Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Christmas I got fired

One of the many reasons I became a writer is that I got tired of being fired as a disc jockey. Today marks the 38th anniversary of the last time I signed off my show with “see you tomorrow” and was never heard from again.   This is a blog tradition:  the anniversary of the Christmas I was fired. 

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. Yes, I know – why “Beaver Cleaver”? Ken Levine sounded too Jewish.

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!”


404 said...


I'm curious as to your reaction to this story about a Cheers remake:


Which I guess can lead to a Friday question: I know you've talked before about horrible remakes (COUPLING comes to mind). Do you think there's any place at all for a remake? Or is it automatically a creative dead end, since the entire show is based on the work someone else did, with little to no wiggle room for your own input?

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

...and a few weeks after that, Tom was scheduled for an interview as PD of a Minneapolis radio stations. He and I had the same barber, so before he went to get a haircut ahead of his trip, I tipped the barber to make conversation about radio...and work in the news bulletin that the FCC had suspended the licenses of all Minnesota radio stations.

The day after, I had to pay the barber again...to have the stains removed from his chair, but it was worth it!

Nino Mojo said...

Hi Ken, Friday question please:

I saw a Youtube clip of the pilot of the shot for shot US remake of THE IT CROWD. It was utterly terrible and I was surprised Richard Ayoade accepted to star as Moss again. Do you have any information on how that remake came to be, or can you provide insight as to how and why such terrible decisions are made?


Unknown said...

I'm guessing the station didn't find the irony in switching to a gospel format and then firing everyone just before Christmas...

Thomas said...


I would have thought that Cheers remake would be called "Slainte".

"Teach Seán" = Bad start.

Friday Q: When you were working on MASH and Cheers what were the shows that the writers rooms were watching/felt in competition with in terms of quality?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

404: COUPLING and THE IT CROWD may have failed as US remakes of British shows (just as the ghastly LOVED BY YOU in the UK failed to capture any of the charm of MAD ABOUT YOU), but what about HOMELAND, ALL IN THE FAMILY, DEAR JOHN, THREE'S COMPANY, THE OFFICE (US), UGLY BETTY, and WHO'S THE BOSS?, all of them remakes of shows from other countries, mostly Britain?


Jeff Randall said...

Hi Ken -

Here's one for you - radio station in Seattle...for Christmas the entire staff is given jackets (with the station logo of course) and a $100 bill in the pocket...first week of January, format change and everyone is fired! Happy New Year!! There was a surplus of station jackets at the Goodwill store that January!

Todd said...

Hi Ken,
I was listening that very day and as a kid of 16 years old and huge radio fan and now approaching 38 years in the biz myself I was distroyed when KSEA went POOF!Jack Palmer was the last jock on the air. Thanks for signing the Elton John record I won from you at KSEA, when I fianlly tracked you down at Tom's.Keep up the great daily blog.

Anonymous said...

Here's something I just saw...


Pam aka sisterzip

Mitchell Hundred said...

Well, if they can't appreciate Fiddler on the Roof, I don't see why you would want to work for people like that. You were better off being rid of them.

YEKIMI said...

Being fired when they decide to change formats is horrendous [lost every radio job I had, except one, when they decided to change formats]. What's worse is running into the PD a year or so later and even HE doesn't remember that you worked there...or your name.

Johnny Walker said...

I hope I have the good humour to take being fired so well -- should it ever happen to me.

Johnny Walker said...

404: "All in the Family" was a remake, as was "Standford and Son". The US version of "The Office" is pretty darn enjoyable, too. So there are obviously times when it CAN work! :)

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, I didn't know HOMELAND was a remake, Wendy! I don't know which version I should start with now :-/

RCP said...

I enjoyed this story Ken - though sorry you were fired like that. At least that other time you went out in style with Fiddler.

Maybe the station should have changed its call letters to KBAH!

404 said...

Wendy, Johnny: Sorry if I gave the impression that those were my opinions about remakes. I don't necessarily have an opinion either way, I was just wondering what Ken thought of 'em.

