“City of Snakes”

3900ne-broadway-1947_4571

CHAPTER NINE

CITY OF SNAKES

KSO was one of the first stations to broadcast in the Midwest. It had fallen on rather hard times prior to Gene’s aquisition, going through a number of owners and formats.

I was greeted at KSO with an invasion of Timber Rattlers.

They had established a number of nests beneath our new building, which was constructed on the outskirts of town at the antenna site. With the coming of Winter, they started surfacing in various offices throughout the station. Those were much warmer than the cold Iowa ground below. On a late Monday afternoon, one quickly came slithering across the the Sales Room floor and its appearance coincided with a visit by Gene Milner.

He had come to town on one of his frequent visits and was in the middle of an inspired sales meeting. He was standing there and yelling something about how there were four different kinds of people in the world. The “people in the world” number would vary between two and five, depending on the subject at hand and his state of sobriety. He instantly braked to a dead halt between illustrations three and four. Gene backed-up at least six feet, the only time anyone had ever witnessed him in any form of retreat. It turned out that if he loathed and hated and despised anything worse than Clair Bowser, it was snakes.

“What the fuck?????”

“It was only a snake, Gene.”

“What the FUCK do you mean? ONLY a FUCKING SNAKE??”

“We’ve probably just got a few under the building.”

“JUST FUCKING SNAKES UNDER MY FUCKING RADIO STATION??

Sealing off the entire facility with plastic sheeting, the exterminators pumped cloud after cloud of concentrated cyanide gas under the flooring and around everything for three solid days. We were off the air during the entire period. I believe Gene listed “power failure” on the insurance claim, snakes not being covered by any existing policy. In the final phase of the procedure, dead reptiles were individually retrieved by hook and hung across a cable conduit which ran out to our radio tower. There were seventy-three of them altogether. There were big ones, thin ones, long and short. They were primarily Timber Rattlers, except for a few garter and grass snakes which suffered the bad luck of being in the vicinity.

Gene was glad that they were, in fact, “FUCKING RATTLE SNAKES”. Anything less might have called into question certain aspects of ownership reaction at the initial moment of confrontation. Milner pondered all such things at great length in his unyielding vigilance against potential destroyers, real or perceived.

The station did climb a bit in the ratings through subsequent months, the snakes bringing luck in their absence for our Irish owner. And for Eileen and her husband as well. Our first daughter, Laurie, was born on February 17th, 1965.

Along with programming responsibilities and an afternoon air-shift, my nights were again free to engage in personal promotion. I found these the source of both financial and professional satisfaction.

I carted my sound system and record boxes through fields of corn and played from glen to glen, but down no mountainside. Iowa is as flat as Bruce Willis. Colorado would be more your Demi Moore sort of State.

The main difference beween “hops” in Iowa and Michigan was a generally increased level of social conservatism, evidenced by a heavily pronounced police presence pulling armed chaperon duty at most teen functions. I never felt any sense of intimidation and, in fact, was often assisted in gear-carrying by many a friendly badge on blue. There were Andy Griffiths everywhere.

One particularly unique appearance remains indelibly etched in my mind.

In early Spring ’65, I accepted a “record hop” booking fifty miles north of Des Moines. Upon arrival, I discovered that I was one of the “acts” scheduled at a religious “social”. I believe the sponsors were some derivative of an Amish sect. While rock music was apparently approved for listening purposes, dancing was prohibited. A tented crowd of several hundred teens sat passively. I played song after song to muted silence, broken only by prolonged applause following each of my record introductions. After I finished my forty-five minute appearance, I was invited to join the sponsors and local police for ice cream. The badges on blue were not that friendly in early May.

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