Not a day goes by without a skeptical radio professional
asking us, "Who is this Dan O'Day guy, anyway?"
"Who appointed HIM as Mr. Expert On Personality Radio And
Frankly, we don't know, either. So we asked Dan to try to justify
his existence for our Web visitors. Here's his pathetic attempt
I'm an old, broken-down disc jockey who got tired of getting up
each morning and who (perhaps more importantly) is constitutionally
unfit to work for other people. (I finally decided that if I had
to work for an idiot, I might as well work for myself.)
When I was 18 years old, I escaped from Michigan State University
(apparently there at the same time were John Leader, John Records
Landecker, and Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling)
and hitchhiked the couple of thousand miles to Hollywood, where
I was determined to write for THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR.
I checked into the Hollywood YMCA ($3.50 per day) on a Saturday
evening. On Sunday I walked around Hollywood, convinced I was
nearly choking on the famous L.A. smog. Only later did I learn
there IS no famous L.A. smog in March. One of the movie theaters
on Hollywood Boulevard was premiering the Elvis Presley
western, CHARRO. (Not to be confused with The Hoochie Coo Girl
of a similar name.)
On Monday I hitched a ride to CBS Television City. (My first big
Hollywood disillusionment: It's not a city at all. It's just a
TV studio.) I didn't know anyone at CBS. For that matter, I didn't
know anyone in Los Angeles. But a quick reconnaissance of the
premises revealed two entrances: "Guests" and "Artists."
Because no one had invited me, I couldn't be a guest. So I must
be an artist.
Of course, they wouldn't let just anyone wander in the "Artists"
entrance. In fact, there was a security guard stationed on a stool,
just inside the door. (These days there's a glass-enclosed case
that seems considerably more imposing than some guy trying to
stay awake for eight hours.) I had brought with me a manila envelope
that contained several pages of lame comedy scripts that I hoped
would get me employed at the funniest, most influential show on
television. I stood outside the Artists' entrance, took the pages
out of the envelope, took a deep breath, threw open the door and
walked hurriedly past the guard, looking up from my obviously
important "script" just long enough to glance in horror
at my watch, redouble my pace, and throw a wave at the guard as
I rushed forward to whatever stage or office I was late for.
The guard waved back.
This incident confirmed what I had long suspected: You can get
away with anything if people think you belong there.
I wandered around quite a bit until I found the CBS offices. (I
was in the "concourse" - you can see I've been in too
many airports since then - that housed the sound stages and rehearsal
rooms.) Somehow I managed to find the Smothers Brothers office.
I walked in, approached the receptionist and said, "I'd like
to see Tom Smothers, please."
"Do you have an appointment?" she inquired.
In what has to have been one of the worst ad-libs of my life,
I said, "Well, not exactly."
The reason that's a bad ad-lib is there obviously were only two possible answers to her question:
1) Yes, I did have an appointment
2) No, I did not have an appointment.
Embarrassed, knowing I was about to rejected (and probably ejected),
I added, "But I want to write for the show."
"Well, I'm afraid that Tom is all tied up today," she
Just like I thought: Total humiliation.
"But," she continued, "I'll be glad to make an
appointment for you to see him. How about Wednesday of next week
Gee, let me check my calendar. Yeah, well, I guess I can manage
to carve out the time to see Tom on Wednesday.
I couldn't believe it. No, I was not leaving with a job writing
for the Smothers Brothers, but I WAS leaving with an appointment
to see Tom nine days later.
Elated, I left that office and wandered around CBS some more,
eventually finding myself in front of a door that said, "Smothers
Brothers Comedy Hour - Writers."
What the heck. I had bluffed my way past a security guard and
talked my way through an encounter with a nice secretary; how
rough could the writers be?
I don't remember if I knocked (I probably did), but I entered.
Immediately a (long since deceased) staff writer named Murray
Roman greeted me by launching into a long, breathless tirade
having to do with some huge government plot against him and certain
unspecified others. I recognized Carl Gottlieb (how? maybe
he had appeared on-screen?), who later went on to win fame &
fortune as the screenwriter of JAWS.
A young, brown-haired guy - around 22, as I recall - asked if there was something I needed (i.e., "Why are you here?"). I told him why I was there, and we ended up chatting for 15 or 20 minutes. He said this was his first TV writing job; Tom Smothers had seen him performing a comedy act at The Ice House in Pasadena and hired him for the show.
And the name of that friendly young writer was...Steve Martin.
And that's why he owes all of his subsequent success to me.
So far, this entire Smothers Brothers episode is pretty positive. But the ending was anti-climactic: The day before my scheduled appointment with Tom, CBS cancelled the show, illegally, in mid-season. (The network later had to pay the Brothers $900,000 in damages for breaking their contract.)
A year or two later, for reasons I have long since forgotten,
I enrolled in The Bill Wade School of Radio & Television
on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Wade was a KHJ "Boss Jock;"
I never met him. During the four-month course, I learned how to
cue a (vinyl) record. Personally, I think I could have mastered
that skill in a shorter time period.
Then I signed up for another four-month course at the same school so I could get my First Class Radio-Telephone Operator's License. Theoretically, this was to be a crash course in electronics complete enough to enable me to pass the F.C.C. exam. The reality was different.
The First Class exam consisted of 50 multiple-choice questions. The F.C.C. had 13 different 50-question tests, one of which they would administer on Testing Day. The school had acquired all 650 questions and answers; all we had to do was memorize them.
On testing day, I couldn't help but notice that the students from
Ogden (located in some beach community south of L.A.) really
seemed to understand this stuff; they stood around swapping technical
talk and drawing diagrams while we waited to be admitted into
the Testing Area.
