Radio used to be entertaining. Decades ago it was local and staffed with real humans, the playlist was broader than the same 50 songs you have heard since for the last 30 years. There was room for surprise.
Today most of the stuff that sprays over the airwaves is the sonic equivalent of cheese whiz.
That’s OK. We no longer have to call the station to hear a favorite tune, our phones hold music libraries that put the automated-airwave zombies to shame.
Back when KSLY was an AM station they had a morning DJ that worked under the moniker Captain Buffoon. Most syndicated morning drive shows have a zoo full of personalities and guests to carry the show but Harry May, was pretty much on his own. I lived in several radio markets growing up and when we would to SLO on a family visit I would check out. You could count on Buffoon to take a risk and poke fun at what was going on in the region. Tours of Gum Alley, mock shower interviews, the latest song parody from Cal Poly student Weird Al. If it got a laugh, or groan it was on the air.
A couple of postings from former employees reveal a strong sense of nostalgia for that time. One story by Richard Wayman (AKA Ric Stratton) about the station mascot Sly remembers the cat sleeping atop the warm cart [tape] player. One day it jammed and the DJ had to keep album cuts spinning until the technician fixed it, removing handfuls of orange hair from the machine. It is a longer story, here is the link then search the page for KSLY to find it.
The zaniness spilled over to the pages of the then Telegram-Tribune arts section then called Focus.
Published April 2, 1977
Captain Buffoon tells all
… but his name
Story by Mike Harris
Photos by Thom Halls
First the bad news:
This article will not reveal the true identity of Captain Buffoon, the racous-voiced star disc jockey at KSLY Radio in San Luis Obispo.
The Telegram-Tribune was permitted to interview Buffoon — a.k.a. “CB,” the “Fearless Bionic Nose” and Funny Crummy Dummy” — only on condition that his real name remain confidential.
A breach of faith, Buffoon warned last week in his famous shower stall at KSLY Studios on South Higuera Street, would result in this reporter being cursed by Mary McGregor’s “Torn Between Two Lovers” replaying endlessly in his dreams.
The public, however, should be assured that the T-T does know who Buffoon is. We just aren’t telling. Appropriate documentation has been stored in a ground-squirrel hole at Fort Hunter Liggett, available only for a Grand Jury subpoena.
Now the good news:
This ace of the airwaves has graciously consented to reveal biographical data hitherto unavailable to the print media.
“I come from the planet Buffoonia, where the people live on jokes,” says the curly-haired 30-year-old behind the microphone. “But I was born just a nose. I had no mouth to laugh with.
“So they sent me to Earth in a rocket ship, and every morning I took a secret potion — coffee — and turned into… CAPTAIN BUFFOON!”
This transformation, of course, took time. One of the intermediate stages saw Buffoon, still nose-heavy but sporting a fine rich baritone, as an art major at Cal State Northridge.
“I could draw,” he says, “But competition was fierce among art majors there, and I guess I as still looking for something I could really get into. I’d beeen involved in advertising as an artist, so I shifted over into journalism.
“It was an accident, actually, how I got into broadcasting. A guy from the school station was looking for people with deeper-than-average voices — which I had— and I tried it and liked it, though there it was strictly formula stuff.”
After receiving his degree in mass communications, the ex-space traveler saw a lot of the Earth’s surface in the next seven years, working at radio stations in Burbank, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica and Thousand Oaks before stints at KATY and KSLY in “SLOtown.”
However, he couldn’t help giving out hints of his extraterrestrial origin.
“I always wanted to do wild, crazy things,” he says, “and I got fired a couple of times because of it. One of the things I wanted too do was create a character, and when I was at KATY I finally said to myself, ‘Self, it’s time you made a move.’”
Why Captain Buffooon?
“It’s a kind of superhero name, but with a twist, because the dictionary says a buffoon is a guy who tries to tell jokes and fails or he tells bad jokes.”
Was it hard to do?
“I’d been in radio five years then, which really wasn’t much experience to create a character. In broadcasting, I think, first you’re yourself, then you spend 10 years learning to be an announcer — the deep voice, and all that. And then finally you become yourself again.
“It’s like that with a character, too. At first there are two people — yourself and the character. I hear myself projecting this raunchy image, and I think, ‘That’s not me.’ But the two grow together.”
The character of Captain Buffoon became fully fleshed out when our mystery man joined KSLY — a station, he says, where the management is young, morale is good, and he’s “backed up 100 percent” in what he does.
San Luis Obispo commuters who flick on their car radios between 6 and 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday are familiar with his brand of buffoonery:
The Showers, usually with a giggly female. The Insult Contests. The All-knowing Wizard answering movie trivia questions. The now-defunct Obscene Phone Calls. The voices in the background that groan, hiss and laugh. The barrage of jokes between Top-40 songs. The exchanges with announcer Fred (“…and the news”) Peterson and fellow disc jockey Guy Paul.
But how does he do it?
The mechanics are comprehensible to anyone with a Ph.D. in electronics. Buffoon sits in a sunny office with a view of a green hillside, a fence and horse through the window. An orange cat named Sly curls up on a table. Posters cover the walls and ceiling — Farrah Fawcett-Majors prominent, the psychedelic covers of rock albums a maze of color.
He’s alone with revolving drums of tape cassettes — “carts” in the trade — that he plugs and removes in rapid succession: records, commercials, public interest announcements, those shrieks of “Buffoon, lyou have a big, big, big, big…NOSE!”
He’s alone — this is important— in a world of dials and switches and steel cabinets and split-second timing, speaking to thousands of listeners invisible in their kitchens and cars.
“I always try to relate one-to-one with my audience,” he says. “That works better. But sometimes even the best of us start talking into the microphone, and we get a call from somebody who’s upset and say, ‘Hey, there are people out there. We’d better watch it.’”
The voice on the radio — dripping with lechery, tweaking the udders of sacred cows, implying that its owner is fortyish and fat — is only part of the story.
The real Buffoon is hip, slender, dedicated to his craft and capable of functioning on several levels at once.
Six days a week he’s up at 4:30 a.m., at the studio at 5:30, in cheerful, abrasive form for four hours, and then deep into preparations for the next day’s show.
Every radio station, he explains, has a format that determines when news, music and commercials should fit in.
“The rest of the time — and it’s a lot — I’m supposed to entertain.”
He estimates he spends two hours preparing for every four hours on the air. Some of the jokes he writes himself; others come from writers who supply him with humor for a fee. The voices and sound effects were taped with the aid of friends, some of them disc jockeys on other stations.
“A comedian can do the same monologue every night and get rich,” he says, “but a disc jockey has to be just as good, with completely new material, six days a week. That’s a lot of jokes.”
Even for a high-energy person who enjoys the work— As Buffoon says he does — It can be exhausting.
“Most of the so-called glamor jobs are like that — long hours,” he says. “I’m a bachelor, and that has its disadvantages. Married people don’t understand when I say I’ve got to take time out to do my laundry.”
“Yet I wouldn’t want a woman just to take care of me, so maybe that’s why I’ve never married.
“Sure, I’ve got girlfriends, but not many want to go home at 8 p.m., which is what I have to do. Besides, most people think a radio star has to go out all the time, drive a sports car, and that’s not me.”
Buffoon prefers to spend his evenings with a few good friends. He soaks in hot tubs, plays racquetball and tennis, wishes he still painted (it’s great relaxation and therapy, but I just don’t do it”), and works on his car — the “Buick Roadapple” he mentions on his show.
And revs up for the next morning, to the delight —and sometimes the consternation — of Buffoonians everywhere.
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