Rick Riley on Suds Coleman

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Rick Riley on Suds Coleman

Post by pinback » Tue Jun 18, 2019 6:52 pm

I know nobody cares about this. But I do, so stick it. Although it is a pretty interesting peek into old-timey radio, for those who are interested, even if you don't know who Rick and Suds are/were.

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On June 10th, I found out my radio partner of 24 years and friend for over 40,, Suds Coleman, had cancer, had undergone Chemo and was told by his doctors that he should enter hospice. Today, on June 17th, I was sent a message by his wife. It read, “Rick, Suds passed away in the early hours this morning. He is at peace now.”

Since we left radio as a team in 2002, my wife and I adopted two little girls and moved away. I kept working in Voiceover, and Suds, decided to wind down and enjoy the retired life he was living in Florida. Suds and I talked on birthdays and events where it was something we could both relate to, but not often as our lives were very different now. However, when I found out this latest news, he became very close to me again, as this hit me like a ton of bricks.

Suds was the first on air guy that I ever met when I was actually ‘in’ radio. He went by ‘The World Famous Suds Coleman’. He told me I could call him ‘World’. That was Valentines Day, 1973. Finding we had completely different backgrounds, I coming from huge Los Angeles and him coming from dinky Emporium, PA, yet sharing the same sense of humor, we became friends quickly.

Over the 40 years I knew Suds, and the 24 years we were partners on the air, I could write a book on the adventures we shared together, and I may do that. But today, it’s just some highlights that come to mind as I reminisce.

Suds was a very easy going guy, so one of my first recollections is when I saw him jump totally to the other side in an extreme moment of passion.

It was his second radio job, my first, when we worked together at WKXY in Sarasota. He did Mid-Days, I did nights. I got hired at $95 a week and I think he was making $125. The station was small market in every way. We were required to cut commercials in a production room that had one turntable and one tape recorder. Compare this to larger market stations that had 8-tracks or even 16-track tape decks and at least two turntables (this was ’73, CD’s would be invented 10 years later) and it was a real chore to try to make something sound good with such limited equipment.

Suds used to complain to the Program Director about the setup, and I think there were promises to upgrade the equipment, but they didn’t happen. At least not fast enough, as one day Suds, in his frustration, picked up the tape deck, took it out to the parking lot and smashed it into little pieces. As he was jumping up and down on it, it was actually in mid jump, when management ran out into the parking lot and fired him. We got a new, and a little bit better tape deck after that, and for that, thank you Suds!

After he was fired, Suds got a job crosstown at our competition, WYND. I think he even got hired for a little more money, like $135 a week. He kept telling me that I needed to leave KXY and come over there. I applied at WYND, they gave me a raise to $115 a week and Suds and I were working together again.

WYND was what they call a ‘Daytimer’. Only licensed to operate during the day, it had to shut down at sunset, and everybody went home. Suds was a real radio guy and he thought, what a waste to have a radio station just sit there, idle. So, he and I would go back at night and do a nightly radio show. We called it, ‘The Blue Ozone’. It was there that we did comedy bits for no one to hear that had us laughing so hard at times we couldn’t breathe. We’d sign off whenever we felt like it, sometimes 1 or 2am, went home and no one was ever the wiser.

It wasn’t long after I got hired at WYND that I got fired. The station was sold and I was the last one to come so the first one to go. But the management was very nice about it and helped me get a job doing Mornings, at WFSO in Tampa. FSO became a legendary station as there was no FM at the time and we were playing Album Rock on AM. I told them they should hire Suds, and they did. Once again, we were working together. For about a year and a half. It was then that I got in an argument with our Program Director while I was putting away some albums after my shift. I had put away most of them and ended by throwing the rest of the stack at the PD. Then Suds and I weren’t working together again.

I went North, Suds stayed because prying him out of Florida would be like prying a fish out of water. He went back to Fort Meyers for a while. While he still loved Florida, he called me and said, ‘You know all those old people we used to complain about in Sarasota all the time? Well their parents are over here.’

