Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All-night radio -- hookers, brawls, and dead presidents

More on my ill-fated disc jockey career. 

In March 1973 I was hired by KMEN San Bernardino to do the all-night show. My salary was a whopping $650 a month to work the coveted midnight-six shift six nights a week. As with Bakersfield, I was not allowed to use my real name. Let’s just say Levine sounded too, uh… “New York”. So again I was Ken Stevens. Of course how do I complain that my name is too generic when my program director goes by Buddy Scott?

So I did all-nights and never got any sleep. The phone number I was assigned was the same as an LA hooker’s (just a 714 area code instead of 310). She advertised in the LA WEEKLY and a hundred times a day I’m getting calls saying, “Hey, man, is Jeannie there?”

On the air, talking to cows for six hours, I needed something to occupy my mind. So I started a friendly little rivalry with the evening jock, Doug DeRoo. Doug is amazingly talented. Imagine the character Robin Williams played in GOOD MORNING VIET NAM only funnier. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn was the big hit then. We wanted to see who could come up with the most one-liners while introducing it. For days this Titanic tug-of-war continued. One bad one-liner after another. Proud to say I won. Not proud that my winning quip involved urine.

Is it any wonder that the program director kept sending me memos to just shut up and stop trying to be funny?

KMEN’s promotion budget was zero. So we were sent out on appearances that wouldn’t cost the station. A favorite was the high school basketball game between the disc jockeys and the faculty. By “faculty” they pretty much meant gym teachers vs. six out-of-shape mostly drugged out radio nerds. It was an exhibition but invariably there’d be one Cro-Magnon teacher who thought he was Reggie Evans – throwing elbows, and clotheslining guys. I don’t think this is what the station had in mind – we got into a brawl with the Redland High faculty. So in addition to always being sleep deprived I did the show that night holding an ice pack to my head.

June meant school graduations so in the spirit I brought my high school annual from home and read the idiotic things people wrote about me or to me.  It was a good schtick.  If anyone was listening I'm sure they would have enjoyed it.    But as the records were playing at 3 in morning I began leafing thrugh the book, perusing the senior pictures.  All those girls I had a crush on, I thought they were probably sleeping in nice warm beds with loving former football stars/husbands leading a contented life.  And where was I?  In a fucking cow pasture in the middle of the night.  "Most Likely to Waste His Life".  That was more depressing than playing Elanor Rigby. 

Every morning from 4-4:15 I had to do a farm report. So I’d rip all this stuff off the teletype machine and read it verbatim, having no fucking idea what I was talking about. Giving sorghum updates, pork belly prices, and harvest predictions.  Let's just say guys with uh, New York last names know shit about farming. 

I also had to do an hourly newscast. And there again I’d race into the newsroom the last minute, rip off the headlines, and read them on the air. I never pre-read them. No disc jockey ever did. God knows if I ever pronounced all those Cambodian villages correctly. Of course, it’s not like I got any calls complaining. But hard to pronounce names were always the bane of our existence. One former KMEN disc jockey got around that once with what I believe to be the smoothest save EVER. This is how he reported the following news story:

“And in other news – the President of Brazil has just died. His name is being withheld until the family has been notified”.

Genius. Sheer genius. You gotta love radio.

By the way, I called the phone company, changed my number, and explained why.  A week later the guy I talked to called back to thank me.  


benson said...

The President of Brazil story made me laugh so hard...

Thank you. I did overnights in the middle of nowhere in the later 70's. It brings back some fond and funny memories.

Gary Allyn said...

Ken-brilliant! Those of us who once
worked those God-forsaken hours can
relate. Would have made a great WKRP in Cincinnati script! Once heard a board op cut into automated
tape programming with a "Bulletin"
about the Death of Lyndon Johnson,
the next song up on the automated
country music reel: "Drop Kick me Jesus Through The Goal Posts of Life".

Ron said...

Ken How did you find time to get together with Isaacs and write spec scripts? You worked nights and commuted to and from out-lying radio stations and Isaacs worked days at ABC.

Max Clarke said...

Great Brazil save.

If that had been from an episode of Cheers, you could have written a great line for Woody Boyd to say after "...family has been notified."

