Memories of a DJ

ImageThird of an eight-part featuring the legendary rock group, The Kingsmen

Brian Beirne, “Mr. Rock ‘N Roll,” Reminisces

My dad took me to a radio station when I was 10, and I watched a guy spin the records, cue them up and talk about them. Elvis had just hit and was the rage of the day, and of course all of us kids wanted to pick up a guitar and be the next Elvis Presley. I played piano and guitar, but once I watched the guy in the studio, that was it.

I was a record collector from the time I was four. The magic words for me were, “Hey kid, see the records underneath the console? When we get done with them on the playlist, we get to take them home. And I thought “Wow, this is great. I’d get to play the records on the radio, talk about the artist, physically handle the records, and then I’d get FREE records!”

What’s interesting is, when my dad passed away several years ago, I opened the family trunk and saw my birth announcement. It was a baby holding a microphone. It was prophetic. Blew me away. I guess that was my calling. And I enjoyed every day I was on the radio in my 40+ years, and of course I got to meet great people along the way—got to have them on my radio shows wherever I was in the country—got to work with them, book them on shows, hang out with them and have fun. It was a fabulous career.

It was the “Golden Age of Rock,” and to a great degree, the second golden age of radio. We had freedom as disc jockeys. Today it is extremely controlled. You’re given a playlist. You’re told don’t talk over so many seconds, don’t do this, don’t do that. Back then, the personality of the DJ was really important. Now people seem very interchangeable. It was an exciting time to be on the radio. It really was.

When I got into radio, stations were owned by “moms and pops.” There were only a few major companies that owned radio stations, and there were restrictions—you could only own so many AM and FM stations, and so many television stations. I think there was a lot of freedom in the industry. Disc jockeys were stars. We were talent. We had a following like celebrities. It was exciting, too, because somebody would walk in the door that afternoon and say, “Hey, we’re The Kingsmen, and we have a brand-new record out, and do you want to give it a spin?”

I started in radio by accident when I was 13. I hung around the radio station from the time I was 10. Three days a week I’d take the bus there after school. I’d hang around and watch the guys, get them coffee, pull their records, and they would teach me the ropes.

One evening there was a live broadcast from the YWCA. Though I was shy, I’d go and hang around with the DJs. About a half hour into the broadcast, the jock said, “I’m sick. I’m going home. You take it.” And I said, “What do you mean, ‘me take it? I’m a 13-year-old kid!’” And he said, “You know how to run this!” So, the next thing I knew, I was on the radio. That lasted until my mother thought I actually was going to find girls down there at the radio station and put the kibosh on it. I went back into radio full time when I was about 17 and moved around the country to various cities. I was working in a major market by the time I was 21 and eventually settled in Los Angeles for 29 years at The Earth 101.

When The Kingsmen started to hit big I was 17. I remember when they recorded the live album at The Chase. I was on the air and the guys came by with a new record—they were always trying to crack me up, and I remember all of them, probably led by Mike Mitchell, when I opened the mike, they were in the production room across from me, all mooning me at the same time. In those days we had to read a five-minute newscast at the top of the hour, even Top-40 stations. I’d find myself reading the newscast and these guys are mooning me across the way to see if they could break me up. We had a lot of good times and I think that whole sound they produced at that time with “Money,” “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Jolly Green Giant,” were all really, as I said, not a polished sound, but it was exciting. It was new.

So many great memories and it all happened so fast, because right after that I started to do a lot of package shows that had five to 10 acts together. One day The Dave Clark Five are on your radio show, the next day it’s The Mamas and The Papas, then The Kingsmen drop by with a new record—it was kind of a whirlwind—the experiences and people I met during that period of time.

In terms of most amazing moment, there wasn’t a particular event, but more like the cumulative experience of being in that business at that point in time. Lots of exciting things happened. The Kingsmen were swell people and it was wonderful to be a part of their career at that time.

_________________________

Terri Nakamura is a professional graphic designer who loves social media, music and writing. Follow her on Twitter: @terrinakamura; Read her blog, Confessions of a Graphic Designer: http://seattledesigner.blogspot.com/ or find her connections on xeeme: http://xeeme.com/terrinakamura
© 2010-12 Terri Nakamura

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