“You’re not really in radio if you haven’t been fired”. I heard that saying a few times over the years, and since most of us have stories about hirings and firings, I hope that my story inspires you to share yours.
How have I been fired? After 50+ years in broadcasting, let me count the ways…
“I’m ashamed that you work for my station and I’m sorry I hired you!”
“I don’t know how we’re going to get along without you, but we’re going to find out.”
“Sorry it didn’t work out, if things change, we’ll let you know.”
“Come on, you know the drill. You’re done!”
“We’re canceling your show”.
“We’re making a change.” We’re going in a different direction.” “Trying something new.”
And the always popular, no explanation at all, followed by “here’s your severance packet.”
How was I hired? “Welcome aboard” – “Sit down -you’re on.” “Corporate says yes.” And “Hello!”
All of those hirings and firings are true. Some of the names are changed to help some of the people.
I was hired for the first time on a lucky fluke in February 1964– KPER in Gilroy’s midday DJ was a no-show on the day I walked in and asked the GM if they had any openings. He listened to my tape and hired me on the spot! I was just 17 (you know what I mean) and fresh out of high school, where I had participated in many radio broadcasts. Lincoln High School in San Jose had a great teacher, Dr. Ray Kendall, who had mentored me to get involved in debate club, mic announcing at a local discount store. But the catch was, I had to pass my First-Class Radiotelephone License test within six months, as the station was switching to a directional signal then. I failed and I was let go gently. Not fired yet!
I decided to find another line of work when, at 18, I flunked the First-Class license test three times. After about five years, at a crossroads in life, I tried again, and this time I passed. I attended a “First Class License Factory” in San Francisco, called the Elkins Institute, which was based in Texas, so that’s where I found my next job – at KTEO radio in San Angelo, where I had family. KTEO was a bumpy ride – for $100 in 1971 I worked the six to midnight shift and did commercial production, six days a week. For a local bank: “Come in and talk to our “Lone Arranger- Hi yo, Silver!” Texas in the Summer is not for the weak – 100 degrees and 100% humidity – so in late August, my wife, who had just given birth to our son Justin, said “Please get us outta here!”. So, I started looking. The music/broadcasting trade paper called Billboard had jobs listings, and one was in Salinas, at KDON, just a short distance from my hometown – San Jose! I called the guy, sent a tape and was hired! I quit the job at KTEO and when I got to KDON I learned that the PD who’d hired me had been fired the day before! So, there was an opening! (The PD’ was also on-air.) After an overnight audition, I was hired. I believe I got these jobs because the timing was right. Still not fired.
After a year at KDON I started sending out tapes. One that I sent along with a goofy survey picture of me flashing a peace sign, came back with a nasty rejection about the picture, not my tape! I sent more tapes, to Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, which was always the goal, so when Bill Keffury called me, I was a happy chappy. But it was a job on CBS-owned KCBS-FM, and getting hired was a demoralizing process. Meetings, more tapes, more calls, long depressing days waiting for the phone to ring, and then it happened! I got the job! And I loved the job! CBS was a great company to work for. After four years at KCBS-FM, during which time I learned a lot, I decided to branch out. I was ambitious, so I quit KCBS-FM and went to work for James Gabbert at KIOI, the station he had built from scratch in the 1960’s. Jim had a reputation for volatility, and thanks to him I became a real radio guy – Gabbert fired me at least three times in the time I was there, and when I went to work on his TV station in the 80’s, he fired me again! Fired from radio and Television! I was now a full-fledged, fully fired fellow! Phone use was restricted at KIOI, and I broke that rule. But I was unfired after explaining that I was helping a listener. Then I was asked to do auditions with a partner for a morning show on KIOI and my partner was stiffed for payment. I protested and was fired again on a Friday. On Sunday I got a call telling me I wasn’t fired again. The third firing from KIOI came when I played a song that was on the play list, but the owner hated. Who knew? Jim Gabbert came in and told me to get out – he was finishing my shift. I sat down and refused to leave. By the end of my show, I was again unfired. Then KIOI was sold to an oil company that was expanding, and after five years, my career there ran out of gas. I admit that the outcome might have been different if I behaved more professionally. I sort of knew it was coming and called in sick one day – the new PD said I couldn’t do that! I had to come to work so they could fire me. I deserved that one! Moving up the street to KYA was a simple trip – they called, I said yes, and I was working again! But that was a difficult time in my life; I was drinking and using recreational drugs to the degree that it affected my work. I deserved this one, too. I cried when they fired me from that job, but later came to the realization that I had better address the real problem: So I got sober for good, and started looking again. Several stations in San Francisco turned me down over the phone quite rudely, which hurt. Once, I drove to San Jose to KLOK for a job interview, only to be