Chapter 16 - Missing At The End
At the end of July and the beginning of August there were no more mysteries. U100 was finished. Kaput. Over. Done. There wouldn't be any reprieve. Gary Stevens and John Sebastian at KDWB – AM were walking around with “FM-Stereo-Erections” and the gang at the Super U was just marking time. There was a little financial treat waiting those who had stood the gaff until the very end. We were all getting severance. The amount was based on length of service and salary and was significant.
Let me digress, just a bit. In order to get the severance you had to have been on-staff at U100 for 90 days. I noticed while doing some paper work, that several of the stalwarts during that weird summer were going to fall just days short. I can be pragmatic when it comes to breaking rules. I always thought a rule was 'elastic' rather than rigid and a little felony breaking and entering wasn't going to deter me from doing what was right. The 'big' bosses asked me to relinquish most of my keys, but that didn't prevent me from 'accessing' the proper documents and making the proper substitutions and 'corrections' of the record. Those who benefited by this little bit of larceny, please remit 10% of the loot asap.
When the phone rang in early August of 1974, my opinion of KSTP-AM 1500 wasn't high. Rather than being honorable competitors, they were aloof, high-handed, and insufferably full of themselves ever since Shotgun Kelly and Company had raped and pillaged KDWB and WDGY in 1973. The Hubbard crew and in particular, the G.M. Jack Nugent hadn't changed and during the time I spent at KSTP, I suffered their disdain for ANYTHING U100 and most everything KDWB. It was a job though. It was MY job. I suffer from this work ethic my father pounded into me almost from birth. “If you accept their money, you owe them a dollar's work for a dollar's pay” Period. No exception.
Although, Jack Nugent was calling, I owe the job to a man whose name I can't remember. (Was it Kent Burkhart?) He was their consultant. I seem to remember he was based in Atlanta, but don't hold me to it. I try to forget consultants whenever possible. But, I'm getting ahead of my story and I... mustn't... do...that. My Atlanta friend was in the final throes of his involvement with Hubbard Broadcasting (being aced out by a consultancy/research company out of Iowa). In one of his last recommendations, he persuaded Jack Nugent to call me. We met at the Marriot Hotel at 494 & Highway 100. I sat in a chair while the consultant and Jack sat on adjacent beds and interviewed me. Jack had a few drinks and I think that buzz contributed to a positive result. After a couple of hours, I got the 'we'll call you' line and headed back to Cliff Road and U100. I now realize they used that time to pass it by Stanley Hubbard (Junior) and moments after I got back to my basement office to sit down and contemplate my meager future, the phone rang!
I got the job. But I couldn't celebrate. I couldn't tell anybody. It had to be a major secret for almost three weeks because there was that severance money to consider. KDWB would have loved to pluck that money away and ANY indication that I was employed elsewhere would have cost me tons. (Later I was accused of working at both stations at the same time, but technically, I wasn't because I didn't officially begin receiving a salary at KSTP until the day after U100 went off the air.)
The day after my interview at the Marriot, I visited KSTP for the first time. In some ways it was very impressive. In some ways it was a disappointment. Remember, KSTP was AM/FM/TV. There were lots of people about. When you entered the front entrance, the lobby was huge and inspiring. The floor looked as if it was hand polished on a daily basis. The woman at the front reception desk dealt with the public in a friendly and business-like way. There was another entrance. The “Staff” entrance. The staff came in off the huge back parking lot. There they were confronted by a no-nonsense woman who answered the phones and with a team of security guards garrisoning the barricades. (I have to remember to tell you all the bizarre “St. Paul Park Story”)Back to the foreboding women at the employee entrance desk. As is my usual practice, I flirted, cajoled, complimented, chit-chatted, and charmed these back-door women and while many had continuing confrontations with them, they treated me like a favorite grandson or brother.
The TV studios were on this bottom level, along with some production rooms, the staff cafeteria (at U100 that was the local Burger King), and various support offices. A film library! Make-up rooms. Construction. Storage. Warehousing. Amazing. The second floor (University Avenue Level) contained the AM radio studios and production/traffic offices. There were various incidental offices, studios, control rooms, and TV support here and there without rhyme or reason. A whole different and newer building had the executive suite and the upper floors and the FM station and offices on street level. I was there for the AM radio station.
A moment of reflection on that fact. AM radio station. AM. AM! I left AM behind a couple of times in the two years preceding these events. First, I left AM 630, the historic KDWB Chanel 63. I worked for a couple of months at WYOO – AM and of course that became half of the AM/FM combo that was U100. Being back at an “all” AM station was regressing. I half-way convinced myself that it wasn't all that bad because KSTP, after all, was a 50,000 watt station. It wasn't fifty grand clear channel but the signal, particularly toward the southwest was impressive. The legend had it that the signal often skipped all the way to Australia and during World War II, KSTP 1500 carried advertising and news reports dedicated to the those distant shores. We regularly got phone calls from Nebraska and Wyoming and the graduating class of a little town in one of those states even asked me to be their featured speaker. But I get ahead of things...again.
Unfortunately, KSTP was just a big, some-what successful, AM station. It took me almost a decade to realize you can't put lipstick on a pig and call it beautiful. AM is the pig in case you are missing something here. In the dead of night, when my nagging brain would force me to open-eyed-stare-at-the-dark- honesty, I knew that FM was the music-future for radio. Not only did I continue to be delusional but (and for this I will suffer in Purgatory), I convinced others to share in my delusion. The only excuse I have is an irrational belief that AM-Stereo would save the day. It didn't and even in a best-case scenario, I don't think it would have done so. In a couple of years when I finally get to my time in Tacoma/Seattle that AM delusion raised an ugly head again...And AGAIN!!!!....I get ahead of the story.
