The Unofficial Duke&Banner Autobiography
The Duke&Banner story is nothing less than a saga, some of which was portrayed in the movie: "Pump Up The Volume" which I call my Unofficial Biography. Leonard Maltin says: "the film has some pertinent things to say" and I might add, even more so now, as corporations slowly take over our government.
I don't know who wrote the script, maybe he actually heard our broadcasts. I took a bunch of friends to the premiere and my eyes sorta glazed over. Yup, Christian Slater was slowly unfolding my own personal autobiography.
Lets just say that I was one of the fortunate people to grow up in the 50s in Los Angeles. KFWB played a mix for the whole family, and there was music for every family, regardless of skin color. While I enjoyed hearing R&B by Fats Domino or Spanish influenced stuff like Ritchie Valens, my Dad enjoyed The Four Lads; my Mom, Connie Francis. We all listened to the radio together, and enjoyed all the different forms of music being played on one station. It was like a music appreciation class.
The 50s marked the last gasp of independent thinking. Most retail stores were one-of-a-kind, owned by individuals. Chain stores, such as Thrifty Drugs, JC Penneys, Safeway or Sears were owned by corporations, but were much more honest. They had no CEOs and they werent focused on purchasing the competition. They actually paid taxes, and didnt have an off-shore PO Box. They had no need to bribe your elected official, and your elected official had no need for expensive TV ads.
No plastic cards. To buy something in the 50s meant cash or check. In many older department stores, a bank of cashiers was stationed upstairs from the merchandise. You were downstairs. You had an attendant handle your purchases and bag them. The attendant added up the bill and you handed him or her your cash. The cash and the bill went upstairs via a long 4 inch diameter metal pipe, filled with vacuum. A metal car with a small door held the cash and bill together. Change was made upstairs, and sent back to the attendant, via another pipe. The process sometimes took a few minutes, but it prevented hold-ups. It wasnt perfect. The tubes leaked a little vacuum, sounding somewhat similar to a vacuum cleaner. When the car came back down with your change, a door on the pipe opened to let the car out of the pipe. The car then came to rest in a tray by the attendant. Sometimes the pipe door would stick open. Then it sounded more like a rocket blasting off.
A similar mechanism is in use today at a downtown Sebastopol hardware store, though lately they turned it off. Part of it actually sticks out of the exterior store wall into the parking lot. Its a clear plastic tube bent into a curli-cue closed loop racetrack. The tube makes a complete run through the store, propelling numerous ping-pong balls through it. Though it didnt leak vacuum, the electric bill for keeping the compressor on was not much fun, so they shut it down.
Besides the independently owned hamburger-oriented drive-ins that dotted the landscape, car washes and miniature golf places were also popular. Chocolate Shakes were non-existent. Chocolate Malts were popular, hence the term Malt Shop. I believe the only place in Sonoma County that still serves malts in a tiny, out of the way run down shack, here again, in Sebastopol.
Getting to a Miniature Golf Course was half the fun. My Dads 55 Ford Coupe had a new-fangled Hi-Fi AM radio. FM stations were not at all popular, and most were broadcasting in Mono.
Like me, Commercial Television was also in its early childhood. The first Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethon aired in the summer of 59. These days its a 24 hour gig. In 59 it ran until Midnite, when most TV stations signed off.
Watching the 8AM start of KTLAs broadcast day (owned by Cowboy Movie Star Gene Autry) was fascinating to me. First a round Test Pattern with a Native American Indian would appear with an audio tone. In a few minutes, the tone was replaced, usually by one of Bobs favorite Elevator Music Impresarios: Nelson Riddle or David Rose. Eventually an announcer would recite the entire broadcast day line-up. Finally Popeye cartoons in glorious Black&White would start. I usually shut down the TV about the time my Mom exuded her 3rd demand that I get off to school.
KTLA had a bang-up program called Demolition Derby. Lots of classic Packards, Desotos, Hudsons, and Kaisers from the late 40s were being smashed up. The host, a crotchety old guy named Dick Lane would issue a disclaimer: All this is doing, folks, is ridding the streets of old jalopies. Later I would learn that this was standard LA mentality: Anything over 5 years old was junk.
Of course, the sponsor of this TV fine program was a new car dealer! Yup, way before Cal Worthington and His Dog Spot, way before Frank Taylor and his No Sunday Selling, and way before the Very Hispanic Nick Chamus and his Felix The Cat Chevrolet, there was the very dramatic Roger Yeakel. Part Auto Dealer, part Bible Thumper, and located in Low Overhead Downey, Yeakel was the first to meld Serious Drama in his 60-second live TV commercials.
