Chapter 2 - The New Engineer Poops
In that summer of 1963 I was working at a radio job making $70 a week and pretty full of myself. My take home (in cash) was three twenties and change. One twenty was pocket money, one twenty towards expenses (rent, etc.) and the final twenty into the pages of that savings account dictionary. Eventually I got a savings account at a local bank and almost 20 years later collected the balance and accrued interest from that forgotten deposit. What a hoot it was that I was also PD. My first job in radio and I didn’t know jack-shit about anything. By the process of elimination, the GM, Bob Roddy, made me Program Director. I was a Program Director in crisis. My morning man/sales manager had moved on to greener pastures. My mid-day man/chief engineer had absconded with a soldering iron or three and with his family in tow slunk out of town, and the night DJ had taken his pregnant wife and my radio to Tyler, Texas. That left…me!
A local high school student, Earl Trout, mentioned earlier, worked week-ends and during the summer of 1963 was doing a full-time shift. We also filled out necessary shifts with a local-former DJ who agreed to help us out. It might have seemed like things were getting better when the GM hired a new chief engineer who would also handle the morning show. A few months earlier, I had been hired over the phone and so was this guy. In both cases the phone was held up to a tape recorder speaker as a substitute for an air-check.
My memory fails me. I should start writing these musings quickly, before I lose the dementia race. If I don’t hurry this memoir, it will soon sink to chapters entitled "Who Am I?" and "Who Are You?" I cannot remember the new morning man/engineer’s name. I will call him Lumpy. Lumpy and his wife (child bride, perhaps a close relative) arrived in Blythe, California two days after being hired.
Seven months earlier, on a beautiful January morning, I drove into Blythe and within an hour was doing mid-days. Lumpy arrived on and early August morning. I was on the air when he pulled in. While we dealt with our DJ shortage, I was working mornings 6 to noon. Lumpy joined me in the studio, to watch me do my show and get a feel for our "format". After 30 minutes or so he got bored and just wandered off. Twenty minutes, a half hour passed and he didn’t return. I went looking. It actually crossed my mind, that he had changed his mind and left town. The station wasn’t spacious. A large straight staircase led to a small foyer/outer office where the receptionist-traffic manager-bookkeeper sat. A sales office, GM office, and bathroom were behind that tiny lobby/office. The back door led to a metal staircase attached to the back of the building. The little landing was a great place to stand at night, smoking a cigarette, feeling that strange California warmth on your skin and smelling the cattle pens laced with onion. To the right of the lobby was a very large room with a white grand piano. A throwback to the old radio studios of the 30’s or 40’s, it was used, on Sundays for a local preacher and with a desk tucked in a corner, it was also my office.
Lumpy was missing. Three hours later, at a little before noon, he wandered back into the station. He actually told me he had gotten bored and gone for breakfast. That should have been a warning. I ignored my misgivings (perhaps the fact that I had done a six hour morning shift for 2 weeks had something to do with it) and decided that Lumpy would replace me the next morning and work 6AM to noon. I would do the afternoon and Earl Trout would do the evening. That would cover us while we hired one more guy. There was light at the end of the tunnel but in fact we were in a big trouble.
I was aware of that trouble when the phone rang the next morning at about 6:45AM. How come we weren’t on the air? I hurriedly dressed and arrived at the station, turned on the transmitter and started playing catch-up. Around 9:30AM, Lumpy showed up. His alarm clock hadn’t gone off. (ahem) I turned the con over to him and with a heavy heart and the klaxon of alarms, went into the piano studio to sit on the couch, listen to my new morning man and try to relax.
He was the worse DJ I have ever heard. In my entire career, I never heard a worse DJ. I may have listened to over 2000 air checks and not one was worse. To beat it to death, if you looked in the dictionary under "worse DJ", you would see his picture. I am thinking of the guy on the Simpson's who runs the comic book store. “The worst DJ ever!” What was wrong? Let me count the ways:
1. He didn’t know how to run a board. He would cue up the records have a 5 or 10 second gap on each one. You would always hear the cue scratch at the beginning. About half the time, his cue-up would be so loose that he would reach over and nudge the arm, causing the needle to skip across the grooves. He would grab it and drop it somewhere in the first third of the song. And during all this he was be habadahabadahabada-ing like Jackie Gleason in a Honeymooner sketch.
