Saturday, June 25, 2022

Weekend Post

As a long time radio guy I’ve pretty much done it all. I’ve been a disc jockey on numerous formats (Top 40, classic rock, rock of the ‘90s, oldies, chicken rock, country-western, standards, beautiful music, Broadway), talk show host, sportstalk show host, movie critic, newsman, field reporter, play-by-play, disaster coverage anchor, charity radiothon anchor, host of swap meets, and even co-host of a car talk show (despite the fact that I know nothing about cars).

And then, a few years ago, I did traffic reports.

At this point, let me pause and say part of the fun of radio is pulling pranks – either on other jocks, other stations, or the listeners. But for the most part these are done in small markets. There is too much money involved and too much scrutiny to be pulling shit on major stations in Los Angeles, New York, and Boca. If you get fired in Modesto you can probably find a comparable job. If you get canned in Chicago that’s a different story. Of course, I never adhered by that rule. Gee, and you wonder why I got fired from so many stations.  Okay, back to this weekend's post, but this paragraph will tie in.

From 2008-2010 you might remember I co-hosted Dodger Talk with Josh Suchon on KABC, Los Angeles. It was a fun gig and I only left to do play-by-play for the Mariners. In 2009, one of the salesmen at KABC sold a nightly traffic report to be done during each Dodger pre-game show. Traffic reports are big deals in LA where everyone commutes by car (despite the subway system that no one knows about and rarely goes anywhere anyone would want to go). Stations in LA boast “Traffic on the 2’s”, “Traffic on the 4’s”, “Traffic on the 8’s.” Some stations have helicopters. Smarter ones have helicopter sound effects.

So KABC sells a traffic report in the Dodger pre-game show, but who’s going to do it? The Dodgers announcers sure aren’t. I’d like to see the salesman who asks Vin Scully if he wouldn’t mind reporting on fender benders. Since I hosted Dodger Talk after the game they thought, why not dump it on Ken? I graciously declined. They said they’d pay me double my salary. I graciously accepted.

How do you do traffic reports? There are websites you log onto that have the latest traffic info for every major city. I’d log on, enter my password, click “Los Angeles” and cut and paste the most pressing traffic slowdowns. I asked the salesman how long the report should be and he said, “I don’t care. A minute. Forty-five seconds. Whatever. All I give a shit about is that you read the Sprint commercial at the end of it.”

So that’s what I did. It took maybe five minutes to prepare and a minute to deliver. I was usually reporting from the “Massive high-tech space age KABC traffic center sequestered in a secret location.”

Doing this was no problem during home games because I was at the stadium, but when the team was on the road and I wasn’t traveling, I’d have to go to the station to do them. I wanted to record a week’s worth at once and just air them over the course of seven days but that idea didn’t go over very well.

But I always wondered – was anybody actually listening to these traffic reports? One evening, late in the season, the Dodgers were in San Francisco and I was at the station preparing for my big minute. I was hanging out with Howard Hoffman, the production director, and I suggested a way to see if listeners paid any attention. He laughed and said, “you wouldn’t dare.” (This is where that paragraph on pranks pays off.) I gave him a sly smile and headed for my booth.

I opened the report by saying, “If you’re going to the Dodger game tonight, there’s a fifteen minute delay on the Golden Gate Bridge, the 880-Nimitz in the east bay reports slow and go from Concord…”

I just gave the San Francisco traffic report. Super straight, as if this were a San Francisco station. And I tagged it with the Sprint commercial.

Howard came into the booth hysterical. Now we waited to see how many phone calls we got. This was 6:45 in the evening, during the peak afternoon commute.

So how many did we get? I bet you’re ahead of me. That’s right. None. Not a single one. Zero. The big goose egg. No one from the station ever called me. No one from the Dodgers. Nothing.

The following year there was no traffic. I hope Sprint took that money and used it to buy another repeater tower.


Jeff Alexander said...