told in the lobby that the meeting was off, and the GM specifically refused to meet me. Ouch! So eventually I turned to the country stations KNEW/KSAN, which were based in Oakland’s Jack London Square at the time, and sent a tape to Bobby Guerra, who was the afternoon guy and Program Director. Bobby invited me to come in and talk. We had a nice chat about music mostly, and he hired me for weekend/overnights. That was a depressing place to be, after having had success in San Francisco, but it was a union job, and it might lead to more. One time, about 3AM, I got a call on the listener phone, and the guy who called opened with “You’re a terrible DJ”. He was right! I was so depressed that I let it creep into my breaks. After a few months of fill-in, afternoons opened up – perfect! That job went to the production guy, so I asked if I could take the production job he was vacating. I had to earn that one, and it was the hardest job I ever did in radio. In the 80’s, all spots were either locally produced or came in on reels. The producer’s job was to dub each spot – Budweiser sent 15 or so at a time – to individual carts. The station also required lots of promotional spots for contests and special events, and they were a creative outlet, but hard. So hard that I called the production guy from my previous station and apologized for not respecting it. After four years I finally got a full-time spot on the air – middays on KNEW. I stayed there for 10 years, until the station was sold again and a new crew with new ideas came in. KNEW/KSAN was in San Francisco by then, and the new PD was starting up a station called BIG98, which played the greatest hits of the 70’s-80’s. I got the morning spot, and I was a disaster! Knocked the station off the air on the first day! After a month of patiently waiting for me to get the hang of it, I was moved to PM Drive, where I lasted a couple of years. Programmer Bob Hamilton came in about 1996, and I was out by March. Again, I could feel the vibes and hear the rumors, so one morning I asked Bob and his boss, Bruce Blevins, if I was being fired. Both gave me answers that a politician would be proud of, but that afternoon, at 5PM, in the middle of my show, Bob came in and told me to come to his office, saying “You know the drill”. I felt that added insult to injury, but I started the next song, (Ironically and deliberately The Theme from Shaft), and followed Bob. I was so nervous that I left my coffee mug on the roof of my car when I drove away. It shattered, along with my Boss Jock dreams, on the pavement of Broadway. I had just turned 50 and was scared that I might not find work again. That’s when it got bumpy. KFRC hired me for weekends and fill in, and Brian Thomas was kind enough to give me side jobs and endorsements, which, along with my work as the announcer for the Candid Camera Show on CBS TV, kept the bills paid. KFRC was a tough environment, because everybody wanted to work there and the talent pool was rich but unwelcoming, so I kept looking. After a couple of years, I landed at KOOL 101.1 in Sacramento, hosting a great morning team consisting of Jim Raposa, John Young and Jennifer Steele. Our ratings were great – moving from 9th place to 3rd place in a couple of years. In our third year, the corporation decided to go with an old school-type of Oldies format, and we were invited to a meeting at a local hotel (Ruh-roh!). I remember asking the PD if the meeting would take long, because I had a tee time later that day, and he said it wouldn’t take too long. (he knew), and I remember my partner, Jim Raposa, asking the executive who fired us if our ratings bonuses were in the severance package being handed to us. The guy did a double take. What a revoltin’ development! So, while the others were commiserating in the hotel bar, I called KFRC. Weekends again! Rock on!
KFRC was a CBS-owned station at the time, and my tenure at CBS came in handy. I stayed there, waiting for my break, for another three years. I saw lots of old friends, after being passed over for three different full-time jobs, including mornings, twice, I was ready to give up and move on. Then one day I got a call from Joe Armaio, who was a CBS General Manager for KBAY and KEZR in San Jose. Joe invited me to come in and meet his PD, Jim Murphy, and discuss afternoons on KBAY. Joe was welcoming and very complimentary, and the money was good, San Jose is my hometown and at the age of 59 I was thinking it’d be a good place to wrap my career. But before the deal for PM Drive could be made, Joe decided I might be a good partner for his morning talent, Lissa Kreisler. The new morning job was not an easy transition for me. I lived 50 miles away, so I awoke at 2:45 AM every day, But Lissa and I created a nice on-air presentation, and we were together for 12 years before another new PD with new ideas changed the landscape. Again. That PD, Ronnie Stanton, has become one of my best friends, but I saw the writing on the wall when we first met. I had a clause in my contract that paid me a lot if they fired me, but along about that time I was diagnosed with cancer, and my doctor advised me to retire to avoid the stress of my job. I was 70 at the time. So, I did just that. The result, unfortunately, was that Lissa lost her job too, after 29 years at the station, and because I had to quit, I lost out on the severance that would have set me up for quite a while. I even dropped hints that I wished they would fire me, but I think they’d read my contract. Oh well! So, to sum up: fired – seven times. Quit – four times. So yes, I’ve been in radio!