dr george pollard
“From the moment I heard Shadoe Stevens, on WRKO-AM, in Boston,” says Howard Lapides, “I knew he was one of the few radio people I’d always idolize. That was 40 years ago and my opinion hasn’t changed.
“I was student, at Emerson College,” says Lapides. Evenings, I produced Steve Fredericks, on WMEX-AM. Weekends, I worked area stations, as the ‘Frogman.’
“Instantly, I knew Stevens was the man. What I didn’t know was the name, Shadoe Stevens, was inflicted on him. He had been Jefferson Kaye, for years, and didn’t like the new name. Most important, he made ‘Shadoe Stevens’ a widely-known success.
“Go out on the street. Randomly ask 100 people, “Who is Shadoe Stevens?” Most will know. They might remember his radio work, ‘Hollywood Squares,’ ‘Traxx,’ ‘Dave’s World,’ ‘Loose Cannon,” ‘Fred Rated’ or maybe "The Big Galoot." Everyone knows something about Stevens.”
“Shadoe follows,” says John Rook, “in the footsteps of such greats as ‘The Real’ Don Steele, Robert W. Morgan, Larry ‘Superjock’ Lujack and Rick Dees.” Those are big steps to fill, but Sevens does it, easily. “Still,” says Rook, “he needs to learn how to spell!”
“For too many,” says Rook, “radio fame is a brief blink of the cosmic eye. Success, for Stevens, hasn’t peaked. He reaches new heights, daily, it seems. Don’t hold your breath, waiting for the day he can’t top yesterday. Heaven, hell and purgatory supposedly have top production studios and, since Dante left, new ideas are few. I predict Shadoe lifts the afterlife to new, creative heights.”
“Stevens made it on television,” says Lapides. “Shadoe succeed on game shows, sitcoms and in movies. He was one of us, the women and men of radio, showing the big shots we could do it all, and do it all well.
“KROQ-FM is a legend,” says Lapides. “Given no money, Stevens created this powerhouse station on his endless flow of ‘over the top ideas,’ a unique ability for radio production, unparalleled optimism, hard work and determination. How many, in any business, legitimately claim these characteristics? Stevens created KROQ-FM, twice. How few created such success, once, let alone twice.
“This,” says Lapides, “is the heart and mind of Shadoe Stevens: if I can think it, I can find a way to make it happen.”
His success comes of tenacity. “Stevens is a survivor,” says Don Barrett, “in his personal and work lives. Through a steady stream of creative output,” says Barrett, “Shadoe Stevens continues to share his journey with us.”
Shadoe Stevens is a Renaissance Person. He prospers in many areas and in many ways. He’s a Leonardo, working the digital age, with high-tech sound and radiant light.
Daniel Bornstein said, “A celebrity is someone known only for whom she or he is, not for what he or she does.”*** Stevens is a celebrity, but KROQ-FM and the AOR radio format, to pick only two examples, make Stevens most notable for what he does. What he does arises from a nimble mind, grit and no fear of dogged hard work.
Shadoe Stevens has a first-class character, a first-class mind and his work product is first class. He’s a first-class role model. You need to know.
Driving Shadoe Stevens
GS What positive influences did you have in life? The ideas or people you believe led you to the path you followed to success?
SS Oh boy; what stage, of me, are we talking about? I reinvented myself at least a half-dozen times. I changed directions, in my life, after having had some success, in an area. Suddenly, a line of work sent up a wall. I thought, “Oh, I guess I can’t do that any more.”
I moved on to something else and crawled through its “learning curve.” I went through the anguish and adjustments and, at times, the terror, of adjusting and learning a new job. Eventually, I think, “Oh, ok, this is how you do it.” I’d work it, managing to find some degree of success.
I’d flourish. I’d blossom. I’d think, “It’s like a divine script writer: ok, we are not going to let you do this any more.” I moved on. It was and is mysterious.
GS Isn’t your daughter one of the starts, of the television show, “Greek”?
SS Yes; I have two of the most gorgeous daughters in the world. My oldest daughter, Amber, is 22 years old and already on that hit television show.
GS That’s a good show. You daughter is the Ashleigh character, I think.
SS Yes; “Greek” is well-cast, well-written, funny and engaging. Amber is brilliant. My wife hates when I say it, but Amber is Tyra Banks beautiful. She’s magnetic and a good actor. She has great comic timing. I’m knocked out by her.
Beverly, Amber, Chynarose and Shadoe Stevens
My other daughter, Chynarose (b. 1991), is a senior at Beverly Hills high school. She’s equally talented and especially artistic. This summer she attended the Cal-Arts Summer Film Programme. For her project, she created, that is, wrote, directed, edited and starred in her own five-minute film. This short film, by Chynarose, is creative and entertaining. Now, she’s thinking about going to a college specializing in the arts.
GS You and your wife must be proud of your daughters.
SS I’m married, happily for 23 years. My wife, Beverly Cunningham, an international model, is a work of art. We have a great marriage. We’ve had years go by when we didn’t fight. We enjoy the same parts, of life, art and movies. We’ve been best friends since the day we met.
GS Now, that’s impressive: a Hollywood marriage that lasted.
SS For all the weirdness, of my life, I’m blessed. I have to keep reminding myself of that, and stay in motion.
GS Can we talk about your family, your parents and siblings, a bit?
SS My father was my greatest influence. He was a great guy, in every way. He did many jobs. Mostly, he was an entrepreneur. We owned toy stores, clothing stores, a go-kart track, tandem bikes and fireworks stands. If my father wanted s speedboat, he’d buy five wholesale; sell four, and keep one.
A Norwegian, who loved games, my father did not drink, smoke, curse, yell or get in fights. He died last year, 2007, in his late 80s. His influence was huge, a big part of my success.
My mother, who is an artist, lives near Los Angeles, with my sister. My mother is an extraordinarily beautiful woman, even at 85. In her youth, she looked exactly like Ingrid Bergman, in “Casablanca.” She walks into a room, even today, and stops it cold. She has aged gracefully, and is also a huge influence on me. She taught me to draw and to love art. You see, it’s all her fault, my endless striving for creative perfection. I love her for it.
My sister, Nancy, has always been one of my closest friends. She has angelic qualities. My brother, Tim, also works in radio, using the name Jason Rockefeller. After working in major radio markets, such as Miami and Las Vegas, Tim returned to Jamestown, ND. Tim loves North Dakota and is happy back home.
Another brother, Dave, works the paper business, in Bismarck, ND. My youngest brother, Richard, works for the ABC Radio Network, out of Dallas, Texas; he uses the on-air name Richard Stevens and does a morning show.
GS Is there an instance or idea that carries you through the transitions and changes?
SS My best feature, bar none, is enthusiasm. I don’t know where it comes from. It’s my inner core. There are many people, more talented than me, who haven’t had as much success, as me.
GS As your father, at least, seemed an optimistic, enthusiastic man. He was surely a hard worker, given his entrepreneurial life.
SS Yes; I’m always able, willing, to work harder than everyone. It’s always been that way. It isn’t an insight, such as, “Oh this is what you have to do.” I enjoyed what I did, always, and working hard can be enjoyable.
I try to lose myself in what I do. Whatever I was working at, I found a way to make it rewarding by applying myself.
In the beginning, it was radio. As a child, I played with tape recorders and tinkered with radio sets. I built each radio from electronic kits. I loved wiring radios together, and putting up antennas. This wasn’t a hobby, but my passion, which enthralled and excited me.
Later, it was fun, learning to be a disc jockey (DJ). Then it was how to be a programme director (PD). Then it was leaving radio, and going into production, where I learned to write and produce commercials. Then it was television, where I learned how to be an unobtrusive sidekick, to Steve Allen; how to host a television show; how to be a “Hollywood Square” and an actor.
The jobs are similar. Still, each has new skills to learn and worry over. I had to learn to apply myself to succeed.
This is the same, in any line of work. You can fight the need to learn a new job or skill, or you can embrace it. Many people don’t catch on or bother to try.
I would try to throw myself into whatever I was doing, and not freak out. I’m always enthusiastic about what I do. The energy enthusiasm produces is priceless. Instead of letting my mind wallow in, “Why me and how come I have to work hard,” I think, “I have a chance to do this job; make it fun.” What else can I do?
GS Did you do jobs, other than radio, when you were in high school and university?
SS As a teenager, I had a few horrible jobs. I worked on farms. I hauled bales, of hay, dawn until dusk. The work was incredibly difficult, physically, and the days endless.
I’m from Jamestown, North Dakota (ND). Farm work is what you do in the summer. You start working at 5 am and stop at 9 pm – 15-hour days, often seven days a week. We’d use handles to hook hay bales, on each side, for tossing. Each bale weighs 80-to-100 pounds. We’d toss them over our heads, on to a truck, from dawn to dusk. Farmers work hard.
GS It’s a long day, of hard work, for sure.
SS Yes; that’s work. I also worked for the railroad, as part of a Section Crew, putting in new rails. That, too, was 5 am until 9 pm. Dawn until the fall of night.
We slept in boxcars. The railway parked these boxcars near a small-town, somewhere in North Dakota; always in the middle of nowhere. The crew lived among rat people, who were all right, but nasty, dirty, farting, stinking, smelling, stinking, smoking, foul-mouthed hobos, with great senses of humour. Imagine us cramped in those little boxcars, with no air-conditioning, in the humour North Dakota summer. It was stark.
GS It’s a long way from media.
SS Yeah; so when I finished that job, I said I’m going into the media. If I have to workday and night and never sleep, it will never be work. I don’t want to ever do farm or railway work, again. I also worked on a city crew, laying asphalt. That’s another hot, stinky, endless job. I tripled my efforts to succeed doing creative, enjoyable work that, for me, wasn’t work. Tossing hay bales, laying rails and paving streets was work. Radio and television are a blessing, by comparison.
GS That’s motivation. Can we talk about your radio career? I can’t believe you started your own station when you were only 10 years old. Is this true?
SS Yeah; it started, in the 1950s, when my dad bought a Webcor tape recorder. I made tapes from the television or radio and records, using a microphone rather than a patch cord. It hooked me on production. I made tapes, of my own. I’d play these tapes over and over, again.
My uncle, who owned radio stations, heard I was spending days, on end, creating sounds, music mixes and whatever I could think up, on tape. He heard the tapes, and liked what I was doing. He sent me a gift, to motivate me, I guess.
His gift was a “Wireless Transmitter,” made by Knight Kit, made by Allied Electronics, in Chicago. I know Sears Roebuck sold such kits, but I’m not sure where my uncle got it. He was in radio, and it might have come from anywhere.
I put it together, using a soldering iron. I followed each instruction, as if I’d taken vow or oath, of some sort. I was 10 years old.
GS From small, thoughtful gifts grow great successes.
SS As I put the kit together, I followed the instructions, closely. I wanted to make the radio station work. It was an intense effort for a 10-year old.
It worked. I could broadcast into another room. I had a microphone, upstairs, in my bedroom. Down in the living room my parents listened to me. I’m thinking, “This is phenomenal!”
So I wonder, “If it’ll go to the next room, could I broadcast to the neighbourhood?” I added a 100 foot antenna from the top, of the third story, of my house, to a Boxelder tree in the backyard. The antenna wormed through the evergreen tree, with a ground wire.
