Rock on in Excerpt #3 from Book 2, Blast from Your Past! Rock & Roll Radio DJs: The Swinging Sixties. Enjoy the moments … again!(TM)
We’re on pins and needles in the California sun, as time swirls around the vinyls at BFYP, your cooool station.
And here, I thought you’d always Stand By Me … ♪
Best known at “too many to mention”
Neale admits to a wanderlust nature. And though we know by now a Gypsy routine comes with the disc jockey territory, in a four-decade Rock & Roll Radio DJ career, “I was hired forty times and fired twenty-two,” says Neale. That’s a little excessive even for the ladder-climbing media industry.
A self-described “Gypsy Renegade,” Neale begins his wild-and-crazy Rock jock odyssey in 1963, and racks up thirty-two radio stations through 1979. He admits that much of the angst which resulted in his departures was his doing.
“I was developing a love for traveling and that evolved into an addiction. After a while, radio became my drug of choice.” How did he get hooked? Well …
In 1960s Sacramento, California, most everyone listened to KXOA’s Top 40. Of course, it was the DJs who made it popular, like Tony King (Pete Gross), who later became the voice of the Seattle Seahawks, and the inimitable Don Imus, who used KXOA as a stepping stone on his way to New York City.
In 1961 car makers were beginning to round off the fad tailfins, charging an average of $2,850 for one of their gleaming beauties. Elvis, Roy Orbison, and Chubby Checker topped the charts. DJ Les Thompson slipped their vinyls onto the turntable at KXOA, as he connected with his listeners.
[Image: March 2, 1962, finds Les Thompson a KXOA “Ace” with Dale Ware, Jerry Gordon, Gerr O’Neill, and Rick Martel. BFYP Collection.]
Neale cruised the Sacramento drag (K Street—now a pedestrian-only walk), just a couple of years before I did. He spotted an ex-girlfriend one night, and she invited him to meet her new fella (boy have things changed), who just happened to be the DJ they were listening to—yep, Les Thompson. With nothing else to do, Neale tagged along.
Watching Les at “work” and fascinated by the “seen not heard” aspect of the job (Neale had a bit of aversion to crowds), he fell in love with radio (in spite of an introduction by his ex-girl’s guy).
“There’s no cure for that” said Neale. “All you can do is treat the symptoms.”
Like Shotgun Tom and Neil Ross, he started out with a dose of education at William B. Ogden Radio Operational Engineering School. He was in good company, taking classes with Jay Stevens (aka Steve Jay), another budding popular DJ who made his mark at KGB/San Diego and KFRC/San Francisco.
The school offered placement assistance and by January of 1963, Neale began his lifelong love affair at KNGL in Paradise, California.
“They only hired me because of my first class license,” said Neale. Hey, whatever gets you in the door, right? And another weathered cliché, you have to start somewhere, so Neale’s somewhere was reading the weather report and station ID each hour.
1963 sets the pattern of Neale’s romp through stations. It took him only a week to realize this was nowhere near his dream job.
Leaving Paradise for parts unknown
So swinging north to country tunes at KPON in Anderson, California, seemed like a great idea at the time. Neale and Lee MacKenzie, a buddy from radio school, shared an apartment in nearby Redding to cut costs. After all, although the pay was low, as Neale said, “It wasn’t about the money at that point. It was about traveling and being on the radio—and of course—the girls.”
KPON was Neale’s first big on-air break and he took full advantage of it. Even in a good gig though, the muse of his wanderlust philosophy was already being formed. “If you’re bad, you’re gone … and if you’re good, you’re gone! Because as soon as you can, you go after a better gig.” It was only good “for now.”
Since the manager/owner rarely listened to his station, Neale assumed he could stretch the format a tad to match his style, without any flak. Unfortunately, taking advantage resulted in another short stay.
Making a demo tape (aircheck) for the future, which soon became his present, Neale do-si-doed over to Top 40 station, KMYC in nearby Marysville.
At first blush, KMYC looked to be his ideal Rockin’ station, but his first on-air shift was a sign it wouldn’t quite fit his budding renegade personality.
“The manager wanted to dictate every word for me to say!” Neale said with indignation. His tenure lasted one very long, hour. Yes, hour— not day or week—one hour.
