I suppose I first became interested in radio back in the late 50’s when I would visit KTRB and sing on the Tots ‘N Teens program with my cousins John and Cheryl Wylie. I recall how friendly Cal Purviance was and also remember Glenn Staley who played the piano. But most of all, I remember how much the studio intrigued me. This was show business! I often wish that I would have had the chance to be involved during radio’s heydays when major productions were done in the studios.
My desire to pursue radio also got a boost from the visits that I made to Bob Pinheiro’s home as a child. Bob who is now the Modesto Radio Museum Webmaster lived near me. He was, and still is, very much into Ham Radio and he happily shared his knowledge with me. Little did he know that he was lighting a fire that would lead me into broadcasting. I also recall riding the bus to school while attending La Loma Junior High School and listening to Bobby Barnett, Gary Culver, and Fred Green on KFIV. I thought, man this stinks; I have to go to school and these guys are having a blast talking and playing music on the radio.
I became seriously interested in the field of broadcasting as a profession while a student at Modesto Junior College (MJC). Originally I had planned to major in Journalism but happened to visit the MJC radio station one day. I was hooked! My professors during those early days had a big influence on me, Bill Hill, Sid Woodward, Max Sayre, Harley Lee, and Donald Rowe. They really laid down a good foundation for me.
While I was attending MJC I obtained my Radio Telephone Third Class license and worked at KSRT, Stereo 101, a small station in Tracy, CA. There was an older fellow at KSRT, Ken Hill, who took me under his wing and mentored me. I’ve always been thankful for the direction that Ken gave to me at a time that I was pretty green and didn’t really have a clue. After our stints on the air Ken and I would go fishing in the Delta Mendota canal and he would answer all my questions about radio. Ken, wherever you are, thanks. I don’t really know how many listeners I had while at KSRT. I do know that my mom loved my show!
After spending some time at KSRT I realized that if I wanted to have a career in radio, I needed to get my Radio Telephone First Class license. I traveled to Long Beach with Mike Novak another local guy who went into broadcasting. We attended William B. Ogden’s Radio Operational Engineering School in the summer of 1969. I watched the First Man on The Moon telecast from Ogden’s classroom. I have lots of good memories from my time at Ogden’s. I made some friends with whom I still have contact, Bob Lang and Mark Holste (Taylor).
After returning from Ogden’s in 1969 Bob De Leon, who was program director at KFIV (K-5), hired me.
I started on the all night shift but eventually worked all of the time slots. I had some great times at K-5 at a time that the station was the only Top 40 rocker in the area. Some of the individuals with whom I had the privilege of working were Bob De Leon, Johnny Walker (Bob Neutzling), Tony Townsend (Tony Flores), Roy Williams, John Huey, Mark Taylor (Mark Holste), Mike Shannon, and John Chappell. Bob Fenton was the owner of K-5 at that time and when he spoke to us we were always referred to as “Kid.”
My favorite times at K-5 were when I got to count down the weekly top 40. There are also some funny stories that I could never share in public. Bob De Leon and I left K-5 at about the same time and went to KTRB. I think this happened around 1972. KTRB was an adult contemporary format which allowed us to insert more of our personalities into our programs. Bob Lang was doing mid mornings at KTRB, Tim St. Martin was doing the news, Cal Purviance was doing early mornings, Bob De Leon did the afternoons, and I had the evening shift. Don Schneider was doing mobile news from his car we called the “porcupine” because of all of the antennas. We even had an occasional report from the air. These were really good times in radio. I felt that the station was part of the community and we were part of a broadcasting team. Sam Horrell was the program director at the time. Sam’s influence created an atmosphere of camaraderie at KTRB.
There are also many stories from my days at KTRB. One of the things that I remember well is that from the production booth across the hall from the on-air studio one could talk into the earphones.
I have fond memories of Bob Lang interviewing my daughter Kristy on the air. She was a toddler at the time. Not only were the on-air personalities close, there was a special relationship with the sales staff and the front office personnel. We were a family. Around this time I also worked weekends at KJOY in Stockton. I remember getting off the air at KTRB at 11:00 p.m. driving to Stockton and going on the air at 12:00 midnight at KJOY working until 7:00 in the morning. My drives home after getting off were quite interesting. I’m happy to still be here.
