My mom says I’m hanging out with a bad crowd. I said there’s six of us, Mom. That’s a good crowd.
Friday night. The lounge area at WAIF.
“I’m doing stand-up at this club in Clifton, tomorrow.” I said. “I got five minutes.”
“Excellent,” said Dave. “I’ll see if Carl and Buffy can go.”
Bob came over, dropped his backpack.
“What are you doing?” he said, in slight Kentucky twang
“Stand-up in – ”
“What do you know about stand-up?”
“More than you,” I said.
“Have you got five minutes?” asked Dave.
“I’ve got reams of notebooks. I’m sure I can come up with something.”
“I just don’t want to see you fuck it up if I bring people,” said Dave.
“You gonna do our stuff?” asked Bob.
“I dunno,” I said, “most of it wouldn’t work as stand-up.”
“So, why are you doing it? Why aren’t we all doing it as a group?!”
“It’s his thing, Bob!” said Dave.
Bucky came over with a bag of McDonald’s.
“You leavin’ the Pistols, Al?” asked Bucky.
“No. No. I’m just trying this one thing – ”
“Too good for us, huh?” said Bucky. “I guess we’ll be holding auditions for a new Pistol?”
“I’m free this weekend,” said Dave.
“Nothing is changing,” I said.
“I think we should all go down there,” said Bob. “As a group.”
“I hardly have time for the show as it is,” said Dave.
“I’m sure if Al wants us down there, he’ll invite us,” said Bucky.
“Why do we have to wait for him?!”
“You don’t, Bob,” said Dave. “He did it! He took the initiative. If you want to do it – stop whining and go down! He doesn’t own the club.”
“Like they’re gonna want another Wyoming student now that they’ve got one! Probably just a fuckin’ waste of time, anyway!”
Bob stomped out of the room. Bucky looked at me, seriously, Big Mac dribbling down his face.
“Do you own the club, Al?”
WAIF, 88.3 FM, was the absolute last train wreck of a station on the local radio dial. The station occupied the ground floor of the Alms Hotel at the corner of Victory Parkway and William Howard Taft Road – one of the worst neighborhoods in Clifton. There was no heat or air conditioning, the front door had no lock, and the main area – the “lounge” – looked like an abandoned youth hostel with its heavily stained carpet. Homeless people would wander in at any time and sleep on crumbling couches. And if you talked to one, he’d probably tell you that he worked there, and, most likely, he did.
The on-air studio was as ramshackle as the lounge, with tables and equipment made of broken boards hammered together. A community-run station, WAIF had maybe one semi-permanent employee. Otherwise, there was hardly ever anyone there, except whoever was on air at the time. The fact that WAIF was cranking out actual live broadcasting to Cincinnatians daily was a testament to something, though I wasn’t sure what. Volunteerism?
But the Six Pistols – Bucky, Bob, Dave, Dave, Ron and I – were thrilled to call WAIF home. We were a collection of dweebs, losers and nerds from Wyoming bound together by poker, Risk, Tom Lehrer, Monty Python, and an utter disdain for the preps at Wyoming High School. For over a year now, we’d had a monthly comedy show on WAIF and took it very seriously. We spent hours recording bits and sound effects, and splicing ragged scraps of reel-to-reel tape together, trying to manufacture something that sounded mildly coherent. Yes, we were keenly aware that WAIF was a dump and deep down we were still losers. But what the hell, we had a live radio show.
“Did anyone bring any albums?!” I berated. “Ron – you brought one album? Guys – c’mon – could you please please buy some albums?!”
“You’ve got like 80 albums! Why do we need more?”
“Why should I have to lug my stuff all the time?! Go to Mole’s – they’re like two dollars! Besides, we can’t even use half of these because of the cursing – ”
“Tim Stamfield called in!” yelled Dave from the on-air studio.
“He said I sound like a DJ!”
“Guess what, dipshit?” said Bob. “You are one!”
In 1979, at WAIF’s peak, there was a wildly popular show on Sunday nights, Talkback with Jerry Galvin. Jerry was brilliant at scamming listeners with fake topics. And with Talkback’s success, WAIF ponied up the cash to follow him with Dr. Demento, a nationally syndicated comedy show. But after a couple months, WAIF ran out of money and replaced the good doctor with David Dugle – a local Zappa-head with an immense record collection.
Dugle’s show was called Insanity Palace. He played comedy albums – Cheech & Chong, Carlin – and would interrupt his records once a night so that he and his partner Melanie could read fake news topics to the sound of a typewriter. “Melanie,” of course, was Dugle changing his voice to a not-well-camouflaged higher register. For a live comedy show, Insanity Palace was certainly not overburdened with live comedy.
One Sunday night, on nothing more than an urge, I called up WAIF and Dugle himself actually picked up the phone. (Later, I discovered no one else was there at the time.)
“Hey – Hi – ” I said. “Do you – do you want some comedy? Some, like, local comedy? Cause I could probably write or record some – ”
I had never written a thing outside of school in my life. But Dugle’s comedy seemed so primitive compared to Galvin’s and Demento’s. And as for recording – well, everyone had these big, wonky tape recorders. At the time, it did not seem to be a watershed moment in my personal history. All it seemed to be was: fun!
“Sure, sure, absolutely,” said Dugle. “Come on in.”
Next day in the Math Lab:
Oh my God! Holy shit! Oh my God!
There were exactly six of us in the room at that moment – a medley of plaid, flannel atop black concert t-shirts, large noses, buck teeth, and glasses, all amid a sea of rampant acne. Collectively, we made Danny Bonaduce look like a Victoria’s Secret model. We needed a name for ourselves and someone – Ron? Bob? Bucky? – said
The Six Pistols!
And that was that.
The six of us spent that Saturday afternoon in WAIF’s tiny, disheveled, recording studio surrounded by machines and buttons and mics and mic stands. We were hyper and screwing around. We had our four-five bits. A Timex watch commercial parody and Action Anders – Swedish Superhero and Fruit Fresh – all low-grade, intensely juvenile stuff. But we had unbridled energy. And Dugle was generous and thought the bits were great (though he was a bit of a burn-out) and got along with everybody.
That Sunday night we stayed up late listening with our parents as Dugle played everything we recorded on Insanity Palace. A bunch of nerdy, pathetic 15-year-olds and suddenly we were on the freakin’ radio.
How cool was that?