My Story Chapter 27 – Tested Friendships
While I was working in Austin, Minnesota, doing an evening radio show and spending my afternoons as “Uncle Rob”, one of the local high schools did the Broadway show, FIORELLO. Years later I did the show myself and got to sing a song called, A LITTLE TIN BOX. I'll have to really stretch to make this relevant to my time at K101 in San Francisco. What comes to mind is how I had, perhaps, a dozen little tin boxes and I put a little part of me in each one. One box was San Francisco morning-man. One box was San Francisco PD. In another was the regular at UC Medical Center and still another, eccentric Uncle, Godfather, and friend. What am I trying to say? Not for the first time, while working in San Francisco, my life was a performance. In fact, it was many performances. Appearing in a dozen different plays at once can put a great strain on your ability to remember the lines and get the characters you are playing just right. My memories of K101 are a series of little plays. Some of them were one-act plays and some were interminable productions that continued even after they rang the curtain down.
This chapter will be the Playbill. You can read along as I open some of those little tin boxes.
First, I'll dig out the One-Act in the first tin box. Rob Sherwood – Program Director. The reviews are in! Boffo! Bravo! Boo! Hiss! Mixed reviews? A successful show has a long run. Even though it seemed like a long time, it was over quickly. Rob Sisco, the PD I replaced, had lasted less than a year. (I've since learned he went on to great success and I'm glad to hear that since he was always nice to me) When my one year anniversary at K101 passed, the congratulations were less for the good job I had done and more that I outlasted the previous PD. At that one-year anniversary there were some things to celebrate. I had four San Francisco Arbitron books under my belt. The first, during the Spring wasn't bad. It reflected Rob Sisco and the “National PD” , Al Casey, and no credit should have accrued to me. A little did. At least, I was there for the celebration. It would have been easier for me if The Book had been terrible.
The next ratings report, The Summer Book, didn't bring much to celebrate. We were putting together a first class air-staff and in a perpetual battle over the Al Casey format dictated from corporate headquarters in San Francisco. I have a terrible prejudice toward oldies formats. I don't quite understand why I hate them so much. This includes what today we call Classic Rock. Classic Rock is just another f'ing oldies format. Whenever I argue this with other broadcasters they try to prove their point by listing successful Oldies Stations or Classic Rock Stations. I don't care. Allow me my oldies bigotry. Oldies formats suck. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. The format we were using at K101 with this oldies hot-clock just sucked a lot. Of course, 1981 we didn't say things sucked. Except vacuum cleaners. Anyway, the format...I hated it. This isn't to say I don't like playing oldies as part of a format and certainly I face many thousands of years in Purgatory for playing all the 'Lite-Rock' songs of the 70's and 80's. But, like Julia Child said as she melted her second pound of butter, “Everything in moderation.” I'm not really sure she said that but I think she did. It took the summer to 'fix' the format. K101 became a traditional Adult Contemporary station playing what I thought was a proper mix of old and new and the same type of clock I'd used in Minneapolis, Duluth, and Modesto. That summer we put together a music research department and hired a bunch of interns to research the music. They labored in the basement of that wonderful building and gave us valuable information to help create the play-list as well as battle the music suggestions coming from the home office in San Diego.
In a previous chapter, I related the story of the song by The Toys. “How gentle is the rain...? Even more galling were the weekly music conference calls from the National PD, Al Casey. He wasn't on the air in San Francisco. He rarely listened to San Francisco radio. He didn't see the music research we were generating. When I sent it to him, it was obvious he ignored it. And ALL music adds, current AND oldie were made by him. Once I had the temerity to actually ask him on what basis he was adding some song. I can't remember what song it was and I don't remember whether it bombed or succeeded. Not the point. I was told, that I had been told when I was hired, that music decisions would be made in San Diego and that was that. It took most of the summer to get this sorry state affairs changed. For all I know he may have been right...in every case. Honestly, it was an ego thing. Some PD's are content to have just the title. Other Program Directors actually want to program. Keep in mind, a good PD isn't making the decisions based on ego but based on what (in his humble opinion) is best for the radio station. Wait a minute. Let me change that. A good PD shouldn't have a “humble opinion”. He should believe in what he believes enough to state his case, fight the battle, lick his wounds when he loses, and arise from the ashes to fight the battle again. I might have lasted longer if I had just gone along with the flow.
