Chapter 10 - Are We Having Fun Yet?
WDGY had rewarded me for my loyalty, angst, blood, sweat and tears with a swift kick in the ass. (For that last sentence, Columbia owes me payola) It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last time my dedication was rewarded with crap. It was my nature to begin worrying immediately. Did I make the right decision? Was I good enough? Was I slime, primordial ooze, a mere pretense? By the time I got to KDWB on my first day as an ex-WEEGEE boss jock, I was a mess, totally lacking in amour propre.
I met Deane Johnson and Harold Greenberg at the downtown Minneapolis offices where I met the sales staff. The only one I remember is Mike Sigelman and that is because we worked together at U100 years later. They also introduced me to the Promotion’s Director.
I remember some things with a clarity that is eerie, yet other basic facts just seem to escape me. The name of the Promotion Director escapes me. He had been a DJ at KDWB and was now promoted (demoted?) to Promotion Director. After all the introductions we got in cars and drove to the KDWB studios on the eastern fringes of St. Paul in a suburb called Woodbury, off Highway 12 and up a dirt road named Radio Drive. The KDWB tower-field covered several acres on a gentle slope. WDGY won the tower race with nine towers for their directional array. KDWB only had six, but KDWB’s were taller. At WDGY there a worry that if the nine free-standing towers were all alight with the standard red it would look to overhead pilots heading for the airport like a landing strip. That problem was solved by only red-lighting the center tower. At KDWB every tower was festooned in a veritable Christmas Tree of red lights and guy-wires going everywhere made it seem the work of a mad spider. The KDWB building was a cement block rectangle with a main door in front and a side door out of the engineering area. A ratty asphalt parking lot was in front and to the right.
Just inside the front door was a tiny reception area with pictures of the jocks. As I walked through the door that day, the jocks I remember were Don Bleu, Charlie Brown, and the rest I forget. To the right was Deane’s office and to the left a conference room. (The conference table was made out of a heavily varnished door.) On a deep red carpet, the tour down the hall continued. To the right the offices of the traffic department….to the left the windows showed the ancient transmitter. (I don’t really know if it was ancient, but it looked ancient). On the left the windows to the Main Studio….a little further on to the right, the door to the transmitter room and a cubbyhole (used to be a closet I think) which was the Music Director’s office. Next on the left the newsroom windows, then the hallway choices were right or left. To the left down the hallway, the staff lounge….straight ahead the production room….to the right the production directors office and a little further to the bathrooms.
Well, wasn’t that tour special? The tour took place in April and in December, it would all change, but I’m getting ahead of my story.
After my tour, we gathered in Deane’s office and the topic of promotion arose. Since WDGY had so unceremoniously yanked me off the air, Deane and Victor Armstrong (The Big Boss) thought they should take advantage of that. They conceived a “Where is Rob Sherwood” contest and promotion. Really, nobody cared that much where Rob Sherwood was, but we play the game don’t we. Anyway, this is when the Promotion-Director-Who’s-Name-We-Can’t-Remember earned my enmity. You’ll see why this hostility is deserved when you hear what was happening.
Deane and Victor and Harold too, for that matter, all thought the “Where Is Rob Sherwood” contest would work if they actually sent me somewhere and had the listeners guess as part of an on the air contest. Deane suggested somewhere distant like Hollywood or New York City. Victor suggested somewhere exotic like Tahiti or the Caribbean. (Way to go Victor!) The Forgotten Promotion Director suggested a rowboat in the middle of Lake Calhoun. Seriously. A rowboat in the middle of a Minnesota lake in April! The Promotion-Director-Who-Deserves-To-Not-Be-Remembered was a fan of “snake pit” promotions. These were things like sitting on flagpoles, living in doghouses hanging 30 feet in the air, or…sitting in rowboats in the middle of a lake!
