise mostly sunny San Diego skies with a high today of 75. Ladies & gentlemen - Neil Sedaka!

Troy McClure said...

Could you do a podcast about the night you were on the radio and got a call from Patty Hearst's kidnappers and the FBI interviewed you?

Brian Fies said...

I'd love to hear the documentary. A little like Robert W. Morgan's History of Rock & Roll?

Little daily habits and diversions are a big help. Thanks for keeping on.

Mark--> said...

Yep, let's hear that documentary.

tavm said...

I vote yes on your audio term paper on Top 40. And my earliest "disc jockey" routine was back in '77 when I was nine and me and my family were visiting by godmother's family in Fort Edwards, Wisconsin. One of the pre-teen girls in her family and I were playing various early '70s 45s and K-Tell album cuts and on her tape recorder, we started ID'ing the songs we were playing. Oh, and I just remember also recording a segment of "The New Mickey Mouse Club" in which the members (who among them was a pre-"Facts of Life" star Lisa Whelchel) singing an updated version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and then my recording my intro just before that over a previous one for something else that was also recorded over. I sounded very loud during that one! Anyway, during high school I signed for Radio Broadcasting during my junior year and then went to a community college on a radio course. Long story short, my dream career didn't go anywhere but I currently am a lector at my church so my voice hasn't gone to waste. But now since we're in this Coronavirus situation, I can't even attend that right now...

Steve Bailey said...

I never had any interest in being a "bedroom disc jockey," but I liked The Beatles, and for a while I was obsessed with recording Beatles record promos. My 10-year-old self would gravely intone, "The Beatles. Available on Apple Records," just as "The Long and Winding Road" faded into the sunset.

sumerlad said...

I'd like to hear the documentary. Radio used to be so important , imho, and now I rarely listen to commercial stations.

Bob Paris said...

I vote yes and commend your willingness to share

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

I'd like to hear the documentary, too.

I was a "bedroom broadcaster" when I was eight. Had a tape recorder, and played Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" on my Donald Duck record player.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Keep the podcasts coming!

We'll take anything, maybe even a phoner with Kirstie Alley...





thomas tucker said...

Yes- play it!

Buttermilk Sky said...

I also vote for the documentary.

Have you heard "Dog Sings Along To Law & Order Theme"? You should.



https://twitter.com/i/status/1240472553136754688

He must have noticed the producer's name is Wolf.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

If it's a good interview, I think lots of us could live with the drop in audio quality of doing it by phone. I like your interviews because of the aspect of two knowledgeable craftspeople sharing their experience.

wg

Y. Knott said...

Audio term paper on top 40 history? Sure, I'd listen! Post it tomorrow!

Jeff R said...

YES!!! I would love to hear your "project" on radio - please add it to your list! When I was in college - KMBU Malibu at Pepperdine University, my project was a documentary on the Eagles. I still have it on a 7" reel in my box of memories but haven't heard it since school in 1977-78.
Thanks for keeping us entertained and amused these days!

Paul Knauer said...

As a kid, I cleaned out the bottom of my closet and "built" my own studio -- complete with a fold up, portable record player and a tape recorder. No problem with acoustics, as the clothes hanging over my head absorbed any excess sound. The playlist was deep, consisting of every John Denver album ever recorded and the Bee Gees Greatest Hits album. You know you're good when you can easily transition from Rocky Mountain High to Jive Talkin'.

It was also the time when we all thought it was funny to do fake interviews using music bites as answers. "So, John. You recently played in Boston, how did you like it?" Thank God I'm a country boy. "After that, you played Ohio. Was that any better?" Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio, is like being nowhere at all. "What are your plans now?" Uh, uh, uh, uh, staying' alive. Stayin' alive.

Comedy gold... to a 10-year-old.

College radio from there. A bit of professional DJ'ing, some play-by-play work and now screenwriting.

(Holy crap! I didn't realize until now that all I've ever wanted to be was Ken Levine. If only I'd have joined the Army...)

