Whatever Happened To...
(page 1 of 4)Perry Allen
He called himself “P.A. the p.m. deejay.” The P.A. stood for Perry Allen, and Perry Allen stood for lowbrow humor and a high IQ. A staple of the San Diego radio waves in the 1970s, Allen gets credit for (among other things) launching the first car-to-car dating service—long before car phones—with him playing radio yenta to lonely-hearts commuters. “I was the freeway pimp” is how he puts it now.
Once, he sabotaged KFMB colleague Ron Reina’s road trip to an Aztecs-UTEP game by phoning the Hilton in El Paso to warn them an impostor named Reina might try to check in as the KFMB sportscaster. “KFMB has no sportscaster,” Allen told the desk. SDSU coach Claude Gilbert had to sign for Reina. Another time, Allen tried to book a Salt Lake City Holiday Inn dining room for a roller derby practice—“Just clear out the tables; we won’t be any trouble.”
These days, living in Carlsbad, P.A. has returned to his roots as writer. Once a contributor to Laugh-In, The Danny Thomas Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, he’s now working with L.A. radio legend Gary Owens toward a Laugh-In reunion special on the Fox network—the possible pilot for a new series.
Radio just hasn’t been the same since Billo stopped dispensing his advice to the “loveworn” on KFMB here in 1993—after a 15-year run. For six hours a night, six nights a week, Ballance gave comfort and solace to “chubby, orange-haired dowagers with charging-rhino haunches” and “pear-shaped, talcum-powder-scented matrons.” Today’s only airwave alternative is Dr. Laura, a Ballance discovery in 1975.
The self-professed “romantic radio roustabout” still lives in University City—“the lunchpail of La Jolla”—while hoping for another shot at radio stardom. “I’ve been offered something in Los Angeles, but I’m superstitious about discussing things prematurely,” says Ballance, who’s unsure of his age “because my birth records were lost at Valley Forge” but remembers that his radio career began way back in 1932 in Illinois.
Arnold & Esther
There was a time, in the go-go ’80s, when they were among San Diego’s best-known media personalities. And their furniture empire dominated the market. Arnold and Esther Belinsky —owners of (or landlords to) some 20 San Diego furniture stores, with gross annual sales of $40 million—saturated the TV airwaves for more than a decade with their folksy (some said corny) sales pitch: “From our family to yours...” They knew the first rule of selling: Make sure they remember your name. San Diegans always remembered Arnold’s Home Furnishing Centers.
Arnold and Esther retired in 1991, selling off their San Diego stores to a Canadian family and disappearing from TV screens. But the family hasn’t abandoned furniture. Contractually barred from competing in San Diego, Arnold and Esther opened Legacy Home Furnishings in Palm Desert, where daughter Sheila Weinstock handles the TV advertising. Son Craig owns Miramar Mattress Company, and son Larry Belinsky and his wife, Judy, have opened Country Furniture Faire, just off Miramar Road. You’ll find their new TV spot on the tube this fall with an adaptation of a familiar tagline: “From our family to you...”
Kirk Bates and His Leaves of Grass followed George Liberace and His Strolling Strings into the Town & Country Hotel’s cavernous Palais 500 and rocked the posh nightclub to its foundations. At the height of his popularity in the 1970s, Bates and his band packed 800 into the club and left a few hundred other frustrated fans queued up outside. And on any given night, more than a few of the hotel’s room keys would be cast at the singer’s feet by adoring groupies.
In 1976, Bates parlayed his popularity into his own Hillcrest nightclub, Fat Fingers, formerly Mickey Finn’s. Then he took his show on the road, following such pop icons as Bill Medley, Freddy Fender and Jose Feliciano into clubs from New York to Lake Tahoe. But the free-wheeling, drug-happy ’80s took some of the glow off the music. “That stuff was thrown at you,” Bates says now, “and I found myself spending 5 percent of my time on the music and 95 percent being a bail bondsman, priest and babysitter for my band.” Nowadays, he’s back in San Diego and still in music—but working behind the scenes. As entertainment director for the $2 million DreamCatcher Showroom at the Viejas Casino, he’s booking many of the same acts he followed into nightclubs across the country—including, this fall, “The Mickey Finn Show.”
Recalled in 1991 by a 71 percent margin after an acrimonious redistricting battle, San Diego Councilwoman Linda Bernhardt was a novice politician who got caught in the middle of a skirmish between two warring council factions. After the recall, Bernhardt was executive director of San Diego Incubator, a nonprofit agency that helps small businesses, until her abrupt resignation three years ago. She’s since vanished from the public eye.
When asked what Bernhardt is doing now, a close friend and former coworker said, “That information is not available,” but promised to forward a reporter’s phone number. Bernhardt never called.