Ken, maybe your memoir should also be an audiobook. You're one of the few writers who could do a professional job reading his own book, and stories like the Brazil save need to be heard out loud.

Anonymous said...

Ah, radio...! Working in Bellingham, Washington -- calling a beauty pageant from backstage. Live. No fill music. As a contestant (not miked) displayed how well she could pack a suitcase. I pretended she was showing off her clothing line and just started describing people's outfits in the front row.

Anonymous said...

Ken...you never though of telling those callers "Jeanne will get back to you, but I will need your credit card number to save your reservation"

Paul Duca said...

Ken--that was my Anonymous about Jeanne. Sorry for the error.

Jack James said...

Reminds me of Paraquat Kelly's newscasts on the old KMET. Whenever he'd come across an unfamiliar name, he'd just say something like "The victim, whose name cannot be pronounced." Brilliant! (I was always relieved I never had to read a news story that mentioned Norfolk).

Tom Quigley said...

"Every morning from 4-4:15 I had to do a farm report. So I’d rip all this stuff off the teletype machine and read it verbatim, having no fucking idea what I was talking about. Giving sorghum updates, pork belly prices, and harvest predictions."...

Dear Ken,

Speaking as a former winner of the Silver Sow Award, I must say I'm ashamed of you.

-- Les Nessman

iain said...

As a college morning dj in the early 80's, I cringed every time some (likely hungover) newsreader had to pronounce the words "Shiite Muslim."

Oh, for lack of a dump button came more than a few moments of dead, icy air followed by awkward apologies.

wv: "letterum" - what a Roman postal carrier might deliver.

bevo said...

"hookers, brawls, and dead presidents"

Is that like lawyers, guns, and money?

Friday question: I was watching Still Standing while sitting in a waiting room. The show is simply awful. I wondered if the writers and/or the actors know how terrible the entire story is.

Does anyone like the writers, the actors, or even the show runner stop and say, "People. We are producing excrement. We can do better. Let's try this script and performance again."?

Surely, someone associated with Still Standing knew they were making the audience dumber for simply hearing the dialogue.

Anonymous said...

It was just a few years before your time, but the
KMENtertainers come to my high school to play the GAA, the Girls Athletic Association. The result is I have pictures of Johnny Darrin and John Ravencroft in my high school annual, wearing shorts.

Those lesbians whupped their ass.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog. Some days it is the only thing that keeps me somewhat sane.

D. McEwan said...

Luxury! In 1974, at KGIL, I was making $400 a month.

The President of Brazil line is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I once interviewed for a sales job in Honolulu and was told they had no openings, but instead sent me to audition for an on-air news job on their TV station. Having nothing else to do, I did for fun. The copy was filled with unpronounceable, very long, Hawaiian names and places. It must have been hysterical to watch. When it was over, the director came out and said: "nice sport coat". It was.

J S Swanson said...

Is it just me or does KMEN sound like it could seriously Bitch Slap Disco(W)DAI into next week? Just sayin' ..
The Dead Brasilian Prez story is LOL magnificent!

te said...

Back when I was at KTRC in Santa Fe, the news was rip & read off a teletype.

The wire service had pronunciation guides for the difficult names in national and international stories, but -- not unreasonably -- expected us to know how to pronounce local place names. Which, when delivering the weather, was important.

I'm a Californian, so the Spanish-derived place names were largely OK (except "Madrid," which is accented on the first syllable).

But the Indian names were absolutely impossible to guess; you had to have heard them, first. And I was for the most part alone in the studio, running my own board.

I pretty much stuck to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, White Sands, and of course Truth or Consequences.

doubleshiny said...

I was an early morning DJ on community radio which was pretty much the same deal apparently, apart from we had traffic reports instead of farming news. I also did hospital radio and once passed out on air. There was dead air for five minutes but no-one noticed.

Anonymous said...

One of your funniest posts ever...I laughed out loud...Thanks!

alanforduk said...

A message to anonymous above (9/28/2010):
I don't suppose you could scan those John Ravencroft pics and post them somewhere?
A John Ravencroft/Ravenscroft/Peel fan.