Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The year I got fired at Christmas

One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the 35th anniversary of the last time I signed off my show with “see you tomorrow” and was never heard from again.

1974, I’m Beaver Cleaver on KSEA, San Diego, playing “The Night Chicago Died” and “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” five times a night and seriously considering blowing my brains out. Yes, I know – why “Beaver Cleaver”? Ken Levine sounded too Jewish. ( has some of my embarrassing airchecks.)

The fall rating book came out, the numbers were not good, and at 3:00 I was told to hurry down to the station for an all-important staff meeting at 4:00. We all assembled and were told the station had decided to change formats to gospel and we were all being let go. “Even me?” I said in mock amazement. “Especially you.” “But I could change my name to Eldridge Cleaver.” “I’m going to need your station key”.

Quick aside: a year earlier at KMEN San Bernardino they wanted to get rid of me by moving me from the evening shift to the all-night show. The cheap bastards were hoping I’d quit so they wouldn’t have to pay severance (maybe $300 at most) and be on the hook for unemployment insurance. I asked the program director to at least do the humane thing and fire my sorry ass. “Nope”, he said, “Starting tonight you’re midnight to six.” So I stopped off at the local record store, picked up an LP, and dutifully reported on time for my shift.

Like KSEA, we were a high energy Top 40 station. (Our program director was in love with WLS whose slogan was “the Rock of Chicago” so we became the much catchier “Rock of the Inland Empire”.) I signed on and started playing the hits. Then at 12:30 segued smartly into FIDDLER ON THE ROOF….in Yiddish. The entire album. I was fired during “Anatefka”.

Back to the KSEA staff meeting -- Our morning man, Natural Neil asked when this format change was taking place. A month? A week? The program director looked at his watch and said “45 minutes”. And with that we were all canned. KSEA was gone…along with the promotion we were running at the time --

“Christmas the way it was meant to be!”


Erich Eilenberger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

The story I heard was that the station owner was in his fundamentalist church one Sunday morning (juggling snakes or whatever those people do) when the minister admonished him for playing "the devil's music" on his station. Natually, being a smart man and not wanting to burn in hell, he decided to put a bullet in the rock favor of playing gospel the delight, no doubt, of other devils named Falwell, Roberts, etc.


itstartedwithawindmill said...

Many years ago, my dad, two brothers and my brother's friend Bob were driving to Florida from Michigan. It was the middle of the night, and we were listening to WLAC from Nashville. They announced that they'd be playing The Eagles' album Hotel California without a break.

I remember when the first song started. My brother's friend said "Bad!". Not much else was said as we motored through the Appalachians to all of Hotel California.

It was a pivotal time for all five of us in the car. Things were never the same after that trip.

Mike McCann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Carmichael said...

Nice write up, Ken -- Natural Neil is world famous Neil Ross, right?

Max Clarke said...

When I was a college student in Memphis, the local FM rock station played the entire two-record album, "Jesus Christ Superstar." That told us this was an important piece of music. We had never heard of an entire album being played before, and because Rice-Weber had their own interpretation of the Jesus story, it was a bit scandalous to play the album in the Bible Belt. Jesus Christ Superstar wasn't Fiddler on the Roof or Hotel California, it was sort of the bridge album between the two.

Ref said...

OT, but has anyone put together a compendium of great "Christmas episodes" of sitcoms, dramas, etc on television? I was watching the Magoo Christmas Carol the other night and suddenly flashed on Hill Street Blues ending one with Belker (Bruce Weitz) alone in his apartment watching Mr. Magoo and eating something out of a mason jar.

Mike McCann said...

I can't say I am proud of it ... but I am part of an infamous "flip." June 3rd 2005 when WCBS-FM (again, on an hour's notice -- but this "staff meeting" was a conference call, not even done in person) was replaced by the ill-fated Jack format. (I know, it's big in LA... but in New York, it was the biggest dud ever).

Interestingly, 18 years earlier, I survived WYNY New York's change from "hot AC" to country -- as did most of my colleagues.

