Saturday, June 11, 2022

Weekend Post

This is yet another sordid true story from my early radio career – those halcyon days in the ‘70s when I bounced around the country playing top 40 hits as Beaver Cleaver.   It's a story that in today's world could NEVER happen. 

Top 40 stations back then courted teenagers. So a number of our promotions centered around high schools.

We jocks would host Friday night dances and pep rallies. Those were fine, but at a couple of stations we put together a basketball team made up of the disc jockeys and we would play local high school faculties. Those were brutal.

First of all, out of seven disc jockeys there was maybe one who could dribble. The most exercise most of these guys ever got was rolling joints and opening pop tops.

Meanwhile, these faculties would put together six or seven decent athletes. It’s bad enough they embarrassed us in front of crowds of two thousand or so, but invariably there was one asshole gym teacher who took it upon himself to be Dennis Rodman. He’d elbow us, clock us the face with a forearm and really prove himself to be a big man by outplaying seven stoned undernourished sad sacks.

But the creepiest promotion I ever did was when I was a jock on KYA in San Francisco in 1974. Dean Goss, one of my fellow jocks on the station I’m sure can confirm this story. He gave me shit about it for months.

Here’s the contest: High school girls were asked to send in postcards and I would take one of them to her spring prom. Can you imagine? What parent would let his 16 year-old daughter go out with a 24 year-old disc jockey? I happened to be a nice guy, but on the scale of depravity, disc jockey is just below sex offender.

A winner was selected. I had to rent a tuxedo and buy a corsage. By the way, I loathed proms when I was in high school. I asked if the station was going to provide a limo or some cool mode of transportation? No. I had to drive her in my beat up Mustang.

Not being that familiar with San Francisco at the time it took me twenty minutes to find her place. It turned out she was very sweet.  Honestly, my heart went out to all the girls who entered this contest. Obviously you don’t resort to this if guys from your class ask you to the prom. So it was all the Janis Ian “At Seventeen” unpopular girls who vied for this “honor.”

The prom itself could not have been more awkward. I knew no one of course, and all the kids eyed me like I was some pervert. The teacher/chaperones really viewed me with contempt. I’m sure there was a gym teacher who wanted to clothesline me.  WKRP IN CINCINNATI missed a bet not doing this episode.   My date was very shy and I think more uncomfortable in this environment than I was. Had she been enjoying herself I would have stuck it out, but after a half hour I asked if she wanted to ditch this place and get something to eat? She was so relieved.

I took her to dinner at the Hungry Tiger (a nice lobster place – you can’t show up at Denny’s in formal attire) and probably had her home before ten. I mean, what do you talk about? “So, how is Algebra this year?” “Who’s your favorite Osmond brother?”

It was the only time a date said to me, “This was really a bad idea” and I didn’t take it personally.

The station was mad because I didn’t come back with a prom photo. The whole point was to put that on the cover of their weekly survey they distributed to record stores. What good was the promotion if they couldn’t promote it? The promo director was so mad he wouldn’t reimburse me for the dinner.

The truth is I did have the prom photo. But my date had been through enough. I could at least spare her this.

I can only hope her yearbook showed the same discretion.

That was my last prom. It could have been worse, I suppose. They could have asked me to hand out candy at a middle school from the station van.



Anonymous said...

I actually find this story to be quite heartwarming. You could've been a real dick about the whole thing and ruined her night, but you weren't, so on behalf of unpopular girls everywhere - thank you :)

Anonymous said...

WLS used to have a boss jock team but they were pretty good. Larry Lujack was an excellent athlete, although the years of smoking may have taken its toll, but he and Tommy Edwards recruited a ringer - John Mengelt (Auburn and Chicago Bulls). They mostly won when he played.

Mike Barer said...

Wow, that seemed wrong on so many levels. Thank heavens, you are a mensch and did the right thing.
I want to see another post on radio pranks. I love the one about you doing the all-night shift on a Chicago station and you fooling the DJ into thinking you had never pulled off a board shift before.

WB Jax said...

