Tuesday, April 20, 2010

KNUS FM Almost Goes Up In Flames

My first year in radio at KNUS FM was a learning experience to say the least.
It was full of adventures and some misadventures too.

In the KNUS FM original broom closet size control room we had
turntables on counter tops with no supports on the sides under them. 
One was to the left, one to the right, and the DJ sat between them.
They were just fastened to the wall on the back. So, needing space, 
we kept the trash can under the right turntable. 

While I was doing the news on the all night shift,
I had a lit cigarette that I put on the the side of the ash tray that 
was next to the right side turntable while I did the 
news. While I changed out the news introduction 
cartridge for the cartridge with the commercial on it. 
I guess the vibration of that or some kind of 
motion caused the lit cigarette to fall into the trash can that was 
full of paper below.

The next thing was the dreaded smell of smoke in the studio 
coming from the trash can. And, then a full blown blaze was going in seconds. 
What the hell to do then?

I started a record. Arthur Brown's "Fire" which was big at the time 
would have been a good one.
Remember the lyrics? 
"I am the god of hell fire and I bring you:
Fire, I'll take you to burn.
Fire, I'll take you to learn.
I'll see you burn!
You fought hard and you saved and learned,
but all of it's going to burn.
Fire, to end all you've become.
I'll feel you burn!"
That just about said it all.

I pulled the can out as it blazed away under the turntable. 
I was afraid that I was burning the turntable motor or wiring. 
If I did that or burned anything, then I was dead meat. And, God forbid 
that I burn down the whole building. 
Gordon McLendon would not be pleased.

So, I stuck my foot into the blazing can and stomped. 
Thank God, I was wearing boots and not 
the usual thong sandals. Of course, burning ashes blew out of the
hard sided can and flew everywhere in the air, covering everything.
And, I do mean everything. I sheepishly opened the control room door 
and looked outside to see if anyone had seen my misdeed. No one there, 
and happily for me, no fire department either

This happened during the first newscast of the night, so I had all
night to clean up the mess and get rid of the smell. The Custodian 
had left his supply closet unlocked, so, there were a lot of cleaning
supplies and air freshener liquids and sprays.  The all night jock on KLIF 
smelled that something had happened and came over across the twenty or 
so feet that separated our studios, but didn't say a word to anyone.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mike" Murphy in the Morning" Erickson Remembers Some Rock Stars and Others Who Visited KNUS-FM

"You asked about any rock stars at the station – we had plenty, and other stars too, like John Wayne (in Dallas for the premiere of True Grit at one of Gordon’s theaters), Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper (plugging Easy Rider), William Shatner (plugging his stupid Star Trek poetry album) and Andy Williams (don’t know why he was there – was a friend of Ken Dowe). 

As for music guys, we had Joe Walsh and the James Gang, who left little “James Gang  Rides Again” stickers all over the building. Donovan came by for a short interview one day, as did one of my favorites, Tiny Tim! He spent an hour in the small KNUS studio with me, talking about Miss Vicki and his album and he was just a fruity as his television persona on Laugh-In. 

Jose Feliciano did a LIVE concert from the talk show room and Elton John was going to do one for us, LIVE, but we couldn’t get a grand piano in the building (his requirement). He did a live concert from a New York radio station the next year and released it on an album. Three Dog Night were there twice, Neil Diamond came by and signed one of his albums for me (still have it) and Steve Miller. I’m sure there were others, but that was quite awhile ago and hard to remember them all. It was great fun."

Thanks Mike. I don't know how a grand piano could have come into the Triangle Square Studios without taking out a window in the KLIF studio and using a crane.  Did anyone ask Gordon? It was zany enough that Gordon McLendon might have gone for it. He could have invited Liberace
to play along. He probably knew him too. 


Gordon McLendon is considered the creator of format radio and one of the most innovative programmers in the medium’s history.
McLendon was born on June 8, 1921, in Paris, Texas and purchased station KNET/Palestine in 1946. The following year, McLendon moved to Dallas and launched KLIF. Unable to afford live baseball broadcasts, McLendon adopted an on-air personality known as “The Old Scotchman” and aired re-creations of games with the help of sound effects and wire service reports. These re-creations were later heard on over 400 stations via he short-lived Liberty Broadcasting System.
In the early 1950s, McLendon made KLIF one of America’s first “Top 40” stations. The polished format, along with fast-paced news and “personality” disc jockeys, quickly made KLIF Dallas’ top-rated station. McLendon maintained KLIF’s high profile by spending thousands of dollars every month on headline-grabbing stunts and contests.
KLIF’s success led McLendon to explore other radio formats. In 1959, he created the “beautiful music” format for KABL/San Francisco. In the early 1960s, he started the first “all-news” radio station at WNUS/Chicago. One of WNUS’ reporters was future CNN anchor Bernard Shaw.
Gordon McLendon died on September 14, 1986.
Gordon McLendon was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1994.
* From The Radio Hall Of Fame Biography Website

John Wayne was there about a month after I started. 

Steve Miller Band
Children of the FutureSteve Miller Band: CD Cover

Tiny Tim
    ...with Miss Vicki

The Shatner  " Transformed Man" album from 1968 was really bizarre. The original series was still on the air when this came out. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was tortured; however, he did go where no man had gone before.

