The Neil Ross Collection

Neil Ross Logo
Neil Ross was born in London, England and raised in Montreal, Canada. Neil writes:

"My parents resisted the idea of having a television set in our home so I spent a lot of time listening to radio. Canadian radio was pretty stiff and formal in those days but I did get to hear a lot of great drama and comedy, some home grown, some from England, and some from the U.S. I heard a few disc jockeys, but most of the mid fifties pop music they played left me cold. When I left Montreal there was one hour of top forty music on one station. The show was hosted by a man and woman who appeared to have utter contempt for both the music and their audience. I suffered through their patronizing patter so I could hear Little Richard, Elvis, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. Except for Hank Williams' Jambalaya, rock was the first music that ever moved me."

"In the late fifties my family pulled up stakes and we moved from Montreal to the Los Angeles area settling in Long Beach, California. Talk about culture shock! From the snowy north to the land of palm trees and eternal sunshine. In Canada my Junior High had a dress code. Coats and ties were mandatory. My first day of school in Long Beach I was confronted with a sea of junior James Deans. White tee shirts, black leather jackets, Levis and construction boots seemed to be the order of the day. It was like walking on to the set of 'Grease'.

Neil Ross at KKUA Honolulu, 1968
Neil Ross at KKUA Honolulu, 1968

Neil Ross at KCBQ San Diego, 1969
Neil Ross at KCBQ San Diego, 1969

Neil Ross Head Shot
Neil Ross, 1980-something?

Neil Ross with Randy Thomas 2003
Neil Ross with Randy Thomas, announcing the 2003 Oscar Awards

I went home and put the coat and tie in the closet where they remain to this day. I began tuning around the radio dial and in short order I discovered KFWB. Here was top forty music 24/7 played by the 'Seven Swingin' Gentlemen' a group of DJs who seemed to be genuinely enjoying what they were doing and didn't make you feel like a cretin for tuning in. Reading up on the history of KFWB, I now know that the station had only been on the air with Chuck Blore's Color Radio format for a matter of months. Listening as a kid, I assumed they'd been there forever."

"One year later we moved again - south to San Diego. When my father told me about the coming move he asked if I had any questions. I had only one. "Will I still be able to hear KFWB?" He gave me that pitying look I had come to know so well, sighed and said, "Yeah, I guess so." It turned out that he was right. I had to suffer through a bit of static, but I could still hear color channel 98. In fact one winter's night I heard my idol, Bill Ballance, utter my name as the winner of a KFWB contest! Truthfully I don't think my entry was that clever. I just think the folks at the five thousand watter wanted the world to know that somebody was listening all the way down in San Diego."

"It was around that time that as I was listening to Ballance toward the end of one of his Saturday night shows. He said that as soon as he got off the air he was going to jump into his brand new convertible, pick up his gorgeous starlet girlfriend and that together they were going to 'cruise the strip'. I wasn't altogether sure what 'the strip' was or how one went about 'cruising' it, but I knew that Bill Balance was having the life that I wanted to live. That night the dream of becoming a disc jockey was born."

"Gradually I began to discover San Diego's top forty stations and I began two timing KFWB. I listened to KCBQ and 'The Mighty 690', XEAK from Rosarito Beach, Mexico. Then I discovered KDEO. Actually licensed to San Diego suburb El Cajon, 'Radio Kaydeo' was the 1,000 watt David, battling the 50,000 watt Goliaths. Eventually 690 went all news and it became a two-station battle. Around this time KDEO was taken over by Tullis and Hearn and for about a year they had one of the most amazing radio lineups I ever heard. That lineup probably was the greatest influence I had as a budding disc jockey. I left San Diego in 1962 and never got to hear KDEO again, until 1969. By then it had abandoned top forty for MOR. When I worked there in 1975 it was AOR. For some reason management gave up the wonderful KDEO call letters in the late seventies (what Arbitron diary keeper could possibly forget Raydeo Kaydeo?). Ron Jacobs cleverly snapped them up and took them to Hawaii where they remain to this day. The station that was KDEO is still on the air, now with five thousand watts and religious programming."