In the mid 70’s KTRB was sold and the program changes that were made had a “not so positive” impact on the image and the morale of those working at KTRB. The on-air personalities were made to change their names. Bob Lang became Big Ben Boulder, Bob De Leon became Johnny Gunn, and my new name was the Godfather. Radio had changed; it was becoming impersonal and moving further away from its local audience. I can’t say that these developments single handedly pointed me in a different direction as far as my career was concerned but they played a major role. I went back to college and followed a path that eventually led to being a college administrator. Along that path I did work as a part time disk jockey for top 40, country, and talk radio because radio was in my blood, and it still is after these many years.
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants: Remembering Dwight Case
By Radio Ink
Dwight Case was born in Modesto June 29, 1929. His career began at KFIV, Modesto and from there he was destined to change the landscape of the broadcasting industry in America.
Among his many accomplishments Dwight was the President of RKO Radio, was Publisher and Editor of Radio & Records magazine, and was the founder of TRANSTAR, the first 24-hour satellite entertainment provider. It was Dwight who was the first in the industry to put women in major positions.
“Dwight Case was a true leader and visionary of the radio industry. He had a profound impact on my career and on my love of radio. He opened up many doors for me both professionally and personally for which I will always be grateful. He supported me as a female in the industry when it was not fashionable or commonplace and helped me to find my voice. I look back on the many spirited conversations we have had over the years and can only hope we provided him as much inspiration and thought as he provided us.”– Erica Farber, CEO RAB, The Radio Advertising Bureau. (Courtesy Radio Ink)
After four years of college, it was time to leave the scholastic existence where your reward was your grade and your entitlement was time off at the end of the semester. Things were about to get tough. The expectation was now to become a productive member of society. All I ever wanted was to become a radio disc jockey; not much of an ambition for a college grad. I also didn’t have much of a plan on how to get there.
My friend and media classmate, Tony Rossi, was making arrangements to attend William B. Ogden’s Radio Operational Engineering School, or R.O.E.S., to get his first class Radiotelephone Operators License, a requirement at the time for entering the broadcast profession. He suggested we could attend together. Suddenly, quite suddenly as I recall, I had more than the formal education and the creative desire, I had direction. I discussed my extended education with my folks and got their financial support.
Actually, there were three of us. Tony had made the same suggestion to a neighborhood chum from his Marin County home in Kentfield. Bruce Badaracco had less direction and ambition than I, but worse, practically no support or encouragement. He’d been part of the local drug scene and had a young man’s aimless existence until Tony set the spark. Bruce wasn’t necessarily interested in a radio career, but saw this as an opportunity to receive a license that might lead to a position with a utility company or a railroad. Tony saw it as an opportunity for Bruce to get some respect from his family and some much-needed self-esteem.
So, that spring after a few months of downtime, I loaded up my Volkswagen bus with my summer clothes, a 12-string guitar, and a tin of Grandma Hood’s chocolate chip cookies. I drove south to Huntington Beach on the Southern California coast and to 5075 Warner Avenue.
Radio Operational Engineering School
R.O.E.S. was a two story building just inland from a main drag called Bolsa Chica. It had classrooms and offices on the first floor and three large dormitory rooms upstairs with bunk-beds and armoire-type closets that would become our home for the summer weeks to come. The organization was family-run. It was Bill Ogden’s business, but he confined his role to that of instructor. His wife Tally was the office manager and registrar, assisted by her sister Thora McDonald. As tough as Bill seemed, the ladies were sweet and attentive, even motherly.
Tony, Bruce, and I registered with about 45 others, all male, on April Fools Day in 1969. We attended school in the large open downstairs classroom led by Bill, a gruff old guy with a raspy voice who taught us from 8:00 to 5:00 every weekday. Following dinner, we were back in the classroom for three hours of lots and lots of math taught by Thora’s son, Jim, another relative who worked there in the evenings. Then we were off to independent or group study in one of the smaller rooms around the inner edge of the building. We had Sunday nights off and used it to relax and to catch up on our laundry.
