In this installment, I'm going to tell you about my career as a radio personality. This will not take long since the entire
career only lasted one week, all of it spent on a channel with a broadcast range about the same as one could reach by standing on the roof of the
station and yelling.
When it began, I decided not to tell any of my friends what I was doing. I thought (wrongly) it might be something I'd like to do
for some length of time. And while I had no idea how good I was at it, I figured I'd only improve. Better to get through my first days in
broadcasting without knowing that friends were hearing the many boneheaded mistakes I would doubtlessly make. I also thought it might be
interesting to just do the show and see how long it would take before someone I knew called up and said, "Hey, Evanier...I didn't know you were doing
a radio show." How long, I wondered, would it be before someone told me they'd heard my program?
Well, as of this month, it's going on twenty-three years. I'm beginning to lose hope.
Actually, I'm not surprised no one ever heard me. The station was, as noted, not one of your media giants. The obvious
jokes about the whole place being powered on two AA batteries aside, it was a pretty flimsy operation. It was based in Santa Monica. I
then lived just outside of Santa Monica and there were times I couldn't even bring it in on my little Sony. The radio log in the Los Angeles
Times seemed unaware of its existence.
So was I before I met a nice lady named Anne who did an interview show every afternoon from four to six. I don't think she got
paid for her program — I never got a nickel for mine — and she made her living as a counselor of some sort at Santa Monica City
College. I was taking a course at said City College and I received one day, an accusation of wrongdoing that I guess I should have taken as a
compliment. There was a company a few blocks from the school that, for a fee, would write your reports and essays for you. I never went
anywhere near this outfit but the College President, on a crusade to terminate it, had ordered the investigation of anyone whose essays sounded
I was called in and grilled by Anne and I managed to convince her that the words on a recently-completed paper were my own. She
was quite reasonable; she believed me the minute I explained that I was a professional writer (albeit then of Bugs Bunny comic books) and that
I had been such a creature since I was fifteen. We got to talking about my work and, suddenly, she was seized with a notion. "I don't
have anyone for my show this afternoon. Would you be my guest on it?"
"What show?" I asked...and she told me about this radio program she did every day — mostly interviews and call-ins — and I
said sure, I'd go on. Why not? Three hours later, we were squeezing into a little booth, barely large enough for one, and she was
introducing me as the most exciting, Big Name guest star she'd ever had in there. I shudder to think what some of the others had done.
In the booth, surrounded by equipment one notch above a Dixie cup and a string, I discussed my work in comics and we took calls.
Amazingly, there were some — not a lot but, as I proved increasingly adept at the general category of Trivia, we received just enough calls to
keep the conversation going for the requisite two hours.
At the end of our time, Anne was beaming. "That was the best show we've ever done," she gushed — and I resisted the
temptation to say, "Gee, I'm sorry to hear that." Another lady — the Station Manager — burst in and seconded Anne's analysis.
She instructed the Engineer (the only other employee on the premises) to make sure that they kept the tape of that because they'd surely want to
rebroadcast it. In retrospect, I think she was more impressed by the fifteen (or so) phone calls we'd fielded than by anything I said.
Fifteen phone calls in two hours was a house record.
"Have you ever done any broadcasting?" the Station Manager asked me. And, again, I had to resist temptation; I did not (you'd
have been proud of me) glance about this Cracker Jack box of a radio station and answer, "No, have you?"
I not only had never done any broadcasting, I had never thought of doing any broadcasting. Talking on the radio was not among my
precious collection of private fantasies. Still, when she offered me a show, I found myself saying yes. I subscribe to George S.
Kaufman's philosophy, "You should try everything in life once...except incest and folk-dancing."
This was all on a Friday and I was quickly pencilled in to do the 2:00-4:00 spot, just before Anne's show, commencing Monday. I
was a bit bewildered that a complete neophyte would start in such a "prime" time slot...or that it would be open on such short notice. (I later
learned she wanted me to do it so she wouldn't have to.)
I mentioned having a "weird" record collection at home: a stunning array of comedy-novelty discs not unlike those spun by the then-new
L.A. radio star, Dr. Demento. "Wonderful," the Station Manager Lady said, and it was agreed my show would be call-ins and funny records.
