So how did the name Shadoe Stevens come about?
Until I got to Boston, I used the name, Jefferson Kaye. I didn’t realize there were Jefferson Kayes everywhere. I thought it was a clever name.
Driving to Boston, I stopped for gas in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I called the program director at WRKO to let him know I was on my way. He told me they wanted to change my name. In Boston, there had been a Jefferson Kaye, a Jess Cain, and on WRKO there was J. J. Jeffries. I needed a different name.
There I was, in a phone booth in Alamogordo, looking at an endless fence, stretching into the horizon, with a sign that read, “Do Not Enter! Atomic Testing Range.”
He said, “We’re thinking of calling you something like ‘Shadow Mann’ or ‘Shadow Lane.” I was horrified. Worst name I’d ever heard.
“The Shadow” was a top radio show, from the 1930s through the 1950s. Orson Welles was the original Shadow. It didn’t matter. I loved the show. I hated the name.
As I drove to Boston, my mind raced. I had to think of a good name. I was looking everywhere, looking for words and coming up with not so catchy names like Michael Roads and Richard Lane.
By the time I got to Boston two days later, I had a list of alternatives. WRKO however, already had jingles and production saying, “And now ladies and gentlemen, Shadoe Stevens!”
I was humiliated. I had to create a personality around name. I developed a back story, which I could say, it was given to me by God. It’s an example of “God’s baffling and incomprehensible sense of humor.” I would tell people it was Native American and means, ‘he who walks with light.’ When someone asks about what tribe, I would say, “it must be Sioux, I’m from North Dakota.”
Is it true you started your own radio station when you were only 10?
My uncle, who owned radio stations, heard I was spending days, on end, creating sounds and music mixes on a tape recorder. He heard the tapes and liked what I was doing. He sent me a gift.
His gift was a “Wireless Transmitter,” made by Knight Kit, made in Chicago.
I put it together, using a soldering iron. I was 10 years old.
It worked. I could broadcast into another room. I had a microphone, upstairs, in my bedroom. Down in the living room my parents listened to me. I’m thinking, “This is amazing!”
So I wondered, If it would go to the next room, could I broadcast to the neighborhood?” I added a 100 foot antenna from the top, of the third story, of my house, to the top of a tree in the backyard.
I also added a tape recorder and a phonograph, so I could play records, and built a microphone stand from an Erector Set.
I had a full-blown radio station in my bedroom. Each night, I’d broadcast to northern Jamestown, North Dakota. You could get the signal about a mile in every direction.
It was captivating. I’d put on a long-playing album and roam around the neighborhood. We, some friends and I, drove around, on our bicycles, with our transistor radios, listening to my station. We wanted to see how far we could hear it.
We’d be a mile away, we would go, “Oh my god, it’s so cool. It’s like magic.”
One day, I ran into a man who worked a local radio station.
He was the station manager and was doing a show called, “The Man on the Street.” He was interviewing passers-by, live on First Avenue. He asked me what interested me.
I said, “Well, art and radio.”
He goes, “Radio! Why are you interested in radio?”
I told him about my little radio station. He thought it was the greatest idea in the world. At 10 years old, I had a radio station.
By the time I was 11 years old, KEYJ-AM, in Jamestown, ND, hired me for a weekly rock show, on Saturday morning. I talked about what was going on at school and played rock and roll. I did that for few years, until I was a teenager, then worked on the station weekends and summers through high school.
When you were programming the format for the now legendary rock station KROQ-FM, did you realize what you were helping to create?
I had to make it happen, with a skeleton crew, of men and women, paid little. KROQ-AM and FM were out of money. The creative challenges, the deadlines, the lack of money made the new FM station exciting. We were on a mission.
The MUSIC would be ALL NEW, all energy, all up, all exciting, and it was revolutionary, especially for the time. Almost every station used what was called “day-parting.” Day-parting meant playing only certain records at certain times of the day. Usually, this meant softer, with more ballads, during the day, with a harder edge through the night.
I didn’t day-part. This was, “All New, All Up, All Energy, All Party, All the Time.” When a listener came to KROQ-FM, they had a different experience than at other stations, featuring all cutting-edge music all the time.
New groups, playing new music were exploding from England. David Bowie , Queen, Glam Rock, Punk Rock, Iggy Pop and the Ramones. KROQ-FM gave listeners what they wanted. We specialized in “discovering and exposing” new music. The station exposed listeners to music and groups they’d never heard, and in an exciting package.
KROQ-FM went to air and took off like a rocket. In six months the station was a number station. KROQ-FM, in the blink of an eye, was an important station in southern California, but then the story gets very weird and dramatic.
The ‘Fred Rated for Federated’ commercials seem to have helped open a few doors for you in the 80’s. Was this the goal or did you look at these commercials as another job at the time?
