Life, death and radio
News this week that longtime San Francisco music station KFOG will soon be no more. It’s going to drop music and switch to simulcasting sports-talk from KNBR.
Gen-X Bay Area natives, like me, may remember KFOG as one of the seminal music stations of the eighties. Along with the long-dead KOME, of San Jose, it was pretty much the soundtrack of my high school years. My friends I and I would sometimes hang out at the Campus Shell gas station at Stanford, where one of our clique worked, and listen to KFOG in the evenings.
I barely listen to radio anymore. Commercial music radio is unlistenable, and even NPR’s Beltway-obsessed news has worn thin for me. Spotify and podcasts have filled the void. But I was a radio romantic when I was young. As a tween, I used to put the radio under my pillow at night and listen to AM talk radio and revivals of old radio dramas and comedies. For a few years, in the early nineties, I thought I might wind up working in radio. I did college radio while in grad school at SF State, and interned and later worked at the short-lived KDBK rock-talk station, a few other ill-fated music formats at the same transmitter, and later as a talk-radio producer at KSFO.
Boy, did I dodge a bullet. The Internet emerged while I was a grad student, and I ended up going to Singapore in 1995 to make online computer games and the rest, as they say, is history. Seventeen years later I returned to the U.S., and people I knew who had been playing seventies rock standards at weird hours of the weekend were still playing seventies rock standards at weird hours of the weekend, but for different stations. Thank Christ I didn’t do that.
Still, I look back on my brief flirtation with broadcasting with some affection. I met some lovely people, played some terrible music, and worked some ferociously shitty hours.
In 1992, before I started interning at KDBK ,I went down to their studios to interview one of their most famous DJs, M. Dung, for a school assignment. I was reminded of this today because Dung had spent essentially all of the eighties as a fixture on KFOG, doing morning shows and mid-days. I spoke to Dung for a couple of hours in between mic-breaks while he was doing his show. He was amazingly gracious and patient, philosophical, and a bit melancholy at the age of 35 after an already long career in radio.
A couple of years ago I stumbled on the transcript of the interview and I emailed Dung (real name: Mike Slavko) to ask if he would mind if I published the transcript here. I never heard back. Today, upon hearing the KFOG news, I checked online and it turns out that Dung died just a little over two years ago, following long-running health problems.
So long KFOG, and so-long, Dung.
Anyway, below is the transcript of that interview. This is 7000 words, so probably suitable only for radio hard-cores. But a bit of a time capsule of early nineties life in Bay Area radio.
December 3rd, 1992:
WM: I want to start with the basics. I’ve listened to you on and off since ’81 or ’82 I guess, when KFOG did its format switch…
MD: January of ’83.
Early high school for me. A long time. That’s one of the reasons why I was interested in talking to you, because I can remember you further back than just about anybody else on the air in the Bay Area. So, how did you come to be in radio? Why radio? Were you always attracted to it, or did you stumble [into it]?
Well, actually, I used to listen to radio a lot when I was a kid, but it never occurred to me to be a DJ. I was going to be an actor. I started in theater in high school and continued that through college. I’ve always loved rock and roll, and a friend of mine — when I moved to college you had to spend your first year in the dorms, so I met this guy who worked in the radio station at the college — I started hanging out with him, and I started hanging out there, and one thing lead to another and I got an airshift, and that’s how I started being a DJ. I just kind of fell into it. I learned everything that I know by just hanging out and watching people do their thing. I never took a broadcasting class. Ever. From there I got my first job while I was still in school. That was in 1979. I started out at a tiny little AM daytime station doing adult contemporary music. It was the worst man, but it was big fun because it was my first job in radio, so that was exciting.
And were on air from the beginning?