MikeKPa. said...

Any chance Beaver Cleaver might show up as a surprise guest on a podcast? Heck, ask Jerry Mathers to call in, too.

MSOLDN said...

Play it!

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Yep, post the doc with you and Billy. It'd be a cultural asset that reflected the state of the art at the time, I bet.

At the oldies station, KBEST 95 in San Diego in the '90's, I instigated an aircheck party for the staff requiring that everyone bring the very earliest tape of themselves. Mine was from the ucla campus station, too, KLA, and it sucked so much the barometric pressure overhead actually dropped, I think. Others who brought theirs to the party: Shotgun Tom Kelly, Rich Bro (I believe), Crazy Dave, Dayle Ohlau and the usual gang of idiots. Great fun!

Now I work from the home studio here in the forest of western Oregon, as I have for ten years now. Sounds keen, and I guess it is, but it's a struggle. As I tell the Lovely Linda, my job is not doing voiceovers; it's finding voiceover clients. :)

The skills I learned in the Navy (ours) are absolutely transferable to civilian life: if ever you need to set the blast dispersion on a tactical nuclear weapon, I'm your guy.

...jockin' records is still the second-most fun I've ever had.

Paul Duca said...

God YES, I could not care more your buls@&* (as heard on Reelradio)

Mark Moretti said...

When I was young, 10 years old or so, Canadian cable services carried a station that broadcast the text of wire copy from the Broadcast News division of Canadian Press.

I would set a chair up in front of the TV in our basement and read the copy as though I was the news anchor.

I even remember pretending to be the live anchor during the Soviet Coup in '91. I was broadcasting from our living room, my parents weren't home.

Years later I ended up an anchor at a mid-market news/talk radio station reading copy for slightly more pay.

Left broadcasting all together more than a decade ago, it's bleak future was obvious.

Rich said...

Yes please!!

You might also consider sharing your experience of listening to Gary Owens on KMPC. He had the perfect time slot for me -- 3-6pm, right after I got out of high school up till dinner time. What I learned from Owens was how to create a 'comic universe." He wasn't just Gary Owens, disc jockey -- he was part of the "Zuckmesiter Broadcasting Network, Earl. C. Festoon President) (A spoof of KFI, "Earle C. Anthony, Inc.) Owens had a unique comic jingles and drop-in package with a cast of players including Bob Arbogast and June Foray. He wasn't just a jokester -- he was holding a party, and we were all inited.

I got to work with Gary in the 1980s when I was writing comic radio commercials for Dick "Chickenman" Orkin and Bert Berdis. I never met a nicer, more gracious human being.

Troy McClure said...

Friday question

Hollywood never lets being tasteful get in the way of capitalizing on a tragedy, so once this pandemic is over, how quickly do you think a studio will fast track a movie about COVID19? My money's on Dwayne Johnson for the lead, but only because he's cast in everything.

Cap'n Bob said...

I think we've cover the expression "I couldn't care less" as being correct and "I could care less" as not conveying the intended meaning.

But sure, play it again, Sam.

John Hammes said...

The awkward teen years.

1970s - disco era, to be exact. Had two cassette tape recorders. Recorded various sections of audience laughter, from a comedy LP or two. Presto - a homemade laugh track tape cassette.

Set the two cassette tape recorders side by side on a bedroom table.

Wrote alleged "comedy" sketches and bits. Had various siblings- and self- "perform" said sketches and bits into one recording cassette tape recorder. Played the various sections from the homemade laugh track tape cassette from the other recorder - play button, pause button, play button, pause button, etc. - timing just right to punctuate all the "hilarious" jokes. Just like any good laugh track should.

A little music included, from setting the cassette recorder next to the radio or t.v. speaker.

Lots of love, time, and fun, went into "producing" what had to have been one of the worst things ever put onto magnetic tape.




The tapes are not around. We are. March will give way to April, April will give way to May, so on and so on. We will still be around. The love, time, and fun, will still be around. Our taking care of each other will still be around.


