Letters, We Get Letters. . .

Radio Rick Myers, 1976

When DJs take on a subject, their train of thought often jumps the tracks.   One of us radio guys read an article that breast-feeding could improve the neuromuscular system involved in speech.  All that suckling activity is just darned good, healthy exercise.    That article morphed down into the lower levels of disc jockey humor.  “Hey, DJ guy, you’ve got a great voice, but imagine where you’d be if your momma breast fed you.   You’d probably be in New York by now…” I wasn’t breast-fed and I’m not in New York.   That’s my excuse.

With that in mind, this February 21st, I came upon an “Ask the Doctor” column.   A woman wondered if it was all right to continue breast-feeding her twenty-six month old son.   I misread the column, thinking for a second it read “twenty-six year-old son.”    I did a quick double take, and talked about my goof later on the air.    All was fine, as I summed up the story with “But if there were to be a woman out there somewhere breast feeding a twenty-six year old son, I’d be happy to put myself up for adoption.”   It was just one punch line out of many, and I forgot all about it—until those letters started coming in.

Negative letters usually are addressed to the boss; favorable ones come to the disc jockey.   I wish it were the other way around.   The first paragraph of the first letter read:

“I am surprised that you would let a disc jockey profane himself on prime time public radio by making gross mockery of such a sacred subject as breast feeding babies….” The closing sentence had some holy wrath with it: “In my opinion this man should be ‘adopted’ as he wishes—only by a mental facility!”

Another letter decided to embellish what I said:  “And he wondered what it would be like for a 26-year-old to be breast fed and he could go about volunteering to be adopted and breast-fed by that young mother.”

That was more than what I said!   I closed by saying I wondered if I could put myself up for adoption.   This listener added to the punch line.  In radio, that’s called “talking past the punch line.”   The writer watered down what I said just to make sure it didn’t even remotely sound clever.   When it comes to humor I need all the help I can get.   As fellow disc jockey, J. Michael Stevens, once said, “Rick, to call you a wit is only half right.”

Radio stations do get letters!  Most are complimentary.  The critical ones seem release tensions.  The writer just feels better.   “I told them a thing or two.”   My Program Director, Larry Maher likes to say some people listen with one hand on the Bible, and with the other hand on a note pad ready to dash off a letter of protest.

Most protest letters come when the listeners are given the chance to be “righteously indignant.”     At the letter’s heart lies the assertion the disc jockey was insensitive.   One winter day, I made the comment, “It’s December 7th, and every year on this day, the Navy goes out and bombs Pearl Bailey.”   In came a letter:

“How dare one of your disc jockeys make fun of Pearl Bailey, a woman who is such a great entertainer, she is practically an American Institution…”

Oh, come on now!  Just because you don’t get the joke, don’t take it out on me.   (Note:  Pearl Bailey was a great entertainer, passing away in 1990.  The Navy never sought revenge.)

I’m not alone on these incoming slings and arrows; many DJs are Writers’ Wrath Recipients.   One foggy morning, Terry Nelson made the comment, “be careful out there, folks; it’s foggier than a pervert’s breath.”   In came a letter:

“…How dare you people!   I was in the car with my son when your disc jockey talked about a pervert, and my 10-year old asked, ‘Daddy, what’s a pervert?’   I was all embarrassed and didn’t know what to say.  Parenting is hard enough without idiots who think they have the right to ruin my day!!   Well, thanks; you succeeded!!”

Forever Young. Ron Posey, 2013

You’re welcome.   Another time, Ron Posey started his show with  “I got a letter here, let’s see what it says (then the sound of the envelope being opened).  Ron then reads, “It’s addressed to All the Virgins of the World.   It says, “Thanks for nothing!”   Let’s not even get started on those letters.

One brutally cold day, I mentioned that it was “colder than a Mother-in-Law’s love.”    Those incoming letters were pretty much universal, along the lines of  “I laughed at what you said, but, I want you to know that MY MOTHER-IN-LAW is a VERY NICE PERSON!!”  The letters all had that common theme.  I guess mothers-in-law have their own union, and they’re headquartered in Modesto.

Write us a letter, and we’ll sing you a song! Don Shannon, Radio Rick, Captain Fred James, Kenny Roberts, Larry Maher, Diane Cartwright, and J. Michael Stevens. 1976

So keep those cards and letters coming!   They let us know that at the microphone’s other end are living, breathing people.   Letters keep us on our toes.   DJs really strive to never cross the line.     We just like to get close.

