In many respects, Harrison’s broadcast career is not unlike that of other folks on the Broadcast dial. Born in Lake Forest (“Ordinary People”), Illinois, a suburb on the north shore of Chicago, Harrison spent his formative years with his twin sister (“twister”) under the loving tutelage of their English nanny, “Nanny”, a bewhiskered Liverpuddlian.
(right) Bookworming by 5
His father, an avid German war memorabilia “enthusiast” (get it?!) then sent naive young Harrison away to Swiss boarding school, Institut Montana (where John Kerry also did time years before). Those school years were fraught with adventure–like hiding in the trees and trying to hit the ski instructor (a former World War II SS Officer) with a home made tennis ball cannon. There was escapist global travel from Afghanistan to Kenya all ending up in expulsion after several zip-boing romances with the school’s Spanish exchange student maid as well as the feisty daughter of a millionaire champagne magnate. College was variously unsavory yet oddly highbrow; simple yet complex. Harrison seemed unable to leave his skills from the fencing team in the gym, always forcing his professors to be en guarde for an unexpected verbal parry and riposte. A’s and Fs always. Nothing boring in between.
His first work in the business was on cable when he co-hosted and produced an entertainment show for multiple cable systems. The program, Screen Test, won several cable ACE honors and was the forerunner for what later became E! Entertainment Television.
Later, in drunken humiliation, he sold fake diamonds and Elvis figurines on the Home Shopping Network while hosting PBS fundraisers (under suitably prophylactic stage names) to make ends meet. A flash of a modeling career imploded when Harrison decided that the stuffy runway environment would be the perfect venue to test out his live comedy material.
That of course, led quickly to Talk Radio, Morning FM, syndication, and satellite radio where he captivated and stunned morning drive audiences with edgy and satirical humor.
As an award-winning syndicated investigative reporter, Harrison developed a reputation for uncovering news and issues that none of the other guys would touch. Harrison’s subject matter is always edgy and unusual, ranging from serious to glib. Armed with a quick wit and hard facts, Harrison takes stories and interviews to the next level–ferreting out the bizarre, the conspiratorial and the phony, deliciously serving them up in a fast-paced format.
If keeping secrets were activism or dancing, I’d be Martin Luther King. And Twilo would be the whole Civil Rights movement. So what does one write? How much do you say? What can you say? In my business (and probably yours) we pretend to be unaffected and somehow detached from the events that surround us. The more I have chased the truth the closer I got to the merry pranksters of today: the oil companies, military contractors, bed-sheeted Klansmen, carpetbaggers, Puckfists, blatherskites, theme park impresarios, politicians, and the media at large. Especially the electronic media. And it is because of my association with them that I have come to the conclusion that broadcasters are now more than ever violating the public trust by purposely confusing the public interest with the public appetite and even create “news product” by melodramiticizing one event after another. Each relatively meaningless circumstance refracted by more media lenses than any single Bobbitt penis deserves.
Or maybe they’re just clumsy. They don’t know any better. Or they really do think you’re stupid. Witness both the AM and FM bands where one can’t avoid the gassy gasconades issuing from any number of radio’s flabby flesh-puddings. Misshapen miscreants tromboning away in self-serving blather; hostile, zealous, and viping like a swarm of Benzedrine puff adders. Am I innocent in all of this? Not hardly. I used to engage in the simple battlefield of shock and spectacle – crashing head to head with on-air TV guests like rams in heat. Each moment explosive with bombastic energy. Guest-targets never running in short in supply nor excuses to inappropriately edit fart noises into things like highbrow medical discussions. There is such an episode of my old Hot Seat show, or maybe it was on Chatterbox, which still appears at select moments on Cable.
In 1989 I engaged in the fine art of vending Elvis figurines and sweatshop-produced fake diamonds (often manufactured in Haiti at around 15¢ a carat) on America’s foremost video cash register, The Home Shopping Network, based in Tampa/St.Pete, Florida.
The “war-room” at the heart of HSN’s brain center. Nazi flag placed as a satirical statement by staffer.