Mr. Levine:
We had radio traffic reporters on a station in the West Palm Beach market introduce themselves as Darrin Stephens and Ginger Grant. Never heard of anyone caught on.
BTW, I've never heard of "chicken rock" as a musical genre. Name a record I might have heard and can you explain why it's "chicken rock"? Thanks!

Mike Chimeri said...

I bet I'd have noticed if I was listening, but I wouldn't have called, even if I knew the number.

I have acquaintances that are or were traffic reporters, some of whom are fellow C.W. Post alumni and worked at its radio station WCWP. (I was inducted into that station's Hall of Fame two weeks ago.) Two of those alumni were Jeff Jensen and Eliot Goshman. Eliot put in a word with News 12 Traffic and Weather in 2005 (when it was still Metro T&W), which led to an interview and tryout. I would have done reports for either of the five regions served by Cablevision: Long Island (home base), Hudson Valley, NYC, Connecticut, and New Jersey. I didn't get the job, but the experience led me to say that commuters are "taking a look" at an accident in the other direction rather than rubbernecking. "Long Island Rail Road is on or close. You're watching News 12 Traffic and Weather, know before you go."

Jonathan Weiss said...

A) Chicken Rock?

B) When we first started using the computer to pre-record our whole shift, I could record my Saturday show on Wednesday. Never once looked at the forecast for Saturday, I would always say sunny and 78 and not care.

C) To go back to what you would change in baseball, I'd leave the shift and make pitch framing illegal. The catcher is trying to cheat on literally every pitch not in the strike zone. If hitters want to avoid the shift, learn to hit opposite field.

D) Tony Gwynn was absolutely my favorite player to interview. I wonder what he'd have to say about the shift.

Brian said...

Love the radio stories.

Rich said...

Ken -- In 1976 I was working at KTYD-FM in Santa Barbara (small market, easier to prank). It was one of the last free-form (play what you want) FM stations. On Halloween we decided to do our own "War of the Worlds." For three hours we did (mock) news bulletins (straight-up, no kidding) about mysterious explosions near the Pismo Beach/San Luis Obispo area. The explosions got larger and moved toward Santa Barbara. At 8 pm we revealed what was going on - giant irradiated clams (super-sized by a radiation leakage from the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant) were marching toward Santa Barbara, intent on obliterating our fair city. We pushed it as far as we could, and guess what -- no reaction whatsoever. Go figure...

AlaskaRay said...

You forgot to mention Novelty Rock and it's subcategory, Monster Rock. I know you did them, I was there.

Paxton Q said...

I first heard the term "Chicken Rock" when I began my radio career in the early 1970s. Up until that time, pop radio formats were pretty well split between "Top 40" (also generically called "rock") stations and Adult-oriented so-called "Middle of the Road" stations. Each format had its core artists. The audience for MOR stations began to erode, due to Baby Boomers who grew up on Top 40 moving into the cherished adult demographics, so many MOR stations began younging-down by a format that became known in the business as "Chicken Rock." These stations would play everything that was on the Top 40 with the exception of the harder stuff. (Paul McCartney yes - Alice Cooper no. They were too "chicken" to play "rock" - get it?) The personalities were younger and livelier than traditional MOR announcers, and the stations used jingles and Top 40 formatics. The first such station that I noticed making the switch was venerable 50,000-watt WLW in Cincinnati, which did the format quite successfully for many years. WIP in Philadelphia was also quite successful at it.

Michael said...

The first time I was driving in LA, back in the 1980s, I had a map on the passenger seat as I headed somewhere and was so grateful for traffic on the eights on KNX. I had on the car radio, pulled to the side, and held the map. The reporter then said, "There's a slowdown on the Foothill. Be careful of a lane closure on the Long Beach near where it meets the San Diego Freeway." And I looked at the map ... and saw numbers. For some reason, the report didn't help.

D. McEwan said...

I use the LA Subway system all the time. So it "rarely goes anywhere anyone would want to go." Oh yeah? When I saw Hamilton at the Pantages, I got off the subway DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET from the Pantages. Went home the same way. "Rarely goes there"? A train arrives there every twenty minutes.

