My Story - Chapter 24 – Contests and Contentment
In the early 80's the San Francisco hip were wearing Sperry Topsiders, sipping Perrier, and lunching at Perry's on Union or the Washington Grill. That's why I was eating a Chef's Salad with the General Manager and Chief Engineer of K101 on that late autumn day in 1980 at the “Washbag”. This was the name affectionately bestowed by newspaper columnist, Herb Caen. It was the IN place of the moment and loaded with the IN crowd. Considering the times and location, all those yuppies were packing more cocaine than an outdoor cafe in Cali, Columbia. My table not withstanding.
The K101 Yuppie-In-Chief was Fritz Beezemeyer. Barely into his early 30's, he was a hard-charger who had just been put in charge of what was at the time the most expensive FM in radio history. Charter Broadcasting paid 15 million dollars for the station. At the time it was an astounding sum. A few months later, Walter Richey, the President of the company that owned KO93 in Modesto and part of the latter-day KDWB gang wrote me a note and commented that he couldn't imagine paying (millions) for a radio station. By the end of the decade, that was chump-change considering that stations were selling for ten's of millions more. It was a stunning amount and that Beezemeyer was put in charge of this San Francisco diamond was a testament to his expertise and the trust the Charter chiefs put in him.
We were talking about radio. Given my druthers I would rather have been just about anywhere else talking about just about anything else with just about anyone else. If someone had given me some druthers I wouldn't have known what to do with them anyway because I don't know what the hell a druther is. But seriously...
Without being vainglorious I would like to believe that Fritz invited me to San Francisco and a WashBag lunch because he valued my programming expertise. The lunch was arranged with the theory that he could pick my brain. That's my story and I am sticking with it. The truth is somewhere else and has much to do with the irrepressible character introduced in the few preceding chapters of this continuing story.
That is Bill Johnson. My General Manager at KO93. Less than a year earlier, Bill had bull-dozed any other inclinations I may have had and not only was I programming in Modesto, California, but I was also doing mornings, carpentry, ceiling installation, yard-work and light trucking. I may have given you the impression that Bill Johnson was a looney-bug. He was. He was also an incredible salesman. Some say a good salesman has no morals. (A really good salesman doesn't cast a shadow and has no reflection when they pass a mirror). Actually, a good salesman is just someone uncompromising in the pursuit of their goals. They live for selling and the closing is their orgasm. They aren't just involved in the job of sales, they are committed to the job of sales. The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed. If Bill was breathing he was selling. Sometime in the late summer of 1980, I became the product.
In December of 1979 when Bill first called me, getting back into radio was far from my thoughts. I took a free trip to California and four weeks later, after driving a Ryder truck across the country, I was living in Modesto and wondering what happened. I felt like Michael Corleone in Godfather One. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.“ The next 10 months was a wild ride.
After numerous trips (kidnappings) to sample chicken pot pies, hamburgers, and biscuits and gravy plus almost daily visits to the Ice Cream store in Patterson, I learned that I should be wary of any open-ended question from Bill. If there was an arcane eatery within 200 miles of Modesto, Bill knew about it and wanted to take you there. For years Don Bleu's wife only remembered Bill because when she was introduced to him the first words he spoke were, “Do you like steak?” If she had answered yes she might have found herself in Fresno. There weren't any innocuous questions with Bill. Beneath every comment or question was an agenda and I am sure it was disappointing to Bill that unlike the early days, I wasn't always at his beck and call. There was friction. It was a nutty situation because we generally agreed on station stuff. There was the usual sales/programming differences when I thought there were too many commercials or Bill didn't like some song we were playing. Bill liked to annoy sleeping dogs to see if he'd get a reaction. I usually fell into that trap and he'd get one. Once, he hot-lined the night DJ and asked him to play some album cut he liked. When the DJ demurred saying it wasn't on the play-list and the music was all pre-programmed, Bill, in his deep God-voice, asked him if he wanted to continue working at KO93. When the DJ called me he was almost in tears. The next day I confronted Bill. We talked about it and before long we yelled about it and before much longer there was a mountain where the molehill had been. Another time I casually mentioned to Bill that hourly news on a music-station wasn't necessary. Bill, a one-time radio newsman was so offended I think he was ready to slap my face and buy a brace of dueling pistols. I also told him that since I woke at 4:30am to do the morning show, I didn't like phone calls after 9pm. He took it personally as if I had sold naked pictures of his grandmother, out-lawed fatty food and limited people to one Ho-Ho per week he wouldn't have been more offended. That night the phone purposefully rang at 9:10pm and when I didn't answer continued to ring every 15 minutes for the rest of the night. I wasn't about to give Bill the satisfaction of keeping me awake so the next day I casually lied that I had spent the evening at a friend's house. I am not sure if he was angry because he wasted the evening calling me or because I had a “friend” who let me spend the night.