One day, I was hosting a “Goldathon” in which I was to move out endless strings of bee-yoo-tee-full neckchains and anklets to millions of viewers called Mildred, Marge, and Gladys. The place called them “Bargos” because they purportedly were like lounging Jabba the Hutts in pink quilted housecoats, gurgling down rum-filled Bon Bons. Not really wanting the actual product, but instead, motivated by getting a bargain. And it was a bargain because we said so. Please cozy up to any radio or TV and turn your will and your lives over to this appliance which will then flash pretty pictures at you, even titillate, joke, and flirt with you when necessary. After all, we’re in the boredom-killing business. And if we can make a profit at it …so much the better. So it is to be one endless live commercial interrupted two minutes an hour for the public good, the FCC decided. And you, over there … you’ve been on a diet so long, it’s time to reward yourself. Come on, eat that box of specialty chocolates. They’re on sale. Look, here’s the toll-free number, even. Madness, sheer madness as the greed-cycle spins faster and faster.
After the first hour I was nearly comatose attempting to glamorize yet another 7 inch, 14 Karat gold-toned beauty. My boss was the sort of squinty-eyed hypertensive who routinely sweated yellow rings into the armpits of his suit. This man of great self-importance, perspiration bubbling up from under his toupee, trundled onto the set during a commercial break and struck me in the small of the back with a balled fist, telling me to come up with a new fu*#k!ng pitch … we need to make the G*d#mn quota early. “Okay,” I said wheezing, “you want a new pitch, you got it.” Little did I know what I would do next. The lights came back up, our director counted me back onto air, and I faced the camera.
“Ladies, have I got something for you. Now, some of you might have seen this before. Most of you have never ….. and all of you have always wanted to. It’s with pleasure that I present to you for the first time ever something that will please you! It’s eight inches long, it’s hard as a rock, it’s in my lap … and it’s coming up right now”. I looked straight at the camera, winked, then looked smilingly down into my lap. Turned back to the camera, grinned and silently mouthed the words: “eight inches long, hard as a rock.” Then reached into my lap and pulled out an 8″ long gold chain which sold out in four minutes with a $20,000 ching-ching to the Home Shopping cash register.
I was then promoted right off the air and into a custom position called Network Manager, a strategic position designed to take the teeth out of my new retailing technique by propelling me into a converted closet located between the two network studios. No windows. No air conditioning. Reminded one of Mr. Churchill’s War Room in London during the V2 bombings. So I called it the War Room and the real management’s ego was so stroked by having a War Room for visiting investors and Hollywood celebrities stopping by to vend their weird potions and autographed foot deodorizers that closed circuit television monitors were installed along with a complex in-house communications system.
Home shopping “War Room” satirically (presciently) sabotaged with a tasteless authentic Nazi staff car flag, belonging to a radical HSN staffer.
This system controlled the infamous on-screen counter which declared that there might be, for instance, only 30 gold-plated grinning Elvis enema bulbs left in stock. The counter s mere appearance would begin the very lucrative dialing in frenzy amongst Bargos. Any item which generated under $2,000 per minute in sales was hardly worth the price paid and the wink wink given Pedro in a Miami back alley to “purchase” it in the first place. I’m told that because of certain FCC investigations, things like curious “retail values” and whizzing-out-of-control quantity sold counters have been voluntarily discontinued. The War Room has also been dismantled and retrofitted into a nameless storage closet.
It seems that often we understand ourselves best by recognizing our similarities to others. People love to hear their own experiences and frustrations confirmed; resonance being a most comforting sensation. Several years preceding Home Shopping (1987) I co-hosted and co-produced a cable entertainment magazine show called Screen Test started by my old college buddy, Lee. In college, Lee had been a serious Mass Com major with ample career vision. I, on the other hand, preferred beer. But when we got together-like two 10-year-olds in a sandbox, it was giggling, then multidimensional sandcastles. Lee’s natural ability to draw complex artforms by hand revealed itself also to be a natural talent not only to direct television, but paint amazing pictures with sound and images. Things got going so well with Screen Test that were receiving a great amount of notice. Lee and I met with a Los Angeles programming executive to take our ever-expanding concept nationwide on the newly-forming Movietime Channel. The programming exec formed it; somehow we were still in Florida. The executive stole off with our content and formatting& and made pile$. And what later morphed into E! Entertainment Network continues to grow with abundant financial success, globally reaching millions.
