Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You can't say that on the radio!

I read in Wednesday’s edition of L.A. Radio a glowing story about former talk show host Joe Ortiz. I worked with Joe once and my encounter was, uh… devoid of glow.

1972. I’m a relief engineer at KABC and their sister station KLOS-FM. That meant I played the records on KLOS and played the commercials on KABC. My shift on Sunday nights was to play the public service shows. As preposterous as it sounds now, radio and television stations once were expected to actually serve the community. A certain amount of their programming had to be devoted to public affairs. So of course stations would bury these shows in the middle of the night or early and late Sundays when no one was listening.

One Sunday night I see we have a new program scheduled. IMPACTO. It’s a talk show geared to the Hispanic community. I’m thrilled. It was live. Normally I played half hour tapes on how to fill out Social Security forms.

The host is Joe Ortiz. He’s relatively new to radio; primarily a community advocate. I ask, “What’s the game plan?” He says he’ll take calls and if there’s a lull I’m to just play a record. What kind of record? He says it makes no difference, just grab something KLOS normally plays. Sounds easy enough to me.

So he starts taking calls. And every other one starts off like this: “Hey man, I’m tired of this fucking shit…” Whoa! Every two seconds I’m diving for the kill button (we were on an eight second delay). I tell Joe on a break to remind his callers they’re not allowed to swear on the radio. He gets pissed at me. That’s censorship. No it’s not, I tell him. It’s the FCC. We could lose our license. He ignores me.

So for weeks I’m hitting the kill button so often you’d think I was tapping out Morse Code. Needless to say, our relationship was frosty.

From time to time there are lulls and he calls for a record. He says, “We’ll be back right after a little music” and I play Crosby, Stills, & Nash or whomever. KLOS was your classic rock station even before we knew the stuff was classic.

So one night the swearers aren’t calling. He signals for a record. I grab one from the rack and cue it up. He announces on the air, “We’re going to take a break but here is a record that expresses the perception of the Hispanic community.” I let the record fly. It’s “Dead Skunk In the Middle of the Road”.

Joe goes nuts. I show great restraint by not falling to the floor in laughter. I say, “It’s on the playlist. Who the hell told you to introduce it like that?”

So Joe files an official union grievance on me. I have to go before a board of the Chief Engineer and union representatives. I’m charged with being a racist. Once they hear my side of the story they fall on the floor laughing. The grievance is dropped and I’m completely pardoned. Better yet I’m taken off that shift.

For years I had no idea whatever happened to Joe Ortiz. He hasn’t befriended me on Facebook. And then in the article I learn he’s primarily no longer in broadcasting. But ironically, his last on-air gig was hosting a talk show on a Christian station. I wonder how “Hey man, I’m tired of this fucking shit…” would go over there.

On a totally unrelated subject, I know a lot of my readers also follow Earl Pomerantz's blog (if you don't you should). Anyway, he had a little health scare that proved to be not nearly as serious as he had first thought. So he wants me to remind you that he's continuing to blog. Check him out while he's still alive. Thanks.


Unknown said...

When you got to "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road" I fell on the floor laughing!

Anonymous said...

Hilarious, and I'm from the 'allegedly targeted demographic'. Today I had a very nice person block me because she posted on twitter that she hit on a married man without knowing, and was telling this on twitter and he was following her there and I just pointed out- in a more convoluted way, sure, and I think that was the trouble- that adultery is not recommended but it isn't a non-option. I felt it like a shock, then realized she probably thought I was laughing at her, not with her. The pitfalls of comedy. So I can relate, that's what I'm saying

D. McEwan said...

Actually, "I'm tired of this fucking shit" would be my opening line-of-choice on a Christian radio talk show, as it certainly sums up my feelings about Christianity.

Great story. Will Don Barrett be posting it, I wonder?

Tim W. said...

I have to say, I was shocked when you explained that if there was a lull in the phone calls you were to play music, and you didn't play music all the time. How many people would actually be listening to community programming late on a Sunday night. And how many of them would actually care enough to call in.

Didn't WKRP have an episode about that sort of thing? Having a phone in show where nobody called?

Unknown said...

I don't about WKRP having a show about no one calling in but SCTV did. Guy Cabellero was having a phoneathon for his station and no one was calling in. At that point, he showed a clip of a soccer game or as he called "really really boring soccer" which he would show all the time if no one called in. Of course, the phones lit up after that. I always think of that bit when I catch a soccer game on ESPN where the game score is usually 0 to 0.

Bob Harlow said...

You sure had a long radio weekend
in 1972!. As I recall you were on Saturday night 6pm-Midnight and Sundays from Noon-6pm doing Top 40 in Bakersfield. Then a shift at KLOS after a 2 hour drive back to LA?

thomas tucker said...

Deliciously hilarious.
D. McKewan- just remember Chesterton's quote (in paraphrase) that Christianity hasn't been tried and found to be wanting, it hasn't been tried.

Mary Stella said...

Wow, Ken. I can barely remember what I was doing in 1972 but one of your commentors can remember your shift schedules.

Is Aricept in my future?

Mike Bell said...

