KABC Talk Host to Call It a Night : Radio: After 27 years, deejay Ray Briem, a champion of conservative causes, says he’s had enough of his midnight-to-5 a.m. gig.
After 27 years on the graveyard shift, KABC-AM’s Ray Briem says he’ll miss the political patter and the crusades he conducted on the air, but he’s ready to give it all up for a good night’s sleep.
“I’m 65 and my body says staying up all night ain’t the right thing to do,” said Briem, whose midnight-to-5 a.m. talk show on KABC (790) is one of the longest-running in the market. “You never get used to it. Your biological clock, your circadian rhythms are always upset. There will be times when I will miss it, but being able to sleep at night--oh, how wonderful! That will more than compensate for the pangs of not having a forum.”
Briem will retire after Friday’s broadcast. He will be replaced Monday by Ira Fistell, who spent 15 years at KABC until being fired in 1992.
And though he will miss taking on President Clinton and other liberal politicians, and championing such causes as Propositions 13 and 187, the conservative talk-show host is looking forward to more free time to pursue his hobbies--flying, operating a ham radio and listening to big-band music.
The station recently celebrated Briem’s impending retirement with a party at the Century Plaza. More than 1,000 loyal listeners paid $50 apiece to attend the gala, at which Briem was treated to the performances of some of his favorite musical artists--including the Mills Bros., Frankie Laine, Tony Martin and Bea Wayne.
A self-described protege of legendary in-your-face talk-show host Joe Pyne, Briem focused on political issues but also featured lighter fare, such as interviews with his favorite performers from the big-band era. He consistently has drawn the largest ratings of any overnight talk show--attracting 15.7% of the available audience during the most recent survey period.
Southern California night owls have come to look upon Briem as a kind of late-night pal, a reliable presence during the dark, early-morning hours.
“We enjoy his hobbies--the big-band thing and the reminiscing and the ham radio and the flying,” said longtime listener Judith Seneff, 64, of Palos Verdes. “I don’t always agree with him, but I do a lot. He’s got a great radio voice, and I like the personality behind it. It’s like Middle America. My husband and I would listen to him when we were staying up. We own our own business so sometimes we can’t sleep. He’s our age and talks about things that we knew a lot about. It’s going to be kind of hard in the middle of the night without him.”
“Sometimes I don’t sleep real well and I’ll get up and I’ll turn him on,” said David Shook, a 50-year-old Baptist pastor from Redondo Beach. “Then, a lot of times it kind of stirs me up and I’ll stay up quite a while listening to it. His demeanor was just real relaxed, and his voice coming over the air is kind of a comfort. I just don’t think there’s anyone who can replace that particular niche. I’m hoping he’ll come back on the air sometime. Maybe he’ll come back in the daytime.”
If he ever does return to radio, Briem said, it will only be in the daytime.
“I’ll be able to be economically independent because I have taken care of myself pension-wise,” he said. “I can then cherry-pick if I decide to come back to radio--but nothing before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m.”
Briem began his radio career 50 years ago in his hometown of Ogden, Utah. As a 15-year-old, he and his buddies came up with a 15-minute radio drama called “The Adventures of Vivacious Vicky” and, when a staffer went out on a drunken binge on V-E Day and didn’t show up for work, Briem was offered the chance to fill in. Later that year, he was hired full time.
After a stint with Armed Forces Radio during the Korean War, Briem came to Los Angeles in 1953 to spin records at KGIL-AM, a San Fernando Valley station. He remained a deejay through the early 1960s, including hosting an “American Bandstand"-style show in Seattle from 1958 to 1960. He was spinning records at KLAC-AM here in the mid-'60s when the station switched to a talk format at the behest of then-announcer Pyne. Briem was forced to change his style.
He admits he did not take to the talk format initially. He had decided in his teens that he wanted to be an announcer and deejay, not a newsman.
“I went into it kicking and screaming,” Briem said wryly. “I liked playing the music. I realized what a dumb head I was. I knew very little about politics or the workings of government, and the first year I was an embarrassment.”
But his style evolved with the station, and by the time he came to KABC in 1967, he had persuaded management to let him try his issues-oriented show in an overnight time slot. Prior to that, the station had not aired any programming after midnight.
Briem keeps a folder of all the news stories in which he has appeared, notably in Howard Jarvis’ campaign to pass Proposition 13, the state taxpayer initiative that severely restricted the amount of property taxes. He is also credited by Harold Ezell, who co-authored Proposition 187, for his help in getting the initiative to cut state services for illegal immigrants on the ballot.
“I will miss being able to help influence the way things happen in the city,” Briem said.
Still, the job was not without its drawbacks. Besides the disrupted sleep schedule, Briem was the target of several death threats and even wore a bulletproof vest to his retirement gala.
“I take (the threats) seriously,” he said. “I’m not paranoid, but I know the facts. And there are some people who would like my head.”
But starting next week, his concerns will switch to practicing scales; politics will take a back seat to music lessons. His new crusade is to learn to play the piano.
“I’m buying a baby grand,” Briem said. “If I can just knock out a little melody, I’ll be happy.”