Some High School Shenanigans

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I HOPE TO RELEASE LATER THIS YEAR.

(York High School’s Official Crest) 

Going to York High school was when things started to take shape for me. I knew a lot about York since my sister Mary just graduated the semester before I began my time there. I made the yearbook staff as a writer and pitched for the York Dukes baseball team from sophomore year on. Bobbo Ciciora also made those teams which made that time on the ball field even better. I had several circles of friends to hang out with at York thanks to knowing people from grammar school, little league, house league hockey and other places. One P.E. teacher, Mr. Trayser who was my sophomore baseball coach, assessed my reputation this way:  He once told me he heard two guys talking about a third person. One student said, “You know the dude, he’s a friend of Mick Kahler’s. “ The other guy said, “Well EVERYONE’s a friend of Mick Kahler’s!”

Several times I joined some fellow athletes and dressed as female cheerleaders for charity basketball games at York. Once we even did a full dance routine choreographed by the York Pom Pom girls. Another game, the Chicago Bears came in to play the York faculty and we saw five foot ten star running back Walter Payton dunk a basketball. Then later in the game he did it again!

(This was our graduating class’ yearbook)

My senior statistics math class was taught by Mr. Aggen, who also coached baseball. Me and one of my teammates Bubba Mc Carthy would take up lots of time talking sports, so Mr. Aggen let us do a three minute sports update at the start of every class. I brought in a couple of paper hats from White Castle for us to wear and called it The White Castle Sports Gossip Update. We did it like a radio sportscast and after getting our yuks out, it was time for learning. At the end of the semester we had a White Castle party with my mom making a burger run and delivering bags of burgers to our class.

Friends and I gravitated towards the humor of the old “Honeymooner’s” reruns. The so called “Original thirty nine episodes” were the best. I knew the dialog of every episode by heart. We were also big watchers of Monty Python, Saturday Night Live in its beginning years and Second City TV which was goofier and more ‘out there’ than SNL.

There were stupid pranks too. One time my friend Willie C mooned the kids in the York High School courtyard from a 2nd story hallway window. A teacher spotted him in mid-moon so Willie yanked up his jeans and bolted out of the building. He escaped free and clear after the moon shot. One problem, schoolbooks with his name in them were left at the crime scene. Willie came home that day to learn his mom had been called by the school dean. This mooning incident happened near the end of school year and he was grounded for most of our summer break.

After college, Willie C learned another way of getting exposure called doing a “Shorty Ballwalker.” You go to the bathroom, open your zipper, move your penis to the side and hang your balls out of the opening of your pants. No twig out, just the berries. Then you walk back into the party, bar, wherever you may be and wait until someone notices. One post-college night when a bunch of us were drinking at The Beaumont, a Halsted street bar in Chicago, Willie came out of the bathroom to proudly announce, “Shorty Ballwalker is here.”   Looking down I saw his nut-sack propped out of his opened zipper for anyone to see, so I laughed my ass off! It was a crowded place but nobody else in the Beaumont noticed the presence of one Mr. Ballwalker.

(Shorty Ballwalker, is that you?)

Behind the Radio Curtain: “To Live Any Other Way Was Nuts!”

THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I HOPE TO RELEASE IN THE NEAR FUTURE.

Over the years I was often asked, “What’s it like to work in radio?” Well it’s an unusual job and one not many folks have. It was more complicated than it looked or sounded. Booking guests, thinking up ideas for show bits and finding content the listeners want to hear takes a hell of a lot of work. It’s like a duck swimming on a pond; you see it gliding along the water, smooth and easy yet below the surface that duck’s two webbed feet are paddling away like crazy. You don’t just pop on a microphone at 5 a.m. and start goofing off and improvising. Maybe some people do, but I never worked with any of them.

Still, I never minded the work because radio was a labor of love that never felt like labor. It’s fair to say that 95% of the time I woke up on show days thinking “We’ve got this guest coming in today and I have great audio from TV last night, plus there’s our contest that’s going well, I have an idea for a listener call-in segment, and I haven’t even opened a newspaper yet.” In other words I COULD NOT WAIT to get to the radio station and make things happen.

EXTRAS, FREEBIES AND GUESTLISTS

Seeing movies, concerts, ballgames and being out at local clubs was how my time  away from the station was spent. Since we talked about these things on the air, I was able to deduct lots of expenses on my income tax forms. Also, newspapers, books, magazines, cable TV and cell-phone bills, all got written off as I carefully tracked my expenditures. I used to joke that my whole life was a giant tax write-off. Cost free concert tickets were a great perk. I got friends of mine and ladies I dated into plenty of shows and special events. The “He’s So Cool” factor might be the kick for some but I enjoyed the convenience. No standing in line for anything plus VIP parking made life easier. If a freebie that I wanted wasn’t offered, a quick phone call would be made and usually it was, “Yes, we can put you on that guest list. No problem.” Looking back on all the extras that were there for the taking, I think of Ray Liotta talking about the gangster life in “GoodFellas” when he said, “For us, to live any other way was nuts.”