The length of time spent at Ogden’s would depend on the individual student. We would study, learn, and test at our own pace specifically in preparation for the series of Federal Communications Commission licenses. Some of us already had our third class tickets which we received, for example, to work on our college radio stations (I’d even applied for and received a fourth class license when I was in high school which was more like the equivalent of passing a written DMV exam; it got me a wallet card and a bit of cachet with my weekend dates). The biggest hurdle we faced would be acquiring the second class license, the one requiring all the math and electrical theory. But the payoff was in the golden “first phone,” the one with the professional prestige. The first was anticlimactic –
much easier to achieve than the second – and, when asked why we couldn’t just stop there and go find a job, Bill would grumble, “Nothing is lower than a second class operator.”
I had purchased a spiral notebook for taking notes. It had a three-month calendar in the inside front cover. The class notes are long gone, but I kept the cardboard cover as a souvenir because I’d made an entry on nearly every date related to something that happened that day. The meaning of many of the notes have become obscure over time, such as “how to sharpen pencils” or “birds nest soup.” Others made reference to what we learned that day, including two consecutive days on electrical resistance, or dates that tests were scheduled to be given.
The calendar supports my recollection that on the second full day of class, Bill spent much of the day warning us about two inept FCC honcho’s in Los Angeles, J. Lee Smith and Walter Looney. Looney was aptly named and, according to Bill, “didn’t have the brains God gave a tennis ball.”
As soon as that night, I was amazed to find myself studying, and even grasping, calculus. It didn’t take long for any of to realize that Bill was mining each of our potentials to a point where no other instructor had gone before. To many of us, he became “Mr. Ogden.” To others he was the best teacher ever encountered. A sign on the wall behind his desk stated, “In ‘Ogd’ We Trust.” And, very quickly, we did.
Smokers were on one side of the room, non-smokers on the other as if the smoke was actually going to stay in the air on its own side. The school provided black ashtrays with bowls that could be raised to allow butts and ash to fall inside and smother. Bill was a chain smoker and he sat in front of the room behind a desk on an elevated platform. He’d light one Salem with the last before snuffing it out. His short-sleeved shirts all had tiny burn holes down the front.
I sat in the back row next to Dirk Raaphorst. Dirk had what we all admired as a great set of pipes. He possessed a natural, deep, booming, rock ‘n’ roll voice and was clearly bound to become a terrific Top 40 jock. Dirk had chosen the air name “Dirk Donovan” and was always talking up imaginary record introductions in his announcer’s snappy patter. One day Dirk brought the class to hysterics with, “Tune in again next week, boys and girls, when the Safety Story Lady takes a Pepsi-Cola douche!”
On the bulletin board at the front of the classroom was a crest, undoubtedly made and presented as a gift to Bill by a former student, bearing the initials “O.I.C.” We were fairly certain it stood for Ogden’s something or another, but could only speculate as to what it might actually mean, and Bill wasn’t letting on. During one particularly frustrating explanation of Ohm’s Law, some poor moax struggling with the concept had – no pun intended – a light bulb moment. He’d gotten it and blurted out, “Oh, I see!” Bill jumped from behind his desk and pointed to the crest on the wall!
Someone would invariably ask Bill what he thought were the most important things to remember in preparing for an FCC exam. “If you must remember it,” he’d say, “forget it.” He would also admonish us not to become “dirty memorizers,” memorizing, for example, the order of test answers rather than learning the material. When taking a test, he would tell us to answer all of the questions where we knew the answer cold and to skip the ones we weren’t sure of. Then he’d tell us to go back and count the questions we had left over. Out of 100 questions, if we hadn’t answered 20, all we now had was a short, manageable 20-question test. If I remember correctly, the FCC required a score of 90. Bill wouldn’t allow us to take their exam until we could pass his with a score of 95.
In explaining the dynamics of electricity, invariably a student would confuse current and voltage. He would innocently ask what might happen if the voltage were to go in this direction or that way. Bill would stop him cold. “Voltage goes nowhere,” he’d bellow! I’ve heard that same story so often that the incident must have repeated itself in every session.
Every so often, a student would remark that the complexity of the material was driving him crazy. “With you,” Bill would respond, “it’ll be a short putt!” When a student got an answer to a question regarding electrical current wrong, he’d say, “You’ve just blown hell out of another $500 tube.” When someone made a disparaging remark about the FCC, Bill’s response would be, “There’s another fascinating word they’re going to make you eat!” And when we became anxious to make the drive to Los Angeles to take the exam, but he didn’t think we were ready, Bill would discourage us with, “When I yell ‘frog,’ you jump!”
