Bill Mouzis, Sic Transit


(Jan. 8, 2013) -- marks the passing at age 90 of Bill Mouzis, an audio and radio production engineer whose mastery of magnetic tape and musical and vocal subtleties elevated broadcast audio editing -- done with razor blades and grease pencils -- into AM radio artistry in the mid-to-late-60's.

Bill Mouzis in the KHJ radio production room, c. 1965

Mr. Mouzis' career is indelibly tied to KHJ radio (930 AM) in Los Angeles, which rose from near worst to first place during its "Boss Radio" period. It included legacy work on the station's groundbreaking 48 hour "History of Rock and Roll," written by KHJ's programmers, voiced by its air talents (initially Robert W. Morgan, later "Humble Harve" Miller) and delivered by Mr. Mouzis in a tour de force of musical montages, "time sweeps" and elegant mixing and editing.

Mr. Mouzis, a WWII vet trained in electronics, arrived at KHJ when it was part of the Don Lee / Mutual Radio Network about the time network radio began its decline. KHJ declined with it; at one point offering a schizoid schedule that included a cooking show, various musical shows, a telephone talk show and a program with Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows done from their home with Mr. Mouzis as its on-site engineer.

This changed in 1965 when RKO General hired radio programmer Bill Drake to bring KHJ a consistent, tightly-formatted rule-driven "more music" format that had succeeded in Fresno and San Diego. It quickly rose to dominance in Los Angeles as "Boss Radio" due in no small part to Bill Mouzis. As a result of KHJ's former network set up, engineers handled nearly everything technical; the on-air mixing board, commercials, logos and records, taking hand-cues from a DJ in an announce booth (who had only a mike key). For the first roughly two years of the Boss Radio format, Mr. Mouzis ran the on-air board in prime afternoon-drive for "The Real" Don Steele. During other hours he handled KHJ's most prominent recorded elements, working alongside Program Director Ron Jacobs, a highly creative radio programmer, and with morning-man Robert W. Morgan who was the station's promo/image voice and a rigorous perfectionist.

Rather than resent the formatic rules and perfectionism brought by the young whipper-snappers from outside the L.A. market, Mr. Mouzis embraced them...and their mutual perfectionism was symbiotic. Messrs. Morgan and Mouzis invented what they called a "Strassman" [we suspect it was named for Marcia Strassman's mid-chart '67 song "The Flower Children"] a unit of time or rhythm or vocal level that couldn't be measured like a volt, ampere or ohm but could only be sensed. "The drum beat [or voice] came in a couple of Strassmans too late," one might say...and the piece would be redone.

Mr. Mouzis edited audio on quarter inch magnetic tape running at 7.5 inches per second (not the faster, more forgiving 15 inches per second used in recording studios of the day). The process involved running a portion of audio tape back and forth by hand across a tape deck's playback head to try and locate -- by hearing a low rumble or a bump or a twitch of the VU meter -- the point where a specific sound element was recorded. The tape was then marked with a white grease pencil, and the process was repeated at the point where that piece of tape would be joined onto another.

The audio tape segments were placed in a grooved, metallic editing block (similar to a carpenter's miter box) and then sliced at an angle at their grease pencil marks using a single-sided razor blade. The two sliced pieces of audio tape were then lined up end to end in the editing block and attached to each other with special one-sided sticky tape.

That's what it took to do one audio edit back in the day.

In February 1969, KHJ aired a 48-hour special, "The History of Rock and Roll." Every edit, mix and montage in this massive project was done by Bill Mouzis. Copies of the 48 hour edition are now in the Library Of Congress, the Lincoln Center in New York and the libraries of Juilliard and UCLA.

We have reason to believe that the History project may have originated with what was supposed to be a modest KHJ sales presentation (usually a tape with chunks of various shows put on cassette for ad agencies). Instead, the KHJ 1968 sales presentation morphed into a mini-history, narrated by Robert W. Morgan and produced by Bill Mouzis, both of whom separately credited then KHJ staffer Ellen Pelissero for its writing.

As voiced by Morgan and mixed and edited by Mouzis, it included musical montages, time sweeps and verbiage that positioned KHJ as more than a teenage favorite but as the legacy of a great time sweep of multiple genres of popular music. "That's what makes it contemporary," Morgan proclaimed...adding: "And the beat" -- followed by Mouzis dropping in the opening drum strikes to The Doors' Hello I Love You -- "goes on!"

Only after this very classy non-sales pitch opening did the presentation even mention KHJ...which then sold itself. In a world of ham fisted hard sell, it was classy, brilliant and very effective.

In the mid-1970s, I told Mr. Mouzis that I considered the sales presentation a tour de force. He smiled broadly when I used that term, nodded and said he was surprised that anyone recalled it. He modestly credited Morgan, Pelissero and Jacobs for it. (I reiterated my view to Mr. Mouzis about 25 years later when a copy of the recording (long lost) was found, remastered and I'm told was presented to him.)

By the early-1970s, FM radio and musical changes had taken sizable chunks of KHJ's audience. For various reasons, Messrs. Jacobs, Morgan, Steele and others had left the building. Mr. Mouzis stuck it out, even after someone removed him from his production duties and filled part of his shift with the drudgery of recording the next morning's news sound bites onto tape cartridges. He did so with every bit of the professionalism he displayed in his previous work.