Quickly learning that small stations “told you what to do, what to say, with cue cards. I realized early on,” said Neale, “I wasn’t going to be able to follow that lead.”
From that point on Neale’s love for travel fueled his addiction to radio, quickly creating a life of … Radio on the Run.
It isn’t possible to explore all thirty-two of Neale’s mostly short-lived escapades that excite our timeline through the Sixties and Seventies—besides, he did just that and more in 2013, with his book, Radio on the Run: Confessions & Exploits of One of the Last Renegade Rock Jocks.
So here we are, it’s still 1963 with yet another station to cover. Skipping over to neighboring Yuba City, Neale hooked up with KUBA, station #4, to finish the year with a couple of months of fill-in shifts.
By early 1964, The Beatles had arrived, changing music, radio, and lives. Neale watched the invasion at his parents’ home for a couple of months, resting from the previous restless year.
His mom, who experienced radio as a child singer-musician, was compassionate about Neale’s career choice. Dad had a little difficulty understanding how and why he couldn’t stay in one job; and his four brothers were split on his decision. All were supportive, but two were a tad skeptical about his future in radio.
The events of the day … President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, The British Invasion, and the Vietnam War … shaped Neale’s personal and behind-the-mic attitudes about America’s role in the world. Youth and optimism carried him forward …
… to the sparkling beauty of the Sierra Nevadas—Lake Tahoe. KTHO, a MOR station, played ol’ Blue Eyes (Frank Sinatra), Tony Bennett and more of the Big Band format.
Neale admits in his book, however, “By this time in my career, to me a station ‘format’ was more like a recommendation.” Oh yeah, he was still stretching those formats.
KTHO was a daytime only station. It broadcast from sunrise to sunset —so besides Neale, there was only one other DJ. Jim Fitzgerald doubled as the chief engineer and morning jock.
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While Neale’s deep DJ voice captivated listeners in Tahoe’s Stateline, yours truly attended high school seventy-five miles west, down the hill; I can attest to the dearth of Rock music in our neck of the country woods. No offense, Neale, but we tuned into KXOA, the station further west in your home town of Sacramento. Funny how often we nearly met in the Sixties—I also lived in Anderson for a time—and our paths finally crossed through memories, so many years later.
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Itching to get back to Rock music
Neale now neared his average three months at a station. Even morning jock, Jim, agreed it was time to introduce their listeners—particularly the girls—to Rock & Roll. He was happy to let Neale stick his neck out to alter the format—even encouraged it—and as the only other DJ, made himself unavailable to the owner for Neale’s last day.
Neale opened the mic and treated fans to his “all new and improved Rock format” for a final six-hour shift. And promptly fired himself.
He finished his stay in Lake Tahoe with fill-in shifts at KOWL which took him to the summer of ‘64.
Traveling through my little country town that lined the only highway back to Sacramento, Neale landed at his folks’ home for another rest. Rest? Uncle Sam had other plans for him.
His number was up and the draft with a stint in Vietnam seemed inevitable. Neale sought and found a way to satisfy both his desire to honor his views on the travesty of war, while fulfilling his military duty.
Choosing to enlist before he was drafted, Neale followed the playbook of a friend and implemented a strategy that took him through the Marine Corps (for which he has great respect) and a stint in the Air Force, all in a year-and-a-half; finishing with an honorable discharge.
After the military discipline, it was time to get back into his freestyle DJ life. He resumed “duty” at KCEY/Merced late 1965, for—you guessed it—a short soirée.
1966 proved to be even more skill-honing and job-hopping, as Neale skipped through five California stations in one year.
[Image: Courtesy of Neale; spinning the platters at KJOY/Stockton, c. 1966.]
Were you listening to Neale? If you blinked, you may have missed him at KYOS/Merced (a “real” Rock station); KFIV/Modesto; KSTN/Stockton; KJOY/Stockton—he loved their fishbowl studio window which graces the cover of his book—and is where he met lifelong friend, Tim Sommer. Neale slid to a halt back home at KROY/Sacramento.
By 1967’s Summer of Love, Neale found himself at station #13, KKIS/Pittsburgh, California. It’s a bedroom community of the San Francisco Bay Area, synonymous with flower children and hippies who ruled the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the Love-Not-War music, and the radio airwaves.