Whenever I go to the Ahmanson I take the subway, which lets me off one block away. When you and I have met up at the Ahmanson, I got there via subway, and went home that way also. No one wants to go to the Music Center? When going to the Ahmanson with a friend who drives, we still park FREE at a subway station, and then take the subway. Enjoy paying the Music Center's exorbitant parking fees. I never do.

The subway goes to Universal Studios. No one wants to go there? The subway stops under the Chinese and the Kodak Theaters. No one wants to go there?

And the subway is FAST. You can get from the North Hollywood station to the Pantages in 10 minutes. You can't do that in a car.

But go on mocking it, as you drive your polluting car around, burning grossly expensive gas to keep poisoning our air, and paying to park. I'll take the non-polluting subway.

On another topic, I was working at KGIL when U-2 spy pilot Francis Gary Powers became our traffic watch pilot. I spent many hours in that Cessna with him, flying about LA. His first day, I wrote him a line to do on his first traffic report:

"This is Francis Gary Powers for KGIL. Traffic on the Kruschev parkway is backed up to the Lenin's Tomb off ramp."

Dick Whittington: "Those are Moscow freeways. You're supposed to be reporting on LA traffic."

Powers: "I guess I didn't fully get the mission."

John Q. said...

Saw this on MeTV and wondered if you have anything to add:

Ted Danson's toupee practically became its own character on Cheers

I didn't see a "contact me" button and wondered if the only way to submit something was via a comment to a post?

BluePedal said...

What in the world is Chicken Rock? I found a rock named Chicken Rock and a bunch of songs about chickens but no genre of chicken rock. My guess is you were a DJ at a chicken farm?

Coleen said...

In all the years I have read your blog I have never been motivated to write anything. I too, worked in radio and did all of the things you have done - - except traffic. Great story!
I miss radio, but it is not what it used to be...

Lemuel said...

When three people mention Chicken Rock one one blog the Algorithm creates a new music genre, and we might have done just that.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Mr. McEwan, you know literally everyone. I wonder how many listeners got the joke.

Ken, another request for the definition of Chicken Rock. Please tell us it has nothing to do with children.

Mike Bloodworth said...

How things have changed since I was a little kid. Back then radio stations only had traffic reports during the morning and/or afternoon drive periods. And only during the weekdays. Then slowly it evolved into reports all day. Then weekends were added. Now they give traffic reports 24 hours. But of course L.A. has a lot more traffic now than it did in the 60's.

What a coincidence @D McEwan. In 1979 I did a college internship at KGIL. "Sweet Dick" Whittington had left by then. Tom Brown was the afternoon D.J. and Dick Spangler did the news. But I digress. On my last day I got to ride in the KGIL Sky Watch plane. I apologize. I can't remember the name of the pilot/reporter, but it was not Francis Gary Powers at that time. It was an incredible experience. I had never flown before, so it was all very new and exciting. We flew all over the city. He showed me Dodger Stadium, the 20th Century Fox ranch, (I saw the "M*A*S*H" set) downtown, among other sights. We also flew past the other traffic reporters. They all knew each other. It's like a fraternity.
Not long after that most radio stations gave up their planes and choppers in favor of traffic services. Obviously a cost cutting move.

I used to ride the subway when I had improv classes in Hollywood. Mostly because I won't pay to park. I'm not a fan of our subway. The example of going to the Pantages is one of the RARE examples of where the subway is convenient. If you have to do jury duty downtown that might be another example since the station is right across the street from the courthouse. But otherwise, you have to take a connecting bus or walk to your final destination. I used to bring my bicycle with me. I can't tell you how many New Yorkers have said to me, "Your subway sucks!" I can't argue .


P.S. Does Jo Anne Worley know about "chicken rock?"

maxdebryn said...

@BluePedal - I looked it up, too, and "Chicken Rock" is what they called A.O.R (Adult-Oriented Radio), or "Easy Listening".

Anonymous said...

I love this story so much. It made me miss working in radio, and that's hard to do.

