The U1OO Story - Chapter 15 - Breaking All The Rules
I had a dream recently. I was in a balloon over the rough country of Northern California. In the basket with me were Ed Groppo, my manager from my second time in Modesto and Fritz Beezemeyer, the GM from San Francisco. They were both telling me I had to jump to make room for the competition.
Lucky are people who work for supportive, involved, general managers. My GM at what was soon to be U100 had linked hands with me in a suicide pact. We were rushing headlong into a couple of years of exhilaration that would change the lives of everyone involved forever. The month of August 1974 was exhilarating as we prepared to debut a new station at the Minnesota State Fair.
In 1963, my station in Blythe had a booth at the Date Festival Fair over towards Palm Springs. In 1964, the radio/TV stations I worked at in Austin, Minnesota had a booth at the Brower County Fair. I got hooked on fairs and still was in 1974.
My first year with KDWB at the Minnesota State Fair, we piggy-backed into the gas-company building. The next three years were golden. The KDWB broadcast location at the fair was as prime as it could get. There was a park just next to the entrance ramp to the Grandstand. Somehow, in 1971 the fair biggies had allowed us to plop a trailer in this park. We had a built in audience in the park and room for crowds. Not so lucky, was WYOO/WRAH. Our location was along one of the busiest streets on the fair grounds, but it backed against a brick wall and was hemmed in with booths on both sides. Someone found a mini-trailer we decked out with temporary signs. (remember we were changing everything just hours after the fair opened) We told the air-staff about the format change during a meeting on August 21, 1974. On August 26th, the day we switched format, I wrote:
"Today will probably turn out to be one of the most memorable days in my life. A format change like this in a Top 15 market doesn’t take place very often and I am sure all of you will feel the excitement with me."
It still amazes me the secret was so well kept, considering that Mike and I were surrounded by colleagues who would make Caesar’s knife-wielding senate seem like puppy dogs. Maybe there were rumors. I don’t know. I do know that in afternoon - drive of the first full day of the fair (a Friday) there was a drastic music change. Like Jack In The Box blowing up their clown, we blew up a format. Our new staff included Bob Hall in mid-days working harder than he had ever worked before. Jerry Brooke, late of WDGY and KDWB, just being a hyper Jerry Brook. Steve Gibbons, replaced the month before on mornings by Captain Billy, became Steve Steel. He affected a delivery that eventually caused him to complain of persistent sore throat and might have eventually destroyed his voice entirely if he hadn’t bailed in 1975. Art Snow was still doing over-nights…(The Snowman). Doug McKinnon was doing news along with Michael J. Douglas. Still in the future were Jerry St. James, Jeff Robins, Pat McKay, Tal Bartell, Jo Jo Gunne, Gary DeMaroney, and a bunch of others. I promise if you were missed on this list, you will included in future ones.
The switch was made. After a couple of years, the oldies AM station, WYOO and it’s sister FM, WRAH, were gone, replaced by a station Jim Klobuchar said was the equivalent of dropping the rear axle out of your car at 65 miles per hour on I35. In the end, the audience was confused. Some of the calls we got asked if it was a joke and when would it end. We got a bunch of angry calls lamenting our stupid decision. Eventually, the mail came too. Letters promising never to listen to our station again. One listener said he had gotten a ‘bad feeling’ when I left KDWB and materialized at WYOO. He had expected the worst and had not been disappointed. Jan in Edina didn’t mince words when she wrote her letter of complaint. "Since the change to ‘screaming top forty I will not even flip to it in the car. I can’t stand the new jocks either. Everything about your station is repulsive and I am disappointed in your bad taste. I would sooner listen to KSTP, WDGY or KDWB. I hope you realize your mistake…."
Carol in St. Paul put it this way: "Your U100 format stinks. Why didn’t you leave things the way they were? I would think you would rather have us women for listeners rather than a bunch of teeny boppers." and another St. Paul listener, Stephen complained that we dumped the new format on them too quickly without giving our listeners a chance to adjust. "…the change was so immediate - one day normal, the next day boiler factory. I simple hate the noise you are now transmitting. Still, I wish you luck. Thank you for your past days of perfection and enjoyment. One last remark: RATS!" At least he wished us luck!
Some, like Annette in Edina loved us. "I accidentally discovered your radio station and since Thursday night I have listened to it non-stop." She continued to write that there was SO much music, she had to listen to our station for and hour before she figured out who we were. This, in spite of a U100 Jingle package, U100 shouts, rules requiring the DJ to say U100 first out of music. U100 the last thing into music. And a regular use of Super U….Super U weather, Super U this, Super U that. Of course we were also a stealth radio station. We weren’t the first, but for a few years station had been moving away from traditional call-letters and using nick names or format indicators to identify their radio stations. Today, stations change call-letters with a phone call to the FCC (or so it seems) but in 1974 a call-letter change took months. Our official ID, WYOO-WRAH, Richfield, Minnesota was delivered sometime around :55 and the memo says: "Bury it!" At the top of the hour we were U100 all the way. We were broadcasting from the Fair on telephone lines to Eagan where our transmitter and towers were located. What made this a unique situation was our stereo. We didn’t need ONE broadcast quality phone line. We needed TWO. And they had to be two matched lines so the left channel and the right channel arrived at Cliff Road at the same time. It was still Ma Bell in those days and she came through and our stereo signal from the fair popped forth in what was heralding the future of music radio.
For about 20 years, music had been available on FM. Classical music, Jazz, Beautiful Music (Elevator music), and in the last half dozen years Album or Underground had brought a contemporary sound to FM.
I have been reminded that one other station experimented with a contemporary format on FM prior to U100, but their obscurity was in stark contrast to our ‘in-your-face” format. The best indication of the Twin Cities newness of our experiment was the comment from an Underground radio aficionado and FM elitist who complained that it wasn’t “right to play Top 40 on FM”. Even our competition thought that Top 40 didn't really “belong” on FM.
Curiosity is a powerful thing, and it wasn’t long before our Fair location was attracting standing crowds. KDWB lost the ‘performance’ aspect of their fair appearance. If you stopped by their location in the park, you saw a DJ in a lighted trailer studio pretty much ignoring the people watching. KSTP 1500 wasn’t broadcasting from the fair, but on a regular basis they came out of the permanent KSTP building kitty-corner from KDWB and tossed t-shirts to the crowd. KDWB in a clever and astute programming decision tossed out their t-shirts. WDGY wasn’t anywhere to be seen. This was how far Top 40 radio had sunk in the Twin Cities. A battle of the t-shirt tossers.
Around the corner, down the block and a quick 30 feet up the street we weren’t tossing t-shirts. Our infamous Grabs-Me-T-Shirts with our new U100 logo replacing the WYOO logo were soon to arrive. Our lights were bright, the speakers loud and the music pretty much non-stop. A few years before when KSTP launched their switch to a contemporary format they played virtually non-stop music with no commercials for a couple of months at least. They followed that with a clever way of scheduling spots that allowed for long stretches of no commercials. “In the next 142 minutes you’ll hear 142 minutes of music.” In other words, they would play commercials and then block out 2 hours and 22 minutes with no spots. Ten minutes later they would say, “In the next 132 minutes you’ll hear 132 minutes of music”. The countdown continued and the impression was given that they never played commercials.
