“Hawkeye”

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

HAWKEYE

Of course, “Jason Hawkeye” was not his real name.

Jason Hawkeye, sporting a name of my creation, was John Nance Garner the Third. His Uncle,  John Nance Garner the Second, was Vice-President of the United States under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. John III hailed from Arkansas.

He was our “morning man” on KSO and had been working nights on 50,000 watt KAAY in Little Rock until Gene heard him while driving around Flint in the distant hours of a very long day and, whipping his car into the nearest parking target offering pay phone probability, rang-up John and hired him on the spot. Gene was often given to quick decision.

Jason was ten years my senior, about 4’10 and had a beard ZZ Top would envy. He resembled a miniature “Blackstone the Magician” and was, along with being a super “jock”, extremely bright.

He also came into town as a sterling example of “he sure doesn’t look like he sounds” and we went to great lengths building an altered image which made sense, including the name change which he himself had suggested since he was “sick ‘a bein’ John Nance Garnah The Third.”

I first became aware that he was coming aboard when Jason called from the Greyhound bus terminal in Des Moines and announced his arrival.

“Mistah Milnah sayed ta call ya when ah got in and ya maht come git me ’cause I ain’t got no car.”

Rather than provide any indication that I didn’t know who the hell he was or what he might be doing in Des Moines relating to our radio station, the fact that he had mentioned “Mistah Milnah” implied executive sanction from the highest level. I told Jason that I was overjoyed that he had made it in so safe and sound and that I would be right down in but a few minutes time.

There was a long pause at the end of the line in Flint after I finished my summation of the situation.

“He’ll be a great addition to your staff, Peter.”

“Did he say what I hired him for? “

I promised to get back to Gene after picking John Nance Garner III up and later was able to report back to Flint that soon-to-be Jason had been hired by Gene to do the morning show at five hundred dollars a week, approximately quadruple the going rate under normal budgetary guidelines.

Gene had also agreed to provide temporary living accomodations for up to three full months until a suitable apartment could be found and provide transportation to and from work . John Nance Garner the Third not only didn’t have an operator’s license, but had always refused to learn to drive a car as a matter of deeply-held personal preference.

When I got to know him well in ensuing days, Jason said it was in recognition of his Cherokee blood he felt it improper to operate such machinery, although riding along in mechanized vehicles was acceptable as long as they were “around anyway”. This was through no fault of his own.

The five hundred dollar weekly figure was a problem and Gene suggested I attempt to define the amount as a monthly salary.

This I reluctantly did. I informed John III that Gene was possibly in a strained state-of-consciousness heavily impacted by ownership pressures at the time of the telephonic hiring. Even though I knew Gene had probably said “week”, he now said “month”.  I promised to arrange the rest of the package as agreed upon.

“Sheeeit, Petah. That sum-bitch was drunker ‘n a coon in the corn, but ah was gittin’ mah ass fired anyways. I figgered what the fuck, so here ah am.”

The quickly christened “Jason” was mighty mysterious in any number of ways. He provided rapid evidence of a pronounced predeliction for whiskey, women and devilish, but not diabolical, witchcraft. In Jason’s head, it was always Halloween.

“Ah foun’ this ole gal kin read handwritin'”, he would cheerfully proclaim.

“Gimme sonthin’ you rote!”, he would earnestly insist.

As with many radio performers of his origin, Jason’s broadcast work could have led one to suspect he was a Princeton graduate. He could announce with perfect articulation and flawless enunciation without a hint of accent. But off the microphone and particularly away from the station, his Southern roots were at all times evident and the source of substantial and often expressed personal pride.

By the time summer ’65 was in full swing, I had arranged to rent an old “Big Band” hall in the heart of an aging amusement park near Euclid Avenue. Every Friday night, I would present five or six local rock bands from Eight ’til Midnight for a two dollar admission. In return for air time on KSO with which to plug the event, I would promote the station heavily during each presentation and arrange various mutually beneficial client tie-ins.

Gene had started to develop a dislike for Jason, not so much due to anything Jason might have done or said either on or off the air, but just because Gene hated facial hair, perhaps suspecting that another Karl Marx might be lurking behind each and every beard before him.

One morning during a conference call to Flint, Jason’s name somehow came up in the conversation and Gene asked, with typical “bolt from the blue” bluntness, what I was going to do about “that fuckin’ beard”.

We had discontinued participation in a nationally syndicated promotional campaign called “The Emperor” in which a station personality, normally morning show host, would be local “Emperor” of the air. The package came with jingles, comedy scripts and print material packages.  Jason had been KSO’s “Emperor” until Gene got sick and tired of the whole idea and ordered our involvement terminated. While “Emperor”, I suppose Gene felt Jason’s beard might make visual and exploitive sense. Now that “Hawkeye” had descended to commoner ranks, the hair couldn’t be there.