That story could make a good play. Wonder if your prom date recognized your name from MASH, Cheers or other shows you worked on (that is if your writing ambitions ever came up in conversation).

VincentP said...

Regarding radio basketball teams: Johnny Holliday (whom you know as a longtime sportscaster, athletic voice of the University of Maryland for more than 30 years, and I believe a one-time KYA jock before becoming a D.C.-area radio institution) put a spin on the concept by forming a team called the "Radio Oneders" whose roster at times included local pro athletes in the days before franchises paid team members exorbitant salaries.

James Van Hise said...

When I was in high school a radio station organized a basketball game with the school's basketball team, which everyone thought would be fun. But the DJ's not only cheated shamelessly, they'd elbow the kids out of the way and knock them down. There was a lot of anger about what the DJ's thought was "funny."

Anonymous said...

Fantastic story

Anonymous said...

Thank God your basketball game wasn’t Donkey Basketball - YES! - 10 players each riding a donkey in the high school gym & trying to score baskets. Talk about a sh*t show! (& yes, the hardwood floor was protected per coach’s prompt).🐴🏀

Gary's Old Towne Tavern said...

WB Jax, how could MASH and Cheers come up? Ken hadn't written for the first one yet and Cheers didn't exist until 1982.

Bryan said...

Did something similar at KROY. I was only 20, but still a few years ahead of the girl that won the contest. I truly understand the awkwardness of it all. The high point wat that we did have a limo, so I didn't have to pick her up in my 65 Valiant...

Bryan Simmons

John Schrank said...

WB Jax has a pretty good idea... this story told in one-act play form. What do you think, Ken?

April Acton said...

" stoned undernourished sad sacks." One of your funniest lines ever! This post had me laughing out loud ("one step below sex offender"), but also struck of chord of sadness for me. I even had a tear or two. Great writing, Ken.

maxdebryn said...

What a sweet story. That said, I always hated that Janis Ian song, mostly because I felt like she was singing about me, and I'm a guy.

Mike Bloodworth said...

You should've gotten a limo since you didn't get a hotel room.


But seriously, when I was on the Los Angeles Valley College radio station we had a basketball team. We mostly played the other community college stations in the city. But one time our promotions guy (and if he didn't make it in radio there's something very wrong in the world) got the idea that we should play a real radio station. After a lot of hustling on his part we wound up playing KHJ. They were still playing the hits back then. Their most popular D.J. at that time was "Whataguy" Bobby Ocean. It was definitely a big event for us and probably free publicity for them. So after a lot of hype and cross promotion we had our game. Referring to Ken's point, our situation was just the opposite. We weren't athletes and KHJ's team included Ocean, but was comprised primarily of ringers. I guess they couldn't stand the humiliation of losing to a bunch of college
jocks. Needless to say it was KVCM that took most of the elbows. But, all in all it was a fun and successful night for both teams.
BTW, I scored eight points.


P.S. This won't mean anything to anyone outside of L.A., but Gypsy Boots was part of our halftime show.

thirteen said...

You were kind to that poor young woman. I have no doubt she remembers you fondly. You're a good man, Ken.

Anonymous said...

I’ve played in two donkey basketball games. Not a good experience!

DBenson said...

Recalling the Cheers episode where Sam Malone was the pitcher in a charity game against a team of Playboy playmates. Sam's competitive instincts overrode his other ones, and he couldn't understand why everybody was mad at him for pitching a fierce no-hitter.

Win A Date With Famous Person has long been the basis of romcoms (stalker fantasies, if you look closely) and sitcom episodes. The sitcom template is that the celebrity is usually:
- Married
- Older than he/she plays on camera
- A hapless cypher being hustled to and fro by handlers (photo op, autograph her album, now off to an interview)
- Near opposite of what the winner expects (business-obsessed instead of a free spirit, egotistic instead of folksy, etc.)
- Any combination of the above
The celebrity may be a perfect decent person (especially when celebrity plays self), and as often as not will steer the disillusioned date back to dull boyfriend/girlfriend.

