Part 24: Chuck Christianson and the great Sleepathon

"Memories of nearly 50 years in the Biz"

Part 24: Chuck Christianson and the great Sleepathon

Postby Brian Lord » Fri Mar 26, 2010 3:14 pm

Brian Lord's Old Radio Stories #24
Chuck Christianson and the great Sleepathon.

Anyone who has read these "chapters" from the beginning will recall the name of Ron Jacobs, who in my estimation was one of the foundations of Rock radio in the USA and the King of radio in Hawaii. He's probably best known by radio people as the Program Director at Los Angeles AM station KHJ the nation's first Boss Radio Format which he invented along with Bill Drake. Jacobs was also instrumental in helping launch Casey Kasim's "American Top 40" as well as a host of music tribute programs and record companies and has had several books published. His bio, thus far is pretty well documented in Google. (Ron ran into misfortune a month ago and the last I heard from him he was trying get his "WhodaguyHawaii" Internet Radio station back on the air. It was destroyed by fire which broke out in the building next door and did considerable damage to Jacob's premises leaving this talented man pretty near broke at age 73)

The reason I mention Jacobs is because he and his DJ buddy Tom Rounds from their early days at K-POI Honolulu, went after the World Sleeplessness Record in Guinness's Book of World Records and were verified as doing so after Rounds kept awake for a week. While Tom stayed awake, Jacobs ran the promotion which was sponsored. After returning to K/Men as PD following my stint at KLIV, San Jose, I inherited some interesting DJ's. I've told the story of John Peel (Ravencroft) and now I'm gonna lay down the tale of how Chuck Christianson broke Tom Rounds Sleeplessness record.

Understand, this was no scientific study sanctioned by the CIA or any branch of Government in their never ending studies of just how much a human being can take in all manner of heinous orientation and performance. No, this was a radio announcer drumming up listener-ship, especially aimed at the more ghoulish side of nature which resides in all of us. Chuck Christianson, bless his heart, may still be alive and I don't wish to besmirch his character by telling readers what he did and why he was a prime candidate for the arduous task he agreed to on my suggestion. But the truth is -- Chuck was a pill addict. Uppers. If the term 'stoned' applies to anyone taking Dexedrine-based medication then Chuck was stoned all the time. I had a short run-in with Amphetamines and I know the horror of what one goes through when coming down. That's probably why Chuck never came down.

After spending about a half hour on the telephone with Tom Rounds, I felt I was briefed to the point of directing Chuck to bust the Guinness record, something in excess of 8 days. Rounds, not long ago pushed the record to 260 hours and as of this writing an individual has clinically (under the eyes of government spooks of some sort and Stanford University medical practitioners) has broken that record... he went 264. However K/Men's promotion was held in the latter half of the 60's when nobody was surprised at anything anybody did. It was the beginning of the age of defensiveness and "awareness" through illegal shit mainly in the form of marijuana, LSD and later cocaine. There were also pill-heads: uppers, downers, (reds, blues), pain killers such as Percocet and codeine taken in amounts far surpassing a doctor's prescription. Listen to White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane sometime or read the annotated version of Alice in Wonderland, the special psychedelic printing, if you can find it.

I accompanied Chuck to a doctor who gave him a thorough check-over, gave us fair warning that we were going off in a direction that he considered unnecessary and quite possibly harmful and I assured the man that if Chuck began to show signs of "un-naturalness" we would call a halt to the whole thing. I was concerned about Chuck having seen him partially undressed in the doctors office, he was flabby and his skin looked a mite gray but the doctor said that although he had a slight high-blood pressure reading, he wasn't of a mind to tell us no.

On a Summer Friday afternoon Chuck sat in the window of a Riverside Furniture store and began his Sleepathon, that is to stay awake until nine PM on the Saturday of the next week. I had told Chuck to lay off the uppers until he felt he needed them. Little did I realize the nature of one who is addicted to these things. Chuck was "on" his dope from hour one. Rounds had used no medication but Christianson was not gonna "pussy his way through" as he put it, he was gonna power through this task with the aid of his little white tablets taken four at a time every 4-6 hours and that was that. There was no argument.

People came in droves. Thon-monsters -- not monsters at all but just young people who had little to do with their time and didn't dress in stylish clothes. It was our name for these people who showed up for every, single promotion that K/Men had. Also curious people, adults, who's ghoul-gene made them stop and stare, mouth open, at Chuck and his 'handlers' in the window of the furniture store. I'm not aware of whether the store sold much furniture but it's name was given plenty of mention. We, the other DJ's, had a regimen, we did our regular air-shifts plus an hour to fill Chuck's slot and then pop over to Riverside -- a middling sized town of about 110,000 in those days -- talk to Chuck in order to keep him awake and interested and chum around with the herd of people which grew larger each day.