On the other hand, it took those Ogden whizzes a lot longer to
finish the exam; I was done in about six minutes. I didn't even
have to read the questions; I simply RECOGNIZED them and their
corresponding answers. The hard part was sticking around for another
20 minutes to make it look like I was figuring out the answers.
So now I was ready to enter the radio marketplace.
I took out a "Job Wanted" ad in BROADCASTING magazine:
"DJ, First Phone, Tight Board, Good Commercials." Surprisingly,
the ad brought inquiries and requests for audition tapes. Even
more surprisingly, it brought a job offer from far away (and very
tiny) Chatham, Virginia.
Convinced that no one else would ever offer me a radio job, I
jumped at it. Once I moved across country, a few more job offers
came my way as a result of that ad. One was from Oceanside, California....within
driving distance from the apartment I had just given up in Los
I had been hired by the station's General Manager, and I don't
think the program director was all that thrilled with the new
recruit upon my arrival. My first assignment was to dub some commercials
from the agency reels to cart (cartridge). This, alas, was a skill
I had not been taught at the Bill Wade School of Radio & Television.
They had taught me how to push a button to PLAY a cart, but not
how to record material onto one.
And that's how it all began....
During my three years in small markets, I did just about every
job EXCEPT for Engineer, Receptionist, and Sales Manager. I ended
up as a jock in San Francisco, making what at the time seemed
like a whole lot of money. (Even more than I had made during my
unhappy week as a Meter Reader for the Los Angeles Department
of Water & Power.)
For the reasons given in the first paragraph of this compelling
document, I decided to support myself by launching my own radio
comedy service. (There were other factors, including wanting to
finish my long-delayed psychology degree. But, frankly, I'd rather
you finish reading this and hurry on to our WHOLE O CATALOGUE
and purchase many, many books, tapes, software & CDs.)
Being too naive to know I couldn't support myself with a comedy service,
I did just that for the next 15 years or so. Actually, I had two
services: OBITS and O'LINERS.
OBITS was very unusual for its time. I vividly recall how, in
the sales copy that accompanied the samples we sent out to jocks,
I had to explain just how and why anyone might want to use such
long comedy pieces. I mean, these things ran 60 seconds or longer!
At the time, everyone else was doing one-liners.
The big comedy service at the time was THE ELECTRIC WEENIE, published
by a guy named Tom Adams. Tom ended up despising me after
I started my own service. I could say more about The Weenie, but
without Tom around to defend himself and to attack my character,
it wouldn't seem right.
Another service - one that I liked a lot - was Joe Hickman's
CONTEMPORARY COMEDY. Joe still publishes it out of Dallas, Texas.
(It was Joe who once said, "Remember, if it weren't for this
great land of ours, we'd all drown.")
And a service that had a big influence on me was Ed Hyder's
HYPE INK. This probably was where I first was exposed to long-form
radio comedy. Ed was a former disc jockey turned TV variety/comedy
writer. (I assume he still is.) I thought some of his stuff was
quite usable. He recycled an awful lot of it, which bothered me
as a subscriber. But it provided me with good comic inspiration.
Anyway....I started OBITS in December, 1975. The first issue of
O'LINERS was April, 1976. O'LINERS, as the name implies, provided
one-liners. I wrote the entire first issue (8 pages) over a single
weekend. Everything else I've ever written, alas, has relied on
torturous work rather than a burst of energized inspiration.
Skipping over the details and finishing this portrait with very
broad strokes now:
1977: I launched THE WHOLE O CATALOGUE, a mail order source for
the kinds of radio programming & personality tools I would
have wanted as a jock & PD. The first two big items we sold
CHEAP RADIO THRILLS, which at the time was a single LP produced
by Terry Moss and the gang at L.A. Air Force. (L.A.
Air Force now is part of my company, O'LINERS.)
SUPERJOCK, a terrific book by Chicago radio legend Larry Lujack.
1984: RADIO & RECORDS' managing editor, John Leader,
asked me to create the industry's first column devoted to radio
personalities. They gave it the fascinating title of "AIR
PERSONALITIES." While never an R&R employee (I was a
guest columnist), I wrote that column for the next nine years.
1987: I got a call from a woman who identified herself as Mary
Catherine Sneed, vice-president of Summit Communications.
Here's what she said:
"We are gathering all of our program directors and morning
show hosts for a weekend this summer. We took a poll, asking them
who they would most like to come speak to them. And to my surprise,
your name was at the top of their list."
I didn't know whether to say "thank you" or whether
to be offended.
I ended up conducting a two-day seminar for the group. Flying
into Chicago, I clearly remember not wanting to get off the airplane.
I had no frame of reference for what I was about to do; I had
never seen anyone conduct a seminar for jocks.
It turned out to be a ton of fun for me; it gave me a chance to
return to performing. And the feedback from attendees was quite
positive. The event itself - bringing all of the key jocks from
one group owner together for a seminar - was so unusual that INSIDE
RADIO wrote about it...carefully omitting any reference to me.
1988: I held my first "Open To Anyone" radio seminar
in Orlando, Florida. Since then, I've conducted hundreds of seminars
for radio stations, groups & associations and given countless
keynote addresses at private & public radio gatherings all
over the world. For a "Who Cares?" listing of some of
the more exotic places I've been invited to, please check out
Dan O'Day Seminars.
1991: I stopped publishing O'LINERS, which by then I was writing
during airplane flights to & from seminars.
2023: I completed my surreptitious takeover of the governments of all the world's Really Important Countries, and now I devote myself solely to smiting my enemies and persecuting those I happen to dislike.
No, wait, that's not supposed to be there. That's from my 5 YEAR PLANNING CALENDAR.
Please ignore this last entry.