We couldn’t do that. Couldn’t afford it. We blocked out a pretty light log, but we were commercial from the beginning. I don't remember the woman's name, but she bought time for Pepsi and controlled a lot of money. She was one of the few who were tipped off about the change coming to WYOO. On spec, partly because she was a 'Rob Sherwood' fan and partly because Mike was a good salesman and had her respect, she was with us from the start. My memory is that we gained more accounts than we lost.
The creation and kick-off of U100 was without a doubt the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in radio. To dig up and use a dated phrase...the world was our oyster. Everything was possible. The format was tight! (and that drove the old WYOO crew crazy) but it was also as loose as a goose. It was like we had created an image. Bad Ass U100. We break rules. Rules don’t apply to us. Fuck the rules. All this in the context of the FCC circa 1974.
How did this attitude affect our programming during those first few days at the fair and later back at the studios? And example is found in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The movie was becoming a cult phenomenon and a couple of the songs rocked so?…play Sweet Transvestite! Jethro Tull had some great riffs so play it. Twentieth Century Schizoid Man was an awesome title. Add it. The icons of teen-age-boy-bedroom-guitar like Smoke on the Water, Stairway To Heavan, Inna Gadda Da Vida. Play them all!
It was so much damn fun. Pump. Pump. Pump. Press. Press. Press. We were making a reputation. We were also, making mistakes.
As an addendum to the above, this little addition:
In retrospect, there has to be some reason why two relatively sane broadcasters would jump off the U100 cliff. The answer, I have decided was the station out there on Radio Drive, AM KDWB 63. Deep down, I have to realize that both Mike and I had hard-ons for KDWB. Really, Mike would have liked to have been named GM when Harold Greenberg left and I was cast aside like an old shoe by Gary Stevens and the Doubleday Broadcasting Company.
I recently found this poem I wrote in the autumn of 1974, not long after the debut of Super U, U100. (With apologies to the Pied Piper, The National Lampoon, and Dr. Seuss, you might enjoy it. Read it aloud and with passion and you’ll understand some of the Rob Sherwood mind-set 31 years ago.)
Do you remember the Twin Cities,
Just west of Hudson, Wis.?
Wild and great
Can’t wash the guilt
From this sinful state
When a certain AM radio station
Sunk into a pit of degradation.
They came to town with press and letters,
Enslaved 63 in their big-market fetters
To up our Hooper with lots of rules,
They hadn’t learned in Disc Jockey schools,
Or gotten as tips from local Hal Newells,
But, Doubleday’s passion
For PD’s of fashion
To join in the incredible Top 40 duels
While ratings sank into bloodletting pools.
They arrived when all of the local
Listeners rebelled and finally got vocal.
“Time for a change, we are getting rash!”
There were signs of the coming listener back-lash.
“Your station is boring”, said hippie haired sons.
“If you don’t do something, no more number ones”.
Their moms in their trousers, not speaking for fun,
Said, “We’d even change if a decent one comes.”
The Doubleday bosses at this declaration,
Quaked with a mighty consternation.
The Board of Directors met in despair.
Who could they hire to effect a repair?
Outside the window, the mad mob was chanting.
The big boys cowered from this raving and ranting.
A knock at the door galvanized them with mortal
Fear at the rap on their chamber portal.
“Yes?” said the big boss fixing a grin,
When a cool and curious man walked in.
His costume was certainly doubtful in taste.
A purple shirt worn baggy at the waist.
His pants were loose just about the hips,
And his tennies were ripped about the tips.
In short, he was a most striking a sight,
And this man had the big bosses up tight.
He advanced to the table
Saying, “I’m able
Using a secret amulet and charm
To cause radio listeners to swarm.
The entire audience under the sun
To creep, swim, fly, or to run.”
He said he used all of this charm
On radio stations doing him harm.
What he was promising was no charade.
He want to organized a suicide parade
To remove the competitors who cause you woe
Give me some money and I will begin the show.
What he offered was a tempting deal
To be number one again had immediate appeal.
“Are you sure what you say is really effectual?”
He replied, “I am the one to drove every intellectual
Out of St. Paul, And I am the pixie
Who took the democrats right out of Dixie.
In Warsaw, in Moscow, and some time later,
I worked as an exterminator.
If I solve your problem, one thousand dollars?”
“A hundred thousand”, the big boss hollers.
Into the street stepped the purple shirt.
Playing album cuts and musical spurts
Of Steve and Eydie kitsch and bits,
Of some amplified Led Zepplin hits.
As he trilled in a sweet falsetto,
A tremor rose in the listener ghetto.
The tremor grew to a tiptoe stamping.
The lisp of leather and silk hips vamping.
They abandoned ‘CCO in masses,
The KQ listeners were cutting classes,
WeeGee Sailor boys from washrooms mincing
Strutted in the sun, lumbering, wincing.
All the listeners of every other station
Filled the streets with sublime elation,
Lured by this wizard and begging for more
They advance in a crowd toward I-94.
In one of that highway’s bloodiest hours
It mowed them all down like a field of flowers.
One KSTP listener managed to survive
Surprised and chagrined to still be alive.
Shaken he staggered to a Minneapolis bar
Where he was interviewed by the Star
“I heard the impossible dream.
The hiss and whisper of a sauna steam.
The blond boy scout’s half frightened scream
In a land of whips and whipping cream.”
There was the murmur of surf on the sun bleached beach.
And a Princess phone within easy reach,
Tinkling with dates and friendly hellos,
And calling in requests to husky fellows.
I knew right away there was a station for me.
I so wanted to listen to K-D-W-B.”
I suddenly had something itchin
The things that I wanted 63 was so rich in.
Fairies in gardens and kitch in the kitchen
And a woman waiting for me in a gown,
And then the traffic came roaring down.
KDWB cheered, although some looked around.
The janitor and secretary were part of that crowd.
Traitors they were and that wasn’t nice
And for that they had paid a horrible price.
Commercials and news would now have their day
As the bosses could now do it their way.
“And fuckem, if anyone hollers!”
“Wait! What about my thousand dollars?”
Purple Shirt wanted his money right now
But the bosses were cheapskates, you know it and how.
“A thousand dollars?” the big boss scoffed.
His managers shifted their feet and coughed.
That kind of money they knew it would pay
For a nice winter cruise or Tiajuana holiday.
“You sing like an angel”, the big boss said.
“But not even you can awaken the dead.
So I guess”, he concluded, as calm as a clam.
“Our business was finished in that traffic jam”.
“An unwritten contract ain’t worth a damn,
And if you aren’t certain of that, well, I am.
Here’s ten bucks for your trouble, now take it and scram!”
Purple shirt grinned and said, “shit!”
“Just gimme my money and then I’ll split”
“Pay me my money and pay me soon,
Or you’ll find I can blow a much different tune.”