I’ve learned threes things about listener letters:  1) they are certain to continue.   Therefore, 2) It’s better to limit any controversial comments for when the boss is on vacation, because 3) when he’s away, he’s put me in charge of the mail.

“I Honestly Love You,”

                 (Radio Rick Myers-1978)

I had two whirlwind romance chances with Olivia Newton-John.   Twice I held her in my arms, twice I dazzled her with my charms, and twice she left unimpressed.   To protect my ego, I must assume she simply doesn’t like younger men.

The last day of March 1976 was a sun-splattered San Francisco Sunday, and M.C.A. Records had invited me to an Olivia Newton-John cocktail party!    I was invited partly because M.C.A. knew of my undying devotion to Olivia.   I was invited mostly because KFIV was a “Reporting Station,” which meant we reported the songs we played to the record trade magazines.   If we discovered a song, then a station in say, Mobile, Alabama, might decide to give that song a try.  We carried weight.    M.C.A. knew who to invite to this party, bless its corporate heart.

This was my big chance, and I arrived predictably early; Olivia arrived fashionably late.   We were at The Sheraton at the Wharf.   Five-star hotels begin with “The,” as in “The Fairmont Hotel,” “The Waldorf Astoria,” but never as in “The Holiday Inn.”

I informed my date that if I could sweep Olivia away on the wings of romance, she, my date, was to get home the best she could.     I was at the bar when Olivia entered.   I couldn’t believe she was unescorted!   She stood there in the middle of the banquet room, alone.   I drove a hundred miles to see her, this was no time to be shy.   I walked right up to her and said, “Olivia, I would like to shake your hand.”  She placed her hand in mine and smiled.   In retrospect, I believe she smiled because she was relieved she was no longer unnoticed.  Under my breath I was humming, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big!”

Olivia, with twinkling blue eyes, said, “My, you must be a radio announcer!”   I knew what was going on, I lowered my voice another notch and asked why she said that.   “Your voice, it’s so low!”   I now lowered my voice to the point of pain and explained I was from Modesto, California.

I asked if she had ever heard of Modesto and she said indeed, she had!   I never learned what she had heard, for it was time for more pressing matters.   I pressed my arm around her waist as we posed for photos.  A line of invited guests/fans had woven its way all the around the hors d’oeuvres table.   She autographed a few colored glossies for me, smiled again, and it was time for me to move on.

The cocktail party continued another forty minutes.   I had another drink, but the exhilaration of the moment was more powerful than any intoxicant.   I stood next to Jim Lange, radio personality at KSFO, and host of the “Dating Game” television show.    He gulped down double shots of Scotch.   He was friendly and funny.   (Mental note:  when you reach the big time, make sure you enjoy it.)

Olivia soon left the party, and like that, my/our romance was over.   As she left, my heart melting, she turned, smiled, waved to the room and disappeared.   Who knew destiny would soon bring us together.

M.C.A. Records, the corporation with a heart, invited me to yet another Olivia Cocktail Party!     This was December, 1977, and Olivia had been re-signed!    Kill the fatted calf, we’re going to have a party!   This was the biggest gala I ever attended.     M.C.A. booked the Grand Ballroom of the Marc Hopkins Hotel.    Easily 500 were in attendance, 125 tables for-four lined the perimeter.   Two identical wall-to-wall hors d’oeuvres tables traversed this gigantic room.   Each table had two ice sculptures anchoring the ends.   The San Francisco 49ers were there!   The San Francisco Giants were there!    Over there, was Willie McCovey!!

Olivia, this time, did not enter alone   She was escorted by two M.C.A. big shots, a body guard, and the record promoter who knew all the little people, like me.    The Queen had arrived.    This was a formal audience with Olivia.    We were to sit at our tables, and wait to be introduced.

When my turn came, I mentioned that perhaps she remembered me from last year!   She smiled, being too polite to say no.    I had photos of our last, brief fling; maybe they would refresh her memory!    Again, Olivia smiled.   She autographed my photos, and then posed with me for others.

Her escorts thought it was time to resume the procession.   Now was my chance!    From last year’s photos, I made posters!     If she would autograph them, I would give them to listeners during my show!!

She said she would like to sign them, but over 500 people were waiting, and first she had to circulate.   (Mental note:  when you make the big time, while others walk around, you “circulate.”)

Les Garland is the Program Director of KFRC Radio.   When it was his turn, he rushed to Olivia, tripped, and spilled his drink on her gray-on-white three-piece suit.   (Mental note:  even when you make the big time, sometimes all you can do is want to hide.)


In her own hand writing, Olivia says she loves me!

