Published on June 20th, 2013 | by Todd Monahan0
Book Review: Kickin’ Out The Jams by Sean Conrad
Summary: Kickin’ Out The Jams: The Purple Haze Of My Crazy Daze In Radio By Sean Conrad Black Opal Books 215pp., $10.99
Veteran Disc Jockey with Rockford Ties Writes Memoir
Former disc jockey Sean Conrad’s new memoir, Kickin’ Out The Jams: The Purple Haze Of My Crazy Daze In Radio (Black Opal Books) is a short, straightforward chronicle of life in the radio industry during its 1960’s and 1970’s heyday. Conrad (nee Ron Copeland), who worked in radio for over thirty years at 22 different stations around the country was a disc jockey and program director at a time when DJ’s and PD’s were an indispensable part of the record industry. Large radio stations like KHJ in Los Angeles and many others that Conrad worked for over the years could make or break a record, as well as jump start the careers of new artists, all depending on who they gave airplay. Like many memoirs of this type, it is a roller coaster ride, with Conrad working his way to the top of the industry and losing it all not once, but several times. He partied with rock stars, took part in a great deal of indulgent behavior and predictably wrecked two marriages in the process. Over the years he met John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Carl Wilson, Smokey Robinson and countless other musical legends. He helped jumpstart the career of Donna Summers, The Cars, and many others. Conrad also has a local connection, since his father lived in Rockford and one of the radio stations that he worked for in his early rise to the top was WYFE, one of Rockford’s Top 40 stations in the mid 1960’s.
Conrad started his career while still in high school in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio called Beaver Creek. Sean’s uncle owned a furniture store, and to help generate business he brought in local DJ Bob Holliday on Sunday afternoons to do a broadcast from the store’s showroom floor. Sean’s father took him down to the store to meet Holliday, and at age 13 he already knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Holliday became Conrad’s first mentor and an important role model as he taught him the basics of radio. A few years later Holliday’s station WING set up a junior achievement program where high school students would be allowed to run the station for one hour, one day a week. Conrad was one of the students selected, and this allowed him to get his first on-the-air experience. Among his fellow classmates who participated in this project was Gary Sandy, who would later become well known as an actor on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, as well as Paul Iams, whose father founded Iams dog food. Conrad helped out around WING when Holliday was on the air and assisted him in his side business of producing record hops throughout Montgomery County. This allowed him to see the Beach Boys in their early years of fame. Taking the knowledge he learned from Holliday, Conrad began his slow but determined career in radio, from starting out at a rural Kentucky radio station to eventually working his way into large market stations like WKNR in Detroit, KHJ in Los Angeles, and many others around the country.
Kickin’ Out The Jams is a fun, fast read that never takes itself too seriously.
Early in his career, Conrad’s father secured him a job at Rockford station WJRL (which shortly became WYFE) which allowed him to enter into mid-market radio. In 1965 and 1966 Conrad, under the radio name Rik O’Shea, did the afternoon drive broadcast at this station in Rockford. He also took a page out of Holliday’s book and did record hops for extra money, producing battle of the bands competitions at high schools, and even managing a local high school band of that time called The Jacemen. Conrad also rented out the Rock River Roller Palace and brought in big name acts like Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Animals, and the Yardbirds. He writes that the Yardbird’s lineup consisted on both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, although Conrad knew nothing of Page at the time, since Led Zeppelin was a couple of years down the road. Conrad’s Rockford days did not last long, however, and by the end of 1966 he left the area for a slightly bigger market in Tucson, Arizona. This began a journey where he would find many successes and many failures, but always showed an incredible determination to work his way back up every time he hit bottom.
Kickin’ Out The Jams is a fun, fast read that never takes itself too seriously. Conrad met and befriended some legendary people, but writes from the perspective of a hardworking Everyman whose successes came from a determination to succeed as well as a little luck. He doesn’t always write in the most elegant fashion, but that’s part of the book’s fun and charm. If there is one major flaw, it is the lack of detail in his writing about some of his experiences. He tried to cover thirty years in a short memoir, and while his goal was obviously brevity and simplicity, he certainly could have expanded on many of the accounts he gives here. There are several chapters that are only a few pages long, and sometimes two or three years will be condensed into two or three pages. Regardless, it’s a lighthearted, charming book that covers a fascinating life.
You can also hear a Podcast interview of Conrad by his nephew, Chip Copeland, where they discuss many of Sean’s adventures covered in the book.