I also added a tape recorder and a phonograph, so I could play records, and built a microphone stand from an Erector Set. I think I got some of the extra parts from my uncle; old equipment from one or another of his stations.
I had a full-blown radio station in my bedroom. Each night, I’d broadcast to northern Jamestown, ND. You could get the signal about a mile in each direction.
SS It was captivating. I’d put on a long-playing album and roam around the neighbourhood. We, some friends and I, drove around, on our bicycles, with our transistor radios, listening to my station. We wanted to see how far we could hear it.
We’d be a mile away, we would go, “Oh my god, it’s so cool. It’s like magic.” Mostly, it was sheer enthusiasm and my fascination, with the magic, of radio.
First On-air Job
GS That quickly lead to a DJ job, on a local station, didn’t it?
SS Yes: one day, I ran into a DJ, who worked a local radio station. Jamestown, with a population nearing 14,000, had two radio stations.
The DJ was doing a show called, “The Man on the Street.” He was interviewing passers-by, live on First Avenue. He asked me what interested me.
I said, “Well, art and radio.”
He goes, “Radio! Why are you interested in radio?”
I told him about my little radio station. He thought it was the greatest idea, in the world. At 10 years old, I had a radio station.
He says, “Why don’t you come down to the radio station and talk to us about that. You might be good on the air.”
At 11 years old, KEYJ-AM, in Jamestown, ND, hired me for a weekly rock show, on Saturday morning. I talked about what was going on at school and played rock and roll. I did that for few years, until I was a teenager.
GS Was KEYJ-AM part of the KEY chain of radio stations, in the upper mid-west?
SS Yes; the station was among those stations. This station was know as KEY-J. It was owned by my uncle, who was more surprised than me when I landed the on-air job.
Since the first show on KEYJ-AM, which is now KQDJ-AM, I’ve never been away from radio. I worked radio through high school, on weekends and summer holidays. I went to college for 5 years, helping to pay my way by working in radio.
GS Were you intimidated? You were a kid, working in a grown up business?
SS Intimidated is a mild word for how I felt. Are you kidding? It scared me out of my mind, to do a live show. Everyone in town might hear me.
KEYJ-AM set me up well. I sat at a table, with an off-on switch, for the microphone, a list of records, to play, and the order. I’d talk a bit and cue the technician to play a record. It was magic. I thought, “Good lord, I’m in the big time and I’m 11 years old. How great is that!”
GS Didn't "Life Magazine" run a story on you, as the youngest DJ?
SS Yes; that was in 1957. The article was called, "America's Youngest DJ."
AKA Jefferson Kaye
GS I agree. Did you continue working in the radio through college?
SS I was an art major in college. I spent 3 years at the University of North Dakota (UND). I didn’t dare leave ND. I had such a close family. An art school, in Los Angeles, accepted me, but I decided not to go. I was afraid.
I thought I wanted to be an artist. I did art, of one kind or another, all the time. I took college-level art courses as a high school student. I worked a mall airbrushing t-shirts, emblazoned with monsters. I airbrushed monsters driving cars, with their big giant flicks, on the back, and huge gear shifts. I put the name of the customer, on the top, in fluorescent letters. I loved doing that. It was fun to paint.
In my mind, radio was a route to becoming an artist. I visited the Art Centre School, in Los Angeles. California mesmerized me. Still, I thought, “I don’t think so. Everyone knows I’m a hick, from ND. They’ll look down on me.” I didn’t fit. It scared me.
I went back to UND, which was 150 miles from my home. Even that was difficult for me to do. I had a bunch of friends who were going to UND. I stayed close to home.
Then I got a job at KILO-AM, in Grand Forks, ND. I worked KILO-AM for about two and a half years. For about six months, I worked KQWB-AM, in Fargo, ND. Iï¿½ starting calling myself “Jefferson Kaye.” I thought it was a good, original name. Jefferson Kaye, above, is a great radio name, but not as original as I believed. I didn’t know there was a DJ, using this name, in most radio markets.
KIKX-AM, in Tucson, Arizona, offered me a job and the University of Arizona allowed me to transfer in as a Drama and Journalism major. I worked KIKX-AM for two years, as Jefferson Kaye, got my feet wet in television and produced rock shows throughout southern Arizona.
GS Until you were brave enough to leave ND?
SS Fear kept me near home. For the longest time, I felt as if everyone knew I was from North Dakota and that meant I wasn’t cool. Big city men and women overawed me. They talked fast and had opinions.
I didn’t feel I knew anything. I was young. I wanted to be cool. I didn’t want the hick label hung on me.
GS Although the sentiment isn’t unusual, it’s a bold admission. How did you make the move, and stop worrying about being a hick?
SS After three years, at UND, I realized I might not make a living as an artist. Ha! Radio and media work seemed a better choice. These jobs paid the bills, while I was in college; why not afterwards, too. It occurred to me that if I aimed for a media career, I would be in better shape.
The Boston Book of the Dead
GS That makes sense. You eventually ended in Boston. Was the next step after Tucson?
SS Yeah; I was applying for jobs in California. I always dreamed of working in California. Now, I was brave enough to go there and stay a while. I thought how great if I could at least get to San Diego or San Francisco or something.
Bill Watson, in California, at the RKO Group, liked what he heard. The RKO group was using the Drake Format, at each of its stations. Bill Drake, the guru of radio, who had created The Format, liked my work, but didn’t think I was ready for Los Angeles.
Watson, a partner, of Drake, called to offer me a job at WRKO-AM, in Boston, where I’d work for PD, Mel Philips. The call, from Watson, chilled my blood. How eerie, I hadn’t sent a tape to WRKO-AM, but got a job offer to work there.
I thought, “Do I want to go to Boston?” It’s cold, snowy and much, more like Jamestown, but a much larger radio market, much bigger than Tucson, where I lived. It was a great career move.
Tucson is a wonderful town. The people are friendly and happy. It was a hard decision, to leave Tucson.
I took the job, at WRKO-AM, in Boston, in 1969. Suddenly, I had a wife add a son, Bradley. He’s a gifted artist, who lives in Seattle. Now I was a family man and had responsibilities, at like 22 years old.
I went to Boston, purely as a career move. I did well at WRKO-AM. The station did well. WRKO-AM had about a 33-34 share, of the audience, over 12 years old. The Drake Format fit well, in Boston. The station was a huge success.
GS Didn’t you start your television career in Boston?
SS In Tucson, I did some television. In Boston, I got serious about it. I even had my own show, for a few months.
First, I was a youth correspondent for a show called, “Tempo Boston,” with Dave Garraway and produced by Rick Rosner. Before Steve Allen and Johnny Carson, Garraway was the big name in television. He hosted the “Today Show,” on NBC-TV, for years. In fact, Pat Weaver, who ran NBC-TV, in the early years, created the “Today Show” and put Garraway on it. The show was such a success, Weaver wanted to clone it. He devised a daytime show, hosted by Arlene Francis, and, of course, the “Tonight Show.” Anyone less able than Garraway, and the “Today Show” might not have hit.
After the “Today Show,” Garraway went to Boston, to do a morning show, which was much like “Regis and Kelly,” today. I was on the Garraway show, talking about the “Paul is Dead” rumour, of the late 1960s, the Beatles conspiracy and so forth. After that, they gave me my own weekly show called “Gazebo,” which was a music show.
GS That’s an entry point. When you went to Boston wasn’t the market more talk than rock centered? How did you, with your rock and roll.
SS I went, to WRKO-AM and Boston, to work a Top 40 or current hit radio (CHR) format, devised by Bill Drake, in Los Angeles. WRKO-AM was a big Top 40 rock station. This was way before FM took off, in big way. AM radio was mostly pop music.
GS You worked, with Dale Dorman?
SS Yes, the famous and infamous, Dale Dorman, he’s hilarious. A talented guy and a great guy, we hit it off great, he was one of my pals there.
I idolized another DJ, J. J. Jeffery, who went on to own radio station in New England. I looked up to Jeffery. He was a great guy.
Mel Philip was a powerhouse PD, to boot. He had taken over, WRKO-AM, from Bob Henabery, the founding PD. When I arrived, at WRKO-AM, it had just morphed from WNAC-AM. Its format was middle of the road (MOR) and talk.ï¿½ WRKO-AM a solid radio station and a great place to work. I got with everybody at the station, well.ï¿½ The music policy was fairly strict and the DJs bonded to the audience, teens and adults, alike. The bonding lifted the station from flat last to first, in no time.
GS I get a sense all was not roses in Boston.
SS I hated Boston, when I first got there. It was a rough adjustment. I was young. Suddenly, I’m a married, with a child. Adjusting to a big city was one extra stress I didn’t need.
In retrospect, it was me, not Boston. Although I wanted out, of Boston, I was fond of the city. I figured out how it worked. It’s a whole different vibe, in Boston.
I’m from Jamestown, ND, a town of 14,000 people, most of whom you know or know about. Then I’m in one of the biggest cities in the country. It has a great history. It’s a different intensity. I just didn’t know how to react. In a sense, it was out of my league. I spent much my life out of my league. Ha!
GS You managed all right?
SS Yep, enthusiasm gets me through.
GS You finally did make it out to Los Angeles, this KHJ-AM. How was that move?
SS It was exciting. It was a dream that come true. It was weird, at the time.
I was so unhappy, working Boston. I started writing a book called, “The Boston Book of the Dead.” It was a history about everything I disliked about my life, in Boston.
After 6 months, in Boston, I started sending out audition tapes. I wanted a job anywhere else. No one returned my calls. I had giant ratings. It didn’t matter.
GS Giant ratings may have intimidated employers?
SS You could be right. Maybe something, in my voice, revealed the truth, too.
GS Back to the book.
SS One Sunday night, in 1970, I wrote the last page, of “The Boston Book of the Dead.” I was almost at wit’s end. The next morning, Bill Watson, of KHJ-AM, called me. “Are you interested in coming to Los Angeles?” He asks, “To work for us.”
I said, “Are you kidding?”
He says, “We’ve got a plane reservation for you tomorrow.”
That was Monday. Tuesday, I fly to Los Angeles; Tuesday afternoon, I meet, with KHJ-AM. Talks go great. I fly back to Boston, on Wednesday night. Thursday I do my last show, on WRKO-AM. Friday a truck pulls up to the house, and loads everything I own, including my car. Friday night we fly to Los Angeles. Late Friday night, we were living in Los Angeles, at the Sunset Hyatt House.
That’s how fast it happened. It was extraordinary. Suddenly, I’m at the top radio station in the USA. KHJ-AM, at the time, was the most exciting, most well-known station in the country. I was a part of it.
Becoming a LARP* -- KHJ-AM, Boss Radio
GS What were you hired to do at KHJ-AM?
SS I was full-time relief guy. My deal, with KHJ-AM, was I would get the first full-time position that became available. That’s all I wanted. I’m excited, workingï¿½ KHJ-AM, even if it's weekends to start above, I’m more excited than about my own radio station, in Jamestown. I’m more excited than my first radio job, half a lifetime ago. I’m proud to work KHJ-AM.
Rick Rosner, who produced Garraway, in Boston, and my “Gazebo” show, too, call me out of the blue. He’s in Los Angeles, now, heard me on KHJ-AM. “Do I want to do some television, as well,” he asks.
