Sunday, March 22, 2015

The most fun I ever had in radio

Next weekend there will be a 40 year reunion of San Diego radio station, B100.  I can't wait.  Lots of the original staff members will attend, which should be great fun and horrifying.   We're also going back on the air to recreate the station live.  You'll be able to hear it here.  In honor of the event, I'm reposting the following piece:

Here’s another look back at my disc jockey career – when radio was great and I was passable. One thing that the industry was back then was FUN. Not so today certainly. And it’s a shame – both for the talent and the listeners.

Everything was live and local. You were encouraged to show some personality. Most radio markets had two competing stations playing the exact some music. So the only way to really distinguish yourself was in the presentation. Who had the crazier DJ’s? Who had the wildest contests? Who staged the best concerts? Who had the sluttiest girls call the request line? (Oh wait, that was just for the jocks, not the listeners)

You don’t have that competition today when the same company owns both competing stations (and seven others in the market) and to save money, one guy voice-tracks shows for all of them, they air some syndicated service out of Saugus, California, and the slutty girls are just emailing rock bands.

But the 70s were sweet. The pay was crap, there was zero job security, you had to play “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” six times a night, you usually needed a penicillin shot, and half your annual salary was lost to apartment security deposits because you skipped town so often – but we made up for it in fun.

And if I had to select the single MOST fun experience it would be the launch of KFMB-FM (B100) in March 1975.

Bobby Rich was hired to create an exciting FM Top 40 station for San Diego. SD was a tough market. There already was a juggernaut AM station – KCBQ, and FM rock had already failed once before with KSEA (a station I was on and helped kill).

But Bobby was a showman. He understood that you hire really talented people, give them all the support elements they need to succeed, and then just let them do their thing. The result was a cooking radio station that sounded like pure adrenaline mixed with laughing gas.

And to set the tone right off the bat, Bobby devised the B100 Hours to kick off the format. Here’s Bobby himself, explaining the concept:

Getting the station started I was looking for ways to promote the "100" with slogans, contests and other image branding. So having a 100 hour "Boogie-a-thon" with no commercials and giving away "B-100 Dollar Bills" every 100 minutes just worked.

The real magic came when we started bringing in guest dj's from all over the country for the party. It was a reunion of something that hadn't even happened yet. All of our talent was encouraged to invite jock buddies (like you did with Billy Pearl) who would want to "play radio" with our gang of wacko and wild Boogiemasters.

Oh, doing the math it turns out that is FOUR DAYS and FOUR HOURS. So that required much complicated back timing. To say nothing of the jocks being required to start each hour with the countup "and this is hour 78 of 100 hours of Better Boogie", etc.

Tapes of that insane weekend went viral in the radio industry. I still encounter people who say they have airchecks of me and Billy Pearl (at the time a jock for KHJ Los Angeles) on the air together, doing a limerick competition while we kept re-starting the record over and over.

You never knew who was going to be on the air at any hour, and often disc jockeys were paired off. I got to do an hour with the legendary Chuck Browning – maybe the most caustic human being that ever lived. Great jocks from all over the country would come in, sit down, and just blast. One or two were even sober.

The line-up was crazy. I was there all weekend. I’d work 8-9 PM, then come back and do 4-5 AM, 11-noon, 7-8 PM, etc. No one got any sleep.

I recall doing a morning show with Rich Brother Robbin, and at the time there was a syndicated program going around that basically was a fantasy Woodstock. All these live performances from various albums were woven together as if this amazing rock festival actually took place. We did a mock version. Doing my Ed Sullivan impression, we hosted the Concert for Rock n’ Roll Heaven and played all these dead artists. What we lacked in taste we made up for in audacity.

The launch was a huge success. The entire town was talking about it. And within months B100 dethroned longtime stalwart, KCBQ.


Oat Willie said...

"One thing that the industry was back then was FUN. Not so today certainly."
I was all set for a screed. Why be so fucking gentlemanly?

VP81955 said...

Top 40 radio above all was fun, as I recall from my boyhood days in Syracuse where WOLF and WNDR had a heated rivalry in the early and mid-'60s. (WOLF, a smaller-wattage station, switched to country for a few years before shifting back to a Bill Drake-style "more music" format in early 1969, and the rivalry resumed.) It's one of the things I missed when my family moved to the Washington, D.C., area in the fall of 1970. For several reasons -- relatively weak-powered AM stations compared to other markets leaving Top 40 to smaller suburban stations, the metro area's terrain, D.C.'s own self-importance -- Washington frankly was an awful Top 40 market compared to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or even medium-sized Syracuse.

MikeK.Pa. said...

"I was there all weekend. I’d work 8-9 PM, then come back and do 4-5 AM, 11-noon, 7-8 PM, etc. No one got any sleep."

No sympathy here. 1) you were in your early 20s, when you're not supposed to get much sleep; 2) Bob Hope would take 2-to-3 hour cat naps traveling between shows for the troops, when he was in his 60s.

Still, people look back at the early days of FM the way they do the early days of TV. Everybody was flying by the seat of their pants and creating magic without knowing how they were doing it.

Anonymous said...

"Everybody was flying by the seat of their pants and creating magic without knowing how they were doing it."

I think they did know the formula: If you were having fun, and flipping out your friends, you were creating golden radio.

It was the same formula with the Laurel Canyon crowd of musicians back in the day. Stephen Stills trying to make Joni Mitchell exclaim, "holy shit!" and vice versa.

And they did. And we loved it. It was a simple formula, which is why it was repeated again and again.

Kids don't do that now. Facebook and twitter distracts, as well as scares the shit out of them. All their opinions are qualified. Their artistic aims are diluted, if they have any to begin with.

And they don't even know it.

The spirit of radio, the same spirit that drove the creativity of Laurel Canyon, is essentially dead.

-The Opinionated Dude

Artie in Sin City said...

If we can't have GREAT radio today, we still can have our memories...Thanks again for dredging up the "fun" days of being "on air" or listening to your fav jocks doing their thing...We'll always have those audio memories...And we'll always have Paris...

sanford said...

This is really off the subject but I not sure if there is a way to start a new topic. I read this article about News Radio. To say anything is the best is subjective, but I found this article interesting. Wonder what Ken and the rest of his followers think

Scott O. said...

I remember listening to B100 when it first started and getting nothing but crap from my older brother for changing the station from KGB.

By Ken Levine said...

I don't know if NEWSRADIO was the BEST sitcom of the '90s but I enjoyed it very much.

John Hammes said...

College radio is one of the last bastions, so to speak, where radio is still fun, free, and creative. Real live radio is still out there, finding it just takes a little more effort.

College / community radio is, also so to speak, a slight "claim to fame" down through the years, so yes I am shamelessly biased. Mediocre and biased at the same time. Really. My listeners will vouch for me. All three of them.

Anonymous said...

Cool comment.

But really stressing out here. I am mad as hell with these script readers in town. They are telling me that I am an amateur, a dreamer and I will never make it.

Most readers are not into making cool films. Why are they destroying my chances.

Why is a reader just an underpaid critic? Why do they think they are good when they get paid like 40.00 per script read? Why?

I don't like them.