Around and around they went. It was a revelation to watch the ideas shoot back and forth. If I had ever had any doubts about leaving WDGY, they were being eased by the anticipation of a trip to…where, I dared not guess. (But I could imagine wearing a sarong and lounging on some Tahitian beach wondering which of the beach boys was related to Fletcher Christian) The creativity in that room at that moment was …it sucked. Even now, I’m tempted to use the “F” word. When WDGY pulled me off the air, they wanted to put as much delay before i joined the competition as possible. Perhaps it was petty, but all is fair in love and radio-war, so, they said I would HAVE to work out my two week's notice. They obviously, didn't want me on the air, but assigned me to spend my shift each day for two weeks taking the transmitter readings. Why they changed their mind I never found out. KDWB had those “Where is Rob Sherwood?” promos and also I was a fox in the chicken house as long as I lingered. Before I could work even one meter-reading shift, WDGY decided they no longer wanted me around and I was gone. I found out I was kaput at WEEGEE during a break in Tahitian trip planning session. When I told them I had been emancipated from Storz, Victor Armstrong, Harold Greenberg, Deane Johnson, and the Forgotten Promotion Director canceled all the plans for a “Where Is Rob Sherwood Contest”.
My mother tried to teach me many things. I forgot every one of them, but Ben Franklin taught me something I did remember. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. I should have just said, “Tahiti. Right. It’s set then. I’m going to lunch…anyone coming with who wants to pay?” I just sat there and let Deane, Victor, Harold and (?) talk themselves out of any promotion at all. I came that close to Tahiti. Just like that, I was a “Good Guy”. A KDWB Good Guy. We did go to lunch and someone else did pay.
The next night I followed True Don Bleu on the air and the response was under whelming. I think the audience was so used to sampling both radio stations that they were just confused. It took almost an hour for someone to ask me what I was doing on KDWB. By the end of the shift, callers were properly stroking my ego. Fans were calling to wish me good luck, calling to swear off WEEGEE and calling to welcome me to KDWB.
The first six months at KDWB were some of the best months I spent in radio. Every day was an adventure. I was having fun doing my show. I liked my bosses; I liked the equipment (especially, the custom-designed main control room board). I was really enjoying myself. Something I didn’t remember from WDGY. I looked forward to work and throughout my career whenever that happens, life is good. It wouldn’t be long, though, before I sank back into my personal Erebus.
When I got to KDWB in the spring of 1969 I was tossed into a pathological stew made of some of the most interesting people I've ever met. When the memories of this part of My Story wash across my mind, it is all about the people.
Deane Johnson was my introduction to KDWB. I knew some of the early cast of characters like Earl L. Trout III, Howie Anderson (see previous chapters) and, of course, a whole list of DJ names from the early 60's Golden Age of the radio station. But, this was the NEW KDWB and I think everyone there was nuts. Not certifiable but nuts. That is one reason I fit in so well. The PD, Deane Johnson, operated with a quiet dignity unlike any other boss I had known. I cannot remember him raising his voice but he could make his point with a bitingly sarcastic remark. Once, a DJ played a non-play list record. When Deane challenged him about it, the DJ went on the offensive pointing out that it had sold a million copies. Deane lifted his leg casually onto the edge of the counter, leaned forward, and softly said, 'So did South Pacific.'
The counter Deane had used as a foot rest was to the right of the DJ and held three turntables in 1969. We were still playing 45's and the occasional LP. When a visitor was in the studio, the counter with the three turntables was between the DJ and the visitor. It was SO easy to bump the turn table arm and it happened to me more than once. Those were accidents. For a while in 1969, the janitor was an old farmer who came in for a couple of hours each night. He understood about birthing calves, sticking your arm up a cow's ass to untwist their intestine, and bull sperm, but was clueless about a radio station. That was why while dusting in the studio one time, he lifted the tone arm of the on-air turntable in order to dust. When he set the arm back on the disc he hardly missed a phrase. This hapless Farmer Janitor wasn't prepared for the weird group he was cleaning up after. A DJ, I'll refer to as PHM, was screwing some babe on the bookkeeper's desk and through a small window in the office door our hapless janitor saw PHM doing the dirty deed. After what I am sure was a sleepless night, the janitor let the woman know how her desk had been defiled. If there was evidence left behind, I don't know, but I do know they used it as an excuse to fire PHM and the bookkeeper got a new desk. Years later at U100, the detritus of a radio station sexual encounter would provide me with a hilarious moment.
