10.24.2007

Pete 'Mad Daddy' Myers,
The Final WHK Broadcast



From our secret laboratory
You know the MAD DADDY story
In the Sponge Rubber Tower!
Rockin' and reelin' and havin' a ball!
Swingin' and singin'
Straight-jacket and all!


A few years ago, knowing that we both treasured respective pantheons of radio gods, I sent a copy of this vintage radio aircheck to Reverend Dan, the DJ whose Music for Nimrods show on Los Angeles' KXLU I've enjoyed for a decade's time and more. I hadn't considered sending the CD-R as a seasonal gesture, but that's how it was framed when Dan played it on the last Saturday of that particular October, some hours after the bars and liquor stores closed. "If anyone owns Halloween," Dan wailed, "It has to be Mad Daddy!"

Born in San Francisco, Pete Myers made his on-air debut with Armed Forces Radio during World War II. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and worked briefly as an actor. Myers returned to radio initially at a San Diego station, then moved to WJW in Cleveland, Ohio, on Lake Erie's south shore, in 1958. There, he was the host of that station's late night Shock Theatre; though Myers' tenure as horror movie host lasted only a short time, he would influence the subsequent emergence of Ernie Anderson's legendary Ghoulardi character at the same station.

It was at this point that Myers began perfecting his Mad Daddy persona, a frantic, neo-Beat disc jockey predisposed to speed-rapping in rhyme. In short order, Mad Daddy became the baddest and most popular DJ on Cleveland's WHK. Mad Daddy was a mutation, a beautiful one, as could only have been cultured in the Ohio city often derided as The Mistake By The Lake.

Boppin' and crashin' and ATOM SMASHIN'...

Myers' on-air presence was a high-water mark of feral energy on American AM radio prior to the British Invasion of the early '60s. He stormed thousands of then-new portable transistor radios, babbling a private language rife with signs and signifiers seemingly drawn in equal portions from surrealism, the monster/motorhead imagery of car customizers like Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and gimmicky William Castle movies. The Mad Daddy Show was awash in continuous sound effects, maniacal laughter, tons of runaway repeat-echo, all to the accompaniment of many, many greasy rock'n'roll and rhythm'n'blues 45's. Myers didn't work with prescribed playlists, nor was he encumbered by some draconian station format. The high energy music of his day, made by blacks, whites and Hispanics, the stuff universally reviled by older folks, was manna for Mad Daddy and his following, all of those impressionable, horned-out, delinquent ears waiting in the darkness of a Cleveland night.

During the changeover between stations, he found himself banned from the airwaves temporarily, owing to fine print within his former employer's contract. The solution to a possible lowering of Mad Daddy's local profile was to jump out of a Piper Cub flying over Lake Erie. When Myers hosted area record hops and midnight live shows at the peak of his popularity, he often dressed in a Dracula costume. He opted for a Zorro outfit on the day of his big leap, the better to promote the tie-in song from a Disney TV show of the day. A bed of Jello in the waters of Lake Erie was promised as his landing pad, but Myers was unable to secure enough gelatin powder prior to take-off. He did jump, though, and survived both parachuting for the first time from 2,000 feet up and landing in what was already becoming a notoriously polluted, oxygen-deprived lake. Mad Daddy's sustaining notoriety was assured.

Foolhardy but cool. Myers' stunt was immortalized in song many years later, via The Cramps' tribute, "Mad Daddy." Herewith, an inspirational couplet:

Gotta pair of shades and purple shoes,
Gotta parachute to land on you
.

At the behest of U.K. music periodical The Wire, I interviewed Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach of the Cramps, at their pad in Glendale; though four years of magazine work have passed since that evening and several more preceded it, my visit with Lux and Ivy stands as the most fun I've ever had pointing a microphone at someone else. Well into the conversation, maybe four glasses of Vampire wine into the conversation, the subject of Cleveland radio surfaced. Lux jumped from his rattan chair, hollering, "You're gonna be jealous!" He darted into another room, to return with a framed and autographed ("To Eric...") version of this photo, obtained during his childhood:



The regard Lux held for the picture was palpable; it was as though he'd managed to chip off a shard of Lascaux cave painting, perhaps from that portion of the cave commemorating Cro-Magnon horror hosts and DJ's, and smuggled it back home. This was no mere fan club 8x10, but clearly a document possessed of life-altering power. And he was right; I was jealous.

They got the pop and the bop and the rhythm and the blue...


In 1959, WNEW hired Myers, the wildest DJ anywhere at that moment in history, to bring his transgressive style to New York radio. WNEW's The Mad Daddy Show first aired on July 4th, 1959. The new show elicited immediate disapproval from the station's audience, at the time very much reflecting an upper middle-class demographic. They weren't about to sit tight for his bizarre turns of phrase or the antic tenor of a show that defied squares to make sense of it all. (Though enquiring minds would doubtless love to know, the reaction of WNEW listeners to the phrase mello jello has gone unrecorded by history.) The station's management eliminated The Mad Daddy after a single broadcast. Myers stayed at WNEW as just another announcer, but in 1963 he moved to New York's 1010 WINS. Here his new boss, by splendid chance, turned out to have been Myers' intern during the latter's Cleveland stay. The Mad Daddy Show returned to Sponge Rubber Tower. All was right, for a while.

...the winky, blinky light in my groovy SKULL!!!


Mad Daddy's renaissance lasted for two years, until WINS changed to an all news, all the time format. Pete Myers then returned, sotto voce, to WNEW. The Manhattan station, still regarding him as something of a necessary evil, changed his shift from afternoons to evenings in October, 1968. On the first night of the new time shot, the 40-year-old Myers committed suicide with a shotgun in the bathroom of his apartment on East 76th Street.

TECHNICAL NOTE:

This aircheck is swathed in what might best be described as galactic fog, the product of many generations of tape duplication. As one would suspect, Mad Daddy was capable of generating distortion galore by his own means, aside from the artifacts of home taping-as-samizdat. Myers obviously enjoyed an adversarial relationship with the audio chain of commercial radio. He can be heard on this broadcast subjecting WHK's signal to the usual amounts of punishment, causing the microphone to oscillate and produce waveforms of its own under the pressure of Myers' untrammeled alter ego.



MAD DADDY: HIS FINAL WHK SHOW