Wednesday, September 08, 2021

The greatest sign-off ever

Here’s another Friday Question that became an entire post. 

Joseph Price filed it.

Ken, I remember you told a hilarious story on your podcast about a radio DJ who attempted to prevent his firing by playing a specific song... (trying not to spoil it for your blog audience). Is it possible for you to share it on this blog? I couldn't find the story again.  

Okay, some backstory:  Radio in the ‘60s and ‘70s was a great time.  All local stations, all local DJ’s. 

But it was also very unstable.  Top 40 radio was a constant revolving door.  New program directors, bad rating books, new owners, new format, new directions — they all contributed to maybe the most insecure job on the planet.   DJ’s were nomads.  My disc jockey career, for example:  I was a jock in Bakersfield, San Bernardino, Detroit, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. 

I’d be hard-pressed to name a jock from that era who didn’t get fired at least three times.  It was four for me.  And that’s over a period of a few years.  I was a TV writer for 40 years and was never fired once (show cancellations don’t count — that’s not personal). 

When you’re fired in radio, rarely do you have any warning.  I think my final sign-off on several stations was “See you tomorrow night.” 

If we got advance warning it was usually because we saw the trade papers advertising for our jobs, or the PD was constantly on your case.  All of a sudden you could do nothing right. 

Now, getting to Joseph's request. I believe this happened in Kansas City in the late ‘60s.  The morning DJ got wind that he was about to be fired.  Then ten minutes before his shift ended the program director stuck his head in to say “Please come to my office when you’re done with your show.”  He didn’t need tea leaves to know he was about to be canned. 

So he had ten minutes to think of something.  

Some DJ’s in that situation bad mouth the station on the air.  That usually comes back to bite them when they try for other jobs.  This gentleman was far more shrewd.

Just before his sign-off he went on the air and said this (I’m paraphrasing): “I want to end my show today by playing a record.  The management does not want me to play this record.  In all likelihood I’m going to get fired for playing this record, and this is the last time you hear my voice.  But I feel so strongly about it, that I don’t care.  Even if I do lose my job, there are certain beliefs that are more important.  So here’s the record this station does not want you to hear.”

And he played the National Anthem.

The station phone lines blew up.  There was outrage in the community.  He was still fired of course, but not before causing the station a world of grief. 

God, I miss radio.  


Dixon said...

I must have several friends who think they're about to get fired from Facebook.

Chris said...

Hey I've got a potential Friday question for you. Watching old sitcoms I notice that sometimes they'll use a humorous "smash cut," like switching suddenly to a new scene to contradict what a character just said, etc. The thing that surprises me is that the studio audience seems to laugh at these... But how on earth could they see the smash cut to laugh at it? Surely it takes too much time to change scenes in the actual studio to keep that laugh. Same question for camera pullout reveal jokes.

Brian Phillips said...

This story is culled from a Bloopers compilation by Jonathan Hewat.

Fred Astaire passed away. When the news got to the DJ, he quickly looked for ANY record that featured Astaire. He cued up the record, ad-libbed an announcement of the news of Astaire's death and played the record. Horrified listeners then heard Astaire himself sing, "Heaven...I'm in heaven..."

Dave said...

That's brilliant. Hat's off to that DJ.

slgc said...

If I recall there's a flip side to this story. Didn't you once play a song on repeat specifically because you wanted to be fired?

Rob Calhoun said...

Then there is Tom Dooley. He was the afternoon jock at KHJ in 1974 and HATED the place. He called WAKY Louisville PD Johnny Randolph for advice. Johnny had an afternoon opening but Dooley had a no-cut contract. Randolph suggested doing something over the top on the air that would lead to dismissals. Dooley did just that with his Nixon rant and it was off to Louisville.

Gary said...

In the 1950's a Buffalo disc jockey named Guy King climbed up onto a billboard and played "Rock Around the Clock" continuously until he was arrested (and also fired). I know this because my father was one of the arresting officers.

This incident was the basis for a scene in THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, where a Buffalo disc jockey barricades himself inside his studio and plays "That'll Be The Day" non-stop, until the authorities have to break the door down to stop him. This never actually happened.

Mike Barer said...

He may have been hired right away due to his creative instinct.

Mitch said...

what station were you on in Chicago, and what year(s)?

Michael said...

Until this moment, I thought the greatest signoff I'd ever heard was "Winston Burdett, CBS News, Rome," followed closely by Sylvia Poggioli of NPR.

Lemuel said...