By the by, some of those you mentioned as being good remakes I personally can't stand, but it's not because of their remake status so much as my tastes. THE OFFICE, for example. Don't like either version, but it's because I have a real problem with humor based on awkwardness and social oddities. Makes me squirm just to watch it, and not in a good way!

Wallis Lane said...

Ken, you would have been a natural on a gospel station! Just change your name to "Believer Cleaver."

Unknown said...

Hehe when I read the title the first thing I thought was "Anatefka" :-)

Nersique said...

Speaking of Anatevka...


Wendy M Grossman said...

404: I feel the same as you do about both versions of THE OFFICE but it is certainly a successful remake.


estiv said...

Off topic: knowing that you're a Natalie Wood fan, thought you'd appreciate this post from another blog: http://tsutpen.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-gunslinger-guide-to-natalie-wood-27.html

MikeinSeattle said...

Somebody with more skills at this than I should Photoshop Ken's face over Warren's

MikeinSeattle said...

I give up. There's supposed to be a link there.


Lyle said...

I worked at KSON, the am sister station of KSEA. I think I left before the KSEA Christmas Eve massacre, but I heard about it. (I may have been there at the time ... it was a long time ago and the memory dims).

I've never had much admiration for Dan McKinnon since that episode. If you'll recall, Dan made a big show of what a wonderful Christian he was.

I thought to myself, "I don't deny any man the right to terminate his staff . . . but on Christmas Eve? How difficult would it have been to wait till the day after Christmas? Why ruin Christmas for the employees as well as their families?"

Ever since that time, anytime someone proclaims loudly what a great Christian he is, I generally run, not walk, in the opposite direction.

At some point in time I left KSON to move to KOWN in Escondido, eventually becomming VP and General Manager for the next seven years.

While there, I got an invite from McKinnon to be his guest on stage during a Billy Graham presentation. I accepted but still didn't think a whole lot of McKinnon. (I never "got" Billy Graham. I thought if I was on the stage with him, seated 10-15 feet from him, that maybe the magic would work and I'd understand what thousands saw in him. I didn't. Didn't work. He was just another nice man making a speech, but nothing particularly awesome).

Since the KSEA massacre I've never had an ouce of respect for McKinnon. He was a Navy pilot, a very successful and wealthy businessman . . . but a doody-head.

I'm aware he just passed away about a month ago. They say one should not speak ill of the dead.

I just did.

He earned it.

PS: Ken, I'm sorry. I wrote this message originally out of sync with this story and it wound up on the story about Bewitched. I was in sales at KSON, not on-air, though have done a great deal of on-air work including serving two years as a war correspondent in S. Vietnam. I wound up as VP/General Manager of KOWN in Escondido for seven years. Currently, I am publisher of a weekly newspaper in North San Diego County.

lyle e davis
The Paper

Mike said...

Why would Irish TV remake Cheers instead of developing its own pub-based comedy?
I'm guessing that buying the rights to a programme gives you the premise, the characters and some storylines. What it doesn't give you is the execution. But as Ken has said: "Execution is everything. How many shows have been set in bars?".
Any pub-based comedy will be about the staff and the regulars. So the premise, characters & storylines are hardly unique. And Ireland has a strong drinking culture and rich religious, political and (recently) economic history for material.
So buying the rights to Cheers gives you what you already had and not what made the programme successful.

chalmers said...

The appeal of the British IT Crowd was the dynamic between two socially awkward computer guys (schlubby slacker / uber-nerd), and a woman struggling to get noticed in a big company. Who did the U.S. producers cast to be the socially awkward schlub? Joel McHale. Who was cast as the woman struggling to get noticed? Jessica St. Clair.

Even if it had been cast consistent with the British version, it might not have made it without the talents of Chris O’Dowd and Katherine Parkinson. But the way they did it, there was never a chance.

Matt Patton said...

When I lived in St. Pete, Florida many years ago, there was a commercial classical station that my dad was quite fond of. Well, the ratings weren't cutting it, so they became an oldies station. The sound effect to announce this change, which came at about six in the morning, was particularly graceless; somebody dragging a needle violently across what sounded like a Mozart recording and a loud DJ announcing that the station would be playing REAL music now. Real classy.