Oh yeah. I started out doing the night-time shift 7 to midnight. I was just really tickled to be doing it, but it was the worst. They had a top 20, and you played all twenty every hour. Then you had a few oldies — golds as they called them — and you threw those in. By the end of the shift you’re ready to shoot yourself because you’re so sick of that music. And actually, while in college my dad worked at Chrysler in Detroit, and they had a student program that they would hire temporary people to fill in while others were on vacation, and so I would work at Chrysler in the summer. They would let you go just before you got seniority so you couldn’t join the union. You were just a temp. But I made some pretty good dough. Actually that experience of working on the line helped me in commercial radio because it’s the same trip. Put on one thing, take it off. Put another thing on, take it off. So that got me through my first gig in radio. From there I got a job — the station I worked at was an an AM and FM in the same company — WLAV AM was where l started, and then the FM was a 50,000 watt rock and roll station which served all of western Michigan. I was lucky enough to get a job there too, and I left the AM, and the guy that hired me had heard from several people that I was doing this crazy show on college radio called the All-Night Idiot Show.
You had a transmitter though.
Yeah. It was on top of our campus center. Ten watts isn’t that big of a deal, but Michigan is flat, so the signal goes out pretty good.
Couldn’t do that around here.
No. Not at all. That’s why radio reception is so fucked up in this place, because of the terrain. Anyway we could never figure out why we couldn’t get to Grand Rapids, which was only twelve miles away. Finally we figured it out. The first engineer who set up our station turned the antenna so he could listen to it where he lived. It was one of those antennae that was directional. So the FM signal [illustrates] — there’s the antenna — came out like this, and there was a blank space facing Grand Rapids. So we had to turn the antenna around so our reception was better in the city. That was pretty wild. Really had a lot of good times doing that college stuff. I literally lived at my radio station for a couple of months because I lost this place I was living in. It got demolished. It was this old farmhouse. Fucking thing just fell down. I had to move out, and it took me a while to get a place, so I was living in the campus center, which was totally weird. But it was a lot of fun.
Anyway, it was great experience. The best thing about radio is that you learn a lot about people, because it’s like a family, all the people that work there.
I enjoyed getting to know all these different people, because everybody’s attracted to a radio station. It’s this whole mystique. Did you ever see the movie American Graffiti?
Well there’s this scene where the kid goes to meet Wolfman Jack at the radio station, and he comes in there, and he’s talking with this guy who is Wolfman Jack, but he doesn’t realize it. And he’s going [imitates Wolfman Jack] “Yeah, the Wolfman gave me my job when I was just starting out…” And the kid says “I got to have this song played for this girl. It’s a major thing in my life.” And Wolfman goes [Wolfman voice] “Alright, I’ll try to play it for you.” Anyway, he’s walking down the hall, and the kid looks back in the mirror and he sees the guy talking into the mic, and he realizes that he was talking with the Wolfman. That’s the essence of radio, man. That’s the best scene about radio I’ve ever seen in my life.
Still a little romance to it, I guess, depending on where you look.
Well, you know, in this era a lot of that has been stripped away. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do what I do. I don’t understand it. Anyway, became the program director of my student station. I worked my way up in my senior year. My overnight guy quit showing up, and I really wanted the station to be on 24 hours, so I just did overnights myself. That lasted about a week. Then I got sick of just being the normal guy playing the tunes, so I decided to have some fun. If I gotta be here all night I might as well have fun. So I got all my old records, and just went crazy…yelling, and playing music and just getting nuts. Just to get some kind of reaction, because everyone was half asleep. You always figure “no one is listening to me, right? I’m going to make them call me.” So that was my whole deal. I took the phone calls live on the air. It used to be pretty wild. I got some tapes somewhere of that stuff. It got me my job. The show was so out there that I never figured it could be on commercial radio. But my friend Dave gave me a break. I was on this FM station from midnight to 6 playing oldies. A six hour show! Yow! And all my songs were two minutes long, these old rock and roll tunes! So it was pretty wild. And [Dave] left to go here [San Francisco] to start up KFOG. KFOG started in September of ’82. In January he offered me the job to come out here to be assistant production director, and he gave me the weekend show on Sunday nights. So, I was told that San Francisco was real hard to break into…
They’re still saying that.
I guess so. I don’t know. But I’ve been very lucky. I stayed at KFOG for almost ten years, and that helped to establish me.
A ten year tenure in radio is pretty remarkable. It’s a notoriously volatile industry.
