Lifestyle: The life of a radio man

Lifestyle: Another great feature story by Tom Bernstein, chronicling how the radio world impacted folks before the internet deluge of today.

In this segment, Tom narrates how he got his start in the business.

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Tom Bernstein spent over 40 years in the exciting world of Radio and Television, mostly during the “Madmen” years, in advertising sales. A previous column covered his participation in a goofy Half Time Show for a L.A. Chargers game when they first played in Los Angles. Here’s how he lucked into it what turned out to be, for the most part, a fun career.

How I got into the broadcasting business.

Every one has to start some place. I had never planned on getting into the broadcast/ advertising business, but after being discharged (In 1957) from the army I knew what I didn’t want to do – go into my father’s business, textiles, or count other peoples money (following an interview with Bank of America). So a friend of the family suggests radio advertising and sets me up an interview with the sales manager of KFWB, then the number one rated radio station in Los Angeles. I arrive in my brand new suit and he tells me, to go find a job at one of the networks in the “continuity department” learn the business, and come back in 6 years. KFWB was on Hollywood Blvd, and just down the street at Sunset and Vine was NBC. It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and personal is closed. Just down the street on Sunset Blvd. is CBS, Columbia Square, and they’re open. In those days, there was an employment desk in the main lobby, and I fill out an application and tell the interviewer I’m looking for a job in the “continuity department” to get into sales. I’m told there is no “continuity department”, but every one starts out as a Page/usher or in the mail room at $55 a week. But she sees I can type and says theres an opening in the script department, for $60 a week, which I accept. The next step is a typing test, which I fail (I’m still the world’s worst typist – and speller – Spellcheck has a nervous break down every time I turn on my computer) and an interview with the head of personnel. She tells me to go home over the Thanksgiving Holiday, practice typing, and come back Monday to try again. When I arrive home after the interview, my mother is on the phone, and says “he just came in” and and hands it to me. It’s ,the head of CBS personnel and she says I can start Monday. I’m going to learn to type all over again on their brand new, IBM Selectric typewriters (where I made twice as many errors faster), and they’re not hiring me as a typist, but to be president (potentially) of the company.

When you started at CBS, you were on probation for your first 45 days and then officially hired. After another 45 days, you were eligible to apply for jobs, posted on bulletin boards, open in the department you wanted for a career, sales in my case.

I’m there, maybe a month, still trying to find the men’s room, when the head of personnel calls me to say there’s an opening in the KNXT (now KCBS) TV sales service department and I should make an appointment with the the General Sales Manager, Bob Wood and pitch for the job. I do, pick up my files and head over to 1313 Vine St to interview for a clerical position, that would eventually lead to being an Account Executive (salesman). The interview started out well enough until the conversation turned to college football. My father was a Stanford graduate and involved in recruiting football players and I went on about problems he had with USC and what a crooked, cheating program they had. Turned out, Bob Wood was a rabid, USC graduate. Don’t know if that had a bearing on it, but I didn’t get the job. Bob Wood, by the way, stared at CBS as a Page and did become President of the Company. To be continued, more “interesting” interviews to come.

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