On the Set of SCREEN TEST Cast: Lori; Kim; Harrison; Lee
How could you be such a dope, you say? Well, nitwittery didn’t start there, I can tell you. The entire Screen Test success was borne out of weekly shows airing on a growing network of individual cable systems with which we’d contracted barterable prime air. We’d received several Cable ACE honors and the movie studios were more than happy to fly us to New York not only to interview their stars, but stay at hotels such as the Plaza; drink champagne and be teased by their shameless largesse and the flawless products they put out. Does it seem like there might be an ethics problem with the courtships between the studios and their critics? At least nowadays the studios, such as Disney, just outright own their TV networks (ABC). So why wouldn’t any ABC news program like Good Morning America just rave about anything made by the ghost of Walt past. Entertainment Tonight (Paramount Television) might actually be partial to things caressed by the smooching cameras at Studio X? Nah.
THE JUPITER 2
So what if you wanted to feed the machine with a non-studio item? Why not make a satire of Michael Jackson’s Thriller (called Killer) and make it locally, paying for production out of your own pocket as Lee almost successfully did. When you’re 26, art is of a higher calling and the Universe should give you points for funding your passion with a Visa card at 18%. Nowadays, you’d look back and think this unwise. But Lee’s post-collegiate personal project was to embark on a 16MM extravaganza to make HBO’s Spring line-up. Lights, cameras, a cast of 30 Tampa Bay break dancers, and plenty of rather disgusting action inside the fully-loaded Pace Arrow RV I, as his PR Director, traded for film credits. Neither we nor the good-hearted RV dealer knew that his city on wheels was to become a rolling brothel cum $140,000 mobile Porta Potty.
The Jupiter 2: Six menacing tons of feculent mayhem and murky merriment
Production was a nightmare from the first day. Our Michael Jackson look-alike was a little bitch and his manager, Harv Kavatini, stank from the perpetual cigar screwed into his puss. The break dancers were more interested in trysting in the back of the RV than pirouetting in front of the camera, adorned in gauze and fake blood as the script demanded. Since no-one, including us, had any experience in filmmaking, very few responsible precautions were taken and attention to detail was left to the production assistant who was busy throwing up in the bushes. Each minute drew us closer to debtor’s prison and the jailer’s whip for any number of moral turpitude charges. We had rampant underage drinking, grotesque displays of substance abuse, and two instances of real live vulgarity while filming steamy-breathed, winter night rooftop scenes in a dilapidated warehouse section of old Ybor City.
Props, which we had also traded for credits were abused, stolen, or burnt in oil drums for heat. Two nights of exposed film had “disappeared” while the faux Jackson’s manager held them hostage for a pay hike. Killer quickly went so far over budget that poor Lee had to sell off personal items to try to keep the film in production. But unfortunately, Lee just didn’t have enough material stuff. Actually, no-one did, save, maybe Bill gates. A well-earned depression sank in as well-skilled Lee became surrounded by a cast of drooling mountebanks and guttersnipes.
The RV, which I dubbed the Jupiter 2 after the ill-flying Lost in Space saucer, began to stink after the second week of shooting. Although it was cold at night, Florida’s unshielded daytime sun provided the perfect greenhouse effect inside the Jupiter. After all, what is an RV but a gigantic aluminum beer can on four rubber tires. Each of the 30 break dancers had need to use the ship’s head several times per shoot and the 60 gallon on-board septic tank was a-fillin’ fast. The entire port side electrical wiring had shorted out from operating high voltage movie lamps so far over spec that all the interior paneling fried in a quick smoky puff. But where was one supposed to rest this ten ton monster at the end of its cumulative abuse? At Denny’s, of course. And they had it towed off their lot at $150 each time. Three times, to be exact. When Lee attempted to retrieved the appropriated beast from a coterie of toothless towpeople, he had to navigate the tow yard in semi-darkness while fending off one very pissed-off guard goat. This breed of goat isn’t called a ram for nothing.
