My Story Chapter 6 - Green Bay – Epiphany City
It is a rather tired axiom that one should be nice to people when going up because you may meet them again coming down. It happened to me. Many times. Maybe the saying should be: “If you want to go up you have to go down.” Well, perhaps I am over stating things. Let's change it to read, “Be nice to people because you may run into them again.”
On the way from Cedar Rapids to Green Bay, my entourage of brother and nephews munched on peanut butter and crackers and drank cherry Kool-Aid as we crossed from Iowa into Illinois. There was time for a stop in Chicago for a little tourist stuff. We visited some relatives, stayed in motels with swimming pools and carried out a bunch of pizzas. It was a fun trip and we arrived in Green Bay, intact, three days later. For the first time I left one station with another actual job waiting for me at another station. This time there wasn't any anxiety. Even though it was Sunday and I wasn't actually due at the station until Monday morning, after breakfast I grabbed the brother and nephews and found the radio station. To quote Bette Davis, “What a dump!”
It was, though, a dump with a certain charm. The old four story(?)elevator-less building in Downtown Green Bay looked in July 1966 like it looked in July 1946. The dark wood molding, a strangely cream and brown linoleum, and the ancient looking office doors with opaque pebble-glass and transoms were a throw back to a movie from some other decade. I am still convinced Sam Spade's Green Bay office was in this building. The top floor was WDUZ. Let me see if my memory serves me. There was no elevator. The broad granite-stepped staircase led to the radio station floor and directly ahead was the door to the sales office. Or maybe in that office the commercials were written and production assigned. I'm not sure. Next, as you walked down the wide hall was a room with a soda and candy machine. Or maybe that was in the same room with the production. The problem is I'm using brain cells that haven't had stimulation since 1966...or 1946.
I confidently remember a small almost closet sized room with the large reel-to-reel tape machines. It also served as the engineering office. Ben Laird, the owner of all this, offered a “Muzak” type of service to Green Bay businesses and the source of that music was those big tapes. The KDUZ transmitter (I never visited it) was located somewhere in the local boondocks and it was there, the engineer spent most of his time, sleeping and drinking. Our engineer has remained permanently etched in my memory. Not because of his superb engineering and sparkling personality; in fact, I can't remember his name. Actually, the reason I remember him, some 40 years later is because the two dirtiest jokes I know, I first heard from him. Though standards have changed in those four decades and I know my parents would be aghast and perplexed by the license on TV and in the movies, those two jokes have stood the test of time and even in 2007 remain, the two dirtiest jokes I know.
Further down the hall was the GM's office. Hugh Johnston. He was a nice and had a certain elegance. I wouldn't be giving this tour if he hadn't made the phone mistake I mentioned in the last chapter. In the future, he would support me when I needed support.
At the end of the hall was the 'Executive Suite'. A receptionist area in the middle separated Ben Laird's office to the right and his secretary/bookkeeper/Majordomo/Gal Friday/alter ego to the left. She looked like the principle in the Little Rascal films, her tight black hair pulled into a severe bun. I have no doubt she was the most powerful person in that building. Ben Laird may have owned the operation, but we all knew who was the boss.
Coming up the other side of the hallway was a large room, originally some sort of studio, that contained only the large speakers and equipment needed to produce an on-call, echo-effect in the days before we got it electronically. Next the studio. The board, two turntables, and a couple of equipment racks were an island in the center of the room facing away from the hallway window. Along the right were a couple of chairs and some mostly unused album bins. Above the bins windows into the small newsroom and slightly larger production room. The thing I remember most about that production room was the casement window we used to sit in on warm Green Bay evenings, at least half of my body hanging over the sidewalk below.
On that hot day in July, I trudged up the stairs and was surprised to meet someone I knew trudging down. Gary Price. Gary's career eventually led to stints in Milwaukee and Chicago, but I can honestly say, “I knew him when...”.
