Imagine: You've been laid off. You're desperately looking for work and hoping for a fresh start. Browsing Craigslist, you run into the following ad:
"King Biscuit Flower Hour affiliate seeks Program Hosts. (Los Angeles CA/ Orange CA.) ... We carry the King Biscuit Flower Hour program among other nationally syndicated radio programs and are currently seeking program hosts. No prior experience is required. If you have a nice voice and a burning desire to be in radio, give this a try. For more information email us above. Simply include in the subject heading of your email the following words: 'King Biscuit Program hosts' and you will get a response as soon as possible."
The King Biscuit Flower Hour was a popular syndicated show hosted by laid-back radio personality Bill Minkin on Sundays, from 1973 to 2007. Each week the program featured a different band live at concert halls from San Francisco to New York City. Acts included the Rolling Stones, The Who, Genesis and U2. The complete list includes more than 600 artists and bands who form the core of modern music.
You're excited about a chance to be involved with all that. You fire off an email to King Biscuit's "affiliate" and receive this response:
"We are a radio network in business since 1972 and carry The King Biscuit Flower Hour program among other nationally syndicated radio programs. We are currently looking for new program hosts to produce shows for our radio stations.
"Many formats are available, including music, talk, celebrity interviews and sport shows. Many openings are now available. Great benefits. Experience is not required. These programs can be done in your free time. You can work for us full time or part time."
Participants are instructed to call phone numbers in Los Angeles and Orange County for the specifics on how to sign up for the radio network's orientation sessions and auditions. At those phone numbers, a recorded message mentions hourly wages of $15 to $20 per hour.
The recorded message stresses that the program on offer is not a "school." You're stoked, but you decide to be smart and do a bit of homework.
The information offered about this job training and placement service is unusual in that it doesn't reveal the name of the firm — only a reference to King Biscuit Flower Hour. A quick Internet search reveals that King Biscuit, produced by the DIR Network, was sold in 2006 to Wolfgang's Vault.
You decide to schedule an audition and are directed to American Radio Network headquarters in East Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard (there also is an Anaheim office), where you meet the radio executive who runs the program, Tony Lewis, vice president and executive producer of ARN.
And that's where the troubles begin, according to many who went through the program.
Daniel Clark, from Anaheim, who passed the audition and joined ARN's program in January, says, "I thought I was answering an ad for employment." But the weeks wore on and he was not offered any work: "Never."
Carol Hannan, who joined the ARN program in late 2009 and, like Clark, made it through the audition process, says that instead of getting job opportunities, "All I ever did was give them money."
L.A. Weekly contacted Wolfgang's Vault, a firm that restores and archives live concert recordings and sells music memorabilia, to determine if the former King Biscuit Flower Hour, which it bought in 2006, is working with American Radio Network.
In a prepared statement, Wolfgang's Vault responds: "Please know that Wolfgang's Vault has absolutely no affiliation with American Radio Network. Wolfgang's Vault acquired all rights to the King Biscuit Flower Hour name in 2006 and we will take all appropriate actions to prevent the unauthorized use of our proprietary names and marks."
The Internet is filled with comments from people less than happy with their experience at American Radio Network.
Zachary Gutierrez, writing at the influential and acerbic Internet-culture site somethingawful.com, says, "The company purports to offer jobs or training in the radio broadcasting industry. They place ads in local newspapers for available positions as radio announcers or disc jockeys. We believe their advertising is deceptive or misleading."
Stephanie L. from Griffith Park/Los Feliz comments on yelp.com, "They claim to own or be affiliated with six radio stations. ... The call letters don't match, there's no broadcast at the reported frequencies and the FCC has never heard of them."
In fact, the Federal Communications Commission says that of the stations listed on ARN's websites, only KTST-FM is a real station, which broadcasts on actual radio bands.
But KTST, owned by Clear Channel, disavows any association with American Radio Network.
In response to a query from the Weekly, officials at Clear Channel wrote: "Clear Channel is unaware of any arrangements with American Radio Network to see airtime on any of its radio stations, nor is Clear Channel station KTST associated in any way with American Radio Network. The company has not given permission for its name to be used in conjunction with any marketing efforts by American Radio Network. We are currently reviewing the situation and will take action if/where appropriate."
Former participants tell the Weekly that during the audition and orientation, Lewis explains that a radio syndication network is available to ARN, and that participants will have an opportunity to host their own broadcast show.
Once the initial audition and orientation are completed, the new "hosts" are required to pay a fee for continued involvement.
The initial administrative fee is $40. Participants say ARN also suggests new hosts purchase a press pass from them for $95.
Hannan says of the press pass, "I was told that the pass would allow me into movie premieres and things of that nature. I figured if things didn't work out, I would at least get my money back in movie tickets." She says she quickly found out otherwise.
Following a second orientation, participants say new hosts are required to pay a weekly production fee and are expected to immediately begin producing — having no prior experience or training — a complete, 30-minute weekly show.
Hannan describes her experience working with an ARN producer and trainer at the Anaheim location: "I'm a smart woman, and she was making fun of me and telling me how stupid I was. This went on for three or four weeks and then I just stopped going. I gave them $150 the first night and paid each week in advance for production fees. When I quit, they sent me another bill for $35."
Clark dropped out before producing his first show but says, "They sent me a bill for six weeks of production time at $24 per week. I didn't attend any of the production sessions but still received an invoice for $144."
Like Hannan and Clark, many who crossed paths with American Radio Network were at a time in their lives when they needed work. Many apparently hoped the ARN experience would help them earn some money and launch a career.
Instead, the experience cost them money they couldn't spare, and left them with few new marketable skills.
When the Weekly contacted Lewis, he refused to comment on complaints lodged by paying participants.
However, Lewis confirmed that he has received a "cease and desist" letter from Wolfgang's Vault, demanding that American Radio Network immediately stop using the King Biscuit name. Of that, he said: "I'm not happy about it."