Bill Bates was born October 18, 1900 in Whiskey Hill, California (near Watsonville) where he attended elementary school. He was stricken with polio at the age of 10, which left him strapped to a board for 6 months and his right leg crippled for life.
His father was a major in the US Army who moved his family from the Bay area to Delhi. Growing up included picking prunes and chopping wood, which led Bill to the conclusion he must work with his head. In 1916 at the age of 16 Bill took up radio as a hobby. He became a licensed amateur radio “ham” operator with the call sign of 6KL, which was one of the first licenses issued in California. It was later changed to 6CF and then W6CF which he held until his death in 1969.
At the age of 17 he joined the US Merchant Marines as a radio operator. After his tour of duty he went to work for RCA in Southern California. RCA sent him to Mexico to work on President Alvaro Obregon’s ship. He helped install radio equipment on Mexican navy ships.
In 1925 he came to Modesto and operated a radio store inside the Hotel Covell building until 1928. That year he moved to Los Angeles where he took a job with KGFH as an announcer/engineer. A few months later he took a similar position at KNX in Los Angeles where he later became chief engineer. In 1931 Bill, wanting to further his education, returned to the Modesto area and enrolled at UC Berkeley in physics classes. While there he worked as an announcer /engineer at KWBS, later KLS in Oakland.
He and local businessman Thomas R. Mc Tammany, formed a
verbal partnership to start a radio station in Modesto. After much planning, haggling and appearances before the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, KTRB was granted a license to begin broadcasting on June 18, 1933.
The station’s call letters came from the initials of the partners. “T” and “R” from T.R. McTammany, and “B” from Bill Bates. The FCC assigned the letter K that designated a station West of the Mississippi river. KTRB went on the air June 18, 1933 from studios behind the Sylvan Clubhouse on the northeast corner of Sylvan and McHenry Ave.
in Modesto. Bill and fellow engineer C.E. Peack built the first transmitter in Oakland by modifying an old ham radio transmitter.
KTRB went on the air with 250 watts on 740 KCs limited to daytime hours of operation. The frequency was changed in 1942 to 860 KCs when the station moved to Norwegian Ave. and power was increased to 1,000 watts. Over the years the power was increased a number of times finally ending up with 50,000 watts in the ’90’s. KTRB was the only broadcast station in Modesto until 1948 when KBEE FM signed on the air.
KTRB FM became Modesto’s second FM station and Modesto’s third broadcast station signing on the air in 1949. KBEE-FM owned by the McClatchy newspapers became the second commercial broadcast station (first FM station) on the air in the market. KTRB-FM simulcast the programming from KTRB-AM for many years thus the station identification of “This is KTRB AM and FM, Modesto”
Bob Malik is a former Modesto resident and KFIV radio personality. After leaving Modesto Bob had a successful major market radio career. He now lives with his family in Southern California. For years, Bob was the host of THE BEATLE YEARS, a weekly program that aired nationwide, including locally on KRVR, 105.5.
Bob was asked to provide his autobiography for the Modesto, CA Central Catholic High School (CCHS) Alumni Magazine. He has graciously given us permission to share his story here at The Modesto Radio Museum.
By Bob Malik
It was tough trying to condense a 47 year career into a page. But, here goes.
I began my career in radio shortly after graduating from Central Catholic High School in 1971— It was Central’s 2nd
During my senior year I had garnered enough school credits to earn a half day school schedule. I would leave Central around noon, and drive to Modesto Junior College, where I was taking Radio classes.
In the summer of 1971, I went to a broadcasting prep school in Huntington Beach, Ca. Shortly after returning to Modesto in the fall, I got my 1st radio job. I was hired by Program Director John Chappell to be the weekend DJ at KFIV.
It proved to be a critically important opportunity. The supportive staff at the station included my Central Catholic High School classmate and friend, Chet Haberle. That positive environment only served to inspire me to pursue this path.
From there, I worked at radio stations in Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco, where I was fortunate enough to become Program Director at K-101. I found myself in the unlikely situation of advising the people I grew up listening to how to do their jobs. That was something I really hadn’t anticipated. But, it turned out to be a winning team. We were able to take the station to #1. I also spent a few years at the radio station many of us listened to in high school— KFRC.
In 2001, I was offered a job as News Director at CBS Radio’s flagship station in Los Angeles— one year after I had retired from radio. And, that offer came from someone I had hired— 20 years earlier. I would end up staying at K-EARTH for a dozen years.
