Getting Locked Out of KCRW’s Old Digs

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Back in 1977 when KCRW was a tiny operation, I had just started doing radio and landed a weekly graveyard shift from 1 a.m. till 6 a.m. Every Monday, I’d schlep my two Shure Hi-Track stylii (to protect my vinyl) over to our small studio on the John Adams Middle School campus in Santa Monica, along with some candles and incense to set the mood for my late night deejay set.

The station’s signal was small then. David Was of the band Was (Not Was) compared our puny signal to a junkie on a ten dollar fix…fading in and out. It wasn’t until 1981 that the signal’s reach was expanded.

We would often joke that even having just one listener would justify our time on air, though I’m not entirely sure that some of the unusual calls we received at the station would count. There was Terry/Teresa, the caller who was contemplating gender reassignment surgery. Also, a blind lady who called in regularly to inquire about the time. One night, someone called in threatening suicide but really just needed to talk to somebody. I spent quite a while on the phone that time.

That’s me with Ry Cooder in the background in KCRW’s old digs on the John Adams Middle School campus. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Sometimes a female admirer would ring me at the station. One night, we were chatting on the phone when there was a random knock at the door. I opened the door to find a strange-looking guy asking for directions to  Chinatown. Mind you, this was at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. I told him to head east and then returned to my phone friend to tell her about the strange encounter. We chatted some more, and then I told her I’d call her back and went for a quick bathroom break after selecting a long enough track. (The station didn’t have its own restrooms at the time, so the KCRW staff had to use the school campus ones outside instead.)

As I made my way back to the station, I realized that I’d accidentally locked myself out of the studio. Not knowing quite what to do, I anxiously went to my car to listen to the radio as the cut neared its finish. Remember, this was before cell phones existed. And there it was—the dreaded “fttttt, ftttt, fttt” sound once the needle reached the end of the track.

Meanwhile, my phone friend had begun to wonder if some altercation with the Chinatown guy had occurred when she didn’t hear back from me. Fearing the worst, she tried dialing the station several times before contacting the Santa Monica Police. Several officers appeared soon after, and I explained to them what had happened. Thankfully, they contacted a Santa Monica College officer, who was able to unlock the studio door for me. That night’s air shift was one that I shall never forget.