In May 2005 during his retirement, Mr. Mouzis wrote the following on on the 40th anniversary of the debut of 93/KHJ Boss Radio. Typically, he credited many others as team members for the end product:

In visiting a few times recently with Bill Drake I was extremely flattered to hear him reiterate what he had told Ron Jacobs a few years ago when Ron visited him here in Los Angeles. He described me as his secret weapon in confronting the competition and in assembling and processing the greatest promos, montages and jingles ever conceived and produced with a quality, detail and clarity never before heard on radio.

Certainly I appreciated his comments but I was never one to get caught up in ego trips. For me it has always been about a work ethic and pride I embraced throughout my entire career. After 18 years in the industry, and working through many formats at KHJ here in Boss Angeles, the opportunity finally presented itself in 1965 that enabled me to utilize abilities that had laid dormant for the most part up until then. Bill Drake and Ron Jacobs awakened them in a hurry with Boss Radio.

I must say that although there were bureaucratic engineering sensitivities to deal with at the time, in the final analysis and as an engineer myself, I was fortunate that I could literally control the sound of that radio station to the extent that it was now getting national attention. I was doing the type of sound processing in the production studio that had never been done to any extent before and which was badly needed for the AM signal.

Although program directors and chief engineers from all over the country were flying into Los Angeles to air-check 93 KHJ, they were never able to figure out how we got that sound. (Remember, there wasn't even stereo during this AM, 45 rpm, monaural and analogue period in time). Of course it became quite apparent they never figured out how Drake and Jacobs did it in programming either.

I turned down many invitations to visit and consult with a number of very big stations in the country during the Boss Radio years and with it handsome remuneration. Having been almost totally deprived of a family life as a child, I simply felt it more important to spend my spare time with my wife and three children on weekends rather than traveling. I have never regretted my decision...

As I have strived to remember and re-capture the true essence of the Boss Radio years at KHJ I am rather drained with emotion and memories in recalling what we did once upon a time, and of course sadly realizing that "once upon a time" never comes again I think often of those I worked with whom are no longer with us - vintage ghost riders in the airways sky with no program director to ride herd on them. I must say that never before or since in my career had I witnessed so much talent brought together for such a common endeavor. We all touched each other in ways I can only describe as magical - everything simply came together in a rather contagious manner, surreal as it might appear. As Morgan and I often mused we were so busy doing our jobs that we didn't realize how successful the station had become until much later.

...In closing, my heartfelt congratulations go out to Mr. Bill Drake, the mastermind and true architect of Boss Radio, and always a gentleman of southern style and charm. Our association not only resulted in an enduring friendship, but one of mutual respect in a working relationship unlike any I had ever experienced before. Also to Mr. Ron Jacobs, who as the catalyst and enforcer not only engendered the necessary team spirit, but in his inimitable way displayed his genius for programming, creativity and writing. His talents were simply un-bounding. Mr. Bill Watson you are an unsung hero in my book, a pro's pro - when we needed a three-pointer we got it. Priceless was our working relationship at both KHJ and later at KMPC where we were third in the market playing music on AM radio in the 80's and achieving a 4.3 rating.

I do not remember one instance during this time in which we did not meet our challenge nor achieve our goal. I am proud to say that we continue today to be close friends. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Chief Engineer Ed Dela Pena, who passed away last November [2004], and who gave me the freedom, space and cooperation needed to get things done. He never took the purist position that equalizing was merely a way of distorting the sine wave. Equalizing of course was only part of the process we utilized in improving the quality of our sound. Our friendship and working relationship went back to 1951 during the period of the Mutual Don Lee Broadcasting System, where we worked side by side doing live radio during the network days at KHJ, the flagship station. I mourn his loss and I miss him dearly. All of the engineering board operators at Boss Radio were superb, especially Walt (Failsafe) Radtke, Kenny Orchard, Jon Badeaux, Dave Labby and night Supervisor Dexter Young. As Orchard noted recently, never during the Boss Radio years was there as much as one second of dead air. Of course Morgan and I would have expressed it in Strassmans, a unit of measurement yet to be discerned in any electronics theory class...

In February 2012 as he approached his 90th birthday, Mr. Mouzis recalled his work on The History of Rock and Roll and wrote on "As Vaughn Monroe put it, there are now Ghost Riders In The Sky, surfing the airwaves of our cluttered atmosphere...[S]adly...[many are] no longer with us today, but they are not forgotten...[M]y prayers are with them everyday of the year and particularly at this moment in time..."

Our prayers are with you and your family, Bill Mouzis. Rest in peace...and thank you.

[The piece above includes a few edits made on Jan. 10 to smooth some errant Strassmans.]

Follow w/




Return To Front Page

Contact us:

Ad above provided in the public interest by:

Carter Wood Floors
Hardwood Floor Specialists
Call (562) 422-2800 or (714) 836-7050

blog comments powered by Disqus

Return To Front Page

Contact us:

Copyright © 2013, LLC. All rights reserved. Terms of Use/Legal policy, click here. Privacy Policy, click here