At U100 the only couch in the building was in the sales manager's office. Although the doors had locks, they also had pocket doors and were easy as hell to jimmy open. I was a Program Director now and working with the U100 gang was often a case of not seeing what I didn't want to see. The couch in Bob Brokeman's office was used for sexual liaisons on a regular basis, I'm sure.
The manager, Mike Sigelman, had scheduled a sales meeting in Bob's office and I was there early to open the door and let the room heat up. When I slid open the door, the smell reminded me of a Calcutta whorehouse. Not that I have ever been in a Calcutta whorehouse, but if there even ever was a Calcutta whorehouse, that is the way it would have smelled. We had Lysol Spray and I made good use of it before the people began to arrive.
The office filled up with Mike Sigelman sitting behind Bob's desk, salesman on chairs, on the floor and on the couch. Bob Brokeman was late, though, and out of deference to rank took a space saved for him on the couch. He arrived just as the meeting began and sat toward one end of the 'love couch'. Moments later, I was watching when his fingers touched something on the arm of the couch that caused him to get a quizzical look on his face and caused a pang of panic for me. He rubbed the substance between his fingers, he looked at his fingers, he smelled his fingers. I was dying. He did everything but taste it.
Thinking back, that couch had more DNA on it than a double bed at the Chicken Ranch. Not that I've ever been in a double bed at the Chicken Ranch, but I can imagine.
Those were the only two times there was sex in a radio station. You heard it here first. Yeah. Hey! I have gotten way ahead of my story.
The woman at KDWB, whose desk was debased, wasn't the first woman to hold the KDWB Traffic Director job. When I first got to KDWB the position was held by a huge, trailer trash kind of woman, who I can only picture wearing a muumuu. She swore like a sailor, smoked like chimney and had at least two daughters who were twigs off the old tree. She told the story of her cat that had kittens. The problem was that these huge women had a rocking chair and the playful kittens had the habit of getting under the runner on the backstroke. Thus had three kittens been dispatched to that litter box in the sky. Her laughing comment, 'Stupid cats!'
Rey Lark wasn't the Chief Engineer but he was a damned good engineer. Later, he worked with me at U100 and during my agonizing six months at WEBC helped in many ways. In some ways, the Disney character, Goofy, is Rey. I mean that in a complimentary way. There wasn't an unkind bone in his body. A very moral man, he worked with some mega-immoral guys, without judging. And best of all, when you had an idea that involved engineering, Rey always figured a way to accomplish it for you. The microphones, the processing, the telephones, air checking, all happened because Rey made it happen. At U100 when I decided we HAD to broadcast from the state fair, I sketched out a booth and Rey built it in his backyard. Just like that. I will forgive him for heating and eating a beans and wienie TV Dinner every night for five years.
We had a full news department, but unlike WDGY, the newscasts stopped after six. WDGY had 20-20 news. Not only was news at twenty to and twenty after, but it had that perfect sight. At KDWB, news was at :55 and we played three songs in a row at :20 and :20. Good counter-programming. One of our newsmen carried a gun to protect him from drug dealers. Later he was central to one of the funnier and scarier stories from KDWB, but at this time he was just another of the nuts. Speaking of nuts, remember the Promotion Director who screwed me out of a trip to Tahiti. He thought his ship was coming in when he started making homemade trail mix. (Remember...this was 1969.)
It WAS 1969. Some people went to San Francisco, wearing flowers in their hair. Underground radio was hot. Deane Johnson had KDWB on the cutting edge of this phenomenon when he hired the harpist, Tony Glover.
I like to think of Tony Glover as a harmoni-cat, but the hip know if you play the harmonica you are playing the 'harp'. Rumor has it that Tony Glover taught Bob Dylan to play harmonica. He really was part of the 'underground' music scene in the Twin Cities. Six nights a week at midnight, KDWB changed format when a female voice said, 'It's Midnight under St. Paul/Minneapolis. The music of Procol Harem completed the segue from Top-Forty to Album. Even the studio was transformed. Tony Glover's girl companion would cover the windows with madras cloths, replace the fluorescence lights with candles and draped lamps and ignite the incense. Tony Glover's announcing style was low, low-key. Since I was called a screamer, Tony would be called a murmurer. He murmured his way through the night.
