From 1972–1974 I hosted a late-night telephone talk show on WOHO(AM), Toledo, Ohio. I was young, energetic and desperate to be heard over the airwaves. Fortunately I outgrew that compulsion by 1975, but for the time being I’d nap every afternoon and go into the station after dinner and meet with my producer who was responsible for lining up in-studio guests. These included professional wrestlers, comedians, people touting dubious weight loss programs, and conspiracy nuts who were eager to discuss their theories on alien abductions.
What is up with all the anal probes, anyway?
Then there were the occasional celebrities I’d get on the phone like Dionne Warwick, Captain Kangaroo, Moe Howard and Soupy Sales.
This program was called “Rap,” which at the time was slang for “talk,” not as it connotes today, “shouting inane rhymes about bitches and booty while flashing guns and jewelry.”
We held trivia contests every Friday, a highly anticipated event by our callers who represented many walks of life. A lot of them worked the late shift at a hospital or the power company. Waitresses and cooks at diners were big fans too. Also in the group of folks that tuned in were students up studying, cab drivers, housewives with insomnia and so many more.
Our discussion on any given evening might center on an upcoming election or how to discipline teenagers. It might be open to all topics. On one of the latter evenings a woman named Betty called and proceeded to launch into a highly-detailed account of her recent ingrown toenail surgery. Normally I would have cut her off early in this narrative, but the way she told it, complete with sound effects, made for compelling radio. Another listener was a cross-country trucker who described the hallucinations he experienced after taking amphetamines while driving at 60 miles per hour.
Women confessed to affairs they had not yet admitted to their husbands. Men talked about their fantasies, one of which involved Raquel Welch and warm butter. A young man named Paul owned up to several crimes such as breaking into a store and defacing public property. One woman took the opportunity to “come out” as a lesbian, a brave move. That call brought the expected scorn from the religious right, yet also a surprising amount of support from similarly oriented people.
There is a phenomenon that many of my brethren in radio have discovered, namely that people listening to you over the air believe they know you and are your friend. I recall one wintry Friday night “Jill” called in and asked, “Hey, why don’t you meet some of your listeners for coffee after you get off the air?” At first the idea seemed absurd. Who would want to do that? As more callers chimed in, I decided I had little to lose because frankly I didn’t think anyone would show up. We, the audience and I, decided on a location, a local Big Boy that was open all night. Because none of the people who wanted to meet me had any idea what I looked like, I made up a ridiculous description: six feet four inches tall, 103 pounds, porkpie hat, and a tattoo on my left arm that said “Spiro Agnew.” I promised to be at the restaurant at a certain time and even promised to buy muffins for anyone who showed up.
I parked my car in the lot of the restaurant and trudged through the snow to the door. I entered the vestibule, stamped my feet and shook the snow off my coat before slipping into to a back booth. The waitress knew me and shortly brought me a cup of hot chocolate. I looked around and while there were a lot of people there I didn’t see anyone looking for me so I just relaxed and enjoyed a warm beverage on a frigid night.
After about 10 minutes a woman carrying a baby came over to me and said “Are you Ken R.?” I nodded and she started laughing. “You were kidding about being six feet tall and having a tattoo!” Then she turned to her friends and said “C’mon over, guys, he’s in the booth!” About 15 other folks came over and crowded in there with me. A couple of guys had to pull up chairs when there was no more room in the booth. I had forgotten about the silly self-description I had broadcast, but we all had a good laugh over it. We introduced ourselves and ended up having a jolly time.
And yes, I did buy muffins for anyone who asked.
Ken Deutsch is a writer who lives in sunny Sarasota, Fla., and has a book of these tales available, Up and Down the Dial.