Richard Strauss’s childhood mimicked countless other youngsters: he was hooked on radio.
One generation before Richie’s childhood (he was “Richie” during his younger days), a household’s 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. Or Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club, which didn’t appeal to youngsters, but it was better than going hungry. 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, the radio was on, 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! The 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 Humperdink, 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 the 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 McHenry 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 with wrong guesses. 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 Guesses!”
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 the Clinton staff. Dating back to Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, Presidents 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.
2 thoughts on “First Prize: A Job at the White House”
I was working with Carol at KTRB when Richard came on board the news team. He was just a kid out of high school. So green he was but eager to learn. I’ll share a story…
When fire went through downtown Oakdale in 1988 (89?), Carol called Richard at home and sent him out there to get some sound. He managed by chance to bump into the Mayor. He came back to the studio and Carol cut up the interview for the day’s newscast. Later that morning, NBC news called us to get a story about the fire and stated they wanted it to be live during one of their hourly newscast. Carol handed the task to Richard. We set him up in the KTRB bomb shelter and he waited on mic for the NBC anchor to bring him on. Richard was shaking like a leaf. We (My colleague Jim and I) listened in. Carol was getting ready to follow NBC with the local news.
Richard pulled it off nicely! After he was done, Jim and I ran down to the bomb shelter and found Richard leaning over in the chair trying to catch his breath. We patted him on the back, told him he made the big times. He relaxed and as Jim and I were leaving the room, I jokingly asked, “Oh…You do have a broadcast license…right?” He sat up in the chair with eyes wide open with a look as if to say, “Oh my God, I’m in trouble!”
Ah… those were the days when interns were fun to pick on.
This is amazing! So very kind of you. I have such fond and wonderful memories working with Carol and you and the awesome KTRB team! I would not be anywhere without my time at KTRB in Modesto!
Thank you, again, so much, for sharing that story. I’m grateful!
– Richard (rstrauss-at-straussmedia.com)