Rosner is not offering any ordinary television show, but the Steve Allen show. I leapt at the chance. Allen is a legend, and one of my idols.
Allen was the first host of the “Tonight Show,” when it went national, on 27 September 1954. He moved to NBC prime-time, in 1956, before joining ABC, in 1958, for the “Steve Allen Plymouth Show.” ABC wanted to go head-to-head, with Ed Sullivan, on CBS. Allen did a heroic job, for several years. In the end, ABC lacked the resolve to beat CBS, regularly.
Allen then did a syndicated show, for Westinghouse, from 1962 to 1964. Carson was strong, on the “Tonight Show,” which was only available to the 200 or so NBC affiliates. Group W, Westinghouse, thought there was room for another late-night variety and talk show.
In 1968–71, Allen returned to television, with a syndicated nightly variety and talk show. This show was surely his most influential work. The stunts included Allen becoming a human hood ornament, jumping into vats of oatmeal or cottage cheese or covering himself, with dog food, and letting dogs feast on the free food. The genius of Steve Allen is clearly obvious in the humour of David Letterman.
Allen had an intimidating brilliance. I don’t think he intended to intimidate, he was simply superb at everything, which people found unnerving. Allen was an incredible musician. One show, he performed a duet, on the Xylophone, with the leading Xylophone player of the day. Who plays the Xylophone?
His genius varied. Allen recognized talent, in the blink of an eye. This version of the Steve Allen show introduced Albert Brooks and Steve Martin, among others, to a national audience.
GS Allen made an A-quality act look easy.
SS Here’s the kicker. Steve Allen worked hard at his genius. Every break, on the show, he’d jot notes. I asked him, what he was writing. The response was revealing. “I write anything,” he said, “that comes into my mind: anywhere, any time and everywhere.”
Note taking is a great tool and the most important skill I learned, from Allen. I’ve taken notes, all the time, since. It’s helped me in every part of my life.
GS That was a big step for you?
SS Yes; I, Terry Ingstad aka Shadoe Stevens, of Jamestown, ND, hired as the on-camera announcer for the Steve Allen Show. Ed McMahon was announcer and sidekick to Johnny Carson, on the “Tonight Show.” Great, McMahon had tons of experience; he worked Philadelphia and New York City radio and television. I’m a year out of Tucson, 3 years out of Grand Forks, with a little late-night television experience.
I accepted the offer. I’m out of my league, far as I can see. I’m in way over my head. I’m sweating like Albert Brooks in the movie, “Broadcast News.” I am drenched wet, sweating through my shirts, every night.
All the time, of course, I’m doing what I know how to do, announcing. I’m in on the conversations, too. Here’s the newest kid in town, alongside Steve Allen and his famous guests, trying to chat along, with the stars, and, in my mind, barely keeping up.
Maybe, I thought, Rosner had gone insane. What was I doing in this job? This was Steve Allen.
“Is it me,” I thought, “or can Allen carry an overflowing bucket, without losing a drop?” I’m the hick kid, from Jamestown, ND, it must Allen. He’s a multiple generation entertainer. His parents were a top Vaudeville act. His mother, Belle Montrose, was the funniest woman in Vaudeville. I survived.
GS Did KHJ-AM like you working Allen as well as radio?
SS No, it seems. TV and KHJ-AM went along, well, for a time. One day, later in 1969, Jim O’Brian, the PD of KHJ-AM, fires a DJ, but doesn’t promote me into the now empty time-slot. This was my deal, coming to KHJ-AM. I didn’t understand.
O’Brian was a certifiable lunatic. He kept a baseball bat behind his desk. When he wanted to drive home a point, he’d pull out the bat and slam it into the centre of his desk.
GS You are right, he was a lunatic.
SS I talked about my job, with O’Brian. I said, “Look, you don’t have to give me a raise or anything, only put in my contract that I’m guaranteed the next full-time position on this radio station.” This promise is a big reason I took the job.
O’Brian says, “Well Drake says we don’t know whether you want to do television or radio?”
I say, “I’m here every day; of course I want to do radio, this is my whole job. I had great ratings, in Boston, 33% of the audience.”
O’Brian says, “Yeah, but with you doing the Steve Allen show, we don’t know where your priorities are. All we can say is ‘Don’t leave us, Shadoe.’”
“You know,” I said, “I’d rather take a chance and fail on my own, than be subject to the whims of people like you.” I left KHJ-AM.
GSDid you ever meet Bill Drake, the man, himself?
SS Nope; I’ve never met Drake. I committed blasphemy, when I dared leave the Boss Radio Empire.
GS Were you out of radio work for long?
SS Almost immediately, KRLA-AM hired me for Afternoon Drive (PM Drive). After Morning Drive (AM Drive), PM Drive is most important, the second highest rated DJ shift.
KRLA-AM featured and promoted me. I was off and running in Los Angeles, the number two radio market in the USA. In less than year, I worked two Los Angeles radio stations and one in Boston.
GS Radio is an unusual business.
SS Yeah, but at KRLA-AM, radio was exciting. We had something to show everybody. Our only competition was the most famous radio station, in the country, KHJ-AM. I liked the people, at KRLA-AM: all motivated, all enthusiastic.
GS As I recall, Drake Format stations, such as KHJ-AM, didn’t handle the new music and attitudes embraced by Baby Boomers, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Did these changes affect what you were doing?
SS FM was beginning to make waves, then. Tom Donahue, with his wife, Raechel, devised a workable format, on KSAN-FM, in San Francisco. In New York City, Scott Muni was crafting a more saleable FM format, at WNEW-FM.
What Donahue created was idiosyncratic. His format broke all the rules, of modern radio, at the time. It was “Free Form Progressive Radio.” The DJs played whatever music they wanted to play. They spoke in hushed tones, almost whispering, as if priests to parishioners, in the confessional.
Muni, at WNEW-FM, had a strong sense of a more general audience. His integration of DJ and music had wide appeal. Still, the premise and principles were much the same as Donahue: break the rules.
At the heart of these formats, and what I introduced, at KRLA-AM, was the long-playing album. Records, especially rock albums, were huge. It wasn’t good enough, any more, to be a Top 40 station such as KHJ-AM, playing only music hit singles.
I went to Hal Matthews, the manager, of KRLA-AM. I said, “You know, we should be playing music from these albums. [The albums are] selling more than singles. It’s like the biggest phenomenon in the country.” I did the research for him. That’s all I wanted to do, play album cuts on KRLA-AM.
GS It’s interesting, how Dick Summer and Scott Muni, on the east coast, were telling PDs and management the same facts as you were, on the west coast.
SS Next moment, Matthews asks me to PD KRLA-AM. “You know the material,” he says. “Put your vision into place, and we are off.” I thought, “Damn!”
I didn’t apply for the PD job. I didn’t expect it. I’m doing PM Drive, successfully. I’m taking classes, at the Art Centre School. I’m feeling overwhelmed. Suddenly, I’m PD, of KRLA-AM, in Los Angeles, creating an Album Oriented Radio (AOR) format.
I dropped out of art school. I‘m thinking, “What the hell am I going to do? I’ve never been PD of a big station before.” I had to devise an approach to programming, and I did. It was successful, and electric.
In 6 months, KRLA-AM beat KHJ-AM. It was the first time KHJ-AM lost ratings, in any demographic group, in about 8 years. KRLA-AM beat KHJ-AM in key demographics. Unparalleled is the only word to describe this achievement.
GS Betcha that felt good.
SS Yes, it was remarkable. The success, of KRLA-AM, was the music, the personalities or DJs, our attitude, and successful promotions. At the time, to give you an idea, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the musical, was huge. KHJ-AM ran a “KHJ Superstar” promotion. The tie-in was natural. The KHJ-AM ran jingles and spots based on the musical.
In a way, the KHJ-AM promotion was almost sacrilegious. Putting rock spiritual music into a contest offended me. I decided KRLA-AM would do a parody the KHJ-AM promotion. We did the funniest promotion in the history of radio.
I’m talking about “The Great KRLA Soup or Star Contest.” “There are 7 stars floating in 7 kinds of soup. If you name the star and the soup they’re floating in, you win $10,000, in cash, and a can of the soup of your choice.”
Each hour, people would call in to win. The music would go, “Hosanna** Superstar, Hosanna Superstar,” as the soup bubbled. The caller would say, “I’m Jim Gary, from Englewood: split pea and Tommy Smothers; bean and bacon and Johnny Carson.” It was hilarious. You wouldn’t know what would come up.
GS That is incredible.
SS It was funny. On the heat of that, alone, KRLA-AM had huge ratings.
As our ratings soared, management, from nowhere, began messing with me. They demanded I do this or that, without much reason. I couldn’t deal with it. I knew their changes would lessen the sound and excitement, of the station, ratings would drop and I’d get all the blame. I had to quit.
My resignation was a piece of art, a drawing, I gave the manager. It was a pen-and-ink “vision” that came to me. A man, with this old face, wrinkled. He had wings and a message, written in a block style, of old English print. All the S’s were F’s and so on. The message read, “Quit my child, there’s no hope.”
I handed it in to the manager. He said, “Are you out of your mind?”
I said, “I can’t work like this; you are going to destroy this station. I’ll be blamed. I can’t deal with that. I’ll stay on as a DJ. You guys can do whatever you want.” They did and I stayed on as a DJ.
GS How long did you, the former PD, back DJing, on KRLA-AM?
SS Not long; about a month later, the new PD says he wants to talk. He says, ‘I have to let you go.”
I laughed. I thought he was kidding, but he was serious. I was out of KRLA-AM.
I worked harder than everybody. I had good ratings. I was doing well.
I ask, “Why?”
The new PD says, “You’re always smiling.”
GS That was his reason!
SS Yes. “What?” I say, “You are firing me for smiling too much?” He says, “Yeah, you are always going around smiling, I know you are skeptical about what I’m doing.”
I said, “Are you out of your mind? I’m the only one who’s happy around here. I’m trying to bring everybody else up. I’m happy with my life. I’m back in art centre school. I’m comfortable. I’m happy being a DJ. There’s no pressure. You can have all the pressure I don’t care.”
After talking, about my firing, for an hour, he finally agreed he was wrong about the smiling. Still, he fired me, saying, “I’ve got to stick to my original decision.”
GS Were you done with KRLA-AM?
SS I thought so, but another weird turn of events followed, on the heels of my firing. The accountant called me, asking I drop by to get my severance check.
When I show up to get my severance cheque, the account says to me, “I hope you take this check, and go out and spend it in the first week. The next week, you are not going to know where your next penny is coming from. Maybe then you’ll learn the meaning of life.”
I say, “What’s the meaning of life, Don?”
He says, “Management is god!” I say, “Well, I feel sorry for you.” “It’s true,” He says, thumping his finger on his desk, for emphasis, “[Management puts] the food in your mouth,” thump. “The roof over your head,” thump. “Management,” thump, “is gawd,” thump.
I looked at him, my mouth agape. I’m in shock. I say, “I feel sorry for you, Don.” I left.
I didn’t know what I was going to do. Two weeks later KRLA-AM hired me back, for more money! I took the job, for a while.
GS Radio is weird. Scary, too, given that, today, many radio stations are under the control of accountants.