Tony must have believed in truth in radio because it bothered him no-end when I was late ending my show. His opener said, 'It's Midnight'. If I was late it might really be 12:01am or 12:02am when his tape said, 'It's Midnight' and that discrepancy made it a lie. I could be as petty as Tony Glover could and I fought back by always playing the most bubble-gum bubble-gum as the last song before Tony. What a delight to hear the segue from Donny Osmond to Procol Harem, from scream to murmur, from ridiculous to ridiculous. Sometimes, the small victories are the only ones we have.
The experiment ended after only a few months, mercifully. But Tony's replacement, was a primordial, seething, pathological stew all by himself and his portion of My Story follows eventually.
While surrounded by the cast of Chock Full Of Nuts, The Musical, I took my place in the spotlight. The clean-cut WEEGEE image was discarded and replaced by shorts, leather fringe, moccasins and long hair. I spent that summer discovering drugs and dodging bullets. The 'Woodstock Attitude' came to the Twin Cities and I soaked it up like biscuits in gravy.
Anyone who has worked in radio knows the panic and uncertainty of that first night at a new station. In an age when you prided yourself on how you ran the board, nothing was where you expected it to be and you were really just barely keeping your head above water. KDWB had a great board. It was a custom made - designed by the DJ’s - slide pot wonder. For the first time in my career, I was using a board that wasn’t designed for the convenience of a maintenance engineer. Within a week, I was smooth as silk.
The summer of 69 was a time of evolution and revolution. Those times they were a changing’. Check out the pictures of me on the KDWB Dune buggy. I was preppy when I got there but within a month like Jekyll’s inner monster, Hyde, whatever was inside of me began to surface. I got my haircut just before I arrived at KDWB and didn‘t have it cut for a year. I discovered that life became a lot simpler if you just wore the same stuff every day. I became a poster-child for what happens when you don’t have enough discipline.
KDWB was way out in the boon-docks. Now, the area in east St. Paul is houses and shopping centers. In 1969, there were cows in the parking lot on several occasions and once when the engineer left the engineering room door open, a cow was just inches away from coming in. (It is a good thing she didn’t, because visitors were discouraged) There WERE visitors. Most were harmless, a few were scary and one almost killed me.
No names on this story but not even a month after starting at KDWB a “fan” called to tell me she was being married and wanted to bring me a pizza in celebration. I didn’t like to eat while I was on the air. I saved all my eating for immediately after my shift. She said there was a good pizza place not far from KDWB called Angie’s and if I liked she would bring me one.
I told her a pizza would be great and to bring it by about 11PM and we’d eat it when I got off at twelve. She and her friend were there early and already drunk. They stood around waiting for my shift to end and since hanging out with drunks is not all that much fun I escorted them to the parking lot for a quick “see you later”. In the parking lot, the woman was embarrassingly touchy feely and the gist of the conversation was that she didn’t want to get married…she wanted me.
This is SO embarrassing. (This fatal attraction to women has been a life-long curse). I was kind. I gave her a bunch of bullshit about love and commitment and blah blah blah. She got the message. She decided she didn’t want to marry me after all. She just wanted to have my baby.
I continued to be patient and kind. “That is just the alcohol talking and you deserve to love someone who loves you and blah blah blah.” In retrospect this sounds like a Glenn Close movie, but this is when she said the most trite, over-used, Hollywood phrase, “If I can’t have you then nobody can”. Next thing I know I’m looking at a gun. This story would be better if it had been a .38. Then I could have said I was looking at a 38 and her gun was big too….but, it was a .22.
I was stunned. I actually laughed. BANG!
Over my shoulder. (Putting one of those cows in mortal danger)
Into the ratty pavement of the KDWB parking lot. (As if there weren’t already enough potholes)
I could have run away, screamed like a girl, broke down crying, or got her pregnant. Instead, like James Cagney I simply grabbed the gun with all the cool of someone who deals with danger daily. I cracked open the pistol, emptied the bullets, tossed them in the direction of the cows, threw the gun to the ground and stomped on it.