"Eventually, I got my chance to get in the business starting out at KMUR, Salt Lake City, Utah. I also worked at KORL, KGMB, and KKUA in Honolulu. Came back to San Diego to Work at KCBQ and KDEO. I also teamed up with Gary Allyn to program two super powered Mexican FMs broadcasting into southern California in English as XHIS and XHERS. After San Diego there was a year at KYA, San Francisco, then down to Los Angeles to work from KPOL/KZLA, KHTZ, KNX-FM and finally, a delightful ending to the twenty two year long radio phase of my career, three years at Gene Autry's KMPC. I never dated a starlet and although I've driven up and down it a few times, I don't think I've ever really 'cruised' the strip, but I did have some amazing experiences and got to meet some truly unforgettable people along the way which more than makes up for it. But as much as I loved it, I eventually had to face the fact that the radio business was deteriorating (compared to today it was still paradise) so I left the air in 1985 and have been a free lance voice-over performer ever since. Anyone interested in that phase of my career can find out more at www.neilross.com."

The Repository thanks Neil Ross for sharing!

[Descriptions by Neil Ross unless otherwise indicated]

G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 32 Kbps (8.5 Khz)
Mel Hall, KDEO San Diego, March 1961 (40:20)

. . . they dig our hot hits while they lay on their tummy . . .

[Description by contributor Neil Ross]

Return with us now to the thrilling days of 1961 in San Diego, California. A time when you could get a 15 cent burger, buy name brand tires for your car for 12 bucks each, get a suit for $34.95, fly to New York or Hawaii for $80 and most amazing of all, rent an apartment for $68 a month. (The current median apartment rent in San Diego is over $1,000.) I'm a junior in High School at this time and my favourite afternoon jock is Mel Hall. Hall was hip, cool, ironic, smooth as silk and often quite funny without being obnoxious about it. He was the only jock to survive the Tullis and Hearne takeover of the station in 1960, remaining in his afternoon drive slot. The rest of the staff included Don MacKinnon, Don Bowman, Steve Crosnoe and later on Mike Ambrose and Noel Confer.

Featured is newsman John Huddleston (not yet J. Paul - although he uses that name in a fake newscast that intros a commercial in this aircheck - imagine using cold war imagery to sell burgers!). I'm so glad the newscast wasn't telescoped. What a time machine! Older listeners will recall when African-Americans were 'Negroes', the Ed Sullivan/Jack Paar feud, the continuing soap opera of Elizabeth Taylor's life, radio stations broadcasting Police calls and how about teenagers buying old hearses to transport surfboards!! Those crazy California kids, what'll they think of next? Listen to Huddleston's timing on the half hour 'checkpoint', it should be required listening for today's crop of mush mouthed news mumblers. It isn't hard to figure out why Huddleston made it to KHJ a few years later.

Also heard on this aircheck are promos for legendary morning man Don MacKinnon. I have tape of MacKinnon in San Francisco and L.A. but nothing from his San Diego stint. Too bad. You hear his voice on one of the promos which features a Lenny Bruce wild track. Most of the spots are left full length. I think they help to give the flavor of the times. I telescoped a couple of the duller ones. To most of you the Dr. Free jingle will be an annoyance but to us old time San Diegans it's pure nostalgia, baby! I'm pretty sure that KDEO didn't have cart machines yet. You can hear the popping and clicking of the ETs. (That's electrical transcriptions, kiddies - not extra terrestrials)! Also, in the quieter sections you can hear interference from a nearby Mexican station drifting off frequency. Something we old time KDEO listeners had to suffer through.

Mel Hall continued on KDEO for a few more years after the time of this aircheck. Why KCBQ never snapped him up is a mystery to me. In the mid sixties he went north to program KRLA in Los Angeles and you can hear some of his production work on airchecks of the station from that time. He then returned to San Diego where he was in advertising for many years. I met him once when he came up to L.A. to direct a couple of spots in which I was talent. At that time I had the pleasure of presenting him with a copy of this aircheck.

Mel Hall passed away October 10, 2011.

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G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 32 Kbps (9 Khz)
Don MacKinnon Wild Trax for Mel Hall, 1961 (06:22)

. . . Hey, you like the jokes on this show? Crazy - listen tomorrow, you'll hear 'em again . . .

[Description by Mel Hall]

Don MacKinnon was the most imaginative, funny, and cleverly entertaining disc jockey ever to hit the air in the Top 40 era of rock and roll radio. Everything came off the top of his head, spontaneously. He often projected a completely 'bizarre' and sometimes, absurb sense of humor. Don delighted a fascinated and attentive audience. People listened to MacKinnon. Don MacKinnon was an ENTERTAINER. Don was also a master in the use of "Wild Trax".

