Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Another "How I was almost fired" radio story

Here’s another censorship story – and also one of my early days in radio stories. Except this time I was the censor.

In late ‘72/early ’73 I was a board op (glorified name for engineer) at KLOS, Los Angeles. You know today’s “Classic Rock” stations that play Layla and everything ever recorded by the Allman Brothers? That’s what they played then, when it was just considered music to get stoned by.

The disc jockeys and engineers sat in booths facing each other, separated by glass. We communicated through an intercom. As an engineer, it was my job to play the music and commercials. Back then we still played “records” – these round vinyl thingys. There must be one in a museum somewhere.

But on Sunday nights KLOS abandoned its format of being your “Emerson, Lake & Palmer station" for public service programs (required by the FCC). One of these was “Impacto” hosted by Joe Ortiz -- a call-in show centering on Hispanic issues. I was the engineer.

A lot of the callers were unaware I assume that you were not allowed to swear on the air. I was forever diving for the kill button. I kept telling Joe he had to remind his callers not to use profanity but he refused. He didn’t mind the barrage of f-bombs and he accused me of censorship. Even my pleading that we could lose our license fell on deaf ears.

So needless to say, things became very tense between us.

If he wasn’t getting calls he’d signal me to play a record. I would just grab one off our playlist. This was an important fact: the ONLY records you were allowed to play were those on the playlist. Disc jockeys (or engineers) could not just bring in albums from home.

So one Sunday night the calls were light. Joe gave me the signal, I reached over to our rack of 45’s, selected one completely at random and cued it up. For reasons I don’t know to this day, he introduced it by saying, “Now here’s a song that expresses the state of the barrio.”

With that I let this record fly.

Ortiz went nuts! Screaming at me. I wish there was a kill button on the intercom. After the show he filed an official union grievance against me. I had to go before the Chief Engineer and a union board for a hearing. The charges were dropped of course. They reacted the way you probably did when you heard the song.

My good name was cleared. I was given a new shift. But then I wound up with two people hating me -- Joe Ortiz and the poor engineer who took my place.


Tom Quigley said...

OMG!!!! One of the funniest things you've ever posted, Ken!!!!

Anonymous said...

My office computer is blocking the insert! what's the song??

Unknown said...

The chorus is "Dead skunk in the middle of the road, stinkin' to high heaven"


Paul Duca said...

By Loudon Wainwright III...who incidentally, had a recurring rule in the first season of M*A*S*H.

Max Clarke said...

Great story.

Haven't heard Wainright's most famous song in 20 years at least.

To this day, it's a reflex. You drive around a dead skunk in the road and you think about the song.

Can't think of any other song about a mundane event that comes to mind so fast whenever the mundane event occurs. For example, if I buy a ticket for something, I don't think of "Ticket To Ride."

Michael Hagerty said...

Every time I think I know just how great Ken is, he tops himself!

And as a former KLOS listener around that had 45s in the studio? Wow. I would have guessed everything was off LPs.

A. Buck Short said...

Oh sh*t. That’s my goddamn ringtone!

Ola. But please, I’m still obsessed with how much if any “ragging” might have been going on in the Matlock demo. This is what we in the Native American community know as a lame comeback.

And I’m pretty sure at least 5 out of 6 of those musical critters are in the chalupas at Taco Bell. Or as we like to refer to them, vittles. (Them is the kind of words we use down here. “Now for 10 points A&M, critter/varmint, compare and contrast.”)

But undoubtedly one of the reasons Joe Ortiz later achieved success and reknown on PBS’ Julia Child Meet he Chefs series. Read the bio:

”Translating the techniques of European village bakers to his own hearth ovens, Joe Ortiz has been baking incredible crusty rustic breads for over twenty years in his Capitola, California, workshop--Gayle's Bakery and Rosticceria.”

You didn’t insult an entire nationality, you launched a culinary career. Now remind me, what team was it again that Joe Ortiz went on to manage? There couldn’t be more than one of them? And now, shamelessly, from:

The Collected Works of A. Buck Short
Last of the Jewish Cowboy Poets
That Chuck Wagon Ain’t Kosher

Ah chick’n vas circlin’ the sky…
(OK, get that mental image right now.)
I didn’t care, I didn’t know why.
It wasn’t my bird, so I said not a word,
Because, vell, I’m just that kinda guy.
I felt the same way ‘bout the skunk I hit that day,
With my car on the way to Sundance.
Hundred-one in the shade, and the roadkill I splayed
Smelled just like a poop in my pants.


And that concludes our poetry shlam. Tanks vera much ladies and gentlemans; it’s been a pleasure doing business with you.

wv: "Rosen" go figure.

Charles H. Bryan said...

That is hilarious -- and it's also great to hear that song again.

By the way, I listened to your Sunday Dodger Talk, focused mostly on the return of Vin Scully. Nice broadcast; you and Josh do a great job.

Bruce Harris said...

Your Emerson Lake & Palmer reference remided me about a "Boomtown" episode I saw when the cop radiod HQ by saying "...the suspects are westboung on Emerson, beween Lake and Palmer"
I always thought "Boomtown" was one of the best shows that no one ever watched because of dialogue like that

te said...

"Haven't heard Wainright's most famous song in 20 years at least."

His next- most famous song was written about his then-infant son, "Rufus is a Tit Man."

As it turned out, Rufus Wainwright became a respected singer-songwriter in his own right, but by no means a tit man.

A Non-Emus said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: A few months ago you were asked about your writing influences and you named luminaries such as Richard Pryor, Garry Marshall, Woody Allen, Monty Python, Billy Wilder, Elayne Boosler *cough* *lemonade shoots out of nose* Elayne Boosler??? I remember her from the comedy boom of the 1980's and she was decent. But I'm surprised that you put her up there with all those others you mentioned. Please forgive my ignorance but what did I miss? Are there works of hers that you can recommend to shut my trap?

YEKIMI said...

My radio story: Tail end of the disco era. The station I was at had a disco format. Arbitron released the ratings, we are dead last. Most of the DJs had given up and fled for greener pastures. Me and another DJ working together, decided "fuck it" and just started answering the request line with other stations call letters and "listening to people bitch "WTF? I didn't call "XXXX" radio station". All was fun for a couple of weeks till I answered the phone saying" Thanks for calling ****" just to hear "Who the hell is this?" and me answering with a smart ass comment. All I hear in response is "Well, I'm !!!!!!!!, owner of this station, and why the hell are you answering MY request lines with other radio station IDs?" I was gone in two days, my partner was gone in 6. Needless to say, my next gig...I answered the phones with the correct call letters.

simp said...

I think the 'Boomtown' writers should have said, 'On Lake, between Emerson and Palmer.
Perhaps I need more to do.

Erika @ Health and Happiness in LA said...

Oh man that was funnier than I could have imagined.

Birdie Bush said...

That story was hilarious, Ken! Wish I'd seen your face after you let go of the turntable. I'm still laughing!

Bridget said...

Thank you! I have been reading your blog for a few years now and have laughed a lot but never commented. But I had to leave a comment on this one. That song is from my childhood and I thought it was funny then and probably haven't heard it in 30+ years. Every once in a while when I smell that smell, I start singing... Dead skunk in the middle of the road...

Thanks, Ken