Things like this happened at least once a week. Sometimes more. We were both nuts and totally unable to control this weird animus. I could go on like this for pages. I was sitting in the production room finishing up some project. The typewriter, for labels and such, was on a little table with wheels. It was old and pesky. When Bill opened the door it bumped the typewriter-table and I over-reacted with some wise-ass comment. Bill answered with a negative comment about the cartoon mural on the lobby wall. Do you remember about this mural? When I lived in Cedar's North in Minneapolis, one entire wall was covered with this wall-paper mural. I loved it. When I remodeled the house in the country into a broadcasting studio I found the same mural and it graced the lobby wall opposite the production room. Everyone hated it except me. My acerbic comment and then Bill's retort escalated a table bump into what can only be described as sheer craziness. Saying something like, “You don't like that mural...well, I don't like this fucking typewriter”, I picked up the machine and threw it through the door and across the little hall. It missed Bill but dinged my mural! Realizing that retreat was the wise option, Bill escaped out the front door and hopped in his Cadillac for safety. I was right behind him and when I saw him locking the doors, I climbed on the hood yelling that I would kick out the fucking windshield. Madness. Before the day was out, I apologized and rode with Bill to the car wash to clean off my muddy footprints. The next day, Bill traded us a new typewriter.
In the Spring of 1980, I heard about a little community theater group in Patterson that was going to do a dinner theater version of Bullshot Crummond at the Del Puerto Hotel. I got a great part in the show and during rehearsals and the 3 performances Bill acted like we were married and the theater group was my mistress. He attacked, I reacted. Yet, he attended every performance and over the next few years never failed to come to see my shows. Bill could be generous to a fault and at the same time purposefully petty. If he knew you had a favorite TV show he always managed to call during it. If he knew you had plans, he found a way to interfere in them. In July my family from Cloquet visited me. During the months after WEBC I had bonded with my nephew Sean, and missed him terribly. I persuaded my brother Tim, his wife Kathy, and of course little Sean to visit me. They have many memories from that trip west. There was our visit to the mountains where Kathy was sure we were going to drive over a cliff. We went to San Francisco. We did family stuff. I took a couple of days off to spend extra time and Bill went berserk. I can't explain it any other way. Every day he called with a problem. Every night he called. Once he demanded I come into the offices for what turned out to be some bogus reason. Included in my family's memories of that visit is overhearing Bill and I yelling at each other while they hovered just outside Bill's office.
In spite of all this craziness, the station sounded great. The sales were great. In many ways we were a great team but both a bit psychotic.
And then there was Bill's largesses. It wasn't until years later that I learned to be a taker. An example. In 1980 I had been part of the video-tape generation (Beta) for 5 years. It started at U100 when Mike Sigelman got me my first VCR. It was a great perk. Mike Sigelman, Alan Henry (The corporate big-wig) and I were sitting in the conference room at U100 when they asked me what I would like as a little bonus. I said a video tape recorder. They said yes and in spite of the surprise almost $2,000 cost came through with it. I like to think it made Alan Henry choke. During my early months in Modesto that VCR went tits up. I was ready to buy a new one but they were still expensive and I was hemming and hawing. Bill knew I had the VCR but he didn't know it was causing me trouble. On one of his interrupting phone calls he told me just just tape the show. I told him my machine wasn't working. The next day afternoon he stopped at the station with a new VCR in his trunk. A perk for the good Spring Book.