Bye Bye Birdie is arguably the most famous Win A Date story. Interesting in that Elvis cartoon Conrad Birdie is neither a romantic lead nor a rival or villain. He's a somewhat jerkish teen idol, less a character in the romance than the cause of all the chaos.

Don Kemp said...

2004's Win A Date With Tad Hamilton! that starred Kate Bosworth, Topher Grace and Josh Duhamel had a similar plot line.

YEKIMI said...

As far as the DJ contests go for "Date A Listener" or some other such bullshit, I lucked out by working at stations that were so penny-pinching that not only did Abe Lincoln scream, so did the rest of the change in their pocket. A few were so cheap that if they did have a contest and had to mail out something they demanded that the provider of the tickets or whatever pay the postage.
As far as prom goes, I may have told this before. Asked somewhere between 5 to 8 girls to prom and they all said "NO! No way in hell!" I thought some of them were going to be physically ill so moved away before they could barf on my shoes. One of them, way later in life, ended up marrying an astronaut so I'll give her a pass. I figured "Fuck it, I'm not going." senior class advisor [a bored teacher] threatened me "You're on the prom committee, you're going or your not getting your diploma!" My mom also insisted that I go, so off we go for a tuxedo fitting until she found out how much it costs and said "Nope, ain't paying that much money for you to wear something once, you're getting a suit." So off we go to Sears and end up getting a suit with a shade of brown so hideous it would have been rejected as couch covering in a facility for the blind..... who would have been able to feel how ugly it was. So there I am, only one in a suit, being looked at and avoided like I had leprosy by my classmates. Post-prom, even worse. Ended up baby-sitting my senior class advisor teacher who had stopped off at a bar between prom and post prom and consumed six Limoncello drinks and was hammered. I tried keeping him away from the school administrators and superintendent but we're playing pinball and he starts screaming "YOU'RE KICKING MY ASS!" All the big shots are giving him the evil eye and I'm trying to shut him up. I finally had enough and snuck out early and went home [while other classmates rented hotel rooms and had fun with their dates]. My mom goes "Why are you home so early?" I just glared at her and said "I told YOU I didn't want to go!" went to my room and don't think I spoke to her for about 3 days. Luckily I was able to squash any prom photos of me appearing in the yearbook by threatening bodily harm to the editor of the yearbook.

Matt in Westwood said...

Friday question….As I’m sure you are aware, the 40th anniversary of the series premiere for CHEERS is approaching. Are there any plans in the works to celebrate the milestone?

WB Jax said...

Gary’s Old Towne:

Read again what I wrote. My point was that the girl might have, some years later (of course), recognized Ken’s name when seeing it in the credits of MASH, Cheers, Frasier (in first-run or syndication) if during “the date from hell” Ken mentioned to her, say, during dinner, his desire (then) to become a professional writer. Obviously, if Ken was already working as a producer on Cheers, story editor on MASH, he would have been long gone from the radio station (and gotten a better car).

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

No offense at all to Mr. Levine, but given the girl's age, I'm surprised the station didn't provide its own chaperone, a la "The Dating Game." (That would've had been to the disc jockey's benefit as well had a conniving girl falsely accused the announcer of inappropriate behavior on the way to or from the prom.)

I, too, loathed the idea of proms, and never any high school dances. Forty years later, I still don't regret it.

Stu Best said...

Gary, I wondered the same, took me a few seconds to realize WB meant if she recognized his name years later.

Dave Lennon said...

Sweet story. What stuck out was the name of the lobster restaurant. Hungry Tiger? Savannah wildlife. Yeah, that makes me think about seafood.

Poochie said...

FQ: It came to my attention recently that Netflix et al. DON'T play residuals. This seems batshit insane to me. For years, tv writers wrote with the hopes of landing on a hit sitcom that could maybe run in syndication a couple of times. They went on strike for a few measley points of digital media shares and nao everything is streaming and they're cut is ZERO? I'm sure there's a question in there somewhere and if not maybe you can just comment on the status that seems rather untenable.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

"...never attended any high school dances." (My kingdom for a proofreader.)

Andrew said...