”Killer” Director/Producer, Lee Brown, dodges angry wand-wielding Michael Jackson wannabe
The Sun Dome athletic stadium at the University of South Florida proved to be friendlier parking for young filmmakers. Another week of blazing sun beat down on, simmered and stewed the Jupiter 2 and its excreta. By now the pooge tanks were so puckered with methane madness that the interior of the RV had ripened with a most hideous fragrance. The smelly beast had sat at USF because frankly we were too afraid to return it to its generous owner. All the grommets had been ripped off the walls; the custom-made drapes all stolen; bedspreads, sheets, stereo system, shower curtain, seat cushions, and sink faucets had all gone missing. And the fridge, located on the same side as the burnt-out wiring, was full of gelatinous orbs of budding flesh which was once hamburger. The pungency and feculence was overwhelming. We had no choice but to hurl several pounds of ripening mad cow into the Sun Dome’s parking lot. Surely Nature would dispatch some sort of buzzard to draw nourishment off the offending foodstuffs.
The promised return of the Jupiter had passed by one week now. The dealership had reported the thing missing or stolen since they hadn’t heard a peep from us. Naturally, we were too frightened to return any of their pages. The vehicle’s exterior dents and scratches alone would have put the Joad family to shame. It was clear that things, unlike wine, would not improve with time. So the only course of action was to drain the brute of its ballast and tidy it to the best of our ability. But where could one go to do this? It seemed to me that Busch Gardens had some sort of travel park or something. And surely they would have the appropriate facilities. So off we went. Off lumbering down 30th street in a former SceniCruiser turned sewage tanker.
PART 2: MUDDY WATERS
Busch Gardens RV Park: peaceful, serene… unsuspecting shitmagnet
Upon arrival we sought out an open slip where we could dock the Jupiter and do the nasty, first with tank #1, the befouled drinking and shower water supply. A tourist from Michigan with a sunburnt belly laid flabbily in his lawn chair and gawped at us. Clearly we looked confused, guilty, and perhaps ill. I asked the fellow if he’d be so kind as to show us how to hook up the evil-looking industrial drainage hose which lay coiled next to our vehicle. Not wanting to waste time explaining the obvious to two bumpkins, he took charge and attempted clamp the hose’s nozzle under the lip of the Jupiter’s outgoing waste valve. For some reason it would not lock into place as the manufacturer had intended. His frustration was great and a withered bicep trembled as he tried to screw the clamp into place with fierce twisting lunges. Finally, resigned to the fact that one of the parts was irreparably bent, he decided to drain the RV anyway with the assumption that much of the stagnant water would flow directly into the hose because of its near-fit onto the target. So he gave the release handle a good pull.
Something akin to the texture and clarity of the lavatorial Hillsborough River at its downtown-most exit issued from the Jupiter 2 in multiple sideways gushers; each stream changing color every few seconds. The man recoiled in horror then staggered backwards in utter disbelief. He must have wondered how two humans such as stood before him could have single-handedly done this to their own water supply. These were the kind of people he’d been warned about in AAA bulletins.
Once the last trickles ran their course, Lee casually asked him how we might do the same with the dreaded poo-poo tank. He pointed toward a lakeside picnic area and said we’d find the community cesspool that-a-way. “It”, pointing to our blessed mother ship, could be drained directly without need of hose owing to our broken fixture. And then spluttered something about ruining his day. We took his advice and motored around the lake looking for this cesspool and its easy access. Where was it? Why had they made it so hard to find? It was my idea that this alleged cesspool was actually the duck-laden body of water with the pretty fountain we’d been driving alongside for the past ten minutes. After all, it even had a paved ramp sloping right down into the water. And the paved ramp would offer easy access because we could back the Jupiter down, nice and snug, between the two picnic tables which buttressed it on either side. But which of us was going to back this giant to the water s edge? And shouldn’t the other one then have to pull the drain valve’s rip cord? It would only be fair.