I made a mental note that later, if I ever got proficient on it, I'd invite friends in and interview them as Anne had done with me. But not at
Before I departed, there was the briefest mention of money — something about me getting a third of all the money collected from
advertisers. This might have sounded lucrative but for my sudden realization that my two hours on-air with Anne had been largely uninterrupted
by words from our sponsor. I later learned that there would be few on my show unless I personally went out and sold them. I think a
thirty-second spot was something like twenty dollars...and even that amount was negotiable.
Over the weekend, I typed up several pages of funny (I hoped) quips and I selected my first day's records. Monday morn, I showed
up an hour early and laid out the routine for the Engineer. "Piece o' cake," the guy said. I soon discovered that everything to this man
was a "piece o' cake." When I asked him if he could run me a tape of the show as I broadcast, it was a "piece o' cake." When I asked him
if I could get a pitcher of water in the booth, it was a "piece o' cake." One time, just to see what he'd say, I asked him if he could get me a
piece of cake and, without batting an eye, he responded, "Piece o' cake."
At two o'clock sharp, my radio career started. I was better than I thought I'd be...but then, I'd expected to completely stink so
it would have been hard to not exceed my own expectations. I would guess I only mostly-stunk that first day as I sailed along...unafraid,
unsponsored and, as far as I could tell, completely unlistened-to.
Years later, there was a great sketch on Saturday Night Live where Buck Henry played the host of a radio call-in program whose
phones weren't ringing. He started out talking about tax-free municipal bonds and, when that failed to light the phone banks, he started
slipping into increasingly more controversial topics like forced bussing, the joys of communism and, finally and desperately, the benefits of killing
That was how I felt that day after the first time I invited listeners to call in and no one did. I asked again a few minutes
later. And again later. And so on. I played my silly records and told snappy anecdotes and stories...and the phone did not
ring. Not the first hour, anyway. On the other side of the glass, Mr. Piece O'Cake seemed to be chortling and enjoying the show and I
kept wondering if my microphone was reaching to anywhere other than his headphones.
Finally, approaching the second hour, one line on the phone did light up. There was no one to pre-screen calls and, as I went to
answer, I had a sudden, funny premonition that this would turn out to be a wrong number. It wasn't. It was an actual listener (I had at
least one) with an actual question about Allan Sherman, the performer on a record we'd played. I gave the longest possible answer to a very
simple question and practically begged the caller to ask another but she didn't have one.
A few minutes later, emboldened by one phone-in actually received and fielded, I answered my second call. That one was a
Somebody wanted a picture framing company on Pico Boulevard. With both ends of the conversation going out over the airwaves
— admittedly, not very far — I tried to keep the caller on the line, quizzing them about their favorite comedy records, wondering if I
could play one for them. "Would you like to hear some Spike Jones?" I asked. "Some Stan Freberg?"
"I'd like to get my picture framed," a man said and then hung up.
I think we actually had two other calls before that first broadcast was up. Anne arrived to do her program which followed
mine. "I heard your last hour and I thought it was a great start," she said.
"I don't know," I said. "I only got three calls...four, if you count the wrong number which, sadly, was the high point of the
show. But only three real calls —?"
"Uh, two," she said. "The lady who called in to ask about Bob Newhart...that was me, disguising my voice. But don't
worry. You're just getting your feet wet."
"I felt like getting my feet wet and touching a live wire in there. How come we got fifteen calls when I was on your show?"
"Well, most of those were friends of mine. They listen to the show as a favor to me and sometimes call in."
"Friends of yours?"
"Not all of them. A few genuine listeners called in. But don't worry. You did fine. You just need time to build
up a following."
"Okay," I shrugged. I thanked her and told the Engineer, "I'll be in tomorrow a little early to go over the music rundown."
"Piece o'cake," he answered.
The next day's show was pretty much the same but without the wrong number and so was the one that followed. I played records, I
told stories, I answered an average of 1.5 calls per hour and I read a slightly higher number of commercial spots. I had no idea of the cost of
running a station of this sort but, figuring an ad was no more than twenty dollars, I doubted any operation could remain on the air for long on
thirty bucks an hour of cash flow. (And these were the peak hours of the afternoon. There was, I was told, a guy who came in every night
and did a Midnight-to-6 AM music/talk program. What must his ad rates and call-ins have been like?)
