Features & Columns
Dennis the Menace
The radio world lost a unique individual on June 13, when former KOME legend Dennis "Erectus" Netto passed away at the physical age of 61. Dennis, in this author's opinion, was the originator of what's now commonly known as the "shock jock," and from 1977 to 1983 in particular, his beautifully indecent behavior vaulted KOME to mythical status. He was the lewd and crude genius who did things on the air that no one could possibly get away with today.
In what now seems like the vanishing Wild West, those years were essentially the heyday of FM radio's free-format era. The jocks had a lot more control and much more choice over what they played.
In Dennis' case, he could ridicule every form of righteousness, insult any pompous sophisticate or encourage listeners to call in and play characters on the air, during the skits. It was closer to theater than it was to a radio show. In a time dominated by mellow '70s hippie-DJs, Dennis came out swinging, often attacking his entire audience in ways that made everyone laugh uproariously, even if you were the target.
The shows were probably like FDR's fireside chats, but instead with celebrities gangbanging Nancy Reagan, '50s horror clips, theatrical S&M skits, tearing up disco records on the air and unabashed mockeries of televangelists and Republicans.
A regular cast of shadowy characters joined the shenanigans, and Dennis would even occasionally broadcast from places like a bus stop or the city dump, just to see what would possibly happen. He even ran for president in 1980.
The last place I ever spoke to Dennis was in the KBAY offices on San Fernando Street, right across from the Caravan Lounge. That was 2006. His old pals from KOME, Dana Jang and Jona Denz-Hamilton, have been on the air at that station for years now, and at that time, they were trying to find a way to bring Dennis back into the fold. We talked about music, old-school pro wrestling and how Clear Channel's institutionalized blandness is thoroughly corrupting the youth of America.
Dennis seemed humble about his legacy, but during his original stint at KOME, he took commercial radio to a place it had not been before—and a place it certainly won't be ever again. He brought sophistication, creativity and a theatrical, warped, stoner elegance that no radio personality, before or since, can possibly equal. He was a true original.
"He taught me everything I ever knew about how to rile up an audience," recalled Bob Calhoun, a.k.a. Count Dante of Incredibly Strange Wrestling fame. "He was a real mentor to me, but this started before I ever met him. His show on KOME put me on the path to being that unique kind of Bay Area weirdo. All of those twisted skits of his, plus the little snippets of old monster-movie dialog that he played in between AC/DC songs warped my young mind and showed me what was possible."
Dennis appreciated professional wrestling, especially back in the days before it went Hollywood and degenerated into the unwatchable garbage it is now. In fact, during the late '90s, after radio had no place for him anymore, he even jumped in the ring with Count Dante.
In Calhoun's book, Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling, he recalls when Erectus, a liberal, deliberately insulted a crowd at the Fillmore, for entertainment purposes, calling them socialists, and then followed by insulting all the women in the audience, from the ring. The audience then pelted him with hundreds of tortillas and booed incessantly. A natural, it turned out he was better at the shtick than most of the big-money pro wrestlers. After that match, Erectus claimed the experience was enlightening.
"You can take any drug you want to, man, but nothing can beat that high. I've taken everything under the sun, especially working in radio back in the '70s, but making a room full of people hate you like that, making them all want to kill you, is the best high that I've ever felt."
A public memorial is being planned for later this year. Check the KOME Facebook page for information.