Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The night the Hell's Angels went trick or treating

Here's a Halloween story from my sordid disc jockey past. 

1971 and I was doing weeekends at KERN in Bakersfield. I was five at the time. (All TV writers older than twenty who hope to work lie about their age.)  The station was this shack out in the middle of nowhere. And since Bakersfield itself is in the middle of nowhere, the station was really REALLY in the middle of nowhere.

It was my second week. I was holding down the coveted Saturday 6-midnight shift. At about 10:00 the doorbell rang. Who would be coming to call at this hour? Maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses work late in this town. I put a record on and like an idiot went to the front lobby and opened the door.

There was a full gang of Hell Angels – probably thirty of the scariest leather clad, chain wielding, tattoo sporting (before it was fashionable), chopper riding, engine revving, ass kicking (and in my mind, Jew hating) dudes you’ve ever seen. And their girlfriends who could beat the shit out of me.

So I was Jello in a windstorm. Picture Ralph Kramden as the “Chef of the Future”. “Hummina hummina hummina” The leader (at least I thought he was the leader. I didn’t ask for ID.), growled, “You the fucking guy on the radio?”

“Hummina hummina”.


“HUMMINA hummina hummina.”

I was thinking, “What offensive thing did I say that is going to get me killed?” And “This will be a good indication of how many people are actually listening to KERN. Let’s see how long it takes for someone to discover my body."

Mr. Leader of the Pack said, “Do you have Sweet Cream Ladies?” (A late 60s moderate hit by the Box Tops)

A request? That’s why they’re there? To make a song request?

Somewhat relieved I mumble “Sure.”

He signaled to the others and they roared off to terrorize someone else. I locked the door, checked my underwear, and went to the record library PRAYING that we had a copy in there.

There is a God! They had it.

I ran back to the studio and cued it up. It was my next record. I completely broke format but who gives a shit! I could be dead by the time the format said to play an oldie.

A half hour later the doorbell rang again. What to do? They knew I was in there. And they all smoked so they all have matches. Any one of them could set the building on fire. I could just see them dismantling the tower and welding it into more bikes.

I reluctantly opened the door. There they were again. The leader handed me a beer and said, “Thanks, man.” They drive off.

Usually I don’t drink beer while on the air but not that night. Anything to settle my jangled nerves.

The next week, same thing. At about 10:00 they were at the front door to request Sweet Cream Ladies. A half hour later they returned with a beer as thanks for playing it.

The following week I just played the song at 10:00 and at 10:30 receive my reward.

Thus began a ritual that lasted almost a year. And it really proved to be a Godsend on Halloween.

Houses get T.P.ed, and cars get egged and vandalized on Halloween in Bakersfield. It’s a proud tradition. And my car was alone in a lot next to the shack in a dark empty field. I figured I’d get off of work and there would be nothing left but a drive shaft and maybe one hub cap. Instead, the car was completely untouched. Guess word got around that I was BFF with the local Hells Angels.

As I drove away I noticed that every house on the adjacent residential block had been egged and trashed and every car attacked. Except mine. Mine was pristine.

Sorry to say me and the gang haven’t stayed in touch. Especially during network note meetings.

Happy Halloween everyone.


Anonymous said...

"I locked the door, checked my underwear ..." LOL! LOL! Julie

Donald said...

Thanks, Ken. Now I can't get "Sweet Cream Ladies" out of my head.

By the way, did you happen to see Mindy Kaling's Diane Chambers costume on "The Mindy Project" last night?

Chris Dunn said...

A friend just told me this story. Some years back she lived on East 3rd Street in NYC, on the same block as the Hell's Angels headquarters. As she described it, "the safest block in New York."

Once she had a visitor from out of town. One night he came back late to her apartment one night, alone and drunk. Street is deserted, dark. When he got to the door of her building he fumbled with the key, unable to get it into the slot. Suddenly from out of nowhere appears the biggest meanest biker you ever saw, right at his back. The biker quietly utters, "That key better fit."

Love that line. Looking for the right spot so I can steal it.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Wonderful story...and Chris, great line!

Anonymous said...

Just in case no one has seen this yet...

Pam aka sisterzip

crackblind said...

Who knew the Hell's Angels read B. F. Skinner?

chuckcd said...

I remember being at a Tastee Freeze (back in the day) and having a Hell's Angel come roaring up, get off his hog and walk up to the order window.

"Gimme four corn dogs....
and where's your pisser!?

He went to find the bathroom, and
I went to find my car.

Anonymous said...

Great story. Thanks for the memories.

RCP said...

Imagine if you hadn't found a copy of Sweet Cream Ladies...

Great story.

Anonymous said...

Been listening to Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March for 2 days now straight. Everyone other listen I really like it. Thanks, KEN! :-)

Dana Gabbard said...

I'm sure folks who don't live in So Cal don't realize the call letters are also the name of the county Bakersfield is in (KERN).

"The station was this shack out in the middle of nowhere". I grew up in Yakima Washington and we had a station like that -- KUTI (Countyr/Western) out in Terrace Heights, at the end of a long narrow lane. They were a daytime station that signed off at dusk due to FCC licensing (after dark signals carry farther and evdiently theirs would disrupt some station that for whatever reason had priority). It is now a sports talk station. A fire burned down the original shack in 1964.

Kiltboy said...

I never heard that story before Ken! It was probably some of Jimbo's friend's! LOL

Steve Michaels said...

Ken. I am sure glad for you that I had that song in the library at the time!