Saturday, October 24, 2020

Weekend Post

We had a couple of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER Friday Questions this week.  So I thought I'd keep the topic alive.  Barbara Billingsley played June Cleaver on that classic 50s sitcom. As a kid I marveled at how she cooked and cleaned and always wore a party dress and pearls.  My mom never did.  But for years it was an honor to be mistaken for Barbara's TV son.

I guess that requires an explanation, huh?

Okay, that means a look back at my checkered radio career...

After being fired from KMEN San Bernardino in late ‘73 I sat out of work for six months. Apparently no one wanted a wise-ass disc jockey with a light voice. I couldn’t even land a gig doing all-nights in Fresno. Ironically, when I did get an offer it was to do evenings at WDRQ, Detroit. So I wasn’t good enough for market #100 but I was fine for market #4.

More on my actual adventures in Detroit in future posts but today I want to concentrate on my name. No rock station would let me use my actual name (Levine sounded too… uh, “Red Sea Pedestrian”). And in general disc jockeys had very generic names. Johnny Mitchell. Steve Clark. Bob Shannon. Take any two simple first names and slam them together.

Needless to say, to audiences these disc jockeys were interchangeable. In some cases stations changed personnel but just kept the name. So Bill Bailey could be the afternoon man but over the course of three years that could be four different guys.

In Bakersfield and San Bernardino I was Ken Stevens. When I got the job in Detroit I decided to make a change. I took the moniker Beaver Cleaver.


I wanted something distinctive. I wanted something memorable. The first time the listener heard, “Hi, this is Beaver Cleaver” I wanted him to say "What the fuck?!"   Any major program director will tell you -- if you can get the audience to say "What the fuck?!" you've won. 

It was a name everybody knew from the TV show. I figured a lot of people would wonder if I was Jerry Mathers (who played the Beav). This might even prompt some discussion in various Detroit high schools. How often did you discuss disc jockeys in your high school?

I also liked that the name was easy to say. As opposed to Illya Kuryakin, my second choice (although it would have been fun to hear jingle singers trying to sing Illya Kuryakin).

I’d like to take credit for being the first disc jockey to do something like this, but the truth is I wasn’t. Art Ferguson debuted on KHJ in 1967 as Charlie Tuna. At the time Charlie the Tuna was the cartoon mascot of the Starkist Tuna ad campaign. Whether it was Art’s idea or a program director I thought it was genius.

One other side benefit to “Beaver Cleaver” was that I could use it for double entendres. Remember this was for a teenage audience. I came on the first night and said, “This is the grand opening of the Beaver.” Yes, it was juvenile but my goal was to make noise. I'm sure I got some more "What the fucks?!" with that one. 

Anyway, it worked. People did take notice and remember. A few years ago I was having lunch with Tom Hanks. He was saying he grew up in the Bay Area and I mentioned I was a disc jockey in San Francisco at that time. “Who were you?” he asked. When I told him his eyes lit up and immediately he said, “Beaver Cleaver! KYA! Boss of the Bay!” I don’t think he would have remembered the name I used in Bakersfield.  (I bet you can't either and you just read it fifteen seconds ago.)  

So I used that handle at WDRQ and future stops as a DJ. Later that year I was hired by K100 in Los Angeles. (A year before I couldn’t get arrested in Fresno.) The station was owned by Bill Drake & Gene Chenault, the architects of the KHJ Boss Radio format that was the rage of the 60s. I was brought in to do evenings, following the Real Don Steele. It was a dream job except I hated the program director. When I say he was clueless, here’s how clueless:

The day I was slated to debut the station had all of the other jocks hyping my arrival. The PD stopped in the booth and midday guy, Eric Chase jokingly asked if I was going to have Wally and Lumpy join me my first night. The PD said, “What are you talking about?” Eric said, “Wally and Lumpy – the Beav's brother and his dufus friend.” The PD was completely confused. Eric said, “Y’know, from the TV show. From LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.” The PD’s eyes widened in horror. “There’s a TV show?!”

How the fuck could this moron not have heard of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER?

So he calls me into his office panicked. There were already promos on the air. What if we got sued? I tried to calm him down. “If we get sued,” I said, “it’s the best thing that could ever happen to us.” Now he was really perplexed. I reasoned that in the highly unlikely event we were sued this would become a big story. The local TV stations would probably cover it. K100 would get more free publicity than it could ever imagine. I would stop using Beaver Cleaver and the station could invite listeners to come up with my new name. Fortunately, owner Bill Drake thought that was brilliant and I was allowed to keep calling myself Mrs. Cleaver’s Beaver.

For the record, I was never sued. And continued to use the name until 1980. By the way, Frank Bank, who played “Lumpy”, is now Jerry Mathers’s investment adviser.


Lemuel said...

Fond memories of SCTV's parody with John Candy as The Beaver,

Tabman said...

Sadly, Frank Bsnk passed away a few years ago.

Craig Gustafson said...

