June 30, 1999
Who was that masked man? … From out of a cave at the foot of Sunset Cliffs, the thundering hoofbeats and a hearty, “Hi-ho Sylvia … away!” The O.B. Ranger rides again!
Yeah baby. Austin Powers may be the embodiment of the 60’s retro spirit, but who was the keeper of the flame for San Diegans in the 60’s? The generational throwback then was to radio and movie serials like the Lone Ranger. Enter Gary Allyn and Neilson Ross … otherwise known as the O.B Ranger and his faithful Indian companion, “Indian.”
From his famous “wine colored velvet covered sofa” in North San Diego County, I recently had a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation with Gary, the leader of the little people … a tag some Sasquatch of a co-worker laid on him. Though it started out to be a quick call to finally meet one of the guys responsible for some of the funniest radio comedy long after radio ceased to be a variety medium, Gary’s involvement in Top 40 radio in San Diego necessitated numerous side trips. So, in true disjointed Quentin Tarrantino order, here we go. And speaking of trippin’…
The O.B. Ranger – “Far out! Groovy! And outasite! I am the O.B. Ra…” and that’s as far as Gary ever got in announcing the arrival of the crimefighter in the daily comic vignette heard in 1971 and 72 on Victor Diaz’s XHIS FM Stereo 90 (now XHTZ Jammin’ Z-90).
The Ranger skewered local politicos and the drug scene of San Diego’s own Haight-Ashbury … Ocean Beach. There were episodes celebrating various holidays, Ranger style.
The three to four minute skits were generally aired in two parts, a premise one hour followed by a conclusion the next. There were a total of 98 episodes. From the first 50 or so, Gary and Neil culled enough material to press a double album, which sold about 4,000 copies. “It actually charted in Buffalo,” says Gary. “A station there started playing it and in spite of all the local San Diego references, people loved it. It wasn’t nationally distributed, so word got back to us when record stores there began getting requests for the album.” Even though there were almost 50 more episodes written and aired after that, there never was a Volume 2 pressed and sold.
The two were also famous at the time for their parodies of local merchants’ spots … like the rip-off of Engine Eddie’s Boom-Boom girl on their Transmission Teddy spot.
Recently, Gary and Neil put together a special new episode of the Ranger for then-General Manager Larry Shushan’s 75th birthday party in Murietta.
For the benefit of purists who remember the original episodes, Gary was the voice of the Ranger. Neil, now a successful voice-over artist in Hollywood/Burbank, was Indian, bad guys Panama Red and Emil Nitrate, Chief Gus Stoppo, the announcer and just about everybody else with a male voice. The Chief’s secretary, Miss Melons, Madame Sativa and all the female parts were played by Lee Mirabal. Everything was written and produced by Gary and Neil and the art work on the album cover was courtesy of Account Executive, Jan Moorhouse.
His and Hers – One of Gary Allyn’s most interesting stories had to do with the previously mentioned outlet for all this foolishness, XHIS. “His” radio was possibly the first classic rock station. Gary programmed it with all the hip rock hits of the late 60’s that everybody else was passing up as old and outdated. He and Neil Ross worked out of one eight by eight foot studio in a hotel across from the tall ship Star of India, moored along side Harbor Drive. Their programming was shipped across the border to air on the Mexican stations. At the time, it was not allowed to originate programming here and send it by phone line for retransmission across the border. Everything was on a tape delay with the tapes physically carried across the border. 91X started in 1980 with the same setup.
Paul Schafer (not the bald one on the Letterman show) had sold the design for the automation system he created and which powered many of the Beautiful Music formatted FM stations of the 60’s. Now he’d come up with a new design based on cassette tapes. Keep in mind that in 1970, cassettes were not as popular with consumers as 8-track. The system involved clear and foil leader tape for light sensor and magnetic signals to control the sequence of events. Schafer had a no-compete clause, but it only covered the United States … the same loophole that today allows Clear Channel to control such a large percentage of stations and revenue in the San Diego/Tijuana market.
So, Schafer sold Victor Diaz on the idea and the system was installed at the Tijuana transmitters for 200,000 watt XHIS … hard rock station “His” … and 100,000 watt XHRS … soft rock station “Hers.” And, yes there was also going to be an “Ours” station further up the dial that never got off the ground. The 100.1 frequency used by Hers now belongs to the little Julian station carrying the satellite delivered Christian “Love” format.
The two stations were run out of two equipment racks, each with 10 cassette machines. Now, cassettes run at a speed of 1 7/8 inches per second. That, combined with the less stable players of the time and the still unpredictable quality of electrical power in Mexico made for an experiment in broadcasting that certainly had its moments. Gary tells how, “every day at 4, all the cassettes at the transmitter would go into rewind. We finally realized that was the time of day the sun came in the window, hit the equipment rack and set off all the light sensors on the cassette machines.”
It all started at a little 1,000 watt radio station in Fresno …actually, in Gary Allyn’s case, it was WING in Dayton, Ohio circa 1955. He was studying Radio-TV, Theater and Journalism in college when he got an offer to do overnights. He was not quite 18 at the time. His next stop was a daytimer in Cincinnati where he continued classes at night. Stops in Florida, Atlanta, Denver, San Antonio and a stint in the military brought him to San Diego in 1965 and two years at KCBQ’s 7th and Ash studios. It was there that he recalls the eager face of young Tom Irwin pressed up against the glass of the studios. Tom Irwin is now better known as Shotgun Tom Kelly.
