BE FUNNY 1980 hear Tom at age 23 hosting one of the original episodes of Be Funny in the summer of 1980! On this edition, Tom asks listeners to "Tell Me A Lie". Legendary late-night talk show host Long John Nebel returns from the dead to take listener calls. And so much more!
Once again, we have annotated the entire episode for your further enjoyment so you know who all of these 1980 characters were.
- This episode of Be Funny began with an explosion sound effect and then a lot of music because WBAI was returning to the air after the often-problematic transmitter had become overheated. The reason so much time passed before you could hear Tom speaking and the reason he was joined mid-sentence is because the delay was being restarted and the other sound was to fill the time until the content of the delay could be heard. As a result, this episode aired an hour later than usual, from 6-7 AM.
- “The number of phone-in comedy shows continues to dwindle here in town” – Tom said this because the show Tom had once written and produced with Mark Simone had just been canceled from WPIX-FM. You can hear an aircheck of Simone in which he uses Tom’s line that a chick was “so fat she had more chins than a Chinese phone book!”
- While we’ve tried to present these episodes of Be Funny unedited, a couple of WBAI promos were edited out by the curator of these tapes, one-time Be Funny regular (and Long John Nebel imitator) Paul Hiatt.
- Bob Fass was the legendary WBAI host of Radio Unnameable. Among his regular guests was Bob Dylan, who used to simply drop by and sit in on his show. At the time of this recording, Fass was in the middle of a five-year banishment from WBAI for his part in an occupation of the station’s transmitter site, yet people continued to call WBAI and reference him. He returned two years later. There is an excellent documentary about Bob, also called Radio Unnameable. which contains scenes shot at the WBAI studio where Tom once worked.
- Long periods of silence occurred when the delay was hit. Such was the technology of 1980.
- Brother Theodore was a New York-based comedian of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
- The voice of the aircheck of the commercial for the Carnegie Delicatessen was New York radio late-night legend Leon Lewis, an influence of Tom’s. Recently-deceased Ray Taliaferro formerly of KGO/San Francisco claimed to be the “first African American radio talk show host”. He wasn’t. Leon Lewis preceded him.
- Melanie Chartoff was a comedic actress primarily known for being a member of the cast of the ABC late-night sketch comedy show Fridays along with then-unknowns Larry David and Michael Richards.
- A caller asked if Tom had ever heard of the “new movie” called The Reincarnation of the Pink Panther. That’s because the star of the Pink Panther films, Peter Sellers, had just died on July 24, 1980 (a clue as to the approximate date of this show in the summer of 1980).
- The frequent threats of a caller who said he was “coming down” to the station were actually references to the many crank call threats to Long John Nebel by radio pirates “Hank Hayes” and “Jim Nazium”.
- Dr. Carlton Fredericks was one of the original hosts heard on the talk radio format of KABC/Los Angeles in 1960. He hosted what might have been the first talk show about health and nutrition. At the time of this Be Funny episode in 1980, his show appeared on WOR/New York.
- No idea who Rabbi Bender was!
- WKTU/New York was the first “all-disco” radio station in the country. It went from having a 0.9% share of the New York audience in 1978 to Number One, becoming the first FM radio station to beat legendary top-40 station WABC/New York as well as the first FM radio station to become Number One in a radio market. This feat signaled the beginning of the irreversible decline of AM radio as it had once been known. At the time of this episode of Be Funny, WKTU was New York’s Number One radio station.
- Bess Myerson was, among other things, the first Jewish Miss America, a frequent game-show panelist and, ultimately, the first Commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. When this show aired in 1980, she was running for the U.S. Senate Democratic nomination. She later lost to Elizabeth Holtzman, who then lost the election to former senator Al D’Amato.
- Joe Franklin was an overnight TV host on WOR-TV/New York who was frequently parodied, most famously by Billy Crystal on Saturday Night Live.
- Steve Post was a WBAI host and author of a favorite book of Tom’s called Playing In The FM Band.
- Chuck Scarborough was a TV news anchor at WNBC-TV/New York, and he still is.
- Megan Marshack was a 25-year-old aide who was with married former New York governor and former vice president Nelson Rockefeller when he died of a heart attack in 1979, a year before this Be Funny episode.
- Tom Dunn was a TV news anchor on WOR-TV/New York.
- Barry Farber was a radio talk show host on various New York radio stations and in syndication in the 80s.
- Barry Gray was a legendary New York radio host who, for a few years, preceded Long John Nebel on WMCA.
WHAT'S THE MOST POLITICALLY INCORRECT THING YOU CAN THINK OF? A prime example of why we live behind a paywall. Tom asked listeners to call in and say "the most politically incorrect thing" they could think of. Yikes!
Write Tom directly with your questions, complaints and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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.
Hour 1: Unscreened calls. Hour 2: Unscreened calls. Hour 3: Be Funny.
Hour 1: Dream killers. Hour 2: More on dream killers. Hour 3: Be Funny.
Hour 1: Tom talks with the guys about a myriad of topics including his brand new truck! Hour 2: More open chat with Tom and the guys. Hour 3: Be Funny.
Hour 1: Are you going to miss traditional brick and mortar stores? Hour 2: More on the loss of traditional store AND talk of traditional radio. Hour 3: Be Funny.
Hour 1: Tom is in studio and discussing his recent ailments at the Frank Sinatra house in Palm Springs. Hour 2: An ex of Tom posts post surgery pics on Facebook prompting Tom to ask why people post such things. Plus, talk of a myriad of other things. Hour 3: Be Funny.
Hour 1: Tom's take on addicts and his reasons why. Hour 2: More on the attitude towards addicts. Hour 3: Be Funny.
Hour 1: Tom explains why he feels that buying lottery tickets is an idiot tax. Hour 2: More on the idiot tax. Hour 3: Be Funny.