SS It’s been that way my whole life. All I’ve done is that weird, and maybe more. Take KROQ-FM as one example.
In 1973, after the KRLA-AM fiasco, Gary Bookasta, from KROQ-AM, in Los Angeles, offers me a job. He wanted me to do what I did at KRLA-AM and something original. He says, “We can’t let you do [something original] from the beginning because we don’t have the FM station yet, but we are getting it. I just want you to come in and work as a DJ, and work our Top 40 format, until we can get this thing changed over.” (Above, ROQs promotion picture from the time when KROQ-FM simulcast KROQ-AM.
GS About how long did it take?
SS Way too long, for my liking, but it go weirder. I didn’t take his offer, at first.
Bookasta offers me more money. He adds any new car I want. I asked for a Porsche. Bookasta gave it to me. Who could refuse a new Porsche?
I start working at KROQ-AM, a tragic, small AM station, with a signal few could hear. I’m doing my best to show up. I wait for my time.
Then there’s coup, of sorts. One faction, of the management team, fires the other, for overspending. They fired Gary Bookasta, who created and put together the financing for KROQ-AM. Half the owners overthrew the other half. Someone locked the doors. Someone else changed the locks. They fire me. They fire Jimmy Rabbit, the most recent hire.
Jimmy Rabbit and I hovered around the Universal Sheridan, which was across the street from the station, waiting to hear from Bookasta. A few days pass, Bookasta gets a court order and reverses the revolution.
GS Not the armed combat “Wolfman Jack” talked about, but weird, for sure.
SS Bookasta fires anyone who took part in the coup. He says, to me, “Ok, it’s up to you to make it happen!” I had a handful of people, a skeleton crew, but we kept KROQ-AM on the air.
Vague threats, of possible retaliation, emerged. For 6 weeks, a 6’ 3” security guard, who carried a 12-guage shotgun, escorted me from and to my car. Armed guards patrolled in and around KROQ-AM, 24 hours a day. Then the FM license miraculously came was granted.
GS Reminds me of Abbott and Costello.
SS Or, “The Godfather,” maybe, as Bookasta was Sicilian. In an instant, it’s KROQ-AM and FM. I’m in charge.
KROQ-FM was the former KPPC-FM, with studios in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles. The KPPC-FM studios were idiosyncratic and I wanted organization. I went to Pasadena, redesigned and rebuilt the studios, going as far as building the record racks, myself.
GSWorking on farms and the railroad, in North Dakota, came in handy, I guess?
SS Yes; relentless work, dawn to dusk, but it wasn’t living in a boxcar in Zap, ND.
I devised a new format, based on the idea of cutting-edge music, all the time, always up, all energy 24-hours a day. The idea was revolutionary, in 1974.
I wrote and produced a dramatic jingle package. The package focused on ideas I’d experienced with at KRLA-AM. This time, the production was more dramatic.
One jingle featured a massive choir, such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, singing, “Ahhh K-rock, Ahhh, Mighty Rock, and AM-FM stereo – K-R-O-Q.
Don Elliott, the greatest radio production director, in the world, and I created a massive number of jingles for KROQ-AM and FM. The jingles were funny and original.
Another jingle, we produced, launched KROQ-FM. This spot focused on sounds of the ocean, thunder cracking and wind whipping. A Punic warship creaked, under the stress, and you heard its rowers singing mournfully, “Kay-aRe-Ohhhhh-Que,” as the rowing-master screamed, “You’re not working!” Then he cracked his whip. Its sound flung from the left speaker to the right speaker before vanishing. At this point, I officially signed on the station, saying, “As of today, we welcome you to KROQ-FM. Get ready for something completely different.
GS It runs chills up and down my spine.
SS A dramatic effect was important. I had to make it happen, with a skeleton crew, of men and women, paid little. KROQ-AM and FM were out of money. The creative challenges, the deadlines, the lack of money made the new FM station exciting. We were on a mission.
All energy, all up, all exciting, and it was revolutionary, especially for the time. Almost every station used day-parting, in the early 1970s. Day-parting means playing only certain records at certain times of the day. Usually, this meant softer, with more ballads, during the day, with a harder edge through the night. The true rock and roll began seeping into playlists about the time the high schools let out for the day.
I didn’t day-part. “All Up, All Energy, All Party,” was the slogan. When a listener came to KROQ-FM, they had a different experience, than at other stations, and with cutting-edge music, to boot.
New groups, playing new music were exploding from England. David Bowie and Queen are two examples. Listeners wanted to hear this new music. KROQ-FM gave listeners what they wanted. The station exposed listeners to music and groups they’d never heard, and in an exciting package.
KROQ-FM went to air and took off like a rocket. In six months, which is suddenly in radio, the station was number one in key demographics. KROQ-FM, in the blink of an eye, was an important station in southern California.
Unfortunately, no one, on or off-air, got a regular pay cheque, at KROQ-FM. Bookasta couldn’t put the money together, to fund the station. Many, of the staff, began thinking about bankruptcy. Many lived off credit cards. Burley men came, in the dead of night, to repossess my Porches. The Music Director (MD) drove me to and from work, in a Volkswagen Bug.
I quit. The station was hot. It was exciting. Still, I couldn’t carry the load, for those people, any longer. I resigned. I was heartbroken. I couldn’t do it, any more. I couldn’t watch people suffer. I quit.
The day I quit, the whole staff quit. I mean everybody quit. KROQ-FM went off the air, for about a year and a half.
I was out of a job. I started my production company, vowing never to go back to radio. I hated the politics. I hated the game playing. I started this company, and started making some money.
GS The pattern repeats.
SS Yes; David Moorhead, of KMET-FM made me an offer too good to refuse. There was always a “gotcha” in my radio career: Moorhead couldn’t put me in right away as PD. He hired me as a DJ until he could take care of “commitments,” with the existing PD. He also had to make a few other internal changes.
I started at KMET-FM, also in Los Angeles, in 1974. I’m humbled, again. I do it.
Moorhead eventually lets the other guy go, and I’m PD. Suddenly, I had to rebuild another station. I throw myself, again, into the job, head first, and the same series of events happen.
KMET-FM had been a secondary station, which never had a rating. In a radio moment, it is the dominant station, in Los Angeles. That’s when Moorhead starts messing, with me.
GS The pattern repeats.
SS Yes; one day, Moorhead calls me in and says, “I want you to terminate Brother John, Ace Young and Joe Collins.” Brother John was one of my closest friends. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve known. Besides, Brother John had the most beautiful and authoritative voice, of anyone, in radio. Ace Young was an institution in southern California. He was among the best newspeople, in the business. Joe Collins was a hard-working music director and he doubled doing weekends and relief shifts. He’s yet another great radio person.
I ask Moorhead, “Why do I have to fire such top talent?”
Moorhead says, “They’re just not working out.”
I went out of my mind. I wanted to cry. I wanted to crawl over the top of his desk and beat him, with his butt-filled ashtray. I couldn’t figure out what to do. I stormed around the room.
I said, “No, no, I’m not going to do that. You are not going to make me into you. Maybe you should find someone else to do this job. I’m not doing it. We have great ratings and I’m not firing people for no good reason.”
I left. I walked out. I packed up my office and moved to my studio, heartbroken, again.
Moorhead made my assistant, Sam Belamy, the new PD. She had not worked radio before I hired her from Billboard Magazine.
Sam is a smart woman. She rode the crest of the creative wave for at least seven or eight years. She made it work. KMET-FM was the top moneymaking rock radio station, in the country, for most of that time.
I went on to do other projects.
GS Does your radio story end here?
SS Nope; I’m out of KMET-FM and think I’m out of radio. I have no plan for going back to radio.
In 1977, Gary Bookasta, from KROQ-FM, re-enters the picture. “We are going to put KROQ-FM back on the air. Can I get you come back and do it, again?”
I said, “No, no you can’t.”
I offered to consult, to do my best to make KROQ-FM a decent station. I couldn’t count on Bookasta to pay me, regularly. I couldn’t take another chance, on him. For compensation, I offered to do my own radio shows, on weekends; sell my own time and keep all the money.
Bookasta agreed, and that’s what I did through the end of the 1970s. I consulted, tried to make KROQ-FM a great station, but the financial instability of the company kept getting in the way. Staff hired on, received a pay cheque, for a few weeks in a row, and then not. Many left the station. Some stayed and struggled. On-air consistency was impossible, with staff changing all the time. People did what they wanted. There was nothing I could do about it.
GS In the late 1970s, did you hire Rodney Bingenheimer?
SS Yes, I guess so. I at least approved hiring Rodney. Rodney started as a guest on, “The Flo and Eddie Show.” Flo, also known as “The Fluorescent Leech,” portrayed by Mark Volman, and Eddie, portrayed by Howard Kaylen. Volman and Kaylen formed the nucleus of a top group, from the 1960s, “The Turtles.” For a long while, Flo and Eddie opened for Frank Zappa.
Flo and Eddie did a wild Sunday night show, on KROQ-FM. The guests included Keith Moon, of the “Who,” and Ringo Starr. Rodney was “The King of the Glitter People,” in Hollywood. He made friends, with the newest artists and broke David Bowie and “Blondie,” in the early 1970s; “No Doubt,” in the 1990s and many acts between and since. Gwen Stefani never hides her appreciation for what Rodney did for them.
“Rodney on the ROQ,” his show, is part of the southern California landscape, today, even though his show runs midnight to 3 am on Sundays. That’s early Monday morning. Rodney may be the worst DJ, in the history of radio, but somehow became a southern California institution. Bingenheimer is an interesting, if unusual, character.
GSConsidering what you went through as PD, what did you learn about a success media career?
SS I knew what to do to be successful, creatively. I never learned the politics. I never learned to work well with those who had an insatiable hunger for power or control and wanted credit for the creativity.
GS Maybe, it’s you didn’t learn to tolerate the greed, whether it’s dollars and cents or credit.
SS Yeah; in radio, too often a manager says, “My station, my success.” Ownership takes a monetary risk and deserves a return, in dollars, not credit for the creativity.
GS Not to push the point, too far, but if ownership admits their dollar return is a result of employee creativity, there’s criticism for profiting on the backs of workers.
SS Shared credit is more the point, I think. Your station and our cooperative effort would be a start. Owners and managers have a terrible time, with DJs. Management can control spending and sales, but not the imagination and the creativity of the personalities, the DJs, for example. Management can set boundaries, but if they are smart, they allow freedom to create.
GS DJs can get out of control, too.
SS It happens over and over, again, to this day. It’s hard to believe an ordinary man or woman, who works radio, can become smug, arrogant and condescending. She or he is number one in Bismarck, ND, from 2 pm to 6 pm, or Des Moines, Iowa; Shreveport, LA; Los Angeles or New York City.
The market doesn’t matter, it’s the success. Suddenly, they are top dawgs, in radio. She or he starts to believe their own hype. They become too self-important.
For some, they believe they have “arrived.” They believe they don’t have to work hard. They don’t try. They are content, with themselves. They don’t return phone calls. They can be short with people or, worse, dismissive.
Some of the biggest egos I’ve met, in any of the careers I’ve had, have been in radio. Obviously, there are many good people, in radio, but there is a widespread incidence, which anybody in radio can tell you about. I watched guys, hard workers, who tried hard, and the moment they got ratings, hopped around, got loud and then had all the answers and wouldn’t listen. I had one guy, who thought he was so important; he started playing country music on a rock station.