Well, it can be. There are people who’ve been on the same station for fifty years, thirty years. It’s not that unusual, but it’s kind of uncommon. It depends largely on who you work for. There’s a lot of shitty places to work in radio. There’s a ton of radio stations over the country. Not all of them are owned by reputable companies. Some of them are. So if you can get in with a good company, if you want, you can stay there. [Answers phone] Hello KFOG…uh, KDBK…
I have you thinking retro now.
Yeah. So, KFOG was owned by NBC when I first started working there. They sold it to Susquehanna, which owns several radio and TV stations throughout the country. Their main thing was making stoneware, plates and stuff. But then they also had a radio division. So they had great benefits and all sorts of stuff.
So you actually came to the Bay Area through a contact, then. That was your in-road.
Yeah. The guy who gave me my break right out of college hired me to come out here, and gave me my big break.
So you did ten years at KFOG, and all of a sudden you came here [KDBK), and it was actually in the papers. You’ve become sort of a fixture. Now, a lot of my memories of you are from doing the morning show at KFOG. When did you move from just doing Sundays into doing a regular shift, and then into the morning?
Lee “Baby” Simms was the original morning guy on KFOG, and they had a dispute of some sort where the relationship deteriorated. They wanted to get rid of him, but at the time KFOG was union shop so they couldn’t just fire him outright. They had to go through this large process of memos and reprimands, and it’s just a drag. So it took them a while, and Lee would fuck with them all the time. He’d call up a half hour before he was supposed to be on the air and say “I’m not coming in,” and that’s how I got my break doing mornings. They called me to fill in for him, and I’d never done mornings so it was all new to me. Then they finally got rid of him, and they figured, let’s just put Dung in the mornings. And they didn’t want me to be “Dung.” I had to be “M.” They figured that Dung was a bit offensive. They figured the advertisers wouldn’t want to buy time on “Dung’s” show. But everybody knew it was me anyway. It was kind of silly, but that was the deal. So my first morning stint was from ’84 to ’87, then I was totally burned out, and I said “I cannot do this anymore.” So I went to nights and then I went to afternoons, which was a great shift. I love doing afternoons. I like doing this shift [10:00–2:00]. And then they talked me back into going on the mornings, so I did that from ’89 to ’91 I was the morning guy. For two more years. Five years of mornings.
When you were doing the morning show at KFOG and you were still doing the Idiot Show too, did you do that live Sunday evenings and then come back and do the morning show Mondays?
That would kill me dead.
It wasn’t a great way to start the week, that’s for sure. They wanted me to give it up, but I wouldn’t do it because I got to do what I wanted.
I guess the music you play on the Idiot show — a lot of the old R&B and Motown — doesn’t have much of an outlet on radio anymore.
Hardly any except for public stations. See that’s the thing with oldies and presenting music. A lot of music is as vital and exciting as it was back then. It’s all in the presentation. Most oldies stations, it’s always these “golden memories…remember when…” You make the people who do remember feel like fucking fossils, and the people who don’t remember you totally alienate…the young people. They can’t relate to that at all. How can you relate to that when you’re fifteen? It’s meaningless! So they tune it out. They don’t want to hear that stuff because it’s for old people. So if you just come on and say “Hey! Yow!” And just play, people get into it because it’s great music. So that’s how I try to present it, and it seems to work because I get listeners, old folks, and I get kids calling up.
So after 10 years of KFOG, what was it like to suddenly end up here [KDBK]?
Well, my contract was up, and they said they didn’t want to renew it. They had a new boss coming in, and he changed the station around.
Didn’t they get a new music director too?
Well, they just figured that I didn’t fit in there anymore. So it was a big trauma for me man, but it was cool, because it got to the point where I thought “God, am I going to work here for the rest of my life?” After I got let go they still had to pay me through the summer, so I was getting money coming in, and I got a huge severance check from them because I had worked for them for so long. So I took the money i went to Hawaii for a month and just hung out. I needed to really relax and just get away from everything. So I came back, and then Chris [KDBK program director Chris Miller], my boss now, called me up and said, “You want to do this, we got a whole new thing happening here?” And I said sure, let’s do it, so I got a job second day I was back in town. [Takes calls]
We were talking about how it felt to switch after ten years at ΚFΟG.