There was a tiny town in Northern Iowa (as usual, my memory fails me)and at some point during my Austin, Minnesota Uncle Rob-on-TV and Rob Lockes on KAUS months, I was asked to make an appearance at the Catholic High School in that little town. I seem to think there was no other High School except that parochial school. Gary Price was a student at that school and I impressed him enough that he and some of his friends visited me several times at the stations in Austin. One of the more humiliating events in the Home of Hormel happened with Gary and his girlfriend of the moment in my car. It must have been late evening and summer because it was dark and the top was down on my Pontiac Catalina convertible. We grabbed some burgers at the truck-stop on highway 90 and while sitting their some local teen toughs decided I had gotten too big for my britches. The little mini-celebrity I had from the Uncle Rob Show on KMMT-TV, Channel 6, had its downside. The heckling became so insistent that one of the truck-stop waitresses called the highway patrol or sheriff. (We were actually outside the Austin city limits....hmmm great name for a TV show) The bad boys left before the heat arrived. Actually, the heat never did arrive. I got tired of waiting and since the coast was clear, we loaded up my car and headed onto the highway. Damn. Like that great Dana Andrews movie, Highway To Hell, the car full of juvenile delinquents was immediately on my rear bumper. Next, they pulled into the fast lane and pulled along side. This is when I got stupid. One of the Austin exits was coming up fast. This led to a couple of roads that surrounded the Hormel meat packing plant. At the last minute I did two things. One prudent and the other imprudent. At the last second, I whipped my car down the off ramp after spitting at the passengers along side. What? We were going at least 65 mph and any spit I got out certainly didn't reach the other car. A futile and silly gesture, regretted when I reached the bottom of the exit ramp and saw the enemy had u-turned onto the on-ramp and was at the stop-sigh directly across from me. A left turn..a right...a left and on this stretch they managed to pull in front and cut me off. As they piled out of their car, I slammed into reverse, but the squealing stop killed my engine. With no top on the car, I was pretty helpless when they began pummeling me. I managed to push open the driver's door and was kicking and flailing back. My return blows were ineffective because I was trapped on my back, jammed below the steering wheel.
I am pleased to report the other five people in the car covered their heads and cowered like a bunch of fucking girl-boys. I managed to get the car started and in reverse and angry and humiliated drove directly to the Austin Police Station. Eventually, the miscreants were captured and charged. The sister of one literally begged me to have pity on their misguided souls and in a discussion with the judge, charges were dropped if they enlisted in the army. Viet Nam was getting started and I hope they got out before the really bad stuff began. What they did didn't deserve the death penalty and after all, I DID spit on them.
Another time, some rather bad boys threatened me for no real reason and while driving on the dark country road that led to the KMMT-KAUS studios I saw a car pulled across the road. Waiting for me. I didn't fall into their trap. I reversed and took other roads to safety. The next day I bought a small sledge hammer, drilled a hole through the handle and looped 8 inches of rope through the hole. With that under my front seat, I was prepared to defend myself. I never got to use it and that is a good thing. I might have splattered a lot of brains on the corn fields of Mower County.
Oh! Did I mention that during the beating I received at the culmination of what I refer to as the Truck Stop Confrontation, Gary Price was one of the cowerers? I was still happy to see him when I recognized him on the staircase in Green Bay. Gary gave me the tour. Later, I bought a newspaper at the news/magazine store down the block on the corner and looked for somewhere to live. My worldly possessions were in a U-Haul trailer and I wanted to leave it in Green Bay while I brought the boys home to Northern Minnesota. I circled some potential rentals and started looking. The first place we stopped was about a mile from the station. It was a two story house the owner had converted into three apartments. Two unfurnished ones downstairs and a furnished one upstairs. I had a bed and not much else so the upstairs apartment seemed to fit my needs. The owner was by sheer coincidence working in the yard when I drove up. He was one of those extremely masculine guys notable for male-pattern baldness but a veritable forest of chest hair pouring out of this shirt collar. In spite of my aversion to this much testosterone, I managed to impress him enough that before I left two hours later, the contents of my trailer were in his second-floor apartment and I was an official resident of Green Bay.