In 2004, I began hosting a nationally syndicated radio program called The Beatle Years. Which would eventually lead to an interview with Ringo Starr.
In 2015, I got a phone call from Capitol Records. Ringo Starr was about to release his new album, “Postcards From Paradise”. His rep said Ringo had heard The Beatle Years, and they wanted to know if I would be interested in doing an interview. I told him- I would think about it….Just kidding!
After I got up off the floor, I said “Are you serious?” “Of course I want to interview Ringo!”. I met the drummer inside the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. Was it all a bit surreal? Yes, it sure was!
The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show on February 9, 1964. Less than 80 days after the assassination of President Kennedy. That performance was a pivotal moment in American pop culture. It pulled this nation out of a deep depression. We went from black and white—to color. Overnight.
Even though Ringo Starr was one of those 4 guys who changed the world—he was very kind, unassuming —and, well… shorter than I expected. He wanted to talk more about his new album instead of The Beatles. However, I did get a few questions answered about the band. And, I sure didn’t expect to ever see him again.
But, last summer they called again —with an invitation to Ringo’s 77th birthday party on July 7th. Yes, he turned 77 on 7/7. I was able to sit down for another one-on-one with him. This time, he answered all of the Beatle questions I wanted to ask. My final question: “How would you like to be remembered, Ringo?”—-His answer? “I’d like to be remembered .… as being taller”
When the interview was over—he said, “Come here, brother” and gave me a hug. It was an unforgettable day.
My advice to current CCHS students: Discover what you truly love. Then, pursue your dream. It will make your career so much easier—and, more meaningful. And, pass along the inspiration you’ve received from others. (Who knows– you may run into someone you haven’t heard from…in 20 years!)
What is payola? In the American music industry, it is the illegal practice of payment or other inducement by record companies for the broadcast of recordings on music radio, in which the song is presented as being part of the normal day’s broadcast. A radio station can play a specific song in exchange for money, but this must be disclosed on the air as being sponsored airtime, and that playing of the song should not be counted as a “regular play.” The number of times the songs are played can influence the perceived popularity of a song.
The term Payola is a play on the words “pay” and “Victrola”, meaning to bribe to play on the radio Victrola was a phonograph made in the early 1920s by the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, New Jersey, and became a word used for radio-phonograph combinations of all types with an enclosed listening horn or speaker in the cabinet, just as Kleenex is used for all facial tissue paper in a box. Payola means a bribe to influence the programming content of a broadcast radio, television or cable television program and is a federal misdemeanor.
HOW DID THE PAYOLA SCANDAL BEGIN?
It actually began in 1958, with the infamous “game show” scandals, in which federal investigators revealed that the wildly popular NBC- TV show “Twenty-One” and “$64,000 Question” were rigged. That scandal led to the investigation of similar practices in radio.
On January 25, 1960…the National Association of Broadcasters proposed that radio disc jockeys accepting payment from record labels for broadcasting particular songs would be charged a $500 fine and spend a year in prison. The practice, known as payola, had provoked an extensive investigation by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) .
In May 1960, disc jockey and TV personality Alan Freed, who coined the term “rock ‘n’ roll,” was arrested along with seven other people on suspicion of commercial bribery. Freed had refused to sign an affidavit in 1959, denying that he had accepted payola, which was not against the law at that time. He said he would accept a gift if he had helped someone, but he would not take a bribe to play a record. He was charged with 26 counts of commercial bribery, but got off with a fine.
Radio disc jockey Dick Clark, in testimony before a House subcommittee, denied involvement in the payola radio scandal of 1959 and 1960. Clark, one of the top two deejays in the country had much to lose, and quickly gave up all his musical interests when ordered to do so by ABC-TV. In testimony, statistician Bernard Goldsmith…brought in by Clark…stated that Clark had a 27% interest in records played in the past 28 months and those records had a 23% popularity rating. The committee was stunned as they wondered what came first the chicken or the egg.
Clark testified that the only reason he had gotten involved with those businesses were for the tax advantages. He admitted a $125 investment in Jamie records returned a profit of $11,900 and of the 163 songs he had rights to, 143 were given to him. When questioned about Jamie Records, it was discovered that Jamie paid out $15,000 in payola, but Clark denied ever accepting any. The committee clearly did not believe Clark…but he received a slap on the wrist. In fact, committee chairman Orin Hatch called Clark “a fine young man.”
