On the KGO in SFO.

A few weeks ago, my friend John of Lower Chicken Heights fame (that's his hair in the above photo), who is a producer at KGO radio here in San Francisco, asked me if I would like to sit in with him at the KGO studios for one of his shifts. Now, those of you who really know me realize that I would rather be sitting in a radio studio, in front of a console, in a production booth, especially at the #1 rated, award-winning radio station in the #4 radio market in the country. Screw going out to some skanky bar while getting skankily drunk with a bunch of skanks (no offense to those with which I've gotten shitfaced and skanky in the past...I'm no saint).

John came over at around 5:00, and we headed out the door for an especially nasty slice of pizza from some dump on Broadway. Since I only live 4 blocks from the KGO radio and TV studios (and 3 from KPIX-TV 5 and the SF studios of KNTV-11...go figure) we walked down the hill, enjoying the crisp, cool November evening. When we got to the studio, I signed in as a guest, and up we went to the mystical wonderland that houses the second-largest west coast ABC radio and television affiliates.

They weren't that glamorous inside, but had a cool view of the city nonetheless.

Now, I actually listen to KGO radio, and my clock radio is usually tuned to it. I grew up on AM radio, especially AM talk radio (when my dad was driving, it's pretty much all we ever listened to until my mom had her fill). At night, the KGO signal travels much farther than it does during the day.

You know what? I'm going to digress for a minute and explain why and how AM radio signals travel farther at night. I aim to inform others while entertaining myself with this blog. Feel free to skip through this part if it bores you.

You see, the Earth's atmosphere is divided into several layers, the troposphere (the bottom layer where all the weather takes place, the stratosphere (where spy planes, the the ozone layer, and weather balloons can be found), and the ionosphere, the uppermost layer that contains several different layers, the exact names I won't get into here (I get really nerdy and rambly with this stuff...bear with me). For the sake of simplicity, we shall refer to them as the D, E, and F layers.

From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website:

The E-layer was discovered first. In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi transmitted a signal between Europe and North America and showed that it had to bounce off an electrically conducting layer about 62 miles (100 km) altitude. In 1927, Sir Edward Appleton named that conducting layer the (E)lectrical-Layer. Later, discovery of additional conducting layers were simply called the D-layer and F-Layer.

Since the ionosphere existance is due to radiation from the sun striking the atmosphere, it changes in density from daytime to nighttime. All three layers are more dense during the daytime. At night, all layers decrease in density with the D-Layer undergoing the greatest change. At night the D-Layer essentially disappears.

Got that?

It means at night, some thug can stand in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, hold a transistor radio to his head, and listen to a 50KW AM station broadcasting from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. See?

Get it? Got it? Good.

I've always been fascinated by radio and how it works...it's a big reason why I was a radio and communications troop in the Air Force. You might as well like your job, right? When I was in Cleveland as a kid, I used to have a log of stations I'd pick up while hiding under my covers with my Tom & Jerry transistor radio. I remember excitedly logging WOR, WABC, and WMCA from New York, WBZ out of Boston, KYW Philadelphia, KDKA Pittsburgh, WLS Chicago, WLW Cincinnati, CJMR Mississisauga, Ontario, CFRA Ottawa, CHWO Toronto...my list went on and on. I even picked up CBK out of Regina, Saskatchewan...and laughed at the pronunciation of both "Regina" (reh-GY-nuh) and "Saskatchewan" (sahs-KAH-cheh-wan). Just like now, back then I was easily amused. One night I was picking up KMOX in St. Louis (the "Voice of Mid-America") and tingling with excitement...I finally heard a real "K" station (P'burgh and Philly didn't count as far as I was concerned) because all the Cleveland stations started with a W. I could go into that, but I won't...just click here if you want to know more about that. These stations...the voices, the accents, the different languages (I got a lot of stations from Quebec), the commercials, and especially, the jingles ("Newww York Ci-tyyyyyyy" sounded beautiful to me). As far as I was concerned, these were beacons from outside my world, which suddenly felt confining. These distant voices beckoned me, taunted me, and made me dream. At this point, I knew there was an exciting world outside Northeast Ohio, and vowed to myself to explore as much of it as I possibly could, as soon as I possibly could.