Lee offered to navigate the albatross if I’d yank the handle. Seemed like I got the short end of the straw but time was running out and campers dining at other picnic tables were beginning to stare. I nodded and he began to slowly back the sagging Jupiter down the narrow ramp. The back end and tail pipe became submerged into a foot of water causing steaming bubbles to dance on top of the buried exhaust pipe. Our mobile movie studio, dressing room, production office, and cathouse was now settled into place. Campers continued to point from their lakeside bar-b-Que. grills and meal tents. Odd how many uncivilized visitors would choose to expose food and family to a cesspool. Think of the germs — especially the ones we would introduce from the entire cast and crew of Killer. And those stupid ducks. They’d surely get sick.
It was time. I approached the monstrous valve with an unglad heart, knowing full well that the earlier experience with the water tank was certainly to have been the nicer of the two tasks. Just one tug should do it. I wondered if all those hideous eructive noises coming from inside the head were caused by methane gas escaping in borborygmic burps. That would mean a hell of a lot of gas pressure if it were true. No time to ponder the vagaries of physics. Best just pull the valve. So Lee and I gathered round as I grappled the glistening red handle.
Immediately the horror of horrors — the unimaginable occurred. Never since the dawn of humankind has there been a more ghastly moment in Nature. A thundering nightmare of pudding exploding from the side of a recreational vehicle-turned-Beelzebub. A Lusus Naturae; a new and improved advanced formula Typhoid Mary wannabe. A moment so overwhelmingly shockingly egregious in its magnitude that no words in the English language can even describe this grotesquerie. Each second bringing with it a blurping volume of angry mud, shooting six feet straight out — right over the ramp — and down into a little flower bed. Lee and I scrambled to the front end of the vehicle, freshets of sweat beading down our faces. My stomach had responded to the pounding geyser of effluvia by kicking into gag reflex — a sort of sudden reverse-peristaltic-surge that matched the power and might of the La Brea Tar Pits now being formed at our feet. It was certainly time to get the hell out of there. Besides, the campers were on their feet by now yelling something and waving their arms with clenched fists. An odd slick had begun to form near the decorative fountain and the ducks were darting in peculiar patterns.
Harrison at the helm: rounding the I-75 access ramp at 95 MPH.
We leapt into the RV, threw it into gear, and lurched forward like the Little Train That Could. Naturally, neither of us even considered closing off that blighted valve before taxi-ing out of there. The Jupiter 2 gurgled and groaned as we heaved it around corners, all the while accelerating with a smoky exhaust toward the park’s exit. Each corner meant another slosh from the valve, delighting sunbathing Midwesterners with little splatters of fun as we hurtled by. As we approached the red traffic light we slammed on the brakes, causing a great belch to erupt from the steel commode behind us. The light finally changed, tourists were gaining on us in their flip-flops, and Lee slammed the pedal down in hopes that we could just roar out of there.
The Jupiter chugged forward, its valve hiccupping another meaty salvo into the wind. The wind slammed it against the windshield of a convertible Mustang complete with boy and shrieking bleach blonde girlfriend. The unwise fellow ran his windshield wipers thinking he d simply squeegee away the brown menace. Our rearview mirror helped us to locate the source of these histrionics and urged us to continue with all speed on our journey to safety.
Wouldn’t the creative thinker simply return the sagging remains of RV at the lending dealership then ricochet out of there leaving only a set of keys affixed to a lovely thank you note? Indeed, he would.
I can only look back to a time of growth and seemingly endless cartoon-like episodes. My later history with Talk and Rock giants, Satellite and Television networks have been complete creative fodder – gifts from various station management who continue to be friends. And for that, I am truly grateful.
Harrison deals with the important and unusual issues for which he has won so many awards in radio and television. Audiences get the stories before they break, not after. Simply put: If you enjoy an unpredictable and highly entertaining, humorous approach that quickly pierces the cloud of mainstream entertainment, then you’ll enjoy Harrison.