Olivia circulated and departed.     Like that, she was gone.   The record company officials said she had retired to her suite.   Had my second chance come and gone?  I had nothing to look forward to now except enjoy some shrimp in the shadow of an ice sculpture, and have a pleasant conversation with Gene Nelson, a true radio star from KSFO.   Gene was wearing a turtleneck sweater.  (Mental note:  though not fashionable at this soiree, one is always forgiven once one has reached the big time.)

The party had continued for another 45 minutes.   Suddenly, I felt a tapping on my right shoulder.   I turned around and stood face-to-face with Olivia Newton-John!!    “I came back to sign your posters.”  She came back by herself, all alone, just to see me!   Gene Nelson was my all-time radio idol, but now I had bigger fish to fry.

Olivia and I turned and I placed my hand on the small of her back escorting her to my table.  Five hundred sets of eyes were watching us!   “What?    Olivia is back?”  “What’s going on?”  “Who is that guy?”  Altogether I spent 46 years in radio; this was my finest moment.  She autographed the posters, and left.   Leaving me had become a habit.

I love her to this day.   My love was not reciprocated, but I will never forget when Olivia Newton-John returned to a party just to see me   (Mental note:  I had made the big time.)

Jocks Who Box

(Radio Rick Myers, 1975)

      An irate listener once punched me in the mouth.    Please remember, radio schools would graduate “golden throats,” not “golden gloves.”    When a listener wants something, usually it’s an autograph; very few want blood.    Radio industry magazines never advertise:  “Wanted:  Jocks who Box!”   A radio career is a soft, passive profession.   An announcer comes to work, plays some records, and goes home.   Apparently on some days, he limps home.

Jay Michael Stevens preceded me on the air.   On this fateful day, he ended his show by saying, “Radio Rick is next at ten.   Poor Rick, he’s so dumb he thinks Sitting Bull is a talk show.”

Larry Maher and Jay Michael Stevens, 1975

Thanks, Jay.  An American Indian just got insulted.

During business hours, a radio station is sometimes without adult supervision.   This happens when the sales staff and management are out of the office.   When the disc jockeys are left in charge, our station becomes The K-5 Day Care Center.   This was the case when, one hour later, in walks a large man wearing a flat-brimmed cowboy hat, and carrying a trumpet under his arm.    (Soon I would wonder if he had planned to use the trumpet to play “Taps” up an orifice of his least-favorite radio personality.)

This man had the features of an American Indian.   He had the Mexican surname, Fernandez.   He told the receptionist he would like to see Radio Rick, and then waited an incredible two hours for me to finish my show.

I came out to see him and he seemed pleasant enough.   Shifting the trumpet to under his left arm, he introduced himself and shook my hand politely.   It was then he said,  ”I want you to know that Sitting Bull is every bit as good a man as President Ford.”  With that he popped me on the chin!!

One thing about my fights, they never last long.   I’m one of those two-hit guys; you hit me and I hit the ground.   As I received this solitary blow, I took a step back, and my one quickly thought-up counter offensive was to kick this large man “where the sun don’t shine no more.”    This idea might have evened up the odds, but my assailant was content to stop at one punch.    He hadn’t hurt me but he had my attention.

He also got the attention of a witness, Jay Michael Stevens.  Jay was watching through the window to the Production Room studio.   Jay decided that mayhem is best viewed from a position of safety.   In one motion, he turned and locked the studio room door.   He was ready to watch Round Two.

Round Two never happened.  After taking one on the chin, I figured this listener-turned-sparring partner would wail on me until his arms got tired.   Instead, he removed three quarters from his pocket, placed them in his palm, and said, “Now that we’ve made peace….”

“I don’t want to hear anything you have to say!   Get out of here!”  I interrupted.  (Under pressure, I’m seldom clever.)  Was it the force of my plea?   I’ll never know, but he abruptly turned and walked out the front door.    To this day, I have no idea why he carried that trumpet, or why he offered the three quarters.

I also didn’t know what Jay had said, so I had no idea why he hit me!  “Fernandez the Ferocious” left the station in a battered, old yellow Ford with Arizona license plates.   The receptionist, Penny Sharrock, another witness, quickly chimed in she would call the police if he returned.    At long last someone was thinking!

The coast was clear, so my disc jockey friend unlocked the studio door, told me what he had said, and admitted that since the Sitting Bull punch line was his, the punch too, should have been his.

The confession, though good for Jay’s soul, came a bit late.   The man who talks with fists had departed.   The saga of Sitting Bull’s revenge had come to an end.    But, a right cross, once delivered, may yet be transferable.   To this day, Jay knows he owes me one.

