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Your Daily Fred Ration

When this site posted A Brief History of Defunct Electronics Chains in the Form of Old TV Ads, I was intrigued, and after reading it, somewhat entertained, but more than a little unsatisfied because of what it missed.

Here in Southern California, there was an outbreak of Stereo stores in the ’70s vying for the young, hip and hopefully-stoned-enough-to-buy-anything consumer. And they were primarily using radio to reach their potential victimscustomers. University Stereo kept the psychedelic ’60s alive well past their expiration date, with spaced-out effects thrown together by a DJ who called himself Shadoe Stevens. Cal Stereo had the motormouth Tom Campbell putting 90 seconds of ad copy in a 60 second spot. And Pacific Stereo took the high road with commercials that could’ve been for any retail operation.

In 1977, I was straight out of college radio and working at KGIL In The Valley (Suburban L.A.) as Assistant/PhoneMonkey/ThirdSidekick to the forgotten radio legend Sweet Dick Whittington (and yes, for the thousandth time, we DID call him Sweet Dick in the ’60s and ’70s, except me, emphasizing my role as Underling by calling him “Mister Sweetdick”). I’d had fun writing a parody of Tom Campbell’s manic commercials as “Tom Krell for Krell Stereo” but never got it to sound right (or come under a minute) at the college radio studio. At KGIL, I was answering the phones in Production Booth #2, which was equipped with a big reel-to-reel tape recorder with a homebrew variable speed gizmo. I tried doing Tom Krell at a higher speed and it was funny. In future listenings, I realized I had the voice all wrong, but KGIL was demographically aiming for the Over 30s and would never have gotten any business from Cal Stereo, so Sweet Dick said “let’s run this bit anyway… can you do a few more?” He used them to solve a problem semi-unique to him. He was very popular among advertisers who wanted him to do live ad-lib spots (probably because he always went well over the time paid for, but the commercials were often as funny as anything else he did.

But sometimes he was given so many live commercials to do, he had to do two back-to-back, and he found doing the segues painful. So he’d occasionally slip a fake commercial from Tom Krell for Krell Stereo between the real commercials. I felt honored. Another DJ at the station who did serious voiceover work on the side (including, if I remember correctly, as one of several voices for Pacific Stereo) played my Krell commercials for some influencial people, but I didn’t get my big break. Probably because I got the voice all wrong. I was never comfortable with my ‘radio voice’ until years after I left the radio biz. But I digress. Big time.

Shadoe Stevens broke up with University Stereo (which went under a frighteningly short time later) and started doing radio ads for Federated Electronics, aka the Federated Group. Rather than going psychedelic, he sold them on a Tom Campbell/Cal Stereo parody himself (and HE had the voice for it… you do know he replaced Casey Kasem on American Top 40 and is now the announcer for Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show, don’t you?). He called himself Fred Rated. From there he evolved into higher levels of general wackiness. Meanwhile, Pacific Stereo had begun advertising on television, just as uninterestingly as it did on radio. After a failed campaign with a production company with TV experience, Federated let Shadoe bring Fred Rated to the boob tube. The rest is L.A. television history (although some still insist it was all an acid flashback).

But wait… there’s more…

And more, and more, and more, and more, and more, and more, and more, and more? This orion10590291995 dude is semi-obsessed. There are worse things to be obsessed with…

And then there was the radio pitch man for Waterbed Warehouse who invented the word “humongous” to describe the big building the store was in. But I digress. All night long.


Good Night, George

GEORGE PUTNAM (all caps, because that’s the way he said everything), Los Angeles Television/Radio Legend, has died at the age of 94. A protege of Walter Winchell who came to L.A. in 1951 to restart a stalled career as a news anchor, he was famous for his dramatic style and extremely UNobjective reporting. Retrospective of his colorful career: Part One, Part Two. Best known on the Web as the "outstanding news reporter" who narrated the ’50s alarmist documentary "Perversion for Profit", he was also acknowledged as the model for the Mary Tyler Moore show’s bombastic newsman character Ted Baxter (seen here sitting in on a real newscast). Not restricting his editorializing to his daily "One Reporter’s Opinion" segment, he is credited/blamed for the election of Sam Yorty as mayor of Los Angeles. And when TV News outgrew him, he found a home for the next 30 years doing Talk Radio (where some of us believe Rush Limbaugh also modeled his style after him). And that’s the up-to-the-minute obitfilter; up to the minute, that’s all the obitfilter.
Is that all? Of course that’s not all! Click Here.


It Was Thirty Years Ago Today – More or Less

An aging radio fan (NOT ME) has put up a GeoCities (how 1997!) site in tribute to semi-legendary broadcaster and my former mentor “Sweet” Dick Whittington, including a reprinted magazine article documenting one of his stunts while I was his Assistant/Gopher/Sidekick.

