The studio blinked. “KDDX, this is Dan.” I punched the phone button on the red and white mixer expecting a buzzed request for Metallica or Aerosmith.
“Dan! This is Diamond! Tighten the fuck up!” Click.
In a radio studio the phone never rings, but the light always blinks. Nighttime radio is great. Broadcasting from the Black Hills of Western South Dakota a 100 thousand watt FM signal travels across five states of prairie towns, military bases, and truck stops. Thousands of people collectively dial in to the same chatter of music, local low-budget ads, fast jokes, and rock ‘n’ roll. The listeners talk back to the radio, the studio buzzes, and the light blinks.
I used to work the afternoon drive, evenings, and late nights at a big stick rock station in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. It’s a small but fun radio market, and we were a highly-rated station. When the drive time shift ended I would stick around on-air as I recorded my evening voice track recording for the weekend hours. Punching the ‘on-air’ button is a lot of fun regardless of market size, and our station had a big and rowdy audience. Answering the phone at X-Rock station was frequently an adventure. Sometimes the caller just wanted to hear that one Alice in Chains song. Again. And sometimes the listener was roaring backstage at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Talking up and down the ramp of Walk This Way is fun every time, though, and with a big audience it’s easy to get a little cocky on-air. I turned up the studio monitors, glance at the music and production list, cut an ad, punched a talk set, and repeated the cycle through the hot-clock. The station light blinked. I had just cut the air and was expecting to get a buzzed request for Metallica or Aerosmith.
The light blinked. I answered.
“KDDX, this is Dan.”
“Dan. This is Diamond.”
“Hey Diamond, thanks for-”
“I’ve been taping your show all night. Book some time tomorrow to review your air check. Also, tighten the fuck up!”
In 1967, Diamond was one of the first disc jockeys to play “Light My Fire” by The Doors, then a largely unknown L.A. band, and he connected listeners to The Seeds, Iron Butterfly, Love, Linda Ronstadt and other acts who at the time could not find airplay.
Through his Black Hills Music publishing company, the South Dakota native was the publisher of “Incense and Peppermints,” the psychedelic pop hit from The Strawberry Alarm Clock that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 list in May 1967.
Named one of “America’s Early Radio Idols” by Billboard, Diamond was one of the few radio reporters to tour with The Beatles during their first trip to America.
And on a 1967 edition of The Dating Game, Diamond was one of the three bachelors attempting to woo actress Yvonne Craig (TV’s Batgirl.)
Diamond was an academic and a rock ‘n’ roll radio jock. His influence was both personal and vast. “Tighten the fuck up” is the closest I can come to a story that properly (impossibly) summarizes the personal impact of a guy who also influenced thousands listeners and students. I’m willing to be that a lot of Diamond’s friends and family have similar stories and feel the same way about their relationship with him.
“Tighten the fuck up” became a mantra that was always coupled with a productive and inspiring session of granular critiques. Always tough, never negative Diamond expected work to be good, rehearsed, and repeatable. This value was one many Diamond’s Laws to Live By to which he attributed his personal and professional success.
Here’s one of my favorite Diamond’s Laws to Live By:
Life is short. It can be snatched from you instantly … that is why we must do our best to do good, to love, and not waste too much time! Time bleeds!
Of course, Diamond taught more than just the value of practice and hard work. From him I learned a ton of practical lessons about the media industry, the history of rock ‘n’ roll, and his home, the Black Hills. Diamond helped coach me through the process of running a radio station, starting a business, and managing people. Sure, Diamond was a successful guy and taught a lot of lessons. The practical lessons, however, were always coupled with his consistent reminders about healthy and smart living.
Be a good person. Do the right thing. But don’t take no shit from fools.
I was fortunate to be one of many young people Diamond mentored. As a great DJ, one of Diamond’s many skills was his ability to develop intimate and sincere relationships with a diverse and large group of people. His method was hands on, cerebral, and personal. Diamond’s friends and students now work in media across the country. And with the success of his friends comes the inherent dissemination of Diamond’s values and creativity.
As he was in life and on-air, with his passing Diamond remains a broadcaster. His values are the transmitter, and the people he taught are the signal.
Turn up the radio. Thanks for listening. Break on though.
Here’s Diamond during the final hour of Burbank’s KBLA rock program: