San Diego…fasten your seat belts…

PIN

Well, this story will take two chapters. First about San Diego, one of the most beautiful places on earth to live.

Well before the current airline security measures, I had the opportunity to sit right behind the Captain in the cockpit on a flight from Oakland to San Diego. We took off at sunrise. The view as we descended into San Diego was breathtaking.

Pilots have told me that it can be a difficult landing in San Diego because you are coming down between buildings, at points lower than the tops of those structures.

The morning after Drake named me as Program Director at KGB, I was to meet with “Watson” in San Francisco for a briefing on my new post. It didn’t take long to determine that it just might be a bumpy landing.

The opening at KGB was created by the departure of Buzz Bennett. (Much more about him in the next chapter.) I had met Buzz years before when he was programming WTIX in New Orleans. I had heard KGB some time earlier during a weekend getaway in San Diego. It was an impressive station…the format was well-executed and the staff was strong.

I learned that Buzz had a unique hold on the jocks. “Watson” described the culture as “cult-like.” I was to be prepared for a walk-out upon my arrival.

“If that happens,” Watson said, “accept the first resignation, go on the air yourself and call me. We’ll send Bill Wade down from KHJ and we can pull other weekend jocks from the chain to back you up.” Wait a minute…I was giving up morning drive in San Francisco to walk into what might be a snake pit??!!

When Im arrived at KGB, I noticed a few things.

First, it was no show place. Kind of a dingy, almost dark environment in a part of town that was certainly not upscale. It was across Pacific Coast Highway from the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, just down the street from a bowling alley with a gathering space called “The Animal Bar.” It shared the parking lot with a run down motel where you could rent a room by the hour. (Bobby Ocean lived there.) The first night as I sat in my hotel room, I thought, “What the hell have I done?”

Happily, the walk-out didn’t happen. So, I was going to settle in and get to work. I was shown my office. Buzz had removed the personal furniture he had used for the space. So, in my office, there was…a chair. That’s it.

I also had to get comfortable with the fact that while it was a Drake-consulted station, it was not an RKO station. It was owned by the Brown family who also operated Hillcrest Cadillac in Beverly Hills. The “whatever it takes” RKO model didn’t exist here. OK, I can learn to deal with that.

As I met each jock, I felt more comfortable…a pretty fun group of guys. (Maybe this is going to be OK, I thought.)

And near the start of my time in San Diego, Drake chose me to fly to Detroit and narrate the first version of “The Motown Story,” a multi-disc album set running down the history of Motown records.

Early in my first week, Jessie Bullet dropped by toward the end of the work day.

Jessie Bullet

Jessie filled a number of spots on KGB. But at this time, he was mainly doing weekends and fill-in. He was able to cook with the format, but he also brought a kind of almost FM-like hipness in his style. Jessie said, “Hey, let me buy you a drink to welcome you to town. We’ll go to my favorite place.” Sounded good to me. So, I followed him to a strip bar named The Barbary Coast.

When we walked in, everyone on the staff greeted Jessie warmly. (Guess he’s a regular here.) We were directed to a prime table right at the end of the stage runway. Drinks were served and the show began. One after another, the ladies danced and revealed what nature had given them.

Then, it was time for the star of the production, “Miss Sonny!” After her performance, Jessie leaned over and said, “How did you like HER?” “Pretty impressive,” I said. “Well,” Jessie said with a big smile, “THAT one is my wife!” (She really was…even gave me a set of her pasties as a house warming gift.)

The staff was strong.

Christoper Cane held down 9-Noon. He was smooth with a sly sense of humor. He was also great at production. He later went on to KYA in San Francisco. A really fine jock and fun guy.

Again, most of the staff was single and the station’s social circle included a number of flight attendants from PSA airlines. Cane had no problem booking a few flights.

Gene West did Noon-3 and reminded me almost daily that his goal was to get to KFRC.

He said that he’d been skipped over too many times. We eventually got him moved to San Francisco. Gene later went on to study psychology at Pepperdine and became a teacher. He had an intense personality and was a solid performer on the air.

Next up, “Whataguy” Bobby Ocean.

There could be a whole chapter on this guy. Over-the-top creative and unique on the air. He also was outstanding at promotional production.

He was the station philosopher and introduced me to his “bible,” the “I Ching,” an ancient Chinese divination text. Ocean felt that it was pretty much the source of all wisdom and insight.

Osh was also a terrific artist and we used a lot of his creations on the music surveys. A very talented person and a friend to this day. Ocean also made a big impact in San Francisco at KFRC.

Rich “Brother” Robbin (remember him from Dallas?) and I would meet again. Richbro rocked steady at night!

He had really come into his own on the air and was outstanding mixing his style into the format with an almost manic pace. Very exciting radio. We’ll spend more time with Rich in the next chapter.

I’ve heard it said that Johnny Williams on KHJ was the ultimate overnight jock. But Don Dale on KGB could really give him a run for his money.

Smooth on the air, he had a low-key personality…a genuinely good guy.