In the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, Bill’s wife Tally would stand at the classroom door with a notepad and wait for Bill to take refreshment orders. She and Thora would brew coffee and tea and prepare the cart. Bill would call a brief halt while we made our choices. “Coffees – get’ em high” he’d bark in his raspy voice, and Tally would count those of us with our hands raised, then he’d follow with hot tea and iced tea. The other anticipated event of the day was mail call when he’d pass out letters from home. Most of us had gotten so good at mimicking his voice that on at least one occasion someone yelled “mail call” from the lobby and the entire student body marched out of their study rooms.
Warner Avenue was a good-sized boulevard in the late ‘60s, but still had a rural, open feel. To the east of the school was Meadowlark Field, a private airfield from which novice pilots would infrequently taxi toward the school, but lift off a bit late, roaring over the building and sending Bill’s students to the floor. Bill would sit undaunted, however, used to this occasional commotion. The airport also had a breakfast and lunch counter and a short order cook who whipped up some dandy ham and eggs whenever we wanted something substantial to begin our day. Across the street was a liquor store where we all bought our cigarettes.
To the west at the corner of a strip shopping area was Jam’s Doughnuts. Jam was an Asian lady who owned the place and hired local high school girls to work the counter. One pretty waitress would save a custard-filled chocolate doughnut bar for me in case I’d go in. When I found that out, I went in more often. The girls were all friends with one another and spent their off hours at Jam’s too, maybe because there were lots of single guys from our school two buildings away. All of the surfer girls in the area seemed to drive 1962 Chevy Impalas and, being close to the Southern California coast and the Pacific Ocean, they all had blonde hair, bronze skin, bare feet, and beautiful reveals.
Between the school and Jam’s was an evening hangout for those requiring a more manly diversion. The Maple Room was a dark rustic saloon with an L-shaped bar and three or four pool tables under rectangular faux stained glass light fixtures. From the previous class was a hold-over; a young, thin, handsome lad with an Elvis-type mane known only as “Star” who clearly was the pool champ of the establishment. No doubt he was a hold-over from the previous class because he spent more time behind a cue than he did behind a school desk. The girls in the Maple Room were unlike those at Jam’s. They wore denim, had short, mousy hair, thin lips, and smelled like a Coors. A more sophisticated array of females could be found around the corner at the Roman Scandals, a classier watering hole, but with a brighter, more open ambiance and slightly less personality.
Among the several other interesting personalities at R.O.E.S. were two of my favorites: Tom Irwin and Tom Lowe. Tom Irwin was arguably Ogden’s most successful graduate and went on to have probably the longest radio industry tenure of all. He became Shotgun Tom Kelly, a popular rock jock in the Drake Chenault mold and a mainstay at KCBQ in San Diego where he’s occupied the time slot once held by the Real Don Steele for several years and presently at K-Earth radio in Los Angeles. Tom was, and is, easily among the most energetic and captivating of all radio guys I ever encountered.
Bill Ogden had the habit of standing in front of you with his legs slightly spread and his hands behind his back. As he conversed with you, he’d sway from side to side. Tom picked up the habit and I have a vivid memory of watching the two of them standing out in the parking lot behind the school having a discussion. They stood face-to-face and had become so engrossed in their conversation that neither realized that the dance had begun and that they were swaying in unison.
Tom Lowe, on the other hand, was interested in becoming a technical engineer. An engaging character and tremendously likeable, Tom had a learning disability and was having trouble getting through the Ogden sessions. He was from Ridgecrest and had spent more time at Ogden’s than anyone, something like four class sessions. I’m not entirely sure when he might have made it out, but Bill guaranteed that he’d work with anyone who enrolled at the same initial price for as long as it took.
Tom was part classmate, part mascot, and part unofficial employee (as so often happens, Tom became comfortable in the “home” he’d found at Ogden’s and came to regard his existence there as a job). Bill had given him the keys to the various rooms with the assignment to see that the place was locked up and secure each evening.