IT’S SHOW BUSINESS FOLKS

I didn’t clash with air personalities often. Some could have overstated egos but I tried to avoid making a big deal out of that in the interest of harmony and getting the best product on the air. It’s a business. Like Jay Mohr, playing agent Bob Sugar said in “Jerry Maguire”, “It’s not show friends, its show business.” Radio people, like musicians, are a different breed of species. If you ever get radio show hosts, producers and programmers together at a bar or restaurant, that gathering is guaranteed to be a marathon of laughs and tight camaraderie. It’s usually a combination of the opening scene in “Reservoir Dogs” where the conversation ran from the meaning of the song “Like a Virgin” to the merits of tipping or not tipping waitresses and the opening scene of “Broadway Danny Rose” with all the veteran comedians commiserating about their careers. Call it “Reservoir Broadway Dogs.”

Big John Howell and I used to sum up having a career in radio by saying, “There’s no heavy lifting.” True enough. To put it in ‘prepare to use the seven second delay button language’, WORKING IN BIG CITY RADIO WAS A FUCKING BLAST!   The best comparison I can give you is it was exactly like “The Larry Sanders Show” except we weren’t on TV. THAT is it in a nutshell. You get heat from bosses to boost ratings, consultants tell you what things you do that are good and what sucks, you deal with sales people and their pitches and hair brained promotions, there’s the battle for guests, creative bits that are hopefully entertaining and the fragile egos and insecurities of the talent.   So if you never work in radio but want to know what it’s really like, just think of the onstage and backstage happenings of “The Larry Sanders Show.” Hey now!

 

The Glowing Green Crystal

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE LATER THIS YEAR

Christmas time at age eight is when I saw TV commercials advertising the ‘Say It-Play-It’ tape recorder. The ads showed you could record your voice or a song on a weird looking yellow plastic cartridge stuck in a small red console and listen back to it. I had to have this! In 1969, this was mind blowing technology. The tape cartridge was smaller and shaped different than traditional cassette tapes. Once it was in my hands I couldn’t get enough of my tape recorder. I’d record conversations at the dinner table, tell jokes into it, sing along to records, track audio of TV shows, you name it, I taped it and played it back.

(pictured above- The Say-It Play-It Tape Recorder) 

 That recording magic in the “Say-It Play It” was the genesis of my love and quest to work in media. To me it was what the glowing green crystal was to a young Clark Kent in the “Superman” movies. You know the story, a teenage Clark finds a green crystal that appeared to call out to him and it starts him on the journey to find out who he is and why he’s on the planet Earth.

My recording devices progressed from the Say-It-Play-It to a small reel to reel tape recorder with hand held microphone and then a basic cassette tape recorder. I also had free reign of my sister’s stereo and by age twelve tuned into and recorded radio shows hosted by a sarcastic sounding afternoon disc jockey named Larry Lujack on WCFL AM 1000.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT LARRY

Larry Lujack didn’t sound like your typical every day radio host. If he didn’t like a record, he’d say so. When he thought some celebrity was a nitwit, he nailed them or when a listener wrote a silly letter to him, he’d mock it with his “Clunk Letter of the Day.” I liked Larry’s sarcasm and found his bemused attitude aligned with mine. Larry’s name and face was all over Chicago for many years during his stints at WCFL and WLS AM 890. Billboards, newspaper ads, TV commercials, movie theatre public service advertisements helped make Larry a major presence. Most everyone in the Chicago area, age forty and under woke up to Larry Lujack and knew him well. He was smart enough to trademark his moniker of “Super Jock” so that no other radio host could use it. (Stealing names and bits is commonplace in the radio business.) Larry even released a book about his life aptly titled “Super Jock” which was co-written by local newspaper columnist Dan Jedlicka.

If I loved radio by listening at home or in the car and got hooked on the line by watching shows unfold in the WLS studio viewing area, then hearing Larry Lujack say on the air, “Here’s a story sent to us by Mick Kahler” had me reeled on the boat, in the bucket and over to the skillet, hot to make a career in broadcasting. Most people who work in radio can attest to the draw of that first time their name is said on the air or they actually get to speak on air via a phone call with an on air jock. It’s an acknowledgement of you and your contribution to a show. Forget about it! I heard the siren’s song and was a radio goner.

Larry Lujack, the king of morning rock n roll radio in Chicago

I sent Larry a great “Police Beat” item from my local paper about a guy who was arrested for sniffing other people’s toes. Lujack tried to be serious when reporting the police blotter stories but my toe sniffing tale cracked him up big time. Another time Larry read a letter from me inviting him to join Willie C and me at a Ramones concert. I sent the offer because he said he liked the punk band. I knew Larry would never say yes but thought he might read the invite on the air. He did. I managed to catch some of my on air mentions on tape and with each hit of recognition I got, I could feel myself getting closer to finding my own version of radio nirvana.

Parental Guidance

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE LATER THIS YEAR. 

