Sunday, December 19, 2010

A touching Christmas story

This is a holiday tradition -- and fits in well with stories from my radio past.   Just as CHARLIE BROWN'S CHRISTMAS is guaranteed to leave you with a warm feeling, so is this tale of holiday humanity and kindness. 

One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the 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.

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!”


Great Big Radio Guy said...

Great "leaving the radio business to do better things" story. Let me tell you mine.

Oh, wait. I haven't gotten there yet...

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

A Seattle a.m. station recently went from all talk to oldies almost overnight. Anyone in Levineland know why?

David Russell said...

Ahh radio. While writing an article about the death of live radio a few years back I interviewed a former local disc-jockey who had worked at nearly all of Vancouver's then 17 or so stations at one point or another. He was convinced the reason the talent's chair was on wheels in the control room was that it made it easier to fire them by simply dragging them away from the board and rolling them straight into the elevator after or even during their show.

David Schwartz said...

I worked at a local radio station in the Monterey Bay area in the 1970's as a weekend jock (I was going to college during the week). The guy who first hired me said we'd try it out for a few weeks and see how it went. Basically I'd be hired on a trial basis. He then asked me to meet him at the station at 5:30AM on Sunday morning.

I showed up on Sunday and was taught the ropes. I played Latin music from 6 - 8AM (I had pre-recorded announcements to play between the records because I didn't speak any Spanish), then two live hosts came in for a Yugoslavian program which I engineered, and then I played a religious pre-recorded program from 10 - 10:30. Finally at 10:30 I got to be a DJ until Noon! Wowweee!

After working there a few months I realized that the trial period must be over since I was still there. I asked my boss, "So when did you decide to keep me here permanently?" He said, "When you showed up that first day at 5:30AM!"

Matt Patton said...

When I was living in St. Pete, FL, a commercial classical station switched to an "oldies" format without announcement, except for the sound of a needle being rudely ripped off of a Mozart symphony. Not classy.

On the other hand, the news that a station has gone from talk back to music is truly cheering . . .

Sarcastic said...

Well it's no "Christmas Shoes" but it will do!

Daniel said...

The first time I was fired in radio I called up a friend you told me "you haven't worked in radio until you've been fired three times."

It wasn't two years later that I was able to call him and say "Now I've worked in radio."

Lou H. said...

When WCBS-FM changed its format from oldies to Jack in 2005, their staff wasn't informed until 1 hour before the change.

It seems most non-management employees in the broadcast business are itinerant. It's a pity. I think the only other people out there with shorter job lifespans are NFL coaches.

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VP81955 said...

Ken, 1974 was indeed the nadir for Top 40 radio...even more so than the 1958-59 period often labeled "the dark ages of rock 'n' roll." What junk was on the playlists.