I was doing radio commercials for Federated and came in to negotiate a new deal.
During this meeting, I sat beside Keith Powell, the president of the Federated, in a conference room. There was another man. I hadn’t met him, but learned, that he’d been producing the Federated television commercials.
Powell played the spots over and over, on a giant screen. He went on and on about how much he hated the commercials; how embarrassed he was, with them. How sexist and stupid they were. If he had his choice, they would be off the air, immediately, but they were at the television stations.
He played the spots over and again. For two hours, he went on about how and why he hated them and finally turned to producer and said, “Don’t you understand? I want simple and funny, that make people remember the name Federated. Is that too much to ask?”
I raised my hand. It was the first time I’d spoken in two hours. “How about this. What if I did a parody of a pitchman, like the Dan Akryod Bass-O-Matic pitchman, on ‘Saturday Night Live!’" “I’d talk fast, and at the end, I’ll take a giant circus hammer, smash a television, and say, ‘Federated smashes prices. Then say, ‘Get it?’” Powell said, “That’s funny. it might work.” I said, “If it works, will you give me creative control? I never want to do the same thing twice or people would want to kill me.”
He said, “Fair enough.” He gave me the chance to do it one weekend, and business went up 500%.
It was extraordinary. Little by little, he turned everything over to me. For the next 6 years I did 6-to-8 commercials a week. No commercial ran longer than 10 days.
You hosted American Top 40, did you feel pressure to fill the shoes of the great Casey Kasem?
It was not easy. ABC Radio owned “American Top 40” and Watermark produced it. Mostly, everyone was paranoid. They feared I wouldn’t be good, despite what I had done in the past. They feared I couldn’t sound like Casey; that I couldn’t even read his copy, his script. Mostly, Watermark and ABS were afraid the audience wouldn’t like me. The show had to change to fit me. Watermark sent me to three different voice coaches. The first 4-hour show took 18 hours to record.
Starting out on “American Top 40,” in late 1988, I had knots in my neck. I kept thinking, “Why is this happening?” Over time, I worked it out and the show was a success. “American Top 40” aired in 110 countries, and for 6 years. I flew around the world to promote the show. It was a great life, and a lot of fun working with great people.
I had a different way of being warm, and a different sense of humor. In the first show, we did a theatre-of-the-mind piece. I walked through the American Top 40 Museum, with its marble floors and enormous, gold statue of Casey Kasem. You can hear my footsteps echoing and I’m going, “Wow, they built one, it’s big, it’s going to be hard to walk around in here it’s so big.”
I stayed on the show until 1995.
How did you end up working on Hollywood Squares?
Producer, Rick Rosner, was the first person to ever put me on television. He put me on the “Dave Garroway Tempo Boston” show in Boston, then “The Steve Allen Show” in Hollywood, and then became the new producer of “Hollywood Squares.”
He asked of I would do the announcing for the pilot, of the new version of ‘Hollywood Squares’?” I gladly helped. It became the syndication hit of the year and Rosner wanted me to join, the show as full-time announcer.
I declined his offer. I told him I had come a long way from announcing. I had a career on television, doing characters, such as Fred Rated, and comedy. I had a three-picture movie deal with Dino DeLaurentis, and I wanted to build on what I had done and not fall back to the old days. I turned him down three times.
He was relentless. He upped the offer. “We’ll put you in a Square once a month. You can talk about your other projects.”
I joined the show, in 1986. By the end of the season, I was “a full-time square.” I was on the show every day. My square as the middle bottom, the smartest square. It was incredibly enjoyable. I was also back for the 1998-2004 version, of "Hollywood Squares" with Whoopi Goldberg.
How did you end up on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson? Is Geoff really as rude as he is on tv?
I loved Craig Ferguson’s work from the beginning. He was Nigel Wicks, the store manager, on the “Drew Carey Show.” He’s a writer, an actor and great stand-up comedian. One of best talents didn’t emerge until he took over “The Late, Late Show.” He’s also an excellent host.
It’s interesting, how life works out. I TIVO’d the show every night and one day my agent called and said, “We just got a call from The Late Late Show. Would you be interested in being the voice of the show?” I said, “When do they want me there?”
Craig is one of the funniest people in television. He makes sure his guests and audience enjoy the show. He works without notes. He has a tremendous capacity to remember everything about his guests and really knows how to listen. And Geoff, even when he’s unplugged in an empty studio, when you walk by, he just stares. He can really stare. Rude? No, glib maybe, or snarky. I think he’s funny.
What’s this I hear about a project with you and Tony Hawk?
It’s one of the most creative concepts I’ve ever come up with but...I have more than a dozen projects I’ve created that I believe in and I bounce from one to another as time rolls by.
You have a lot on your plate how do you handle it.
I have a mantra: “Suffer or Get Busy.” Fortunately, I like being busy. I like the process. I have a lot of projects.
