Saturday, August 02, 2014

Another "How I almost got fired" radio story

Here’s another censorship story – and also one of my early days in radio stories. Except this time I was the censor.

In late ‘72/early ’73 I was a board op (glorified name for engineer) at KLOS, Los Angeles. You know today’s “Classic Rock” stations that play Layla and everything ever recorded by the Allman Brothers? That’s what they played then, when it was just considered music to get stoned by.

The disc jockeys and engineers sat in booths facing each other, separated by glass. We communicated through an intercom. As an engineer, it was my job to play the music and commercials. Back then we still played “records” – these round vinyl thingys. There must be one in a museum somewhere.

But on Sunday nights KLOS abandoned its format of being your “Emerson, Lake & Palmer station" for public service programs (required by the FCC). One of these was “Impacto” hosted by Joe Ortiz -- a call-in show centering on Hispanic issues. I was the engineer.

A lot of the callers were unaware I assume that you were not allowed to swear on the air. I was forever diving for the kill button. I kept telling Joe he had to remind his callers not to use profanity but he refused. He didn’t mind the barrage of f-bombs and he accused me of censorship. Even my pleading that we could lose our license fell on deaf ears.

So needless to say, things became very tense between us.

If he wasn’t getting calls he’d signal me to play a record. I would just grab one off our playlist. This was an important fact: the ONLY records you were allowed to play were those on the playlist. Disc jockeys (or engineers) could not just bring in albums from home.

So one Sunday night the calls were light. Joe gave me the signal, I reached over to our rack of 45’s, selected one completely at random and cued it up. For reasons I don’t know to this day, he introduced it by saying, “Now here’s a song that expresses the state of the barrio.”

With that I let this record fly.

Ortiz went nuts! Screaming at me. I wish there was a kill button on the intercom. After the show he filed an official union grievance against me. I had to go before the Chief Engineer and a union board for a hearing. The charges were dropped of course. They reacted the way you probably did when you heard the song.

My good name was cleared. I was given a new shift. But then I wound up with two people hating me -- Joe Ortiz and the poor engineer who took my place.


Mike Botula said...

Ken! That is a cotton pickin' great story. It took me back to my own checkered past in local radio. We all had to sit through the required "Public Service" programs.At one station I had a Sunday full of ethnic shows I had to run the board for- Greek, Dutch, Croatian and I never what revolution was being fomented. A buddy of mine did a stint at a Navajo language station. Such was hometown radio. Those days make for great stories and I love the Ken Levine "radio days tales."

Dan Ball said...

One time our TV station did a cruise giveaway and the winner, as several callers quickly informed us afterwards, was a sex offender.

Fortunately, the guy was honest enough to call back and forfeit his tickets. We quietly drew another name out of the hat/bowl/drum and some lucky non-offender won a cruise for the simple virtue of a not being a perv.

Remember, kids: it pays to not to be a pervert.

gosling said...
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DBenson said...

Here and there I come across stuff to the effect that most modern "callers" -- or "call-ees" -- are actually planted performers or even pre-recorded schticks. This reaches from shock jocks to political talk radio.

Anything to it?

Eric J said...

Ha ha. I wouldn't expect that to be on KLOS in those days. That would have been more fitting on Dr. Demento at KMET. Fun song--destined to be my latest earworm. I liked the line, "C'mon, stink."

James Van Hise said...

Regarding radio callers, I read an article once by a guy who answered a vaguely worded ad and found that it was some Republican organization who paid people to call into Liberal radio shows (few though they may be) and push whatever the latest Republican talking points were. He got $25.00 every time he got on the air and read the spiel he was given. He needed the money and so reluctantly did it, but after a few weeks he just couldn't stand it any more and gave up, and found an honest job to do. A few months later he was in the neighborhood near the building where he'd answered the ad and decided to go up there and talk to them. He found the same office but there was no longer a name on the door and the office was empty.

Anonymous said...

Favorite song back in the day in Eastern Washington. We sang it on car trips. Our dog (springer spaniel) would find dead skunks as if gifted in the craft and roll in and on them. Sometimes he would find a live one and get sprayed by skunk stink. We frequently had a skunk-sprayed stink dog in our car on a hot two-hour drive. He could also find any sort of feces and tangle it about in his hair.
Other musical favorites for road trips were "Drop Kick Me Jesus", ABBA, Roy Clark and anything by Electric Light Orchestra and Sons Of The Pioneers available on 8 track.
Really miss those days.

Anonymous said...

Nowadays you'd be sent to sensitivity training. Like that rodeo clown punished for wearing an Obama mask.

Rhoda Lexington said...

This just made me laugh hard. It's always the way when somebody tempts fate!