Mike Bell said...

Never got fired at Xmas, but I did get evicted the week before Xmas in 1984 in Seattle. Loading my crap into my Honda, as if on cue, a solitary snowflake fell.

wv: axibulc = laxatives for Facists.

Jeff P said...

I was at that meeting with Ken, it made for a depressing Xmas...but what a long, strange trip it's been.
If it happened the master, I'd probably jump for joy.

Jeff Prescott, the newsman

Mike Barer said...

I think we all have a story like that. I was fired from KkMI on my birthday. My roommate had quit the station and the PD wanted to see me sometime. I thought I was going to be promoted to fulltime, but was fired instead.

Anonymous said...

Good story Ken, I remember that
vibrating down into a funk at
Grossmont Colleges radio department where a couple of us
fired up a joint and bemoaned that we would never have a chance to work at Super S-E-A, and I hated KGB-FM and KPRI styled radio.

Wasn't one of the KSEA jocks Tom Straw? He later became a big Hollywood TV sitcom producer.
One of my favorite jocks of all time, the late K.O. Bayley worked
at KSEA briefly, I remember he sounded a little drunk but wonderfully commanding especially in FM stereo with that soulful delivery. Gary Allyn-the PD?

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Apologies for the threadjack, but I've been offline a few days and I have a question from your football post. What's your objection to Tim McCarver? Is it a sound of his voice type thing or something more substantial? Because in the pantheon of blockheads who have done that job, you being a notable exception, McCarver strikes me as relatively insightful. And he must have made at least a few friends in the profession, as he seems to have inherited Lindsey Nelson's wardrobe.

I wouldn't expect you to poop where you eat, so I won't put you on the spot by asking you what you think of Vin Scully, but for my money there isn't a voice on this planet that sends me scurrying more desperately for the knitting needles to stab into my ears. To be fair, my taste may be atypical. I also had no use for Red Barber, while I found Phil Rizutto (who instilled the kind of ethnic chagrin in my Italian friends I get from Bernie Madoff), endearingly goofy.

Anonymous said...

"gospel" sounds a lot closer to what christmas is meant to be than some rock station

Ray Randolph said...

Anonymous said...

""gospel" sounds a lot closer to what christmas is meant to be than some rock station"

I kinda like Yuletide Zeppelin.

Johnny-come-lately said...

Bit late, but a Friday question: 'Bulldog' Briscoe's habit, in Frasier, of mislaying something and immediately (this is total BS!!!) blaming everybody else for stealing it - then finding what he was looking for - was that mannerism based on anybody in particular, or was it jus a generic observation on human nature?

Rosenstein Andrew said...

Hey Ken, I have a question for you. There's a rumor that the jukebox in the lobby of our office is the one from Cheers. I was wondering if you could confirm or deny this. If you could email me at and give me the story on the juke, I would appreciate it. Thanks.

-Lostboy- said...

that sucks man

Anonymous said...

Hey Doctor: Write Ken an E-Mail or something, your posting is off-topic!


Jason Rosenthal said...

My first venture into radio lasted one 12-hour day, after being interviewed and hired the day before.

I was at an unfocused formatted talk/commercial brokered pea shooter radio station in the outskirts of Southern California's no man's land, that will remain nameless, and has continue to remain nameless, where I was the board (bored) operator and in-between the reactionary talk and awful brokered programming shows I read the time, temp, news and traffic.

Yes, this station was so cheap it didn't even subscribe to Metro or Airwatch.

I showed at for my first shift at 6 a.m., tried not to fall asleep until it was over at 6 p.m.

At the end of the shift the program director said my "voice doesn't fit the sound of the station." (Whatever the hell the "sound" of the station is I still can not figure out and he would not give me an straight answer or honest critique.)

I too was forced to change my on-air name, because, as I was told by the PD, "It's nothing against you personally, but with the type of shows our station is airing our listeners may be 'uneasy' and 'jolted' by such an name and may think our radio station has something against them, plus it's not radio friendly for an general audience ... again, don't take it personal, I have lots of Jewish friends."