Hey Mom, now you know one of the reasons why I was constantly roadtripping with my friends from the age of 17 until I left for basic training.

Okay now, where was I? [pushes thick glasses back up onto nose] Oh yes, hanging out with John while he produced Karel on KGO. Sorry, once a nerd, always a nerd.

So anyway, John gave me a quick tour of the station. It was cool standing in front of the racks of electronics that ARE KGO radio, that send the signal to the transmitter. There were many different studios, and I was salivating at the control boards, Shure microphones, little blinking lights everywhere, speakers mounted on the walls, and lots and lots and lots of little buttons and switches. You see, I LOVE buttons, blinking lights, microphones, and switches. I find them inherently fascinating, and it's why I used to get into a lot of trouble when I was a kid. I won't get into the Mobile Ham Radio Out In The Driveway Incident when I was 8.

Let's just say I broke a lot of laws, and won over my uncle's heart (the owner of aforementioned ham radio).

So there I am, in the KGO studios, completely in my element, with my body absolutely vibrating with excitement. "Screw those drunk skanks out at the skank-o-terias," I thought, "I'm sitting here in KGO with John."

He showed me how he screens calls, the systems they use to communicate between the studios, how the phones worked, how the console worked, and introduced me to the engineer on duty and another talk show host who came in to prepare for her show and bounce ideas off of John and me. Karel was broadcasting his show from his house in Long Beach, so I didn't get to meet him per se, but we got acquainted through the console board while John twiddled with knobs and switches.

I was jealous. I wanted to touch the knobs and switches. And make some lights flash. And talk into the microphone. And hear my own voice in headphones. Arg.

The Karel Show started, and John did his thing. I was helping him screen calls, and helping decide which ones got to get on the air first (it's not neccessarily the order they're received, you know). If you're a total idiot, chances are the producer won't let you on the air, or will keep you on hold forever. If you say, "Karel is an idiot who is completely off-mark, and this is why..." and explain intelligently your counterpoint WITHOUT profanity or racial slurs, you're bumped to the front of the line. John and I had fun screening those calls...and shunting them all to Karel. BTW, if you want to know more about him, click on his photo.

Karel started out his show with a monologue about how he feels about the so-called Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, apparently. The best line in the monologue: "You can just turn on Home Shopping Network any time of the day or night in your...trailer...sittin' in your Barcalounger...with your beer that's got its crocheted cozy around it...eatin' your mac and cheese...Swanson...[and you can] log into [Home Shopping Network] and buy any Capo di Monte figure you want at 3am...that's your business! I don't care!"

Here is Karel's rant about Black Friday. I kinda agree with him...Black Friday shopping behavior is getting out of hand, it's tacky, it's embarrasing to me as an American, and I, for one, refuse to be any part of it. Mama raised me right...I avoid stores on Black Friday. I made the mistake of walking through Union Square the day after Thanksgiving, and it was MOBBED.

Mobbed with people who don't watch where they're walking, crash into you and stare at you blankly. People who insist on DRIVING TO UNION SQAURE, THINKING THEY'RE GOING TO FIND A PLACE TO PARK. People who, after discovering there ARE NO PARKING SPOTS LEFT, create gridlock because they don't know how to drive in a city and get stuck in the intersection because the light changed. People who saunter 5 abreast along the sidewalk like they're in some suburban shopping mall, blocking those of us who Actually Have Important Things To Do. At one point, I was walking towards a group of people who were all walking in a line across the sidewalk, oblivious to the people behind them who wanted to pass without stepping out into the street. I thought to myself, "Let's play Red Rover, Red Rover, let CHAD COME OVER!" and I aimed myself at the biggest one, presumably the father. He saw me coming, panicked, and accidentally tripped his teenage daughter, who tripped the mother, who tripped 2 other people doing a balancing act on the curb because the Tons-O'Fuck Family wouldn't stop hogging the sidewalk. (Hint: smartly step to the side, and walk 2 by 2 instead of a single row of 5.) Keep in mind this all happened when I was still approximately 10 feet from them, so I am not responsible for the tripping of this group. Well, maybe a little, but still.

