26 years ago – The Legend of Doctor Destructo & his kettle of heavy metal!
I’m often asked what my favorite top five or top ten WMMS stories or events are. To me, it’s like asking a parent to name a favorite child. But if one were to ask what was one of the all-time favorite on-air specials we did, the Dr. Destructo Halloween shows would definitely be in the top ten. Maybe even the top five. It was immense fun to put together and it provided an opportunity for everyone’s creative juices to flow.
One of our goals was to be the radio station that would be played at all parties on the Saturday closest to Halloween – and we did it by fine-tuning our music to provide a neat-perfect spook-tacular soundtrack.
But by 1983, with other stations doing cheap imitations of what we started, our aspiration was to create something that could not be duplicated by our competition.
Instead of just playing predictable horror-themed and heavy metal music, we had to take our Halloween Saturday night programming to higher, non duplicated echelon. We just weren’t sure what that was – and were faced with only a week and a half to come up with something distinctive.
A few weeks prior, our production director Tom O’Brien got his “wish list” harmonizer. It was a new production “toy,” which allowed us to modify and alter vocal the pitch and style. We started playing around with the harmonizer on some of Len “Boom” Goldberg’s many WMMS IDs and sweeps.
In doing so, we found our inspiration to create a special Halloween character uniquely WMMS -Len
“Boom Boom” Goldberg as Dr. Destructo, the high priest of heavy metal. Denny Sanders came up with the name. We realized we’d heard that name before but couldn’t place it and in the pre-internet days there was no way to Google up the name’s origin. So we went with it. Decades later we learned that the original Dr. Destructo was an evil character in a cartoon series from the early sixties, Colonel Bleep.
When we presented the idea to Boom he said in protest, “I’m not doing some crock of shit character that makes me sound like some idiot…” Then he heard a sample of what we had already done with a sample of his voice.
He changed his mind and jumped right into the character.
Keeping true to our roots, the show opened with the legend of Dr. Destructo. Every Halloween, mild-mannered Len “Boom” Goldberg turned into an alternate personality when a black cat crossed his path or he accidentally walked under a ladder. He transformed into Dr. Destructo with his kettle of heavy metal. His personality contained bits of every evil character that ever appeared in a horror film.
Tom O’Brien’s production fed Boom’s bellowing voice through the harmonizer. From there, we added reverb and multi-track layers of spooky sound effects and eerie sounds. Denny and I wrote most of the material, though close to the entire staff came up with a line or two to add to the show while it was being produced.
It took over 12 hours to put together the breaks for the six-hour show – but it was worth the effort. Each break featured a five to seven minute vignette three times per hour. It went against the grain of playing continuous music for Halloween Saturday night parties – but we knew if we made it interesting enough we’d hold the audience, and we did.
One break had Dr. Destructo unleashing his rabid Dobermans on Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler (“Total Eclipse of theHeart”) to eat her alive – complete with screams and chomping sounds. In another, promotion director Jim Marchyshyn did a perfect John McEnroe who, following an argument with a tennis referee, who turned out to be Dr. Destructo, had hot molten lead poured down his throat. He even ate a kitten – complete with expected – and unexpected – double entrenderes.
Though the show had to be pre-recorded, we did a few mock listener phone calls, which Boom-as-Dr. Destructo answered with a thundering “HELL-o!”
We closed the first show with a phony commercial announcing a major outdoor concert starring every heavy metal band we could think of, and promising it would close with a nuclear explosion that would destroy everybody and everything.
The following Monday, I got a call from Belkin Productions, complaining about the number of calls they had to field regarding this made-up concert that some believed was a real upcoming event.
This print ad by David Helton is from October, 1983. It also shows that we took our weekend programming seriously – and that it was designed to dominate. Radios featuring digital frequency screens were coming down in price, which caused us to change our rounded-off “101 FM,” which had been put in use in early 1973, to the actual frequency, 100.7. During this change, the “100.7” was drawn in a digital design.
Though we know airchecks of Dr. Destructo show exist (at least a couple of airchecks turned up on Internet auction sites), we’ve yet found one to add to this site. Like most recordings stored in the WMMS archives, the masters were lost.
Denny Sanders remembers:
We had just acquired a harmonizer for the production studio, which we used for special voice effects (speeding up, slowing down, etc). I suggested to you that we should run Goldberg’s already deep voice through the box and create a kind of monster sound for some kind of production. I remember jokingly saying something like “he could be the ultimate heavy metal deejay. Instead of Dr. Demento, you would have Dr. Destructo, where he just destroys things and plays extreme metal”. What often happened around the station with a joke or offhand remark, John Gorman said “Well, why not?” and off we went.
I wrote the original treatment, which I think we used most of. I recall that “kettle of heavy metal” line, and the idea to have phony callers calling in who were ultimately destroyed by the good Doctor. Jim Marchyshyn “called in” as John McEnroe, who was in the news a lot in those days as a rude hothead. He was doing Bic lighter commercials at the time, and he called in complaining about something, and then said that he wanted his Bic. Dr. Destructo then said something like “here’s your Bic, you dick!” (how we got away with that line is beyond me) and “poured lighter fluid down his throat” as Jim (as McEnroe) screamed.
I “called in” as a fundamentalist religious leader and the Doctor destroyed me with a bolt of lightning.
The whole thing was a riot and I am surprised that we never did a weekly show after the Halloween special.
Too late now. Len is in heaven and the good Doctor is certainly in hell!
More on our wild and crazy production department can be found in Chapter 11 of The Buzzard.
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