Brian Lord's Radio Stories
THE WORST CASE SCENARIO
As the 1960's edged towards the end of the decade a lot of things seemed to go crazy. Kent State, Robert Kennedy, Vietnam and the record business had gone through changes, fads: Surf music; Motown and Phil Spector and of course the biggest blast of all -- The British Invasion as it was called in the USA and Canada. Not only music changed (there's a radical difference between "Da Do Ron Ron" by the Crystals and "Tell Me" by the Rolling Stones) -- but Top-40 radio took it all in stride and the music was actually getting better -- at least for most listeners.
To capitalize on the huge success of British Rock music, the US kept an eye open for English Disc Jockeys. I had been on sabbatical in San Jose and returned to K/Men in 1967 as Program Director and inherited a very different group of announcers than had been on-air when the station started five years before. Adding to this, a guy named Bill Drake, who is recently deceased, began a format which cut down on news, spruced up commercials but mainly boosted the number of records a jock should play during a given hour. It was called Boss Radio and it took off until Rock station's announcers were screaming ten words in 3 seconds and segueing songs when possible. Great for the listener -- more music -- but a drag for some DJ's who had his creativity sapped.
K/Men was not a Boss affiliate, a member of the group overseen by Drake and his people, but his format grew ratings like trees grow branches and even if we weren't using Boss Radio in our station breaks we were playing more records, talking faster and having less fun. I realize there are a few former boss-jocks who read this will howl. sorry. I visited Drake once. He lived in a mansion in Bel Air where he had all manner of electronic paraphernalia, a lot of telephone lines and a huge swimming pool. He seemed like a nice guy but we didn't have a deep discussion--that's just my impression. One had to hand it to him, he boosted radio audiences and made millions.
So much for mass-market fever. One of my inherited DJ's when I came back to Southern California from the Bay area was a guy named John Ravencroft who had my old shift 6 to 9 PM. He was a Brit, sounded like it and all in all was an asset to the station. He wore his hair long and dressed like a Texan; a sort of salute to both the UK and the US. He wasn't a bad looking guy, a wee bit heavy but he sure knew his music and I made him music director after a couple of weeks.
Now comes the unfortunate news that most DJ's know about. Some love it, others hate it and very few don't care. It is still with us today. I am speaking of the fan support DJ's get when they go out on a remote or appear at a concert.... whatever. They were continually hustled by a vast sea of young girls. Ravencroft was our most popular DJ, largely because of his London accent, distinctly British. The Beatles were British, hence John was something like a Beatle who didn't sing but that was okay... young girls screamed at him. The screamed at all of us for that matter.
John and I became friends, not tight personal buddies but certainly the 'beer after work' kind. My working day began around 9AM and finished about 9PM just when Ravencroft was ending his show and we took advantage of our common cause -- the radio station -- and got to know each other quite well. As the year rolled on the groups of young girls would usually show up at the station in the evening hours and ogle John. A young girl who has nothing better to do with her time than run over to some radio station and become groupies to the DJ's is a young girl who has too much time on her hands.
Instead of doing homework, a small section of the local, female, teen society would always be hanging around asking questions, and.... well ....asking. John and I were a bit too old to get involved with this very dicey, unlawful way to pass time and besides we were both married although both of our marriages were on the skids. However, we all know there is an unwritten law among DJ's that activity bordering upon or involving in sex was strictly forbidden. Those who were smart never gave this group the time of day. Polite but quick like a fox, into their short and away from any scene.
Ravencroft and I and a couple of other DJ's made the mistake of talking to the girls, telling them experiences and trying to answer a flood of pointless queries. In other words we were not very smart. We were circumspect to keep some distance but that didn't help a few of these young people from writing fantasy letters. One day the parents of one of our groupies read a letter written by another describing the relationship she had with John and Brian. It was rather intense. And it was damning.
The parents went to the police, the police decided to investigate and made a visit to the station manager with a warning they might have to become involved if the parents decided to press any charges. John and I were toast... the manager booted our asses out of the station with an admonition never to darken K/Men's door. Ever again. And he furnished both John and I with airplane tickets ... John to London and I to Vancouver.
Talk about spoiling the party, I was devastated. For a few months I worked at CJOR and when I had enough money I hired a lawyer in San Bernardino. The fact that I had left the town did not bode well for my professed innocence but as often happens when it hit's the fan, changes occur. The police had determined that the letter was indeed a fantasy because both sets of parents refused to bring charges as their kids came clean and admitted to what was basically a fairy tale. I walked out of my lawyers office with a clean slate and went to work for a record distributor in Central L.A. John did nothing of course, he heard from me that the whole mess had become a washout.
John Ravencroft however did become an entrepreneur. In London he worked for awhile at the pirate station Radio London and later the BBC. He began bringing together young musicians and publishing records. He changed his name from Ravencroft to John Peel and went on to receive an OBE for his work with underground music. He had his own record label, an immense audience and a great ear for what would take off and become a hit. He died at age 65 of a heart attack a couple of years ago while visiting Peru.
It's not easy to write this serious stuff about ones self but it happened and these columns are a discourse on my radio days.
Next time: payola, free stuff and the Coconut Grove.