2. Lumpy didn’t understand that those round things on the control board (officially called potentiometers) controlled the volume of the mike, cart machines, and turn-tables. Because of this the music was either so loud it drowned him out when he talked over the lip, or so soft, when he talked you couldn't hear it. Eventually he turned the microphone so high you could hear the chair squeak as he frantically reached for things. The song would end, there would be a pause, a frantic microphone, and some inane patter while we looked on the log for the next commercial, looked for it in the rack, put it in the cart machine and figured out which switch started it. Then, while the commercial played, his forgotten mike still alive, Lumpy continued to talk to himself (and all the listeners).
I will quit counting.
When a new DJ arrives at their new station, learning the board and new format are some things we all have to do and some slack has to be given to those first few hours. Even with sloppy board work and unfamiliarity with the format, the basic talent comes through. Not in Lumpy’s case. There were NO redeeming qualities.
I tried to help. Lumpy didn’t like it. He yelled at me that I was making him nervous. HE was making ME nervous. He was making me crazy. Bob Roddy, the GM, must have been hiding that morning because he didn’t appear at the station until 10:30am. Without much conversation at all, we agreed that Lumpy was horrible. Beneath horrible. Lumpy wasn’t going to make it. After a little more than an hour of the Lumpy Morning Show, on his first day of employment, we decided to let him go.
It WAS particularly embarrassing. Firing someone would be something new for me. Since Bob Roddy chickened out, the unique duty of firing someone on their first day on the job was left to me. I brought my temp in to work my shift that afternoon and when Lumpy got off the air, brought him into my office (the piano room) to give him the heave-ho.
Problem! By California law, we had to give him either two week’s notice or two week’s severance. Lumpy owed us $100. We advanced him the money for the move. The GM had a couple of choices. Just pay him for the two weeks (minus the $100) and say goodbye. His salary was 115 dollars a week so writing a check for $130 dollars would solve the problem. No way! Bob Roddy refused to just 'lose' that money. The other weird option was to let him work out the two weeks. There was no way he could do our morning show for two weeks. The horrible compromise was to move this disaster to the night show. For two weeks!
Most compromises are terrible and this was a horrible compromise. Either the morning show was a disaster or the night show was a disaster. The way things worked at small town radio, the night show lost. For not the last time in my career, I couldn’t listen to my own station while Lumpy was on the air. As Program Director, there were times throughout my career when I felt like Sergeant Shultz. "I see nothing. I know nothing…." I wish I hadn’t known about the under the control board blow jobs at U100. I didn’t want to deal with DJ body odor, psoriasis, or slovenly living habits. On the 4th or 5th day of the Lumpy Night Show, I forgot myself and stopped by the station. The memory of that visit scarred my radio brain and to this day I am slightly traumatized. Lumpy was sitting back in the chair with his feet up on the area in front of the control board. The microphone had been disconnected from the mike arm and was on his chest. His wife, in a halter top and Daisy Duke’s was running from side to side cueing the music and starting the turntables when Lumpy pointed at her. Since he couldn’t reach the mike pot in that position, he just left it on all the time.
I didn't realized how terrible our station sounded during those two weeks until a month or so after Lumpy left. Lumpy had desperately searched for a new job during those two weeks and an audtion tape he sent to a station in South Carolina was returned along with a letter from the PD. Of course, I violated the postal regulations and opened and read the letter. The South Carolina PD wrote that the tape was an insult. Never had the PD heard such a poor excuse for an air check. The PD wanted to know WHY? Why someone would send something so horrible if they expected to get a job. My curiosity was piqued and I listened to the tape. Everything I have described was on the tape. Non-cued records, bouncing needles and tone arms, mismatched levels, mistakes and more mistakes. With three minutes of instruction and an IQ over 60, most anyone could do better. That is an insult to people with an IQ under 60. And the capper! The air-check had been recorded on our studio Ampex. One problem. When using the Ampex the take-up reel would get full and the Ampex machine would being to slow down. We never used it for longer than a 30 minutes recording because of that problem. Lumpy didn’t know that. At the end of his "air check", he added a plea. As he begged for a job from the South Carolina PD, the tape went slower and slower which meant when played back on a working machine, his voice went faster and faster until at the end of the entreaty he was talking high and fast (Mickey Mouse begs for his job) It was hilarious! It was sad. Somewhere, I still have that tape.