The equipment at KSTP in the production room, the news room and the main studio were from the stone ages! I can't remember the consultant's name, but I CAN remember the semi-sick feeling I got when touring the KSTP-AM studios. Everything in sight was at least 20 years old with the exception of the Sennheiser mike. That mike was the consultant flavor-of-the-day microphone, so to see it wasn't a surprise. (I didn't accomplish much at KSTP, but I DID replace those mikes with Electro-Voice RE-20's within the month.)
Today, KSTP Television is an ABC affiliate, but that switch happened after I left. When I arrived, KSTP carried on a decades-long affiliation with NBC. The history of KSTP radio and TV is fascinating. Stanley Hubbard (Senior) is one of the icons of early radio. And early TV. His list of firsts is long and legendary. Since I am a sucker for history, at times I was actually honored to be a piece of that history. A very small piece. A sliver. Perhaps a crumb.
NBC was the child of RCA and RCA, of course, was a huge company. It started with radio, but was music, recording, music publishing, television and most importantly, equipment. RCA made everything from radios to televisions. Transmitters and cart machines, tape recorders, and control boards. They even had their own line of microphones, home appliances, and broadcast processors. In the 40's when radio station owners were looking at the 'new' kid on the block, television, the daunting cost of putting together a viable commercial television station was a major impediment to TV growth. Enter RCA with easy credit. Basically, a potential TV station could get all the equipment needed to open today (right now) with easy terms and a decades long pay-back. For years the TV station owners shared in the network revenue, so owning a television station was like owning your own money-making machine. RCA wasn't worried about getting back their money. What they wanted were affiliates using their equipment. When RCA aced out all the other color TV systems in the 50's they did it by doing the same thing with all their TV affiliates. All the capital outlay for new color cameras and color transmitters and color control equipments was covered on long-term arrangements by RCA and before anyone knew it, if you wanted to watch 'color' TV you watched NBC. NBC got almost a 10 year jump on that whole market. (It didn't work in Europe. The European system was far superior if not their programming)
At KSTP – AM 1500, they were using an RCA board. (Old) They had two RCA turn-tables (mostly unused and old), and five RCA cart machines. (Old) There were a couple of RCA reel-to-reel machines, (very very old) and of course that Sennheiser microphone. (new) The production room was equipped likewise. The newsroom was a combination of home-made and RCA equipment. It was all the dull-signature gray of RCA professional electronics and the art deco style of both the equipment and the building was like a throwback to the 30's. I half expected to see someone with a Clevite single earphone on one ear, their other hand cupped to the other ear, caressing the RCA box-mike with their voice from “high atop the Drake Hotel in beautiful downtown Chicago with the sophisticated rhythms of Harry Findler and the Drakettes.”
There was a small office off the studio I usurped as mine. Eventually, I shared office space with the music library and old program transcriptions library down the hall. Before I left, a remodeling project moved the unused music library to the warehouse and I reigned supreme.
It was a lot to absorb on that first day as the 'unannounced' Program Director of the precariously number one rocker in the Twin Cities. Suddenly, the occasional appearances on Cliff Drive (to do the morning show and pretend to do some paper work) weren't quite so onerous. There were ominous smoke signals on the horizon, but I wasn't reading them. (“Funny, General Custer, but they were friendly enough last night at the dance?”)
There was that wonderful AM signal! That wonderful equipment! That snooty attitude! The cranky lady at the back desk! None of that mattered those first days. When JoJo Gunn played that final song on U100 and the ass-holes at KDWB didn't let it finish, I was elsewhere. Physically and mentally. U100 was gone. The king is dead. Long live the king!
I was employed!
Someone pointed a gun at me and I dodged the bullet.
Once, while doing some theater in San Francisco, I was talking with one of the dancers in the cast. He came to the theater for the Wednesday matinée sweaty and exercised. He told me he had been to a dance class for 2 hours. I remarked, "Don't you get enough of that doing this show 8 times a week?" He answered, "I'm a dancer. It's what I do."
So, in spite of a career spent in radio, I have always known that "I am an actor. It's what I do." All my acting hasn't been on stage. My whole life is a performance and each production calls for a different character. If you have followed this interminable tale you know the "Rob Sherwood" in Green Bay morphed into the "Rob Sherwood" at WDGY. That buttoned-down, preppy guy oozed to the depths as the hippie/rebel/wild-child at KDWB. I bought a maroon sport-coat and for a moment or two cleaned up the act for WYOO but was soon brought tumbling down again with U100. At KSTP I entered into the 'executive suite'.
KSTP was an intimidating place. It was big. Hallways upon hallways. People scurried here and there even when scurrying wasn't required. I swear, it seemed people even scurried to the bathroom. I entered an alternate world when I went to work each day. In the old building there weren't any windows. Simple things like weather, day-light, or nuclear explosions didn't distract us from scurrying about our daily toil. For some reason, the image of Bob Cratchit bent over a ledger comes to mind. "Cratchit! Get on with your work." If I keep this analogy going I should identify the KSTP Scrooge. It wasn't either of the Stanley Hubbards. It wasn't my GM, Jack Nugent. This may sound like a Stephen King novel, but KSTP was the Scrooge. Not the building...the entity. Like some throbbing, pulsing, breathing THING, it drilled into our brains, "Scurry or you die!"
