Richard Strauss’s childhood mimicked countless other youngsters: he was hooked on radio.
One generation before Richie’s childhood (he was “Richie” during most of his first two decades), the home radio was large, was placed on the kitchen counter, and was controlled by the parent. Kids listened to Arthur Godfrey, because they were forced to. If they wanted breakfast, they had to listen to Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club. Then, in 1957 things changed. It was the year Sony mass produced the transistor radio. Overnight, radios the size of toasters were replaced by radios the size of cell phones. Since transistors didn’t require much electricity, they ran on batteries. Wow, they were small, lightweight, and could go anywhere!! They were personal! Since they came with a little earpiece, they were private!! They made a worldwide splash, and they made Richie Strauss’s world.
Day and night, on the way to school, even during school, at home doing homework, at bedtime, under the covers. It was non-stop, it was addictive, it was fun! The radio station with the most fun was KFIV, known as K-5, Modesto’s first Top 40 Radio Station!
Oh, what a station. The music was modern and fun. The disc jockeys were glib, clever, and shared the Low Down on Mo-Town (they knew what was going on in and around Modesto). What’s more, you could call them on the phone!! They were friendly, would joke around with you, and sometimes they played your request.
But for Richie, contests were the real fun. They were non-stop. K-5 would give away a brand new ten-speed bike a day for 30 days, and the following day the next contest began. The size of the prize didn’t matter, from movie tickets, to K-Tel albums, to ski lift passes, to crisp clean hundred-dollar bills, it was fun to play and even more fun to win.
Richie played as often as K-5 allowed. Often the contestant would have to be “caller number 5” or “13” or “27.” Richie’s house had two phones. He would call on one, and then start dialing on the other. He might be caller “3” and then “11” and then “18”. And sometimes he got to play. These persistent players were given a nickname! KFIV Program Director, Larry Maher, called them Contest Cuties! Richie was a dedicated Contest Cutie Craftsman. Sometimes he won “older people’s” prizes, such as concert tickets to see Englebert Humperdinck, or Liza Minelli. Those tickets he gave to his parents.
One time, K-5 virtually hid an ounce of solid gold. Listeners did not go dig up the town looking for the gold; they listened for, and studied clues, which went from vague to more and more precise. As an example, one ounce of gold was hidden inside the skull at the old dental office exhibit at the McHenry Museum. (Note: as the clues revealed the gold was somewhere inside the Museum, the Modesto Museum set all-time attendance records!! The curator couldn’t figure out what was going on!)
Back to Richie. He had a cassette player, and he recorded every contest he played. When it came to contests, Richie was practically an on-air regular. The jocks could have fun with him. One time, Radio Rick, on the air, took Richie’s guess, and said, “Richie, over here, I have a big book where we write down the names of people who guess wrong. Next to that book, we have one piece of paper where we write down the winning name. Richie Strauss of Modesto, your name goes. . . . into The Big Book of Losing Answers!”
Along with all this good fun, Richie fell in love with radio. His father’s friend, Jerry Rosenthal, managed one of the local stations, and he helped Richie get an intern job at KTRB with news director, Carol Benson.
He graduated from Davis High School in 1988, and then on to UCLA. He is now Richard, and his extracurricular activities centered around KLA, the university’s station. He wrote and delivered newscasts, and covered news and sporting events. He was at the press conference in 1991 when Magic Johnson announced to the world he had H.I.V. and was retiring. With his press pass, Richard covered sports for free, would record quotes from coaches and players, and feed the audio to radio stations. This Free Lance work paid him fifteen dollars per audio feed. Not bad for watching games for free.
In his senior year, Richard left school to work in the Bill Clinton Presidential Campaign. Traveling with the campaigners, his hard work impressed a number of people. Dating back to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, the President delivered weekly Radio Addresses.
Bill Clinton won the ’92 election, and with his knowledge of the inner workings of the medium, Richard Strauss was appointed White House Radio Director.
Hard work and long hours paid off, and Richard took what he learned about public relations, and started Strauss Media Strategies, which has grown into the nation’s premier communications, public relations, consulting and strategy firm specializing in comprehensive radio and television media relations services. Now in its 25th year Strauss Media has offices in Washington, New York, Charlotte, and Los Angeles.
Some find a career in radio; Richard found a career because of radio. The Museum salutes this Modesto Radio success story.