Sunday, April 24, 2016

The most fun I ever had in radio

A sort of follow-up to my post earlier this week on radio people getting together.  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.

Would something like that work today? I bet it would. Just don’t ask me to work that 4-5 AM shift though, please.

This is a re-post from five years ago.


Peter said...

Ken, as a fan of The Boss, I thought you'd like to see this. Bruce opened his show in Brooklyn with a tribute to Prince with a cover of Purple Rain.

Bryan said...

I was still in high school when this event took place, but was listening to airchecks of it not long after entering the business.It sounded like the most insane fun that you could have on the radio. Hell it was fun for the listeners almost as much for the jocks. The fact that I would someday meet you and even work with Bobby Rich was a mere fantasy at the time. That I did meet you and work with Bobby still blows my mind. Oh and you are 100% correct about radio in that ere which I really feel was the golden age for local radio. If there really was a way to travel in time, I don't know that I would want to return to the present...

Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading that. 60's and 70's sure was the best time for Radio, and for Music. I remember Bobby Rich on KHJ. "Dr. Boogie". Great story Ken. Still my favorite radio story of yours is when you almost got your butt kicked by Robert W. Morgan. That's a classic!

Mike Barer said...

You also had to play "The Night Chicago Died" six times in a shift.

Tammy said...

Ok, this bugs me every time I see it on the blog but I'm always too chicken to say anything. So here goes: Ken, I really wish you wouldn't use the word "slut", it's such an ugly double standard. I've seen you stand up for women many times on this blog, so I hope you can see where I'm coming from. Thanks.

Dan Berkes said...

I wish something like that would work today, and I'm actually wondering why someone won't take that chance. I get all the music I want, the way I want, when I want with Spotify and Pandora. There's no personality and since I'm cheap and use the free services, they drop in commercials every so often. Radio stations pretty much do the same thing now, except they play a lot of songs I just don't want to hear (or hear more than once a day). Wouldn't it make sense to differentiate yourself with a local voice and some local opinions and a smartassed joke now and then? Because I'm not listening to them now with these other options available.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Dan hits it on the head, I think. Multi-signal markets dominated by a handful of corporate-owned, bean-counter-managers leave almost no room for initiative and risk. Couple that with low pay and the radio world gets what it deserves, of course. No young bright kid gives a shit about radio.

Bobby Rich was a wonderful boss to this part-time college kid who worked not on B-100 (where I'd rather have been) but on the company's AM station...

"Just play the records, say your name a lot and have fun."

Bobby practiced the essence of good radio and had a courage to give his folks the freedom to be themselves.

(...and listen to Ken and Billy's limerick contest. Wonderfully funny stuff...)

Unknown said...

I am sharing this with my legion of fan. Thanks Mr. Cleaver.

VP81955 said...

I lived in Metro NY during the glory days of WCBS-FM, and today's KRTH in LA is dreadfully timid by comparison. Unlike CBS-FM, which replicated WABC, WMCA and the like, KRTH does not evoke the magic of KHJ, KFWB or KRLA. It's dreadfully repetitive.

Jeff in Sa-ra-so-ta! said...

The fantasy Woodstock of which you refer was called "Fantasy Park".
What a great idea!

John Kelly said...

Wasn't the 100 hours of Better Boogie the celebration of B100's first birthday in 1976?? Still have that aircheck form the defunct American Airchexx