Boy Meets WIRL
The afternoon I started at WIRL (I think it was Wednesday), I was still trying to figure out the board, the log was running over with spots, and the news department was acting like they got paid by the story. They had "Big Red" reports and "Little Red" reports (sounds like our diplomacy!) Big Red was a Ford, and Little Red was a Renault. They cruised around Peoria looking for any reason they could find to screw up the flow of your program.
Since no one in the area had heard me before, including the management, I decided to let them know what they were in for. Coming out of the news, instead of playing a record I said, "Hi, my name is Adam Jones and every afternoon about this time we're going to have a radio program around here. But it won't be all fun and games – you'll be expected to do your part too. Your assignment for today is to give your goldfish a bath. I know, some of you are saying , 'My fish gives himself a bath!' Ah, but not with soap!"
Then I went to a record. Coming out of the music I was already four spots behind, but throwing unemployment checks to the wind, I only played two and said, "I just had a call from a lady who is all upset because she had to trip her son who was running across the room with a big box of Boraxo, headed for the fish bowl. Already with the complaints! Look if you people are going to hold up your end of this program, you're going to have to control your kids. I can't do everything!"
I heard Bob Potter, the newsman, out in the hall laughing. He came in and handed me a cart and mumbled something like, "another Robin Weaver."
"What a great compliment!" I said.
"I didn't mean it that way," he grumped.
Almost everybody listened to Robin Weaver in the morning. He was responsible for much of WIRL's dominance in the market. He was a big funny-looking man, with a little boy inside, and a real loose cannon on the air. I would set my clock for 6 AM and listen to his first hour, then go back to sleep.
I had an apartment at the Towers – a big building on top of a hill, just a few blocks from the station, and about a block from John's Rib joint. That made it easy to eat there about three nights a week. John was friendly and always asked if I had gotten enough to eat.
One night I asked him, "What if I said No?"
"I'd give you some more!" He smiled. A few years later when I was working in the Quad Cities, I saw on the news wire that he had won the Illinois Small Businessman of the Year Award! (The business was small, not John.)
I wasn't crazy about working at WIRL. One of the things I didn't like was that I had to do a five-minute newscast at the end of my program. So, there I was, making jokes about Vice President Johnson's Bird in the hand, or suggesting that J. Edgar Hoover shopped at Plus Sizes Pay Less, one minute - then bopping around the corner to the news booth to be Chet Huntley the next. The first night I attempted this laughable metamorphosis, I discovered something else I didn't like. I was just into the first story when clear as a bell, I hear this loud voice saying, "Tell him to go f. . . himself!" I looked up to see the kid that followed me, in the studio laughing like hell. Somehow the acoustics were such that he could do this without it being heard on the air. I tried hard to concentrate but every story was punctuated with dirty words. The kid was just very young, with a crew cut, and he looked like the Boy Next Door (if you live next to Ken and Barbie.) Where a boy with such a nicely scrubbed face learned all those disgusting words I'll never know.
At the end of the news (in which I sounded like Jimmy Stewart when he lost his place) I went into the studio, grabbed the kid by his shirt sleeve, and stated that I was grossly under-paid, and that if I punched him in the face and lost my job it was no big deal! That fixed the problem. He later turned out to be a nice guy.
There was a lot of work going on around Peoria those days, including a brewery, a stockyard, and a distillery. When the wind was blowing downtown and you put them all together they didn't spell Nosegay. One night when VLJ and I were leaving the station we were hit in the face with this toxic combination. My eyes started to water and I said, "What in the world is that smell?"
"What smell?" he asked. I guess it was a case of olfactory evolution (nose adjustment.)
"V" and Robin weren't the only guys I had fun getting to know at WIRL. Larry Kenney and Bill McClugage did a high school show, on Saturday I think. They both went on to make their living in radio. I heard from "Clug" a few years ago and I have kept in touch with Larry over all these years. He went on to have a great comedy and voice-over career in NYC. In fact he is the most successful of the "two first name" radio guys I've known and I'm happy to call him my friend.
Other former WIRL-ers that I remember are Bob Potter, Bill Winchell, Ken Brown, and Ed Wodka (as I called him, the Ten-foot Pole.)
Some of the things I remember about Peoria include The Static Attic, a teen nightclub run by a fellow named Dick LaHood. Later there was a congressman from Peoria named Ray LaHood. They must have been related because they looked so much alike (their eyebrows were the giveaway.) One of the groups that played the Attic was the Warner Brothers, and Timi Yuro (who was a big star then) appeared there a couple of times, after her tour of Europe.
Around the corner from the station was a health food store and juice bar. The people in the next apartment were having a Euell Gibbons party, so I stopped in the store to pick up a quart of sap and a box of bark (low-cal sycamore.) I met the two young guys who owned the place. They were so much fun to talk with that I stopped in almost every day, and I started drinking lots of good-for-me-juice. One day they introduced me to a funny young man named Royce Elliot. He really made me laugh. In fact, after awhile I leaned not to drink while I was talking to Royce (once you have carrot juice come out your nose that's enough.) Some of his lines were really clever. I would use a few of them on the air and give Royce credit. After this happened several times, a sports writer for the Peoria Journal Star wrote an article about him and my appreciation of his talent. After I left WIRL I put Gene Snyder in touch with Royce, and Snyder got him an emcee job (in Indianapolis I think.) I read on the internet that Royce died in 2013 and that in his later years he was still making Peoria laugh on a morning show called Royce and Roger. I've got to stop looking up old friends on the internet; it bums me out when I find they're gone.