I just wanted to give a shout out to the legendary Bob Harlow, who gave me a job at his record store even though I couldn't make change for s**t, AND once tried to land me a PD job in Spokane even though I couldn't program my way out of a paper bag. Bob, Bakersfield isn't the same without you. Well, actually, it is. But you ARE missed. Oh, and Hi Ken!

WV: gonsmsco - Jeff Gonzer saying his name drunk.

J.J. said...

"That's censorship!"

"No, it isn't. It's the FCC..."

I always thought FCC stood for, "Fucking Crazy Censorship." Which goes to show why I'm not on the radio.

Dan O’Day said...

Reminds me of an incident regarding our mutual radio god, Gary Burbank.

A female staffer sued him for sexual harassment over a one-liner Gary delivered on-air.

The court threw the case out.

Possibly because the one-liner had been written by the woman who subsequently sued Gary for reading it.

Emmett Flatus said...

One of the craziest things the FCC ever did was to require anyone who came within 10 feet of the transmitter remote monitoring equipment get a Third Class Engineers certificate.

Cap'n Bob said...

Friday question:

How come Nurse Kelly stayed on MASH forever while most of the others seemed to come and go with the weather changes? Is it one of those Majel Barrett/Barbara Bosson things where she's married to the producer?

John said...

Talk radio was less pervasive in the early 70s, but still filled with the same type of "eclectic" hosts, right and left (in New York, yelling at and hanging up on callers were pretty much SOP for anyone hosting a talk show. It's also where John Sterling got his start with the Yankees, speaking of First Aid and sickness from the previous thread...)

A. Buck Short said...

RE: Earl Pomerantz

OMG, I feel so dirty….and culpable! Last Sunday when Earl posted his heart valve scare I was distraught, and prayed, “Please God, if you’ve got to take a Canadian, go with that douchebag reality show killer Ryan Jenkins instead.

Next thing you know, they find Jenkins hanging ala Caradine from a Vancouver motel room coat rack – and now it’s yet another year Earl doesn’t even make the Emmys’ In Memoriam section.

Incidentally, speaking of medical procedures, since you Tweeted it up, although awhile ago, and as I recall facetiously, I experience the joy of another colonoscopy tomorrow morning. Now
they put you under with the same Propofol that killed Michael Jackson. – but I’m putting a hold on the bucket of benzodiazepines as a chaser.

So far the writers have offered these 10 adlibs – which I’m absolutely CERTAIN no gastroenterologist has ever heard before:

'Can you hear me NOW?'
'Take it easy, Doc. You're boldly going where no man has gone before!
'Let me know if and when you find my dignity.'
'Find Amelia Earhart yet?' If you did, that new Hilary Swank movie can kiss its own ass goodbye.
'Are we there yet?
'You put your left hand in, you take your left hand out....'
'In Arkansas, we're now legally married.'
' Now I know how a Muppet feels!'
'If your hand don't fit, you must quit!
'Could you write a note for my wife confirming that my head is not in fact up there?'

Additional submissions gratefully accepted, because if we can’t annoy these guys back, there is no justice in the world.

Mary Stella said...

Buck, good luck with the exam tomorrow. Before you go under and they go in, listen for music. In Dave Barry's hilarious column about his first colonoscopy, the radio played ABBA (Dancing Queen, I think.) in the surgical room. So, when it was my turn, I wanted to see if something equally funny would play. I got Springsteen's "I'm on Fire". Listen, remember and report back, please.

Having recently seen "Julie and Julia", I'm now imagining a skit portraying Julia Child as a gastroenterologist. Only a few syllables more than gastronomy, but a world away from boning a duck.

By Ken Levine said...


I was at KERN from the summer of 71 thru the summer of 72. Then I got the job engineering at KABC/KLOS. But I was putting in a full-time 40 hours a week while taking classes at UCLA.

Kirk said...

On the WKRP episode, Sparky Anderson, playing himself, hosted the show where nobody called in.

Except for a wrong number.

emily said...

A. Buck,

I hope you enjoy Dave Barry's story of his own colonoscopy...

(I bet you never want to hear the word "prep" again...)

A. Buck...uh oh, was that a ground tremor? said...

Thanks for all the good wishes. Really wasn't fishing. Well, this is my third -- they let you run a tab. Actually I’d even rather have a Tab than this Jonestown bug juice they’ve got us forcing down our gullets. (Is there such thing as human foie gras? I remember for the last episode of the Dallas series we had a liver mold in the shape of Larry Hagman, but somehow I don’t think that’s the same thing.)

Not that anyone asked, but started at 10am CST and still only about 1/4 gallon down. And yet…and yet…taking effect. Not too long now our house will be a veritable Shitopia. And then they’ll be sorry. Just learned that because have not satisfied insurance deductible, must show up tomorrow with $1,500. Guess where they’re going to have to look for that? The Barry is a classic. Is it OK somebody before me already highlighted and wrote “True” and “NB” in the margins?

Although she's a different kind of Dr., our daughter is at physician at Presbyterian Hosp. with a gastroenterologist Peter Loeb, who is Lisa Loeb’s dad. Am starting to realize why the kid's first two albums were “Tails” followed by “Firecracker.” Anything’s got to be more expeditious then this.

Bye. Just an attempt to classy this site soup a bit.

Bob Summers said...

And haven't we all worked with someone who would have blamed us for playing the record, regardless of the impossibility of reading the mind of the host.