At one point the police arrived when the crowd was especially large and wanted to know what was going on, although I expect some of them already knew. "Just as long as there's nothing illegal going on" was their mantra of course and we actually benefited in the late days because they directed traffic. Little did they know that Chuck had increased his dosage of unprescribed dexi's by a factor of three and all I can say is whoever his supplier was, he must have been reaping a wad of money. I never saw how Chuck got his midweek shipment but I believe it had to do with the pusher and Chuck sequestered in the same toilet stall.

As we passed the 6 day mark, Chuck began to act weird. He began demanding beer which I nixed as it would react against the stimulation of the pills and look simply awful to the vast crowd that was now littering the parking lot in front of the Furniture Store. Next he wanted to go out and 'meet with the folks. This I okayed but kept very close to him while he signed autographs on paper, telephone book pages, a few baseball caps and one woman's breast. He wanted to go for a walk but this was not the conditions under which we had sold the promotion to the Furniture store owners. Nevertheless he did walk about a block down the main street of town with a huge entourage following behind him. After one block he looked rough enough that I sent for a big chair and several of us carried him back to his window.

The next day he came close to falling asleep and on the last night before the promotion was over, the station manager dragged Chuck out to his car and took him for a half hour ride at which point, according to Jerry, the manager, Chuck crashed out. Jerry let him snooze until fortune intervened at the railway tracks which ran through part of Riverside. A train was passing and let out a blast of it's humongous horn and Chuck, eyes bulging like one of those strange little monkeys came right off the seat and pretty near out of his skin, screamed and wanted to know "Where AM I what the...oh God..wha.." and promptly went into a kind of living state of rigor-mortise, his mind on who knows what but nothing pleasant. His eyes remained bulged.

When Jerry had finally recovered control, Chuck grabbed a bunch of pills, and chewed them up. After about five minutes of wild staring he realized what was going on. Jerry said the crowd gave him a huge cheer when they got back but from that moment on he might as well have been a misplaced person. He barely knew his own name. Worst of all he looked it. I was contemplating letting Tom Rounds record stand but we were less than 24 hours away and so I prayed. And stayed with him till the end.

There were several thousand people on hand when Chuck broke the record of eight days and held out for an extra hour. He was a physical wreck but told me later that he'd had worse experiences which did little to allay the feeling I had for myself...that I was a cruel bastard. However 'The Party' was on and that whole block in Riverside was awash with mostly young people all cheering Christianson as we put him back on a chair and paraded him around for as long as I felt he could take. I then drove him home, assured that he would sleep for a couple of days. When I went by to check on him the next morning, he was up and about, acting normal and asking a lot of questions. Such is the way with those who thrive on uppers.

I gathered the information dictated by Guinness: newspaper copy, affidavits signed, photographs, radio transcripts etcetera and mailed them off to their Head Office in Ireland. A couple of weeks later I received a form to fill out, signed and witnessed which I did and in the next edition of Guinness's World Records was Chuck's name and the feat he had performed under the category: Sleeplessness. Tom Rounds sent his congratulations.

I figure that somewhere in the realm of 25,000 people saw Chuck in his window. He looked pretty bad -- he was never what you would call a well-dressed dude and proved so at the Sleepathon; we had to make sure he kept his fly zipped and his shirt-tails in and he shaved up until the last three days. But looking haggard, with his eyes at half mast was all part of the promotion. The ghoul bit, y'know? I don't know what became of Chuck but I wish him the best and hope he's kicked. If he's still alive, he probably has.

Next time: Big Daddy's travels and travails, both of us back on home ground.
Brian Lord
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Re: Part 24: Chuck Christianson and the great Sleepathon

Postby Neumann Sennheiser » Sun Mar 28, 2010 6:56 am

If the story sounds familiar, you might be remembering an episode from the old Dick Van Dyke show.
In season 5, Dick (as Rob Petrie) attempted to stay awake for "100 Terrible Hours" (the episode title) in the window of Chamber's department store, broadcasting as a DJ for the fictitious WOFF.
The comparisons to the real event, including a crowd of on-lookers, are so close I'd be pretty confident that the TV episode had to be inspired by Tom Round's experience years earlier. The time line works. The TV episode was aired in May of 1965.
Tom's record was surpassed in 1964 by a teenager named Randy Gardner but by only a handful of hours.
Tom Rounds is still very much alive and doing very well as founder and president of Radio Express in Burbank, California, supplying broadcast syndication to radio stations world-wide including Vancouver's JACK FM . ... =about.php
"You don't know man! I was in radio man! I've seen things you wouldn't believe!"
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