I wonder if Jerry Mathers tried that line on girls in high school. "Hi. They call me the Beaver Cleaver."

Anonymous said...

The two best:
Your Charming and Delightful Good Ole Uncle Lar
The Greaseman

Paul B said...

One NCIS episode some one said I wonder what Ducky (played by David McCallum) looked like when he was younger. The answer was Illya Kuryakin!

Michael said...

Your "Red Sea" comment reminded me of the great broadcaster Melvin Israel, the voice of the Yankees. They suggested at CBS when he got to New York that he change his name.

Michelle P. said...

Hi Ken, were you involved in the SNES video game "Ken Griffin Jr Baseball"? Sam Malone, along with Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson play for the Red Sox.

Jim Grey said...

You've said a number of times that this blog is sometimes more of a chore than a pleasure. If you ever decide to hang it up, I'll understand. But I'll surely miss your stories!

Andy K said...

Hi Ken! I remember you as Johnny Lizard at KLA83. Great memories my friend!

Anonymous said...

So some questions about DJ names:
-When did it become OK for DJs just to use their own names, especially those with ethnic names? Or do any still use fake names?
-Ever use different names for different formats? I remember (early 90s) one DJ who used the name "Jack Bruce" (a bandmate with Eric Clapton in Cream) for his classic rock show and "Cactus Jack" for the country station.
-Does using a famous character name ever get in the trademark/copyright morass?

M Shayler said...

I heard you tell the K100 PD story on the L.A. Radio Waves Podcast a few weeks back. Good write-up here but your voice of him really conveyed your perception of him.

Wow, WDRQ still had "Philadelphia Freedom" at #1 in June of '75 while two other E.J. tunes were on the rise!

DBenson said...

Maybe this came up before, but how accurate was "Frasier" in presenting a radio station? In retrospect, it seems a little odd that they'd have so much original and seemingly unsyndicated programming (Did they play music at all?). Recalling a WKRP episode where Venus was recruited by a station that just needed a local voice to plug into nationally programmed playlists, that being the expanding reality back then.

Mike Bloodworth said...

About the same time Ken was on K100 I was a disc jockey/news caster on my high school station. The station manager didn't like my real name so he gave me the pseudonym Mike "Carter." I wasn't really happy about it, but I wasn't going to jeopardize my gig by making trouble.
The humorous part is that if I ever go to one of my class reunions (I may go to the 70th) I have no proof that I was ever on "KWLF." I didn't use my real name. I was sick on photo day, so I wasn't in the yearbook. (I didn't even get a "not shown") And the station manager/program director, Scott Mason passed away several years ago. By the way Ken, did you ever know him?
Pretty typical of my life. And people wonder why I don't even want to put on pants.


By Ken Levine said...

I knew Scott Mason very well. He originally was my intern at KTNQ. He was a good friend and a lovely guy. And one of the smartest radio people I ever met. Sadly, he died way too young.

Chuck said...

WDRQ was always the first station I checked out when I turned my radio on. A flood of memories just hearing those call letters again!

Stu R said...

Funny thing...Jerry Mathers was a DJ at KEZY 1190AM in Anaheim in 1981. Last gasp of a great OC station in the 60s and 70s. Go to any OC beach in the summer, KEZY was blasting away. Incredible talent too...Paul Freeman, Bruce Chandler,Mike Wagner, Mark Denis and Adam J. Desmarais doing the news. Great times and a great station.

PolyWogg said...

Going out on a limb here for your disc jockey work. Combined with podcasting. Combined with writing where you might have a long monologue (less common I suppose in comedy, but still) you have tips/tricks for people "presenting" where there is no audience feedback to tell them how they're doing?

A hot topic in offices is "tips for working from home" for obvious reasons, including "how to present in a virtual meeting". There's surprisingly little out there that goes in any "unique" direction. Most of the tips are about "how to present anything", which applies generically. Or "how to frame yourself in the image".

But your posts about DJs started me thinking...who better to advise on how to be interesting when you have no direct feedback? For lots of video calls, people turn off their video for privacy, interest or bandwidth; sound is off to be polite or privacy. You are presenting with NO feedback coming. Almost dead air.

Any chance you have a toolbox full of tips and tricks for people doing dead air presentations? I can't decide if it is like a DJ, or more of a newscaster, or even practicing stand up routines without the audience/rehearsals for plays with no audience/shooting a scene with a long monologue and no other cast members or an audience?

Not to flatter you unduly, but it seems like you would have a pretty unique perspective on how to be interesting for 10-15 minutes on your own as DJ, podcaster or writer.

aka PolyWogg

Troy McClure said...

Ken, you need to watch the new Borat film as soon as possible. It's hilarious but also exposes the sickness at the heart of Trump's America, from an evangelical pastor who has no problem with incest, to an anti-mask rally with Nazi salutes.

Plus there's a little surprise cameo by one of your actor friends.

Tom Asher said...

Always love the radio stories!