Local Radio Heralded Counter-Cultural Seventies Series Called “The O.B. Ranger Rides Again!”
Editor: We received this article from Jay Allen Sanford, who has been a San Diego Reader columnist and cartoonist (Overheard in San Diego, etc) for around 20 years. Back in 2007, Sanford wrote a Reader feature about the old OB Ranger radio character, built around an interview with DJ co-creator Gary Allyn. He says he was prepping an expanded version for the Reader website with photos from Gary’s site, when it occurred to him that the OB Rag might be a better home for the result. Here is the slightly shorter version (it’s got all the original photos) that appeared in the Reader. Here’s our version of the series from an earlier post by staff. Sanford lived on Abbott Street in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and his first professional cartoons (ie paid) were for OB’s Strand Theater ads and newsletters (he’s working on a lengthy Strand article now).
By Jay Allen Sanford
“We were going after the progressive rock or the album rock crowd,” says radio DJ and programming vet Gary Allyn about his early seventies on-air gig in San Diego.
“We wanted an independent attitude of not giving a damn about anything because we could get away with a lot of that in Mexico. So our IDs and buffers had things you couldn’t say on American radio. We did quasi drug references. Like ‘It’s time for the scores’ – and the scores would be ‘four keys, two lids.’ With stuff like the O.B. Ranger routines, there was always that underground go-against-society undercurrent. Of course O.B. was the center of the hippie movement in that period, flower power and the drug culture and all that.”
Already in his thirties at the time, Allyn was an unlikely counter culture spokesman. At Ohio University, he’d majored in Speech, Radio-TV and Drama before earning a certificate in Radio-TV Arts from the Cincinnati College Of Music. He spent two years as a Radio Specialist in the 4th Army Information Section.
Allyn already had fifteen years of radio experience when he hit San Diego, having begun with an on-air gig at WING in Dayton Ohio in 1955. He also held positions as a production director, program director and operations manager at stations in Cincinnati, Miami, Atlanta, San Antonio, Denver, Los Angeles and elsewhere.
Additionally, he deposited the occasional extra check for jokes he’d written for comedians like Lenny Bruce, “Herky” Stiles and Woody Woodbury.
“That was in the late fifties but comedy writers didn’t make a lot of money and still don’t make much more now than they did then.”
He first came to San Diego to work for KCBQ in 1965.
“I was on the air right when KCBQ was kind of faltering and BOSS Radio had come into being. So KCBQ brought in some new jocks and tried to make a new start. Then I went to San Antonio for a couple of years and came back to KCBQ in ‘68, first as an on-air personality and then as Program Director. This was during the real ratings battle days with KGB. At that time progressive rock was just hitting the radio. Stations like KPRI were just starting to do it, playing longer album cuts.”
Allyn talks about some of the talent he worked with at KCBQ.
“I had ‘Magic’ Christian before Buzz Bennett took over the ‘Q. Happy Hare made a late sixties comeback there too. Joe Light is another.”
“We had a great news staff with Richard Mock, Jim Buckalew and Joe Demott, plus I hired Jim Hill – yes, L.A.’s CBS2 TV sports guy – after he left The Chargers. That was some radio station.”
“As for KSEA, that was something else. I had a $31,000.00 annual budget including salaries, contests, everything. But I still managed to hire some good guys, including Neil Ross, Lenny Mitchell, Jeff Prescott of KGB and now KOGO morning fame, and Tom Straw. Our ‘Buzzard’ logo eating KCBQ was the first of its kind.”
He and Neil Ross had worked together on projects like the three hour Beatles documentary “The Long And Winding Road,” as well as at various radio stations.
“We even roomed together for awhile. I hired [Ross] as a production man because he could do so many voices. Today he’s one of the top voice-over artists in L.A., he does cartoons and narration for A&E now. He’s a natural mimic, and very funny.”
“Neil and I came into XHIS and XHERS back in ‘71, ‘72. It’s FM90 today. The owner ran these stations in Tijuana and they had this new prototype machine. They were automated or semi-automated cassettes and you could literally put a station in a closet, one rack with ten cassette decks in it. The technicians in Tijuana were running it all and we had to program and lay out everything there for them. We put the music on the tapes first.”
What music was the station playing?
“Now it’d be classic rock but in ‘71 there was only a few years of material to draw from. We’d play a dozen hit albums, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Beautiful Day, a lot of underground music. The signal was so strong…people used to pick us up in Vancouver British Columbia, in Idaho, Ontario. We got a lot of calls, from all over the place. It started to spread that we were a pirate station operating off the coast on a boat.”
The duo recorded their material downtown on the wharf in a studio across from the Star Of India.
“It was maybe 10’X10’ and we put all the music together and what sound FX we didn’t have we made up ourselves. We did some phony commercials like the Thud School Of Skydiving, spoofs of local late night TV commercials, old time radio style but more hip like what The Firesign Theater was doing. Then we decided, since there weren’t going to be any personalities on the air between songs, we came up with this idea of the O.B. Ranger.”
“From out of the cave at the foot of Sunset Cliffs, the thundering hoof-beats pound…”
(intro, “O.B. Ranger”)
“We made the Ranger a bumbling Inspector Clouseau type narc who didn’t know any of the hip phrases of the day, and he was always trying to get to his arch enemy Panama Red, which as you may or may not know was a potent type of marijuana. So the Ranger is trying to get in with that crowd but his idea of hip is ‘far out,’ ‘groovy’ and ‘outta sight’ which even in those days was already passe, kind of camp. We made his Tonto a Yale graduate and he was the one who always corrected The Ranger. The Indian was the one who was hip, knowledgeable and with it.”