GS Made his own programming choices, did he?
SS Yeah; he would just bring in his favourite country songs and throw them into the mix. Ha! It was strange, and maddening.
Album-Oriented Radio (AOR)
GS I wanted to touch on another topic. I believe there was a big shift in radio formats, in the early 1970s, with Album Oriented Radio (AOR). I believe you were in on that development. I wanted to get your two cents on AOR. Why do you think it was so successful? Would AOR work, today?
SS In the 1970s, the first incarnation, of KROQ-FM, was more like it is today. The focus was on modern rock, new music. KROQ-FM didn’t use the typical rock radio formula, which focused on standards, such as the Rolling Stone and Led Zeppelin.
When I joined KMET-FM, in 1974, management didn’t want to be as revolutionary as KROQ-FM. They wanted something more like what I’d done on KRLA-AM, a sound a little more mainstream rock. New music wasn’t of much interest to the first KROQ-FM. The station wanted to concentrate on familiar rock on hit albums. It was afraid of unfamiliar music.
GS Can you give us some background? What set the success of AOR in motion?
SS Rock radio used to come in two flavours. One was the Drake Format Top 40 stations, such as KHJ-AM, in Los Angeles. On KHJ-AM you might hear some R&B, some rock and maybe some country; country rock is more accurate. Top 40 played a wide variety of music, but in a controlled way. The goal was flow, a steady, upbeat, feel-good flow of energy, based on the most popular singles of the day. The on-air presentation involved energetic personalities, announcer, who talked little, but when they talked, it sounded great.
The other dominate rock format was Progressive Underground or Free-Form radio, using variations on what Tom Donahue started, on KSAN-FM, in San Francisco. This format played album rock, and almost any music you name. To say it was free-form is to under estimate the content variety. Music policy, at these FM stations, was at the whim of the DJs. You might hear Bluegrass or Delta Blues, for two hours, followed by the Doobies, Jazz from the 1950s and then the same record repeated for two hours. There was no identifying production. No jingles, no branding, few time checks and no promotions. There was nothing identifiable as what “Mainstream Radio did. DJs were extra-cool and often high, but mostly trying hard to be “deep” and non-conventional. The term “Laid-Back” underestimates the style of the Underground radio format. Format infers form, but Underground had little, if any, form. In fact, its lack of form was its form.
GS How postmodern: lack of form is form.
SS When KROQ-FM burst on the scene, it used a cross-pollinated format. You knew you were listening to rock radio. As I mentioned, the first KROQ-FM standard-bearer focused on a huge pipe organ and sounded as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing, “Ahhh KROQ!” It was almost biblical. KROQ-FM was in-your-face. It was bold, a rebellion against everything then done on both extremes of radio programming.
It was funny. When you played the “jingle” next to a true hard-rock or punk song, say a cut from “The Ramones,” “The Clash or the “Sex Pistols,” which KROQ-FM broke, in the USA, the result was absurd. The needed effect, of energy and humour delivered a new kind of rock radio satire.
KROQ-FM featured much outrageous production, such as a New Orleans Street Band playing and singing “K-R-O-Q – FM-AM Radio for You,” which marched from one speaker to the other. We also produced jingles that mimicked a Disney recording, from “Bambi,” a movie from the 1930s.
The production, at KROQ-FM, wasn’t one off. Such imagineering, to lift a phrase from Stan Freeberg, was the standard. I produced hundreds of these promotional spots; I never left the studio. I had so much enthusiasm, for the work, I couldn’t turn it out fast enough.
KROQ-FM had no money. I had to invent production to identify the station. I used static sounds, crackle sounds and other attention getters. I filtered my voice, sped it up and slowed it down, for shock value. Need is the mother of invention. I experimented, with everything I could think up. Producers continue using this style, but I had never heard it before KROQ-FM.
GS It seems some of these ideas were appearing on KMET-FM, when you were the PD.
SS Yes; I, we, made the same moves at KMET-FM. Always leaning into the wind, finding new ways, new angles and unique sounds.
KMET-FM was AOR, but I made sure it was all energy, all the time. The sound, the DJs, the commercials were all up, 24/7. If you want to party you come to KMET-FM. The “All Energy, All the Time” slogan set KMET-FM apart from the other versions, of the AOR format. There were some good AOR stations, on the east coast, such as WNEW-FM, run by Scott Muni. Still, none hand the theatrical or tongue-in-cheek energy of KMET-FM.
At KMET-FM, I wrote jingles, too. The “Pointer Sisters” recorded one jingle I wrote. I was interviewing them, on air. I asked, “Would you sing a jingle for us?” They said, “Of course, do you have one?”
“Well, yes,” I said, “Now that you mention it. It goes like this, A Little bit of heaven, ninety-four point seven, KMET … Tweedle-Dee.” They loved the ingle, and did it in one take.
KMET-FM used the Pointer Sisters jingle for the next 10 years. It became the sound of KMET-FM. It was a little piece of heaven.
Boldness made KMET-FM a success. Combine the assault of branded jingles, production and attitude with rock and roll, and you have KMET-FM. That’s what made the station stand out.
We even continued the boldness on to billboards. I had Robert Nelson do a billboard for KMET-FM. Nelson was my adviser, when I was an art student, the University of North Dakota.
The idea was “Hollywood seen, from Mulholland Drive, in the year 2525.” It was the incredibly complicated future city, with huge rockets in the sky and multilevel walkways. It was a 1975 version of the movie, “Metropolis.” It was a huge piece of art, which became our billboard, for a long-time.
When that campaign ended, I went to the other extreme and came up with the idea of putting a simple billboard upside-down. The billboard only read “KMET 94.7 FM.” The kicker was KMET-FM was upside-down. Everywhere you looked, all over town, it was upside-down, which was where my life was then, and my life was upside-down.
GS Most fitting, I think.
SS I was going insane.
GS Is this standard work for what a PD would do? It sounds like this is a lot more involved in the marketing and advertising?
SS I had my hand in more than only programming. It was so long ago. Nobody ever talks about it any more.
GS What are we doing, today?
SS Yes, I know, but that’s the way it was, at the time. I had so many interests in different areas. I had an art background, so I took part in branding KRLA-FM and KROQ-FM. I designed advertisements and posters, for KROQ-FM, which the station used for a short periods of time. Almost no PD is as involved, in their radio station, today, as I was in those days.
Fred and Freda Rated
GS Let’s segue to another topic. I wanted to ask you more about your successful commercial character, the one you devised, Fred Rated.
SS Yeah, that was weird, too. I had done a radio campaign for a company called University Stereo. It was a traditional campaign. I used classical music. It a big success, but I didn’t like the way they dealt with me. I quit.
GS There’s the pattern, again.
SS I know. I took on Universal Stereo when it was in Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. I changed their advertising campaign. The company grew, made money and expanded. At this point, it began taking me for granted. Universal Stereo started doing other advertising, when I was under contract. This offended me. I quit. Universal Stereo went out of business two years later.
GS And rightfully so
SS The moment I left Universal Stereo, I got a call from anther home electronics company, called Federated. Immediately, Federated hired me to do a radio campaign. I was doing a theatre of the mind series of radio spots. It went well.
One day I get a call from Federated. “Can I come in to talk about a new deal?” I came in to negotiate a new deal.
During this meeting, I sat beside Keith Powell, the president of the Federated, in a conference room. There was another man. I hadn’t met him, but learned, in short order, that he’d been producing the Federated television commercials.
Powell played the spots over and over, on a giant screen. He went on and on about how much he hated the spots; how embarrassed he was, with the spots. How sexist and stupid the spots were. If he had his choice, the spots were off the air, immediately, but spots were at the television stations, already. He said, “These commercials are humiliating.”
He played the spots over and again. For two hours, he went on about how and why he hated the spots. He told us about the television spots he asked for and didn’t get.
GS Guess Powell didn’t like the spots?
SS Finally, Powell turns to producer and says, “Don’t you understand? I want simple and funny commercials that make people remember the name Federated. Is that too much to ask?”
I raised my hand. It was the first time I spoke in two hours. I said, “How about this. "What," I asked, "if I did a parody of a pitchman, like the Dan Akryod Bass-O-Matic pitchman, on ‘Saturday Night Live!’" “I’d talk fast, and at the end, I’ll take a giant circus hammer, smash a television, and say, ‘Federated smashes prices.’” I asked, if they got it?” Keith said, “That’s funny. That might work.” I said, “If it works, will you give me creative control?” Above,Stevens as "Fred Rate."
He said, “Fair enough, that’s a good trade.” He gave me the chance to do it one weekend, and I did it, and business went up 500% that weekend.
GS Now, that’s something.
SS It was extraordinary. Little by little, he turned everything over to me. For the next 6 years I did 6-to-8 commercials a week. No commercial ran longer than 10 days.
GS You made 6 to 8 different commercials each week?
SS Yes; we produced as many as 8 new spots each week. Federated would make a massive buy on one television station. Maybe channel 9 or channel 5; one of the stations not affiliated, with a network, an independent station. Many spots were running. The buy was huge. As you changed channels, you couldn’t help but see at least one.
The strategy worked. A massive buy, content heavy and people wouldn’t know what to expect next. The spots, I did, were similar to Monty Python skits; all over the place, not predictable and short-lived.
The Fred Rated – Fred and Freda Rated -- campaign lasted about 6 years and turned out 1,100 different commercials. The company had 14 local stores, in southern California, when I started. Four years later, Federated had 78 superstores, in 5 states.
GS How do you rate the success of the Federated campaign?
SS That campaign rose to extraordinary success. Federated had a huge advertising campaign to open each new store, with teasers out front, and follow-ups. I, we, could produce spots, in volume, and fast. I had my own production studio; my own post-production; my own music; my own cameras. It was me and five other people doing everything. All we needed a studio, a store or a location and we were shooting.
We’d say, “What do you want to do? I might suggest, “How about rabid frog bonanza days.”
One of the others might ad lib, “Rabid frogs ate our warehouse and we’re passing the savings along to you!” “Sounds good let’s do it,” I’d say. “Mike, you get the frogs. We can shoot in the park.”
Anything we thought of, we tried. We would meet on Monday and brainstorm. By late Monday afternoon, first drafts of scripts were ready. On Tuesday we were ready to go. Thursday we were shooting. Friday, we did the editing. Monday, we’d do it all, again.
GS Wow, that’s impressive.
SS It went on, that way, for about 6 years. In fact, tonight, I’m having dinner, with some of those who worked, with me, during those days; some I haven’t seen in 20 years. We are having dinner tonight to talk about the good ole days.
It was a crazy time. It’s the same idea; I’m willing to work harder than anybody else, I was enthusiastic. Ha!
Around the end, of the Federated campaign, people waited in line, for two hours, to meet my character, Fred Rated. The success of that campaign was unbelievable. I’ve never done anything more fun, more creative or more commercial.
The campaign ended when Atari bought Federated. Atari wanted to keep the character and campaign going, but said, “We can’t pay you that kind of money.”
I said, “Good luck,” and left. Dozens of the Federated spots are on-line. Search “Federated commercials,” on YouTube. You can watch many of the commercials.
