IT WAS A LONELY JOB BUT SOMEONE HAD TO DO IT
I originally wrote the following story for Don Barrett's LARP (Los Angeles Radio People) website. Don is a friend and his subscription web pages are read religiously by most everyone who works in Los Angeles radio . Because many of you who read my blog are also in some form of the media, I thought you might enjoy this story of my short relationship with the mystery of talk radio.
For starters, not many are even aware I had a talk show on radio. It was on KABC-Los Angeles back in the 70s. The reason most wouldn't know is because the show was on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 3, a time when most people are at their club playing polo. I’m not sure that the KABC bosses even knew I was on. Sundays, all the offices at KABC were dark. And the broadcast studio was like a deserted island in the Pacific.
I showed up every Sunday for over a year and I never (ever) saw a KABC executive from one week to the next (or in-between, for that matter). As a matter of fact, I was never sure I still had the job until I actually inserted my key in the employee entrance lock and the door opened. It was scary to realize that all they had to do to fire me was to have a locksmith sneak in during the week and change the lock (Go home Mr. Thaxton. We are going in a different direction).
I admit that my show was less than successful. I just didn’t have enough controversial spirit to rile listeners. There is nothing worse than hosting a call-less call-in radio show. It makes one very lonely (If you've ever talked to yourself alone in a room, you'll know what I mean).
If people were not going to call me, I would call them. Think about it, I could dial-up anyone in the world I wanted to and it would be on KABC’s dime. With all KABC's media power behind me, I could get just about anyone to take my call.
I happened to have a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records on my desk. I would start calling people listed in the book and ask them why they do all that silly record breaking stuff in the first place. I felt like a kid in a candy store.
I first called the “National Hollering Champ” and had him holler into his phone. What a blast that was. Next was the guy who had walked around the world BACKWARDS. He easily answered my very astute question as to what happened when he came to little obstacles, like an ocean. “I just walked on to the ship backwards and continued the same on the deck until I arrived back on land” he proudly proclaimed. I have no doubt that he is still out there waiting for his turn to walk backwards onto the space shuttle. The only failure I experienced was the man who held the record for “Most rattlesnakes in a person’s mouth at one time.” For some reason he couldn’t talk on the phone.
My greatest thrill was when, on New Years Eve Day, I called the Waldorf Astoria in New York to make a dinner reservation that evening in the ballroom. I spoke to the hotel manager, who apologized because the room had been completely booked for more than a year. “People come from all over the world to dance to Guy Lombardo on this most famous night,” he proudly proclaimed. “They have been doing this for going on 50 years.”
“Well, If I can’t have dinner can I at least speak to Guy Lombardo,” I asked. The "power" clicked right in and I was put straight through to the famous orchestra leader’s suite. Guy and I had a wonderful chat. I was definitely on a roll.
But, as we all know, Stuff happens! One Sunday I had just read an article in the LA Times about people who had Nielson Ratings boxes hooked up to their TVs. As most people know, these boxes are placed in a small sampling of homes and determine what shows are going to remain on the air and which ones will be axed. According to the Times article, some Nielson families were leaving their TVs on, even when they were not home, so that their favorite TV shows would get high ratings. As one box could represent as many as 100,000 homes I thought this would be a very revealing story. I mean; this is Hollywood's own bread and butter we’re talking about.
Remember what I said before. I was on my own here. No producer, no station executive was ever around telling me what I could or could not do. I had the power. I made an announcement that if anyone out there listening to my show has one of those Neilson black boxes to please call me.
It was precisely at that moment when the call panel lights lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. Bells started ringing up and down those deserted halls. Wham Bam! Thank you Maam! Unfortunately for poor little uninformed me, these calls were not from adoring listeners, but from the long-missing KABC executives.
I had made a MAJOR media BOO BOO.
"NO ONE IN BROADCASTING IS EVER ALLOWED TO TALK TO ANYONE WHO LIVES IN A NIELSON HOME. NEVER EVER !!!!!”
ABC company attorneys blew as high as KABC’s broadcast tower. I heard threats like, “KABC could lose its license” or worse yet, “Nielson could cancel the contract and KABC would never ever be rated again.”
To make a long story as short as my talkshow gig at KABC, I had to swear on a stack of lawyers that “I am not, and have never been, a member of a party intending to influence a program’s ratings.” I was verbally spanked and sent to my room (the broadcast equivalent of the announce booth). A few weeks later the show was replaced by Sunday afternoon Dodger Baseball.
I am proud to say that I did make one notable contribution to talk radio. I had proved the epic warning. "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."
No one with a Nielson box ever called.