The boss decided he had been insulted
And told Purple Shirt that he had consulted
The lawyers, and they and he agree.
There was no way he could collect on that fee.
The Purple Shirt took to the street again,
With a Hendrix experience and then
He Cocker croaked and Morrison moaned,
Heavy as Led and Slyly Stoned.
And finally he peaked and gave them a tingle
As he handled a riff of a Super U jingle.
Then suddenly there arose the sound of a creaking
That grew to a shrill, nerve-shredding shrieking, The sound of ten thousand listeners freaking,
The screech of cats, the scream of diesels,
And like chickens wailing, at farmyard weasels,
Out came the KD listeners, school girls and matrons
Grand Dames and nuns, and opera patrons
Wives and daughters, all making whoopee!
Everyone becoming a Super U groupie.
The big boss gasped and his managers stared
They had every reason in the world to be scared.
The KDWB listeners were in a stampede
On a path that was familiar and seeming to lead
In a wet-palm, trembling-knee way,
Toward that bloody familiar interstate freeway.
And then as if he had been playing a trick
He changed his direction to Eagan in the nick
Of time. KD’s listeners followed in sheer delight
To where Super U had them all locked up tight.
Did I say all? No.
One remained. A broken radio dial was to be blamed.
“I missed the chance of a lifetime boys.
For I was promised juicy joys.
Flowers and candy and thrills past hoping
Being the Mama the whole gang’s groping.
Queen at the prom and toast of the corps.
Head of the line at the dressing room door.
Champagne on a yacht off the isle of Capri.
A handsome gynecologist in love with me.
Movie starlets raging because I good looking
And Julia Child envious of my cooking.
A millionaire husband and babies with fannies
Disposably diapered by trusty old nannies.
And Wall to wall everything just to play footsie on,
With a man I can look down at from the pedestal he puts me on.
No scruples, no split ends, no stretch marks or pimples.
Just heroes with war wounds and beach boys with dimples.
And just as I saw a vision in the Eagan deeps,
Of someone in love with me for keeps
The music faded back to a feedback buzz
And suddenly I realized, there I was.
Old and ugly and not very free.
The only one left listening to K-D-W-B.
I fear, sweet sirs, who’ve listened to my rhyme,
You must remember that the time
For Piper paying is coming soon.
Remember then, who called the tune.
After the fair, we moved back to the studios on Cliff Road and we settled into our experiment. As U100 boogied through the last three months of 1974, operating beneath the surface, behind the scenes, were the same vampires who had sucked the blood out of "Oldies WYOO". Our first play list included :
The Bitch is Back - Elton John
I Shot The Sheriff - Eric Clapton
Sweet Home Alabama - Lynard Skynard
It’s Only Rock and Roll - Stones
Another Saturday Night - Cat Stevens
Radar Love - Golden Earrings
Wild Thing - Fancy
Takin’ Care of Business - Bachman Turner Overdrive
Earache My Eye - Cheech and Chong
Harem Scarum - Focus
Shinin On - Grand Funk Railroad
Plus our oldies were classic rock sprinkled with never-a-single album cuts. Unfortunately, we also played, I Honestly Love You by Olivia Newton-John, Rock Me Gently by Andy Kim, and Can’t Get Enough of Your Love by Barry White.
We were schizophrenic!
Relate! Relate! Relate! When I first went on the air at WYOO, doing 10am - Noon, the stretch to relate was hard work. After an entire career spend talking to teens, my target audience was suddenly 25-34 year old women. For some reason I figured that these were truly ‘Desperate Housewives’ tending toward soap operas, chocolate bonbons, and hard liquor. I talked a lot about all three! Now, in a memo date August 28, 1974, two days after our format change, I was dealing with familiar territory.
Because we were broadcasting from the fair, we had to be careful of levels. It was difficult for some of our jocks to keep the music hot over their voice. They were used to the yoyo technique. This is when you pot up the music, pot it down when you talk, pot it up between phrases, up, down, like a yoyo. It is inexcusable on any format, but horrible on a hot rock station.
I was trying something else. Music to music segues with nothing in between. In Blythe, California, my first station, we played triple plays. It started with a pre-recorded intro. That intro alone took 20 minutes. (Or so it seemed...actually about 20 seconds) Between each record (you know - those vinyl things) we’d play another pre-recorded bit bragging about our ‘Triple Play’ and wrap it up with a pre-recorded promo reminding the listeners we had JUST played a triple play! At KDWB we did triple plays too, with a little less verbiage. At U100 I wanted it music to music to music with no talk! Nothing pre-recorded before or between. Just non-stop music. It was hard for the DJ’s to do. I guess it went against every fiber of their Top-40 DJ being, and I constantly caught them cheating and chatting across the segue. (Later the savvy ones figured out these multiple segues were great for emergency bathroom trips and oral sex.)
Number 4 in the memo listing things to remember: "Relate to the music, relate to the stereo, relate to the fair, relate, Relate, RELATE!"
At the same time I was dealing with the minutia of new formats, new music, new DJ’s and new promotions, I was trying to hold on to the tiger tail. On September 5, 1974, my memo encouraged the DJ’s to be ‘cocky, a little controversial, and entertainingly spicy…." but to refrain from saying things just for their shock value.
"Do not use: ‘mother trucker’, ‘funk you’, ‘mother funk’, ….After all, we don’t want to be written up in the Catholic Bulletin!"
I remember in the early 60’s I was driving from California to Minnesota. Somewhere on a highway east of Phoenix in New Mexico (a two lane highway at that point) I began to pass a tanker truck. I swung into the on-coming lane, punched the gas, and pushing my Buick Skylark (Black) towards 75mph began passing the cab when an oncoming car arose from a dip in the road like a developing mirage. Making an instant decision, I asked for everything that the General Motors aluminum V8 could give me and squeezed ahead of the tanker in time to avoid the head-on collision. As I swerved in front of the truck I swear I heard a ‘click’ as my right rear bumper brushed the truck’s front left bumper. A few miles ahead, my heart pounding, dripping in death sweat, I pulled to the side and sat, dazed, contemplating the true meaning of life.
We all have dozens of these escapes in our lives. Most we don’t know about. Some we do. On September 16, 1974, Mike Sigelman sent a memo to the staff.
I am happy to announce the addition to our corporate staff of Mr. Alan Henry, Dirctor of our Broadcast Division. His years of experience with Metromedia and Soderling Broadcasting will certainly go a long way to building an even stronger Fairchild Broadcast Organization.
Whew! We had dodged the bullet. We had avoided the fiery crash, we had won the race before the horse died. I didn’t know it at the time but I believe it without reservation. If Alan Henry had been appointed to his position ONE MONTH earlier, I would still have been talking about soap operas, chocolate bonbons, and Lime Rickeys. There would have never been a Super U.