Sweet Dick and Wendell in LondonYes, I am the “Wendell” in the article AND I’m in this picture, standing to the right, trying to hide a tape recorder under my jacket from the London bobbies guarding 10 Downing Street. (They didn’t allow recording devices at the Prime Minister’s front door).

I may yet find him a better webplace for his little fansite, but in the meantime let me point out that (a) I was NOT responsible the lost cassette; that was Dave the Engineer’s fault, and (b) I did not record the “beer in Bangor” incident because my recorder’s batteries had run down after all I had recorded at the LA Airport send-off and on the flight (and Dave the Engineer had all the batteries, so I blame him again).

And that was a PG-rated ‘edited’ account of the Bangor incident from the Los Angeles Magazine writer – who went on to become, among other things, editor in chief at E!Online – and who got a free ticket to follow this adventure because we’d made promotional trade-offs with the airline and a London hotel for a dozen people – because one of the other ‘extra people’ along for the trip was Dick’s then-girlfriend, who requested to be kept out of the article, even though the real reason for their disappearance was so he could “bang her in Bangor”.


100 Years of Broadcast Radio (Is Quite Enough)

Have I ever told you my radio stories, featuring the semi-legendary L.A. AM DJ who I ‘sidekicked’ for while in college? This was back in the 70s, and I must proclaim that “Sweet” Dick Whittington (on KFI, KLAC, KABC, but mostly on suburban-based KGIL) pioneered and perfected a lot of the ‘schtick’ that most of the Big Time Personalities from Stern and Imus on down have been doing wrong ever since. (Among other things, he was the Absolute Master of being outrageous without being offensive – otherwise how could he have gotten away with calling himself “Sweet Dick” 30-40 years ago?) And one of those things he did right was developing his “Producer/Engineer/Screener/Assistant” as an on-the-air sidekick – rarely done in Major Markets in those days because of AFTRA rules about who gets to talk on the radio, and which made me (and my several predecessors and successors) the lowest-paid Personality on L.A. Radio. But it was an incredible apprenticeship, if one I never successfully turned into a career.
Since several of this blog’s 17 readers (up from 7 in the last year) have, at one time or another, worked in the broadcast radio biz too, I think it’s important to recognize that on December 24th, 1906 – exactly one hundred years ago, a Canadian inventor named Richard Fessenden did the first known radio broadcast, literally ‘to all the ships at sea’, and notably including the playing if phonograph records. Thankfully, the BBC has recognized this achievement with a radio ‘programme’ of their own (available online until Wednesday, Dec. 27), because Clear Channel doesn’t care.

sweet-dick.jpg reginald_fessenden_2.gif

Pictures: L- “Sweet” Dick Whittington, R- “Sweet” Dick Fessenden


Bored on the Fourth of July

Some quotations for the holiday:

“Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one. But they’ll always have well-paying jobs.”
-Benjamin Franklin’s brother, an Economist

“Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. Their first refuge these days is the Big Brother house.”
-the ghost of Mark Twain

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country. Because an extra couple lives would come in real handy right now.”
-Nathan Hale (in his mind)

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. One nation, thinking for itself, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
-The Pledge of Allegiance before 1954

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to spend their time online blogging.”
-Edmund Blog

“You’re traveling through another dimension – a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.”
-Rod Serling, a couple dozen times during the annual Twilight Zone Marathon
“Damn thing didn’t go AAAAAAAARGH”

“When in the course of humorous vents, it becomes necessary for one people to learn proper grammar and call himself one person, and dissolve the political band to become a solo artist, and to assume, even though it makes an ass of u and me, the separate and equal station to the one which gets the highest ratings, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind and womankind requires that they should put on some clothes and declare the causes which compel them to undress. We hold these truths to be irrelevent, that all men are created equal, give or take a couple inches that they are endowed, and have unalienable rights, unless they are themselves aliens, in which case they’re on their own, and among these are Life, a great old magazine, Liberty, because the Libertarians made us say that, and the pursuit of that girl who ignored us all through High School.”
-re-written excerpt from “The Declaration of Proclamation”, originally written by a much younger Wendell Wittler for a radio stunt in which pre-shock-jock “Sweet” Dick Whittington attempted to give the San Fernando Valley back to the British on July 4, 1977. It was based on the recent failed attempt for the Valley to secede from the City of L.A., and resulted in Whittington and his radio crew (including Wendell) taking a 66-hour holiday weekend trip to England to deliver “The Declaration of Proclamation” to the Queen. The “Declaration” was a jumble of doubletalk based on the Declaration of Independence, and after it was formally calligraphed on artificial parchment, Wendell was sent to a meeting of the San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce where a number of prominant “Valleyites” (including a Los Angeles City Council member) actually signed the stupid thing!
Note: re-written version includes a couple rejected lines that, in 1977, couldn’t even be used by a DJ called “Sweet” Dick.