Oh, it’s all different here, you know. KFOG had really nice studios. We had just recently moved into the place — they’re a block away, just up the street. It was exciting. It was kind of scary. It was nice though, because this is a new format, and it’s always great to break in a new format so you can make it your own. It’s a new time period, a new station — Viacom owns this station — and after the first [of the year] we’re going to get new studios and new equipment, which we really need.
They’re going to be in the same suite, here?
Same space, just different. I don’t know what they’re going to do, but they’ve gotta do something.
Yeah, I notice you’re playing everything on cartridge except for one CD player. I always thought that was sort of a top-forty station thing.
Technically this place is in the stone age, man. That room in there is like a nightmare [gestures at adjacent production studio]. They have one turntable in this station. When I do the Idiot Show all my stuff is on records. So they had to bring in a new turntable. They have no remote starts, I have to start them by hand. It’s like I’m doing college radio. Worse than college radio. Half the shit here doesn’t work. It’s not that the engineers here aren’t…[pauses], they just haven’t had to do real radio here before. Everything was just real mellow and almost automated. It’s frustrating, but you’ve just got to roll with the punches.
Well that leads into something else. This is a new format, and I know that at the radio program at San Francisco State it’s become very popular with the DJs. This station, by and large, actually stopped me channel switching. I bought a remote control receiver because I write for a living, and I just zap, zap, zap, every chance I get. When they switched format from Double 99, I stopped going zap. We’re all thrilled by it, we like it a lot, but I’ve heard that the books are still sort of weak, and it hasn’t been around long, and of course this transmitter doesn’t have the most storied history. Didn’t this used to be KQAK way back and ΚΚΟΥ?
Yeah. The quake and the City, and it used to be KMPX.
So is KDBK going to have better luck?
I hope so, man. I hope it takes off. This business is crazy the way it’s run. I mean, it’s just insane. Every ratings period you just throw your fate to the wind, you know? It’s like you’re going to school, study your ass off, pass all your tests, you get your report card, and you get an ‘E’. That’s what it’s like man, you work hard at something, but it’s not up to you. It’s up to this bizarre…thing, that this is where you stand, you know? It really is crazy. But you have to develop a little thick skin being in this business, and realize that that’s the nature of the business. And unfortunately, whether or not you like it, that’s the way it is, so you’re going to have to deal with it. It’s nice being in public radio because you don’t have to deal with that aspect of this job, but once you make the transition it can be scary, because your job is on the line. If the ratings say that you’re not happening, you’re not happening. That’s the deal, and it’s kind of hard to take sometimes. And it’s really frustrating when it never seems to happen, you know? So I hope we have some luck here. It takes a while. When I started working at KFOG they had no ratings either, man. They had a point six. That’s like nothing. And this place right now is at a point nine. However the Double was not doing well, and that’s why they switched the formats, and this place has only been on since August, which is not that long. There’s been no real promotional blitz; we got to wait ’till January for our new budget, and then I would expect you’re going see some TV ads, some billboards, shit like that. Bumper stickers would be nice. So it will all happen when it’s time. It took KFOG a good two years to make a dent in the ratings, and I think the company [Viacom] realizes that, and they’re going hang in here with us. Hopefully we’ll get some numbers.
I hope it sticks around.
Me too. [Laughs]
So, Bay Area radio. You’ve had an ear to it for the last ten years. Have you seen any dramatic overall changes or shifts in the whole radio scene in the Bay Area?
Not really, you know. Except, I like Live 105 [KITS]. I think they’re a great station. I love Big Rick [Stewart]. Alex [Bennett]…actually he’s grown on me. I still don’t listen to [Alex] because I think he sucks…but actually Alex is very close to what’s happening in L.A. radio. If you go down to Los Angeles and listen to the morning shows there, it’s all talk. All they do is talk. Nobody plays any music. It’s all talk, comedy, that kind of shit. Alex is really the only one doing that, except for Blake and B.J. [KDBK’s then morning-show hosts], these guys who’ve just started up. Alex is good, I guess, but he’s not a D.J. I have my own personal…[pauses] He’s been my nemesis for ten years, man! I don’t want to get in trouble and say anything, but he’s an OK guy. But radio in general…it seems the bigger the market the more bland the radio gets, and the more sterile it gets. Predictable. Really just like background music. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Video…MTV…did a lot to shake radio up.
