Since I was still expected to arrive at the studio at midnight, a new task was assigned, selecting in advance recordings to be broadcast Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. so that they could be submitted two weeks ahead for listing in entertainment weekly Cue Magazine. That meant going into what had become a substantial LP library and deciding what to feature, identifying composer, work, and record label, not choosing too much music so as to leave time for commercials. I also pre-programmed some of my own selections.
For the other program hosts I selected what I thought were obscure, boring baroque works so as to contrast with what I deemed my own special, colorful overnight offerings, not realizing that baroque music, Mike Nichols-like, was so entertaining and non-threatening that it would remain a mainstay for classical music stations forever. Anyway, no one at the station seemed to care what I had chosen.
But one week when Cue arrived, nothing I’d chosen that week for myself was listed. I was so pissed off that I hurled the copy against a wall, not noticing that Station Manager Cal Miller saw me do it. Repercussions were to come.
In October 1961, Vene and I decided to visit her family in Philadelphia and leave on a Friday morning, which meant that I wanted to tape that Friday night/Saturday morning show, already listed in Cue Magazine. I took such listings seriously and had arranged with Cal to have someone air the tapes, a part-timer, Bill Watson, who hosted two shifts Saturday night/Sunday morning and Sunday night/Monday morning.
I had told Cal that I’d need access to the recording studio after the jazz people left, and that I would record my program before I left Friday morning.
But I found the studio locked and had no key. I tried forcing the lock. It didn’t budge. Finally, I leaned against a hallway wall and furiously tried kicking open the door with my feet. I was pissed off.
The lock did not yield. The door stayed shut. The particle-board wall shattered.
I left Cal a note that morning explaining what had happened, saying I’d pay for the repairs.
The following Monday, after I returned from Philadelphia, Cal called, saying he had to fire me, that management felt my behavior was too unpredictable. Who knew what I might do next, possibly in anger, possibly on the air?
Thus, after two-and-a-half years, my overnight glory, my joy, my pride vanished into thin air. The time had seemed longer; it was so intense.
That’s New York for you. The New York space-time continuum. On the jammed island of Manhattan, where space is at a premium, crowds throng tightly on the streets and people learn how to make the most efficient use of the confines and the time it takes to move efficiently through it all, with no wasted motion, no wasted minutes.
Watson took my place. He seemed a lot older. He was. Eleven years older. Who knew what he might do next? In his 15 years with WNCN, until the station’s first demise, Bill became far more unpredictable than I had ever been, telling off listeners on the air, making fun of commercials which he had to read, offering opinions on politics, verbally excoriating modern music.
He adored the works of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn. And would never program anything he didn’t like. In that regard, we were actually alike.
Certainly his selections would have had wider appeal than mine; that music has long been the backbone and the body of what most classical music listeners want, not what I felt were my esoteric challenges, my threats to peaceful sleep. Watson was also a more interesting on-air personality than I had been.
We did get around, though, to liking each other six years later, both working for a different WNCN management.
So, in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, 1961, age 28, I was unemployed again.
This felt less painful and less shocking than my departure from WFLN. Since then I’d been let go by WNRC, albeit not unexpectedly, and had quit WHAT and WOND to move on. A sense was creeping in that radio careers ebbed and flowed. Besides, having a program from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. felt like being in some dark, obscure corner where hardly anyone could notice me.
Yes, Watson, I’m sure, was in the Jean Shepherd, Steve Allison league, the rare ones who stood out and captured audiences’ imaginations, the league to which Jonathan Schwartz had aspired.
My style had probably been more reserved, obviously, from what I’ve already told you, taking myself and my conceptions seriously. Back then I rarely used “I” or referred directly to myself or offered opinions. The content was the message, the content which I thought was great and didn’t need to say so. Sure, I was comfortable at an open mike, able to talk freely without notes or scripts, as I had always been. My public persona was not in some made-up style; it was one part of who I was, whoever that may have been. But I still felt like a kid even if sounding mature.
It was time to try an acting career again. I knew there were no permanent jobs there. I knew that I had talent. I also knew that I needed a lot of luck.