It is no wonder, within days of being hired, I became a Stepford DJ. Was it actually some untoward influence or simply a desire to please? After two years of U100, I was ready for a new role and the one that was presented to me involved a three-piece suit. Talk about a mis-cast. There were so many things wrong with my tenure at KSTP, I hesitate to dredge up these bad memories. It wasn't like my later 5 months at WEBC (suicide was an often thought of option), or my K101 San Francisco roller coaster ride of depression and manic optimism. An event from my third day at work was a harbinger of the future. Here I was, actually wearing a gray-flannel suit, standing at the urinal at KSTP. The secret weeks were over, I was actually 'on staff'. Wouldn't you know it that while standing with my..(well, you know) I would look to the right and see Stanley Hubbard Senior approach the next-door urinal. (I may have mentioned this before but Stanley Hubbard the older and Stanley Hubbard the younger are not really Junior and Senior. They have different middle initials. However, around the building they were referred to, with reverence, as 'Junior' and 'Senior'.) The old man. Senior. He was peeing right next to me. This was not only the first time I met Senior, it was the first time I saw him. It was the beginning of an unusual relationship. In all the conversations, in all the confrontations, in all the months I worked for him, I don't think he ever really knew who I was. But, I'm getting ahead of my story.
What do you say to a stranger-non-stranger big boss when you meet them for the first time while peeing? I guess the standard hand-shake is out. It seemed like hours passed while I wracked my brain for an opening gambit when Senior solved it by grumbling, "It smells like marijuana in here."
!!!!! It smells like marijuana in here? What the hell did that mean? Was I being accused of smoking weed in the KSTP lav? Was I being enlisted into a KSTP drug use probe? HAD someone recently smoke marijuana in there and DID it smell like marijuana? Whatever had caused Senior's comment it didn't take me a full 15 seconds to reply, "I think the urinal cakes smell like that."
As an alibi it was pretty lame, but I was innocent. Or a smart-ass. Without further words, we finished and left in different directions. This little incident set the stage for almost everything that happened during the next year or so. I was never taken seriously. There could be a lot of reasons for this. At the top of the reasons, I would list U100. Looking at that 'beloved' station from the outside, it would be easy to assume that we were all a bunch of goof-offs. Hopefully, if you've paid attention to the U100 story, you should realize there was a method to the madness. Jack Nugent and the KSTP gang saw only the U100 insanity and everything was measured against it with a bunch of skepticism including a full pound of salt. Don't misunderstand me. I knew all this. The first interview in the hotel on 494 and 100 alerted me that U100 wasn't going to get a lot of respect and the less I reminded them of my antecedents, the better off I would be. This hurt me personally at times. It meant that some of the loyal 'team' members from U100 were off-limits as hires at KSTP. I had to endure some of the denigrating comments. I frequently had to do what is hardest for me to do. I had to shut-the-fuck-up.
Back to the problems at KSTP. For me it was an eating radio station. It took me a while to realize but the happier I am, the less I eat. Thinking back on my career, if I'm fat, I wasn't having any fun. I put on a lot of weight at KSTP. Actually, contentment isn't conducive to growth (intellectual or girth) so I probably did my best work while gaining, the worst while losing and was my least productive at the top and the bottom. This belly-button gazing has got to stop.
KSTP had incredible luck in their meteoric rise in the early 70's. They had the right idea from the right consultant, the right PD and the right staff, and they did it on the cheap. This happened often. A radio station hires a diamond-in-the-rough, has incredible success, loses their diamond and either realizes or never realizes the replacement is going to cost them a bundle. Hubbard, and in particular Jack Nugent were in the penny-pinching process when I got there. What a stew I was stirring. Throw into the pot a bunch of tradition, an idea 4 years old, a huge AM signal in what was becoming an FM world, a cast of characters and circumstances worthy of a sit-com, and out pops my KSTP. Case in point....
I was working at a station (AM/FM/TV) that had a 'project development' department. During my 15 months at KSTP I didn't see many developed projects. The first was in progress as I sneaked through the back door. At the Minnesota State Fair KSTP had (and has still) a huge permanent complex just across the park from the KDWB location. If 1500 KSTP had any presence at the fair it was by accident because the building and efforts were dedicated to television. The movie Star Wars surprised everyone...except the folks in the Project Development department. Hearkening back to a 1950's technology called Cinerama, they produced a three-projector film tour of KSTP-TV conducted by Darth Vader (played by Charlie Bush). Like something from Universal Studios, the audiences were ushered in and ushered out. Unable to stay away from the fair, I acted as an usher and tour guide for the presentation. It was a good thing, because I met many staff members, was a team player, and got a feel for my new gig. More than a year later, the guys at Project Development were put in charge of producing a film for the Christmas party. Somehow I was roped into putting together a little combo to perform "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire....etc". It was pretty lame and must have been the final straw because within days of the Christmas party they were no longer developing projects because the whole department was sacked. At WDGY, KDWB, and U100 there was AFTRA, the union. At more times than I like to remember, the union made my life a living hell. There was no union at KSTP. How they had escaped organization in of all places, Minnesota, is another story for someone to tell. So, we all served at the pleasure of our King and when the King was displeased, "Off with their heads!" Of course, the opposite can be true if the King likes you. Or if the King doesn't know about you. Or if the King forgets you. There were a lot of people hiding out at KSTP and a lot of people who had been there so long they were part of the furniture.