GS Did all that hard work and that visibility lead to your next ventures?
SS Yes; the Fred Rated character lead to a three-picture deal, with the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 1987. The company produced the “Death Wish” pictures, with Charles Bronson; “Serpico” and “Conan the Barbarian.” Its list of top movies is almost endless.
Obviously, the Laurentiis deal was for comedies. They were certain I would be the next “Crocodile Dundee.” The first script was funny.
GS You portrayed, Traxx, the eponymous lead character didn't you? I think the plot, such as it was, was a comic Rambo-style Texas Highway Patrol office, who leaves the force to become a soldier of fortune, but ends up baking designer cookies. Did Pricilla Barnes portray your love interest, in the move?
SS On the first day, of shooting, I saw what was happening. I wrote, in my journal, “We are doomed, this will never work.” The director was a first time director. The producer, who also wrote the script and was a great guy, was an alcoholic. The ideas got sillier and sillier; the movie went from bad to worse.
GS Did the movie complete?
SS Yes and no; the movie tanked in the downfall of the company, which declared bankruptcy. Meanwhile, knowing there was some great footage, already, I went to Dino Laurentiis, the legend, who owned the company. I begged him for a copy of the footage. I knew, given what we’d shot, I could make something decent. I’d do it free, in my own studio. He didn’t go for my idea.
Instead, the footage sold to HBO, which threw it together. The producer went on a year-long binge and drank himself into oblivion. The director, Jerome Gary, never directed anything else, but became a successful writer, specializing in rewrites for major studios.
Television for a Radio Star
GS Is this about the time you joined “Hollywood Squares”?
SS Yes; Rick Rosner, the television producer from Boston and of the “Steve Allen Show,” was running “Hollywood Squares.” Third time around, “Hollywood Squares,” is bigger than ever. It was a Top Five, syndicated show in the USA.
Rosner asked if I would help out. “Would,” he says, “I do the announcing for the pilot, of the new version of ‘Hollywood Squares’?” I gladly helped. The show syndicated, widely; Rosner wanted me to join, the show, as full-time announcer.
I declined his offer. I told him I had come a long way from announcing. I had a career, on television, doing characters, such as Fred Rated, and comedy. I wanted to build on what I had done, most recently, not fall back to the old days.
Rosner wanted me involved. He upped the offer. “We’ll put you in a Square once a month. You can talk about your other projects.”
I joined the show, in 1986. By the end of the season, I was a full-time square. I was on the show every day. My square as the middle bottom, the smartest square. I was also back for the 1998-2004 version, of "Hollywood Squares."
GS What was that like, working with all the different stars rotating through the show?
SS It was a great job! It was fun, funny and easy. I had to show up with 5 changes of clothes, one for each day. We shot 5 shows, in one day. I got to meet many interesting people.
“Hollywood Squares” was hot. Once, we taped at Radio City Music Hall, in New York City. People stood in line for 3 hours to get tickets. Yes, they paid to see the show! Each show sold out. It was electric and magical.
Because of “Hollywood Squares,” my pictures are in “People Magazine” and I’m all over the star machinery. On the heat, of “Squares,” I signed on as the new host for the syndicated “American Top 40.” Casey Kasem resigned in 1988. The ABS Radio Network owned the show. I now worked the biggest radio show, in the world.
Back to Radio: “American Top 40”
GS How was that filling those shoes? Those, metaphorically, were big shoes to fill.
SS It was notpleasant. ABC Radio owned “American Top 40” and Watermark produced it. Mostly, everyone was paranoid. They feared I wouldn’t be good, despite what I had done, in the past. They feared I couldn’t sound like Casey; that I couldn’t even read his copy, his script. Mostly, Watermark and ABS were afraid the audience wouldn’t like me. The show had to change to fit me. Watermark sent me to three different voice coaches. The first 4-hour show took 18 hours to record.
GS Growing up, in Jamestown, North Dakota, and your summer jobs paid off, again.
SS Starting out on “American Top 40,” in late 1988, I had knots in my neck. I kept thinking, “Whey is this happening?” Thankfully ABC was paying me a lot, of money, otherwise I’d have killed myself.” Over time, I worked it out and the show was a success. “American Top 40” aired in 110 countries, and for 6 years. I flew around the world to promote the show. It was a great life, and fun.
GS What do you think you bought to the show that was different from Casey and contributed to the success?
SS I had a different way of being warm, and a different sense of humour. In the first show, we did a theatre-of-the-mind piece. I walked through the American Top 40 Museum, with its marble floors and enormous, gold statue of Casey Kasem. You can hear my footsteps echoing and I’m going, “Wow, they built one, it’s big, it’s going to be hard to walk around in here it’s so big.”
I stayed on the show until 1995.
GS You had success acting, too. You did many high credit guest roles, on good shows. You landed a regular role, for a few years, on “Dave’s World.” How was it to have steady television work after your years in radio?
SS Well, acting was another new area, new forms of self-discipline and new kills to learn. I did a few movies and guest roles, but had much more to learn. I wasn’t a brilliant actor, but I discovered what I could do. I had good timing, and did well with comedy. Most, of my auditions, were for comedies.
At one point, CBS developed a show for me, called “Loose Cannon.” The show didn’t last long, but was interesting and fun. It was a good show, not given much support.
The famous Fred Silverman produced “Loose Cannon.” He is one of the most influential people in the history of television. At one time or another, Silverman ran each of the major television networks. He’s a creative, capable guy.
The show, “Loose Cannon,” was a television version of “Lethal Weapon,” the Mel Gibson and Danny Glover movies. “Loose Cannon” was a one-hour series. I was the Mel Gibson character. I was unpredictable.
Dean Hargrove wrote the show. He’s a brilliant writer and producer, who had giant hits, such as “Matlock,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Jake and the Fatman." Hargrove created great roles for “Loose Cannon.”
Silverman suffered a heart attack, while we were in production on “Loose Cannon.” Afterwards, he was out of the mix. When “Loose Cannon” was ready to air, CBS scheduled it for Friday night and hardly did any promotion. CBS cancelled the show after seven weeks: 7 one-hour shows and a two-hour movie. Still, “Loose Cannon” was a great experience.
In the aftermath of “Loose Cannon,” in 1993, I landed a role on “Dave’s World,” with Harry Anderson. The show was a thoroughly rewarding experience, in every way. The supporting cast included Meshach Taylor, Zane Carney, Delane Matthews, J. C. Wendal and Andy Ducote, among others.
Fred Barron based “Dave’s World” on nationally syndicated columnist, Dave Barry. Barron had a hand in creating “Seinfeld,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Caroline and the City.”
"Dave's World" was based on the columns, of Pulitzer Prize-winning, syndicated humour columnist, Dave Barry. Dave is a child of the 1960s. He's trying to survive, in the 1990s. Dave confront the absurdities of life. He's a husband, father and semi-responsible citizen, and there are many absurdities. Dave muddles through, with the help of his wife, Beth, who's weary of being the responsible one; sons Tommy, 12, and Willie, 8, and his college buddies. I portrayed Kenny Beckett, Dave’s best friend.
“Dave’s World” was well-written. It ran for four years, on CBS, always in the Top 20. We did 98 episodes, from 1993 to 1997. I enjoyed everyone one. I finally figured out certain acting skills, and my take on it all.
The first season, of “Dave’s World,” is now on DVD. It’s cool being on a DVD, of a television show, that doesn’t suck.
More Radio: founding Rhythm Radio
GS What is going now? I read you are deep into art. I saw some, of your published work, on the web; enthralling and interesting art. You mentioned, earlier, today, that art was your first love and career choice. How does art fit into your life, these days? What does that mean to you? I think you talked about in the early part of your life it’s what you thought you were going to do. What is your motivation?
SS I’m a compulsive person, with a short attention span. I have to keep busy. I recommend keeping busy.
An idle mind gets me in trouble. The first negative thought leads to an emotional response. My ego strengthens by complaining. Every complaint is a little story, my mind makes up and I believe. I start blaming, accusing and develop resent. Then I want to make everybody else as miserable as I am, so I can keep the feeling, of misery, alive. I dwindle, dwindle and weary. Full of fear, full of doubt, I fall into despair. So, there’s no choice. I don’t want to suffer and doubt is the enemy. So, I keep busy on positive, creative projects. Over the past 20 or so years, I reprogrammed myself to this viewpoint.
About the time the Fred Rated deal began, my recreational drug and alcohol use increased to extreme substance abuse. I was out of control, and almost died. My family intervened. Their support forced me to face myself and I went into rehabilitation.
The experienced changed my life. When I returned to the Federated campaign, the commercials improved. I had a lot more fun clean. My attention for detail and my ability to focus grew exponentially.
I’ve gone 24 years, without a drink, drugs or anything. I have an enormous amount of energy, now. To stay creative, I apply myself to something, all the time.
I don’t want to suffer. So, I stay in motion. I act my way into right-thinking every day. For the first 20 years, I did martial arts, earning a second-degree black belt. Then I moved into power yoga. I’ve meditated for more than 30 years.
Interesting projects always come my way. One is art, which I do when I can. The point is to keep busy.
I had a time, almost 10 years, when I failed in everything. After “American Top 40” and “Dave’s World,” everything fell apart. I did a few sitcom guest roles, including “The Larry Sanders Show,” and a “Baywatch,” but nothing came of these roles.
GS Didn’t radio sneak back into your life, about this time?
SS Yes; I created and realized my greatest idea, “Rhythm Radio.” It’s the sound of the world in a good mood.” The idea was a global music network, a multiplatform, through the Internet, on terrestrial radio and, eventually, a new music television for the world.ï¿½ We found about $1 million, in seed money. “Rhythm Radio” grew dramatically. In not time, it was on radio, with national coverage in 30 countries. “Rhythm Radio” was on the Internet, broadcasting 24 hours a day, in seven languages.ï¿½
Just as we were about to peak, just after “Rhythm Radio” landed its first million-dollar worldwide sponsor, Nescafe, the dot-com bubble burst. Advertisers stopped spending money on the web. Investors believed the Internet a fad, and advertisers pulled back, too. “Rhythm Radio” fell apart, in my hands.
I couldn’t do anything right, during that time. It was failure after failure. My agent fired me! I couldn’t get auditions. Radio wouldn’t hire me. No one let me use any of the skills I knew best. It was a difficult time.
Little by little, I overcame this down time and going again, full speed. I vowed never to count on one project or job at a time, again. This fact helped me out of that decade-long mess.
GS Diversify is often the answer.
SS That’s what I still do, today. I do artwork when I can. I have a recording studio in my home, made of the most up-to-date equipment. If I can think it, I can do it.ï¿½ In 2007-2008, I designed a radio station for a major rock star, Sammy Haggar. He’s been a star for 30 years, on his own and as lead singer of bands, such as “Van Halen.” Sammy and I built a radio station in his famous club, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, called “The Cabo Wabo Cantina.” Now, he has “Cabo Wabo Radio.” It’s much like the early KROQ-FM, all cutting-edge new music. Cabo Wabo Radio has attitude. We fly DJs to Cabo San Lucas, for a two-week, all-expense paid vacation, in exchange for hosting Cabo Wabo Radio, live at night.
GS Yet another build-it-from-scratch radio project. That’s tough.