Before you continue on that line of thought let me inject something else, because this is related to radio, the business as a whole and where it’s going, what with the advent of things like digital radio on the horizon, and DMX-which is being carried on Viacom now — and our orientation as a very visual society. We like our mediated messages to be visual. How do you think that’s going to affect radio into the future?
Oh, everything like that is going to affect radio. The digital stuff…it depends on what age group you’re looking at. It’s pretty complicated when you think about it, but basically in radio you have morning drive and you have afternoon drive. Those are your two big dayparts. That’s when you want the big ratings because then you can command the most dollars for your spots…for your air time. Mid-days, doesn’t matter. Nights, forget about it. Overnights, you’re in the twilight zone. None of that shit matters. The two big dayparts are mornings and the afternoons. And basically, most of the audience is a commute kind of thing. It’s people in their cars listening to the radio…mostly. So you’re dealing with somebody who’s getting up, going to work on the morning… Now I’m going to play my Dave Edmunds tune, and I’m going to rock out. Can we talk after the Dave Edmunds song is over?
[Pauses for mic break. Rocks out.]
Like I said, a lot of it depends on what age group the station is trying to reach. Traditionally, top 40 stations and stations like KMEL –urban — get big listenerships because a lot of their listeners are teenagers. And I think teenagers and younger people listen to radio more than people in their thirties and forties, or at least listen to the radio longer. You get into a situation where, with a classic rock station, or an oldies station especially, it’s like you’re appealing to an older audience that doesn’t listen to the radio that much anymore, so your ratings aren’t going to be that hot to begin with. You’re relying mostly on your personalities, which today is rare to have an established personality. And record companies, they don’t give a shit about oldies stations…classic rock. They want you to play new material because that’s how they make their dough. And if you’re playing catalog stuff they virtually ignore you. So if you’re playing current music like we’re playing, it’s somewhat of an advantage because people will listen to hear new songs that they wouldn’t normally hear. And I really believe that people will hear a new song on the radio before they see it on MTV. You’ll hear it on the radio or in a club. That’s probably where you’ll hear new music first. There’s only so many pieces of the pie. San Francisco has a large amount of radio, and actually AM radio does better than FM because of the terrain. FM signals don’t work well with mountains and shit, whereas with AM that doesn’t matter. That’s why AM is so strong here.
I guess KGO is the number one rated station here.
They’ve been number one for twenty years. So you’ve got a long row to hoe if you’re going to be playing oldies on an FM station. It’s going to be an uphill struggle.
KDBK not only plays new music, but they seem to reach for, not a hardcore alternative sound, but at least a mildly alternative sound.
Well it’s still evolving. What we’re playing now is pretty different than what we were playing when we first started out. We’re being compared a lot to Live 105, but were basically a rock and roll station, whereas Live 105 plays mostly pop, new wave dance shit. Which is OK! I like that too. But it’s a little different. We don’t really play any of that…well we play some of it, but not like they do. The stations are different in that respect, but they’re similar in that we play new music.
Did you ever listen to old time radio or radio drama?
I was a little too young for that. I grew up listening to the boss jocks back in the sixties. I grew up in Detroit. CKLW was a monster. Back in the old days you could tell what station you were listening to not because the DJ said the call letters every five minutes, but because of who was on…the personality. It was an entertainment thing, and DJs were almost as big and popular as the fucking rock stars back in the old days! So, you’re listening and you say “Oh, there’s so and so! This is the station I’m listening to.” Unfortunately, they’ve got consultants and all these test marketing, sampling, audience things. It’s just insane. Either you’re good or you’re not! You just get on there, and you can either do it or you can’t! No amount of posturing or rotation of music…that’s all beside the point as far as I’m Concerned.
The reason that I ask about the old radio theater is because… obviously it hearkens back to the forties and fifties, and it expired in the early sixties I guess… But that was one of the things that I discovered when I was young — 10, 12, 14 — and I was still firmly convinced that I was going to be a scientist. They used to rerun them on KSFO AM here in the city, and that was one of the things that seduced me into radio, and I spent a lot of time making audio plays, and that led into my interest these days.