At one point, I pulled a shift myself.

So, as will happen in radio, things change. Some people leave and some get left behind. (Ken Dowe used to say “He got quit” when someone was fired.)

As I looked around for some new talent when it was needed, I got lucky!

A young fellow in San Antonio was making it happen on KTSA. We eagerly hired Barry Kaye.

Barry brought his full game on the air. Non-stop boogie! Electric performer! He would later hit KHJ in LA, KLIF in Dallas, and others. When we flew him out for the interview, I showed him around San Diego and we drove to Coronado Island. That’s where I think we sealed the deal when I said, “Oh, here, I think you’ll need these.” I handed him KGB business cards personalized for him. Barry is a real talent and fine man.

Another lucky score was finding a new morning man. We had one within the Drake family. Just had to get the deal done. Big John Carter was making morning magic at KYNO in Fresno.

Big John Carter

Big John was naturally funny and had been quite impressed by the style of Robert W. Morgan on KHJ. I loved waking up to his show every morning and really enjoyed his sense of humor both on and off the air.

Then, we needed an afternoon drive jock and I knew exactly who I wanted. He was Harry Miller, Program Director at KYNO. (The artist currently known as Paul Christy.)

Harry Miller, Johnny Mitchell, Eric Chase, etc.

Gee, was this guy good! He was electric on the air. He’d later leave his mark on KFRC (as Eric Chase), KFI and a fold-out card listing some other outstanding stations Plus, he was a Drake PD. So, we made him music director. He had a slightly “wicked” style on the air. (He frequently mentioned that he was holding his “jewel-encrusted taper snout.”) Always fun to listen to the guy we now referred to as “Johnny Mitchell,” Watson wanted to call him that because we already had a jingle for that name.

When nights opened up, I pulled out an aircheck I had saved from a jock in Bakersfield. I flew into town one evening and parked outside the station. The DJ let me in and we headed for a restaurant after his shift. I was able to make the deal with “Shotgun Tom” Kelly. (“Better believe it, Baby!”)

This guy was “all in” 24/7. Outrageously energetic on the air. Of course, in later years, Shotgun hit TV and ran up the ratings for K-Earth in LA, where he has a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame!

I don’t know where they put the batteries in that guy, but he was non-stop energy.

So, life was going well. I had settled in to an apartment that overlooked Balboa Park and KGB was rolling right along.

Gary Allyn was the PD at our competition, KCBQ.

Gary Allyn

Gary was a stand-up guy and a friendly opponent. We even had dinner on a few occasions. I will always hold him in high regard.

Life was really pretty fun until one night when Gary and I were having dinner at Boom Trenchard’s Flare Path restaurant on the end of the runway of San Diego’s Lindbergh Field. (You’ll see why that place is important later.) I was paged for a phone call. It was Watson.

“What are you doing,” Watson asked. “Having dinner with the PD at KCBQ,” I said. Watson replied, “No, you’re not. There’s a new PD coming in there. Buzz Bennett is on his way to San Diego.”

Time to fasten the seat belts. This flight was about to get really turbulent.

That’s why we need another chapter for the rest of the San Diego story. Hold on!

You May also Like

Comments (9)

  1. Barry kaye

    February 21, 2020 at 9:49 am

    Thanks char! You were and still are my radio Hero! That was the most exciting time of my career, and I love ya for it!

    • George Johns

      February 21, 2020 at 10:03 am

      Barry, did you work with Mark Parr?

      • Barry kaye

        February 23, 2020 at 7:22 pm

        No, I’m not familiar with him did he go by another name maybe? Hope everything is going well George.

    • John Driscoll

      February 23, 2020 at 9:29 pm

      I remember visiting KGB with Steve Casey ( KRUX ) and met you and Jessie Bullet ( smoked a doobie ) you were cookin on a Saturday afternoon Richard Mock was doing 20/20 news , KGB came into Malibu like a local station

  2. George Johns

    February 21, 2020 at 10:01 am

    I lived in Coronado for 6 years in the ’80s, Charlie and I’ll never forget San Diego. I had an office in La Jolla overlooking the Cove and lived a half a block from the ocean in Coronado. It took me 3 years to get over that, “On Vacation” feeling. Still miss it. Geo

  3. Cathy Pedego

    February 21, 2020 at 10:19 am

    This is just so good Charlie; I’m bummed when I’m done because I want MORE! Not only does it remind me of the good old KHJ/KRTH days, but the inside insight is just fascinating and such a good read! Thank you for sharing you!

  4. Michael

    February 21, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Lovin’ every word!

  5. Jeremy Pirtle

    February 21, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    Charlie…what a gift your “story” is. So cool to get inside that era of radio. It’s inspirational to say the least. Thanks for sharing.

  6. David Leonard

    February 21, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    What Michael said, “Loving every word!” I enjoy the rich descriptions of the staff and management. I do wish we Knew a little more the reasons for the departures of the staff you inherited. This is such an important record to lay down for posterity.

Leave Your Comments