KSEI was Norman's first full-time radio job. After doing fill-in work at KGEM in Boise and a six-week vacation relief job at KVRN in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Norman found an announcer job at KSEI "The Voice of Eastern Idaho" in Pocatello in 1955. The studios were on the mezzanine of the Bannock Hotel and the job was typical for those years. It included making station breaks and reading commercials, editing the news wire and reporting the news, recording network feeds and replaying them at scheduled times, and acting as host for live-in-studio programs with live musicians.
Norman lived out his role
as an official "radio announcer" with pride and eagerly walked to work
every day, hung his name board in the studio window and went "on the air."
Here are his recollections of a year in Pocatello.
I had decided on a career in radio in
1954, and after a disastrous
start at KGEM in Boise, (the manager ran off in the middle of the night, owing
everybody--it took me three months to get paid my dollar-an-hour salary) and a
summer vacation fill-in at KVNI, a little station in Coeur díAlene, I landed my
first full-time job. (I donít remember how I got the job, but I recall
stopping in at the NBC station in Twin Falls on my way to Pocatello, and getting
an offer from them that would have put me three hours closer to Boise where my
family lived, but I kept on going and landed in Pocatello, age 19, without a
I rented a studio apartment in an old
three-story brick building about four blocks from the Idaho Hotel, where the radio
station was ensconced on the mezzanine. I enjoyed having my own apartment. The
only other time I had lived away from home was the year I spent working for
Boeing in Seattle and I had lived in a boarding house there.
My salary was $65 a week to start. That
was a lot of money for a single guy paying $85 a month for rent. I was flush
enough to get cable TV. It was one of the first cable systems anywhere in the
country and brought in five channels from Salt Lake City. That plus the two
Pocatello stations and another in Idaho Falls that came in weakly, gave me eight
channels--state of the art television in 1955 for five bucks a month.
KSEI was an old NBC affiliate that had
been on the air since the 20ís. It was run by a crusty trio, Henry the owner
and manager, his wife, whose name I have forgotten, who was the Office Manager, and a
tall, forbidding woman named Olive Green who was the Program Director and ruled the
mezzanine with an iron hand. Henry was a meek little nerdy guy with a skinny
neck who was usually gone somewhere on business.
When you walked up the stairs of the
hotel, the first thing you saw was the radio studio. It was a large,
glassed-in affair, capable of holding a large band for live performances with an
adjoining smaller studio for the announcer. Each announcer had a wooden board
with his name routed in, which we hung in the window while we were
on duty. The morning man was Don Fuhrman, who later did radio in Seattle.
As was the case with most radio
stations then, KSEI was an all-purpose, all-ages station, with a wide variety of
programs. During my year there, I played DJ--everything from Glenn Miller to
Elvis, read news, gave weather reports, was "Cousin Norm" when a live
country band played in the studio and emceed live remotes from a nightclub. I was only 20, but nobody asked for IDs then in bars and I had
no trouble finding my way to a few of the townís watering spots. My
favorite was a joint called The Wheel Club, located down by the railroad depot,
about three blocks from the hotel.
I dropped in The
Wheel one night and
discovered the best piano player in town. His name was Carl Siemon and he was a
veteran big-band pianist who had played with Charlie Barnet, Horace
Heidt and other bands. Carl had met a gal named Margene in Pocatello when his band played a
one night stand, and he had quit the band and moved in with her. Margene was
Traffic Manager at KSEI.
Carl was in his late
forties or maybe fifties
and he was one cool cat. He played great jazz piano and as that was my great
love in music then, I was quickly enraptured by his playing. He had a
marvelously relaxed style, fingers dancing around while his left hand strolled
along with very progressive chords. Although he had dropped out of the big
bands, Carl was still very serious about his playing and practiced several hours
every day, playing classics as well as jazz on his fine grand piano.
We became friends quickly, the starry-eyed young announcer who played a little piano and the seasoned vet. Carl would let me sit in now and then when Iíd drop into the club. Iíd play three or four numbers with his bass player and drummer and it was a real gas. I had never developed my left hand as well as I wanted, so having a rhythm section was extremely cool.
I was such a fan of Carl, that while
the boss was out of town, I conspired with a friendly salesman and the manager
of the Wheel Club and arranged for KSEI to carry a remote broadcast featuring
Carl and his trio, live one night a week for thirteen weeks. The boss was not
happy when he returned and heard about the deal, but he was not about to give
the Wheel Club their money back so we broadcast the show for three months. I was
the announcer, engineer, producer and whatever else. I had to hook up the phone lines, set up our microphones, work out the song list with the
band, and act as Emcee.