It was a couple years and a couple radio stations later where I got hired to do Mornings at KJRB in Spokane. I didn’t want to go there as I was having a good time doing mornings at WCLG, in Morgantown, West Virginia. I was 25 and the University had a student body of about 22,000. It was like a whole city of people my age. And by now I was making $165 a week so I was rolling! But after flying me out to Spokane, wining and dining me they said what’s it going to take to get you here? I said, ‘Well it would have to be at least $300 a week’ (almost double my current salary) and they said, ‘OK, what else do you need?’, so two weeks later I was there.

KJRB was a REAL radio station. Owned by Danny Kaye and Lester Smith. I kept telling Suds about how great it was but he was struggling with the concept. He was a REAL Radio Guy, but he had also become a real Florida guy. REAL RADIO won out and he joined me in Spokane.

It was in Spokane that Suds and I jelled as a team. Suds did his laidback overnight show and I convinced him to stick around with me in the morning. I would tell him that we were going to talk with someone that was hot in the news at the time, and I needed him to be that someone. So when we did the crossover from my show to his, I’d promo that coming up we’ll be talking to ‘so and so’, and of course he’d be amazed at how we ever got that person as a guest.

When it came time to talk to the guest, Suds would say something like, ‘OH… that’s NOW? Darn! I made an appointment to go wax my cat’. I’d say, ‘Can’t you stick around?’… ‘No, I really have to go’ he’d say, ‘Darn the luck, I really wanted hear him too. I’ll see ya later.’

So I would promo the caller, ‘We have on the line…yada yada yada’, you’d hear the phone rustling and on would come Suds as that guy. He never changed his voice, I would ask him questions and we’d converse about whatever the topic was, he’d make up stuff along the way, often with me having a very hard time keeping a straight face, and then I’d thank him for being with us. And every time we did this, just before he hung up, he’d say with a very straight, stern voice, ‘By the way, I REALLY like that Suds Coleman!’ and I’d go, ‘Oh, well I’ll be sure and tell him. Thanks!’ and I ‘d hang up. In just seconds Suds would come back in the studio and say something like, ‘Hey, I made it back, is he still on? I wanted to ask him something…’ and of course I’d say, ‘Oh… I’m sorry, you just missed him. He really likes you though…’ and Suds would take the compliment and we’d move on.

The longer we were in Spokane, the more we worked together, even though we had different shifts. The ratings for Mornings at KJRB were through the roof. We had an unheard of 23 share of all listeners 12 years and older who listened to the radio. Our closest competitor had a 6.

I was there for four years. After Suds arrived and the ratings took off, I asked management for something to give away in the morning because I was doing a lot of audience involvement stuff. They said, how about some coffee mugs. Fine with me, so someone drew a caricature of me and sent it off to the coffee mug company and I waited. And I waited. And I would ask and they would tell me that they ordered them and they would be there.

After getting hired in 1976, I got an offer in 1980 to do mornings at KZOK in Seattle. Seattle was big time and I took the job. I went in to give management notice that I would be leaving and as I was giving them notice, there was a knock on the GM’s door. It was Earline, the secretary. She said through the closed door, ‘Would you please tell Rick his mugs are in?’

500 of them. All the on-air guys took 20 or 30, I got the remainder, and anytime anyone left a radio station, hired, fired or otherwise, the saying was, ‘I guess his mugs must have come in.

It was in Seattle, that I got Suds to join me as my newsman, and we became a team. That was 1980 and we were a team until we both left radio in 2002.

Recently I wrote that Suds was like Tim Conway, one of the funniest men on TV. Tim would crack up the entire Carol Burnett cast with his dry wit and improv. Suds was my Tim Conway. As Tim would mostly keep a straight face while everyone around him was dying laughing, Suds had the ability to do the same thing. One thing that used to amaze me is, we would be doing a bit and we were both about to lose it, Suds would close the mic switch for about three seconds, laugh hysterically, then open the mic switch and continue with a straight face. I couldn’t do that. Every once in a while, I’d break.

We had the same sense of humor, which made the audience laugh and sometimes even got us into trouble, but I was the guy that always took the heat.

