Sunday, August 20, 2017

My short-lived career as a radio newsman

Here’s another chapter from my misguided radio career:

As a Top 40 disc jockey in the early ‘70s, I often had to fill multiple roles. In addition to humming the hits,  I was also the engineer on duty. I would have to take the transmitter readings every few hours. To qualify for that job I needed an FCC First Class Radio License. This required five weeks in a school in Glendale cramming five years of electronics courses into one month. The truth is if a transmitter ever did shut off we were fucked because I knew shit. But you couldn’t get a job as a DJ in these medium market stations unless you had your “first ticket” as the license was called.

My other job responsibility was being the newsman. Rock stations in San Bernardino and Bakersfield didn’t have “newsrooms.” News was a turn-off. The news would come on and half the audience hit the car button for another station. The only reason there were newscasts in the first place was because the FCC insisted on it.  I'll talk more about that tomorrow.

Most of the time I had the evening or late night shifts. I was more your “teen jock”. Translation: higher voice and mildly inappropriate jokes. So another of my responsibilities was reading a five minute newscast every few hours.

The news came over teletype machines. Two minutes before scheduled newscasts I would quickly scan the copy as  the teletype machine coughed it out, I would grab a few stories, and go back in to the control room and read it cold over the air. This is called “rip and read.” I can only imagine the number of Vietnamese names I butchered. The newscasts had a format that everyone followed and that included signing off with your name. Since I didn’t want to use my disc jockey name I reported the news as Barely Read (a name I stole from fellow jock Tom Maule).

When I finally made it to KYA, San Francisco in 1974 I was assigned the 10 pm-2 am shift. And much to my surprise, I was expected to do a ten minute newscast at 1:20 every morning. Now this station did have a news department but the last man left at midnight.

At the time I was using the air-name Beaver Cleaver. I figured, I couldn’t call myself that when I read the news. That’s hardly dignified. And this was a major market heritage radio station.  So at 1:00 each morning I looked to see who Tom Snyder’s guest was on THE TOMORROW SHOW WITH TOM SNYDER on NBC and that’s who delivered KYA People Power News at 1:20. So it could be Charles Manson, it could be George Will, it could be Soupy Sales. It could be Betsy Palmer.

One night while delivering the news on KYA I got the hiccups. I decided to just keep going as if nothing was wrong. My engineer (yes, we had engineers there) was doubled-over in laughter. Let’s be real -- I made a travesty of the news department.

Fortunately, no one was listening.

My favorite disc jockey-as-newsman story is this: A jock in San Bernardino was reading the news cold. He reported that the president of Bolivia had just died. Then he saw the name, which was a long tongue-twister. No way would he come close to pronouncing it correctly. So instead he said, “the president’s name is being withheld pending notification of his family.”

You gotta love the fun days of radio.

Tomorrow:  How I fucked up public service programming.  

This is Barely Read reporting.


Anonymous said...

Damn I miss those fun. Crazy days of radio in my early career. Started on air in Feb. 1960 and just retired 4 years ago due to health issues. I would do it all over again tomorrow if I could. Tom Watson

Michael said...

In The Boys on the Bus, the magnificent book about the press covering the 1972 presidential election (it has a lot of lessons that weren't learned in 2016), there's the story of a radio newsman who began his hourly update one Easter, "Millions of Christians throughout the world today are commemorating the alleged resurrection of Jesus Christ." He was unemployed by the next hourly newscast.

There was a Rose Bowl in which UCLA had a defensive player, Manu Tuiasosopo. Curt Gowdy and Don Meredith were doing the game and made a bet on who would mess up the name first. Gowdy won because he refused to say the name.

JR Smith said...

I was on the air the day the news came across the wire announcing John Lennon's death. Even though the teletype was down the hall in the newsroom and well away from the air studio, I remember hearing all the bells. The more bells, the bigger the story.

Our little local station here in town still does live news during morning drive. They have teletype sound effects playing in the background and I often wonder how many people listening today even know what that sound is.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

A rare occasion where I'm seeing American TV ads, and I see that Kaley Cuoco, who is making probably $15 million a year, is doing Priceline commercials. I know it's hard to turn down money when it's thrown at you, but it's hard to undersatnd why she'd want to bother. Friday question: do TV shows and networks see this kind of thing as promotion for the show the actor is on? Does it ever turn out to be a disadvantage?