I remember Alan Henry as a stern, uncompromising, opinionated, unfriendly, corporative bad guy, and I cannot think of ONE thing he did to help U100 in the next year. He replaced Stu Josephsberg, a kind, friendly corporative good guy, who had ties to show biz through his Uncle. Milt Josephsberg was a writer in the golden days of radio and the early days of television. You see his credit on old episodes of I Love Lucy and The Jack Benny Show. I don’t know if Stu Josephsberg’s Uncle influenced our decision, but I have to give someone the credit for letting Mike Sigelman and me grab that Super U tiger by the tail.
Memory is a strange thing. Sometimes it works in the most arcane and intricate ways. Other times the most simple things are beyond its grasp. Certainly, dear reader, you have experience the absolute frustration of trying to remember something simple and obvious. Once, I spend several moments in utter turmoil because I couldn’t remember the name of the television host on whose show the Beatles made their first appearance. I knew he said, "…really big shew." and talked to Topo Gigo. He used to say, "Oh Topo!" and Topo would reply, "Oh, Eddie!"…..!!!!! Eddie!! Ed!!! Bye Bye Birdie!!! "We’re gonna be on Ed Sullivan"!!!! ED SULLIVAN!
What I just wrote in a few sentences took me at least an hour or so of major brain activity. All that stress and effort took several minutes off my life. Equal to a couple of cigarettes.
I write this because when I am away from my notes, journals, and purloined U100 memorabilia, I have to rely on a very flawed organ. My brain remembers what it wishes in the way it wishes. So, my only memories of the autumn of 1974 foggy or nonexistent. I know we had contests, promotions, ups, and downs. We fiddled with the staff, moving the former WYOO PD from a DJ shift to all-night news. It’s pretty obvious we were trying to bury that guy. In my journal I wrote a bit about our morning show. Captain Billy and Michael J. Douglas. It wasn’t funny enough. In retrospect I don’t think it was a great personality match. In spite of that, we were breaking new Twin Cities morning show ground. Aside from an incredibly talented morning guy at KDWB in the early 70’s (who was from Florida and who lasted barely through the winter), and the clever newsman/chit-chat morning show being done at KSTP, Captain Billy and MJD were actually doing bits. Not enough of them, but at least there was more to the morning show than a copy of the USA Today (didn’t exist yet) as morning show prep and make it up as you go chit chat.
Captain Billy also had a history we knew about when we hired him and we were soon going to have to deal with it. Billy had been in a horrible automobile accident a while before. Both Billy and his wife were severely injured. Because of the accident, his wife had possibly lost her ability to have children and Billy was facing a major operation to repair damage to his hips and legs. A great deal of a damage was caused when the seat-belts failed and a major lawsuit against the car manufacturer was in the court system in California. In 1975 we would lose our morning show host for about 6 weeks when he underwent his operation. He would leave us for good after a mega-dollar settlement. That story is yet to come.
Bob Hall, now Brother Bob Hall as assistant PD and Music Director. Bob Hall brought a more adult presence to the station as well as his shift. He was also one of the original WYOO crew and had an insight into the leftovers we were still dealing with every day.
Jerry Brook was a professional DJ and as I’ve written, I had known him since my stint at WDGY. Ironically, we both worked at KDWB, again at U100, and while I was at KSTP, he worked in KSTP Sales. I am sure somewhere in my gray matter are many Jerry Brook stories, but I can only tap one.
It had to be some time in the Spring or Summer of 1975 when Jerry called sick. It wasn’t until much later in my radio career I actually took advantage of ‘being sick’ when I didn’t really want to work. At that point in my career, except for a few extended visits to various psych wards, I hadn’t missed work for petty colds, flu, or for that matter malaria, small pox, or the plague. What I came to later, Jerry had already discovered and it wasn’t unusual for his ‘fragile’ health to prevent work. It wasn’t unusual when I answered the phone and heard the croaking, rasping voice, of a DJ sounding truly at death’s door telling me he was too sick to work. I told Jerry he was covered and a part-timer was rounded up. Later, I went to lunch.
There was a golf course on the route back from the restaurant. One of the fairways paralleled the road and it was there I saw a familiar face carrying his clubs walking towards the green. Like Ebenezer Scrooge waiting for Bob Cratchit to come to work late, I bided my time for a couple of hours before giving Jerry a call. Jerry answered the phone sounding like he had just gargled Drano. I asked him how he was feeling and eventually casually mentioned I had seen him playing golf. Without a pause, Jerry replied, "Yeah, my doctor said I should get some fresh air."
How can you be angry someone like that? Jeff "Mother" Robbins was a true asset. His night-time show was everything I wanted. Looking back, I could have used two or three more of him. He was just a damn good DJ. Full of himself, difficult to deal with, hard to understand, rarely in a good mood, and messy as hell, this was one fine DJ.
Through the years, I have gotten hundreds, if not thousands of air-checks from DJ’s wanting jobs or just critiques. Have you ever heard someone tell you that on an air-check, the first set was the most important one? They were right. A professional sound. That’s what you listened for in those first few minutes. It was as obvious as the nose on your face when you heard it. From the first minute of Jeff Robbins’ air-check, I knew he HAD to be on U100. He was. Twice.
Art Snow faithfully kept us on the air all night and, yes, I was on the air too.
As winter began, we counted phone calls, savored all the street-talk, and carried on with our big steps and little steps. I didn’t know it then, but we were creating a legend. Our rep was better than our ratings. In spite of the bring-me-downs I worked with every day, I was having the time of my life.
My first U100 Christmas and the first non-KDWB Christmas just around the corner. During the heyday of KDWB, Christmas meant special music, special programming, the staff Christmas Party, and of course, my production of The Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. During 5 of my almost 6 years at KDWB, the Ebenezer Scrooge production has risen from drug-induced creativity to a tradition. Not necessarily a station tradition; more a Rob Sherwood tradition. Before multi-track tape recorders, we did it with a razor blade and splice block. My estimate is over a thousand splices in the 35 minutes production. Maybe more. Through the years I have seen sheer splicing genius and that must be a lost art in this digital age we live in.
Another unique production we did at KDWB was the ‘virtual’ staff party. As was usual programming in the 60’s and 70’s, most radio stations began playing Christmas music just after Thanksgiving. One or two top-40 standards per hour to begin and as the holiday neared more and more Christmas music and more and more traditional carols. It started with Brenda Lee Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and the Beachboys and Little St. Nick. By the December 24th we were playing Bing Crosby, tahrumpadumdum, The Little Drummer Boy. The Christmas albums by The Carpenters were godsends. If I never hear John Lennon’s Christmas song again, I’ll die happy. Barry Siewart and I worked on a pre-recorded and fake Christmas party. We pre-recorded the Jocks, newsmen and station staff chatting as if it were a real party. Behind it all was a loop cart sound effect of a babbling crowd and it was interspersed with Christmas music. It wasn’t necessary to spend the hours to make this. It was just something nice. Different. Creative. And since the hours of this programming was on several large reel-to-reels, the regulars got Christmas off while the part-timers baby sat the tapes. It was a giant leap from high school choirs and a programming schism.