There was only one disconcerting moment. When I told Mr. Macho I was going to be working at WDUZ, he was impressed until I told him I was going to be doing the 7-12PM slot. That's when he told me THAT was Bob Bandy's time period. And now, Bob Bandy was working for the local Roman Catholic brothers, the Norbertine (sic) Father's. The religious order owned the local CBS radio station after a salary snit with Hugh Johnston and Ben Laird, Bob Bandy had crossed the street looking for revenge. I am glad he had that snit because that's why there was room for me. I wasn't glad when my new landlord told me that Bob Bandy was the best! The best, Jerry, the BEST! (You watch Seinfeld?) Even though he had rented his vacant apartment, I am sure he left his ad in the newspaper because it was obvious with competition like Bob Bandy, I wouldn't be staying in Green Bay for long.
Bob, It Was Just Business
Long car rides are great places to do serious thinking. There you are, in control of a powerful machine, eating up the pavement, in control of your life. Train rides are different because the thinking there turns dream-like, unreal, and often whimsical.
I may have lived most of my life as a psychological basket-case, but frequently I played the part of a paragon of confidence: an urbane and aggressive, assertive sophisticate. My bosses at WDUZ in Green Bay, Wisconsin were depending on me to be the agent of their revenge. The monster of their midway had turned up his nose at them and crossed the street. In radio, there is hardly a greater sin. No matter how good or how bad a DJ is, when he quits or is fired, there can be a sometimes irrational fear that he is going to 'cross the street'. What makes is so irrational is that often, if my memory serves me, I have had many people work for me that I should have been happy to have working for my competition. Not only would it serve the competition right, but it would be like introducing into their blood-stream, an audience busting virus.
So, after spending a few days in Green Bay, fending off the suggestion that I call myself Robin Hood, and renting an apartment from the lead singer of the Village People... (The macho str8 one. I have an aside. Gary DeMaroney, my friend and colleague once programmed a disco station in the Twin Cities and often claimed that the Indian from the Village People chased him around the control room. In spite of the fact that Gary kept tripping over the cop, he wasn't caught and still claims to have his virginity intact.)
After renting the apartment the kids and I drove to Minnesota. After dropping them off, I hopped in my car and headed back to my Green Bay destiny. On the 7 hour drive across northern Wisconsin and Upper Peninsula Michigan, I had plenty of time to plan my attack. I must have been in a mean phase. Maybe the anger and hurt my bosses were feeling over Bob Bandy's perfidy had infected me. I am reminded of George C. Scott's Patton saying the object of war was to kill the other damn bastard before he could kill you. Some very shabby behavior was just around the corner.
I had one night to listen to Bob Bandy on the radio. Basically, the plan was to do everything different and/or better than he did. Of course, that should be the plan in ever situation, but this time I was going to do it differently. It reminds me of when they asked Adolf Hitler, who was living in Paraguay at the time, if he would come back and take over Germany again. He replied that he would, but...”this time, no more Mr. Nice Guy.” It was easy. If Bob was talking (which he did a lot), I was going to be playing music. I noticed a pattern and exploited it with the first music sweeps I had done since Blythe where we made a huge deal out of 'two-in-a-row'. I scavenged and finagled until I had something to give away and for the first time did 'first caller' give-aways. WDUZ was small potatoes as far as attention from the record companies went. During the entire time I was there I heard from only one record promoter. Unlike Blythe a few years earlier, at least we got the new releases without begging. We got them. I gave them away. Frequently at smaller market stations, the local record store would have the hits in stock before we had them in the station. We had a charge account at one of the local music stores and it was amazing how many singles and albums I had to get on that account. If you aren't getting my broad hints, I was stocking up and giving them away. I didn't ask permission to do this because of the obvious reason. They would have told me I couldn't do it.
