AT 52, AFTER MORE THAN THREE DECADES in local radio, Jeff Prescott is retiring from his lifelong passion at the top of his game. His anchoring of the morning news broadcast at KOGO AM 600 has helped keep the station among the top-rated during San Diego’s highly competitive morning drive time. A California transplant as a youth, he attended schools in Los Angeles before enrolling in Cal Western College here in 1970. The son of a radio deejay/TV producer, Prescott’s first radio gig was on his high school station in L.A. His first full-time deejay job in San Diego came in 1973, at the old KSEA-FM, after summer stints at stations in Ventura and Bakersfield. Prescott has lived in the same home in La Jolla’s Bird Rock enclave for 28 years.
TOM BLAIR: So, it must have been pretty depressing having to leave Bakersfield radio for San Diego.
JEFF PRESCOTT: You know, there are two sides to Bakersfield— a bad side and a bad side. And all of Bakersfield smells like cream cheese.
TB: You arrived here in the early 1970s. How was San Diego radio different then?
JP: People don’t realize this, but radio was like baseball in those days. You had to go from single-A Bakersfield, to double-A Fresno, to triple-A San Diego to get to San Francisco—so you could get to L.A. That was the goal: L.A. radio. But you couldn’t just walk in. You know, I didn’t go to Bakersfield planning to stay.
TB: But you stopped the climb in San Diego. Why?
JP: I think I had sex for the first time here. Nah, I suddenly realized I had achieved all I wanted to achieve, and I might as well do it right here. This was an uncrowded, wonderful city, and everybody and everything worked. I figured radio and life couldn’t get any better than this.
TB: It was probably inevitable you’d end up in some aspect of the entertainment industry. You come from a show biz family.
JP: My dad made his mark in cartoons back in the ’60s and ’70s—with the Superman cartoons, Batman cartoons, and best of all, he worked with Bill Cosby on Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Before that, he was a big disc jockey in New York and Boston in the ’50s and ’60s, and he hosted an American Bandstand–type show on Saturday afternoons in Boston. I used to go to the radio station and TV station with him, and I’m sure that’s how I got the bug.
TB: And then Tinseltown. Were you a Hollywood brat?
JP: I was. I once fainted on the set of the Peyton Place TV series. And you know, you take it for granted who your parents’ friends are, but my dad’s best friends were Ted Knight—Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show—and Adam West, who was Batman on the TV series, and comedian Pat Harrington Jr. from One Day at a Time. And a ton of character actors whose faces you’d know, but you’d never know their names. These were the guys I got to know.
TB: Where did you go to high school, Hollywood?
JP: I went to Birmingham, in the Valley. Bobby Sherman went there, too. And a whole bunch of the Jacksons—not Michael, but several of the brothers—went to our high school. And I lived right next door to Sally Field, in Encino. I remember her walking her little poodle in the neighborhood. And Steve Allen lived right up the street.
TB: So you were a child of radio, but you also grew up in a time when radio was a very different business.
JP: When my dad was a disc jockey, he would command 60 to 70 percent of the local audience. That’s how big radio was in the ’50s and ’60s. You gotta remember, we grew up with only three channels of TV. And FM radio was just a simulcast of the AM stations.
TB: In some 35 years in San Diego radio, what was your favorite gig?
JP: Absolutely, 1975 to 1990 at KGB was so important to me. Because when I was in college, I desperately wanted to be on KGB. And then I was.
TB: You were a news reporter for them for 15 years.
JP: Well, I started as a news guy, and then the role kind of evolved into being the Ed McMahon–type guy to the disc jockey. And then I was always funnier than the disc jockey. So then I teamed with Mike Berger as Berger and Prescott at 91X, and it was a pretty good match. So coming to KOGO was kind of like full circle back to the news guy.
TB: You grew up in radio here at a time when San Diego was coming of age as a major city. You saw lots of highlights and lowlights. What events during those years provided your best material?
JP: When I first got here, Mayor Frank Curran and the city council were indicted in the Yellow Cab scandal—my first taste of San Diego politics.
TB: Talk about full circle.
JP: Yeah, and here we are, as I end my gig here, we’re without a mayor again. So what’s changed in 35 years? Not a damned thing. We’ve gone from taxicabs to strip clubs. There’s progress. History just repeats itself here.
TB: Of course, you’re still a youngster, but you’ve spanned a couple of generations in local broadcasting. I’m going to rattle off the names of a few radio personalities and get your reaction. Let’s start with Happy Hare.
JP: A legend, who I think is still broadcasting—even though he doesn’t have a job.
TB: Perry Allen.
JP: Talk about your whacked-out disc jockey dude. This guy was just brilliant. And probably ahead of his time.
TB: Shotgun Tom Kelly.
JP: One of my closest friends. Pure radio—from the day he was born to the day he dies.
TB: Lawrence Gross.
JP: Your staid, old-school San Diego professional.
TB: Berger & Prescott.
JP: Totally worthless. The funny thing is, when you live it, you don’t realize it. But I’ve had so many people tell me how much they liked that show. I mean, Jerry Sanders came up to me the other day and said, “Man, I would roll on the floor listening to you guys.” It’s a great feeling. Maybe you don’t appreciate it when you’re in it, but then afterwards, when you realize how many people actually listened to you, you think, wow.
TB: Despite the long career in radio, you’re really a student of print—a newspaper junkie. How many newspapers do you read?
JP: It’s embarrassing. But I still subscribe to the New York Post, the New York Daily News, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Chicago Tribune, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Toronto Star, about five papers from London, The Long Beach Press-Telegram. . . I waste so much money getting newspapers. What I don’t understand is why they charge you $300 a year for a newspaper that you always get two weeks late.
TB: If you had to cancel all your subscriptions but one, which would you keep?
JP: The New York Times is probably the best newspaper in the country.
TB: You’re also something of a sports nut. Did you ever broadcast sports? Ever consider it?
JP: I did a couple of home games for USD and UCSD back in the early ’70s, and I think I confused the teams. And the players kinda looked at me and said, “No, we’re U-C-SD!” That was enough.
TB: Now that you’re retiring from the radio waves, you’ll be making room for at least one youngster to move up. Who are your favorites among the new crop of radio personalities?
JP: I really consciously try not to listen to anybody. Because if they’re funnier than I am, I’m gonna really feel bad. And if I don’t know what they’re doing, then I don’t care. So I’ve really survived by ignoring the competition.
TB: You’re also retiring relatively early—still at least a decade away from what most people would consider retirement age. And you’re quitting a morning show that’s still riding atop the radio ratings. Why?
JP: People wonder how you can get up every morning at 3:30, and you know what? You can’t. The rest of the world is 9 to 5, and you’re the oddball. Getting up at 3:30 has been hanging over my head, every day, all day, for a long time. And it really is a horrible feeling. I’ve had to curtail dates to get up and go to work at 3:30, 4 o’clock. I’m always tired. And there are people who get up even earlier than I do. And quite frankly, they’re all going to die.
TB: What will you miss about it?
JP: I just love radio. I love being on the air. It’s addictive to be an entertainer, whether it’s radio, TV or film. I’m going to miss broadcasting, and doing good stuff every day, ’cause every day has to be a good show. I mess around, but I take it seriously. On the other hand, I’ve performed every day. Every day for the better part of 30 years! And that’s a lot of pressure.
TB: There’s going to be a lot of down time now. Don’t you expect to get restless?
JP: Nope. I’m going to do exactly what I’ve been doing for the past 30 years. Nothing. I’m just not going to have to get up at 3:30 in the morning to do it.