Oh really? Well, when I was in college…as I said, I was in acting, and I kept up my acting career. I appeared in several plays, and for my senior project I directed and wrote my own play. While at SRX [student station WSRX] I taught a course in radio drama. So I was the instructor…with a regular teacher. But I was the guy who taught the class, with his help. Basically, what we did was every week we wrote a one act play radio script and we produced it on the radio station with sound effects, and it was just like radio drama. That was for a whole semester. It was a great experience. It’s a lot of fun. Radio is a very potent medium. Hearing is perhaps your strongest sense. It’s the last to go when you die, as opposed to sight and smell. It’s a direct link to your brain. And that’s how it [radio] differs from TV, which is a passive thing. You watch TV and you don’t have to think because its just laid out there. Radio gets inside your head, and you have to use your imagination. And you can really do some stuff, man! It’s like theater of the mind. That’s why radio makes such an impression on people if it’s done correctly.
[Breaks to talk with his producer, who has brought an admiring friend to meet him.]
It’s your celebrity, man.
When people meet me they freak out! I mean, who I am and what I do are two different things. I don’t walk around screaming and saying “Oday!” [An M. Dung signature exclamation.] But when I’m on the air it’s what I do. For my listeners that’s who I am. In their minds they have this image of what M. Dung is. On the Idiot Show I’m larger than life, so when they meet me it’s like ‘ak’ [feigns awe]. It’s really weird you know! I’ve come to terms with it, man. It used to freak me out so much that I became a hermit. I wouldn’t even go out because I couldn’t handle it. But they only react that way because they like me and they don’t know any other way to react because they don’t know me. So either I play up to it and become what they think I am so they feel good about this, or I just totally confuse them and be myself, which throws them off. It’s funny. It’s just one of the things that comes with this job.
That’s funny because you were talking a moment ago about how radio forces you to use your head and develop a picture. One thing that is very strong is that when people listen to an air personality for any length of time they will always develop some sort of image of who that personality is. It’s often interesting when they first encounter each other. My father thought you were Asian because of the last name “Dung”. I told him I was going to interview you, and I said something about Mimi Chen being at this station now, and he mentioned something about you both being Asian, and I said “I don’t think so!” So for various reasons, be it the name or the accent, or whatever, people really do develop an image.
Sure, and there’s no way around that. That was my saving grace in college, because I was so obnoxious on the radio that a lot of people threatened me with physical violence. When I first started out I got death threats…all sorts of weirdness, man. It was pretty intense to garner that kind of reaction from people. But that’s good! I think the worst thing in this business is to have people who have no opinion of what you do. I mean a negative reaction is just…[pauses] That’s why Alex [Bennett] is so popular. Everyone I talk to says “I hate him! He’s an asshole!” But everyone listens to the guy! Some people just listen to people to hate them. So a good or bad reaction…if you get a reaction you’re doing a good job as far as I’m concerned. Whether or not I like what you do. Like Howard Stern! I hate the guy, you know. That’s not my style. But he’s number one in fucking New York and L.A. in morning drive!
And Philadelphia too.
I know! I may not like him personally, but I can’t deny that he’s good at what he does.
So I’m curious. What exactly did you do in college radio to garner death threats?
Not much different than what I’m doing now. I wasn’t [imitates soporific FM DJ voice] “WLAV FM with…Styx…” I was screaming my brains out and playing Little Richard. Whoever called up, I would put ’em right on the air and if I didn’t like their request I wouldn’t play it, or I’d force ’em to listen to something else. If somebody was saying “God I hate you!” I’d stick the phone receiver right in the trash can and shake it up. Made a great noise over the radio. I just used to be…not a dick…but just obnoxious. That’s the only way I can say it. And it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Once, I remember, this group of jocks came down, and they were going to beat the shit out of Dung. They were sick of Dung. I had just ended my shift and I was coming out, and there was a group of guys in front of the station, and they say “Where’s that Dung guy?” And I said “He’s in there!” And they went in there! They didn’t know it was me! And that’s the best thing. I don’t look like whatever they think Dung is! So that was great. And actually, before I started getting real popular here and getting my face on billboards and doing TV — once you do TV everyone knows what you look like, so your cover is blown — but until that point I was relatively anonymous. No one would know it was me, so it was kind of fun.