Bob Bandy was famous in the area in that old-fashioned “wild and crazy” DJ sort of way. When he worked in Appleton, for some reason he walked down Main Street in his underwear..or something like that. I can't remember exactly but my impression is that he did some sort of 'snake-pit' promotion and had his moments of fame. He lived off that fame for years. He was older than I was, so on the air I made fun of older DJ's. He was balder so on the air I made fun of balder DJ's. He dressed like a member of the high school audio-visual club, so I made fun of it. Much to my shame, I not only talked smack on the air, but cranked phone-called him often. I didn't broadcast those calls. I just would call his request line and ask if he was still bald. Not nice. I think I was building up some negative karma. Once, after one of those mean phone-calls, he was so rattled he played about 6 records in a row. Inadvertently, I turned him into a 'much-more-music-jock'.
At some point that fall, I learned that Bob Bandy was famous for his back-to-school dances. I learned about them because now that he was at his new station he had access to a hall and began promoting his event. For some reason, this threw my bosses into a panic. I imagined some mega-event...sort of a Green Bay Woodstock (well, I didn't imagine Woodstock because IT was still a few years away...but I can't think of anything else and anyway, it was outdoors and there aren't really any similarities at all.) At some point I asked someone, I think the morning show host and supposed Program Director how many people came to the big event. I was floored when he said, with eyes full of awe, “Last year it was almost 400!” Almost 400! That just didn't seem like much. In Cedar Rapids, I emceed a high school dance with over 800 in attendance. Even in Blythe we had jammed the local high school gym to overflowing. His dance was scheduled for the end of September. We were about to steal some thunder. Over the next few days, with a help from Hugh, the GM and Ben, the owner, Gary Price, one of my fellow jocks and one of the salesmen we made some plans. First of all where could we hold a dance? There was a roller skating rink that did great business in the summer but slowed down when school started. A quick inquiry, a phone call and a drop by and we rented the place for 125 dollars. We split the proceeds from the concession stand 50/50. What about live music. There was a local band. The Ants. The Flies. Some insect. I remember they were sort of like The Birds. Too many Animals. Nope. That's another group. Anyway, another quick phone-call and they were booked...for 100 dollars. Now to hit the air with it.
For all the years that the BB Back-to-School Bash had kicked off the school year it had been promoted by Bob Bandy chit chat. He would talk about it. For about a month, he would talk about it. And after a month of talking about it, almost 400 would pack his event. With some help in the production room from Gary, we put together a 30 second spot. I am sure some of you are familiar with the cliché two-voice 'Sunday! Sunday!' drag-race commercials popular in the 60's and 70's. I know, over the years, I made a bunch. The first one I did was for our event and it turned a dance featuring The Ants/Flies/Bugs at a roller-rink into the place to be-there or be-square. Admission was a dollar.
At one time, there were severe FCC limits on the amount of commercial time permitted in any given hour. Promotional announcements technically were supposed to be included in that time total. We broke the rules. The woman who made our logs was flabbergasted when I told her she should schedule a promotion spot for the dance. “But don't you just talk about it?” She was doubly shocked to hear the dance promotion spot would run once an hour. Within an hour of telling her what I wanted, I was called into Ben “The Owner” Laird's office to explain myself. Whatever bull shit I threw, it worked and from Monday afternoon through Saturday we saturated the air with “Saturday! Saturday!” ads. No one, including myself, was prepared for that Saturday night when over 1,200 people jammed into the roller rink to hear The Arachnids! In a time when I was making $150 dollars a week the paycheck was enormous. After expenses of less than 300 dollars (venue, band, cop, misc.) we split over a thousand dollars. It was MY even so I took half (ha ha) and the rest of the jocks split the rest. (Those that participated.)
It worked so well, we scrambled to do another the following week. We added another band and door prizes and hit the air with a Can We Top This...promotion. The following Saturday we turned away people when the fire department threatened to close us down. Another nice pay-day. All of a sudden, everyone wanted a piece of the pie. The owner of the skating rink wanted a larger cut. The DJ's who had been missing the first two times suddenly wanted to join in the fun. The radio station suddenly realized they were giving away a couple of thousand dollars worth of advertising with no monetary return. The only people happy as clams were the bands. Not knowing when to quit, we did another. The price climbed to $2 and you can probably anticipate, we went to the well to often to quickly. The crowd was less than 700. My cut was about 200 dollars. We did one more dance at Thanksgiving week-end and it was wildly successful, but that was that. By the way. Bob Bandy's Bash had about 75 people. It was a Pyhrric victory.