Tom was so playful and off-the-wall that it would have been difficult not to find him appealing. A few of us, including Jack Combs, another colorful character that I spent much time with, would take a willing Tom next door to the Maple Room where we shared pitchers of beer until Tom was loosened up. Jack would eventually begin to question him about his experiences with girls, but Tom would have none of that. “Frequency modulated broads,” according to Tom, were too much of a distraction.
As immersed as we were in our studies, we were mostly 20-somethings with an additional need to kick back. Occasionally, some of us would drive down to the beach at dusk with our guitars to make a bit of music or share radio dreams as we enjoyed the sunset and the phosphorescent waves breaking on the sand. For others, a trip to Tijuana across the Mexican border for some well-planned over-consumption usually resulted in a visit to more than just one strip club and perhaps, as in Larry McLeod’s case, a tattoo parlor. He remembered little of the actual experience, but seemed to walk quite slowly for the following two or three days.
The first of us, Rich Corgiat who had left his wife at home and was much more focused, successfully reached his goal within a mere four weeks. A few more were out after five or six. Pretty soon we were dwindling at the rate of three or four each week. I managed to keep up despite my struggles with math, but seemed to plateau before I was able to take the test for my second class license. While I was stalled, others were preparing for their first class exam. I watched Tony, then Bruce, and the others I’d shared a classroom with launch their careers and I began to feel anxious and inadequate.
My trip to the FCC to take my second class test occurred later than most of the others. Bill’s ritual was to meet with those who would be driving to Los Angeles early the following morning and give them parting instructions. We would be given scratch paper for our calculations, he’d tell us, but we were expected to turn those notes in with the tests themselves. We were to make sure they were neat, precise, and indicated that the answers were well thought out. We then lined up and Bill would present each of us with a gold pencil for taking the test and a final word of encouragement. In my case it was simply, “Give ‘em hell!” Bruce’s goal was to complete the exam with his pencil, but without having a need to use the eraser. I recall that he did. kept that gold pencil for several years and I would bet that there are some that exist even today.
Within a few days I received notification that I had passed my second class FCC exam. The big hurdle was behind me, but I had a deadline looming that I wasn’t sure I’d make. In mid-summer, I was to be best man at the wedding of one of my oldest friends, an event I simply couldn’t and wouldn’t refuse. I discussed my options with Bill who was not comfortable that I’d pass my first class exam in the short time remaining. He wasn’t yelling “frog,” and I’d learned very well not to jump until he did. Bill convinced me to hold off until after the wedding, then come back and join the following class session to finish up. I certainly didn’t want to be a hold-over, but fortunately the delay would only be a couple of weeks.
Jack had been struggling hard with his second class test scores and would also be returning following the brief hiatus. Bill wasn’t letting him loose until he felt Jack was ready. Somehow I made it down to meet him at his brother’s place and the two of us hitch-hiked the rest of the way to Huntington Beach. Tom Lowe was back too, with his keys to the building. But this was a new class session with new students in the classroom, again with the smokers on one side and the non-smokers on the other. One of them was Derek Waring, perhaps the most naturally talented radio guy I’ve ever met. He wasn’t a rock jock in the style of Shotgun Tom, but had an easy, natural style that I admired and hoped to develop.
I took my final test right around the time Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. That was on July 20th, the day before my 23rd birthday. That next evening, I stood alone near the cinder block wall that separated Ogden’s from the Maple Room parking lot and stared up at the near-full moon. It was a stunning moment for me to realize that, although I couldn’t actually see them, there were two men walking around on the moon’s surface. I was witnessing an historic event that I sensed was ushering in a new era and realized that I was about to enter my own new age of existence. A few days later, I would be headed home with my first class ticket to begin looking for work.
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!!”
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.
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 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.)
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.)
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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?
[A radio promotion put me behind the wheel of a Rolls Royce. I wrote about this in 1976]
To suppose, as we all suppose, that we could be rich and not behave as the rich, is like supposing that we could drink all day and stay sober.
–Logan Pearsall Smith
It was a day unlike any other, the day I drove a Rolls Royce! When in Rome, do as the Romans do; when in a Rolls, do as aristocrats do. My moment of aristocracy had arrived.