Hollywood and Highland said...

I'm with D. McEwan on this. When I visited LA, I got around fine using the subway. In fact, a resident Angelino told me it's usually faster to get somewhere by subway than it is by car because you avoid all the traffic.

When I needed to, I got a cab, but otherwise the subway suited me.

Peter Athas said...

I had a segment about last week's Weekend post on my blog today: The Worst Radio Promo.

Leighton said...

I find it hard to believe that "Chicken Rock" is "Easy Listening," which ALSO had the radio tag of "Beautiful Music." Around 1984, as a Film/TV/Radio/Commercial major, we had to select a radio station to "survey." I got the "Easy Listening" station. I don't remember the Miami station.

Listen, I spent my high school years in West TN, and Memphis had the EPIC WEZI "Easy Listening" station. Yeah, I often put it on in the background, when I studied.

YEKIMI said...

In between my radio stints [and sometimes during] I'd work as a dispatcher for a PD. The heavy duty stuff that came across the computer, I'd leave alone, such as "BOLO for a hitch-hiker dressed in combat boots, all black clothing and using the thumb of the last person that gave him a ride." But upcoming possible severe weather or other mundane stuff I'd re-write big-time. Usually made it sorta dirty but occasionally some like "Wind gusts in the 60s, possibly higher, strong enough to rip the toupee off William Shatner's head, etc, etc" Usually just put it back on the table for the guys to read and I'd hear the captain roaring with laughter. However the police chief had no sense of humor and thought that it was real. Got ordered to stop. I did.....when he was around.

VincentP said...

I can think of two examples of "chicken rock":

* In late 1968, WFBL in my hometown of Syracuse, a middle-of-the-road station, would play the Beatles' "Hey Jude," but only at night. (Its 7:11 length probably gave the DJ time for a quick pee if necessary.) The following year, rival station WOLF returned to Top 40, introducing a pseudo-Bill Drake format. At about 3:30 a.m., the all-night jock would play the 17-minute Iron Butterfly "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," likely enabling him to pick up his order from the 24-hour sub shop, or take care of some, er, other functions.
* Fast-forward to mid-1972; I was now in the D.C. area, and one of the stations I listened to was WASH-FM, sort of a blend of adult contemporary and MOR. It played the Carpenters' great "Goodbye to Love" -- but would fade it out just as the loud guitar riffs closed the song, something I bet other stations did as well. (I've often guessed that Richard and Karen hated they were perceived by many as the Tricia and Julie Nixon of pop music, and the guitar exit was their figuratively giving the finger to their rock-oriented critics. "You want 'heavy'? We'll give you 'heavy'!")

Leighton said...

Interestingly, I just found out that the old Memphis beautiful music/easy listening station, WEZI, EXISTS once again, but as an Internet station. I had no idea. The original format lasted only from 1973 - 83, and was almost exclusively lush orchestrations. The new version is a bit different.

D. McEwan said...

"Buttermilk Sky said...
Mr. McEwan, you know literally everyone. I wonder how many listeners got the joke."

Not everyone. Never met my three favorite actors, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price or Peter Lorre.

Francis Gary Powers, who was a lovely person (I spent a lot of time with him), joined us and did that line in 1972, a mere 12 years after he was shot down over Russia. Everyone got the joke. We hadn't yet been inflicted with the Cultural Amnesia that the post-Boomer generations have. Later, when Rudolf Abel, the Russian spy we traded to get Frank back, died, I wrote another line for Frank. "Now that Rudolf Abel has died, does this mean I have to go back to Russia?"

Frank died a hero. His helicopter ran out of fuel when he was covering a fire, both on the air (For KNBC News then), and for the firefighters. He could have landed it, but the only place he could land it was a field where children were playing baseball. As he could't warn them he was coming in, he intentionally crashed his helicopter on unoccupied land, sacrificing his life and the life of his camera man rather than risk injuring or killing some of those children.