The story I was told by Jack Nugent (he wasn't sober at the time so consider the source) involved the decision to add TV to the KSTP family. In spite of the incentives from NBC/RCA, it involved a considerable financial risk by Stanley, Sr. In fact, there were a few times when the pay-roll was late. Those who were patient and stood by the company were rewarded with the promise of a job for life. If this is a true story, it is a good story. I like loyalty. In both directions. It sure explains some of the human upholstery there on University Avenue.
With fondness, I remember one of favorite Runyonesque/Hubbardesque characters, Mr. Brown. I am wracking my brain trying to remember his first name but it eludes me. So he is simply, Mr. Brown. The Facilities Manager. What a character! I still remember him following scuff marks in the highly polished linoleum floors, trailing the offending shuffler to their lair. My favorite story, though, involves the lights in my office.
Not long after arriving at KSTP, I usurped the record library. It was a large room right at a "T" intersection between TV engineering, the lobby, and TV production. Our studios were only feet away and it was perfect. We moved the stacks and stacks of LP's on shelves along the left wall and opened a space in the middle. Mr. Brown was aghast at my hubris. A hold-over from the Golden Days, Jimmy Valentine, was in charge of the music library was aghaster (sic). I hadn't gone through the proper channels. It is easier to just DO something than to ask permission. Eventually, Junior's wife was put in charge of 'up-dating' some of the offices and since I was sitting there, it must be my office, so I got the re-decorating treatment. In the next few months they spent an amount equal to my yearly salary and when it was finished...well, it sucked. And I'm going to tell Mrs. Junior that, right? Yeah, right! My main problems were caused by the white walls and six light fixtures. Each fixture had 4 fluorescent-tubes six-feet long. It was so bright in my office, any respectable doctor could have done a quadruple bi-pass without any problem. At the end of each day, my eyes would hurt and I began having headaches. During one of the shoot-the-shit sessions in the office the solution to the problem was obvious. Get rid of some of the light. So, Denny Carpenter and I climbed on chairs and tables and slightly unscrewed every other fluorescent tube. When we were finished, it was perfect. Well, it wasn't perfect, but at least it was down to double bi-pass brilliance and my sore eyes and splitting headaches were the better for it.
The next morning I arrived at the office, unlocked my door, reached in and switched on the lights! GLARE! I was right back where I had started from the previous day. Every light was on. Every tube was glowing. Later, that morning it was back up the chair/tables to unscrew every other tube. However, during the night, the "light-pixies" returned and the next morning when I arrived, Dr. DeBakey was scrubbing up. Again, we unscrewed the fluorescent tubes and I put on my 'to-do' list a note to tell the night crew not to re-screw the lights. The note didn't get written and I was pleasantly surprised when the next morning I arrived and the ceiling lights were as I wanted them...half on and half off. Later that morning I returned to my office from errand to find Mr. Brown, Mr. Hubbard, Senior, and two or three electricians standing in a circle staring at the ceiling. Over the past two days they hadn't been re-screwing the tubes....they had been replacing them. A major electrical malfunction was causing fluorescent lights to burn out at a fearful rate! They were relieve they had noticed it before the entire building burst into flame. I'm not to sure who felt more foolish when I finally got up the courage to confess. Wait. Not true. The looks on the faces of the four men indicated who in that room was insane. Madness! In the next few moments I expected to be put on psychiatric leave or just summarily shot on the spot. "That'll teach the varmint to fuck around with my building." (Spoken simultaneously by Mr. Brown and Senior) For the next week or so one or the other would come into my office, look at the ceiling, shake their head and walk out without a word. One time I arrived at my office to find Mr. Brown with a piece of white paper and Mr. Hubbard with a photometer measuring the light intensity. I was told that if I went blind I shouldn't blame them. At one point I actually scarfed some table lamps and placed them about the office and turned off the ceiling lights altogether. That was sweet, but not worth the consternation it caused in the Hubbard executive suite or the dungeon where Brown had his coffin...er, desk.
In spite of the lighting situation, my office was often visited by non AM staff members. I guess it was a great shoot-the-shit office. And I like shooting the shit. Once a week we would have our play-list meeting. Denny Carpenter, the assistant PD, our music director, Stevie Perun, and anyone else interested would get together, listen to the new music, proselytize for the favorites and finally create the published and actual play-lists. It was fun but it was serious work. For some reason, Mr. Hubbard, Senior came to one of the meetings. He would have been welcome except while he was there, we didn't get any work done. He hated all the music. In fact, he told us in no uncertain terms that it was all 'crap'. At one point he reminded us that he didn't want any of that rock and roll stuff on his station. (This was followed by a 30 minutes lecture recounting the history and tradition of the radio station) This was very confusing. Didn't he know that KSTP was a 'rock' station? Were they keeping this secret from the 'old man'. What if he found out we were playing that 'crap'. How long could someone who smokes weed in the men's room, sabotages the ceiling lights, and plays rock and roll be expected to retain their position at a station where a bad rendition of a Mel Torme song will get you canned?
The only solution was to keep him in the dark. This is a knowledge reference, not about the lights. I don't know who came up with the solution, but they were a genius. The next week, before the music meeting, we bought a bunch of cigars. And we all lit up. A few minutes later, just as the smoke was approaching "London-fog" status, the door opened and in walked Senior. Within a second or two he began clawing at the air like he was being attacked by killer bees and he turned and left. Two more weeks, he attempted to join our happy crew, but by this time the cigars were OUR tradition and choosing between influencing the music on his radio station and emphysema, he chose neither and never bothered us again.