At U100 we had a mind set. No matter what is was, we tried to do it differently. Christmas programming was going to be no exception. Except for Scrooge (Come hell or high water, I was doing Scrooge), the tradition was going to continue. (Surprisingly, a couple of other stations around the country had heard about my Scrooge and asked if they could do it too. For a few years I made a few hundred extra dollars each Christmas providing the script, music, sound-effects, and Scrooge portrayal)
Our U100 Scrooge too some time to produce and we were making major changes. For the first time since the Scrooge production was conceived, Don Bleu would not be the narrator. Brother Bob Hall was tapped for those honors. Barry McKinna relinquished his hold on Bob Cratchit, replaced by Jerry Brook. One thing remained a constant. One character portrayal that didn’t change…ever…was Tiny Tim. When Tiny Tim said, "God Bless Us, Everyone!" it was always Don Bleu’s son, Cory. In 1974 at U100 and on the last Scrooge broadcast in 1992; In Eden Prairie, Modesto, San Francisco and Seattle/Tacoma, THAT tradition never died.
The question in my mind was what to do with the rest of the holiday programming. I knew that the traditional approach wasn’t going to be our approach. Eventually I had to compromise. Life is like that. I still got my licks in and began some programming I used for years. That first year we were very very careful in what Christmas music we played. John Lennon made it but Bing Crosby did not. We scoured for arcane rock artist Christmas music and found a bunch. I decided that I wanted to wait as long as possible on Christmas eve before switching to Christmas programming. I was imagining the disaffected teenage boy. Did I really believe this ‘target’ got into Christmas music. Because of this we didn’t change programming until 9pm on Christmas evening and we were done with it at 10:45am Christmas day. There were complaints but I still think it was the right decision. While the competition was ‘changing format’ we were playing the hits.
We still had 13 hours to fill. We started with the obvious. Our production of Scrooge led off our special programming at 9pm. It would repeat the following morning at 9am to end our Christmas programming block. Scrooge was followed by The Prophet. It didn’t have a anything to do with Christmas, but the philosophy of Kahlil Gibran is uplifting and poignant. I had read it for years, much to the chagrin of the nuns, and when Richard Harris (He was the British actor with the improbable seven minute Top 40 hit, MacArthur Park… "Someone left the cake out in the rain…" The latter day reader may remember him as the originator of the movie role of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series) recorded a highly produced reading of The Prophet with musical interludes in the pop/disco musical style of Barry White. I still enjoy this LP. It ran and hour. Next, we really got strange.
An actor named Ian Williamson recorded a reading of The Hobbit. The precursor to the Lord of the Rings series. Playing all the parts, as well as the narrator, if you listened to it in a dark room (maybe a bit high) it was a fascinating bit of story-telling and given a little time, it sucked you in. I found a modern interpretation of Handel's The Messiah and we scheduled it Messiah (Christmas portion only) after The Hobbit. I lost my copy years ago and would love to hear it again. At 6am a couple of paid religious Christmas shows from the Lutherans and Evangelicals rounded off the morning until the Scrooge repeat. A lot of thinking went into the schedule.
Attention Program Directors! Have you ever wanted to shoot a part-timer? I don’t remember who was working over night that Christmas Eve and early morning, but he is lucky I didn’t shoot him. Christmas is big in my family and this was the first one since my mother had died. I intended to spend it in Northern Minnesota. At some point around 1am, I called the station to see how everything was going. The un-remembered part-timer answered the phone promptly. I asked him how everything was going and he replied that everything was ‘just fine’. Something was strange. In the background I could hear music. Top 40 music. Top 40 musical Christmas songs. I asked him what was playing and he said he was playing Christmas music. !!!!!!!!! Aren’t you supposed to be in the middle of The Hobbit? "Rob", he exclaimed! It was just a bunch of talking so I dumped it." YOU WHAT?
As it turned out, he started The Hobbit but after 20 minutes stopped it and began playing ‘regular’ Christmas music. He assumed it was all a mistake and he took the initiative!!!…and stopped it. As Tony Soprano would say, "What’re you gonna do?" Of course I told him it was supposed to be like that and I wanted him to immediately begin playing it again. From the beginning. I don’t care that you have been playing music for over an hour…just do it.
Surprisingly, we got some compliments on our Christmas programming. The complaints were mostly from people who turned on the station early on Christmas Eve or late on Christmas morning and heard what they deemed, inappropriate music. One thing about the Super U, it was frequently inappropriate. One ‘compliment’ really burned my ass. A listener called to ask about something he heard on Christmas Eve. He wanted to know where he could get a copy because just when he got interested, it was cut off. He was listening to The Hobbit.
The part-timer who ruined it all didn’t stay employed at U100 long enough to see Christmas 1975. We tried again that year with the Hobbit, The Prophet, and The Christmas Carol. We added a new version of Tommy, and a bunch of 30 minutes recordings of high school choirs. Life is full of compromises.
As 1975 arrived, as far as I was concerned, U100 was still a magical, dream place to work. Our explosion onto the Twin City broadcast scene had created a tsunami of reaction. I covered the listener reaction earlier. The reaction from the competition was, looking back now, hilarious. For a little piss-ant, punk-ass station on Cliff Road in the boonies, they sure were sitting up and paying attention. Perhaps they were speaking out of both sides of their mouths. At KSTP they had discovered the telegram. For the younger readers, a telegram was like the electronic version of a letter. In the mid 70’s the telex was all the rage and the telegram was an anachronism used mostly for birthday greetings and death announcements. It seemed like the gang at the Hubbard AM had discovered the telegram and regularly sent them to DJ’s and other staff members. The messages were usually snide, intended to hurt and depress, and pay way more attention to us then we deserved. I wonder why they were so obsessed with little ole U100? The low point was a glossy 8 x 12 picture of the KSTP program director and a couple of their staff members looking like a bunch of geeks posing for the camera as the burned a U100 Grabs Me T-Shirt. When they sent the picture to us I remember wonder where they got the time for such childishness. Later, I became a Hubberite myself when I became Operations Manager/PD of KSTP in September of 1976. Even then, when talking about Twin Cities radio there was disdain and subtle ‘put-down’ when discussing the Super U. I often wondered why they hired me if in fact everything I did in radio at U100 was a disaster and my career at KDWB was hardly worth mentioning. They always did live in their own little ivory tower.