In ’67 Gary went back to San Antonio to PD for a year before returning to KCBQ, now operating at the transmitter site in Santee. He was PD and midday jock during the glory years of ’68 and ’69 when Q had a 30 share. The secret was in bringing San Diego up to date. The owner, Lee Bartel had up to that point insisted that Q be a dayparted adult rock station. Boss Radio KGB was hipper and more consistent Top 40. KCBQ and the rest of San Diego was “five to ten years behind the rest of the country,” according to Gary. Once Bartel was forced out, it was just a matter of 50,000 watt Q outdoing 5,000 watt KGB at their own game. KCBQ was huge. They were even #1 in Tijuana. Harry “Happy Hare” Martin, the morning man, was the most recognized name in town. Says Gary of following Hare on the air, “It was like following a 14 year old trying to get him to clean his room.”
“Night guy Lee “Baby” Sims was “one of the best DJ’s I ever saw. And he was even better in San Antonio. He had a 60 or 70 share at night there.” That wasn’t really possible at 1170 AM KCBQ. They may have had a fat, if highly directional, daytime signal, but at night they were pitiful. Since losing a dispute with nearby KSDO AM 1130, also in Santee, their nighttime power is now even lower.
In an odd turn of events, the programmer of the station Q had beaten, Buzz Bennett, became Gary’s replacement at Q in ’70. From there, Gary made the rounds at many San Diego stations, including His and Hers as well as KSEA, San Diego’s first Top 40 FM. “At KSEA, we were in the basement of the old College Grove Center along with KSON. Our airstaff included me (Gary), D.J. McKay, Jeff Prescott, Gene Knight and Gary Kelley … all on an annual budget of about $30,000. B-100 may have been the FM that finally killed KCBQ, but KSEA paved the way for B-100.
The Long and Winding Road – In the spring of 1970, a milestone occurred in the music world. The Beatles broke up. Gary Allyn and Neil Ross went into the production studio at KCBQ with Beatle records, records of other artists doing Beatles music, taped interviews and razor blades and in about ten days, created a powerful three hour documentary called “The Long and Winding Road.”
“We got it on the air as soon as we could, and in the process made two mistakes,” said Gary. “We didn’t promote it enough and we ran it late in the day. The sun went down , we went to our night pattern and everyone north of Poway missed the last half of the program. We scheduled a repeat, promoted it heavily, ran it in the middle of the day on a weekend and got a 90 share of the audience.” The show was then sold to stations all over the country. The success of the Beatles documentary encouraged the duo to do similar shows for Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix when they died later that year. “We put the Hendrix special together in one day.”
Random thoughts and insights from the Ranger –
- Best DJ ever … Tom Clay. He once worked at KDEO AM 910. This is the guy that did the version of “What the World Needs Now” with the little kid interview in it.
- PD as king … Program Director isn’t just a title, it’s a job description. The PD has to have total control over the end product. What ever goes on the air has to have PD approval … spots, promotions … everything.
- Dumbest radio idea … 15 in-a-row. Why would any advertiser want to be #5 of 9 commercials after 40 minutes of music. And there’s no longer any separation of competing ads.
- It really gauls me that of all the great music, everyone plays the same over-researched 300 songs.
- Pet Peeve … too much sound processing. What is real? Keep it clean. The original studio producer knew what he wanted. Don’t second guess him.
- Best Radio ever … Texas in the 50’s and 60’s. The best of the best was KONO in ’64 with their KONO Millionaire promotion. Clues as to where the Millionaire had hidden his money led to a crowd of 75,000 people surrounding his Lincoln in an open field. Police were not amused. It was great!
- There is too much copycatting in radio.
- Stick to the fundamentals, but dress it up.
Where is he now? … For the last 11 years Gary Allyn has operated Sports Fantasy. For a fee beginning at about $40, Gary will produce a 5 to 6 minute custom play-by-play tape of the sport of your choice with the opponent of your choice and featuring you … or the person of your choice. “Bill Cosby has had me do a couple of dozen over the years.” Phone or fax Sports Fantasy at 760 740 1100.
And the Ranger? … Gary thinks it may be time for the Ranger to come out of retirement. I think he’s right. San Diego is on the brink of another Mayoral scandal. O.B. can look into reports of tainted Viagra at the Sands of La Jolla retirement home. The possibilities are endless. Here’s hoping that the crime fighter’s paisley mask doesn’t have too many moth holes in it.
Night Hawg … Beginning July 11, Harley Davidson joins Magic 92.5 (XHRM) for evening duty. Most recently with Media Master out of Milwaukee, he’ll replace Mark in the Dark at the Classic Soul station.
Magic twanger … Fear not for Mark. He’ll segue from Magic to Hot New Country 99.3, XHCR as Program Director.
Do they call the station van a Popemobile? … La Jolla based Catholic Radio Network has closed a deal for an outlet in Chicago … WYPA AM 820. That gives the Family oriented network facilities in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Denver, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Chicago and Orange County, California. Still no signal in San Diego though a power increase is in the works for KPLS, Orange (AM 830) that’ll bring it into San Diego almost as strong as KFI (AM 640).
The Fat Lady Report … Longtime San Diego personality currently doing afternoons at KPOP AM 1360, Jerry G. Bishop is working on a new weekly show that sounds ripe for syndication. It’s called “It Ain’t Over,” a show for the AARP crowd much as Adolfo Guzman Lopez’s KPBS FM evening show is aimed at lifestyle issues, features and entertainment for people in their 20’s. It’ll air from 5 to 6 pm Sundays. The pilot for Jerry’s show features an interview with entertainer and SDSU alum Art Linkletter, an 85 year old athlete from the Senior Olympics and a segment on Viagra.
Damn! There goes my script idea for the O.B. Ranger