At any rate, bless their little Black Friday hearts. They made me laugh a little bit to myself.

By the way, during a commercial break, Karel asked me (through the console board) if I'd be his date to the KGO holiday party at the home of Gene Burns, whose show I listen to on KGO. I accepted...he sounds like a genuinely nice person and I think it'd be a lot of fun.

Now I need to figure out what the hell I'm going to wear.

After Karel's show was Edie Sellers (click on her photo for her bio), who decided to open up her show talking about the wild turkeys that are wreaking havoc across Northern California. She started off her show with her opinion of the turkeys, hoping to churn some interest in the listening public ("Churning" callers is a talk radio term I learned last night...and now you, a reader of STMF, have learned that as well). I love the fact she said "pooping issue" on the air, which made me laugh and laugh and laugh. Milk came shooting out of my nose, which was remarkable since I was not drinking milk at the time. John was convinced I was possessed by the devil, and made his "Jihad Noise" at me until I stopped my hilarious convulsions.

Okay, I made that last part up, but she really did say "pooping issue" and I did laugh, but it was more of a titter than a guffaw.


The people who called were mostly bores who wanted to rant about how much they hated turkeys, or about people who hate the turkeys, or turkeys' rights compared to those of people. Typical whiney Bay Area crap. Now, before you label me as some conservative, keep in mind where I come from. If a bunch of wild turkeys took over Cleveland, there would be no debate as to what would happen next. The Cleveland Police Department would shoot every single one of them, and before you know it we'd have the First Annual Cuyahoga County Barbecue Gamey-Ass Turkey Burnoff (with ribs and pierogies on the side with lots of Gennesee Cream Ale). It's not rocket science, people. But this being the Bay Area, folks think a little bit differently. Hey, turkeys are people too. Out of all the callers, one sensitive San Franciscan and a gravelly-voiced Sonoma County woman stuck out from the crowd, and John and I decided they should go on first.


First was Garrett, from San Francisco. He sounded so...sensitive and strange on the phone; we thought there is no way we should prevent him from voicing his opinion up and down the West Coast (we were getting callers from Vancouver, BC to Riverside, CA). Listen to him tell us about his feelings on the turkeys, and ruminations of his childhood with his sister taking turns locking each other in a turkey shed. It's just a little bit creepy, albeit wistful, and the look on Edie's face was priceless when he started talking. He even says "crap" at one point, a word I learned has been banned by Disney, the parent company of KGO, during the daytime.

Next came Donna, from Santa Rosa...Sonoma County wine country. As soon as she started to speak, Edie looked over at John and me with a look on her face that said, "WHY did you give me this caller???" John and I snickered, convinced this woman was smoking a cigarette when she called, and was speaking through a stoma in her neck. I imagined her sitting in a chair, puffing a Winston Light 100, a glass of vodka on a table next to her, in her comfortable Santa Rosa home she shares with 400 cats. Watching Edie try to have an intelligent conversation with this woman AND keep a straight face was hysterical. When she hung up with Donna and went to commercial, she got on the PA system and asked, "So which one of Marge Simpson's sisters was that?"

I, for one, liked Donna. In fact, she provided me a final moment of zen for the day (a la Daily Show) that I will share for you here.

Click here for your moment of zen.

And that's about enough typing for today. I'm going to the Beer Bust at the Eagle. Anyone want to join me?

© 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Chad Fox. All rights reserved.