Over at KDWB they hadn’t discovered the telegram. They used the telephone. Buzz Bennett arrived just days before I departed. Not many months later he left in his Buzz Bennett haze and vaunted reputation to be replaced by "Buzz Bennett Lite". I am trying to remember his name. Sebastian. Something Sebastian. Rick? Bob? Tom? Dick? Harry? Someone will email me his name and I will put it here. John. Thank you. I think he suffered from the 70’s radio form of penis envy. FM-Stereo envy. His minions called my jocks regularly. The calls were purportedly just fellow jock to fellow jock, but not so subtle negative comments on programming, music selection, engineering, and the color of Mike Sigelman’s socks seemed to always worm their way into the conversation. I don’t know if they really commented on our GM’s socks but I wouldn’t be surprised. It got tedious to regularly hear from Jeff Robbins about what the folks at KDWB thought (knew) we were doing wrong. Almost weekly someone in the staff would tell me what was wrong with the station. How did they know what was wrong? Someone at KDWB told them. I got to the point where my reply was a PeeWee Hermanesque, "So why don’t you quit and go work there?" It was bad enough to hear about our deficiencies from everyone from the janitor to the receptionist, the jocks to the engineers, but I also heard it from my General Manager. Mike $ was friends with the GM at KDWB. It was that GM who had looked me in the face and lied to me about my "future’ at KDWB. It was that GM, so upset when I left, that he threatened my career. And it was that GM who regularly chatted with Mike. Much to my chagrin, it seemed they often chatted about me. And my programming decisions. His ‘advice’ was not welcome and trust me, I don’t think he had the best interests of U100 at heart. All his machinations were fruitless and although he eventually got the Super U by buying our FM signal and went on to make a gazillion dollars, I continued in radio for 19 years, happily laboring in the broadcasting vineyards in spite of him.
We never heard a peep out of WDGY.
I have one mea culpa concerning this whole subject of the competition. The jocks at U100, myself included, were not above poking fun at our competition on the air. In fact we were a bunch of smart-Alec, potty-mouth bastards, but at least what we said, we said on the radio and it was usually in fun. In fact I remember having a discussion with Jeff and Steve Gibbons about a ‘cross-over’ conversation as they traded shifts. It had gotten just a little too mean. I told them to keep it fun. In fact, now that I think about it, they were just fighting back.
I wasn’t thrilled with the morning show. In 1974, when we began our experiment the wild and crazy morning show of the 80’s and 90’s wasn’t on the horizon. We knew we didn’t want an ‘information’ morning show. Just a month after the change from WYOO to Super U I was riding with some friends on a Sunday afternoon and we were discussing the radio station. I was dismayed to hear a lot of negative comments about the morning show. When Captain Billy sent his tape from San Diego he buffaloed me. The tape was loaded with very funny bits. In my naiveté I assumed I was listening to a ’typical’ morning show. Apparently, he had crammed every good bit from maybe the last six months onto a 15 minute air check.
As we drove somewhere in the Twin cities, we continued to analyze morning shows. There were several varieties.
1. Information Morning Shows. These shows were heavy on news and sports and weather. School closings were a highlight in stormy weather and in extreme cases livestock and farm information were part of the coverage. Of course we are talking about the old WCCO here.
That wasn’t us.
2. The Happy Talk Morning Show. I was very familiar with this form of morning show. Charlie Brown at KDWB had done one for years. All about morning companionship, another cup of coffee before you hit the bricks, get the kids off to school, and I think I am going to gag.
That wasn’t us.
3. Another morning show type still exists and it drives me nuts. We jokingly call it the U.S.A. Today morning show. The entire show consists of a jock and his side-kicks stopping by the 7-11 on the way to work and picking up the U.S.A.Today newspaper. The entire show consisted of, "Did you see that so and so is doing such and such?"
In the end I commented that whatever else happened on a morning show, important to me was that it make me laugh. I wasn’t laughing much at Captain Billy and Michael J. Douglas. The situation resolved itself over the next couple of months.
Captain Billy was gone for a while, as I mentioned in the last chapter, to have surgery on his hips; a problem that arose from his automobile accident. Because of the devastating injuries to Billy and his wife, a lawsuit had been pending for several years and barely did he returned from his surgery when the trial in California was scheduled to begin and we lost our morning show jock again. In California they never got to trial. The defendants settled just minutes before trial and even after the lawyers took their share, Billy returned to Cliff Road pretty damn rich. He only waited a couple of days to buy a Cadillac.
A nice thing about a healthy bank account is the independence that comes with it. Within a week of his return, our morning show started to change. It didn’t take long for the situation to ripen to the point of no return. In one of our regular skull sessions about morning show direction and critique it quickly reached the fuck-you, no, fuck YOU stage and Captain Billy left in a cloud of dust. Or he left in a big honking Cadillac, if you please.
In no time I was listening to a tape from Baltimore. I laughed. I LAUGHED. We flew the perpetrator of this morning show audition tape to the Twin Cities. He wanted a job, but damn it, he also knew he was good. And I was a lousy negotiator. I knew what I wanted and I would have had sex with an orangutan in the Dayton’s window at 7th and Nicollet during the Daisy Day Sale to get it.
Jerry St. James joined the Super U. Not only was he funny, but he brought an honesty and ability to relate that was novel and refreshing. He was funny, zany, crazy, but still real. Amid all the fun, he managed to seriously take on the baby-seal slaughter. The U100 audience got involved in a letter-writing campaign that didn’t stop the Norwegians from clubbing seals to death, but certainly gave people pause and put a patina of caring on a juvenile and bad-ass radio station. When Michael J. Douglas got obsessed with crop circles and livestock mutilation and the supposition it was an alien (like in Martians) caused phenomenon, it was Jerry St. James who kept Michael’s morning show function on fun.
"Bless me Father, for I have sinned." It is time for my confession. I ripped off Jerry big-time. For the rest of my on-air career, I was influenced by Jerry. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Mr. St. James should be most flattered. Of course, I changed things, adapted things, twisted, and torqued, but the root was always there and I always knew it. I am not ashamed. I was a better DJ because of it and the 13 years of morning shows I eked out owed a huge measure of gratitude to Jerry.
I remember the meetings in Mike Sigelman’s office with the Mormons. Or with the Mormon. Singular. One man heard the morning show while driving his kids to school and turned into a one-man crusade to clean up JSJ. He would write the ’offensive’ material in his little book and complain about it joke by joke. Eventually, I started getting notes from the corporate head honcho, Alan Henry, with lists of jokes and margin notations like, "No!", "O.K.", "Bad Taste", "I don’t understand this", and "Awful". Years later while doing the morning show in San Francisco, the GM would have me in his office almost every morning at 9:05, just minutes after the show ended, to parse and analyze every joke and bit. It was agonizing and one of the worse periods of my career. At my last station, the GM didn’t even listen to the morning show. He would just have meetings to tell us how funny the guy on the OTHER station was. Looking back on the Mormon and the SF GM and the last GM, I can only laugh. Here were people without a funny bone in their body telling us what was funny and what wasn’t.
Jerry didn’t last until the end. When the news came out that we were sold to KDWB and the 6 month period of Limbo began, Jerry bailed. He felt badly about it and told me so. I got a couple of notes and talked on the phone once or twice in the ensuing decades and Jerry St. James said some nice things. He’s one of the nice guys I worked with.
He made me laugh.
Women in broadcasting. That was a novel idea in the 70’s. What did a woman do on the air. Play Suzy Homemaker like all the women on WCCO or talk low and sexy. The uber sex-kitten style. Now women had been on the radio for years. Top 40 radio. When I listened to a powerhouse station from Little Rock in the 60’s they had a man/woman team called Doc Holliday and Belle Starr. I am not sure if I thought of it earlier but I thought of it for sure when a woman stopped by with a tape, a resume, just when I needed a part-timer/week-ender/vacation fill-in jock. It was time for a Jockette!
