Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Discovery of Radio and The 70's

Repost from my old blog
Sunday, August 30, 2009

I will be writing a post for what good stuff happens on Thursday and Friday with Adam and Tim, but I wanted to repost this for anyone who has not yet seen it.

As a kid I listened to the radio on a headset. I got these headphones that had an AM/FM radio in them. My favorite thing was listening to Dr. Demento on Sunday evenings. We are talking like 1975, I was 12. I was a huge fan of this very weird show. I was a big fan of Cheech and Chong and Richard Pryor, anything that was unusual, funny and possibly had swear words in it. Dr. Demento delivered every week. I loved it. I so remember laying on my bed and hearing Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen at high volume. Sounds kind of lame now but I loved that song, especially in those headphones where I could crank up the volume.

In our Sherman Oaks apartment my Mom would be getting ready for work in the morning, putting on make up. She would have a radio on in the bathroom. She had this guy on that would be talking. You would hear my Mom howling with laughter. When she laughed you could hear her down the block. She was a little person of maybe 5 feet tall but she could belt out a laugh, I'll tell ya. This was serious entertainment to her. She was listening to LA radio legend Sweet Dick Whittington. It was a morning drive show based in the north part of the San Fernando Valley, Sweet Dick called it Sin Fernando Valley. Around 1973 or so Sweet Dick was big in LA. He was THE thing to listen to. My Mom was a huge fan. One morning we drove up to the radio station with a cake for Sweet Dick's birthday. We were told to go around to the back. The radio station building was run down, painted a light blue. Paint was peeling off. And of course a huge antenna tower in a dirt lot.
We were whisked in after a knock on the door. We saw Sweet Dick behind glass. He was doing a live read of a commercial. We sat down and he went back on the air. He started talking to my Mom and thanking her for the cake. It lasted all of 30 seconds and we were back in the car.

Sweet Dick Whittingtons' voice appears in Steven Spielberg's 1971 movie Duel. It was the first film directed by Steven Spielberg and it stared Dennis Weaver. About maybe 5 minutes into the film Dennis Weavers' character is driving into the California desert and has the radio on. You hear Sweet Dicks voice. He takes a caller. The caller tells Sweet Dick that he plays a musical instrument, he plays meat. Dennis Weavers' character says "oh man that's sick". It's worth watching the movie just for that.

The consummate traffic reporter for KGIL was Francis Gary Powers. He was someone that was always there. You would hear him everyday on the air, like Mike Noland is on KFI today. You got used to hearing his name day in and day out. As you can see in the photo he also worked for KNBC TV. Here is some history about Francis Gary Powers from Wikipedia:

Powers was shot down over Russia in 1960 piloting a U-2 spy plane. This became an international incident. When Powers returned to civilian life he was a traffic reporter. Powers died, age 47, on August 1, 1977, when, upon his return from covering brush fires in Santa Barbara county, his helicopter ran out of fuel and crashed just a few miles from Burbank Airport where he was based. KNBC cameraman George Spears was also killed in the incident. Many have wondered or speculated on how an experienced pilot such as Powers could have allowed the aircraft to run out of fuel. According to Powers' son, Powers had reported a fuel gauge error to the mechanics. When the plane's fuel gauge indicator displayed "Empty", he actually had enough fuel for thirty more minutes of flight time. Apparently the aviation mechanic fixed the fuel gauge in the KNBC helicopter, but did not tell Powers of the correction. When he was returning to Burbank from the aforementioned brush fire coverage (live helicopter coverage now being common and ubiquitous throughout Southern California for brush fires and other breaking news) Powers ran out of fuel and subsequently crashed in a field in the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area. Eyewitnesses suggested that Powers attempted to autorotate the helicopter onto recreational fields at this location. However, he intentionally banked to avoid children on the fields and ultimately crashed the helicopter into an adjacent agricultural field, resulting in the aircraft rolling and the occupants' deaths. Powers was survived by his wife Sue, and two children, Dee and Francis Gary Powers Jr.. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The reason I write about this is because I lived about a mile from where his helicopter crashed. I remember seeing smoke and hearing about it on the TV news. The day after the crash I walked over to the crash site, which was close to streets White Oak and Victory. I had to walk across a train trestle and then to a baseball field that does not exist anymore. Click on photo to enlarge. I saw next to a train track and the first base line a black burned spot. I saw pieces from the helicopter. I picked up about a shoebox worth of pieces. Tiny electronic pieces and plastic bits. I took them home and put them in a box. For over 25 years I kept those pieces. When the Internet came into being, I contacted Francis Gary Powers son. He runs the cold war museum online. I Fedexed him those parts from his fathers' crash. He was very appreciative and I think it helped him with closure.

The 1970's were a very interesting time to say the least.

- JP


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