June 27, 2017

The astounding double life of Hal Abrams

By John Guy LaPlante

with 3 photos

Morro Bay, CA—Hal is tall and slim and fifty-ish, with hair down to his shoulders and still jet black. One look and you might think him a rock guitar player. He aspired to that long ago but that’s long past.

His love of music has not diminished, but his passion now- – and for the last 30 years– has been radio broadcasting.

Partners in everything--Hal and his wife Judy broadcasting together on 97.3 FM Morro Bay, The Rock.

Partners in everything–Hal and his wife Judy broadcasting together on 97.3 FM Morro Bay, The Rock.

In fact, for some 20 years, he has been the producer of the country’s most popular pet animal show. Its name is Animal Radio, and it reaches 350,000 fans every week all over the country. In more than 130 AF and FM stations from here in California all the way to Connecticut. It’s a terrific show, even if you don’t own a dog or a cat or a parrot or snake or a few fish.

That’s how I got to meet him, as its producer. He and his wife, Judy—who is executive producer of Animal Radio, and rightly so because of her talent and hard work—are neighbors of my daughter Monique and son-in-law David here. And through them I met Hal and Judy. They all live on a hill overlooking the harbor and the Pacific.

How Hal and Judy manage to churn out Animal Radio week after week and year after year for the last 14 years—program 800 is coming up very soon!—is a challenge and a half. Well, certainly to me after enjoying a few of their programs.

Animal Radio is Hal’s whole life, I was sure. Not so. That was only his Life No. 1.

He has a Life No. 2, and that is as founder and president of our one and only radio station here. A remarkable station in concept and content, vastly different from most stations across the country.

And this, too, has certainly been a challenge and a half.

It’s KEBF, 97.3 FM Morro Bay. It broadcasts 24/ 7. It calls itself The Rock.

Why? Well, at the very entrance to our harbor, there’s a huge volcano, extinct now, thank goodness. Enormous. So big that ships can spot it far out. In the old days, that great big old volcano was the landmark to check your position by.

Today, in the culture of this town and ever since its founding, and in the other towns as well along Estero Bay, that big rock has cast big shadows. You can’t go a day without focusing on it. So naming the station in homage to it–The Rock–was truly an inspiration.

Estero Bay, by the way, is the great and gorgeous body of water that blesses this coast of mid-state California.

Yes, 97.3 FM, The Rock, is different. To the point that other small communities across the USA could use it as the model for a similar station.

And it makes Hal Abrams stand out for his vision, perseverance, and ongoing leadership.

Why do I speak so glowingly about 97.3 FM, The Rock? Well, it’s not just another ordinary station.

Consider the following. It is non-profit. Non-commercial. It is 100% staffed not by professionals, but talented volunteers. It is 100% community-supported. And it is 100% focused on serving and supporting this community and its neighbors north and south.

All that is a mouthful, I know.

To put it more plainly: The station carries no commercials. All its money comes through donations. The 58 staffers and board members who keep it broadcasting non-stop, both at the microphone and in essential background jobs, don’t earn a dime at this. They do it for the pleasure of it, or the experience, or to give back.

Hal and Judy beaming at the Grand Opening when, with the flip of a switch, The Rock went on the air for the first time, and has been on the air 24/7 ever since.

Hal and Judy beaming at the Grand Opening when, with the flip of a switch, The Rock went on the air for the first time, and has been on the air 24/7 ever since. In a few days it will celebrate its first anniversary.

The Rock broadcasts a huge smorgasbord of content …local news, music, food, health, even City Council meetings and other important doings.. For sure there’s something for everybody. You can get to see what’s coming up by checking its website, www.esterobayradio.com.

If you’re curious about it by now, even if you live many miles away, you can stream the station. It’s easy. Just go to that same website. Click on “Listen to us now.” And that’s it.

Here are interesting specifics about The Rock. First, it was Hal Abrams’ brainstorm. He did the research that convinced him it was do-able. He sold the idea to the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce. Their enthusiasm was important. He led the struggle to raise the $20,000 for the transmitter and all the other equipment. Found a good low-rent location for the studio (at the Chamber of Commerce) and also good land for the broadcast antenna. Wrote the station’s mission statement.

Got the application for the Federal Communications Commission’s permit filled out. Recruited all the talent. Got essential PR going. Recruited a board of directors. Took on the presidency of the whole shebang. In effect, became the station’s guru and guiding angel.

All that preparatory work stretched over some two years. Only then did The Rock go live. That was a memorable day. With a celebration in the fresh air in front of the Chamber, a live band, good wishes from Morro Bay leaders, and lots of festivity and food, of course.

And when it did start broadcasting, he put in many hours at its microphone as one of its early broadcasters …music and talk are his forte…some 40 hours a week on average, until more and more people volunteered or were recruited as “talents.” That’s radio jargon for the on-air folks.

He was quick to say, “John, I didn’t do all that alone. One by people came on board. It did turn out to be a community thing. Just as I hoped.”

It’s a fact that for a long time Hal was putting in as much time of the station as he was in running his Animal Radio show. Which is his day job. His bread and butter job.

Now you understand why I call this an astounding tale.

You are wondering, What is this fellow’s background?  Glad you asked. Remarkably different. It would take another long piece to detail it. Here’s  a digest.

Born in Denver. With parents’ okay, quit school at 14 and moved out.  “I was tired of school. I wasn’t being challenged.” Found an apartment, moved in (rent$300 a month) and to finance all this, got a job as a Roto Rooter dispatcher.

At 17 moved to Los Angeles with his guitar on his back. “I dreamed of becoming a rock star.”  Attended a guitar school, got gigs playing at clubs on Sunset Strip.  Got a job on station KPWR, working for nothing for six months. “That paid off.  Led to what I do today.”