“The Ranger’s horse was a stud horse named Sylvia and the Indian rode his swift pinto Ford. They were raiding the dwellings of Ocean Beach in search of illegal and nefarious goings on. We wrote the scripts together. I did the voice of the Ranger, Neil did Panama Red, the Ranger Chief, Kilo Kane, practically all of the other voices. We did a takeoff of The Godfather, the Oddfather, and Neil did an outstanding Marlon Brando. You’d swear it was him.”
Also helping out was friend Lee Mirabal and guest characters came with nametags like Emil Nitrate, Miss Melons, Grassie The Dog, Madame Sativa, Count Downer, Chief of the Rangers Gus Stoppo and the mystical Swami Rama Lama Ding Dong.
Allyn and Ross wrote and recorded over ninety episodes of the O.B. Ranger, most of them episodic segments that unfolded in short chapters between music blocks. They didn’t shy away from controversial topics. “There was a marijuana initiative on the ballot one year and we did a couple of episodes around that. Nixon at the time was going through his ping pong diplomacy and we did a takeoff on that. One of the [fake] commercials was for the Johnny Combat Doll which would actually kill and maim just like the real thing.”
I ask if there was ever negative feedback or repercussions from dealing with sensitive or controversial issues. “To the contrary, the more we did it, the more people loved it. The comedy bits were getting to be more requested than the songs!”
Allyn says that the Ranger and his Indian partner were becoming local cult icons.
“We used to have people call us from bars and you could hear them in the background, drunk out of their minds, having an O.B. Ranger party. They wanted The Ranger to drop by and have a drink with them!”
“One night, Neil and I got one of those calls from a Mexican place in Coronado. We decided ‘let’s go see what the Hell’s going on.’ We went across the bridge and looked in and these people are so drunk, they’re all toasting each other and yelling ‘far out,’ ‘groovy’ and ‘out of sight.’ We said ‘No, I don’t think we want to go in’ and we turned around and left.”
The station was soon programming full weekend blocks of O.B. Ranger segments. “We decided to put out a best of, a double LP. The radio station paid for it at the time and we had it pressed in LA. We edited the broken up episodes together into longer segments.” Over 3,500 copies of “The Adventures Of The O.B. Ranger Volume 1” albums were sold, especially once east coast radio stations started playing it and distributors were calling and asking for it. “Next thing you know we’ve got a ‘break out’ in Billboard from Buffalo. You have to wonder how O.B. hippie humor goes over in Buffalo.”
In 1972, the Ranger rode off the airwaves. “We had the usual flare-up with the owner of the station. I had the opportunity to go somewhere else and Neil stayed on another month or so. The funny thing was, after we stopped doing them, we started getting calls from parents saying that their little kids were all upset that the O.B. Ranger wasn’t on Saturday mornings any more. We never knew we had kids listening!”
He says he doesn’t think that the drug humor was picked up by his underage listeners. “I’m sure it went over their head. And we never condoned drug use, we just made fun of it. The Ranger was out to nab the bad guy after all.”
Ross and Allyn had copyrighted the material and gotten a release from the radio station to use it, enabling them to market and sell a syndication package of around sixty episodes to several stations. Locally, KPRI re-ran many of episodes in the late seventies. Allyn went on to work in Miami while Ross went to LA but the pair kept in touch and did occasional work together. Allyn bought into a small recording studio, Top Spots, where he wrote and produced hundreds of commercials and voice-over commissions.
In the late eighties, Allyn became involved with a successful line of specialty tapes called Sports Fantasies – five minute audio cassettes where the subject is made the star of a championship game being announced. “I’ve done those for Bill Cosby, he’s ordered a dozen or so. Most of the major league owners, Ted Turner, Mario Cuomo. It started as a little weekend sideline and turned out to practically be a full time career.” He bought out his partner in 1990 and still regularly produces new tapes.
Over the last few years, Allyn said that he was hearing that the O.B. Ranger album was a sought after collector’s item. “It was like the holy grail to people who remembered or heard about the shows. Neil was not that interested in doing any more, he was trying to get his career going in LA and he thought that all these years have gone by, just let it go. But I always thought it still had possibilities. Especially with the seventies retro thing going on. Neil told me to go ahead and do what I wanted with the material and he even offered to co-promote it, but he’s not directly involved. He’s got such a voiceover career going.”
Compiling and remastering all of the master reels he could assemble, Allyn now has several volumes of O.B. Ranger material ready to release. He has already pressed a 19-cut Volume 1 and is marketing it with a partner on the internet. He also places them in shops on consignment and he’s been emailing and sending samples to people like Doctor Demento, who he says is interested in playing it.
“It’s very difficult,” he says, “because if it’s considered ‘local,’ or if it’s not currently on the radio, currently being played. It’s not like it was years ago when you had more of a shot…a friend of mine works at KYXY but I don’t think it’s their bag to play it.”
He says it’s also hard because he no longer has the daily broadcast exposure or contacts in the local radio game. “I still do consulting for radio stations out of this market. I’ve been up in Escondido for years and I’m not in touch with people like I was. And what with the ownership changes and the format changes that have happened in radio, it’s just a volatile time.”
“You don’t know who’s in charge and who’s going to own you next week.”