As our scene opened up, an elderly lady (probably Yeakels mother) openly wept on the rear fender of her 53 Plymouth. She was tired of all the problems that her 6 year old Coupe was giving her. (Lets see: a 6 year old car probably had a weak battery, bald tires, maybe a burned out headlight, and--- Hey! Ill bet the damn thing even needed a tune-up!) In walks Yeakel. He wraps an arm around her and tells her in his fire and brimstone voice: I can solve all of your problems in one easy step. He then grabs a Sledge Hammer and bashes the headlights, the hood and the pristine Chrome-plated grill. Another swash takes out a side window. He throws in a match and the car bursts into flames.
And heres your new car! Yeakel cheers as the woman wipes the tears away and emits an extra-wide smile as she sits in the drivers seat of a brand new 59 Oldsmobile. Yeakel points his finger at the TV camera: Hi! Im Roger Yeakel. I can give you a new car too! Come and see our prices. Were freeway-close in Low Overhead Downey! (The camera cuts to a hand-painted posterboard freeway map.)
As KTLA went back to a classic movie, (Autry had a huge library of some 1500 classic movies) the Downey Fire Department extinguished the flames and black toxic smoke. Updates of the drama continued in 60-second acts throughout the day. But the following week found the Plymouth in a position that only a New Car Dealer/Bible Thumper could have dreamed up. Yup, hanging in effigy just like a Jesus Crucifixion; attached to a vertical pole which supported his huge Las Vegas-type neon sign; the torched Plymouth hung. Motor oil, its life-giving blood, dribbled down the pole to the pavement below.
Pictures of the Plymouth Crucifixion were broadcast in all of Yeakels commercials that week, which angered the Greater Downey PD, because many motorists were slowing down, some even shooting snap-shots of dangling car. A week later the Plymouth was gone. Maybe it got resurrected as a fine California Gas Guzzling SUV.
Another oddity I found was on Radio. Catholics had a 30 minute rosary read. A man with a dominant voice (supposedly a priest) would recite Our Father. Then the congregation (supposedly hundreds of genuflecting followers in a church, but it sounded more like 10 or so in a recording studio) would repeat Our Father. This went on in rapid fire succession. To be honest, I dont know if it went on for 30 minutes. My attention span for this kind of program was about 5 minutes, and then Id change the station. And another thing: each recital sounded identical to the other. Its almost as if it was a tape loop. I suppose you save on tape that way!
If you were to select a popular TV set icon from the 50's, up there near the top would be the Philco Predicta. The 17" Black and White picture tube (considered huge at the time) was mounted on top and swiveled from side to side. Unfortuantely it wasn't too good on reliability due to the hot, cramped chassis and it's use of new series-string vaccuum tubes (if one goes out, they all go out) (just like old Christmas Tree lights) so Philco discontinued the set soon after the second generation of sets hit the store, and Philco Warranty Repair Centers found themselves overwhelmed with angry customers. The Predicta did have it's place in history, though, and just like a barbershop revolving pole, continued to be an icon in many a TV repair shop's front display window, well into the 90's
Public Transportation was mainly electric powered street cars, identical to the ones you see in San Francisco. As a kid, I had an instant love affair. They were so quiet. Most all youd hear was the clickety-clack of the tracks. Soon they would be replaced by smog-belching GM buses. GM, one of the first corporations to successfully bribe your local elected public officials. GM caught hell for this. But by the time the elected officials actually listened to their constituents, it was all gone. At GMs insistence, all the old street cars were torched in one huge bonfire.
My Mom took me via these streetcars to eat at a place called Cliftons Cafeteria. It was built in the 1900s, and the building demolished in the 1960s. Youve never seen anything like it. Picture a huge 2-story building with exotic plants, shrubbery and flowers growing everywhere. A huge fountain trickles water, sometimes shooting the water up to the 2nd floor. An hourly thunderstorm echoes through the building and mists you. Live tropical birds have built nests at the top of the fountain, and eye your food, but then go to their own feeding grounds. A stone chapel with taped messages of good hope and a scene with baby animals. All this, inside a building.
But America was a-changin in the name of progress.
And so as a kid at the tender age of 10, I had quite an interest in science and how things work. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, that interest led me to a path of crime and an enemy of the Federal Government.