THE SORDID HISTORY OF PAYOLA
In 2003, Cliff Doerksen of the Washington City Paper, wrote that payola isn’t really back – just back in the news. Payola has been a constant universal part of the economy of popular music for about 125 years, and the likelihood that legislators will be able to do anything constructive about it is about a high as the odds of winning the war on drugs. It was old when ragtime was new, and it still will be going strong long after rock ‘n’ roll has died. Generations of reformers have gone up against payola – and those few who have accomplished anything lasting have succeeded only in making things worse.
Turning a song into money requires repetitive exposure. No matter how infectious a tune might be, it won’t go anywhere with the masses until they get to hear it…a lot. Accordingly, a firm with a promising new number on its hands was obliged to prime the pump by paying to have the song performed until such time as popular demand for it became self sustaining and the bucks began rolling in a process known as “putting a song over.”
Prior to the advent of radio, song-plugging campaigns entailed the orchestrated outlay of cash bribes and/or other emoluments – a new suit or dress, some luggage, a case of liquor, a piece of the song royalties, the services of a prostitute – to flesh-and-blood performers. By far the most important of these were itinerant vaudevillians, who, once paid…would carry a publisher’s song clear across the continent, exposing it one performance at a time from the stages of hundreds of theaters to a cumulative audience of millions. The bigger the star, the more valuable were his or her services as a song promoter. Headliners working the big-time circuits stood to make as much or more from his song plugging as they did from their theatrical salaries. But smaller performers were also in line to receive their share of the graft. This was true even of performers whose talents were not primarily musical. Dancers, jugglers and conjurers, for example, worked to music…and music publishers found it worthwhile to assist them in selecting appropriate accompaniment for their acts.
On the local level, practically anyone involved in mediating between the music industry and the public stood to benefit from the largess of the publishers. Cabaret singers and dance bands were all on the take. But, so was the blind busker whose one talent was winding the crank of a wheezing curbside barrel organ; ditto the guy in charge of stocking the rolls in the coin-operated player piano in saloons and penny arcades.
There were a million other angles to the song-plugging racket, but the point stands: Payola was already a ubiquitous feature of urban life. It was also legal…although interpreted even then as a symptom of the ethical bankruptcy of those in control of the music industry.
THE PAYOLA SCANDAL AND RADIO STATIONS
Paying somebody to place a song before the public dates to the early days of the modern popular music industry. At the height of the scandal, Billboard magazine claimed that payola in various forms had been common during the big band era of the 1930s and 1940s and in the vaudeville business in the 20s. Be that as it may, payola on the scale that became apparent during the 50s was the product of a unique conjunction of circumstances – the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll, the introduction of the inexpensive 45 RPM single, radio’s shift to Top 40 music once television commandeered drama, postwar prosperity, and the arrival of teenagers as an economic force. In the 50s, records were taking over from live performance as the principle way to hear…and sell…music. Record industry moguls were well aware that teenagers had cash, loved rock ‘n’ roll, listened to the radio, and were easily stampeded into buying hit records by popular deejays.
The question was how best to exploit that fickle market. At the time, a major record company might release upwards of a hundred singles a week. Then, as now, maybe 10 percent of those would become hits, or at least make a profit for the label. Radio air play was the easiest way for an artist to get exposure and sell records, but with singles pouring into the stations at such a fast clip, labels needed a way to distinguish their songs from those of their competitors. Since this was before the era of MTV and slick promotions, bribery seemed the way to go. Record labels hired promoters who paid deejays to feature songs by favored artists.
Will the practice of payola continue? It’s debatable. It’s not common now, and with so many radio stations owned by conglomerates, there’s less opportunity for the local market deal making that was so prevalent in payola’s heyday.
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 47 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 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 two times around those legs and then cinch up a Hooey knot. What’s a Hooey 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 is also hapless when it comes to Hooey knots, a rope trick that’s 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 Larry’s head is all part of the fun. Next week, it’s Celebrity Roller Derby! What could possibly go wrong?
POST SCRIPT: At the Celebrity Roller Derby event, they invited us to come down that afternoon and practice on the banked, oval track. It was a bit tricky, but I learned to go into the corners low and come out high, just like NASCAR. I won the event, mostly because I stayed upright. A KTRB DJ thought you win by knocking everybody else down. He lunged at me; I ducked, and down he went, breaking his arm (hey, it’s all good fun, right?). The Bay Bombers congratulated me, but offered no contracts.
[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: just beyond that beautiful Rolls Royce hood ornament, I also viewed my tow truck.