We weren't through with concerts. The station sponsored the local appearance by Herman's Hermits and you would think the Beatles came to town. Very successful in spite of the snow storm swirling about the arena on the night of the concert. Later, in the summer, a group called The Outsiders did a concert and we fronted it. I got some money for being the emcee and we used the same promotional tricks to sell tickets. They were both successful; helped the radio station, but they weren't really our thing. The only other event I remember was during the local county fair. The weather was horrible so a last minute decision was made to move the grand stand show to the same arena next to the Packer's stadium. Our radio station was called upon to promote the event. We did a good job, a testament to the power of 1967 WDUZ when we managed to move everything, show and audience in 12 hours. Yes, Brenda Lee and cohorts played to a full house on a stage erected on card-board covering the hockey ice. I still remember Brenda Lee complaining in 'colorful' language that her feet were cold.
Green Bay was my home, now. I decided I didn't like the upstairs, furnished apartment, so I moved to the downstairs unfurnished unit. For a while, I had a bed and a TV tray. Then I bought some floor pillows. (The precursor of the bean-bag). Eventually, I bought a couch from Prange's Department Store and a piano. My mom bought me a coffee table and a lamp. My TV was a General Electric 17” color model. I worked nights and watched soap operas during the day. On Saturday night I cooked a special meal. Like goulash.
I tell people who ask, that I learned to cook by watching Julia Child on PBS during the early 70's while working at KDWB. That is sort of true. Grocery stores used to stock a Chef Boy-R-Dee spaghetti kit. Seriously, the package included some pasta, sauce (mushroom or meat) and a little can of Parmesan cheese. While living in my basement apartment in South Minneapolis and going to Brown Institute, using the “kit” was the extent of my home cooking. In California the following year, I experimented with Chili (using a 'kit' available in Blythe grocery stores) and in Austin I actually roasted a chicken. The bones of that chicken remained in my refrigerator from Christmas to July and were a fine example of the fossilizing process.
It was in Cedar Rapids I began the goulash odyssey. My shift at KLWW ended at Midnight and most nights I walked home (3 blocks). In these ancient times all night television was merely a dream. I would eat and read. It started when the local grocery store didn't have the 'kit'. Not being a total idiot, I kit-bashed by buying some macaroni, tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. It worked, but let me admit...I was no Chef Boy-R-Dee. The next time I got the craving, I bought some hamburger to go with the other ingredients. There was no recipe. The additions to this concoction were totally governed by experimentation and the ultimate taste. It tasted OK but, it tasted better when I used more pepper and more salt. The onion cooked with the meat was an important addition one night and the eventual use of oregano and garlic powder really jump-started my culinary taste buds. Then I moved to Green Bay.
I worked 6:30PM to Midnight. From 6:30P to seven it was news and sports plus commentary...all shows from the ABC radio network. My show started at seven. After five hours of rockin' and rollin' and dissin' the competition, I wasn't ready for sleep at midnight. I also wasn't ready for cooking. That first winter in Green Bay I walked or ran home most nights. On the route was a Sammy's pizza. Many nights I ran home for money, ran back for a pizza and ran home with the snow landing and melting on the hot paper bag. But on Saturday, I worked until 5:30pm. That was a golden day off. Saturday night off. All day Sunday and not back to work until late afternoon Monday. I took advantage of it many times by driving 7 hours to see my family in Minnesota, but I also looked forward to Saturday night TV and food. I would walk to a small grocery store not far from my home and buy the ingredients for the Saturday night 'treat'. By this time the recipe I started in Cedar Rapids had grown to include mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, celery and whole tomatoes. Eventually, I experimented with a combination of mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and cheddar cheese, fresh mushrooms and a whole rack of appropriate spices. The ingredients usually cost me about 6 bucks. Over the years I told this story (boring) to many people including Don Bleu and his family. At some point during the K101 days in San Francisco we had spent a part of the day at Ocean Beach. The rain rolled in and we decided to cook something at my place. Just down the street was a wonderful grocery store called Petrini's. Wonderful, because they stocked both lamb and veal. Later I would experiment with some serious recipes and the favorite one, a real gout producer, was a veal dish. This time, however, my 'goulash' was requested and to show you how things had changed in 15 years, the ingredients tabbed out at over 40 dollars. The sour dough bread, bottle of wine, and pre-goulash snacks padded the bill. Just last year I tried making 'real' goulash. I even bought imported paprika. I served it to family and friends and nobody ran gagging to the bathroom.
