1980 BE FUNNY This episode of the original 1980 Be Funny on WBAI Radio in New York City is from an unknown date in 1980. We didn't add any content, even an introduction. There's too much going on here! Instead, we provided a detailed written annotation that explains almost every reference to everything that's going on in this radio show that took place in the vicinity and the era of that HBO series, The Deuce. The only things missing are time markers, which would have made this project take much longer. If anyone wants to create time markers to go with each bullet point, we will gladly update this post. Feel free to send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's your written companion to everything that happened in this 52 minute and 34 second extravaganza:
- Tom Leykis ran the control board. There was no producer, screener, or engineer. In later radio jobs, Tom lied and said that he had "no idea how to run the board." For that reason, he has had a board operator for every job since WNWS Radio in Miami in 1984. Tom could still run the board. But he won't.
- In the studio laughing in the background was the voice of our recent live stream and longtime friend Howard Hoffman (whom Tom had only known a short time at this point), Rick and Kathy Sullivan, a married couple who began as callers to another show Tom had produced and graduated to the studio, and “Mr. Tim” Hughes (one of the people who attended Tom’s infamous 1980 Thanksgiving dinner, before which the drug-induced guests started picking away at the turkey as it cooked until there was virtually nothing left for dinner.
- “The Rootin’ Tootin’ Cowboy” was a regular Be Funny caller, a self-described Puerto Rican whose real name was Bob. His loudly overmodulated voice and fake “western” accent was immediately recognizable and completely inappropriate to be heard coming from your neighbor’s radio at 6 AM. The closest 1980 equivalent to Jayden.
- Long John Nebel was one of the very first radio call-in hosts. Long John was dead for two years before Be Funny debuted in 1980. Heard overnights on New York radio stations WOR, WNBC, and finally, WMCA. In his later years on WMCA, battling cancer, Long John was usually accompanied by his wife, former model Candy Jones, who frequently filled in, sometimes for up to a couple of hours, while John left the room late at night to “take a rest”. Candy’s lack of radio experience provided ample opportunity for crank callers to take over the show. This was trolling before there was trolling! The calls made John angry, frequently resulting in him threatening callers who threatened him. (Caller: “I’m outside the station, John!” Long John: “You wouldn’t dare be outside, you yellow bastard!”) You could tell that someone had phoned in with an aircheck of Long John because it usually began with John saying, “Yer live on double-yuh M-C-A.” Like much of New York City, Long John was Jewish and was often the recipient of dozens of hateful crank calls joking about the Holocaust. Long John was known for (five-hour) long, late-night conversations about politics and, frequently, UFOs, decades before the advent of Art Bell or George Noory. Be Funny in 1980, heard overnights on New York’s WBAI, featured numerous callers playing tapes of Long John’s outbursts as well as doing impressions of Long John, who himself had been a late night call-in radio host in New York until his death in 1978.
- Stretches of silence on the WBAI version of Be Funny were not caused by technical problems. We left them in here rather than editing them out so you could experience what it was like to hear the show live at 6 AM Wednesday mornings. In the days before today’s digital delays, callers who didn’t meet FCC standards were “bleeped” by using a 10-second tape loop. Once invoked, WBAI's Rube Goldberg-like device (look him up) would erase the previous 10 seconds so they couldn’t be heard, with nothing but silence in its place. Such was the technology in 1980!
- Mark Simone was once a disc jockey and call-in host on New York’s WPIX-FM for whom Tom had been a producer, writer, and sidekick before he came up with Be Funny. (You may have heard him more recently filling in for right-wing radio hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.) Tom and Mark didn’t break up on the best of terms, so many Be Funny callers often referenced Mark, and usually not in a nice way. He had recently lost his job when WPIX had changed formats.
- Many of the callers on the 1980 Be Funny were so proficient at crank calling that their calls to Be Funny consisted of nothing but tapes of crank calls they had made to other shows in town…which had consisted of calling these other stations and taping themselves feeding crank calls they had previously made to still other shows. Then, they would call Be Funny and play tapes of themselves calling other shows to play tapes of crank calls they had made to still other shows. Get it? You’ll hear some of that here.
- Bob Grant was a legendary controversial radio talk show host at New York radio stations WMCA, WABC, and WOR, after years on the air in the 60s at LA’s KNX and KLAC. He doesn’t appear on this episode of Be Funny, but callers often made reference to him, as he was the number one call-in host in New York City radio for decades.
- Three of the loudest, most threatening sounding callers to our fake “Long John Nebel” were actual members of our “Dirty Dozen” of professional crank callers. These three ran actual pirate radio stations from their apartments in Coney Island, Brooklyn and Flushing, Queens. By the way, fake “Long John” was played by our friend Paul Hiatt, later a cohort to infamous hoaxster Alan Abel, and the keeper of these amazing Be Funny airchecks who contacted me decades later on Facebook and shipped an entire briefcase of 8-track tapes to me in Los Angeles to be remastered and digitized.
- One Dirty Dozen caller threatened to send someone named Larry Berger “down there” to “shove some 3 x 5 cards down ya throat”. Larry Berger (who died recently) was the program director of New York rock station WPLJ and the “3 x 5 cards” referred to the liner cards (radio cue cards) employed in WPLJ’s super tight rock format.
- One caller called in and played a riotously funny old, live radio spot for a porn movie called, ironically, It Happened in Hollywood, read by the real Long John Nebel, who hilariously had lost it midway through his reading of the hokey copy. (If you’ve seen the HBO series The Deuce, it takes place in this very era in New York City!)
- Frank Messer was, in 1980, a member of the New York Yankees broadcast team who, rumor had it, was supposedly a drunk while he worked. At least, that's what many Be Funny callers regularly contended.
- Alan Colmes (yes, the same now-deceased, one-time co-host to Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel), hosted a local call-in show on WPIX in 1980 that Tom and the Dirty Dozen tormented regularly. He is referenced on multiple calls on Be Funny.
- Tom Carvel was the founder of the Carvel Ice Cream chain, whose unlistenable, gravelly voice was on TV constantly hawking Carvel. Fran Healy was a catcher who played for the Yankees and was later a baseball broadcaster and talk show host who also has an unlistenable, gravelly voice.
- At about the 47:30 mark, a listener called in and played a tape of Howard Hoffman on WABC, taking a call from someone called “Hal Harris, aspiring disc jockey”. Mr. Harris was played by one Tom Leykis.
- This episode contains multiple references to Long Island oldies radio station WLNG, known for its old school echo chamber sound and a thousand ancient radio jingles. WLNG was located a full 99 miles from WBAI.
- The episode ends suddenly because the 8-track tape upon which it was recorded apparently ran out of time.