 I remember the James Gang Rides Again stickers... 

...and the Feliciano broadcast.

Feliciano, Jose - Light My Fire CD Cover Art CD music music CDs songs album

And, Peter Fonda with Dennis Hopper, here with a soon to be well known friend they met along the way.

If any other KNUS-FM staffers from the "Old Daze" have any other memories they would like to share, please leave a comment. 
Thanks to Tim Spencer for checking in. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Almost A Bad Mistake...From KNUS' Mike "Murphy" Erickson

Thanks to Mike "Murphy" Erickson for this blog entry. 

"The KNUS studio originally was in the same building, same floor, as KLIF, at Triangle Point, downtown Dallas. There was a production studio in between the KLIF control room and the KNUS control room, with big glass windows on both sides, so that anyone in the Production room could look into each control room. This is where station tours usually ended up, so that they could see the operation of both stations. One day, I looked up from my control board, into the production room, to see the most beautiful redhead I’d ever seen. I figured she had never met a big radio star like myself before, so I would give her a break and let her go out with me. I walked out of the studio, into the hallway, and opened the door to the Production room, when I came face to face with Roger Smith. I recognized him right away from one of my favorite TV shows 77 Sunset Strip. I paused there for a moment, only to realize that the redhead was his wife. I was going to try to “pick up” Ann Margret. I turned and went back into the KNUS studio and thanked heaven for Roger Smith. Getting laughed at by a pretty girl is bad, but if that girl is Ann Margret, well, it wouldn’t have been a high point in my day...."

Yeah Mike...you and the redheads. I believe that I worked part time when this happened. Nobody came to the station during the all night shift to see a part time DJ like me. Jesse Jackson did stick his head in the studio one day after the studio was moved to the other side of the building  where it overlooked the parking lot. Do you remember any rock stars that came to KNUS while you were there? Jim

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mike "Murphy"Erickson Remembers When The KNUS Staff Got The "Word" From McLendon

"I recently caught up with my long time friend and former roommate Mike Erickson, AKA "Murphy" from the early daze of KNUS FM. And what daze they were. We reminisced about lots of KNUS lore and urban legends from there and KLIF, The Mighty Eleven Ninety. Mike promised to send me some guest blogs about his memories of KNUS, KLIF, and The Man" Gordon McLendon. So, here goes. 

See if you remember this.

After a couple of years on the air, many of the staff (all of us actually) were getting a little disgruntled about shifts and pay, etc. Rumors of mass walkouts were being whispered about. When KNUS was still at Triangle Point, downtown, the building was shared with McLendon’s National Production. This was a company, co-owned by Pierre Salinger and Gordon McLendon. They mass-produced educational audio tapes. We all walked by the big glass window looking into this business everyday as we walked into the KLIF/KNUS studios. When Gordon got wind of this, he came up with the kind of a plan that only HE could come up with. For 2-3 weeks, equipment started showing up in the window of National Production. Each day it got bigger and bigger, with patch panels, reel-to-reel rack mounted tape decks and cables everywhere. Each day brought more of the design into focus. Most of us had never seen an automated radio station setup, but we knew what it looked like, and it looked just like THIS. Was Gordon planning to fully automate KNUS and fire us all?? First we all shook it off – then we panicked – then we shut the hell up. Magically, after a few weeks, the equipment “disappeared.” I didn’t find out until years later that this was the plan all along, just to put us in our place. It did and once again, the genius of Gordon McLendon reared it’s brilliant head.

Erickson – A.K.A. Mike Murphy" 

Thanks, Mike. 

And, I remember Gordon's edict that everyone had to wear coats and ties while on the air. Most of us didn't even own so much as a tie. So, we all came up with sport coats and ties from a Goodwill store or similar thrift shop, and wore them over our cutoffs and blue jeans. That policy went away. I believe Gordon got a kick out of our response. 

Yes, MIke. And I remember how Gordon had a telephone number that he could use to call to listen to every one of his AM and FM radio stations. This was back in the Dark Ages days before there was an Internet for radio stations to stream on. He could monitor everything going out on the air from anywhere in the world. The McLendon radio lore was that he would sometimes call a radio station hotline at one of the stations he owned out of the blue, without even listening to what was being broadcast and ask the unsuspecting DJ, "Why did you do what you did just a minute ago?" 

The hapless McLendon DJ answering the question sometimes wouldn't have a clue what he was talking about, and didn't dare ask what he meant, but would sometimes confess to something that Gordon had no clue about. What fun!

You and I both had our first radio jobs in Dallas, then about the 10th or so  largest radio market in the country, thanks to McLendon. No one ever told us that we were supposed to start at some podunk small market radio station in the middle of a cow pasture somewhere and work our way up to the big time.

I can't ever complain about the way I was  treated by the McLendon family while I worked for them. They were fine people. And, it was the best boot camp for anyone who was just getting into radio. 

If you are a former KNUS or KLIF staffer who would like to do a guest blog too, please contact me by leaving a comment. I'll get right back to you.