I kept getting the feeling that I was performing for no one. Through the glass, I could see the Engineer laughing every now and
then. Increasingly, I began to view my goal here as to please him. At least I knew he was listening.
Thursday, there was a brief flurry of excitement. I showed up to find my little folder of advertising spots bulging; there must
have been forty commercials in there to be read on my show. For about two minutes, I thought I was a hit; that local merchants had been hearing
my wonderful, witty array of stories and song selections and had deluged the station with ad money. Then the Station Manager came by and
explained that they were doing a three-day experiment where they were doing free spots for all the local businesses in the hopes that they would
notice some spurt in their patronage and decide it wise to purchase ongoing paid commercials. The spots in the folder were all freebies.
In fact, because of the promotion, they felt they couldn't charge their few paying advertisers for what others were getting free.
So for three days, those spots were gratis, as well. I actually was down from 1.5 paid ads per hour to Zero.
I turned to the Engineer and said, "Why don't you just shoot me now and get it over with?"
"Piece o' cake," he said.
Still, it was nice to have commercials to read. I delivered each in my most enthusiastic-but-sincere manner, often appending
glorious personal recommendations of these businesses I had never visited, urging listeners to stampede over to, for example, Harry's Quick Print and
get new business cards embossed. As instructed, I stretched each thirty-second spot as long as I could — I came close to inventing the
half-hour Infomercial that day — and closed with, "And please, please, tell them you heard about it on this station."
Friday morning, I needed to have some Xeroxing done so on my way to do my show, I stopped off at Harry's Quick Print down the
block. "You getting a lot of business in here from that radio spot?" I asked a man I guessed was Harry. "Great little commercial."
"What radio spot?" he asked me. He had never heard of the commercial or the station. For a minute there, I thought he was
going to say he'd never heard of radio. But he did tell me that I was his first customer in around seventy-two hours. "I'm probably going
to have to go out of business," he said. So much for the power of advertising...at least ours.
I went to the station that day, resigned to the fact that no one was listening apart from my friend seated at the console in the next
room. But, at least, I had him.
Then, about a half-hour into the broadcast, I noticed that while he was laughing, it was not quite in sync with anything amusing I was
saying or playing. During a Jonathan Winters record, seeing the Engineer giggling in all the wrong places, I ventured out of the booth, checked
his headset and found he was tuned to Gary Owens on KMPC.
"I know this may be a great sacrifice," I said to him. "But could you at least listen to our show while we're doing it?"
"Piece o'cake," he said — and went back to listening to Gary.
I trudged back into the booth feeling utterly devoid of audience. Sitting there during the next record, I felt a massive surge of
futility. I realized that if I wanted to sit at a microphone, play records and reach no one, I could do that at home and choose my own
hours. I also realized that I had no particular desire to do that.
As I pressed on with what I decided (in progress) would be my final show, I found myself kidding the station a bit, jesting that no one
was tuned in. I think I asked something about how, if a radio station broadcasts with nobody listening, does it makes a noise?
I guess I was mainly trying to amuse the Engineer, just on the off-chance he might actually tune in our station. When I read a
weather report, I made it specific to the street intersection outside our building, explaining that that was our approximate broadcast range.
During the next record, the Station Manager came in and, after I informed her of my intent to leave, she asked me to please stop knocking the
station. "We have plenty of listeners out there," she said.
"No, we don't," I told her. "I don't know why we're wasting the public airwaves with this. I could just pick up the phone
and talk to all the same people on a conference call."
"That's not true," she argued. "We have a large listener base."
"Let's find out," I suggested as the record ended. On a sudden whim, I jumped back on air and announced, "I have a twenty dollar
bill for the next caller. Just call me here..." and I gave the number "...and I will personally deliver a twenty dollar bill to your door right
after the show today. No gimmick, no sales pitch, no obligation."
I cued the next record and the Station Manager and I watched the telephone and waited for it to ring.
An hour later, as I gathered up my records and forever departed that wacky, wonderful world of radio broadcasting, it still hadn't.