SS Cabo Wabo Radio is gaining momentum. It’s up to about 135,000 listeners, in 100 countries, after only 6 months. That’s doing well. Cabo Wabo Radio is a good medium for branding Sammy Hagar.
GS What’s the source of the name, “Cabo Wabo Radio”?
SS The name came from Sammy, after he saw some poor, disheveled, drunk, falling into a fence, as he staggered home, early one morning, in Cabo San Lucas. Hagar says, “Hey, the drunk is doing the Cabo Wabo.” He named his club “The Cabo Wabo Cantina.”
That’s where the station started. I created an exact replica, of the studio, at my place, in Los Angeles. Recently, we opened the Cabo Wabo Cantina in Fresno, California. We are also talking about a studio in Las Vegas, and cities, as well.
There’s Cabo Wabo Tequila, of course. Not long ago, Cabo Wabo sold 80%, of the tequila company, to Compari National, for $80 million dollars. Now, there are talks going on about other “Cabo Wabo” products and promotions.
GS How did you connect, with Haggar and Cabo Wabo?
SS Someone, whom I didn’t know, called. He had an idea and wanted to pitch Haggar. Could I help him?
I loved the idea. What else, I threw myself into it. My resume and reputation gave credibility to the pitch. I added a 30-page ‘Scope of Work Document,' which outlined everything they needed to do. I also laid out what was necessary for success. The outline impressed.
Still More Television: “The Late, Late Show”
GS You are back on television, too.
SS Yes; it’s a great show, The “Late, Late Show, with Craig Ferguson.”
I love Craig Ferguson. He was Nigel Wicks, the store manager, on the “Drew Carey Show.” He’s a writer, an actor and top-notch stand-up comedian. One of best talents didn’t emerge until he took over “The Late, Late Show.” He’s an excellent host.
It’s interesting, how life works out. I recorded the show, every night, to watch his monologues, before the producers hired me. I knew his work, well, from day one.
Craig may be the most brilliant interviewer on television. He doesn't use cue cards or index cards, as do many talk show hosts. He remembers everything. The cards he does use contain bulleted points, to help keep him focused. Mostly, guests come on to plug a project. Ferguson talks, with them, about any topic – he’s incredibly smart. Still, he needs a reminder to let them plug their project. The bullet points, on small cards, remind him to plug movies and so forth.ï¿½ (Above, Sir Richard Branson, with Craig Ferguson, on the "Late, Late Show.")
Craig is one of the funniest people in television. He makes sure his guests and audience enjoy the show. One critic said, “Ferguson is a nice breath of fresh air,” which is true. It’s a great pleasure to work the show.
Radio Syndication in Europe: “Top of the World”
GS Did you allude, earlier, to a syndicated radio show, you do?
SS Yes; I also do a radio show in Europe called, “Top of the World 30." It’s an offspring of “Rhythm Radio.” When I closed down “Rhythm Radio,” my partner, in Madrid, Spain, Roberto Velarde, said, “You have to keep going; people all over the place like what you do.”
I said, “I’ll tell you what, let’s come up with a new show. It has to be simple or I won’t do it. I don’t want to produce it, either. You produce it. I’ll voice it. We’ll use my name and my ideas.”
Velarde says, “Fair enough; what are your ideas?”
I say, “We’ll call it ‘Top of the World.’”
Velarde asks, “What’s the idea?”
I explain, “Top of the rock, top of the pop, top of the hip-hop, at the top of the world.”
The format, of “Top of the World,” is simple. It showcases top rock, pop and hip hop hits, from countries, all over the world. Velarde and I talk a little bit about the artists. We tell stories about what Gwen Stefani is doing and so on. We’ve been doing that for 4 years. The show syndicates throughout Europe.
GS I heard a rumour about you and Tony Hawk. Tell me more.
SS We are partners, in a project I created.
I can’t say much, right now, but it’s a movie project. I developed it, and think it’s the most exciting idea I’ve created. Tony loves it, and so does his staff. Tony Hawk doesn’t like most of the ideas presented to him. Promoters have been trying to get him involved in a movie project for 10 years. He hated all the ideas presented to him. I scheduled a 20-minute pitch meeting, with him, and stayed for 3 hours. He laughed, a lot. We talked about where it could go and how it could work. We hit it off.
GS Can I assume somehow in the theme is skateboarding?
SS If I told you, I’d have to kill you, but you’ll like it. If it works the way we hope, it’s a sure-fire, huge project. I left nothing to the imagination. I wrote it in my studio. I created an elaborate presentation, which includes sample trailers and music videos. I took ideas from over here and over there. I took pictures and created original artwork. I left nothing to the imagination or chance. I did tons of work, on the idea and presentation. It’s a spectacular presentation; the best I’ve created. We showed it to Creative Artists Agency (CAA).
GS How did CAA like the Tony Hawk related theme idea?
SS The CAA meeting was a hit. The agency agreed to represent the project to the major movie studies. The people at CAA believe at least ten studies will love the idea. Two days after we met, with CAA, the top four companies on the list agreed to see the presentation.
A Soundtrack for a Silent Film
GS Is this right? You are into making soundtracks for silent movies?
SS Not as a way of life or silent movies, in general, but, yes, I’ve done one. It’s a 30-year project for me.
In the 1970s, we watched movies at my house. There was no video or DVDs, of course. I’d show 16 mm movies.
Someone had the idea to run silent movies. This was great. Most of us hadn’t seen many silent movies.
I created soundtracks, for the silent movies, on cassette. I recorded suitable music and coordinated the cassette, with the film. Instantly, there was a silent movie, with a modern soundtrack.
After seeing “Thief of Baghdad,” I couldn’t get enough of the movie. It is 2.5 hours long. Douglas Fairbanks, senior, stars, as the thief; he also bankrolled the 1924 movie, for two million dollars. Raoul Walsh is the director. The special effects are outstanding, to this day. I started creating a soundtrack for “Thief.” Every time I watched “Thief,” I devised a new and better version of the soundtrack. I tried classical music, improvisational jazz and radical eclectic music, rock; anything with possibilities.ï¿½
I kept tinkering, with the soundtrack, for 20 years. My son, Bradley, liked a 1982 version best, but thought there were good ideas in a 1989 version, too. In 1996, Bradley talked me into doing the consummate “Thief” soundtrack, using the best ideas from both the 1982 and 1989 versions.
I borrowed a studio and an engineer. I discovered music by the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), was the perfect complement to the magic of the “Thief.” I worked it for weeks. Every time I saw the movie, with the ELO soundtrack, it moved me, deeply.
I contacted Jeff Lynn, the creative genius behind “ELO” and the “Travelling Willburies,” among others. He came to my house and we watched the “Thief of Bagdad.” He was shaking his head, smiling throughout the movie. He says, "It’s almost as if the music was written for the film."
The combination was magic. I spoke to Craig Fruin, who manages Lynn and “ELO.” We put together a presentation, for Sony Music.
No matter how hard we tried, Sony executives didn’t get it. An old movie, with new music, was beyond them. There’s no other explanation.
The project shelved. Seven years passed. I promised Fruin I wouldn’t let the project go; it was too good.
Last week, my wife and I were watching the Turner Movie Channel (TMC). A silent moving, with new music, was airing. I called Fruin, the next day.
“Hey Craig,” I said, “I vowed to call you every five years, like clockwork, until the “ELO” and “Thief” project took.
Craig laughs and says, “Well, as you know, there have been many changes in the music business, over the last five years, and there are new people in publishing. Maybe we can give it a shot, again. Send me a couple of packages.”
I opened the eleven year old files, but couldn’t live with the old version, of the project. I redid it. Now that I had my own studio, I could do exactly the way I always wanted to do it.
Again, the moment I looked at the first scene, I couldn’t stop. Five manic days later, I finished the double-DVD masters, but took it a step further. I wrote and printed a 12-page, full-picture brochure about the history of the movie and the “reimagined” production. Craig has the package. We’ll see what happens, this time.
The Big Galoot
GS Whew! You are a man in motion. I understand you write books for children. What motivates you to write?
SS One day, about 15 years ago, I woke up saying the words, “Button-sided Hooey.” I kept saying it over and again. I thought, “That is so odd. What is that? I should write it down.”
I wrote it down and kept looking at it. I say, “Button-sided Hooey? It sounds like Dr. Seuss. I should do something, with the idea, for my kids. I write poetry. That’s something I should try.”
I started when my first daughter was young. She’s 22 now. I started writing. It consumed me.
In every spare moment, I was writing. The story grew into an epic, “Alice in Wonderland-type” story. It’s about a little young woman. She goes on an adventure in another time in space. It’s far-out, but I couldn’t stop. I wrote three books, a trilogy. Each book is in verse, as Dr. Seuss. I call my style “Royal Seuss Ian Version. These books are also as psychedelic as “Alice in Wonderland.”
The trilogy breaks the rules of acceptable modern literature for children. It’s not short. It’s in chapters. It goes on for three books.
I thought, “Nobody is going to publish this, it’s too wild.” I needed to write something that accessible and linear, first. Maybe, if I developed a following, then the door would open to wilder work, such as the trilogy.
I wrote a story called the “The Big Galoot.” It’s a story for kids, a simple idea similar to “The Little Engine That Could.”
“The Big Galoot” is Warren Galoot. He’s a kid, with size 42 hands. He has the biggest hands anyone has seen. The kids laugh at him. The laughter turns to meanness. The kids make fun of Warren. They trip him. They play tricks on him. He says, “I’m a Galoot, but I have good luck, you can’t get me down, I never give up.” He never does.
As the story unfolds, the kids go on a field trip to the mountains. While in the mountains, a storm breaks out, thunder crashes and wolves howl. The kids are running for their lives. The Big Galoot keeps stepping up to one challenge, after another. Again and again, he almost saves his classmates.
In being there for them, he almost dies. He’s unconscious and the kids have to be there for him. They couldn’t let the Galoot down, he needed good luck.
Warren says, “I have an angel that lives in my heart, and when I need good luck, it comes to me, she’s in every one of us.”
The Galoot comes back to life. The kids cheer, but wonder how he could do that. How he could be so good, when they were so bad.
Finally, everyone the challenge is overcome, but not because Warren is a hero, but because Warren never gives up.
From that day on, the kids want to be like him. They wear great big gloves, to have big hands like him. When they come to school, they throw out a big smile and say, “Hello.” In the end the Big Galoot grows up and marries his girlfriend, Perky Galore. They have five kids. He invents a computer and retires, with a $100 billion dollars. Everybody lives happily ever after.
GS Perseverance is the message. Do I need ask why?
SS In 1997, “The Big Galoot” signed to Dove Publishing. I did the original drawings, of the pages and characters. Then I found a great colour artist, in Toronto, who did the final drawings.
I oversaw the production. It was ready to print. A week before it scheduled for printing, there was a hostile overthrow of Dove Publishing.
GS That has a familiar ring.
SS Dove closed the children’s division. The takeover company went bankrupt. Its assets went to another company, which also went bankrupt. Those assets went to a third company, which folded into a fourth company.
GS Publishing makes radio seem almost sane.
SS It took forever to find out who had the rights. It took a long-time get the rights, to the book, back. It took more than ten years for me to get my book back.
