Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Adventures in bad taste

From time to time I like to look back at my misguided, mercifully-brief radio career as a screaming Top 40 disc jockey in the ‘70s. Today’s stop on the road – KNTQ, Los Angeles. The New TenQ.

It’s late 1976. My partner, David, and I are head writers of MASH. I get a call from Jimi Fox, a radio colleague who worked with me in San Diego. At the time, Jimi had the distinction of having the only voice worse than mine. He tells me that he’s been named the program director of KGBS. KGBS is right in the middle of the AM dial at 1020. For years it was a daytime station. It had finally been given clearance to broadcast 24 hours a day and Jimi was going to change the format to screaming Top 40. Jimi was also changing the call letters to KTNQ and renaming the station TenQ. (That was the big trend in the ‘70s – distinguish yourself from all the stations that just had call letters by having a combination letter/number. TenQ, B100, 13K. So many stations adopted this practice that eventually the only stations with a distinctive name were the ones that still just used their call letters.)

Jimi wondered if “Beaver Cleaver” (my DJ alias) wanted to return to the airwaves. I couldn’t work full-time, but I agreed to do the Saturday night 6-10 shift. That should tell you two things about me back then: I just loved being on the radio, and I had no social life whatsoever, despite the fact that I was a head writer of a major network television series.

The mandate was to just have fun. There is not a single radio station in America that has that marching order today. We were allowed to have personality, encouraged to fuck around. As long as we didn’t take coke from any record companies, or at least get caught, we were pretty much free to just blast on the radio.

Our chief competitor was KHJ, by then a very mechanical boring station, ten years past its prime. Think Sylvester Stallone in the last RAMBO movie.

Our line-up was a collection of goofballs. John M. Driscoll, a funny caustic jock from Chicago did mornings. He was followed by Dave Conley, a San Diego radio vet, who spent every dime he owned and many he didn’t at the race track. I’d see him in the hall and say, “How’s it goin’, Dave?” and he would whine, “The fucking goats are KILLING ME!” At noon we had Willie B. This guy had the world’s most beautiful baritone voice. You’d never know he was like nine-years-old at the time.

In the afternoons we had the legendary, the amazing, the REAL Don Steele. Imagine an expansion baseball team with Babe Ruth batting clean-up.

Rich “Brother” Robbin, the human adrenaline rush, came on from 6-10 PM. Poor Joe Nasty did late nights. I say “poor” because for one promotion they made him ride a rollercoaster at Knott’s Berry Farm for 24 straight hours. He still walks into walls today.

Overnights belonged to Nancy Plum. She was every guy’s fantasy. Sexy smoky voice. I feel bad for her, too, because we all had to take requests over the phone. I’m sure half of hers were for blowjobs.

Rounding out the weekends was the very funny Dave Trout. That wasn’t his real name. He moved on to KROQ where he does use his real name – Freddy Snakeskin.

And I can’t forget the TenQ Duck. This was our highly inebriated mascot that went around for public appearances. The gentleman who wore the suit (which I don’t think was ever cleaned) doubled as the morning sports guy, Clete Dumpster with his “short snorts in the world of sports”. Our morning newscaster was Boyd R. Brittan, the voice of God. He’s been “Doc on the Roq” at KROQ for probably twenty years now.

The station was located in what is now called Koreatown, on Western near Wilshire. You ran from the car to the station. The building itself was a former mortuary. It is two-stories and there was a small courtyard in the center. This was used to lift coffins to the second floor. Great vibes for rock n’ roll, right? I used to claim that we were just sharing the building with a mortuary and they always seemed to be busy on Saturday night. I know this is horrible, but I would do stuff on the air like say, “Okay, they’re hoisting our next singer up now” then play a Janis Joplin record.

Beaver Cleaver was not just my airname, it was my alter-ego. All week long I’m writing a TV show that was steeped in humanity, and on Saturday nights I was this raving lunatic King of Bad Taste.

Trivia note: The first movie Ron Howard ever directed was GRAND THEFT AUTO for Roger Corman. There are scenes at TenQ, the Real Don Steele is in the movie, and TenQ is heard throughout the film.

We gave KHJ a good run for their money but still fell a little short.  Playing a Ramones record every five minutes didn't help.  The station has a real cult following among radio people. Many consider TenQ the last great Top 40 station. I never knew it at the time. I was too busy doing Charles Manson jokes over Carpenters records.

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