“It was time for me to move on,” said Neale, “not to just another station in just another town, but one that became instrumental in my plan to get to the ‘bigs.’ Though I went through stations pretty much in a hurry, I had one goal in mind—to make it to L.A. I made it in ten years, but I made it to a major market in just five years.”
We were “Groovin’” to the Young Rascals and we’d “Shake a Tail Feather” with James and Bobby Purify. But in San Francisco that summer, it was the “concert on the mountain top” that defined the attitude.
KFRC’s Fantasy Fair and Magic Fountain Music Festival June 10-11, 1967, invaded the calm of Mt. Tamalpais for a weekend of purple haze and trippy days.
Nothing was groovier than swaying to the beat of “Light My Fire” (The Doors) in a small venue amphitheater at the top of the mountain. Jim Morrison’s notes hung in the air with sweet maryjane as he swaggered around the stage.
For others, like Neale, their summer flower-power experience wafted over and through him as the party moved down to the Monterey Pop Festival, June 16-18.
Neale spun the vinyls at KKIS, reaching a large audience with the small station. It had a good signal that reached deep into San Francisco. If listeners were traveling the dial, they’d find it.
KKIS also looked good on his resume, as it piggybacked on the San Fran stations’ fame, which soon took him across the blue waters of the Pacific to paradise. But first, a quick Christmas 1967 rest-up with fill-ins back home on KXOA to finish up the year. All that makin’ love not war was tiring.
KKUA in Honolulu welcomed Neale with open arms for the afternoon gig in ’68, as he prepared for another “vacation” island style. The first major market station of his career in Hawaii—what could be better?
E Komo Mai (Welcome!)
“It was seven hours after leaving San Francisco when I peered out the plane window to gaze at the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen,” said Neale. Our winter is their plentiful summer and the Hawaiian Islands were in full bloom.
At station #15, Neale’s first surprise came in a double dose of program directors. Two bosses. Hmmm, this could be a bad omen.
“As it turns out,” Neale mused, “Dual PDs actually functioned well for the jocks. So my stay—about six months this time—was one very long beach party.”
As a “Haole”—a term for Whites on the islands (yes, there is discrimination against Whites), local girls would have nothing to do with he and his roommate (KKUA newsman), J. Robert Clark. So their dating game was the tourist girls and, said Neale, “It was like being a used car salesman hustling for a sale, every day.” Surely they managed.
It wasn’t the difficulty in dating that sent Neale back to the mainland, however. Six months in paradise gave him island fever. After a couple of all-night fill-in shifts at KPOI (#16), he headed for Seattle to visit his brother. Deplaning, he learned the sad news of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination (June 5, 1968).
Startled by this event and mesmerized, as we all were, by the days that followed, Neale headed back to Sacramento to visit his family. He sent airchecks out and with a recommendation from Jan Basham, a record promoter in Los Angeles, he soon headed for #17 on his Radio on the Run tour of America.
From the balmy palm fronds of refreshing Hawaii, Neale found himself under the dusty palms of KRUX/Phoenix, Arizona. But this gig in the Valley of the Sun threatened to be a mirage. They were “expecting” a full time slot to open up soon; in the meantime, Neale settled for fill-in shifts. But soon …
One of the evening DJs up and quit—and there was Neale with a full-time slot in a big market. He mentally added a notch to his resume.
[Image: Neale traded sea breezes for lots of sand to join the KRUXTERS. August 9, 1968 shows “Classical Gas” (Mason Williams) strumming along at #1. (eBay).]
With the end of the Sixties gearing up for the Psychedelic Seventies, Neale thoroughly enjoyed the DJ persona with all the perks (girls) and plenty of good desert weed. And I don’t mean tumbleweeds. Breathe in … ahhhhhh.
With a few great months under his belt and watching the writing on the wall as KRUX’s ratings slip due to format changes, he knew it was time to boogie.
Neale’s ultimate plan to work in the Los Angeles market needed a few more boosts of airwave energy, which landed him at station #18, in Oklahoma City. KOMA was a 50,000-watt blowtorch Rocker with loads of clout. Yeehaw!