As we prepared for the Fall Book, the music play-list was being put together by a very nice African American women named Beverly. Her last name eludes me and everyone I've looked to for help. I mention her ethnicity because she hated the very un-PC humor that was so part of my morning show and let me know it. Her reactions to a Polish Joke, or a “your mama's so fat...” joke, were previews of what would happen in San Francisco in the next few years and across the country not long after. Can you imagine, today, telling a story about a robber knocking off a Chinese Restaurant and using dental floss to blindfold the staff? Or? San Francisco has lots of parades. Most famous is the Gay Pride Parade which isn't a good parade because everyone just minces down Market Street. The annual St. Patrick's Day Parade is horrible because of all the barf and everyone is too drunk to remember the route. The German Parade is no good because if you don't watch it they break down your door, arrest your relatives, and force you to watch the parade. The Japanese Parade is just a bunch of people hiding behind bushes and sneaking down the street plus they don't tell you in advance when it is being held. They just spring it on you. The Chinese Parade isn't any good because everyone tries to crowd to the head of the line. Besides, your mama is so fat when she wears a Malcom X jacket helicopters try to land on her back. Damn! I love these kind of jokes. My music director, Beverly, was not amused.
There was more staff behind the scenes. Another young African American was my Public Service Director. Again, I mention race, only because it is pertinent. The FCC was on everyone's case about diversity. Just hiring women, blacks, Hispanics, and various other minorities wasn't enough. The gubbmint wanted to see them in management positions. So, since the GM, Sales Manager, and various Vice Presidents of this and that in San Diego were all as white and male as David Duke, the “Directors” were Native American (me! LOL), African American (Twice), and of course, Gay.
The Gay was our Promotion Director. To use the old bromide, if you look in the dictionary under GAY you'll find a picture of the K101 Promotion Director. Jeff Blouse. What a nice gay...er....guy he was, too. The mincing during the Gay Pride Parade had nothing on the mincing he did around the building at Montgomery, Columbus, and Washington. Flouncing too. And arms akimbo. One author suggested that Tony Perkins had 24 inch wrists. This was an obscure gay reference I first read when I was about 15 and didn't understand until I saw some good gay wrist waving years later. I'm reminded of the interviewer who asked Tallulah Bankhead if Tony Perkins was gay. Or maybe he asked if Tab Hunter was gay. Tallulah, with that husky voice of hers, replied, “I don't know. He never sucked my cock!” I remember, with fondness, one disagreement I had with Jeff. I was sitting behind my desk and he was pitching some idea that I was putting the Kibosh upon. He was so upset he was shifting his arms from one hip to the other and sighing, huffing, and puffing like a dozen drag queens when the when the drag show karaoke machine breaks. It ended with me breaking down into laughter and Jeff stomping out. I yelled after him....”Quit being so damn gay!” I might as well have yelled: “Find yourself a wife!”.
Jeff worked his ass off on our promotions. I got my introduction to his type of promotion just after arriving at K101. We did a live broadcast and air personality appearance at Marine World/Africa U.S.A. (This was when it was located down the peninsula toward San Jose. Later it would move to Vallejo). Our Promotions Director had it all together and all I had to do was be there. I was still doing afternoon drive and the station didn't have a lot of identity. The engineers had figured out how to broadcast from a moving roller coaster and thats what we did. It actually sounded great. Personally, I opted out. You will not get me on anything but a Merry-Go-Round and even that sort of terrifies me. Of course, if I had broadcast while riding the roller coaster we might have broadcast a live heart attack and I would have avoided a lot of stress. When the event was over I had a question. Why? Why had we been there. What was the purpose. It didn't take me long to realize, most of our promotions were not designed to increase ratings or audience awareness. Our promotions were all being generated out of sales. Sometimes the promotions (and this included contests) were just sneaky ways to enhance the sale and increase the sponsor mentions. Let's say Squeaky Soap has a budget and K101 wanted part of it. So much per spot...just like normal....but let's throw in a contest as a bonus. “It's the K101 Squeaky Clean Up Contest”! Send us a post-card telling us in 50 words or less what you like to be Squeaky clean!” The winner gets a years supply of soap AND a trip to Disneyland! The cleanest (and happiest) place on earth.
Typical of this sort of contest was one later that year. A movie was being released with an unfortunate plot line. It involved the invention of jeans that showed bare butt cheeks. Usually, our movie promotions were simple and boiler plate. At the time, we were getting a lot of national movie advertising. The bonus was almost always a private screening of the movie for our listeners. We'd give away the tickets to the screening on the air. There was a very luxurious screening theater on Market Street that held about 50 people. The seating was like a modern home theater and drinks and snacks were served. Other times, the screening or preview would be in a regular theater and we'd have 500-600 seats to fill. We tried giving away the tickets to single winners for themselves and 20 of their best friends. Other times we just promoted First Come First Served. During my time at K101, we did six or seven of these movie premiers. Jeff, our Promotion Director, of course was quite excited about the bare butt-cheek movie. It got out of control when they got greedy and held the promotion at a hotel down the peninsula. One of the minor stars of the movie was that huge guy who play “Jaws” in one of the James Bond movies. People were encouraged to show up wearing those butt jeans. Like the roller coaster, I opted out. To our Promotion Director's great disappointment, only a bunch of women showed up wearing the appropriate attire and there was not a studly gluteous to be seen.
