As a teenager I had a transistor radio glued to my ear. I passionately wanted to be an announcer on a radio station. It wasn’t easy to break into the broadcasting business in 1968, but when you want something bad enough, you find a way.
My friend Bill Weil knew my desire and called me one evening to let me know that the local FM station was looking for high school students to call in on Friday nights and report the score of their football games. I called immediately and put in my request to be the “field reporter” for Pleasant Hill High School. Even then I had a decent voice for radio, so I was accepted by station manager Doug Laue.
After a few Friday night scores were called in, I started asking Doug if I could do the sports report at the station. He replied, “We have no budget for that.” I answered back, “I’ll do it for free.” It took a few rounds of phone calls before he finally agreed to give me a shot. The rest as they say, is history. Or actually, the beginning of a 50-plus year career in radio/TV/Film/Voiceover and every other aspect of broadcast production I could experience. It only took 3 months before I was hired as a “lunchtime relief engineer/announcer” at KDFM. At that time, Ron Wolfe was working an 8-hour shift. The Labor Board decided that was too long without a break. So, I would leave school the period before lunch, race the 10 miles to the station, do my 1-hour of on-air duties, then race back to school for the last class at PHHS. The whopping pay of $1.25/hour made me feel rich, not because of the financial treasure, but rather due to the fulfillment of a dream.
Eventually I was given the late Friday/Saturday night air slot and within another few months became assistant to chief engineer Dave Adams, who I helped with the task of installing a new 3,000-watt transmitter on a hill above Lafayette. That training (along with an FCC First Class Ticket) led to the opportunity to help with the installation of KTTV’s new 50,000-watt TV transmitter on Mt. Wilson overlooking Los Angeles…but that’s a story for another blog post.
During the roughly 3 years at KDFM, Ron Wolfe convinced me to attend the College of San Mateo which was 50-miles away, instead of going to Diablo Valley College a mere 7-mile trek. Ron had a show on KCSM -TV Channel 14 called “The Face Behind the Mic.” He interviewed many of the more well-known radio personalities of San Francisco including Mike Cleary, Tommy Saunders, Gene Nelson among others. Saunders became a good friend, and one night he came out to Walnut Creek after the station shut down for the day and we spent a few hours recording a new audition tape. He wanted to transition from KYA to a more underground atmosphere (KSAN comes to mind). I was intrigued by the cameras and operators and decided I would attend CSM and study television broadcasting. The first time I laid hands on an old black-and-white RCA TK-14 the professor asked where I learned the craft. I said, “This is my first time.” He then said, “You’re a natural.”
Ed Hoyt, a classmate in the Television Department, told me about an overnight show on an SF UHF channel (36, I believe) starring Bwana Johnny of KYA. Ed and I spent Friday and Saturday nights working for free (and loving it) to be the cameramen. Johnny and his ‘peeps’ would often go out to “check on their cars” in the parking lot, a code for taking a break to smoke funny cigarettes. Johnny became a friend and I had gone to his apartment on occasion for parties. I remember clearly (even though it WAS the 60s) the night I took my girlfriend to see the Woodstock movie. We stopped at BJ’s home briefly for some…umm…nevermind, I forget why we were there. At one point Johnny suggested that we all get naked. Gina and I bowed out since we had to get to the cinema. After the show we returned to the apartment where she was staying and ended up skinny-dipping in the swimming pool. The rest of that story shall remain confidential.
The Walnut Festival was in full-swing and the radio group set up our remote broadcast. At the end of the evening Ron and I returned the broadcast equipment back to the station. I backed my car up to the front door of the Hendricks Piano building to make it easier to unload everything and take it to the third-floor penthouse. When I came downstairs to get a second load, a policeman was there and asked what I was doing. I explained it to him, and he said, “OK, but move the car as soon as possible.” After another load was carried upstairs, I came back down and another of Walnut Creek’s finest was writing a ticket. I explained that one of his partners had just been there and approved the unusual parking situation. He wasn’t happy and argued the point, then handed me the ticket. I angrily went back inside the building while whispering loud enough for him to hear me say, “Effing Pigs.” I remind you; it was the early 70s.
My radio days came to an end after taking station owner, Al Pettler to court for non-payment of wages. This occurred after a series of remote broadcasts of youth league soccer games in Concord. Sitting next to me in the broadcast booth was Don Sherwood. I felt rather incompetent next to him! During the breaks I asked Don what I could do better. He advised, “Kid…just be yourself.” I lost that court case, and the job. But by then I was moving into television and even spent one summer as a vacation relief engineer at KGO-TV. I learned more about the craft during that assignment than in the three years in college.
In 1972 I moved to Hollywood where my “Once Upon a Lifetime” tales continued for another four decades.
About these photos: Our High School class was preparing the 50-year reunion in 2019. One of our classmates found a box that was about to get tossed out, but she looked inside and found hundreds of contact prints with photos from 1969 that were shot for the school newspaper, The Ram Page. To my surprise, these photos showed up on one of the sheets. I had forgotten that they were shot! It was a wonderful surprise to see the only photos in known existence of the KDFM studio. These could have been thrown away, never to be seen again!
KDFM wasn’t my first ‘real job’ however. When I was 15, I worked at United Vintners of San Francisco. This company is a big part of the history of wine in the United States.