Lifestyle: Radio made the day. Tales from Tom Bernstein

Lifestyle : We still need our radio.

Keep smoking

by Tom Bernstein 



(May 17, 2011) In today’s boring world of voicetracking and syndicated conservative talk shows, radio is sadly missing the impact of strong, local, personalities and all the fun that went along with it. You certainly couldn’t do any of the following now…

In my 42 years in broadcasting, I was lucky to work with some of the best and nicest radio personalities ever, starting with Bob Crane at KNX.  Although Bob never hid the fact that his goal was to go into tv or the movies, he never neglected his radio show and was always extremely cooperative with everyone at the station. He was most generous with his time, considering his day started before 6 a.m., doing numerous personal appearances including one for my college class’s fifth reunion where he wowed them and made me a big hero.(Photo: Bottom Bob Kingsley, Joe Nixon. Top – Bernstein and unidentified Der Wienerschnitzel managers at the opening of a Der Wienerschnitzel.



0-2.jpgThe next “big name” personality I worked with was Robert Q. Lewis at KHJ. His career was on the wane, but he drove a beautiful Rolls Royce (part of his contract with RKO General, then owners the  station).  I put a contest on his show for a car battery sponsor. Write in and guess the mileage on Robert Q’s Rolls and win a battery. Afraid there wouldn’t be a lot of entries, I entered my brother in law’s name, with a wild guess I knew couldn’t possibly win. It did. Must have been the only one; I never saw any of the entries. Could have been the contest was not that exciting, but Robert Q was replaced shortly after.  Around this time, Michael Jackson came down from San Francisco to begin his Los Angeles radio career at KHJ, and from the start set an example of how talk radio should be done.

My next experience was with Country music at KGBS, The Giant 1020. “Jolly” Joe Nixon was our morning man. He was very funny and talented, but because we were a daytime station, signed off every evening at sunset (our theme song: I Hate to See the Evening Sun Go Down), he never got the fame he deserved. Our midday personality was Bob Kingsley, another great talent. Together we put on the Thursday Night talent show at the Palomino Club for three years. Bob later became director of the Armed Forces Radio Network’s Country music format. One of the many “adventures” with the Country music station was my wife’s “worst New Year’s Eve celebration.” Imagine, if you can, New Years Eve at the infamous Olympic Auditorium, with Buck Owens (and the Buckaroos). Not a lot of people did. As popular as Buck Owens was, the Olympic on New Year’s Eve was not the place to be.

On to KGIL and “Sweet Dick” Whittington. Another super talent and super nice guy. My office was next to the studio and one day I hear “the Sweet one” yelling: “Don’t book me on another hot air balloon ride ever again!” Seems he had a crash landing in one on a hillside in the valley. Haunting words, as you shall see. KGIL also featured a storied line up of great radio talent including Frank Sinatra’s favorite dj, Paul Compton (who I also got to work with at KHJ and KRLA).

KRLA was the next stop and a chance to work with some more radio legends. Dave Hull, “the Hullabalooer” became our morning man, and was another dream to work with. One of my clients was Black Angus Restaurants.  The owner of Black Angus is a hot air balloon enthusiast (you know what’s coming) and at the opening of every new restaurant, they do hot air balloon rides, tied in with a local radio station. This one was in the San Gabriel Valley, just off the newly opened 210 freeway. With echoes of “Sweet Dick” ringing in my ears, we schedule the morning traffic reports from their balloon, safely tethered over the restaurant’s parking lot and the freeway. Our traffic guy was a very funny, Latino, stand-up comic (wish I could remember his name) and I was the engineer.  The station’s engineer wanted no part of this, tethered or not. It all went very well, so after the traffic reports ended; we went on a trial, cross county flight. Great experience.  hot air balloons are noisy, there’s a big roar every time the hot air engine is fired, people on the ground can hear it and came pouring out of buildings to see what was happening. A team in a chase truck follows every flight and assists in the landings and hauls the balloon away at the end of the flight. Again, all went well, no problems. Next day, it’s Dave Hull’s turn for a cross town flight and I’m in the chase truck. Sure enough, they have  a hard landing into a schoolyard fence. The landing wasn’t so bad, but there they were, the basket leaning against the fence with about 200 grammar school kids up against it looking on. The embarrassment was worse than the landing. Dave was very good about it, and we’re still friends. (Photo of Tom Bernstein above the 210) 0-1.jpg

Can’t forget midday star, Johnny Hayes, and the great job he did for In ‘N Out Burger.

Wolfman Jack was our late night personality. He syndicated the show from his studios in the Taft Building at Hollywood and Vine. Again, he was very easy talent to work with, but was a hard partying guy. Marineland of the Pacific was my client and they asked me put on the Wolfman Jack Show at the park. The people connected to Marineland were very conservative, and I had some concerns as to how it might come out. Shouldn’t have.  “Wolfy” killed. He put on a great show, and I was a hero again.

Ending up where it all started, for my grand finale, at KNX Newsradio.  May not have been as exciting from a personality standpoint (except for Barry Rhodes), but the importance of the format and the awards on the walls made it a fitting end to a mostly fun filled 42 years.

Thanks to Tom for a warm look back at some of the LARP who entertained us over the decades. You can reach Tom at: 

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