With all due respect, I missed the boat while at KSTP. Now that I am older and, hopefully, wiser, I wish I had spent more time with Senior. Certainly, I would trade every minute spent in Stanley Junior's office for five seconds with his father. So often it just wasn't 'convenient'. At first the secretary would call (right in the middle of something I was doing) and tell me Mr. Hubbard would like to see me in his office. When Senior said, "Jump," I said, "How high?" I'd grab the suit jacked, straighten the tie, check the hair and head for the staircase. It wasn't long before the secretary was dispensed with and the single word, "come', would indicate it was time to hippity-hop to the executive suite. I began answering the phone in various strange voices. "He there?" "Nope...but I'll tell him you called." This worked for about a month and then he began skipping the phone call and just dropping in. Hey. Every piece of furniture., every pencil, every pen, my chair, my desk, and the defective light fixtures all belonged to him, so if he wanted to drop by what could I say but knock yourself out? One sort of funny story. I actually WAS out of the office and when I returned someone said, "Senior was here looking for you." I wasn't in the mood so I told them I was going to hide in the little office off the studio. I stepped out of my office and looked to the left down the long hallway leading to the lobby. At the other end about 50 feet away was Senior with a couple of strangers. We saw each other at the same time and he mugged a look of panic and said, "Jiggers! It's the KSTP Program Director! Let's get out of here!" And all three of them tottered through the door and into the lobby.
Perhaps I am being unfair. I hope you understand how much I respected this true broadcasting giant. As I said, I wish I had absorbed more of the history. I was getting to work at 9am, working all day and doing 6pm – 9pm on the air. I was perpetually tired. Even though I spent a good deal of time being a conversational sounding board, I did actually attempt to program that station. Jack Nugent would spend the first hour of each morning with the various newspapers and a smalled cutter, clipping articles that interested him to send to his son. He like company while he clipped. I was an easy touch for the record company promotion guys and usually had several drop by in the morning. I'm sure they were stopping by on their way to KDWB. They had a lot more rules over there. The PD at KDWB, John Sebastian, (I remembered his name) checked the record guy's schedule for any real or perceived slights. When I visited Israel in the 60's you could not enter from ANY Arab country. I was in Egypt and to get to Israel I had to fly to Cyprus and then fly back to Israel. If you traveled in reverse you could be denied entry to the Arabian country if there were Israeli visa-stamps in your passport. I am sure the various record guys kept their morning visits to KSTP secret. One, who will remain anonymous (and I DO remember his name) went into a panic when he took me to lunch and John Sebastian came into the same restaurant. The poor record guy did everything but hide behind a fern. "Jiggers! It's the KDWB Program Director! Let's get out of here!"
I heard of a rumor from someone that when John S. heard one of the companies gave me a Gold Record he made it clear that he wanted one too. For a while Gold Records were always given in duplicate. It might have been easier to just put both our names on one plaque and we could share there, trading off every couple of months. I mentioned (jokingly sarcastic) that I heard KDWB got a gold record for some record. (I am a dinosaur...we got vinyl RECORDS in those days) I wasn't all that surprised when a week later, I got one too. For the same record. All the good record company executives knew where to find a While-You-Wait 24 hour Gold Record Store.
After lunch there was always something to do. So much time was wasted in Jack's office, in Stanley Jr.'s office and for that matter, in my office. I was pretty good at wasting time. Once in a while I was busy. Do any of you old-timers reading this remember the horror of doing your 'BMI'? If you are a puppy, then you never had to do BMI. In order to allocate the money to the various song writers every station paid for a music broadcast license from BMI...Broadcast Music Inc. Radio stations across the country would actually keep BMI logs for a week listing EVERY song played. It was a major headache and if I remember it correctly we did it every couple of years. At U100 we were doing something different. All the music was programmed in advance according to a format and music play-list. Theoretically, this gave ultimate control of the music played to the Program Director and those he chose to help. At both U100 and KSTP we did phone research to help create our play-list. I know. I know. The damn DJ's skipped some songs, made "adjustments' etc. etc. but it was in more control then the days at KDWB and WDGY when we just shuffled the 45's or carts. (I will admit I ALWAYS skipped some songs including anything by Anne Murray)
This made keeping BMI logs a breeze. After some long phone calls with them I was able to just send them a copy of our pre-programing and we were golden. I was in the process of preparing it at KSTP, when the phone rang. It was Senior. I told him I was very busy doing BMI. He said, "BMI? BMI? Let me tell you about BMI." I set aside the work and headed up. When I entered the office, the first words out of his mouth were, "Did you know we started BMI?" That is when I made my great mistake. I said, "Really? You started BMI?" What was intended as a polite agreement in the form of a question was seized on as a challenge. How dare the guy who threw his joints in the john question a broadcasting legend. Within seconds he grabbed the phone and waved for me to sit. I sat. Mr. Stanley Hubbard (Senior) mumbled something to a secretary about getting someone on the phone and then lapsed into silence...for 30 minutes. (The curtain came down for 24 hours to denote the passing of a day) I sat. In silence. Stanley Sr. sat. We sat...in silence, Seniors head cocked to one side holding the phone between his shoulder and ear. Every time I started to say something, or stood up as if I was getting ready to leave, he waved me back into the chair and back to silence. There were moments when his eyes closed. My mind wandered. If he was resting his eyes and I moved, he'd catch me. If he had drifted off to sleep would it be insulting to just tip-toe away? How was I going to explain this to Junior if he had moved onto the great transmitter in the sky? It wasn't until 45 minutes later I realized he was listening to a dead phone. His secretary was the one doing the dialing and phoning. He was just holding the phone close by for instant attention when she got back to him. The first time the phone rang it was the secretary at a law office somewhere out East. New York City I think. Stanley asked to speak with someone (don't remember the name) and was told by the secretary that the gentleman in question had retired 20 years before. "Would you like his home phone number?" Both secretaries were put on the quest. Another 15 minutes and I heard this conversation.