When I moved to my second home in Modesto in the Fall of 1980, the house didn't have a refrigerator. When I lived in Duluth I bought a fridge at Sears but left it behind when I trekked to California. While I looked for a deal, I used a cooler and ice for a week or so. Bill had been instrumental in finding the house. It was just a regular California house with some unique features. One of Bill's clients was looking to unload it. To Bill, that seemed like a sure way to tie me to Modesto. The only sour note was the pea-green shag carpet in the living room. I never got around to changing it. And of course, the missing refrigerator. When Bill came for the tour he noticed that lack and of course, a day or so later, one was delivered. Not long after that he brought me a console TV because he decided my 21 inch was too small.
I hate 'remotes'. I think most PD's hate remotes because they interrupt the flow of a well-oiled programming machine. Mostly though, I hated doing them. Way, way back in this endless story, I mentioned I was shy. Public performances don't bother me when I am in control, but with live remotes I never felt in control. It started at my first radio job in Blythe, California where I did my first remote. It was at a plumbing shop and I never got over the experience. My second remote in Blythe involved a pile of ice and a “guess-the-moment-it-will-melt-contest”. The prize was a live pig (to be properly butchered, wrapped, and frozen for the winner). During the remote the pig had a heart-attack and died. I was traumatized. Somehow though, Bill persuaded me (damn salesman) to do a rare remote at a garden and landscaping shop in Modesto. It rained. No body came. I hated every minute of it. There was one redeeming grace. The store was the outlet for some special sort of bar-b-que from Japan. They were 'doing' a ham and it was the best ham ever! With only 3 breaks an hour and no customers I had plenty of time to eat and rave about the ham. A few days after the remote I had a Japanese BBQ in my little townhouse patio. They were selling these things for 300 dollars and I never did understand the economics of the whole experience.
I love getting gifts but with Bill, every gift came with a price-tag. You could refuse to accept the gift but you would suffer. You could accept the gift and you would suffer.
I feel shabby to be doing so much complaining. I do it only to explain, not to kvetch. The bottom line is that in a lot of ways I was really enjoying my time at KO93. I was proud of the station, there was a momentum building you could just feel, I was close to San Francisco, I got to do some theater and I had a great house. The house was basic in many ways, but had some great features. There was a great fireplace. I loved having fires and over the next few months made good use of it. Unlike in Minnesota, California homes have great fences. High fences make for good neighbors and front and back it was extremely private. From the street all you could see was a fence, a roof and a garage door. It was impossible to tell if anyone was home just by driving by. That drove Bill crazy. The front yard beyond and behind the fence, as well as next to the drive-way was covered with rose bushes. There must have been fifty of them and some were still blooming in December. Sliding doors from two bedrooms and the living room opened onto a wonderfully landscaped back yard with a large kidney-shaped swimming pool. Surrounding the pool were all sorts of palms and foliage plus a couple of lemon trees heavy with yellow fruit. In one corner was a over-head trellis rife with grape vines. The front entry was an atrium that overlooked the pool. At night walking through the door and seeing the under water-lit, aqua pool was a long way from the snow-drifts of Minneapolis. It was perfect for me and my family. Harve and Bozo.
Aha! Bozo. If you've been paying attention you know that since 1972 I had shared my life with a wonderful, furry, gray, girl-cat, named Harve Tooky. (Named by my father – Swedish for half nuts) In April of 1980, I got Bozo. Don Bleu and his family had sheep dogs and Bozo was one of them. He was three years old when he joined their family and wasn't used to their kids. The final straw came when he nipped at their boy, Corey, and was set to be banished. The poor dog must have been having a bad day because while he lived with me he was crawled on, tugged at, wrestled with by all stripes of kids and never once complained. Anyway, Bozo was a pure-bred sheep-dog and Cathy persuaded me to give him a home. When we drove away from the Bleu's home in Walnut Creek, Bozo looked forlornly out the rear window from the back seat of my Chevy Caprice. During the years I had him he lived with my uppity cat and spent hours alone and stilled loved me. Every day when I got home from work I was greeted by maniacal glee and several great big Bozo kisses. My first home in Modesto, the townhouse, worked well for Bozo. During the day, while I was away, he had access to the garage and after greeting me ecstatically every afternoon, there was a wonderful empty space half a block away for walking, running and pooping. During my family's visit in July, my nephew Sean and I would walk Bozo in that field every morning. A week after they left, I was walking with Bozo where Sean and I had walked so often when I saw Sean's little tennis shoe foot-prints still in the dirt. It was one of those moments.