It was at this moment that Tony Glover stuck his head out the door and asked if anything was wrong. Nope, nothing wrong. Just some crazy woman trying to kill me. I dragged the woman to her car and told her friend (I have no idea what she had been doing during this whole exchange) to “get her the F… out of here.”
They left and I sat down on the parking lot pavement right where I was standing and smoked a cigarette. The only things missing were a soundtrack and fade to black. The cigarette didn’t taste all that good but I will have to admit that Angie made a great pizza. It was the first of 400 or 500 pizzas from Angie’s. I am the reason that Angie drove a nice car.
I decided to keep that incident to myself. I was having too much fun. No matter how good I was doing, my paranoia kept me on edge.
I moved from Bloomington to an apartment on McKnight Road in east St. Paul. The building was unfinished except for my single unit. I walked through open studwork and unfinished hallways to get to my island of completion. The air conditioning hadn’t been installed either and I was sleeping with the window open. The previous night having “escaped an early death”, I hadn’t slept very well and the next night, I was ready for sleep within an hour of finishing my shift. I awoke about 3:30am with the sensation of something on my face. When I turned on the light, there were at least a million mosquitoes in my bedroom. (No air conditioning and no window screens) There was nothing to do but decamp. I slept the rest of the night in my car. I should say, I didn’t sleep the rest of the night in my car. Or much the next day.
That night on the air at KDWB, I was so tired, I almost fell asleep during my show. Some guys driving from Eau Claire, Wisconsin to Minneapolis saw the tower field and dropped by to see if they could meet “Rob Sherwood”. I swear I didn’t let them in. They wandered in through the same door as Elsie the Cow and were in the hallway looking through the window when I first noticed them.
There was an engineer, a janitor, and a rule about having visitors in the studio. In some misguided attention to the rules, I didn’t let them into the studio but made them stay in the hallway where I visited them during records. They left the building after a bit, but were still in the parking lot when I finished my shift at Midnight. I had told them about the mosquitoes and about how tired I was and while I chatted with them, they offered me a solution to my fatigue.
It was a black capsule.
I wasn’t a total naïf. In high school, I tried marijuana. I was a big fan of Jack Douglas and the other “beat” writers of the time and I read about Mary Jane. Of course, after smoking it I knew it was only a matter of time before I was shooting up heroin. I watched Dragnet. I knew the score. The guilt and paranoia over that single joint should have taught me a lesson. It hadn’t.
In the past 24 hours, a woman almost killed me, mosquitoes almost ate me, and I began a four-year addiction to sausage, mushroom, green pepper pizzas from Angie‘s.
I swallowed the capsule.
It would take a year to learn the consequences of that single gulp. During that year, I stopped and started, swore off those uppers and took them by the handful. I was paranoid and powerful. Confident and self-assured. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t shy. God, it was wonderful.
I didn’t sleep for two days. In only a month summer arrived and I was doing a lot of speed. The whole drug subject is pretty boring. If you met me or worked with me during this period, I was high. End of the subject. Just take everything I did and everything you think I did and anything you know I did and filter it through a hundred milligrams of Dexedrine and everything will become clear.
All of the current DJ's or ex-DJ's, or wanna-be DJ''s understand how much fun I was having. I was at the station where I had always wanted to work. The people were pretty kewl (I may be old, but I'm hip….or is that hippy…hm) I think I told you already about PHM (initials to protect the guilty) who defiled the secretarial desk with various DNA samples. Did I mention the newsman who carried a gun to work because he had stiffed some drug dealers? On the other hand, maybe they stiffed him. Or something. All I know is that some at the station were afraid they'd be caught in the crossfire. I was working until Midnight and it was putting a huge crimp in my off-air life. At WDGY, I worked until ten, but it wasn't until a couple of years later that I got to split KDWB early. And what's this crap with radio people almost always working a 6-day week. You know, fellow broadcasters, we worked for a bunch of really cheap bastards. Even later, when I worked six to 10, on Saturday night I worked until Midnight.