For a time you had a serious drug habit that almost killed you, how did you overcome that? What keeps you sober today?
My family intervened and convinced me to go into a re-hab 28 years ago. It’s a program for people in recovery who want better, happier lives, and it’s worked me and for millions all over the world. I stay with it.
Your daughter, Amber, nabbed a role on the series ‘Greek’. Was this the career path you wanted for your children?
I’ve only ever wanted my children to follow their dreams and do what makes them happy. Amber was born outgoing and on stage. She put on all the family shows at every holiday event while she was growing up. She got all the other kids together, came up with dances and songs, costumes, lights, and choreography. They were always charming, amusing, and full of life. I never imagined her doing anything else.
My other daughter, Chynarose, is going to school, studying the Beauty Industry. She’s fascinated by skin care, nails, make-up and healthy living. She too, is an artist, and just beginning to discover her remarkable abilities. She’s just discovering her passion.
What is the first thing you do in the morning?
I used to meditate first thing in the morning for about a half hour, then would go work out. For 20 years it was Martial Arts. Then I began a new routine after I interviewed a Himalayan Yogi on my MentalRadio show in 2011. He taught me a meditation called Kriya Yoga. I began waking up in the middle of the night. For more than a year I have meditated for 2 hours at 3am before going back to bed. This is not merely a matter of discipline, it’s experiential. It is rewarding in ways that cannot be put into words. I now do Power Yoga three or four times a week.
What made you transition from Radio/TV to writing Children’s books?
Writing has been central to the discipline of being in the entertainment business. I had to learn to write for radio, then for commercials, then for television commercials, then for music, then for shows.
But writing for children came from the Infinite Unknowable whispering in my ear in the dead of night. I woke up one morning over 20 years ago saying "Button-Sided Hooey" out loud. It was the strangest thing I'd ever heard myself say and hadn't come from me. I didn't "think it up." So, I wrote it down. During the next couple of days, as I looked at the words, it looked like something from a Dr. Seuss book. My children were both very young at the time and I thought, I like writing in verse, i should try to write something for them in what I'd come to call "Royal Seussian Verse." Over the course of the next year I'd completed the first of what would become three books, a trilogy called, "The Button-Sided Hooey." I finished it on Thanksgiving in time to read it aloud for a big family celebration. Everyone loved it. I was encouraged. I kept writing.
By the time I was finished it had become this epic "Chapter Book" written in verse and had broken all the rules for what was acceptable, publishable material. Although I considered it to be the best thing I'd ever written, it was very long and it was in chapters. I knew no one would ever publish it. The few I approached rejected it saying it was too long and "rhyming books don't sell unless you're Dr. Seuss." I knew the only way to get my epic published was to write a simple, linear tale that, if it was successful, would pave the way for my epic. I decided to write "The Big Galoot."
What is The Big Galoot about? And what about Bullying?
Nearly everyone has had the experience of being made fun of, children can be cruel. It hurts and can make you feel ashamed. And it doesn't take much, there's always someone who's ready to make fun of your name, if nothing else. Someone makes a joke about your name and suddenly you're embarrassed about your name.
Bullying is the grotesque exaggeration of that same experience. It has always been around but has now become an epidemic. Most children don't even realize what they're doing. They never consider the consequences of their actions, it just empowers them to pick on someone who's different and when they begin to do it in groups, the energy grows. Now it's a weird kind of fun. They can laugh about it together. The only possible solution is to expose them to the reality of certain actions when they are very young, before they get into the hideous glandular imbalance that triggers aggression.
Warren Galoot has everything wrong. He's a perfect target. He has a weird pointed head, a squeaky voice, a pear-shaped body, pigeon-toed feet, and size 42 hands...the biggest hands anyone's ever seen. The only thing right about him is his smile. He has Cat in the Hat eyes and a big, gentle too-good-to-be-true smile. He doesn't really have self-confidence, he has something better, he has Faith. He knows that when he needs good luck, it will just come to him. He has an angel that lives in his heart and no matter what happens, he'll just keep trying, he'll never give up because just around the corner good luck will kick in.
The first copy of The Big Galoot off the press was auctioned off for $10,000 to help the World Children’s Relief charity. How did you feel knowing your first book went for such a high amount and helped so many children?
It was such an honor. The organization was such a good one and helped so many children. At the time, it seemed like an omen, a “sign” that at last, after so many years, the book was finally going to explode into the public and become an “overnight sensation.” On top of that, the book had major celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Dick Clark giving me amazing reviews, and Henry Winkler and Gene Simmons. Plus, dozens more now had copies and told me they loved it, people like Paul Haggis, Dave Barry, Lance Bass, Martin Landau, Frankie Vallie, Cheryl Tiegs, Ed Asner, and Joey Fatone.