So speaking of your wild college radio days, a friend of mine — and this might be apocryphal — told me not to ask you about the hot dogs. So I’m going to ask you about the hot dogs.
Hah! Well, at one point I was program director at WSRX, the student station, I did a shift at WEHB which was a community radio station in Grand Rapids, and I also worked at commercial station WLAV. Like this radio Czar! WEHB…the call letters stood for “Where Every Hour’s Better”. Right! It was run by all these liberals. Nobody could make a decision, and they knew absolutely nothing about radio. After hanging out at the station and trying to get to know people, nobody would commit to letting me do a show. It was this insane politics to get on the air. I was this controversial character in their eyes. They had to deal with me, but they didn’t really want me to be on the station because they thought I was some kind of subversive or something. All I was doing was playing oldies and yelling. I mean, it’s not that big of a deal. But this is back in 1980, and nobody was doing that. I don’t know, I don’t think what I do is that big of a deal. Anyway, they finally gave me a shot. It was during the week sometime. I was on for an hour from like four to five or something like that. And I got a pretty big reaction, mostly negative. And these guys were so lame they couldn’t even tell me to go away. It got so that they had a member of their committee outside the studio taking notes while I was on the airl I just thought, “Man these people are fucking ridiculous!” So WEHB was right across the street from this place called Yesterdogs, this hot dog joint. So I ate a ton of hot dogs, and I went to work to do my show, and I said, “well I’m going to throw up on the air to raise money for the station, so make your pledges.” This is at dinnertime! Some guy calls and says “I’ll give you five bucks if you throw up!” So I stuck my finger down my throat and puked into a bucket on the air. That was my last show at WEHBI. [Laughs] But I’ve got an aircheck of it somewhere. It’s pretty wild.
I don’t think I’ll go quite that far, myself.
Well, you know. I was twenty-one years old. What do you know when you’re twenty-one years old? [Laughs] I wouldn’t do that today.
Well, okay. That might have been the nadir. What was your best moment in radio? What stands out something you really enjoyed, or just a seminal moment in the studio?
Well, you know, there’s lots. Getting my first job was a lot of fun. That was exciting. Coming here to San Francisco was very exciting. That was very scary. I was totally out of sync, coming from Grand Rapids to San Francisco was like culture-shock to the max. I didn’t know a soul in this place, but it was really exciting. I always enjoy meeting people that I admire and like. Meeting Wolfman Jack was big thrill for me. I met him a few years ago. He did a show at the Concord Pavilion, and I got an interview with him. And the thing that blew me away was that he had heard of me. [Imitates Wolfman Jack] “I’ve heard of you, baby!” And it was so…I almost shit in my pants, man. It was heavy! Going to London a couple of times. Doing my show from London and New York was a lot of fun. It’s a fun job you know. There can be a lot of good moments. But it’s work you know? Sometimes I just don’t want to do it. But, you just do it.
How about the worst meltdown you ever experienced in a radio studio?
I don’t…[pauses] I’m my worst critic. I’m not as bad as I used to be. If I made a mistake or flubbed a word…that’s basically how I started making all my stupid noises, you know: “Ayy!” All that stuff.
That’s good. I was going to ask you about the evolution of Dung-speak.
Well, it’s because I was such a lousy DJ, I kept making mistakes and mispronouncing words, flubbing my words. So to cover my slips I’d make dumb noises because you can’t swear on the air. I’ve since gotten better.
You also seemed to have toned it down.