Speaking of cheap bastards, the truth is that anyone who works for a broadcasting company and thinks they are part of "family" is beyond delusional. I had a few immediate bosses who were pretty kewl (there I go again), but most of my "bosses" and almost all of the companies I worked for treated their people like shit. Their idea of a "family" or "team" relationship was to figure out how cheap you would work, how much shit you would take and how much ass you would kiss to keep your gig. And the sorry fact is that many of us loved what we were doing so much that we were afraid to challenge the situation because someone might take away our candy. What a sorry bunch of pussys. And while I'm ranting, let me put in a few words about the union. AFTRA! I HAD to be a member to work at KDWB. Tony Soprano has more morals than anyone associated with that scam. I paid my $400 or so bucks a year and got a big fat zero in return. A few who were doing commercials made it work for them and of course the union officials themselves were living large. If you were associated with operation of AFTRA in the Twin Cities in the late 60's and 70's, you are going to hell.
Blue Blue I want to screw. These were the beginning lyrics to a song written by Barry McKinna and me. White White, but it's too tight. I cleaned it up. God, we were sick fuckers. I guess we were getting back at the bastards I railed against in the last paragraph by wasting as much company time as possible. All the time we spent writing dirty, perverted lyrics to instrumentals of hit songs, we stole from our employers. Yeah sure. We did it because of social protest. We were striking out against "the man".
Nah. We were goofing off.
I still have dozens of those songs on tape. Once we found a piece of rather dramatic music and I spent 20 minutes talking about going back to Tierra del Fuego. Dramatically. We laughed like idiots. God we were having fun. Of course, I was whacked!
The promotion that first summer involved a dune buggy called Rob Sherwood's KDuneWBuggy. I was driving it around but only when forced. Driving the thing was scary. No seat belts, open sides and about six inches above the pavement. I felt safer and more comfortable in my really neat 1967 yellow Oldsmobile Toronado. What a sweet car. (A year or so later I traded it in on a new Toronado that was a pile of manure.) Front wheel drive on that puppy but only an AM radio. I wanted to be able to listen to my own stuff and wasn't up for an eight track. So, since without a bump on the floor of the front seat, I thought I would just put a battery-operated turntable down there and listen to my heart's content. (Hello! Are you on drugs? Well, yes, but what's your point? Are there bumps on Minnesota roads?) So there I am driving down highway12 with the needle skipping all over the place and I'm cursing about the bumpy roads and all because I wouldn't spent the fifty bucks to buy a tape player. I may have arrived at the station at about 5Pm, a little cranky over the fact that I had just listened to Joe Cocker sing, "I ge…wit……m….ends", (Damn bumps!) but waiting for me was a regular chocolate factory of fun. My program director thought I was great, Barry and I were creating magic in the production room, Rey Lark was eating beans and franks TV dinners and Don Bleu didn't kick me out of the studio when I ruined that last hour of his show by stretching out on the carpeting and bitching about one thing after another for sixty minutes. (I needed to get out that bile, so I could have all that five hours of fun).
We still had the turntables, but KDWB was on the cutting edge. We were weaning ourselves from 45's and putting all the music on cart. It was so kewl (knock that shit off) when DJ's from smaller stations would visit and see us all cart. You could just smell the envy. Or was that cow crap from the farm reports they were doing between Jack Jones covers? Hey, I'm not on a high horse. I worked at cow crap stations myself. What about Blythe, California. Well, that was gecko crap and rattle snake crap and muskrat crap. Speaking of muskrats, did you know that Linda Ronstadt told Don Bleu to get the fuck out of her dressing room? Yeah. Yeah. She was tired. She was stressed. She was BITCH. I heard she did that …you know…porno stuff…on just about everybody. But not with Don Bleu. He loved his wife. Loved his son. He was just about one of the perfectly nice people I have ever met. He asked me to marry him, but …
Okay. I just re-read what I just wrote and you have every reason to think I am STILL doing drugs. Are there any consequences to this whole exercise in literary ego stroking? Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow do…..
Coming in Chapter 11 - Come On Baby Light My Fire