I also tried cooking a local favorite called booya. It wasn't bad but when I left Green Bay it faded into memory. Since one memory always leads to another, I can't think of goulash or booya without remembering the Jackie Gleason Show, Get Smart and Mission Impossible. In those days there was good TV on Saturday night. That is what I watched while eating my various Saturday night concoctions.
Quickly, I want to comment..if I haven't already...on the greasy spoon in Green Bay. I have mentioned it before...a hotel restaurant, but the hotel burned down. Great hot beef. Smart-ass waitresses. Comfort food beyond belief. I could research it but how much blood do you people want? And what was the deal with noodles in chili. Chili John's! And what I think are called oyster crackers. I was used to eating chili by piling a spoonful onto a saltine. With the noodles and little teeny crackers it was a whole different experience. Also, someone will remind me of a hamburger place unique to GB. I can't remember the name but...wow.
So many trivial memories. Have I told you about the all night DJ? His name was, Al Knight! Is that a riot? Al started at midnight but started getting horny at about eight. His modus operandi was to pick up girls by telling them he was a DJ at WDUZ and would they like to meet Rob Sherwood? Night after night a parade of some of the most 'unfortunate' women would come though the studio. I hope I contributed to his love-life. Of course there were a lot of 'unfortunate' women who seemed most attracted to me...much to my chagrin!
One was Margaret. The way I treated her was shabby. I have many of those sort of regrets, but this one...well. My excuse is simple. I don't think I ever progressed beyond some sophomoric state. I stopped maturing in the 10th grade and I still operate in many instances like a 16 year old. Humor, responsibility, ambition, follow-through, respect for people, tolerance...just to name a few of the areas where my shortcomings run rampant. So you might understand...if not forgive...the way I treated poor Margaret. She was slow. Not retarded or Down's Syndrome or anything like that. Just slow. Her intellect AND her social skill were lacking. And she was my fan. A Rob Sherwood fan in the obsessive, teen-bopper, dream-about-a-night, sort of way. She wasn't the first and wouldn't be the last, but she was intense. Of course, this SHOULD be a compliment. In later years, I learned to be tolerant and kind, but then, I was an asshole. It irritated me to distraction to have Margaret...and frequently some of her friends, following me everywhere. Once, at the local department store I tried everything to ditch her including standing above her on a staircase and spitting at her! What was I thinking? On the elevator I tried to push her out and push the button quickly and the manager of the store came over and started yelling at me like I was a stupid teenager. Wait! I think I was! At least mentally. That was particularly embarrassing because at the time I was doing regular commercials for the store on both TV and radio. So, I continued to act like I was Sean Penn and Margaret was the paparazzi. The only saving grace is that the mean, the cruel things I said and did didn't sink in. Margaret was slow and trusting. And someone took advantage of that and murdered her several years later. I don't think her killer was ever found and I hope she has a place in heaven, my Mom has had a talk with her and she forgives me.
Like the memories of all my stations, or one of my oil paintings...there comes a time when I have to put away the brushes, sign the damn thing and say, “It is finished”. My Green Bay Coda wasn't the finish it was meant to be. My Story continues to the Twin Cities, Modesto, San Francisco, Washington, and retirement. I made a lot of friends in GB and part of the goulash of My Life was made in Green Bay. I'm glad.
Coming in Chapter Seven – On The Way To WeeGee