Often Bozo came to work with me. Looking back on things I wish I had taken him to work more often. It would have been kinder than leaving him home alone. At personal appearances, Bozo was a definite plus. Big and fluffy he attracted attention and if anyone ever wants a Babe Magnet, get yourself a Bozo. Even though KO93 was only a few months old, we were already doing parades and getting out in public. At the Patterson Apricot Festival, Bozo was the center of attention and in the spirit of things ate way too much Apricot Ice Cream. Just before the parade he puked all over the asphalt. While I did the “Queen-Elizabeth-Wave” from the back-seat of the convertible, Bozo moped on the floor, a big pile of miserable dog hair.
There was a ton of rain that first winter in Modesto. There was also a leak in the ceiling of my bathroom at the townhouse. The rain was long gone in the summer of 1980 but the damage to the ceiling lingered and gravity brought it all down one day in August. I arrived home to a nervous dog, a hiding cat and a pile of sheet-rock. I called the real-estate company I rented from and they sent over the new owner. Like most land-lords he viewed the damage as if it was MY fault as he tsked tsked his way about the place. His loudest and most significant tsk came when he saw Bozo. Even though Bozo was small for a sheep-dog, he must have looked like an elephant to the land-lord because he forgot the pile of gypsum in the bathroom and fixated on my dog. I HAD secured permission for both my cat AND my dog from the previous owners and my security deposit reflected the extra charge for pets. I don't want to be racially insensitive but my landlord was Indian. Perhaps if I had a cow it wouldn't have been a problem. Later, in San Francisco, I rented from a Chinese man who on different occasions wondered if I slept with Bozo and why didn't I put him to sleep. I never did get the ceiling repaired because a week later I received a letter asking me to leave. I was month to month without a lease and he had me. And that's why Bozo, Harve, and I moved to the roses and swimming pool in the southern Modesto suburb of Ceres.
Since the beginning, Mike Douglas had done over-nights and then stayed around for a couple of hours to be the morning show side kick. Gary DeMaroney did production and mid-days including an hour of oldies at noon. Kenny Tinkle did afternoon drive and Vince Garcia did nights. We had a series of women to do morning news and our Chief Engineer was Steve Bouchet. More shabby behavior on my part. When Bill drove me crazy I drove Steve Bouchet crazy. Sort of like the military axiom that shit flows downhill. Steve was actually a good engineer but he was also a drama queen. I may have mentioned that I bought an old-fashioned rotary mower for 3-foot high grass and poor Steve would spend hours in searing Central Valley heat trying to shove that thing through the jungle. I did it out of spite. I am scum! On the other hand, when we bought an electrical generator for the transmitter on top of Mount Oso, Steve ran it without putting in oil and 15 minutes after taking it out of the box it was ruined. At first Bill threatened to take it out of his paycheck, but like lots of things “Bill”, he relented and we just bought another one. No matter what I have written, deep down inside Bill Johnson was a pussy-cat. A pathological pussy-cat, but a pussy-cat never-the less.
In the fall of 1980 we hired a new jock to help with production and shorten everybody's hours. Rick Austin joined us from Missouri. This was a great addition. Rick sounded major-market and it meant shorter hours for Gary and Ken. Until I left, that was the gang. It was a great staff and the station was operating like a well-oiled machine. Mark Douglas was a 'Steady Eddie'. An all night jock you could depend on to be there and do it. Come to think about it I have been blessed with great all-nighters. At U100 and KSTP my grave-yard guys rarely caused me trouble. My good luck continued for the rest of my programming career. Gary was just Gary. He worked his tuchis off. Kenny enjoyed being part of KO93. Kenny had seen the highs and lows of Central Valley radio and had more talent then he knew. Like so many people in that business, radio didn't treat Kenny as well as he deserved. Vince Garcia was helping me with music. Vince was like Cassius in Julius Caesar. “ Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look:.....such men are dangerous.”