The woman had a typical Scandinavian name, that I will not reveal to protect her privacy. On the air she called herself Cheetah. I listened to the air check and it was the typical low talking sexy voice stereotypical female Top 40 jockess. After listening to a few breaks, I told her that I wanted MY female Jock to sound just like a male jock except that she was a girl…woman. Could she do that? Could she drop the sex-kitten and just be a jock with a woman’s voice? The answer was, "yes."
Now the name. Cheetah had to go. She used it thinking of the sleek and fast African feline. I thought of Tarzan's pet chimp. Oh my god! How many times in my life have I done the most perfect thing? How many decisions have I made that were for all time, the right ones? I can’t think of many but here comes one. Now, you have to realize that U100 was being programmed with a sophomoric philosophy, so it should be no surprise to you when I told this innocent young lady, that a female jock on U100 should be called……..Beaver Kleaver!
Is that funny, or what? To this day I chuckle when I think of how wonderful that name is and how close I came to ruining someone’s career with it. Fortunately, she was having none of it. The answer to Beaver Kleaver was no.
Okay. I understand. Let me think. Like a dog with a bone, I wasn’t about to let go. Early in my career I used the named Robben and in Green Bay came close to being hung with the air name Robben Hood. I escaped that fate worse than death with Sherwood. So, Beaver Kleaver was a no-go. How about….Kincaid. That’s a great name. Kincaid. Beaver Kincaid. I won’t say I had my teeth in that Beaver because that isn’t a pretty picture, but poor Cheetah was entering a very puerile world and I hadn’t given up on the Beaver.
"No." The withering stare from beneath that frizzy blond hair convinced me to drop the Beaver. It was then I remembered hearing a male jock somewhere in the south with the perfect name. And Cheetah became Mesa Kincaid.
I just heard from her recently and right here and now I want to take credit for 67.34 percent of her success. I gave her a perfect name. In 1975, the deal was done and I rose from behind my desk in the bowels of that old building to escort Mesa to meet Mike, fill out the requisite papers, and officially have her join the staff of Right On Super U. She reached for the doorknob and pulled it. The door didn’t open. The doorknob just came off into her hand. For a moment she stood there in shock holding the doorknob at eye-level and hemming and hawing like Ralph Kramden. Actually, the door had been semi-defective for a while and to me it was not a surprise. I just used the phone to get someone to open it from the outside. Meanwhile, the newly christened Mesa was staring at me with accusatory eyes. It was if I had rigged the doorknob to trap her in my office with rape in mind, for sure. Rey Lark eventually freed her from incarceration by popping the hinges and she managed to escape from my clutches undefiled.
She had the last laugh. Several years later at a seminar for the big convention in the Twin Cities, Mesa was on a panel and I was in the audience when she told her version of the hiring story. The punch line was when she reached into the voluminous purse she always carried and held aloft…the doorknob from my U100 office. She had kept it all those years as a good luck charm. It not only helped her in her broadcasting career, but it also kept her pure.
In 1975 Pat McKay and his Kools came to U100. Little Stevie Perrun made his on-air debut at the fair where we had a fabulous booth. Chuck Morgan made headlines before I almost blinded him. Rey chopped down the 10 foot penis. We continued the St. Jude’s Radiothon tradition. The record guys paid us attention. And we beat Bill Clinton to the punch by 20 years.
In 1976, the ax fell. Not surprisingly we found out that our station ws on the sales block. The lack of long-term commitment to broadcasting was obvious when I visited the corporate towers in 1974 and Alan Henry couldn't wait to dump us. Eventually, the cut was keener when we found out our FM was going to our ARCH ENEMY, Gary Stevens and KDWB and the AM going to the local beautiful-music station programmed by another Mike Sigelman friend, Sam Sherwood.
The nuns taught me about Limbo. As I understood it, Limbo was an OK place but you didn't get to be with God. I can't really say U100 was in Limbo that summer of 1976. God wasn't in the picture. We were holding on and sometimes it wasn't much fun. And sometimes it was. We still did contests. We still boogied. We also knew that before too long, it would end and U100 would disappear. If you have been reading these pages and paying attention, you know how important it was to me to be broadcasting at the fair. It was a major disappointment that summer because I knew there was no chance for a U100 At The Fair – year three.
This phenomenon that was U100 kept pumping along with a whole new cast of characters. JoJo Gunn and Gary DeMaroney to name a couple. They worked their asses off during that last summer knowing that it was all very temporary. It worked. When I hear from the incredible Super U fans, JoJo Gunn is mentioned as often as Jeff Robins. Gary DeMaroney is mentioned as often as Chuck Morgan. Some of our gang, like Pat McKay and Bob Hall stayed until the end. I don't know what everyone was thinking. I was worried. Mike Sigelman had an idea. He actually had a couple of ideas. First, he thought about putting together a 'group' to buy the U100 properties. That sputtered because Alan Henry, the not-so-friendly-to U100-CEO wouldn't even consider a sale to anyone but KDWB. The other last gasp Mike put together was a complete presentation that involved moving the 'U100 Concept” as well as the U100 team to another dial location. I think it was the WLOL-FM position. It didn't happen but if I'm not mistaken sometime in the 80's WLOL took a spin at contemporary radio. My Story would be quite different if either proposal had worked.
Chuck Morgan was doing Afternoon Drive in the fall of 1975. He worked till seven and I did an easy two hours till nine. Our night guy did 9pm – 1am. This way we eliminated a salary and the station still had top guys on the air. Amid the constant rumors, I was trying everything to keep things alive. For some reason, I thought it would be 'funny' to squirt Chucker with a fire extinguisher. (This is sounding a lot like Michael on the TV show, The Office.) I honestly thought it was a foam extinguisher. It wasn't. It was some sort of powder. Not only was Chuck Morgan TERRIFIED when the MAD Program Director attacked him with the extinguisher, but the fine yellowish powder covered everything. The equipment and the Chucker. A second or two later, his eyes acknowledged the assault. A few thousand tiny grains of whatever were grinding away and I think it hurt. Of course, Chuck left for a trip to the emergency room and I skulked downstairs to my office where I spent the next hour feeling stupid. Fortunately, he wasn't litigious (unlike earlier situations) and he returned with red eyes and eye drops and, I am sure, a harboring suspicion that the Program Director was certifiable.
When Jerry St. James left, I moved to the morning show and night shifts lengthened and we save ANOTHER salary. Things really began to change at the end of July, 1976. Mike left. A care-taker GM arrived from corporate headquarters to ease us through the final days. The sales staff dwindled and died. Soon after, even the receptionist was gone and we answered the phones ourselves. We were bleeding from a thousand cuts.
And still, we boogied.