McDonald’s was giving away Flair Ink Pens with Egg McMuffin breakfasts. KFIV decided to make it Breakfast with a real Flair! We would chauffeur winners to McDonald’s in Rolls Royce limousines. Oh, the incongruity! Similar to “Brooklyn Yankees,” or “Roman Greeks,” the mind will not couple Silver Clouds to Styrofoam cups.
What’s more, the chauffeurs were tuxedoed disc jockeys (A disc jockey driving a Rolls Royce is another mind-rejecting thought. Also hard to believe was that we got the cars! An auto dealer owned a collection of these classics, and he loaned them to us! I mean would you give the keys to your Rolls to a disc jockey?)
My Rolls–yes I quickly became possessive–was a white 1964 Silver Cloud, with an interior of blue leather seats, a teakwood instrument panel, and a right-side steering wheel. In the parking lot, I couldn’t even begin! Who knew that a Rolls Royce transmission will not shift into gear unless a button on the gear-shift lever is depressed? (Hmmm, to drive a Rolls one must first be smarter than the Rolls.) I’m sensing trouble here. And what’s with this rear-view mirror? Rolls Royce uses convex mirrors which gives more complete viewing, but the mirror delivers the distortion of a fish-eye camera lens.
Let me destroy one myth: The clock is silent! For years, I was told the clock’s ticking was the only interior noise. That myth never made sense, anyway. Why install a loud clock in a quiet car? The only mechanical sound was the clicking of the turn signal indicator.
The era dictated the fashions, and I was the cat’s meow, decked out in a brown and apricot tuxedo. Don’t judge me! At eight a.m., I was off to chauffeur the first of my two families.
I was pleased that my first winners were “all-in” on this promotion. The dad and the two sons each wore suits, and the mother wore a floor-length gown! Dressed to the nines, they were making the most of their Breakfasts with a Flair!
The dad had a facial twitch, who knows why? It reminded me of a Don Knox routine about an over-stressed air traffic controller. I was a little nervous as it was, and that blasted convex mirror zoomed an unobstructed, up front and way too personal view of this guy’s twitch. “Try not to think about it, ole boy,” I told myself, noticing I was starting to formulate thoughts with a British accent.
The passenger may have twitches but this auto was smooth. After delivering the winners, the Rolls and I were off to our next adventure.
Our next winners were waiting for the car and me. In fact, their entire block had assembled for “The Great Rolls Rendezvous.” The winner’s father was leaning against an elm tree, taking home movies as we approached. He motioned me to wave at the camera, which I did. I used the Royal Wave, as used by monarchs and at Rose Parades.
The neighbors—fathers in Saturday work clothes, mothers in house robes, and children, many still in pajamas—congregated around the Silver Cloud. After the spectators had studied the grill and examined the interior, the four honored guests and this overly proud chauffeur were on our way.
I drove the Rolls cautiously. On a quarter-mile stretch, you could have timed me, not with a clock, but with a calendar. The passengers enjoyed the ride. This was not a hotrod Lincoln. I figured to gun the engine would be an insult to its noble heritage.
The winners enjoyed a nice breakfast, got their Flair ink pens, and were returned, regally, to their respective homes. I was the real winner! I got to drive a Rolls Royce! I got to play celebrity! Not only that, I was being paid extra! Reggie Jackson gets millions for hitting a baseball, and I got paid to drive a 1964 Silver Cloud through the streets of Modesto. Life isn’t fair; sometimes it’s lop-sided in your favor.
My mother liked to remind us kids that pride cometh before the fall, and here it came. As I sat majestically on the right-hand side and steered down a country road, tragedy struck! A terrible, grinding, clanking, gear-stripping noise bellowed from the rear of the car. This aristocrat of the roadway lurched, then shook, then shimmied like a dying fish gasping for air. Death was sudden. After less than a hundred more feet, the Rolls rolled no more. Later I learned I had dropped the transmission.
I knew what I needed; I needed help. A broken down Rolls Royce is one of life’s little levelers. So is walking down Albers Road in my brown and apricot tuxedo. I walked to a nearby farmhouse. The farmer heard my story, and all he could say was that common farmer phrase, “Well, if that don’t just beat all!”
Tragedy can turn to comedy if you add enough time. As I reflect on my day, I can’t help but smile. From the car, looking out the windshield, I viewed the ultimate incongruity: in front of that beautiful Rolls Royce hood ornament, I also viewed a tow truck.