LouOCNY said...

Speaking of breaking news - RIP Jerry Lewis.

There will be many very detailed tributes, as he was 91 and very ill for a long while. I bring this up also because my father, sadly, passed away the same week that both Sammy Davis,Jr and Jim Henson died, and a stepbrother of mine happened (he has on also) to work for CNN, so we had a discussion about the relative coverage of deaths - Sammy's was very detailed with a lot of different clips from all over his career, while for Henson's passing, everybody was using the same basic 4 or 5 clips. The difference being, of course, Sammy had been ill for a long time, and Henson died rather suddenly. Every media outlet has a morgue file, and the older you are and the sicker you've been, the more that will be in it.

Mike Barer said...

Jerry Lewis passed away. Off the subject, but being a fan of radio, I'll have plenty of on-topic comments.

Wally said...

She's making $500k or so for a day each commercial and may be taking stock options like Shatner did when Priceline was just beginning. I have no idea but just guesses

20 mil per year or so n the show plus back end points but she just went thru a divorce, may have given up a chunk as the breadwinner. You never really know. But if you can ride the wave, might as well. It doesn't always last.

Wayne Keyser said...

Back in the 70s I was an early-morning deejay for a tiny Richmond VA radio station (in a two-room all-glass former car-dealer building - feeling very vulnerable before the sun came up). One day, a 5-minute hourly teletype news summary devoted most of its length to a horrific nightclub fire in France, and I "rip-and-read" put it on the air getting sicker and sicker at the graphic descriptions of people banging on the doors, the smell of burning flesh, etc. But I couldn't figure out how to get out of it - maybe "and that's what happened today, now the scores ... darn, they just slipped behind the panel, here are the Beatles..."

Another station called me up 10 minutes later and asked me to read it on their air.

DBenson said...

The Mary Tyler Moore Show had a great episode where Tex Baxter, during a salary negotiation, demands freedom to do "movies and things". One of his little old ladies fans is acting as his agent. Lou laughs and says sure.

Shortly thereafter, a commercial during the newscast features Ted doing a call-right-now pitch for a slice-o-matic product that includes a home haircutter. As the episode goes on we see Ted doing increasingly embarrassing ads for a variety of local businesses. Finally Lou calls Ted into his office for another negotiation.

Ted offers to give up his sidelines for a substantial raise. Lou's deadpan counteroffer is that he won't beat Ted to a pulp.

"Sounds reasonable, Lou."

bruce said...

One insominiac college night in the early 70s, I was listening to the all-news KFWB in LA at around 3 am. The newsman reported that there was a "heroin bust in Sheepshead Bay, New York". It came out phonetically as


norm said...

Jerry passing so close to Labor went with the other for 40 + years.

Peter said...

Now I feel bad about having criticized Jerry Lewis on here for his grumpy interview with the Hollywood Reporter earlier this year.

Most of the coverage will focus on his comedies, which I must admit I never watched, but I thought his performance in The King of Comedy was terrific. He had real dramatic acting chops which he showed beautifully in that film.


Kosmo13 said...

The Guyana Jonestown massacre hit the UPI newswire during one of my air shifts. The only calls from listeners I got were complaints that I was reporting a news story about a country they'd never heard of.

Andy Rose said...

A story I heard from a guy who used to work in radio in northeast Tennessee:

They hired a new part-timer in the early 80s... a local college student who was fascinated by the wire ticker. And especially fascinated with the idea that if she ripped off an URGENT the moment the bell rang and read it on the air immediately, she might be the first person in the entire United States to "break the news" on air.

So one weekend when she was alone, she ripped-and-read the first thing that dinged. It said, "ETHIOPIA -- A coup d'etat attempt roils the capital, Addis Ababa." She opened the mic before looking at it and did a cold reading that went something like this:

"This just into our newsroom... A, uh... *something*... uh, has happened... *somewhere*. More details as they become available."