This Is Rock & Roll Radio!
Los Angeles produces world-class radio — and great radio people. This week we launch an occasional series by and about the L.A. radio people we love — from indie kids broadcasting on the Internet to oldsters keepin’ it real on the AM.
Reverend Dan, representing for L.A.’s eternally scrappy college station, KXLU-FM, kicks things off with a salute to early punk radio and — why not? — the Dodgers.
It was the mid-’70s, and I was hating life at Stanford Junior High in Long Beach. I was having a real crappy time, being socially situated only second from the bottom. My group was just above the kids in the short buses. No shit. Math geeks could pick on me. That’s right, I was a drama/science geek.
My salvation? The radio. And, thankfully, Los Angeles radio was pretty healthy at the time: Dr. Demento, Flo & Eddie and "Mangle the Manager" made the rock-radio stalwart KMET absolutely magical on Sunday evenings. Long Beach’s own hard-rock KNAC was a station where you could sometimes call the utterly wasted disc jockey and get a request played, but most of the time the phone just rang. KLOS was around, but I never listened to it, being devoted to KMET .?.?. I was that kinda kid.
I had always wanted to be on the radio. A few years before the raging inferno of abuse that was Stanford Junior High, I managed to create the most expensive phone bill in Buhler family history. The method? I had been calling the KKDJ request line in an effort to be one of those people calling in with an instant request. I wanted to be on the air, and I called constantly. Usually, I only reached the request-line operator, but eventually I did get on the air. After an afternoon of calling, I finally got the DJ on the phone, and I knew right then that I would be on the radio. “Wanna do an instant request?” the DJ asked. I couldn’t believe my luck. “Okay, when I say, ‘KKDJ request line, who’s this?’ you say your name, and then when I ask you, ‘What do you want to hear?’ you ask for ‘Angie Baby’ by Helen Reddy, okay?”
I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t actually request a song, but it didn’t matter that much, because I was going to be on the radio!
The next day at Prisk Elementary, a few of the kids said that they had heard me on the air! Sure, they heard me requesting “Angie Baby,” but I didn’t care. I was hooked. I needed to be on the radio.
Back to junior high. My friends Rich, Dana, Paul and I would record our own radio shows on Dana’s combination record player/8-track player-recorder. We called our imaginary radio station KRUD, and had a great time doing it. I was listening to all kinds of radio, just soaking it all in. In my knob-twirling, I found a station at the left end of the radio dial .?.?. and they were playing rock & roll! “This is KSUL! 90.1 FM, on the campus of Cal State University at Long Beach!” the voice on the radio said. My jaw dropped. I lived about 1,000 yards away from the school. My friends and I had used the place as a playground for years, playing bike ditch-’em around the buildings, writing on the chalkboards in the bathroom of the student union and sometimes making Super-8 movies, using the various campus structures as sets. And they had a radio station!
They gave out their phone number; I called. They answered; I requested; and they played it instantly! I was astonished. I told my friend Rich about the new station I had found, and soon we were spending afternoons calling up requests to KSUL. One day, they played a new record by a band called the Ramones. Rich and I couldn’t stop requesting it. Initially, it was because it was the funniest thing we had ever heard. Later we dug it even more because it was really rockin’! KSUL exposed me to so much good music, and I couldn’t believe that a station that cool could be so close to my house. I needed to visit KSUL.
My favorite DJ at KSUL was a cat by the name of Rocky Principé. He had a cool, deep voice, proudly wore his hometown of Chicago as a medal, and played a great set of rock & roll. I was such a pest on the request line that he soon knew it was me from the sound of my voice. One afternoon, I got up my nerve: “Rocky, could I visit the station?” I suspect he knew I was a radio geek, and he said, “Sure.” Soon I was frantically pedaling to the location he had told me to go to. When I got to the building, the doors were locked. My heart fell. But through some miracle, I actually found that I had a dime in my pocket, enough for a phone call to the station. I called up Rocky and told him my predicament, and he told me he would be right downstairs in a moment. I pedaled back to the doors, and soon, I finally met Rocky face to face.
He looked like he sounded .?.?. cool. He looked just like a rock & roll disc jockey was supposed to look. He invited me inside and we went upstairs to the station. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. Walls of records, reels of tape everywhere, a soundboard (complete with dials) and a microphone. Rocky got behind the board, started another record and then talked with me. I felt like I was talking to the most famous disc jockey in the world, because to me, this little microwatt station that I couldn’t hear at the far end of my block was just as real as any of the big stations in town. We talked about music and radio, and I watched him do those things that DJs do. I only stayed a short while, and when I left, Rocky gave me a program guide and told me I could visit again. The ?next day, I told my drama/science-geek friends that I had been inside a real radio station. They were impressed.
I did visit Rocky at KSUL quite a few more times, usually bringing some cool bootleg I had found in my brother Steve’s record collection. On one occasion, I brought in Nuggets, Lenny Kaye’s classic collection of ’60s rock & roll, and Rocky reacted like he had been reunited with an old friend. He immediately put on the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night),” leaned back into his chair and howled with joy. I felt very proud of myself on that day.
My father is Bill Buhler, and for many years he was the trainer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. As a result, there was often a lot of Dodgers swag around the house. At the time of my visits to KSUL, my younger sister Mary had developed a crush on Dodger third baseman Ron Cey. Cey was nicknamed the Penguin because of the way he would waddle around the bases. And ol’ Ron fancied himself a singer. One day, my dad brought home a record: Ron Cey had recorded a song called “The Third Base Bag” and had put it out as a single, complete with a Dodger-blue picture sleeve imprinted with Ron’s smiling Dodger portrait. The record was crap, but it was a special kind of crap. It was crap that needed to be shared. I called the station. “Rocky, could I bring over a record?”
I got to the station lickety-split, and proudly showed Rocky the record. He laughed and said, “I’ll play it, but you are going to introduce it!” I’m sure my eyes bulged and my mouth dropped open, just like the wolf in those Droopy cartoons. He set me up in front of a microphone, put a pair of headphones on my head and prepared to introduce me to the city of Long Beach — at least the part of the city that was able to hear this little 10-watt signal called KSUL. I didn’t care. I was going to be on the radio! And for real this time — not just being a tool and making some fake Helen Reddy request. No: I would be playing Ron Cey!
Just before we went on the air, Rocky said, “Are you ready? Okay, now don’t choke!”
He turned on the microphone and spoke.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine who has a record he would like you to hear. I want you to meet Dan Buhler!”
I looked at the microphone, and for a moment, I lost my voice. But Rocky was grinning, and then I knew I would be all right.
“Hi! This is Dan, and my dad works for the L.A. Dodgers and he brought home this record and I think you have to hear it. It’s Ron Cey, doing ‘The Third Base Bag.’?”
Rocky started the single and started laughing with pride. I collapsed in the chair after the exhilarating rush of being on the air. “You almost choked!” Rocky laughed. “But you did a real good job!” I was elated, and seeing Rocky smile at my joy made me feel even better.
I rode my bike home in a haze of euphoria. I had finally gotten on the radio. And it was all because a generous DJ on KSUL gave a geeky little kid in junior high a chance.
Thank you, Rocky.
Reverend Dan’s L.A. Weekly Music Award–winning Music for Nimrods, which has been airing since 1996, can be heard Saturday mornings at 3 a.m. on 88.9 KXLU-FM.