But, he had so little formal education—but I must assure you he is a highly educated fellow.  What to do?

“I got my GED.  What a wonderful thing that was.  The GED has been a fabulous career-changer for so many drop-outs.  For us, in a small way, it was like the GI Bill of Rights for a lot of vets.”

All while working full time, he graduated from Metro State Community College in Denver.  Later took more courses, including nearby Cuesta College here.

Started his career as a radio “talent”—music and talk.  Got good at staging publicity-snagging stunts.  With a woman radio sidekick, lived in a dog house—made for the purpose—for a week. “It was to raise money for the SPCA—The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A success!” He did the same thing another time to raise money for SPCA of Charlotsville VA. Again, a success.

How did he meet wife Judy? “I was running a contest on the air.  She was one of those who called in.  I found her so interesting that I asked her out.”

A big day. The 75-foot antenna is finally set up.Raising the money for all this was a feat.

A big day. The 75-foot antenna is finally set up.Raising the money for all this was a feat. Hal spearheaded it all.

They moved around a lot.  For a while they owned a mobile home, covered many states, even up to Alaska.  It was radio, radio, radio.  Moved to Morro Bay in 2011. Liked it so much that they’ve stayed. And they’ve accomplished so much here!

Now a few  words about Hal and Judy’s “Animal Radio.” They create it. Produce it in a studio in their house up there on the hill.

Not easy. They come up with the content, and Animal Radio is rich in content. Keep up on news in the pet animal world and often break stories that get picked up by national media. Keep the program lively with ongoing and guest talent. Deal with the sales staff who must come up with the all-important advertising.

They are constantly prospecting for more and more affiliate stations and working hard not to lose any. And of course—which is key—always release a show so good that listeners will make it a weekly must. Yes, there’s pressure.

And Episode 800 will come up soon. Now divide that by 52. Wow! For sure, not too much time to get outside and enjoy the fabulous view.

When they do, it’s usually to exercise their own pets, four cats and a dog .   There are dog lovers and cat lovers. Well, now you know where Hal and Judy stand.

For sure Animal Radio is big in its genre and the pet animal industry itself is bigger than I ever imagined.

Consider this. Most Americans have a pet. And 49% of them have a dog, and 23% have a cat. And 24% have more than one. And only 3% have a fish, bird, or other kind. Did you know that?

I must say that in this 3% group, my son Mark’s two little kids must be unique. Annalivia, who is 8, has a bearded dragon that sits in her hand. Lincoln, 5, has an albino snake two feet long and growing. And they love them.

Now the whopping bottom line about the pet industry. Americans spend $60 billion per year on their pets. With those big numbers, and Animal Radio’s excellent quality, no wonder it has so many listeners.

Interested in checking their show? You can stream it on your computer or other digital devices. You can even hear it on the Animal Radio app for IPhone and Android.

Check at what station and time it broadcasts in your area by going to www.animalradio.com.

A big celebration is coming up. The Rock’s first birthday will be March 29. Much to celebrate.  It is successful. The best gauge is the number of listeners who stream it –10,000 a month– and the fans who give it a thumb’s up on the station’s Facebook page. The station has an impressive roster of talent. Is becoming better known in the community and is playing a bigger role in delivering content to it and supporting it.

Now, here’s a surprise for you. I am one of the “talents” on The Rock. I am the host of a half-hour show every Saturday at 1 p.m. I call it “Gabbing with old guy John.”

I have one guest every week. I choose my guests carefully. They have to be interesting  and have value to give our listeners– advice, news, tips, information, a few laughs, something to think about.

How did this befall me? I was the guest twice of one of the weekly hosts. Dr. Bob Swain, chiropractor, does a show he calls “Staying Healthy.” It’s very good.

My first time was on being a vegetarian. How and why. The pluses and the minuses of not being an eater of animals. And there are a couple of minuses, I must say. I told Dr. Bob to make sure to ask me about that, which he did.

The second time was because of my age. I am about to turn 86. Doctor Bob deemed that I am quite fit for that high age– and I do feel fit. Dr. Bob was curious about that and focused on it.

Manning the big broadcasting board was Hal Abrams himself. As if he didn’t already have enough to do. “The board” is all the technical equipment to get the show on the air—the clock, dials, levers, switches. There’s a lot to it.

It turned out that having a radio engineer like Hal at the board was unusual. Soon I found that out. As a rule, the host of the show runs the board. On my second appearance Dr. Bob was the engineer.

After that first show, Hal said to me, “John, you were pretty good. Why don’t you host your own show?”

What?!   “No, no, no. Out of the question!” Then I thought it over. Well, why not?

Definitely, I’m an amateur. And I still get uptight. But I’m getting better. Last Saturday was my eighth show.

I gabbed with Harry Farmer, a professional astrologer. Astronomy is a science, of course. Not so astrology. He calls astrology a science and an art. We chatted about that. Also much more. How astrology changed his life…how he became passionate about it…turned pro…how he helps people through astrology…on and on. A good show.

A big plus for me in this exciting new entry into  broadcasting is that I’m meeting interesting people and am getting to know Morro Bay—my second home now—in many fascinating ways.

As as Dr. Bob says on his Keeping Healthy show, facing challenges of your own picking is another fine strategy to stay fit.

So, for giving me that nudge into this new world of radio, Hal Abrams, thank you. Nobody is more surprised about this than I. Some of my old-time friends are awfully surprised, too.

Well, I’ve long believed that life should be an adventure. And this his my latest chapter of that.

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Comments

  1. jim davis says:

    sounds like you have a new ‘home.’ congratulations! jim

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