I took Jason out for a few whiskey and waters and explained the new dilemma. Jason expressed wonder that Gene could possibly be serious. I expressed shame in being the bearer of such sad tidings and testified that I wouldn’t blame Jason at all if he told me to “go fuck myself with a dead dog’s dick”, one of his many home-spun expressions I had come to cherish.

Ahhh sheeeeeit, Petah; ah know t’aint you.”

After a few more drinks, Jason allowed that he’d had the beard for an even dozen years and, all things reviewed, it hadn’t brought him a whole lot of continuing fortune anyway, so what the hell. We decided to turn the event into a major morning show promotion and have Jason shaved in public before the crowd of regulars during the next Friday night Rock Show.

We invented some sort of dumb pretext for the exercise (something about Jason attempting communications with aliens who had banned beards on their planet since they interfered with microwave transmissions and deciding to shave his own off as a gesture of interplanetary friendship) and found five barbers who all volunteered to take part in return for having their names broadcast on the radio.

We said that we were using all five in an effort to “set a Guiness World Record for Beard Removal” and threw in various other angles and gimmicks.  Friday night’s attendance broke records, offering Jason a measure of solace since I had insisted he accept half the gate due to his artistic contribution of a full face of fuzz. Letterman would have been proud. All parts came fabulously together, creating a moment greater than their sum.  Jason was wildly cheered as, in eleven seconds with no serious cuts or scrapes, Abe Lincoln at Gettysburg was transformed into Ichabod Crane of Sleepy Hollow.

Some people look “good” in beards and very bad in their absence. Jason was now the latter. His Adam’s apple (a projection of thyroid cartilage at the front of one’s neck) (nothing to do with your forbidden fruits) (Adam wasn’t one of those kind of guys, although his wife Eve actually ate one) was about the size of planet Pluto. Whenever Jason would swallow, he looked like a stork gulping down a bowling ball. Glllllllluuuuuubbbbb-d-gllllllllluuuuub.

Jason Before


Jason After

The entire episode was a harbinger of increasing misfortune for the remaining KSO air staff as the ratings leveled off and a competitor, KIOA, enjoyed growing success with a personality line-up which came to include many a former KSO jock. Several left at Gene’s insistence and even more departed after becoming chronically unnerved by his pronounced volatility.

In early August,  Gene blew into town with yet another “new dream”. This was to drop rock “Top Forty” programming and convert the operation to a more “adult”  “MOR” or “Middle-of-The Road” approach. This meant lots of Frank Sinatra, Ray Conniff, Andy Williams and Nat “King” Cole. And tons and tons of Tony Bennett. Goodbye Beatles, Stones, Isleys, Beach Boys and Berry.

I promised Gene that I would assist him in the music conversion, but that if he wanted to send any further employees out the door as a consequence of the change, I would no longer be available to perform such honors. I knew Jason would be among the first to be shoved, even shaved.

I extended a full two week notice in advance of of my resignation. I’d copped a very bad attitude on Tony Bennett after watching him whine on the Tonight Show about how his music wasn’t getting the radio exposure it used to because of all the terrible conspiracies going around.

“You can’t tell me they’re not payin’ somebody off, Johnny, ’cause the music stinks!”

Now he’s hanging around with Flea, scarfing down Red Hot Chili Peppers for breakfast, lunch and his evening meal.

“These kids nowdays just love me!”

Yeah, well, maybe just ’cause they can’t freely fuck without visions of HIV dancing through their heads instead of sugar plums at Christmas, you’re the next best thing, Tony. Hey, dinosaurs are in.  Ask Barney!

Rock ‘n Roll never forgets.

Gene tried various ploys and promises for a few days, but eventually agreed that we had enjoyed a productive relationship and that he would be glad to draft an excellent letter of recommendation for me, which he did.

I had been sending out tapes and resumes for several weeks and was hoping for a shot at WCFL in Chicago on a shift which eventually went to a different Barney, this one named Pip. He died in ’94  at the age of fifty-seven, burning to death in his car. He had fallen way down the ladder over the last few decades. He used to play a trumpet on the air and talk about turning people into “peanut butter”. The “trades” offered minimal coverage or comment.

I decided to head back to Syracuse with wife Eileen and daughter Laurie. We all spent a few months back home with Mom and brother Paul as I concentrated on landing a position with WIL in Saint Louis. Both the Program Director and General Manager of the facility were high on my audition tape, but had to put things on hold until an opening could be created. By December, I was tired of waiting and accepted a position as Morning Show host on WTLB in Utica, New York. The station was just fifty miles to the east down the New York State Thruway.  Bill Quinn, my old WNDR boss, was Operations Manager.

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