With acid clarity, I remember the sport coat and tie I wore to my first meeting with Mike Sigelman. The coat was a maroon check and the tied matched, a deep maroon. It was so silly. It was so square. I was so determined to 'clean up my act' for WYOO. Etched in my memory is that first morning drive from where I lived in St. Paul on what was then called Ramsey Hill to my new station. How excited I was that first morning, driving down the hill, out West 7th to the Mendota Bridge and down the old two-lane Highway 13 to Cliff Road. I was a Program Director. I had the programming fate of a radio station in my hands. I was wearing a maroon sport coat. Life was good.
When things were fun at U100, they were really, really fun. Mostly, people made things fun. Mike, my GM, made things fun. He was intense. He was driven. He was committed. (Or should have BEEN committed for going along with my crazy ideas). Rey Lark. What can I say about Rey Lark. A Program Director's engineer. Never once did he tell me what couldn't be done. He found a way. Over the years after U100, whenever I crossed swords with a chief engineer; in Modesto, in Tacoma, in San Francisco, I raised Rey onto a pedestal and informed the engineer of the moment that Rey Lark could do it. And if he could, why couldn't they? Pat McKay was 18-19 when he came to work at U100. Because he was programming music and keeping an eye on things, we gave him a Personal Assistant to Rob Sherwood title. It went to his head. Of course it would. When you are young it doesn't take much. But Pat was also loyal. His vision was my vision. I trusted him and don't regret it for a moment. Steve Perrun. Little Stevie. His career in radio began with a visit to KDWB, went through birthing pains at U100 and blossomed, later at KSTP. So talented and so dedicated. If the rest of my staff had had had even a fraction of his passion they would have been very successful. I have written about Jerry St. James and the debt I owe that man. I can't forget the part-timers who worked their asses off keeping the week-end U100 on track. Some of them cared a lot more than the full-timers. Marsh Walzer, the Promotion Director. He's still in radio, (sales) his life is normal, he survived U100. I can't count the times he covered my butt.
But now, I hated going to work. Our little experiment was almost over. I was in major denial, working from day to day. Without Jerry St. James, I was limping along on the morning show and leaving the station as soon as possible. The mood at the station was like the waiting room for relatives at a hospital. And still...we boogied.
I was home, watching television and trying not to think about the station and the future when the phone rang.
This has happened to me so many times. The phone rang. Like a bad script for an old movie, the phone rang. I had years of ringing phones. In 1963, Bob Roddy was on the other end and I ended up in Blythe, California. Later that fall, the phone rang. It was Brown Institute with a job at a radio/television station and I was off to Austin. In 1966, the phone rang. Literally a wrong number, and two weeks later I was pulling a U-Haul to Green Bay. Then 1968 and the phone rang. “Hey Rob, this is Johnny Canton. We have another opening at WeeGee. You interested?” The phone rang. It was 1969 when the droll voice of Dean Johnson lures me to Channel 63. 1974! The phone rang. Mike Sigelman puts us all on the road to Super U. 1976! AND THE PHONE RANG!
“Rob Sherwood? It's Jack Nugent”
Bless me Father, for I have sinned. These are my sins...
I had great ideas and poor follow-through. My personal shyness and low self-esteem caused me to duck when I should have attacked. I let my personal obsessions cloud my decisions. I wasn't a very good Program Director.
I have to be honest. The best years I spent in broadcasting were not at U100. They were my final years. Eventually I'll write about that Central Valley California Morning Show. The peaks of my contentment were when I played the DJ, Rob Sherwood. I am an actor. Actors act. The nadirs were when I tried to play, Rob Sherwood, PD. Then, I was an actor who hadn't mastered his lines. You can only ad-lib so much before the audience figures out you don't know what the fuck you are doing.
In referring to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, someone wrote that it had stood the test of time and THAT is the only true sign of a literary masterpiece. U100, in the memories of so many, has stood the test of time. Not much of what I did before or after is as well-remembered. The myth is greater than any history I could write.
If I were truly honest, I would have written more of my mistakes. MY mistakes.
THE U100 CONCEPT - I like listening to music. Music with hooks! I can spot a hook a mile away. For years, heaven for me was sitting behind the microphone with the speakers CRANKED. At K101 in San Francisco, our studios were effectively on the 3rd floor and I wanted the studio speakers loud enough to hear in the lobby. At U100 I wanted the speakers loud enough that the vibrations would shakes bolts out of the wall and speakers to drop on assholes. Every minute of a DJ's time on the air should be like riding a bike downhill. I wanted every minute of U100 full of that exhilaration we feel when we're driving a car for the first time; the windows open, the wind blowing, one arm steering and one draped across the passenger seat.
Do you remember the song, War...what is it good for? Absolutely..bump bump bump....nothing! I was at KDWB when that song came out and at least on my show it was on a 45 minute rotation! Songs that put you in another zone. The sheer bliss of listening to the radio! That was suppose to be U100.
So, why the fuck were we playing Olivia Newton-John? It is the myth again. People remember Led Zeppelin and forget Barry Manilow. It was a great idea, but when it came to the hard-core application of that idea, I chickened out.
THE U100 STAFF – I loved being a DJ. I laughed while doing it because doing it made me happy. I smiled when I was on-the-air. When I was behind that microphone my spirit soared. Better than anything. As good as it gets. I wanted everyone I worked with and everyone who worked for me to be there with me.
They were not. I didn't have the guts to do what needed to be done. U100 would have been better if the Draconian staff slash and burn had taken place in the same month the station was born.
We kept the ex-PD. Great! (Sarcastic tone intended) The morning man we tried to salvage by moving him to 10PM – 2AM. He rewarded me by bulk erasing the commercial carts when he was fired a year later. The news department was overstaffed. We didn't need it. Dump it. A nice guy on all-night but out of his league at this bastard of a radio station. Engineers, part-timers, mistaken hires. I just didn't have the balls to escort them out the door. I knew what should be done and I failed to do it. I wanted everyone to celebrate it like I did. I didn't understand when they didn't and was afraid...literally, afraid....to just be rid of them. (Incidentally, this failure didn't end with U100. It haunted my programming efforts for my entire career)
I should have worked harder. Enjoyed myself less. Suffered fewer fools. Walked the walk as well as I talked the talk. Thinking about the demise of U100 has forced me to face my failures. I've had to swallow them and let me tell you, they went down my throat like broken glass.
For me, this ends the much anticipated U100 Story. Including the few months before the Super U, I spent a little more than 2 years out there on Cliff Road and as much as I tried to, it has been impossible for me to write it all. Like dozens of flashbulbs at a rock concert, the stories pop into my mind, leave little floaters of light, and fade to nothing. Someone wrote me a plaintive email. “It seems like you just started the U100 story and now it's ending. Please! There have to be more stories” There may be. There are. As I am reminded of them, I'll share them with you, but for now I want to move on. I must move on.
“If only” are wretched words.
I apologize to everyone and anyone who did time at the Super U without being mentioned here. I also apologize to those I DID mention. I hear from the fans and colleagues who soared with me. From those who didn't, I hear nothing.
Everything you've ever done is still around in some form or another, working away. U100 is still somewhere inside me. It will always be.
Coming in Chapter 16 – Missing At The End