 

Personality-wise, I was more like my mother, social and outgoing. She was a patient and excellent listener who people trusted and often came to for counsel and advice. Dorie Kahler became an Elmhurst City Council Alderman in the mid 70’s. She was asked to run for higher county office but four years of small time politics was more than enough for her. My mom once won a large thermal cooler at a Drive-In movie theatre for being the fastest to melt a snowball by rolling it up and down her arms and legs. She found herself in situations like that and just rolled with them; sometimes literally. The sass in Dorie Kahler was inherited from her father as an occasional yell of “Asshole!” to a bad driver on the road was part of her repertoire, sometimes doing so with my friends in the car, we loved it!

My favorite “mom story” comes from my teen years when I told her an off color joke that she passed on to co-workers at Good Samaritan Hospital where she was a secretary in the psychiatric ward. A few days later mom learned the joke went ‘viral’ all over the hospital, on all shifts with everybody cracking up laughing.

Alright, I’ll give you the joke. A mom bakes a cake for her three young sons and decorates it with those little silver balls, smaller than a BB that you can digest. After eating some of the cake, her first son goes to pee and comes out of the bathroom screaming “Mommy, mommy! I wee-weed a BB!” She asks, “Are you O.K.?” “Yeah” he answers. “I guess it just scared me coming out like that.”   The second son goes to the bathroom, comes running out, “Mommy Mommy! I wee weed a BB!” She asks “Are you O.K?” Yeah, I guess it just scared me coming out like that.” Ten minutes later her third son comes running out of the bathroom, “Mommy! Mommy!” She nods her head and says, “Yeah yeah, I know. You wee weed a BB.” He says, “No, I was playing with myself and I shot the dog!”   Mom tells fellow staffers that joke at the hospital and the whole place is rolling on the floor.

My father had a dry wit but it wasn’t something he shared with many outside the family. My passion for movies came from him. Pop had an encyclopedic knowledge of films dating back to when he was a teenager. He knew the stars featured in any major film released to theatres and his taste in quality movies was impeccable.

The most valued trait I got from my family was their ability to do extra special things for others. When a birthday came up, it wasn’t “Do we get our son/brother, another shirt or some money?” It was more like “What can we do that’s REALLY outstanding?” Mom, dad and my sister Mary lived for bringing out cool gifts that were extra special and I was often on the receiving end of these. An example would be when I was seventeen and dad surprised me with tickets to see comedian George Carlin. He knew I listened to Carlin’s albums, found out about a Chicago area appearance Carlin was making and took me out for a night of hilarity. Seeing George Carlin in concert when I was still in high school, how many teens can say their father treated them to something so cool?

 

I’M GOING TO PARTY TOWN!

 THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE LATER THIS YEAR

When I was in high school, the legal age for drinking beer and wine in Illinois was nineteen and to drink hard liquor you had to be twenty one. My friends and I began social weekend imbibing at age sixteen.   Some of us, myself included, started shaving so it was easy to look nineteen and buy beer at liquor stores in neighboring towns. We rarely got into the hard booze. A few cans of Old Style or Olympia beer at weekend parties would do just fine thank you.

My parents had a liberal attitude towards alcohol. They told me to call them if I was ever too liquored up to drive, get a ride home from someone sober or just stay over where I was until the morning. By age seventeen they allowed me and my friends to drink at our house. My mom would fill us up with snacks and keep an eye out to make sure nobody went too nuts with the suds. The idea from the folks was, “He should learn how to handle drinking at some point and if it happens under our roof, so much the better.” And yes, there were a couple of times when I had to bunk at a friend’s house due to being over-served and on occasion I hosted buzzed pals at my house for the same reason. One friend filled up half a laundry sink with beer and pizza puke then passed out on a cold basement floor with his head resting against our cat litter box.  Hey, we were young and sometimes stupid.

Senior year, during our Christmas break, we had a huge kegger bash in my basement and one of my teachers and his wife came by to say hey. One guest was the daughter of the assistant superintendant of our school district at the time. In our underage drinking days, if you got caught by the police with alcohol, it was rarely a big deal. Elmhurst cops just made you pour out all your beers and if you weren’t drunk they’d send you on your way. No arrests or police reports, no tickets, no court dates or alcohol counseling. Back then things were much looser than today.

Some weekends, I had baseball teammates over for poker and beers. One time someone stole a ham that my mom planned to serve us for Easter. That was the same weekend when our cat Squeaks delivered a freshly killed rabbit to our back porch on Easter Eve. The next morning I awoke to find no basket of candy waiting for me. My first basketless Easter! My parents thought I outgrew the whole treats thing but I hadn’t. So I asked my mom why I didn’t get a basket full of candy. She calmly answered, “Sorry Mick, Squeaks ate the Easter Bunny.”

Outside of the beer guzzling, the rest of my partying history wasn’t anything too out of control. Put it this way, the late Glenn Frey of the Eagles was asked about his band’s past drinking and drug use habits. Glenn said, “We weren’t the Stones but we weren’t the Osmonds either.” Well for me personally, I wasn’t straight like the Osmonds but I wasn’t as crazy as the Eagles either.