Did he play the Hendrix version?

ventucky said...

There was a short lived eclectic rock station in Santa Barbara in the 90's. No playlists, lot's of deep cuts, and bands not normally heard on the radio. One day the DJ, I think it was Rick Williams, a local legend of the 80's on KTYD, said he was tired of getting requests for this particular song, and it was the last time he would ever play it. To emphasize it, he played it twice. Stairway To Heaven.

Benson said...


Just a great radio story. Pull up a seat and enjoy.

Breadbaker said...

@Lemuel, or the Jose Feliciano version?

Mike Bloodworth said...

Once I got fired on Thanksgiving day after my shift. So I had no chance to say good bye.

This is NOT an F.Q., but I'm curious. When you were in those smaller markets did you have to sell ad time for your gig? That was one of the things I hated about those little stations. Many made you drum up your own sponsors. And unfortunately, I'm not a salesman.


Brian said...

Great story, Even Howard Stern got fired. At local radio station at a small town in North Carolina, I once heard one two of DJs talking about how much they hated country music and how it was giving them suicidal thoughts. The format at the time (if it had one, was light rock, but it was mostly local programming) Later, after one of the DJ's was fired (not for that remark), the format was changed to country. Not just country but "Real Country". We're talking Patsy Kline, Don Williams, etc. Karma strikes again for the remaining DJ.

thirteen said...

@ Michael "Until this moment, I thought the greatest signoff I'd ever heard was 'Winston Burdett, CBS News, Rome,' followed closely by Sylvia Poggioli of NPR."

Mr. Burdett, one of the all-time greats, had been based in New York, but he was caught up in Joe McCarthy's anti-communist campaign. CBS protected him by getting him out of the U.S. and assigning him to Rome, which meant he mostly covered the Vatican. He eventually retired but came back in 1978 to cover the rapid turnover in the papacy that year.

Buttermilk Sky said...

As a kid I thought it was hilarious that the NBC reporter at the Vatican was Irving R. Levine.
What can I say, I was a kid.

YEKIMI said...

Back in the disco days the station I was at took requests. About every other caller requested "Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward. Finally, sick of it, I said "This is the last time I am playing this record! I am sick of it." and proceeded to smash the record to bits on air. [We had a back-up copy so I knew it wasn't a big deal.] You would have thought I had stabbed a basket full of puppies to death from all the complaints. The PD said apologize tomorrow and play the damn song. So I did. Not fired, but wasn't long till we had a format change and everybody was shown the door.
And before I was in radio, in the early 70s, I remember a DJ that locked himself in the booth and played "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" over and over and over. Even then I thought it was a ratings stunt and thinking "This is BS. They should be easily able to knock him off the air by throwing a switch or something."

Storm said...

Yes! THIS is what I wanna read, I've even asked it as a FQ for both you and all the DJ's who read this-- what popular song drove you insane back in the day?

And can I maybe get a few favorite mondagreens, be they misheard lyrics (She's got electric boobs! Her Ma has, too!), song titles, or artist's name?

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Michael said...

Thirteen, when CBS sent him to Rome they didn't know that one of his fields as a student had been canon law. Really.

I'll never forget it. Dan Rather went to Rome and anchored, and Burdett was on. He asked what to expect, saying Burdett usually knew before the cardinals did. Burdett said something like, "Dan, after more than four centuries of Italian popes, I believe the College of Cardinals will look behind the Iron Curtain for the next pope." Dan just looked at him and said, "Uh huh."

Well .... At NBC, the producer had told his staff, "There are 112 cardinals. Count them going in. If there are 113, Burdett is with them, and we're beaten."

Baylink said...

At WBCN in Boston, in the late 70s, the morning man, Charles Laquidara, was also the afternoon and Saturday guy, "Duane Ingalls Glascock", though I don't know how I knew that then, without the Internet. :-)

For reasons which were either "he got sick of pulling two shifts" or "they hired someone new", he did a stunt on Saturday afternoon, which I heard live at age 13 or 14, where he "locked himself in the control room with 2 copies of Tusk", and just went back and forth between then for, like, an hour.

After about that hour (and probably right up to the legal, on reflection), we heard the traditional needle scratch, about 5 second of silence, a legal ID cart, and then the rest of the afternoon of music, with no jock.

This all from memory, any or all of it could be Mandela effect, though he's on FB, and I'm pretty sure I remember him confirming it.

mike said...

that is genuinely very funny. thanks for posting. need a laugh during difficult times.