One day we were on the air at WIOD and caller said he was driving around a bunch of dead cats and dogs. We prodded him as to ‘why?’ and he said his job was to deliver them to the crematorium. He said they were all frozen. I asked him if we could have one. Sure enough, he gave us a frozen cat. We didn’t do anything with it on the air, but…

Suds used to complain that the WIOD refrigerator was deplorable and no one EVER cleaned it out. He said, no one had any idea what was even in there. So I suggested we put the cat in there and see how long it would take someone to notice. Suds thought that was a great idea and so we did. It was a few weeks later that down in the kitchen we heard a woman scream. She had found the cat in the freezer. Well it was one of our newswomen who had no sense of humor and while Suds and I were a ‘TEAM’, I was the one that took the rap. I told her that I didn’t KILL the cat, WE just put it in the freezer, and no one noticed for WEEKS! That newswoman, who shall go nameless, never had anything nice to say to me or about me again, but yet loved Suds.

There was only one thing that I suggested that Suds ever balked at doing. Miami, is ‘New York South’. And like New York City, you don’t even have to linger at a light before they’ll start honking. So I suggested, let’s have a guy call us on a mobile phone and when the light changes green, we’ll just have him sit there. We can give him so many dollars per honk as an incentive to stay. Suds didn’t like that idea. He thought someone might get shot. Well I said, lets ask Boy Gary (Gary Bruce, our Program Director) We went to Boy Gary and told him what I wanted to do. He said, ‘So, what’s the problem’. I said, ‘Suds thinks someone might get shot.’ And boy Gary said, ‘So what’s the problem’. From then on it was no holds barred.

Suds was a master of improv. Every bit we ever did. Payphone Challenges, bullhorns on the police station lawn that got a guy arrested, fire ants on the newly built Miami flyover that brought traffic to a standstill, putting people in dryers with 33 golf balls and spinning them to pick winning lottery numbers, staging a funeral for our competitor WNWS in which the procession turned out to be a mile long… every premise was my idea. The only prep Suds and I did together was an annual skit we wrote called Turkeys On Parade. Everything else was an idea I had and I would bring to Suds and say, ‘Here’s what I want to do’. He’d look at me and smile and from then on it was improv. I had tried doing some scripted bits with him but it was never as funny as him just being off the cuff. I’d set it up, he’d move forward with it, I’d add, he’d add… whatever it was, we were both in whatever that world was at the time. And when the bit was done, we both knew it. We recognized the high points and bailed. We were always on the same page.

ON our show our audience were the stars. With them it was four hours of improv every day. We encouraged them and they complied. One day a guy called in and said he was fed up with his cell phone and was going to run it over with his lawnmower. We asked him to do it on the air. That led to a phone in a blender, a phone in a barbeque to where we could actually hear voices of other calls escaping as it was melting, a phone being put in a tank with an outboard motor, a phone being dropped from an airplane into the bay and others I’m not mentioning but equally entertaining.

We used to do the trading post where we would start out with something innocuous like a pair of used concert tickets and trade up with the audience from there. Once, over a few weeks we actually ended up trading for a boat and on the way to getting the boat we got a listener’s leg. It was a prosthetic and he had two. One was his ‘staying at home leg’ and the other was his ‘going out leg’. He didn’t go out much anymore so we got his going out leg.

I could go on and on, and someday I might, but right now I’m recounting these memories because my best friend and partner of almost thirty years passed away today. There was no one on this earth who could make me laugh the way he did and we did together. We made a good living out of it, we had more perks and good times than I can recount, and while I’ve had tears this past week, they haven’t stopped today. So it was good for me to write this.

We’re supposed to remember the good things about people’s lives. How they affected us in positive ways. How they offered us their uniqueness. Suds did all those things for me and many others in spades. He was a funny man. He was a kind man. He was a good man to me and my family. He was Uncle Suds to my kids and he was Best Friend and Business Partner to me. I wanted to tell him this before he passed, but he was too sick to allow me to do that. I wanted to tell him that there was no way I could have done it without him. I really wanted him to hear me say that. But I couldn’t’. I hope there’s some way he’s able to know this now because it breaks my heart that I wasn’t able to tell him in person before he left.

That’s what they say, huh. Say it now. Don’t wait. You may not ever be able to say it later. But if I could… If I could just have that one moment, I would put my arm around him and I’d tell him all that. And I’d make sure that he knew how much he meant to me. I’d make sure of that. And I’d tell him what a ride it was, and that it really, really was… a ‘Great Show Suds!’
Above all else... We shall go on... And continue!