"Wild Trax" back then, (1961) were pre-recorded voice comments, noises and 'what-not' that disc jockeys would cue and play for punctuation and comment. Don's were always unexpectedly hilarious. They always 'fit', and were always inexplicably funny.

When I was PD at KDEO, San Diego, and Don was the morning guy, I used Wild Trax too on my afternoon drive-time show. When I left KDEO in March of 1961 to become PD at WJJD, Chicago, Don suggested that he record a bunch of 'personalized' Wild Trax for
Picture of Don MacKinnon
Don MacKinnon
The Mel Hall Show in Chicago. My feeling at the time was that Chicago (a conservative radio market), and WLS (a conservative popular music radio station, the most popular station in town), would be stunned by a wild and wacky West Coast format and sound. It was a good guess.

That night, Don and I met back at the station and Don sat down in the production studio and started ad-libbing comments and remarks. He was wearing a sombrero, shorts made out of an awning and came in with a half full bottle of wine. Indeed, Don was at least 50% "in his cups".

What followed was a series of ad-libbed, nonsensical Wild Trax that were pure MacKinnon. When I got to Chicago, I selected parts of many and edited them for use during my show. Over the years the audio quality has diminished a bit and too, some have been lost. This collection features the original long versions. Thanks goes to Neil Ross who took the time to edit and make these presentable. I used these at WJJD, and, when I was PD at KQV, Pittsburgh. I decided I would not do a show when I was PD at KRLA, and anyhow, Don was on the competition, KFWB.

- Mel Hall, 2004

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G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 32 Kbps (8.5 Khz)
Mel Hall, WJJD Chicago, August 11, 1961 (27:49)

. . . yes, once we got rid of our adolescent blemishes, WJJD is indeed a very handsome radio station . . .

[Description by Uncle Ricky]

play This Exhibit 'SCOPED (16:22)

SCOPEDIf you don't want to hear the music, this version's for you!
Here's Mel Hall, Program Director and Afternoon Drive at So Swingin' WJJD Chicago, from August, 1961. You'll hear Mel using some of the Don MacKinnon wild tracks (featured above.)

Mel Hall passed away October 10, 2011.

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G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 32 Kbps (8.5 Khz)
Neilson Ross, KKUA Honolulu 1968 (02:12)

. . . as Jim Morrison said, just last night . . .

[Description by contributor Neil Ross]

Yes, it's me and I'm using my full first name. Didn't get around to shortening it until the mid seventies. KKUA in 1968 could best be described as a mix of singles and album cuts presented in a 'fake Drake' format.

This aircheck was made a week or so after the station presented The Doors at what was then known as The Honolulu International Center, a ten thousand seat venue which they sold out in a record breaking three hours. As you can tell, I'm still high from my one hour pre-show backstage visit with The Lizard King.

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G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 32 Kbps (8.5 Khz)
J. Akuhead Pupule (Aku) KGMB Honolulu, 1970 (07:50)

. . . The inability by professional people to report the facts . . .

[Description by contributor Neil Ross]

In this 1970 aircheck, Aku is angered by the way UPI has written about an interview President Nixon had given the previous evening. He feels they've slanted it. He calls the mainland (still a big deal in those days) and demands to speak with the writer. Eventually he gets someone high up to admit that the story is badly written. Then listen to the calls that come in afterwards from people angry at the "liberal media". Remember, this is 1970! Is Rush Limbaugh even Jeff Christie yet? It's almost like being present at the birth of right wing talk radio.

Aku, KGMB 1970
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G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 32 Kbps (8.5 Khz)
J. Akuhead Pupule (Aku) KGMB Honolulu, 1972 (09:29)

. . . I'll do the jokes, they do the dishes . . .

[Description by contributor Neil Ross]

One of the most unique things about Aku was that he did his own news. I asked him about this once and his response was "they only really listen for two things - 'Am I going to be late for work and is the bomb going to drop today?' If some other guy is telling them about the bomb, there goes half my act!" This 1972 aircheck consists mostly of his news and comment. He read over the newspaper and wire copy and would staple stories to pieces of paper with notes to remind him of things and then ad-lib a ten minute newscast which was frequently laced with his opinions and many humorous asides. It added a whole other dimension to him as a personality and made him much more than just a zany DJ. When political squabbles would break out local politicians would rush to call Aku to get on the air and state their case. It is a hackneyed phrase and one he never used, but if there ever really was a 'Morning Mayor' in radio, it was Aku. His knowledge of and willingness to deal with local and national issues and his ill concealed contempt for corruption in high places made him much beloved by his audience. I was always amused by his frequent use of Yiddish on the air and could never figure out what the various ethnic groups who made up his audience thought about it, but he didn't give a damn. This aircheck was made on a Saturday and you'll hear him make reference to the Jewish Sabbath. (He was Jewish, originally from New York.)