And, yes to the Top 40 Term Paper/Documentary. That will still be around, too.

Jeff Boice said...

Yes, I would be interested in listening to your term paper.

Bob K said...

Another bedroom DJ here. And guaranteed I was way worse than anyone here! I vote yes for the audio doc, Ken. When I was in college, a buddy of mine and I produced an audio doc on subliminal messaging and backwards masking in music. Brings back some good memories. We had a blast making it, blew away the class and got an A.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

I know that Josh Malina and Rishy for The West Wing Weekly podcast often recorded the podcast when they were in different locations via skype (I think that's what they used, but I'm sure any of the video calling software could be utilised). I think a lot of their guests were via skype as well. It allowed them to see the facial reactions, etc. From a listener's perspective it was pretty seamless. Just wanted to let you know.
cheers
Dave.

Anonymous said...

https://twitter.com/matt_obrien/status/1242910772428075008

fred said...

Lenny Bruce spent 30 months aboard the USS Brooklyn and was involved in 4 invasions in WWII. He was discharged using gay tendencies as a reason. I have read several times this is where the Max Klinger character came from, although I have never read where Lenny actually wore a dress. Where did "Klinger" come from?

Frank said...

Decades ago my cousin and I would run FM antennae wire from a stereo and hang it out the window and it would transmit a very low frequency that could be picked up within about a one block radius in the neighborhood. We'd have a mic plugged in and have at it.

Unknown said...

Sure, play the documentary. Thanks for the diversion. Keep the podcast coming.

Pat Reeder said...

As a kid, I used to do improv radio comedy bits and voices into a cassette deck with a friend of mine. After my parents died and I was cleaning out their house, I found one of the tapes and made the mistake of listening to it. Glad I didn't do that sooner or I would have gone into the food service industry instead of radio and comedy writing.

I have a Blue Yeti USB microphone that can be used for streaming via a home PC or laptop. I set up a Skype interview for Laura with a lounge music radio host in Australia, and when we heard the show later, it sounded like she was right in the studio with him. It's only about $130 at Amazon. The problem, of course, would be getting the mic to your remote guests or only interviewing people who had one. But it shows that the potential sound quality via internet streaming is much better than a typical phone interview if your interviewee just has any reasonably decent external USB mic and you run the call through Skype or some other net-based chat service.

JAS said...

I see some neat memorabilia/awards/pictures on your desk. What all do you keep there? Maybe give a desk tour? (Probably lame, but I love seeing what's important to people and how they work in their spaces. Lifehacker used to do a similar series on their site that I loved).

More on topic, I think podcasting solo is really difficult. I admire anyone who can keep an audience's attention by themselves. I wish I had those kinds of skills.

Neal said...

I would to hear your audio paper. That was such a cool idea.

Randy @ WCG Comics said...

I don't know if anyone will see this at this point, but been meaning to add that though I never aspired to be a radio jock or a performer in any way, even I engaged in having a "bedroom station." When I was around 10 or so, my brother and I had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and I would tape my own "radio shows" as well, using my record player and collection to spin vinyl (mostly 45s). It was just for the enjoyment of myself and my younger brother, for a laugh, as my running gag was that everyone at the "station" -- i.e., the DJ, the weather guy, etc., all were played by me and had the same radio jock name, so I would pass the mic on to myself, thanking myself as I did so lol. Sadly, we pretty much had only one tape reel and would constantly tape over it, so of course it's never been saved.

Even if nobody is interested, I'd still post the recording just for posterity!

Steve said...

As a radio guy, you might be interested in this upcoming movie. I know I can't wait to see it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5P1wU2A5P8c

D Lewis said...

Would love to hear the audio term paper!

Scott said...

Play the audio term paper, please! For the love of (insert your favorite deity here), we’re trapped in here!

Peter said...

Would like to hear a commentary of your Simpsons episode. Here's a tidbit to share: Storyboards by Peter Avanzino. (me)