President Johnson used to say, “Every Senator looks in the mirror and sees a President”. Well, that kind of cocky arrogance is not reserved just for Senators – as a young, ambitious DJ, I looked in the mirror and saw a TV star. So, in 1976, after four years doing morning radio at KCBS-FM in San Francisco, I auditioned for a show called “AM San Francisco”, a weekday morning “magazine” show, hosted by former Miss America Nancy Fleming and KGO radio morning star Jim Dunbar, who had pioneered KGO’s transition from a music station to a talk format.
Then CBS brass in New York told me that I couldn’t take the job! KGO-TV was ABC-owned and working for ABC, even freelance, was forbidden. I couldn’t afford to be out of work, but I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. So, I quit my job at KCBS-FM to take advantage of my “big chance” on TV.
At KGO-TV I learned that doing any new project was a challenge. The various people in charge resisted change, when it meant more work for them. So, when I tried to bring in film to the film department, Editor Mike Borden was, to say the least, unhelpful. When I tried to get tape edited, I couldn’t get the video parts done. Because some of the production staff of “AM San Francisco” didn’t want a movie segment on the show, I was blocked at every turn. But Nancy Fleming and Jim Dunbar went to bat for me. Video Department people softened up, and Mike, who edited the daily KGO-TV “3 O’clock Movie”, showed me how to work a Movieola film editor. Thanks to Nancy and a RADIO guy, Jim Dunbar, I was working on a television show for the first time! Radio people are great! Nancy was engaged to another famous radio guy, Jim Lange, who had been a mainstay at KSFO and had also starred for many years as the host of TV’s “The Dating Game”. Nancy introduced me to Lange, who was filling in for Jim Dunbar at the time. Both “Jims” were supportive, and Jim Lange was producing shows for KGO-TV. One day he asked if I wanted to co-host an all-night movie marathon with Wolfman Jack. Well, yes, I did! The Wolfman and I had a lot of fun. So, Jim Lange invited me to co-host a Marx Brothers movie marathon with him and Groucho’s longtime co-host on “You Bet Your Life”, George Fenneman! Say the magic word! George told lots of Groucho stories and the show was a success, thanks to those seasoned pros. I learned fast and was on my way to realizing my television dreams.
Learning the ropes of working on a TV show was an interesting experience: navigating the various departments took tact and patience. KGO-TV had film, video and art departments back then, so when I wanted anything, I had to show up with the finished tape or film and hope they would execute properly. Once, I had video for “Close Encounters” which was pretty boring for the first minute, then got exciting. I had directed the video guy to cue in to the right spot. He didn’t do that, so I reviewed the film while video of people doing nothing rolled. More than once, the videos didn’t play at all. That’s live TV! Once, I was planning to review the latest incarnation of “King Kong” and for the opener I brought a popcorn box with a banana in it to the set as a joke. The floor director very kindly told me I had violated union rules. Then he explained that I would have to take the prop out to the receptionist, and he would go out to the receptionist to retrieve it and bring it to the set. Lesson? Don’t monkey around with the union!
At Thanksgiving one year, I decided to award a “Golden Turkey” to the worst film of the season. The KGO-TV art department stepped up and made a turkey out of plastic foam, painted gold. I was so happy and grateful the head of the art department was surprised. I don’t think he was accustomed to being praised for his work there. During the “Turkey Awards” show, I cruelly lambasted poor Jan Michael Vincent and his film “White Line Fever”. I’m not proud of that – who was I to judge? A few days after that, my phone rang at KIOI and “surprise” it was an angry Jan Michael Vincent! He gave as good as he got, cussing me out, but I had it coming.
My time at KGO-TV lasted only a few years, but my memories of the people who were so kind, and those who were not so kind, remain. At a fragile time in my career, where I was mostly bluffing my way through things, people who had gone before me – radio people – understood.
As far as I know, Nancy Fleming never worked in radio, but she had the heart of someone who’s had to work for every break and has compassion for others looking for that break. Nancy still has a warm spot in my heart. She introduced me to “Gentleman Jim” Lange and together they helped me in ways they couldn’t have known. After I did a particularly nice bit on “AM San Francisco”, Nancy would stand to the side and applaud. That kind of encouragement made a big difference at a time when I felt so vulnerable. Once, I took my kids to Great America for Media Day, and brought along my mother and father. Nancy and Jim made a point of saying hello. That act of friendship has stayed with me. And Mom and Dad were very impressed!