Lifestyle events: Tom Bernstein was an icon in the Los Angeles cutthroat radio business for over 40 years in the world of advertising and promotion.
In the 1960’s radio was king with disc jockeys, talk show hosts and other personalities setting the tone of what was hot and what was not.
Tom wry view of how to get things done and noticed set the standard in the wacky world of radio. Radio was king for many decades in Los Angeles when the stars of radio were bigger than their television counterparts.
Here is a story of Tom’s that created a vision that probably in today’s media would not be allowed to happen. Tom will on occasion grace these pages and give us insight what life in the fast lane once was like.
THE (NOT SO) GREAT CHARGERS HALF TIME SHOW
The year was 1960, and two very significant events became part of the KNX/CBS Radio Program Schedule. Paul Condylis and Bob Grant, a comedy team, from WBBM Radio, Chicago, arrived to star in “The Condylis and Grant Show”, replacing the tired, old, “KNX Matinee”, in afternoon drive (my wife Sheila was the script girl for both) and Barron Hilton founded the Los Angeles Chargers Football Team with KNX Radio set to carry their radio play-by-play with The All American from Michigan, Tom Harmon, behind the mike. The two were destined to converge. Along with Condylis and Grant from WBBM, came Art Whittam now my new boss, the Director of Advertising/ Promotion for KNX Radio and Bill Wolff, as Publicist. I was in charge of Research and Sales Presentations, and Frank Oxarart Jr. was the station’s Merchandising Manger, working under him. Whittam’s first big assignment was to produce the half time show for a Charger’s home game in the L.A. Coliseum. Whittam and Wolff handled the first parts. An introduction by our General Manager, Fred Ruegg, then a performance by KNX Radio’s new stars, Condylis and Grant. Frank and I were to come up the final third of the program. We hit on “The Cavalcade of Transportation”, a parade of vehicles around the Coliseum track, starting with a covered wagon, followed by a stagecoach, followed by a model T, followed by a current automobile, followed by a car of the future, and for the grand finale, a flying saucer. The inspiration for all this was the availability of the flying saucer. Frank’s dad, Frank Sr. (also a CBS Radio alum)., owned and produced The Commander Comet kids TV show with a prop flying saucer. We had no trouble lining up the other vehicles, but couldn’t find Frank’s flying saucer after scouring various TV stations in the area, including San Bernardino where the space show was originally shot. Turned out, the saucer was just two blocks away (from Columbia Square), hanging from the ceiling at Dice Prop Rentals. At the time, I was driving a VW Beetle, and the plan was to tie the saucer to my surfboard rack on top of the car. We drove it over Dice to see if it fit, and sure enough it was perfect. The saucer, viewed from the stands, would cover up the Beetle. We added a blinking red light in the saucer’s cockpit for added effect and on the Sunday of the event it was trucked down to the Coliseum for assembly on top of my car.
As we all remember, the Chargers where not a big hit in L.A. For their seven home games at the L. A. Coliseum, where the total capacity, at that time, was just over 109,000, the Chargers averaged only 15,665 persons per game. It didn’t look like there were 10,000 in attendance the day of our half time show, and most of them came to see a scheduled Pop Warner game. I remember watching and listening to the radio in my car parked in the tunnel, and thought Tom Harmon had gone to the wrong stadium, he was that bad. Finally half time arrived. Fred Ruegg is introduced, takes the field before a stand up mike, and his remarks (written by Bill Wolf) were booed. Then, Condylis and Grant stagger (in character) out of the Coliseum tunnel, dressed in goofy Alpine costumes, with Paul, the bigger of the two, shouldering a large tuba. They around the field to a recorded tuba solo and are booed even louder. Finally came the Cavalcade of Transportation and the grand finale, the VW/Flying Saucer circling around the Coliseum track…dead silence. At least we didn’t get booed. Thankfully, not enough people witnessed the event to make it truly embarrassing.
Epilog: Art Whittam, who was notorious for going to lunch at The Vine St. Derby and having his secretary call and page him there two or three times, went on to be a security guard at a San Fernando Valley discount store. Bill Wolff remained as Publicist, Director of on-air promotions and special events at KNX, retiring after 30 years to Manhattan Beach. Frank Oxarart Jr. retired from CBS as General Manager of KCBS News Radio in San Francisco, now lives in Florida. Bob Grant became a controversial, conservative talk show host on WABC and WOR, in New York. After a brief week-end stint at KABC Radio, Paul Condylis became involved with The Church of Christian Science in Boston and produced industrial films. He and Bob had a strained relationship and never really got along well. Me, I’m of course retired and still writing this stuff. Thanks to Bill Wolff, Frank Oxarart Jr., Arlen Peters (CBS Radio, ’68-“75) and Don Barrett (L.A. Radio.com) for helping me track down some of the facts. No thanks, to the now, again, Los Angles Chargers, who didn’t help at all.