I was in a pickle. In addition to getting control of the music, I had to wrest control of the promotions department from sales. The Sales Manager was a great guy and easy as hell to work with. Rather than back-biting and under-cutting him (like I did with Al Casey and the San Diego programming crew) I worked with him and used his ability to trade for prizes. The Sales Department and the Programming Department combined to build some nice promotions. I know a lot of Program Directors (and I was one of them frequently) who depend on record promotion guys for prizes and week-end promotions. I had the luxury of more potential promotions than I could handle.
I'm not sure who hired the Promotion Director, Music Director, and Public Service Director. The previous PD or maybe they were left over from the previous owner. James Gabbert might have hired them. I do remember this. All of them worked well with me, were actually part of my team, and I'm glad they were all there.
I should also mention two other important 'behind the scenes' K101 people who I depended upon and rarely let me down. First, the GM's secretary. I can't remember her name (shame on me) but she was great. She helped me with phones and correspondence. Throughout the years, I've always lucked out in the secretary department. Most of the time they weren't really my secretary. They just played one on the phone. Sometimes they were someone else's secretary just helping out and in several cases they were women with serious jobs at the station, also, just helping me. During the stressful last days of my jaunt at K101, Fritz's secretary and I had a serious argument. It included a lot of shouting, some swearing, and several, “How Dare You”s. After I left, I never heard from her again. In spite of that, I remember her fondly but not her name.
There is one other K101'er I HAVE to mention. And I can't. At least by name. He wrote me a very nice email in the last year and I set it aside to refer to when I got to this point in My Story. That really worked. I just finished scanning every saved email for the last year to no avail. I have been digging around in my mental shelves, cupboards, and drawers and coming up empty. I can do nothing but apologize. I am writing about the Production Director at K101.
Throughout my entire career, I had good luck with 'secretaries'. I also was blessed in the Production Director department. My first was at KDWB where I got to work with Barry McKinna (Siewart). Production directors at a radio station are in charge of taking the raw information from the salesman and turning it into a viable radio commercial. They are also in charge of assigning production tasks to the various jocks, carting national spots, and writing and producing station promos. I have worked at one station that had a Copy Director!! but that wasn't the usual situation. Once in a great while, the salesman himself would create the copy. Most of the time it took the dedication, diligence and work ethic of the Production Director to crank out what some could argue was, the life-blood of the radio station. The money shot, as it were. They not only put the words on paper but did the creative magic that turned the words into a produced radio commercial. A good Production Director is worth his weight in gold. Back to Barry at KDWB. He had an incredible work ethic and only goofed off and shirked his duty when I led him astray. Mostly. At U100, we had a production group effort, but Robert Hall was dependable and toward the end, Gary DeMaroney did the job. Later, in California, Gary was part of the KO93 gang with the official title of Production Director. He worked his ass off and had almost as many dealings with crazy Bill Johnson, the GM, as I did. He survived. In Tacoma/Seattle I made one of the best hires of my career. My Production Director, Terry Gangstad, was verging on magnificent. He eventually became a mainstay on my morning show and a friend. But, I'm getting ahead of my story.
K101. The Production Director was a young guy trying to break into radio. A lot of his job involved dubbing national or agency-produced spots to cart and and making sure they were in the studio. At Christmas 1981, of course, I put together another version of “A Christmas Carole” and he spent several late nights in the production room with me as I wielded the single-edge razor blade over Charles Dickens.
The bottom line? I didn't have to sweat the Public Service/Public Affairs. I could be creative with off-air Promotions and depend on Jeff to “giterdone”. My secretary had my back and Bev did all the grunt work in the music department. I didn't even think about the Production department. Things just got done. Even the Sales Department was on my side. With a great team like this, I could just relax and lounge the months away. I could have but I didn't. I went looking for trouble.
As Summer 1981 became Autumn 1981, the carpet in the hallways was still bright red and the lobby mirrors were still antiqued from floor to ceiling. The second floor hadn't changed from the day the founder and previous owner of K101, Jim Gabbert, rounded up his dogs and left the building. But up on the third floor there was a lot going on. The third floor looked different thanks to new studios and new equipment. The old main studio became the production room, the corner area across from the TransAmerica Building became the new main studio. A sensible area for the traffic reporter (we had our own) and the newsmen was positioned off the studio. And finally, the station sounded different. Literally sounded different , thanks to the Chief Engineer and some new processing on our signal and processing on my ubiquitous RE-20 ElectroVoice mikes. You can tweak your highs and lows and fiddle with mike-only processing; buy new equipment and cover the walls and ceilings with organically created sound enhancing tiles and shapes. None of that is as important as what you hear when the mike is cracked open and the DJ speaks. The radio station comes alive.
It seems like there is more in this Programming Tin Box than I thought. Mixed in with the behind the scenes gang is the on-the-air gang. By the autumn of 1981 I had MY staff on the air. Damn I was proud of them. I was able to listen to my radio station in awe.
Coming Soon in Chapter 28 – On Air and In Trouble
And then, before you know it – Chapter 29 – What Have You Done For Me Lately?