"You called me"
"Is this Whatever his name was?"
"Yes. Who's this?"
"It's Stanley Hubbard."
"Stanley Hubbard. My god! Stanley Hubbard. I haven't talked to you in 35 years."
"Has it been that long?"
"Maybe longer. Stanley Hubbard! What are you doing Stanley."
"I run some stations in St. Paul."
"You still doing that? You must be in your 80's."
"I have to work. I didn't save my money like you."
"Stanley Hubbard. My God. " (I will now skip another 15 minutes of shock and awe)
"So, Stanley. Why did you call?"
"Listen. I have this young guy, works for me, in here and I told him we started BMI and he didn't believe me."
It was useless to say I didn't really say that. Check the transcripts. In a way, I had. For the next hour or so I got a detailed and complete history lesson about another of the legendary beginnings of the industry I had stumbled into 13 years before and to which I would dedicate the remaining 16+ years of my broadcasting career from one of the giants. I have to leave it to my readers to decide whether the three unexpected hours in the Executive Suite were well spent. I think they were.
Not far away was another Executive Suite. At that time the history out of these offices wasn't as impressive, but it certainly had a greater impact on my time at KSTP and the rest of my broadcasting story. These were the offices of Junior. This was the boss. Here sat the wielder of the ax. Not only could he say "off with their heads" but some would say afterwards he would drink your blood. As a caveat, Stanley Hubbard Junior did great things with his legacy. In many ways he was as visionary as his father and far be it from me to ever throw "weirdness" stones. In spite of the physical and mental quirks that were at times so disconcerting, there is little bad I can say about Junior. Except..... (You knew there was going to be an 'except'...) Surrounding The Prince were a bevy of Machiavellian sycophants. Could I be accused of being one of them? I will state here emphatically that I NEVER lied to Junior except with one exception. I actually told him (and argued for) a successful future for an AM music station when in truth I knew the dirge was already written and the knell of the funeral bell was already sounding. I could list my fellow KSTP-ites who regularly told the naked emperor how lovely his clothes were, but I wish not to be sued. There were lots of yes-people.
At the top of this litigious list were the new industry actors. No villain ever deserved a greater hiss. No umpire earned a more resounding boo. Like Lady Macbeth, they have the blood of a great (and creative) industry on their hands and no "Out! Out! Damned spot!" will cleanse the evidence of their guilt. They are...
Soccer And Sweat, Parties And People, Confrontations And Consultants
While contemplating this sub-title over the last couple of months, I realized that is wasn't just a list of topics, but actually a nexus, all tied together, not separate.
To make it easy on me, I'll use it as an outline and take things in order. We start with “Soccer”. All these years later, with all the hoopla about Brit “football' stars taking pot-loads of cash to abandon Queen and country, I now understand that some dreams will never die. In 1977 there were deluded people who dreamed of the United States joining the rest of the world in that global mania. Either those people still exist and still dream or a whole new delusional generation has replaced them. In my life-time, it AIN'T gonna happen! Reasons? Too much running. Not enough scoring! Guys standing in a row holding their crotches. Who wants to do what the French do?
When I was in high school, football was important, but basketball was King. What other sports are there? Oh yes. Hockey! We didn't have a usable pool until my last year so no swim team. Baseball had a 'three day' season in the spring, and there was no wrestling. (Because of this, few of the boys could dance) The point of all this is, obviously, there was no soccer. (“Soccer? No, but I did kick her in the ass!”) Try as a might, I'm not sure I even knew what soccer was in the 50's. Hell, I didn't taste pizza until I was 16. Anyway, I digress. As time marched on in Minnesota, a new king was crowned when hockey became more than an Iron Range rage. And rumor had it that in the mid-70's our KSTP leaders kids didn't make the hockey team. They played soccer.
I don't have any real complaint. If you own it, you can play with it. That's my rule.
During my last days at KDWB, I read about radio stations doing their own music research. At Channel 63, Don Bleu was our Music Director and I am really not sure how he picked our play-list. In those days, I would guess, he looked at the back page of Billboard magazine, check the trades, did some favors for the record company promotion guys, got a little buzz, did a little dance, and just made a list. When I got to WYOO (eventually U100), I was PD and I could implement a rudimentary bit of music research. It evolved. By the time I landed at AM1500, Steve Perun and the crew were churning out some respectable data. Perhaps it wasn't a very good indicator of future hit music or what we should 'add', but from the standpoint of helping us decide what music to play more and most importantly, what to play less, I think it was doing the job. It wasn't much of a step to add some 'life-style” questions to the 'research' and in a 48 hours period we could amass a lot of information.
In the winter of 1976-1977 things were going well. I thought. I had eased the station away from pure Top 40 to a hybrid, more Adult Top 40. The research was helping us to do that. While getting a lot of grief about the changes, Steve's research info was comforting. And it paralleled a wonderful Book in the Spring of 1977. Jack Nugent was happy as hell because the Adult numbers (versus teen numbers where KDWB AM AND FM rules) meant the station could make a lot of money. Actually it didn't really matter how good the ratings were that spring because other forces were in play. One was the very nature of the AM beast in an FM world. The other was the specter of SOCCER! I was doing a three hour 6pm – 9pm show. My heart wasn't in it. And there were others who didn't want me doing it. I didn't know it but I was not the only Machiavellian weaver working on that rug.
