One of my favorite radio stories is all about a guy named "Easy" Earl Harris, who replaced me as the part-time overnight weekend guy when I went full-time at KKJO in St. Joseph in the Fall of ‘88. Earl—a black man—was, to put it bluntly, the station's token minority hire to keep the FCC off its back when affirmative action was becoming very prevalent. How else do you explain why they would hire someone with absolutely no professional experience on the radio? This was pretty evident upon his arrival, because Earl was greener than Shrek on the air. You see, the "Easy One" came to us from that vaunted institution, the Columbia School of Broadcasting, where basically all they do is teach their students how to read Public Service Announcements and talk like a robot. They don’t train people on actual radio equipment there, so when Earl arrived, he was totally lost trying to run the control board, let alone while speaking on the air. He did have three things going for him, though—a wonderful bass-baritone voice (think Barry White), an eagerness to learn, and he was one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet. However, Earl’s first few weekends on the air were—putting it kindly—an adventure, and the rest of us at the station didn’t think he had a hope in hell of succeeding in radio.
About 95% of the time, the first word out of Earl’s mouth after a song was "Alright!", and sometimes when he was really excited, you’d get TWO "Alright!"s in a row—it took us a while to break him of that habit, as well as his constant stream of "Uhhhh"s. His delivery at first was very stiff and deadpan, and dead air was often a staple of Earl’s air shifts, as he wasn’t the speediest learner in the world on how to work the equipment. Another disadvantage for Earl was his unfamiliarity with the music he was playing. I nearly wrecked my car one night while listening to him call the Beach Boys "Herman’s Hermits", and it got even funnier when we changed from Oldies to Top 40—instead of sounding out the letters in R.E.O. Speedwagon, he called them "Reo" Speedwagon, and Lita Ford became "Light-a" Ford. Fortunately, I headed Earl off at the pass before AC/DC became "Ack/Dick", and I eventually wrote out some phonetic pronunciations for him to get by with.
Once Earl got more comfortable with the control board, he began to loosen up and have fun with his on-air style. He would crack me and the other jocks up with sayings like "We’ll be kickin’ and stickin’ all night long on K-JO!" and referring to himself as the "Prince Of Darkness" (referring to his air shift, not his race) until management told him tone down his "Black-ness". Earl also kept saying things like "It’s 52 degrees right now here at the KKJO Patio." I didn't have a clue what he was referring to—we didn’t have a patio! One night I asked him what he was talking about, and he pointed to this decorative trellis-like thing just below our second-floor studio window that hovered over this little porch—to Earl, that was the KKJO Patio! Oh well, it did rhyme...
This story has a happy ending, too. As time went on, Earl really applied himself on the air and got better and better, both technically and vocally. As fate would have it, my departure wound up being his big break, as they made him the full-time overnight jock when I left. After several years at K-JO, Earl landed on his feet in the late ‘90s at Hot 103 Jamz, the big-time R&B/Hip-Hop station in K.C. One day circa. 1998 when I was working at St. Luke’s Hospital, we had 103 on the radio (most of my colleagues at the time were black), and Earl was on the air. I even wasn’t aware at the time that he’d left St. Joseph, and I was like, "No way—it can’t be…" I couldn’t get over how slick, polished and confident the man sounded on the air—a far cry from the "Alright, alright!" days. Hell, he was light years better than I ever was as DJ, and I was so proud of Earl. He was even allowed to use "kickin’ and stickin’" all he wanted to!
I've lost track of Easy Earl since then, so I don’t know where he’s at on the dial these days. Earl, my man, if you're reading this, wherever you are out there, ya done good! Gimme a buzz sometime and let’s get together and have a beer or two. And, long live the KKJO Patio!