Supposedly when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And that’s exactly what happened with Lee Marshall and iCLU, the Internet radio station at California Lutheran University.
Tim Schultz, a 1977 alum, actually constructed cablecast KRCL with his own hands. Legend has it that some obnoxious musician being interviewed on CLU’s first student-run radio station laid down the f-bomb over a live mike. KRCL was shuttered for good.
At the same time, the radio industry itself was struggling financially as deregulation overemphasized the fickle nature of the marketplace. Bad news: fewer radio jobs existed for grads. Good news: FM frequency 88.3 and call letters KCLU went up for grabs. Very good news: President Jerry Miller granted Tim and myself permission to see how far we could go.
It took us nearly five years to get our various ducks in a row — from garnering community support to actually getting a federal law changed — but, with a little help from our friends, we succeeded. KCLU signed on the air on Oct. 20, 1994.
And, for the next five years at least, students helped produce the local shows. When new station management started to systematically replace homegrown hosts with National Public Radio programming, however, they had nowhere to go.
Although Lee Marshall’s 1997 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came as no surprise to those who had worked with him at such prestigious Top 40 stations as KRIZ (Phoenix), KCBQ (San Diego), KHJ and KDAY (Los Angeles), CKLW (Detroit) and WOR (New York), Marshall, ironically, had “officially retired from radio,” lamenting that the medium had, in his words, “lost its heart and soul.”
Yet, his fertile mind wouldn’t let go of a unique format (“The Boomer”) that he would eventually launch at an underperforming AM radio station (1450 KVEN) in Ventura.
Unlike run-of-the-mill “Oldies” stations, which rotated the same 300 songs ad nauseam, Marshall’s anti-repetitive playlist included nearly 1,700 chart-busters from the ’50s and ’60s. After Cumulus Broadcasting hired him in 2000, he, Judie and their two crazy dogs relocated to Oxnard Shores.
Not only did his Boomer listeners look forward to the daily trivia question, they were also delighted to eavesdrop on live conversations between Marshall and such icons as Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beach Boys, The Tokens, Peter & Gordon, Freddy “Boom-Boom” Cannon, Chubby Checker, Herman’s Hermits, Jan & Dean, The Byrds, or Mary Wilson of The Supremes.
The National Association of Broadcasters was so impressed with Marshall’s efforts, they named KVEN “America’s AM Oldies Station of the Year for 2004-2005.”
Alas, in 2008, when management replaced “The Boomer” with a syndicated feed, Marshall, best known as Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger (after Thurl Ravenscroft’s demise), continued to voice animated characters on television, film and national advertising campaigns.
In 2009, however, I coaxed him into teaching a radio industry course and, then, a voice-over class — both of which capitalized on his considerable experience as radio personality, voice actor, sports talk show host, professional wrestling announcer and a radio programming executive.
So when an Education Suite was incorporated into the new KCLU building courtesy of $1 million grant by the Martin V. and Martha K. Smith Foundation, graduates of Marshall’s classes were ready, willing and able to staff a totally student-run online station.
In fact, Marshall played an instrumental role in planning iCLU, which (not coincidentally) celebrates the creative freedom of old school radio.
Marshall taught at CLU for only five years. Esophageal cancer took him on April 26 of this year. During his short but significant tenure, however, he didn’t just change attitudes — he changed lives.
First, he turned these young people on to a medium that they, as a generation, had abandoned — addicted as they had become to iTunes and ear buds. “If you’re not having fun on the radio,” he’d say, “then you’re not doing it right.”
Second, he opened up his considerable Rolodex to assist them in obtaining internships and entry-level jobs. “I give you permission,” he’d say, “to be excellent.” They never let him down.
Third, he remained their most enthusiastic cheerleader — in class, at commencement and on Facebook. “Most of all,” his wife told me, “Lee wanted his students to know how much he cherished them.”
Marshall’s 67 years on the planet weren’t nearly enough. What I will miss the most — his wicked sense of humor. Here’s an example:
“How will I know you?” I texted, realizing I had no idea what he looked like. We were meeting for the first time at a local barbecue joint.
“I’ll be the tall, skinny, good-looking fellow,” he shot back.
Although nobody would ever mistake Lee Marshall for a movie star, whenever he greeted me in those thunderous yet honeyed tones, Tom Selleck had nothing on him.
And that’s just the first thing he taught me.