Like me, Bill loved to stick it in the competition's eye. Everything I did to irk our two competitors, KHOP-FM and KFIV-AM delighted Bill. Back at U100, Mike enjoyed it too, so as a PD I was blessed. Bill got us some billboards. Three of them. How he finagled it without any money is a mystery but then Bill could sell a cave to Osama Bin Laden. What was fun was how Bill arranged for ONE of the billboards to be just blocks from KHOP on a street where their staff would see it on every trip to the station. And then KFIV put an ad in the paper. It was about four inches big but it offended Bill. Once again, Bill worked his magic and we had a series of Full-Page ads in the Modesto Bee. I dragged out another version of The Secret Sound Contest. (So far after doing it at KDWB, I had lumbered it on U100, KSTP, WEBC, and now KO93.) Bill touted it in a full-page Modesto newspaper ad. He was as proud of those ads as a new daddy is of junior. If only some role-model in Bill's past hadn't called Bill on the hot-line. I hated the hot-line. Bill loved it. He called a lot and I tried to deal with it but stopping him was like pushing a Jello-rock uphill. In spite of it all, we sort of all got along.
When I lived in Minneapolis in the Cedar's North high-rise, I had some great parties. I got to the point where I was having a party every month or so. During my short stint at WEBC in Duluth and that nutty year out of radio, I missed being the host. The gang at KO93 was a perfect station-party group. We had lots of parties. At my place. The first was a “We-Got-A-Radio-Station” party early in 1980. Bill and I got the idea to do it and my townhouse was the perfect location with the big living room. A couple of months later when our first official ratings arrived we planned and executed a celebration at the same townhouse. That was a crazy one because we got the ratings in late morning, bought a ton of raw chicken parts and potato salad and snacks and dips and I cleaned my place and fried chicken all afternoon. I just managed to shower the grease out of my hair and finish vacuuming the rug when the party began. A home-made celebration. That summer I bought about a hundred eggs and we had a make-your-own-quiche party. After I moved to the house with a pool, I wanted to have a super pool party but the rains came and it never happened. We did have a great Christmas party at that house and that was my last. Bill loved our parties. Actually, whenever there was food involved he was great company. Still, I couldn't resist tweaking the man. At that last party, we took a bunch of tobacco and cigarette papers and made fake joints. I put them in a serving bowl on the buffet table and still to this day it makes me smile thinking of the look on Bill's face. Bill was such a fan of the police, I'm surprised he didn't dial 911.
I have digressed. There was a reason Fritz Beezemeyer invited me to lunch at the WashBag. He knew Bill Johnson. They had worked together in Detroit. I can imagine Bill working Fritz. I was the commodity. It started out with Bill getting some bragging time because HIS PD was Rob Sherwood, the one-time major-market DJ and Program Director. The only reason Beezemeyer knew anything about my reputation was because of the Bill Johnson pitch. I seriously think that at some point the goal of the pitch changed. He couldn't live with me and he couldn't live without me. Bill wanted Fritz to hire me. Perhaps he just wanted to foist me off on someone else. He was working it. That first meeting was a sop to Bill. Remember, I was the PD of a 3,000 watt FM station licensed to a city of 20,000 with a signal over the 130th market in the nation. Fritz was the General Manager of a multi-million dollar 100,000 watt station in the nation's number 5 market. In the real world, Fritz wouldn't have spit in my direction.
But he did. Well, maybe it wasn't a spit but more of a sputter... in my direction. I went to San Francisco and got the tour, got the lunch, and got the bug! They say that Julius Caesar's problem was that he was ambitious. “If it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Caesar answered (for) it...” I just wanted to have some fun. Whenever I got ambitious I “grievously answered for it”. In the fall of 1980 I got that peek at a REAL major market radio station and I decided it would be FUN to work under the Big Top. I didn't know it then, but the lions and tigers were sharpening their teeth and claws in anticipation.
Coming Soon in Chapter 25 Close But No Cigar