 

Be Careful Out There

(Radio Rick Myers, 1975)

 

Promoters, from Colonel Tom Parker to P.T. Barnum to the high school teacher who organizes faculty fundraiser basketball games, all ask the question, “How can we promote for free?”  Throughout my radio career the answer was simple:  Create a celebrity event, and invite disc jockeys!

Well, why not?   Appeal to our ego, and we’ll go anywhere.    Plus we’ll talk about it on the radio, which is Free Advertising!   Plus radio stations love to get DJs “out in the public eye.”  It’ll be fun.  Listeners enjoy getting to see what their favorite air personalities look like.   Make a good impression and we’ll have more listeners.   What could possibly go wrong?


Photo courtesy of Davis High School. Radio Rick voted school’s favorite disc jockey, 1978

The first mistake is in not asking the question, “Is this dangerous?”   But when asked, the second mistake is accepting the answer, “Hey, that’s part of the fun!”

Oakdale is the “Cowboy Capital of the World!”   But to make sure the world takes notice, they created “The Disc Jockey Calf-Tying Contest.”    It’s pretty safe, if you’re a cowboy.    You’ve seen this event:  A young calf, about 150 pounds, is let out a chute.  The cowboy on horseback races out and lassoes the critter.   The rope goes taut, the calf is jerked onto its back, the cowboy jumps off his horse, and while the calf is still dazed, ties up three of its legs.   Done and done in 6 seconds.   It looks easy, so bring on the disc jockeys, and we’ll all have a good time!

Out goes the calf, out goes the cowboy on horseback, and out goes the first disc jockey, on foot, falling further and further behind the action.   The cowboy lassoes the little doggie and then sits motionless; where’s the DJ?   The crowd starts to laugh; this is quite a scene.  The doggie staggers to it feet and starts running.   But the rope is one big tether, forcing the little critter to run in a perfect circle, around and around that horse.    The DJ, not in great shape, runs after the calf, losing ground with each stride.   This is Keystone Cop stuff!    After a while, the DJ gives up the pursuit, and waves to the crowd as he walks out of the arena.

I’m next and I have a plan!   Out goes to the calf, out goes the horseback cowboy, and out I go.  I run straight to the horse!   At the saddle horn I grab the rope, and follow it zip-line style while I chase after the running-in-circles calf.   That solves one problem.   I reach the calf that doesn’t want to slow down.  Here I am, skidding along, holding onto its neck until we finally come to a halt.    The crowd is having a hoot.   The calf is not happy.   I’m to reach over the calf’s body, and jerk upward as my knees buckle into the calf’s ribs, tossing it on its side.      In that bent over position, 150 pounds is a lot of weight.    I manage.   Now my knees fall on the calf’s ribcage.   The calf is kicking up a storm.  My job is to grab three legs and tie them together.   With two hands I grab the three legs.  My little rope is between my teeth.   I need two more hands!   I’m supposed to wrap the rope three times around those legs and then cinch up the slip knot.   One leg slips free, so I start over.  Two legs slip free, so I start over.  All three legs slip free, so I start over.    This goes on for a while.   The crowd loves the comedy.   Three minutes go by and my time is up.   My chest is heaving like I just blew up a truck tire.   Several thousand have watched me fail.    Don’t try this at home, folks.  What fun.

Next up is Larry Maher, K-5’s afternoon guy.    He liked my “run-to-the-horse-and-grab-the-rope” idea.     Down the rope line he goes.  The calf jumps up and takes off running.    Larry gets to the end of his rope, where he picks up and slams down his calf.   All calves have the same DNA, and this one is another kicker.    Larry gets right down into this buzz saw of flailing legs, and one hoof kicks him right behind the left ear.   Larry also has no tie-down luck; the rope trick is too darn tricky.  Soon his three minutes are up.


Bridal Shows are safer than rodeos! Larry Maher and Captain Fred James, 1976

The crowd’s laughter (this is all good-natured fun, right?) turns to a gasp when they see bright red blood streaming down Larry’s neck.    That fleshy part behind the ear bleeds like a stuck pig.  (I don’t know anything about stuck pigs, but barnyard descriptions seem to fit here).   Larry hadn’t noticed the blood, but three little words got his attention:  “Larry, you’re bleeding!!”

An ambulance is always present at rodeos.   It’s all good-natured fun, right?   Today, six stitches and a turban bandage around the head is all part of the fun.

Next week, it’s Celebrity Roller Derby!   What could possibly go wrong?