How I met Frazer Smith
The front of the back story
In the late 1970s, there was a “disc jockey” on KROQ FM in Pasadena by the name of Frazer Smith (IMDB). One of the recurring segments he did was called “Power News,” made-up news stories about current events and/or celebrities doing bizarre things, often with Frazer himself figuring prominently. For awhile, I was one of Frazer’s “drunken writers,” responsible for creating the Power News items. Here are a few of the ones I wrote.
The back of the front story
After hanging around with the Peter Bergman, Phil Austin, Phil Proctor, and David Ossman from Firesign Theatre for a few months, submitting pieces for their Papoon for President mock campaign and later getting a couple pieces read on Radio Free Oz (which I was privileged to attend in person at the KPFK studio), I was starting to feel at home in the world of writing … especially comedy writing.
One day Peter called and asked if I was familiar with Frazer Smith. Frazer was an on-air personality at KROQ FM (Pasadena), back when KROQ was pretty wild and wooly, with an approach to radio that must still be unique to this day. And while some of the other DJs (Steven Clean, Shadoe “Tracker Sweat” Stevens, Engineer Darrell, Jean Chappe, Jimmy Rabbit, Al Ramirez, etc.) might be considered way out, Frazer was in a class of his own. With a great radio voice, and killer on-air persona, and some fabulous material, he really added to what for me was a magical time for radio comedy.
One of the bits Frazer would do each hour was read “Power News” stories; invented escapades and situations presented in the form of news items.
There was, however, one odd thing about Power News. Frazer seemed to have a finite number of stories. Every couple of weeks, you’d again hear pieces he’d done before. Overall the show was so good that you didn’t mind hearing them again, but I couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t just write more?
Peter filled in the blanks. He told me that Frazer had moved from Detroit to Los Angeles to take the job at KROQ with his writing partner, a guy named Daddy Wags. The delivery, the voice, the persona, and the attitude we heard on KROQ were all Frazer, but a lot of the material came from Daddy Wags. Wags apparently decided after a couple weeks in Los Angeles that enough was enough and split back for Detroit, leaving Frazer without a source of new material.
Peter asked if I thought I might want to write for Frazer. Like me, Frazer had been pulled into the orbit of Firesign Theatre, so as soon as he got to Los Angeles, he had contacted Peter Bergman. Peter’s offer seemed almost too good to be true, but I said yes. So, Peter put me in touch with Frazer.
When I called, Frazer seemed totally uninterested in meeting me, which was a shock because I figured an entree from Peter Bergman should have been golden. After a couple conversations, though, he invited me to write up some Power News items for him to see how it went.
Over the course of the next several days, I whipped up a bunch of stories for him. I pulled out all the stops, cramming as much off-beat stuff as I could into each one of my miniature soap-operas, and polishing them to within an inch of their lives. I could not have been more proud of my little creations.
Finally the day came to meet Frazer in person and turn over my gems. I wasn’t expecting an over-sized check with a huge amount on it, but I was certain that he’d bestow something lavish on me. I was vibrating with excitement.
What actually happened was that the meeting was as perfunctory as our telephone conversations had been. He glanced at each of the pages I’d given him, no change of expression, and then handed them back to me, the way one might hand a leaflet back to the guy on the sidewalk who just pressed it into your hand.
“These are way too much,” he said. “They’re way too long, and you have four jokes in each one. Cut ‘em down.” That was the end of the meeting.
Tail between my legs, I went back to the typewriter and chopped them apart. He was correct, of course. He wasn’t a clone of Firesign Theatre. He was surreal, and he was on the radio, but I’d missed all of his other dynamics, and hadn’t written them in his “voice.”
A few days later we met again. He again looked at my submissions without any change of expression, then said, “Good.” Again, that was the end of the meeting, because he was off to KROQ to do his show. It was the most off-hand hiring experience I’d ever had, or could ever imagine.
That night, however, listening to the show, he used the material I’d given him. I never figured out if he was just that good at cold reading, or if he checked them beforehand and got a feel for them, but from all outward appearances he spent zero prep time before a show. Maybe he previewed them during commercial breaks.
Whatever the case, it was amazing to hand Frazer a stack of paper before the show and then hear it coming back over the airwaves, for all of Los Angeles to hear.
In January 1979, New West magazine did an article on Frazer that did a good job of capturing him and his catch-phrases, but in February 1979 that same article prompted KROQ to fire him. After a couple months of casting around, Frazer landed at KLOS, and Power News resumed. Frazer eventually added comedian Vic Dunlop and writer Ernie Monte to his team, but radio was too small to contain Frazer’s massive talent, the live shows dried up, and the long-hoped-for TV show never materialized, so he returned to living in his car.