Little did I know that fate had something entirely different in store.
I heard you had some struggles with your book in the beginning, can you tell us a little bit about that?
The saga of the Big Galoot trying to get to the public is an exact reflection of the story. It's taken "never giving up." In 1996 it was signed to a publishing company who helped me develop the artwork and layout. It was completed and the week it was to be sent to the printers for national release, there was a hostile overthrow of the company. The CEO and President were fired and they cancelled the children's division. It took nearly ten years to get the rights back to my own book.
Then, my family stepped in. They'd always loved the book and put together the money to have it printed. We actually sent someone to China to oversee the project and make sure the books would be as beautiful as we'd always dreamed. There were two versions, the original 8 1/2 x 11 book and an oversized, coffee-table, limited edition boxed-set. They were sensational. And I couldn't get distribution. For the next year I traveled all over the country trying to make it happen. They would look down their noses saying, "Oh no...if you had six or eight titles we might consider talking to you, but no...we don't do one-offs."
Today, we still have about 4,000 books and despite the fact that it's gotten rave reviews and is owned and loved by major Hollywood celebrities, there are probably 700 of the limited edition versions in storage. So now, thanks to the digital age, we can make the book available to the world at a very low cost, electronically. It's been a long trail.
Is The Big Galoot going to be a series?
I've already written two more Big Galoot books, shorter ones called Big Galoot Jr books: “I Can’t Sleep,” and “I Lost My Laugh.”
Any other children’s’ books on the horizon?
On top of the Galoot Jr books, I have the big "Button Sided Hooey" trilogy still waiting to see the light of day. I'm planning to do a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise the funds necessary to get the artwork made so that these projects can finally be made available.
I also have about a third of a book written called “Don’t Pity the Plight of Poor Perky Galore.” Perky is the girl Warren Galoot grows up and marries, but her story is something entirely different. It’s a Cinderella type story, also written in “Royal Seussian Verse.”
Do you have plans to write adult books?
These may be a long way off, but I’ve written a memoir called “Laugh Now, Think Later,” that covers my magical childhood all the way through drug addiction, near death, and recovery. I also have a screenplay called “Drivetime” that’s described as a “wildly fictional True Story based on Real Events.” It’s about a Los Angeles Rock Station in the 80s, a semi-fictional tale told with humor and eclectic dialog, riding on a buoyant body of exciting “feel-good” 1980s rock music.
What advice would you give to others wanting to write a book?
Write. And then write some more. And read everything you love...read every day...then go back and try to see how the people you liked did what you loved. And then write. About anything. Put words down. Then read the section of the great mystery novelist Timothy Hallinan's website called "FINISH YOUR NOVEL." http://www.timothyhallinan.com/writers.php And then write.
How long did it take you to write The Big Galoot?
It took about six months to finish the first draft. But as you know, genius is in the details, and writing is about re-writing. Re-writes and fine-tuning went on for another six or eight months. Maybe longer. You’re always looking for a way to make it perfect. At some point you have to give up and move on to another project to obsess over.
Out of all the careers you have had, which one is your favorite? Which one would you consider the most difficult?
I think everything is “difficult.” At least, anything you really care about. But let’s put that in perspective: if you’re doing something you love, if you’re involved in something that intrigues you, that you’re passionate about, how does the word “difficult” even apply? Difficult is working on a railway section crew in Zap and Gackle, North Dakota, living in a box car with drinking, smoking, farting men, and going out on the rails for hard, manual labor from 5 in the morning to 8 o’clock at night. I did that. That’s “difficult.”
Every career, every discipline, everything worth doing is worth doing well. And that means there is a lot to learn. Then you not only have to learn it, you have to do it over and over until it becomes second nature, and then there’s something else to learn. Leaning can be difficult but it’s also the way to significant rewards. The rewards for trying, for getting out of your own way and applying yourself when every fiber says you suck and you’ll never do anything, is more than worth the pain.
The law of averages is on your side. The more you try, the greater your chance of succeeding.
Taking a risk is often your first necessary step toward success. If you don't take some risks, you won't get the chance to succeed.
While you are trying, you are winning. Never get discouraged. Every wrong attempt is another step forward. People that make no mistakes usually don't make anything.
You can't be a winner and be afraid to lose. Make up your mind not merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand defeats. Your mistakes are stepping stones to success and your pain gives you power.
Our minds are always making up stories comparing our circumstances to someone else’s to make us victims and to complain... As if that whining will get us what we want. No one has it easy. Work on yourself.
Every career I’ve been involved with has involved significant disappointments, agonizing moments, bewildering challenges, and unspeakable rewards. My favorite is the next one, the one that builds on the things I’ve learned doing all the other ones. I have more than a dozen projects in the works, some fairly new, one is over 30 years old. They’re all worth working for. I remain enthused.