Not only was there a huge audience, but with that kind of stretch its signal reached far West of the Mississippi River and all the way to New Jersey. Specifically, Fort Dix, just outside of Trenton.
Now, we know Neale wasn’t thrilled with the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, a Fort Dix Armed Forces Radio liaison wasn’t aware of that and called Neale while he was on the air one night, asking if he’d like to go “live” with them for three hours—broadcasting his show to Vietnam.
No self-respecting disc jockey would turn down that kind of exposure. And he might just have accidentally forgotten to tell the guy about his military past and politics.
Of course, Neale passed along dedications and individual messages from his listeners to their loved ones in the war. Along with music and messages, though, he subtly included his personal political observations and opinions, intricately tied into the tunes.
“Here’s a song for Private Bob Smith from his wife in Montana … she’s hoping that you’ll be home soon, safe and sound … and by the way, Bob, we all want you guys home soon, because you shouldn’t even be there. So for all of you guys over there … listen very closely to the lyrics of this song.”
KOMA listeners heard Buffalo Springfield warn, “There’s a man with a gun over there …” And although “For What It’s Worth” became a war-protest song, Stephen Stills wrote the popular tune about the Sunset Strip riots of November 1966.
Aware of his opportunity as a DJ to comment on news of the day, Neale said, “I can’t tell you how many times we would talk over the intro of a song and express our views in a very compatible tone of voice, with the tempo of the song. Never underestimate the power of subtlety.”
It's that time again
Neale took it in stride when the station soon suggested it was time for him to move on. “I had no problem with that,” said Neale. “Figured I’d ‘fail up’—cut myself loose and head to a bigger market. I was ready for another Rock & Roll ride.” On to Atlanta and the longest gig of his career.
WQXI (#19, if you’re counting along) may not have had the reach of KOMA, but many talented disc jockeys made their way through great careers with a stop at WQXI. Dr. Don Rose sat a spell in the late 1960s, and Jerry Blum’s on-air antics inspired episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati.
Though WQXI was Neale’s longest gig, his tenure wasn’t without angst. The music director and he differed on their choice of music for his shift. Sylvia Clark insisted he play songs like Tommy Roe’s “Jam Up and Jelly Tight.” Too much bubble gum for Neale.
Rarely settling for a simple protest, he said, “One night, every song I played for an hour, I introduced as a Tommy Roe song—but not one was Tommy Roe. That drove her over the edge.”
By the end of 1969, and still feeling a little homesick after the 1968 death of his grandfather, it was time for Neale to head on down the road again. Opting for a long, slow trip back across the states, rather than his usual cross-country speed race, he took in the sights of the Painted Desert under a fiery setting sun, and stood gaping over the edge of the Grand Canyon.
Neale ended the decade with a staccato of San Jose stations, staying close to home. KOME, KSJO, and KLIV became gigs #20, 21 and 22, respectively.
He landed at KLIV long enough to finish the decade before turning the page with another trip east, to open the book on the ‘70s.
Making friends came easy to the affable Neale, with several in his romp through stations becoming lifelong buds. KLIV offered up a couple more in program director, Rick Carroll and famed radio personality, Dave Sholin.
Crisscrossing America more than a couple times, Neale tripped through experiences and insights most of us will never know … unless you spent the Sixties and Seventies with a doobie in one hand and a microphone in the other.
This fast-talking disc jockey connected easily with his listeners; it was the deep voice you can get lost in that drew them to him. We’ll see where he kisses the mic (and the girls) in the Psychedelic Seventies, as Neale trips through ten more stations, on his way to a lifetime record forty!
Today: Retired from radio, Neale funds his writing in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, as author, designer, and feature film cast and crew driver.
[Image: Courtesy of Neale c. 2009; reflecting in amazement, his on-the-run DJ career.]
Blast from Your Past-Book 2 Excerpt #1 Tom & Raechel Donahue reformat with Freeform radio
In case you missed the series intro excerpts from BFYP-Book 1, 1954-1959:
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #5 Ken Chase / aka Mike Korgan
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #4 1955 & the Music of Our Time
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #3
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #2 Dr. Don Rose
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #1 Ron Riley
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #3
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #2 Dr. Don Rose
Blast from Your Past-Book 1 Excerpt #1 Ron Riley