Again, not sure how best to answer this. As I answered last time about bosses, I was working from a young age doing performance stuff in theatre, on TV and even as a model on trade show runways. Heck, the first dollar I ever made (the folks still have it in a frame on their wall) was when I was young and doing the “robot” at a restaurant while the family was eating. Someone stuffed that buck into my pocket when I wasn’t looking. I also delivered newspapers and worked in the school cafeteria (this was important since I needed a job to pay for my own phone line and while it was only an hour a day and minimum wage, when you had few other expenses, it did the job). I’ve had a lot of jobs, but ultimately, I think this is about the memories and the effect getting the job had on me*. So instead of “first” job, maybe I’ll just talk about some other jobs I’ve gotten and how I got them.
Again, one of the things I mentioned last week was that part of my MO is that when I want to learn something, I try and get a job doing it. Another thing about me, I tend to have little external confidence issues. Internal is another matter, but that’s not what this is about. Not sure where it came from, probably best to put it down to good parenting, but I’ve understood from a very early age that the worst someone could do when you ask for something is to say “no.” And that’s not really all that bad.
It was this confidence which allowed me to meet my one-time hero, ventriloquist/comedian Fred Travalena. And almost got me in trouble with the Mob. That story was kind of interesting. Mom was off getting her nails done and I was about 14 and wandering around and ended up in a little jewelry shop called Gold Rush, Ltd.
I had walked in and was looking around and, being fourteen or so, I was looking for something to do for the summer, so I asked if they needed anyone to work there. There were a number of guys in there, just hanging out and one of them asked me what I could do.
“I could sell stuff,” I said with definite swagger.
“Really,” came the skeptical reply.
I nodded. The guy motioned me over to a display cabinet. “Could you sell this watch?” He asked, pointing to one in the case.
“How about this ring?”
He looked me right in the eye. “Could you sell yesterday’s newspaper?” he challenged.
I stared right back at him: “If I put my mind to it.”
That was it. The guy laughed and yelled to someone in the backroom “Hey Tony, we need this kid!”
They took me into the back and gave me a candy bar and a soda and offered me a job making deliveries. I was all set and ready to do it when my mom came and found me and when I told her about the job offer, she very politely declined on my behalf and escorted me out.**
Turns out it was a mob front and it could have gone bad. But since I technically didn’t take that job, this response should be about another gig I did take. One that required the same amount of confidence and bravado. A job as a radio DJ.
It happened like this:
AAron had won a call-in event at a radio station in Vegas, KLUC I think. 98.5 FM (at least back in late summer of ‘84). We were both starting out our senior year in high school (Ed Clark – Go Chargers!) and what he had won was a chance to participate in what was called a Jell-O Jump. It worked this way: Out at Cashman Field, the home of the Las Vegas Stars (again, at the time, now they’re the Aviators after having been the 51s, which was, without question, my favorite professional sports team name ever!), KLUC was running a promotion involving an industrial sized dumpster full of Jell-O and AAron had won the right to jump in there and try to find a car key. Yup, that was the prize – a car key. And if you were lucky, that key fit into the brand-new car they had on display. I think you also got a t-shirt (with a rip-off illustration of Opus from Bloom County driving a moped up a ramp and into the Jell-O filled dumpster).
Unfortunately, AAron didn’t win.
But we had fun. And at some point, for some reason, when I was talking to the DJ who had been assigned the unenviable task of hosting this event, he asked me if I worked in radio. When I asked why, he explained that he thought I had a great voice.
And that was that. I let the thought percolate for a while, like maybe 24 hours, and then I started calling every radio station in town. Eventually, I got through to the program director at KLAV AM1230. We chatted for a few minutes, I explained I was in high school, and he asked me why I wanted to work in radio.
To be honest, I didn’t rightly know. The most I knew about radio was what I’d learned watching WKRP in Cincinnati and the thought of being Dr. Johnny Fever seemed appealing. But what I told him was exactly what had happened: “A DJ I met told me I had a good voice for radio, so I thought I’d look for a job.”
The guy, whose name escapes me, agreed and asked me to come in for an interview, which I did.
I got the job.
It wasn’t much, to be honest. I started off as the board operator. Which meant that on Saturday mornings, from 8-12, I played both sides of four records, 30 minutes each, which were the weekly program of Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 show. I also played the commercials in between. I was there to make sure the records got flipped, the ads got played and the phone got answered. Yup, people would call and request songs during the weekly top 40 countdown. Sometimes I was even able to tell them “no problem, I’ll get that right up for you,” since I knew what was coming up. Then on Sundays, I did the same thing from 6-10 at night (it was a replay of the same show) and then, as an added bonus, from 10-midnight I’d change the records and play the syndicated Dr. Demento show. And that was it. Except at midnight on Sundays, we’d shut down for 6 hours and I would get to actually go on air and use that marvelous radio voice of mine to say
“At this point, KLAV Las Vegas leaves the air for a period of transmitter maintenance and adjustment. We will return to the air at 6am tomorrow morning.”
Or something like that.
And then I’d power down the station and head home.
I learned a lot doing this – not necessarily about being a DJ, but about life in general. Like the one time a friend of my mother’s asked if I could introduce her son to my boss. Sure, I didn’t see the problem. Until the Saturday morning when the meeting happened. I was on the board, working, when my boss popped into the booth.
“How well do you know that kid?” he asked me.
“Not well. His mom and mine are friends.”
“He just asked me for your job.”
I thought about this for a second. “Did you give it to him?”
“Thought about it, but no.”
“Then I guess I should flip this record, huh?”
“Probably for the best.”
Then he left and I kept doing what I did. Until the night I got a panicked call from that self-same boss at 12:15am. “Hollywood’s in jail, you need to get on the air.”
“Hollywood” was our overnight guy, working midnight to 6am. Evidently, he’d been arrested for something and there was dead air on our channel. So off I went, in the middle of the night, to jump on the air.
Over the next couple of weeks, I was the overnight guy (begging anyone out there to call in at 3am) and then I did some afternoon shifts and then I ended up jumping ship over to another station, KENO 1460AM/KOMP 92.3FM where I stayed for another several months.
Remember, this was all while I was still in high school AND working another job at Waldenbooks at the Meadows Mall. Eventually, I left all that behind and moved to LA. But the radio training came in handy. It wasn’t long before I was “the voice of the Groundlings” and even through today where I do a number of voice-overs for documentaries and other things.
*This was added after a discussion with my parents which dredged up these memories I’d completely forgotten about.
**This is the way I remember it and no one is going to convince me otherwise!