GS Life mimics art. Your life mimics the theme of the book – perseverance.
SS Well, there’s more! Once I got the book rights back, my family, who always loved the book and believed in it, put together the money to publish “The Big Galoot,” privately. We put the whole package together. We found a company, in China, to print 5,000 copies. We found and hired a fulfilment house, to fulfill orders for us.
Everybody loved “The Big Galoot.” Everybody was proud, of the final product. Whoopi Goldberg and Dick Clark; Henry Winkler, the “Fonz,” from the television show, “Happy Days,” and Gene Simmons, from Kiss, gave us A-one quotes, supporting “The Big Galoot.” Everyone who reads “The Big Galoot,” raves about it. By now, you know what happened next.
Distributors won’t talk to us. We can’t get a distributor, anywhere. I call and am told, “Well, if you had maybe 10 different titles, maybe we’d talk to you, but we don’t do any business for one off, little private publishing companies.” I couldn’t get a distributer for the book.
To this day, I have over 4,000 gorgeous, interesting books gathering dust, in a fulfilment house, and no way to get it to readers. I tried to get a distributor. I sent whole packages, which are gorgeous. Kids read the book and love it.
I built a gorgeous website, optimystical.tv, to promote “The Big Galoot.” I haven’t been able to get it off the ground, yet.
I, we, tried go get a major publishing house interested. Seven or eight publishers turned us down. The responses included “You know, the moral overpowers the story,” “I think some of the rhymes are forced” or “We don’t like the artwork.” There was always something.
I went to Save the Children, the charity. I said, “Here’s what I would like to do. I’m putting together a Paul Newman-type, non-profit company. I’ll give you 100% of the profits, if you promote “The Big Galoot.” You can tell everyone all the profits are going to Save the Children, and you can have it all. We’ll take care of everything; All fulfillment, mailing, everything. All I have to do is repay the investors and retain modest operation expenses; that’s it. At least 70%, of revenues would go to the organization. “Save the Children” turned us down! Ha!
My sense is that, for some reason, it not supposed to happen, yet.
GS Bureaucracies work in strange ways.
SS The rejection letter from “Save the Children,” came today. I think I may have to die before someone publishes “The Big Galoot.” Ha! I have the trilogy, 2 more “Big Galoot” books for juniors, and a sequel, to “The Big Galoot,” called “Don’t Pity the Plight of Poor Perky Galore.” I’ve completed these books, but will have to wait for publishing.
GS Maybe it is timing. The timing is not right now. You never know how circumstances may change in a year or five.
SS It’s been 11 years since the original publishing date. I think, “Oh well, that’s why I had so many projects.” If I counted on one, any one project, it would devastate me for it not to work out. I think, “Well, it’s not supposed to happen, I can’t see the bigger picture, what else to do?” I keep my days full.
GS Where do you see yourself, say, ten years from now?
SS I see myself continuing to work. Retiring is not an alternative, for me. I will stay busy until my last breath. I don’t want to suffer, I don’t want depression, in despair or detached from life. I’m enthusiastic about possibilities.
When I hear people talk about retiring I think, “Are you insane? Do you realize where your brain will go when you have too much time to think?”
You start looking at how many people you know who passed away. Then you start looking at how many are ill. Soon, you are wondering if that little pain in your back is a cancerous growth.
Destructive ideas consume us. For me that means degenerating, shrinking, shrivelling, dwindling, falling into a dark place. Using that mind-set, the body breaks down and disease takes over. I, you, suffer, endure pain and die screaming. Screaming, not to live, but wanting to die. This is not acceptable. Ha!
GS A good, if gruesome point, well-made.
I believe you must stay focused to stay healthy. Retire and, before you realize it, the focus is gone. When the focus goes, the grip on life loosens.
For me, not embracing new ideas isn’t a choice. I’m not intrigued by relaxing. Life is work. Staying engaged and enjoying what you do, your work.
When I lose myself, in what I’m doing, I enjoy myself. When I enjoy myself, my work, the quality of life increases dramatically.
This is acceptance and enjoyment. I get to enjoy what I’m doing, instead of waiting for something to change, so I can start enjoying what I’m doing. I make it happen.
By doing this, out of nowhere, I get a vision or a goal. I work toward realizing that goal. I have enthusiasm. I can enjoy I do, plus a vision I can work toward. The result is an enormous intensity and energy overcomes me.
When there’s stress, it means my ego has returned. I’ve cut myself off. Cut myself off from the creative power of the universe.
It’s a spiritual plan. The meaning, of the word ‘enthusiasm, comes from the Greek word for possessed by a deity. The word, inspiration, means in spirit or with the deity, as Dr. Wayne Dwyer says.
Spirituality, of any sort, supplies you with direction. It’s an anchor. I try this. I try that. I come back to spirituality. I don’t have to give up everything or anything else. My attention shifts from the ego, me, to something higher, deeper and more permanent.
Having a spiritual ideal, in life, brings meaningfulness to life. Meaningfulness gives zest to life. Zest, not only in a physical sense, but in a deeper sense, too, and, perhaps, most importantly.
For me, the best way to have success, in life, is the intensity of living in the now; in this moment. Absorbed, in other words, in the pursuit of what I’m doing.
Starting the Day
I meditate, and have for 30 years. It focuses me. Meditation focuses my mind. The focus affects every area of my life, in a positive way.
Meditation isn’t trying to sit and quiet the mind. That’s likely impossible. The mind is hard to slow down. Meditation is putting all your focus on one idea or task.
Usually, people begin meditating by watching their breath; paying attention to how the breath. Then you add a word, a mantra, of some kind, that you say, as you breathe in and breathe out. The idea is that when the mind starts chattering, saying, “This is dumb. This isn’t working, I’ve got things to do,” you become aware that your mind is babbling and you can return your focus to the one idea or task. It takes practice and patience, but works.
You heed your breathe. Maybe you repeat the name of an ideal, such as a higher power, or a task. Little by little, your heart slows, you grow calm and your mind slows. Now, you enter a state, which resembles a deep sleep, but you are wide awake. At this point, you experience pure consciousness and view life from a new perspective. The more you do it, the better you feel.
I force myself to awaken at 5:30 every morning, to mediate. It’s the only important idea I’ve ever discovered. Meditation helps me start the day, in a calm way, which keeps me calm all day.
After meditation, I write. Then I practice Yoga, for an hour and a half. Yoga does everything I need to take care of my body. I don’t want to reach old age and find myself bent over and hobbling.
The meditation and the Yoga fit nicely with what I talked about earlier. All my work and effort revolves around wanting, needing, to be as enthusiastic; not wanting to suffer any more than necessary. This philosophy works well, for me. I’m not changing anything.
What’s in a Name?
GS Many entertainers use a pseudonym or fictitious name. Is your real name is Shadoe Stevens?
SS Yes, but it wasn’t always.
GS Can you elaborate?
SS Against my will, I got the name. I had to learn to create myself around it. It has kept me humble. The name, Shadoe Stevens, makes it hard for me to get too cocky or carried away, with me.
GS Terry Ingstad isn’t a terrible name. It has a stoic Nordic sound.
SS When somebody says, “Is that your real name?” It makes me pause, before I say, “Yes.”
GS Terry Ingstad isn’t a bad radio name. Maybe it echoes the 1960s. Why Shadoe Stevens?
SS It’s catchy.
GS Shadoe Stevens is a great radio name. There must be more to the choice than it sounds good and is catchy?
SS Until I got to Boston, I used the on-air name, Jefferson Kaye. I didn’t realize there were Jefferson Kayes everywhere. I thought it was a clever name. For 5 years, I was a Jefferson Kaye.
In Boston, there had been a Jefferson Kaye, on WBZ-AM. There was Jess Cain, on WHDH-AM. He was the long-time number two AM Drive DJ. On WRKO-AM, there was J. J. Jeffries. Clearly, I had to change my name.
Driving to Boston, I stopped for gas, in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I called Mel Phillips, the PD at WRKO-AM, to let him know I was on my way. He tells me Bill Drake, the lord of all radio, at the time, the man who ran the RKO Radio Empire from Los Angeles, wanted to change my name.
There I was, in a phone booth in New Mexico, and someone 2,500 miles away is telling me I have to change my name. At the same time, I’m looking at an endless fence, stretching into the horizon, with a sign that read, “Do Not Enter! [This is an] Atomic Testing Range.”
Phillips says, “Drake was thinking something like ‘Shadow Mann’ or ‘Shadow Lane.” I was horrified. Worst on-air name I’d ever heard. I couldn’t figure out where he got the name. In retrospect, it’s obvious.
“The Shadow” was a top radio show, from the 1930s through the 1950s. Orson Welles was the original Shadow. The show opened, with an announcer saying, “Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? The Shadow Knows.” A sinister laugh followed.
If you work and love radio. If you grew up listening to, “The Shadow.” Well, then, “Shadoe Lane” makes some sense.
As I drove, to Boston, in my white Corvette, my mind raced. I had to think of a good name. I was looking everywhere, all around me; looking for words ant coming up with name like Michael Roads and Richard Lane.
When I arrive, in Boston, I have a mile-long list of names. WRKO-AM, however, has jingles and identification spots, already produced, for Shadoe Stevens. There was no way out of the name.
GS How presumptuous was that?
SS I am humiliated. I had to create a personality around name. Usually, it’s the other way around.
GS Guess it’s either take it in stride or leave.
SS I developed a back story, which I could say, with a straight face. I say the name is Native American. It means, ‘he who walks with light.’ When someone asks about a tribal source, I say it must be Sioux or Blackfoot, since I’m from North Dakota.
GS If you didn’t like the name, why did you keep it?
SS When I moved to Los Angeles, to work KHJ-AM, in August, 1970, I hoped to change the name. Everyone said the name is too good. It was the same story at KRLA-AM. Suddenly, it was too late to change the name.
GS It’s what you do with the name that counts. “Wolfman Jack” is a horrible on-air name, unless you are Bob Smith, from Brooklyn, and you find your groove, early and easy.
SS You can have a great name and flop. You can have a rotten name, and succeed. The trick is what you do with what you have.
GS Did you change your name legally?
SS Yes; after I stopped using drugs and alcohol, I decided to change everything. I tell people, “Sorry, Terry died of a tragic overdose, in 1984. It was sad, but he was weak and deserved to die.”
My life got better. I married Beverly. We had two daughters, Amber and Chynarose. My work got more and more challenging and rewarding, as time went on. I had a chance for many exciting projects.
Some might think I got a second chance, which is true, in a sense. I think it took 37 years to get my act together. Much time has gone by since then and still, I’m certain the best is yet to come.
GS Thank you.
*LARP denotes Los Angeles Radio Personality. Click here for more about LARPs.
**Hosanna, pronounced Hoh’-Zanna, derives from Greek for “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of gawd.” The English translation, typically, is a plea for salvation or sanctuary and, less often, an assertion of praise. Either way, the connotation of Hosanna seems positive. Thus, praise KROQ-FM, religiously.
Click here for a selection of "Fred Rated" television commercials from the 1980. The video file may take a moment to load. Refresh page to speed up loading.
***Daniel Bornstein (1992 ), "The Image: a guide to pseudo-events in America," is published by Vintage.
Christine Grail, aka the Script Consultant, is a Los Angeles-based writer.
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