About this time it was suggested I should become an 'off-the-air' program director. This seemed sorta Big! Time! After all, Buzz Bennett didn't do a show. Of course, this was merely a ruse to make it easier to implement the other casual suggestion. Soccer play-by-play. I was sitting in the conference room of Stanley Jr's office when for the first time I was included in the discussion. The rationale flowed like the Mississippi in the spring. 'We are not a teen station'. 'Soccer is hot as a pistol'. 'KSTP is always on the cutting edge of industry innovations'. 'If we don't do it someone else will'. 'We can sell it'.
The King Spoke: “Let's get (name deleted) on the phone and get some research”.
Oops! I am skipping from soccer, at the head of my list, to the the end of my list...consultants. And now I shall digress!
If you look in the dictionary under consultants you will see a picture of a pile of bull shit. The concept makes sense. The implementation is crap. Every tired adage fits. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” “Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach” “How much blood would a black bug bleed if a black bug bled black blood?”
This is a huge country. It seemed, in the early 60's, like the trends began in California and swept across the nation west to east. The musical trends led to life-style trends and they all seemed California based. Then the Brits invaded followed by a mini movement from Detroit. In spite of The Beatles, The RS, Gerry & The Whomevers, mod, etc. OR the Supremes, California is still the bomb. As our current ruling generation says....it owns. Imagine a way to anticipate those trends no matter from what direction they come. I had used this to advantage before. In 1964, while doing the Uncle Rob Show, I jumped on the 'Beatle haircut'. In 1966, in Green Bay, I went 'Barnaby Street'...no..I mean Carnaby Street. It wasn't that I only wore purple. I am sure you get the idea. While Bob Bandy was bald and looked like a high school algebra teacher, I was dressed like some British poof.
Or imagine being able to know everything that was successful in the 'industry' and also what wasn't working. Anticipation of trends, awareness of successes, and an overview of what was happening. Let's invent the consultant.
“Oh my God! I've created at MONSTTTTEEER!”
Basically, a consultant should be an intelligence gathering organization. Like the CIA, the NSA, the KGB. Or at least like they are supposed to be. But a radio consultancy, like its counterparts listed above, often produces information (intelligence) diluted (poisoned) by several factors, three I will now list.
1.Rivalry This is not the rivalry of competition among various consultancy companies, but the rivalry between the consultant and those being consulted. There is a natural attempt on both sides to make themselves look good and/or the other look bad. Has there ever been a a consultant who said: I don't know.
2.Subterfuge This is the temptation to provide information that they think the King wants to hear (or) NOT provide the information the King doesn't want to hear.
3.Pride This includes the unwillingness to admit a mistake OR take the blame for outright failure.
Missing in my career was the mentor. I never had one. Probably there was a little too much hubris in me to take advantage of mentoring if it were offered. I'll admit that. In spite of that short coming, I wasn't afraid to recognize a good idea and implement it without hesitation. Read that as steal it without hesitation. I have been sitting here for 10 minutes trying to think of a good idea I got from a consultant. Now it has been 20 minutes. I know there are a couple, but I can't think of them. I just deleted an entire paragraph of what I consider examples of consultant faux pas. If you want to know some, check my blog.
The bottom line to all this? I think Stanley was angry at every sport but soccer (for personal reasons) and was busy convincing himself that soccer was the future...the best thing since sliced ham and he needed some validation. And the consultant from (location deleted) was willing to lick the King's ass. (Metaphorically speaking) This was the beginning of a very contentious relationship with (name deleted) the KSTP AM/FM/TV consultant who was dealing with an account that earned him well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. To show you how low we sank, the tenor of our conversations on Stanley Jr.'s speaker phone went from bastard and brown nose to son-of-a-bitch and cock sucker. It was a high point in my months at KSTP seeing the look of terror on Mr. Hubbard's face. What started the slide into vitriol was the potential for soccer play-by-play. I knew (and unfortunately kept the secret to myself) that KSTP's music future was bleak. What they were suggesting was a way hurry things along. I thought....I KNEW...that soccer play-by-play would be the kiss of death. A blow from which the station, as a competitive music entity would never recover. But, not to worry. Before the final decision was made (I must have been high on crack to think the decision wasn't already chiseled in stone) the consultant would do some research and we'd have the info later that week.
After leaving S's office, I broke the news to my team. That was Denny Carpenter and Steve P. We decided to do our own research. I accept the fact that there is no way our piddling research could equal that being done in (suburb of what city deleted) but it was what I had to work with. The next time I was in Stanley's office and on the speaker phone with (consultant's name deleted) we were both armed with our research results.
Do you really need to know the results? Our research show everything I feared. Our listeners would NOT listen to soccer. They would tune out in droves. They would hold it against the station. It would change their opinion of the station. It was more difficult to ascertain if we would GAIN listeners to equal or surpass the ones we lost. Generally, the results of what we had suggested that no body really cared about soccer and if given the choice of seeing a game in person, watching on TV, or listening to a game on the radio they preferred 'none of the above'.
How about the report from Iowa. (The report from state deleted) Well, it looks like we were wrong. The new paragons were Mom, apple pie and soccer. Droves were deserting the churches to worship at the altar of the black and white ball. The future of the world was soccer. Soccer would increase our audience, bringing droves of new listeners who would sample the station and stick around for all the other day parts. If only we would introduce radio soccer we could break historical ground, cure cancer and eliminate the national debt.
