Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Jobs before my writing jobs

Here’s another installment in how David Isaacs and I got started in the business. Comedy writing career launches are like snowflakes. No two are ever the same and most eventually turn grey.

It’s the fall of 1974. I’m a disc jockey at KSEA San Diego, an FM top 40 powerhouse that is getting killed in the ratings by the airport traffic station. Our studios are in the bowels of a suburban shopping mall adjacent to the loading docks. I’ll save the KSEA stories for my other running feature -- my ersatz radio career. But on the weekends I would drive up to LA and David and I would work on our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. At the end of the year the ratings came out and there were more people listening to air raid sirens. So a week before Christmas they threw out the format and all of us.

This was a turning point for me. I decided to move back to LA, get a job doing anything and seriously try to become a comedy writer.

With no foreseeable income I figured I’d need either a roommate or a blanket and cozy doorway. Larry B., my best friend from college and I decided to rent an apartment together. We checked the Westside and found two-bedroom furnished places to be waaaay more expensive than we were willing to spend. So we expanded our search. The farther you got from the ocean and the closer to power lines the less the rents were. Still disheartening. David and his roommate at the time, had a place in the valley right next to an on-ramp of the Ventura Freeway. Drivers could literally peer into his bedroom and read things on his desk. I couldn’t afford that place.

But then one day we see this apartment and it’s amazing. Nicely furnished (the paintings of matadors were surprisingly tasteful), spacious, and unbelievably cheap. The two of us went down to the landlord, signed the lease, and couldn’t believe our good fortune.

Only after we moved in did we discover why the place was such a steal. We were in the middle of West Hollywood, which was (and is) practically all gay. That said, it was a great neighborhood! Fun neighbors, a million cool restaurants, and I could play my Pat Suzuki “Broadway 59” album without having to listen on headphones.

But now I needed a job. Unlike today, there actually WERE jobs. Not good ones but still. I didn’t care as long as I could make the rent and have nights and weekends free. David was in the film can schlepping department at ABC. I spent about a month knocking on doors, filling out applications, taking interviews (“My qualifications for selling ties? Um, I’m wearing one?”). I figured worse comes to worst I would draw caricatures of tourists for money on the Redondo Pier. One always needs a safe fallback career.

I saw an ad in a radio trade rag for the KiiS Broadcasting Workshop, a broadcasting school. I thought, “Hey, I could teach kids how to announce the weather.” The “campus” was located in the Playboy Club building (classy!) practically around the corner from me. So I went in and applied for a teaching position. They were very impressed with my resume. Not only had I worked in radio, I had worked in it within the last 35 years! One of their instructors had been the announcer on Orson Welles’ “War of the World” broadcast… in 1938. So I joined the esteemed faculty of the KiiS Broadcast Workshop for $650 a month. But I was on a tenured track.

To be continued….

Kiis photo by Gary Thereaux


Howard Hoffman said...

Oh no! Not the KIIS Broadcasting Workshop story! It's not too late to turn back from this one, Ken. Really, it isn't.

Doug DeRoo said...

Hey Ken, did you ever get your picture on the KSEA msuic survey? Even Albert Flasher was featured at least one week...

benson said...

Maybe it's because I'm an old fart, but I am continuously amazed at what one can find on the internet. All I did was google KSEA-FM-San Diego.


willieb said...

Hey! What a great idea for a sitcom! Two wacky unemployed guys find a cheap apartment in a gay neighborhood, but have to PRETEND to be gay to keep it! It could star Colin Hanks!

Randy said...

KiiS Workshop? Oy! Circa 1977Instructor Ken Griffin had some student drive from CA to CT for his first radio job. Only problem: I was the PD at the CT station, knew nothing about it, and had no job for the kid!

I worked for the same Bruce Phillip Miller after the school became The LAB, and the checks were still bouncing. Tell us more about your experiences there!

TE said...

I seem to be missing something here: why would rent be low, even back then, because West Hollywood (I refuse to use "WeHo") is largely gay? If anything, I'd expect the rent to be above average.

I'm sure it is, now.

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Doug DeRoo said...

Quit moaning & grumbling, Ken. $650 a month was more than KMEN paid...and you didn't have to work overnights..

NYCJen said...

Dear Mr. Levine,

Thanks as always for giving us a peek into your personal memories, and for the talented way you let us enjoy them with you.

Please accept a pedantic grammar comment: "ersatz" = false, artificial (e.g. ersatz sugar). May I suggest you mean to say "erstwhile?"

WV: trokulut - Count Trokula's favorite flavor