Well, you know, I’m thirty-five years old now. I started doing this when I was nineteen. I still like it. I can’t really do my show [the Idiot Show] in here [KDBK]. My show now is different. They don’t have a way for me to talk to the phone. There’s no phone in there [gestures at the production studio]. I gotta do my show from the production studio [because of the turntables], and there’s no phone in there to put on the air, so I can’t do the listener request thing I always do. And it’s hard to do my show because I have to reach [no remote starts]…It’s just a struggle. So instead of talking with people all the time, I just play music. I don’t know. I hate to say I’m getting older, but that’s basically what the deal is. I love rock and roll, but it’s like, you can’t maintain a hard-on that long, you know what I mean? I’ve been doing this for so long. I mean, I still dig it and stuff, but I’ve been doing this for a long time. And I still dig it, and I still have great shows and stuff, but it’s not like earlier. Listen to tapes of me when I was in college or even when I was on KFOG, and it’s totally different.
[At this point, I go on the air with Dung and do a Mic break. During the break, Dung explains how he got his name.]
…and that’s how I got the name Dung. Because the guy who was station manager at the time hated my guts. It was a personality clash. It was not really anything we’d done to each other, it was just like, you meet people and “I don’t like you!” It was that kind of thing. But he couldn’t make me go away! So that was great, you know? So I would just not go away! So he had to deal with me, and they finally put me…they figured out “Alright, we’ve got to deal with this guy.” They put me on Sunday morning from 3 AM to 6 AM. That was my shift. Like the absolute twilight zone! They figured no one on Earth is gonna be listening to this guy.
So who did you dredge up at those hours?
Oh, well, at the time WSRX was a ten watt FM station in Allendale Michigan, which is basically a farm community in Western Michigan. So I talked to a lot of farmers who were milking cows, and there were a few students in the dorms. And I had a lot of people basically like these farmer guys, man. It was a trip. And when they finally gave me my shift it was like, “Alright, I know I’m the low man on the totem pole, but I’m gonna make the best of it, you know.” So I gave it all i got and I finally worked myself up and got a decent shift. Actually I became the program director of the station eventually. But I wanted to irk this guy off, so I wanted to come up with a name that would be very offensive to him, particularly, yet I could say on the air. So I was trying to figure out what I was going to call myself, and I was looking through the dictionary and I found “dung,” and I thought, this is perfect man! It means “crap,” but I can say it on the air. And it worked! He hated it! But he’s gone now.
The name’s still around!
I’m still around, so I can’t complain. So my advice to all you guys over there at the [college] radio station is just, if you want to do your thing, don’t let anybody get in your way, or tell you you’re not good enough, or tell you that you can’t do it, you know. Just stick to your guns and keep on going. That’s what I did.
[Back to the Interview.]
Your daughter. I’ve heard you bring her on the air a couple of times. If she was to come to you and tell you, “Dad, I want to work in radio,” what would you tell her?
I’d be as supportive as I could and try to give her some advice.
Which would be?
Which would be…listen to radio, listen to music, practice your diction. Believe it or not, you know, with my style and everything — you were talking about it earlier and how I’ve toned down — I’ve listened to airchecks man, and Dung was such an intense character, it’s hard to listen to it for a long period of time, because it’s like [makes loud buzzing noise]. There was very few valleys and hills. It was like this one barrage of sound. And I used to be totally schized, because I was like shy and quiet, but when i was behind the mic I would just scream my brains out, and people would go, “What’s this guy’s trip?” But over the years I guess they kind of incorporated themselves in my psyche, so I don’t know. I try to be myself more rather than trying to portray someone I’m not. But, as far as my daughter goes, coming from a theater background helped out a lot. Projecting your voice, learning how to speak properly. That’s a very essential skill in this business. You have to enunciate and be able to be understood, because you’re trying to communicate. And I would try to help her develop those skills if that’s what she wanted to do.
So how long do you think you’ll continue to work in radio? You said you’ve been doing it since you were nineteen. You’re thirty-five now.
Just had a birthday. The 22nd [of November].
Well, happy birthday!
Thank you. I don’t know man. I never wanted to be a DJ, I never expected to be one. I never thought I’d be in San Francisco. I never wanted to come here. I’m just going to do it for as long as it happens, you know. I like it. It’s a good way to make a living. It’s great working with people. I enjoy what I do. I’d kind of like to get back into acting at some point, to do something different. I can’t picture myself being fifty years old saying “Oday!” and “Away!” So I don’t know. Nobody stays the same all their life. Things change. That’s the only thing you can really count on. Things are going to change, and I’ll change along with them.