I didn’t visit Lumpy central (the travesty continued) anymore and finally his last day arrived. Arrangements were made for him to get his final pay on Sunday morning. He was scheduled to work the Saturday night shift and there was no way he was getting any money until he was through. Completely through. When he found out he wasn’t getting his pay until Sunday morning and that we were deducting his advance, he refused to work Saturday night. He still wasn't going to get the money until Sunday morning. Here is when I found out Bob Roddy had loaned him (advanced him) another $100 to keep himself and Daisy in enchiladas. After the subtraction of moving expenses, living expenses and a one day deduction for refusing the work on Saturday his final money was around $15.
I planned to drive to LA for a little mini-vacation first thing in the morning on Saturday. Earl Trout would do the Saturday morning shift for me, the other jock would do Saturday afternoon and Lumpy his last scheduled shift six to midnight. To make it a real vacation I asked Lumpy to do one extra shift on Sunday night. It was a short shift, (my sixth day) mostly taped public affairs shows and we signed off at 9:30pm. I was up early to gas my car and make one last quick stop at the station. There I got the bad news from Earl. Lumpy wasn't going to work Saturday night OR Sunday because there was no money waiting for him and he refused to wait until Monday morning. Stupidly, I drove to his apartment to try to persuade him to work and not cut off his nose to spite his face. I also figured I could still salvage some sort of little get-away. It was a waste of my time. He was adamant. He refused to work. I ended up working the evening shift on Saturday for six hours and my regular Sunday night shift. Monday morning, Lumpy picked up his 15 dollars, called the receptionist/bookkeeper/traffic manager and the rest of us a bunch of fuckers and left. That was that.
Monday, a little after noon, after a grueling six hours shift plus the week-end work, I headed out for lunch. I decided to swing by Lumpy’s apartment to see if his car was there and if he had decamped. The apartment was surrounded by fire trucks and police cars. Curious, I stopped. One of the firemen recognized me and beckoned me inside. I should have expected the worse when the fireman asked me "what kind of people do you have working there at KYOR?…
Here is what happened. Lumpy, with only 15 dollars with which to leave Blythe, asked his landlord to refund half of the first month’s rent. They had only lived in the apartment for two weeks. The landlord refused and Lumpy snapped. A few hours later, the landlord walked by the Lumpy apartment and heard water running. He investigated…and called the fire department. Before leaving they turned on every faucet and jammed the drains with newspaper and rags. The water was overflowing, soaking the carpet. They spread raw garbage between the mattress and box-spring as well as strewing it about. They squirted mustard and ketchup on the walls. The fire department was there because Lumpy had turned on all the stove top gas burners to full. With the apartment closed tight and the temperature outside around 100 degrees, it wasn’t long before the oxygen dissipated and raw gas began filling the apartment. The firemen estimated it was just minutes from an explosion.
All this was embarrassing and I actually needed to sit down. As I was about to use the sofa, the fireman grabbed my arm and said, ’You don’t want to do that." He was right. Where I was about to sit, Lumpy had left the ultimate statement of his displeasure. On the sofa cushion was a huge pile of human feces. Poop! As the Brits say, “Bottom Throttle!”
I don’t know what happened to Lumpy. We never crossed paths again. I know they swore out a warrant for him when the landlord claimed over 2,000 dollars in damage. I never recovered. To this day, I always double check for crap before sitting on a sofa. This wouldn’t be so bad, but I live alone and I STILL check. In the 40 plus years since this happened, 96% of the time, the sofa has been shit-free.
Coming in Chapter 3 Wallace and Ladmo Beckon to Me