Yes, Mr. PD, I fear your listeners know my secret that working undercover in an shed among orange groves at an obscure radio station in secret code I will be preaching the protocols of the Elders of Zion during traffic reports.

To his credit, the PD knew his audience.

Oh the joys of radio, being hired, greatly offended and fired all within 24-hours.

You may recall the quote with choice words Hunter S. Thompson had to say about radio, "The radio business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

Though not on-the-air my second venture into radio was a lot better and here in the City of Angels.

Now... well, finishing up school.

Cap'n Bob said...

I can't help but wonder, Ken, if you got any flack from the Leave It to Beaver copyright holders about using that name.

Anonymous said...

Just read this, sorry to be late to the post, but I was noticing one thing that would probably be impossible today - you using the name of a lead character from a seminal tv hit show. Wouldn't you have to at least change a letter to avoid court?

Anonymous said...

Didn't you later work at B-100,KFMB-
FM? With Gene Knight, and Garry

Kate Coe said...

Wilton North (The Worse Show in the History of TV trademark pending) got cancelled on Christmas Eve. Best present I ever got.

Earl B said...

Dude! I remember you as Beaver Cleaver! No need to feel embarrassed - you were the coolest DJ this 12-year-old had ever heard.

Gary Allyn said...

Very clever Cleaver. You followed my departure. I was P.D. for several months before going to Miami Beach to right the floundering WMYQ ship in '74-'75.
Your description was truly "The Night Lemon Grove Died" (Lemon Grove was the suburban location of
KSEA in San Diego). We were San
Diego's 1st FM Top 40 and did a
damned good job with a budget that
ranked near the worst ever. I had
a TOTAL annual budget of $32K for
DJ's, contests, everything. Obviously, you were to "high priced" for me while I was there.
Great story, Ken...I have several
I could tell about that little
sojourn throught the megacycles as
well. Later for that. We'll have to
get together and swap stories..
oooh what fun, eh?

Gary Allyn

heckles65 said...

I remember the "Hill Street Blues" Christmas episode as well. You left out the best part. The phone rings, Belker answers it, it's a wrong number. He politely hangs up, and then - HE SMILES! He's glad there wasn't somebody coming over to give "Christmas salvation" for this alone guy! He's HAPPY spending the day watching Mr. Magoo!

bobsmith said...

Mr. Cleaver:

Radio, what a trip. I want to share my history, the writing on the wall, and what I'm doing now.

First. Dear Beaver Cleaver I am from San Diego. You, Gary Kelly, Shotgun Tom Kelly among others inspired me to get into the biz.

Second. About 15 years in the business while working on KEZY in Anaheim, the PD wanted to make a change. I was the victim. The light went on and I said I can't be dependent on the hierarchy to for a career. I decided to go to education.

Third. I didn't want to be a 50 year old has-been. I got my AA, BA and MA. It's allowed me to be a college professor.

Conclusion. Radio has been good, even in its exciting evolution now, but my brothers and sisters, prepare for the future. Don't be dependent on the gatekeepers for s lifetime job.

Bob Smith
San Dimas, CA

sugarmeg said...

They let it get all the way to Anatevka?!!! That's the last song in the show, isn't it?
I would never have guessed you'd make it past "Sunrise, Sunset"

as always, i'm a big fan

wvw: photti (plural of photos? pictures of babies getting potty-trained?)

Lyle said...

KSEA ... was that the station owned by Dan McKinnon?

I recall a San Diego station that fired their entire staff on Xmas eve.

It was owned by Dan McKinnon, one of those guys who boasts about what a great Christian he is. Hypocrite.

Technically, I don't deny any station owner or G/M the right to fire anybody . . . but would it have hurt to wait until AFTER Xmas day.

I've never had any respect for McKinnon since. He doesn't need me. He owns KUSI, Channel 9, in San Diego. Still . . he's a prick.