I was sitting in Cincinnati in early 2001 trying to figure out what to do with my life….the Bengals had just switched radio outlets and the new station had their own guy they wanted to use, so they paid me off for the final year of my contract, and sent me walking, but of course with no offer of moving me back to LA after I had uprooted the entire family four years prior.
I felt pretty low, and was trying to find a new direction. Maybe teaching, or coaching full time, even considered being a postal carrier. (At least you can stay in shape doing that, right?)
Then, Brian Kennedy called out of the blue and asked if I might be interested in coming back home to be the voice of the Trojans again. My response was very swift as you might imagine, and within a couple of weeks, it was a done deal. One of the things that had to be in place for me to even be ABLE to consider it was that along with the play by play duties, I would have a regular job at the USC flagship station. That turned out to be about 2/3 of my yearly salary, and a great part of the original contract.
So we drove across country, landing back in So Cal in early August of '01. On August 14, 2001 I began a long stay at our new (now old) home at 1540 KMPC in Santa Monica. Our first show was in studios barely finished on a Tuesday night doing USC Insider. Outside the studio a party was going on to welcome the new station into the world.
Nancy Cole was the GM, and I have only worked for one or two others in my entire career whom I can say was as good a boss as ever there was to work for. Kurt Kretzchmar, a big Bruin, was the PD, but was very supportive of USC during his tenure there and very supportive of having me there, and, as he promised would be the case, made me one of the premier voices of the station's early days. The sales people got along with the air talent who got along with management. A rare combination indeed in any radio station.
I thought we did a pretty good job on the air, some local and some national programming, and good name talent like James Brown and the SEC honk Tim Brando nationally.
We picked up Fred Roggin for his radio show very early on. Of course, Fred is as well known as anyone in LA for his TV work. Good guy, funny guy. Did his show from Burbank studios so we didn't get to see him often, but we talked during spot breaks now and then.
The sports update guys were me, Brooks Melchiorre, Steve Desaegher and Mark Willard. Brooks has a good website sportsbybrooks.com.
We put together a softball team, we went out together. It was fun, and it was a job all rolled into one. We had staff outings and Christmas parties. Some staff members dated each other. We had an office manager whose name I can't recall now that was universally disliked.
Although, no one wrote down in their ratings books that they were listening, but we figured with SC on board, how could we not get into the book eventually.
The "how" was simple, really. The signal was so bad you couldn't hear it in Santa Monica! They tried and tried to fix it, but there's only so much that can be done with FCC restrictions on such things.
So instead of blaming the signal, they blamed management. They fired Nancy, and hired John Ryan and fired Kurt and hired a PD from out of town named Tim Parker. John was a sales guy, not a programming guy, and he handled sales really well, and left programming decisions to Tim. Tim worked hard but was not well respected by his staff and morale broke down behind closed doors quickly. No one listened or no one wrote that they listened. SC kept winning; we also had young Mr. Papadakis shining brightly on the airwaves. His show the freshest and best imaginable on local radio. Nothing like it had ever been heard before. They kept trying to rein him in; he would never allow that to happen. How could listeners not like what we were doing, it was so much better and fresher than other similar stations?
Ryan got the axe and so did Parker. Roger Nadel, a long time radio whiz at news and sports and at fixer-uppers like this came aboard assuming both GM and PD roles. Try as he might, he couldn't bail fast enough to save the sinking ship. He toed the company line to the max, and said all the right things right to the bitter end yesterday, when he too was let go.
It was no one's fault. We all did our best, and it was fun while it lasted. Tony Bruno and Willard still do their morning show from Samo, Dave Smith the afternoons, but they have very little local flavor as they are now catering to a national audience. Two Stews? Arnie Spanier? Enough said!
Smith and Bruno and Willard are almost undoubtedly searching out new possibilities as we speak. I wouldn't know for sure, the only guy that called me when I got canned was Smith. I see Desaegher once in awhile at games. Recently, the whole thing reminded me of the fake city they built in "Blazing Saddles", all flashy storefront, with no store. A house of cards waiting for the next Santa Ana's to blow through.
Long live the memory of The Ticket, it was fun working there boys and girls, and I shall look forward to working with each of you again someday. It was an honor to serve with you all.
The story of the Hawaiian shirt:
I like to dress to impress for my broadcasts, or at least look nice to represent my University and Mike Garrett. Nice pants and shoes, shirt with tie and jacket. Socks.
When I came back on to my old job in 2001, I was teamed with our current crew right away. Dennis Minishian did our stats, but when he passed away, the guy I am most comfortable with, mark Hoppe took over. He's the best in the business I have worked with by far. Reads my mind, knows what I want, and what WE want, before I do. Sort of like "Radar" in M*A*S*H.
Anyway, Paul shows up on opening day in flip-flops and shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Burt Iwada our spotter does the same. I'm thinking that I am overdressed, but still…
So I devise a plan to wear a Hawaiian shirt under my dress shirt and surprise them by becoming one of them during the game. But I forgot to take of my dress shirt the first game I have decided to do this, as I get caught up in work and broadcasting the game, etc.
Late in the game, the Trojans are in peril, and I stand up (which I almost never do, except to stretch) and I'm working pretty hard, and sweating a little, so I remember that I have two shirts on, and just to feel more comfortable, I take off my dress shirt and go down to the Hawaiian shirt.
Almost as if by magic, the Trojans play perfect ball from there on in and go on to win.
So the next week, I put on a different shirt, and do it again, and a third time the following week. By now, it's a noticeable offense and Paul starts talking about it on the air, and it takes on the life of its own that it carries today.
People stop me outside the stadium to see if I have the shirt on underneath.
The two times it did not work since we started doing this: 1) the cal game up there, the three OT game, Paul forgot to wear a Hawaiian shirt himself!! 2) Last year's rose bowl. I had run out of shirts and had to go buy one myself. We lost.
So now I obviously can't use one I buy myself or sort of reverse MOJO goes into effect. So now when I speak at functions I get Hawaiian shirts instead of a bottle of wine. And fans have begun to send me shirts in the mail.
I just got three yesterday, one of which I will use in Corvallis next week. Ah yes, if they don't get revealed, then I can use them again the following game. And once they get used, their power is gone, so I must move on! No Tommy Bahama shirts for me, either, I am looking for the most garish, loudest shirts I can find. Name credit on the air of course for the donor.
Up to see the kids today, Survivor tonight, Marshall vs Belmont at Birmingham tomorrow, Al Green at the Galen on Saturday.