By the time I got on the air with the first show, my adrenaline was over the top. My voice was about an octave higher than normal (somewhere near Edith Bunker's) when I announced (as the band riffed behind me) "Good evening everybody and welcome to The Wheel Club, with music by Carl Siemon and The Wheel Trio!" The broadcast went fairly smoothly in spite of my nervousness.
Carl introduced me to several musician
friends who came through town. He also introduced me to
the dread weed, Marijuana. I had heard of the stuff, of course. My mom had
inundated me with books and pamphlets warning of the dreadful consequences of
smoking the "evil weed." But I had a curious mind and Carl assured me that there
was nothing evil at all with the stuff. "In fact," he said confidentially,
"it makes you feel real good!"
It must have been really difficult to
score pot in 1955 in Pocatello. That was when they were still giving ten years
in prison for possession of one joint! But Carl had a little stash...very little,
and he insisted that I try lighting up with him. He rolled a toothpick--one of
the skinniest joints I ever saw, and we went through the whole routine of toke,
toke, toke, toke, h o o o o o o o o o o l l l d and let go. I tried it a few times but nothing happened. Carl assured me that I really was high, even if I
didnít feel anything. I decided it was worthless and didnít
try Marijuana again for 15 years.
In my off-time in Pocatello I played in
a golf tournament at one of the local courses and came in sixth in my
division--even got a trophy. I also interviewed Julius Boros who came through to play
a tournament and endured my amateurish questions with aplomb.
One of the DJ shows I did regularly,
when I had the night shift, was Lucky Lager Dance Time. It was a
formatted show, produced by the ad agency in San Francisco that handled the
Lucky Lager Beer account. It was on in most cities of the 11 western states from
9 p.m. to midnight. The stations were sent music lists for the show,
which consisted of sets of three pop songs, then a commercial, then three
more songs and so on. The man who picked the music and programmed Lucky Lager
Dance Time was Bill Gavin, later to become practically a God of radio programming. My style
was a bit too laid back for Mr. Gavin, who sent a letter
to the PD suggesting that I liven it up a little.
As I said, KSEI was on the
mezzanine of the hotel, and on the main floor was a bar. This made it all too
easy to drop downstairs while a recorded program was on and have one--or maybe a
few quick ones. Much of the evening programming was pre-recorded on reel tapes.
The programs were fed down the line by NBC. We taped them and broadcast
them at our preferred times. Sometimes, while the taped shows were on, I
would go in the production studio and start recording Lucky Lager Dance Time.
Sometimes I could get most of the show recorded, so I could hang in the bar
during the show as long as I made it back in time to switch reels.
One night I forgot that I had to read a
signoff newscast at midnight after Lucky Lager Dance Time and really got
ploughed. I staggered back up stairs at 11:55 and ripped some wire copy off the
UPI machine and bravely gave it a go, but midway through the broadcast I got to
thinking it was all pretty funny and started laughing. I cackled away for a
while until I finally got control and finished the news, the weather forecast
and the signoff. I didnít get any calls so I figured probably nobody was
listening but I found out the next day that someone was--the sales manager.
Nobody ever said anything, but I worried about it for a while.
KSEI broadcast religious programs on Sunday morning for several hours and one of them was The Old Fashioned Revival Hour, which was syndicated to many stations across the country and came on a large 16- inch disc. Each side contained a half hour of the show. Then, during a short break, Iíd flip the disc over and play the other side. I would usually keep the sound of the religious shows way down in the control room, read the paper, or fool around in production during the shows. One time I went to the newsroom to check the wire and noticed a few minutes later that Reverend Fuller was saying fervently, ". . . and Jesus Christ! . . . and Jesus Christ! . . . and Jesus Christ! . . . and Jesus Christ!" The needle had stuck in the groove and he repeated this hallowed phrase over and over until I could run down the hall to the control room and jab the record arm with a pencil or something to get it out of that groove. I didn't answer the phone for a while.
After a year, I got tired of the Pocatello
scene. It was pretty drab really, centered around the railroad, and on my
vacation I drove up to Spokane, the nearest big town and landed a job at KHQ.
When I got back and gave notice, Henry was really pissed off that
the station hadn't called him for a reference. I'll bet he would have given me a less than glowing one.
interview with Julius Boros
demo tape cut at KSEI