I hope you are getting the point. As far as I am concerned, Stanley had decided he liked soccer, the media was talking soccer, Stanley wanted soccer, there were a couple of available play-by-play guys, Stanley wanted soccer, the time-slot was 'available', what Stanley wants, Stanley gets. The research was tailored to fit and if not an outright lie, it was a great example of spin.
We Got Soccer!
As an afterthought....who was right? The ratings were awful. It lasted ONE season. There was zero buzz. Our summer numbers were dismal and the fall book was off. And I was thinking of other things because Jack Nugent had a heart attack.
I had lunch recently with Denny Carpenter and he gave me happy news. As of that lunch, Jack was alive and well and enjoying life in Florida. That made me glad because like so many people I like, I lost touch with him years ago. There wasn't much time left for me at KSTP, so I can't tell you much about any changes in Jack's life were caused by that heart attack. I know it changed my life in so many major ways it boggles my mind to contemplate them. Almost like one of those domino tipping mazes, things began happening that lead to changes, both good and bad. I won't say I'm glad it happened (the heart attack) but I wonder if it hadn't where My Story would have gone. Something to think about on a snowy winter afternoon. Or late at night while staring at a dark ceiling.
Jack was incapacitated. After his stay at the hospital he spent several weeks at home recuperating. Left in charge of the hen-house were the Sales Manager and the Program Director. I sort of liked it. I didn't have the title but ipso facto, I was acting GM. I felt like I had been given the keys to the Kingdom. For a few weeks I decided on some budgets, I ran the meetings to decide on our advertising campaign and even was invited to the sales meetings. In a way, I wish I had hated being a General Manager (or even getting a taste of it) because I wouldn't have made a major decision only months later. No such luck. I liked it. When Jack came back, it wasn't easy going back permanently to my extremely well-lit office on the second floor. It was doubly difficult to see some of my decisions revised and/or changed. Christmas descended on me and I got busy. I love the season and of course there was Scrooge, and the KSTP Christmas party and some private parties and family and I was well occupied. After the New Year, things quieted down and I was vulnerable when someone showed me an ad in the newspaper. It was a small classified job ad for a General Manager at WEBC in Duluth. WEBC. The station of my youth. This was the station I used to listen to in my bed, in the dark in the summer between sixth and seventh grade. WEBC, where I listened to Jimmy Reed, Ron Block, and Doctor Don Rose. That's right, THEE Doctor Don Rose was PD at WEBC when I escaped from Brown Institute and he was the first PD I ever gave an air check tape. (He was kind but he must have been appalled by my ineptitude) There is no doubt I had a history with WEBC and they were looking for a 'Jack Nugent”. I'm not good at this sort of thing but I forced myself to send them a package. My resume was in the mail the next day. A week later I heard from them and went to the hotel meeting that set the stage for the next 15 years.
Ah. But I'm getting a head of My Story.
When the Highway 35 bridge collapsed in the Twin Cities I had more than just a passing interest based on the decade I spent working in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The day before the collapse, I, like thousands of others had ridden across that span. Watching the wall-to-wall coverage on cable I saw time and again, the apartment high rise where I lived while working at KSTP. My 16th floor apartment windows on one side looked across the river to the University; the window and balcony on the other side overlooked THE bridge. Even though I was on the sixteenth floor, I rarely used the balcony because the traffic sound was irritating. That's how close I was. What a great apartment.
I won't describe it beyond the facts that it had a great view, the rooms were large, the carpet was white!, and it was where I hosted some great parties. There were the ones where virtually anyone was welcome. Record promoters, fellow broadcasters, friends, staff, family, anyone. A gathering of 50 was not uncommon and thick walls and tolerant neighbors were a blessing. A party without food is a party without soul and why even have a party that is BYOB. I will admit that I put out good scotch at the start and replaced it with cheap scotch in good bottles towards the end. I also, don't really like parties with ends. Mine usually lasted until 3 or 4 am. I don't know about anyone else, but I loved having them and throughout my career continued to host get-togethers whenever possible.
Three parties leap to mind. A Halloween party, a birthday party and a holiday party. The irascible Mesa Kincaid was at at least two of the parties and in both cases provided a story. At my birthday party, I think she brought a cake. It was one of those naughty cakes shaped like a naked woman and if I remember correctly, I did something to the cake that offended her and she left. The other was one of the hilarious stories and I think you've heard it already. When Mesa was supposed to give Jack a ride home but it was snowing and when Jack suggested they get a motel she took it as a proposition and deposited a tipsy Jack back at my apartment at 4-5 in the morning where a friend of mine and I fairied his car in a blinding blizzard to Edina and were provided breakfast by a grateful Mrs. Nugent.
We had a secretary at KSTP who was a soccer fan. There were rumors that she was on a quest to sleep with the entire Minnesota Kicks team roster. In one of the offices, off the studio, we had a team picture and as the rumors would reach them, someone would put a big X over a player's face as she had her wave with him. Last I remember, at least half the team had been f...er...x'd. Keeping this 'behavior' in mind, Gary DeMaroney arrived at one of my parties with some props. Without so much as an explanation and with a lot of questioning looks, he proceeded to spread a huge plastic tarp on the living room floor and take out a can of Crisco. When the said secretary saw this she said loudly, “Well! If its going to be THIS kind of party, I'm leaving!”
For several years after that Gary and I exchanged Crisco cans on our birthdays.
I should have saved some of that Crisco because my decisions in January of 1978 would lead me to Duluth where I got royally fucked. I could have used the lube.
Coming in Chapter 17 – Just Ten Years