We didn't think as much in those terms then as we do today but now I realize that Aku was really pretty conservative. As you'll hear on this aircheck, in 1972 he had to be one of the last people in America who still thought we were winning the Viet Nam War.

Aku, KGMB 1972
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About J. Akuhead Pupule
by Neil Ross

Sadly, J. Akuhead Pupule (Hal Lewis) has been gone since 1983 and I wonder how many people in Hawaii even remember Aku. Mainland radio folk who never made it to the islands in those pre-internet days might have only been vaguely aware of him, but there was a time when this man owned mornings in Hawaii radio.

He came to the islands in the mid to late forties. His radio experience at that point consisted of playing fiddle in a country/western band that had a fifteen minute daily show on KYA in San Francisco. The owner of the mattress company that sponsored the show, noting Hal's deep resonant voice, tapped him to read the commercials on the show. This led to a weekend DJ gig on the station. When World War Two ended a number of the guys working at the station decided to try their luck in Hollywood and invited Hal to join them. But for some reason his wife insisted they go to Hawaii ("If we're going to starve, at least let's do it where it's warm" was what he told me she said). No matter how successful he became in Hawaii, I think it always gnawed at him that he never took a shot at the big time. Most of his old KYA buddies went on to great success producing TV shows and movies and I know he felt he could have done equally well. I think he would have succeeded spectacularly.

His first radio gig in Hawaii was at KGMB where he was assigned the morning duties which, in those pre television days, was considered the least important shift. In mornings he stayed as the car radio, the portable transistor radio and the rise of television gradually turned morning drive into the most important daypart in radio. Eventually he began buying the airtime and selling the commercials himself, a practice known in those days as 'brokering'. It had two advantages. First, he made a lot more money than he would have working for a salary and it meant that, since he was buying the time, he could do whatever he wanted to and not have to answer to "idiot f***ing Program Directors" as he described them. By the time the FCC outlawed brokering in the late fifties, Hal was firmly entrenched as Hawaii's top morning jock and even though he had to go back to working as a salaried employee, he was able to do it on his terms. He refused to take direction and he wouldn't work cheap. Unlike most DJs, his years of brokering had taught him what his show was worth on an annual basis. That's what he would charge to come to work for a station. "I'll give you huge ratings in the mornings, you make the money off the rest of the dayparts" he would tell prospective employers, "and keep your idiot Program Director away from me. I've got the numbers, let him fool with the rest of the station."

Numbers indeed! Hal was usually good in those pre FM days for shares ranging from the high twenties into the mid thirties with awesome consistency. The top forty stations would grab the teens and the rest of the stations would scramble around for the little that was left. In 1965, after having worked for a number of Honolulu stations, he returned to KGMB which had recently been purchased by the equally legendary Cecil Heftel. It was reported that he had a four year two million dollar contract. Huge money for that time and that size market. He was rumored to be the highest paid DJ in the country. How did he do it? Hopefully these airchecks will help explain.

Finally, a word about his airname. Akuhead Pupule is Hawaiian/Pidgen for 'crazy tuna fish head.' An irate listener called him that over the phone early in his Hawaii days. He found out what it meant, added the J for a touch of class and a radio legend was born. Most of the time he didn't use the full name, just referring to himself as Aku. He was an amazing character and he taught me many important lessons. It's an honor to present him to you.

G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 44 Kbps (9.5 Khz)
Neil Ross, KMPC Los Angeles, 1983 (13:24)

. . . No Dipping, the management has asked me to remind you, as you tango madly to the music of KMPC . . .

[Description by contributor Neil Ross]

What a great way to cap the twenty two year radio phase of my career — Three years at Gene Autry's 'Station of the Stars' 710 KMPC, Los Angeles. The better part of that time I spent doing middays, following the legendary Robert W. Morgan (featured on the Money Music Medley promos).

After years of top forty and AOR work it was a little strange to be on a nostalgia station playing music that had been popular when I was a child and in some cases, even before I was born. But I relaxed, got in the groove and did, in my humble opinion, some of the best radio work I would ever do. I'll always be proud of the three years I spent on 710 KMPC.

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The Neil Ross Collection has been featured at REELRADIO since March 21, 2004.
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