Wow, your life is even funnier than your scripts. I laughed at every paragraph. But as others have said, you really demonstrated your decency and humanity in the midst of such an awkward situation. Good for you. Other disk jockies would have made it an even worse nightmare for this poor girl.

I hope that your prom date sees this post, reaches out to you, and says, "That was you?!" Now that you're famous enough to appear in an answer on Jeopardy. Maybe the two of you with your families can go out for a meal, and you can get a real photo worth keeping.

Irv said...

Back in the day, we set up our afternoon jock to oppose one of pro wrestlers when their circuit - very minor league - came to town. We gave our jock some menancing name and the posters on the telephone poles all over town promoted it as the featured match.

Our intrepid jock ran the other way as soon as the bell rang. It was all over 10 seconds later when his opponent - who clearly didn't have a sense of humor about the whole thing - caught him, viscously threw him down and pinned him.

Yeah, we did the donkey basketball thing and the jock ushering in the circus riding the elephant. Fortunately, PETA put an end to both.

Scottmc said...

The Washington Post reviewed the James Burrows memoir yesterday. Burrows counts the number of episodes he directed of particular shows;
Mary Tyler Moore Show 4
Bob Newhart Show. 11
Laverne & Shirley. 8
Phyllis. 19
Taxi. 75
Cheers. 243
Frazier. 32
Friends. 15
Mike & Molly. 49
Will & Grace 246

In the book Burrows writes that he passed on Designing Women and Seinfeld. He doesn’t seem to second guess those but does regret leaving FRIENDS after the second season.

The book received a positive review from The Post.
Sounds like it worthwhile read.

Adventures in Radio said...

When you were a DJ, didn't you once also get a call to the station from some violent anarchist group? I vaguely remember your blog post about it. Gonna try and look it up now.

kent said...

Still better than the WKRP turkey giveaway

Tom said...

Chicagoans of a certain age will remember this frequently played conversation between Steve Dahl and the father of a teen girl who had agreed to a dial-a-date with Steve and his “sidekick” Garry Meier. “All the tea in China, buddy.”

JS said...

Scottmc I think it must be depressing to direct 240+ episodes of "Will and Grace" and nobody cares. It sank in syndication. Some shows just don't have legs.

Unknown said...

I loved the original series finale of Will and Grace and thought it captured the core dilemma of their relationship (I wouldn't have framed it that way at the time, it just felt right to me). I didn't watch the revival because I felt like it was throwing away the truth of their relationship in favor of happy-happy stuff. But audiences seemed to resent the original finale that didn't match the happy-happy outcome they wanted, and that is probably why shows I really love never do well in the ratings.

thirteen said...

By the time my senior prom rolled around, I was so thoroughly out of love with my high school and everything about it that I didn't even pretend to want to go. My parents (especially my father) thought I should go, some gals in the neighborhood thought I should go, and the building services guy thought I should go. Fifty-something years later, I'm still glad I didn't go. It was one of the few shots I was able to call back then, and I don't think I missed anything.

Prairie Perspective said...

“WKRP” did do a version of win a date with a DJ contests in the early episode “Love Returns.” Venus ended up with a gorgeous Black girl. Dr. Johnny Fever’s date was named Kim … and he seemed like a nice guy. They might go dancing later.

JRandall said...

I have a similar story at KNBQ Seattle in the mid 80's - I was the afternoon guy and along with the midday jock we were auctioned off at a "bid for Bachelors" event (along with other local bachelors) so support March of Dimes - there was even a calendar with our picture in it (that I still have in my archives)!! Being in radio - we lined up a limo, concert tickets, meet & greet with the artist, etc. In the end we never went because the woman who was the winning bidder, her check bounced...hahahaha...clearly saving us from what could have been a really weird night - you got off easy with a lobster dinner!!

JRandall said...

BTW Ken -
I was also the station rep early on in my career in a Mud wrestling match against a team of female mud wrestlers, "The Sweet Lil' Mudpies" - AND I also have the audio of that one I could share with you, if you're interested...hahaha
We promoted it, sold sponsorships and did a live broadcast with PBP the night of the "match"!