"Mike Bloodworth said...
What a coincidence @D McEwan. In 1979 I did a college internship at KGIL. "Sweet Dick" Whittington had left by then. Tom Brown was the afternoon D.J. and Dick Spangler did the news. But I digress. On my last day I got to ride in the KGIL Sky Watch plane. I apologize. I can't remember the name of the pilot/reporter, but it was not Francis Gary Powers at that time."

Well, of course it was not Frank in 1979, since he died in 1977. And he'd left KGIL for KNBC News in '75 or '76.

I knew Tom Brown well back then, and Dick Spangler was a gentleman and a scholar. Dick S. used to take me along sometimes on stories. Thanks to Dick Spangler, I got to meet George McGovern and Ted Kennedy. I had a long chat with Sweet Dick via phone just two weeks ago. He'll be 93 on Saturday. He no longer drives, but his mind and wit are just as sharp as ever.

Leighton said...

Is anyone watching "Loot," on AppleTV+? Kinda hating it. Isn't it essential, that you "like" at least one character? And they're filming at that godawful architectural monstrosity, "The One." DAMN, that place is tacky. $250 million price tag, I think.

The series can't decide if it's knocking obscene wealth, or glorifying it.

I just find the whole enterprise, obnoxious as hell.

I also hate the Canadian series, "The Lake." You just want to punch everyone.

Leighton said...


I just reread your review of "Hacks," from a year ago. I couldn't agree more. Just BRILLIANT. Hope Smart gets a second Emmy. She has been fantastic in "Designing Women," "24," "Frasier." Yes, she was in that dud series, "High Society." Regardless, she is amazing...

Leighton said...

I'm waiting for "Better Call Saul" to end, so I can binge it. In 2013, I watched ALL of "Breaking Bad," over three days. A wonderful experience.

I've decided to revisit "MASH," after almost forty years. 1980 - 82. Tulane University. I was in the coed dorm both years. EVERY night, thirty of us would gather in the rec room, and watch the reruns. Sacred. By the time the finale aired, I was at The University of Miami. There were about FIFTY of us, watching, that night.

Mike McCann said...


Was there an LA station tagged with the term Chicken Rock?

In New York, it was 66 WNBC during the early '70s after it dropped talk and before it got serious about playing Top 40 under PD Mel Phillips.

Mitch said...

Reminds me of Les Nessman beating on his chest to sound like a helicopter for traffic reports

Robbie Lewis said...

They should be ashamed for appropriating the title of one of Joe Orton's better plays.

D. McEwan said...

"Robbie Lewis said...
They should be ashamed for appropriating the title of one of Joe Orton's better plays."

Well, he only wrote 3 full-length plays before that jealous bastard beat his brains out for the crime of being far more talented than he was. Yes, he had a few one-acts, but Entertaining Mr. Sloan, Loot and What the Butler Saw are the primary plays, and all three are pretty damn great, though I think there is a rising quality level. EMS was clearly heavily influenced by Pinter, whereas in he found his own form and voice.

Orton is one of my heroes. One of my plays is dedicated to him, and when I visited London, I made a point of going to the place where he lived and died. It's not a tourist site, so I couldn't go inside, but it was enough to be outside his window, mere feet from where he wrote and died.

"Fun" Fact: Entertaining Mr. Sloan is the only literary work I know of to have been dedicated by its author to its author's murderer.

ScarletNumber said...

On The Michael Kay Show (WEPN-FM98.7) in New York, their traffic girl is Brandi Scott. However, her reports are prerecorded so when they introduce her, they will use a humorous non-sequitur. It is reminiscent of pre-recorded interviews that publicists used to send out where the answers were pre-recorded but the local DJ's would supply their voices for the questions.

While TMKS is simulcast on YES, the traffic reports are not, so you must be listening to the radio to hear the introductions as well as the reports themselves. Also, if 98.7 sounds familiar, they used to market themselves as 99X and Jay Thomas worked there 1976-79.

Caleb Martin said...

Honestly, it's refreshing to hear any broadcast stories from the 21st Century about fucking around and getting away with it.