The first time Joe stepped foot in the high school radio station was not in high school. In Maryland grade school (Joe's memory fails him, but he thinks it was between 1970 and 1972), his music teacher held a contest whereby several small groups of students were given some obscure lyrics:
Old Lady WIllow was a hundred and five,
and everybody wondered how she stayed alive.
She lived all alone in an old oak tree . . .
Together with Danny Johnson and several other Maryland grade school classmates, they put together the song . . but not to conventional music. To what is now known as a "rap" beat. Yep - in about 1971 or so, Joe "Mama" Mason decided to "rap" the lyrics. Although it raised more than a few eyebrows, that particular version won - and the grand prize was . . . to sing/rap the song live on the Clayton high school radio station KHRU. It was an exciting experience, for a 10-year old boy to "rap" a song live on a radio station, and it obviously made an enormous impression.
Since he was a young boy, Joe Mason wanted to be either a doctor or a scientist. All of his testing, schoolwork, and interests generally supported this assumed conclusion. When, in 1974 as a high school freshman, he "re-discovered" the high school radio station, it was like stumbling on the biggest and most fun toy a kid could ever find. Joe remembered it well: "It was the feeling you had as a small child when you got to play. The absolute freedom, the thrill, and the fact that everything else seemed to disappear." It was his first real taste of entertaining the masses.
Although Joe initially teamed with others (so he could learn the ropes), he eventually got his own radio show. At first, he was happy to play music. A 45-rpm single of Supertramp's "Bloody Well Right" was a favorite, as was the Little River Band's first album. Later, Wild Cherry and the Average White Band figured prominently in his playlists. A rapid turn at Promotion Director yielded excellent results - Jo cut a deal with the then 800-pound gorilla of record stores, Peaches Records, to receive 10 free album certificates per week for on-air giveaway, in return for on-air mentions. But behind the scenes wasn't where he wanted to be. Mason began branching out.
At first, he began with off-air antics aimed at his fellow disc-jockeys. When they would open the microphone to begin speaking, Joe might light a fire in a nearby trash can. Or he and a few others might begin urinating in trash cans, which rendered an interesting tone over the airwaves. Loud noises were always good, because with headphones on, no disc jockey can tell where the noises came from . . . but they sure would jump. Another favorite was discharging the then-new technology dry fire extinguishers. While that was great for a laugh, it was hard to clean up, especially if you were anywhere near teh mixing board. As those pranks got old (especially under the threat of expulsion), Mason's interest began turning to on-air antics.
And one of his first (and most memorable) high school radio station bits was the following. AT the time, there was a legendary string of massage parlors (no, not the nice ones) on Lindbergh boulevard, about a mile or so south of Northwest plaza. Every high school boy in the area knew where they were - none had been in, but all had driven by and driven by and driven by. To catch one of those "masseuses" standing in the doorway on your 23rd drive-by was sheer heaven, and God forbid, one actually looked at you as you drove by . . . well, it was like sex. In fact, it was sex for any of the high school boys, or at least that's the closest any of them ever got. Anyway, in those innocent and unsuspecting days, a certain Joe Mason would drag a phone book out while a song was playing during his airshift, and he would call a massage parlor. In the deepest voice he could summon (which sounded more like a high school kid with a sore throat), he would say Hello when a woman answered, and then inquire about the services they offered. When they told him massages, Mason pressed further. "Could you tell me a list of the massages, and how much they are?" Obviously, a list or services and rates was kept near the phone for just this type of ignoramus caller, and the girls would launch into a laundry list of illegal massages, all with code names. Consequently, not yet believing in setting up comedy bits in advance, Joe would simply fade down the song that happened to be playing live on the air at that moment, and fade the masseuse's voice up through the on-air mixing board, an old hand-me down from KSLQ. Listeners, initially puzzled at a popular song ending earlier, were even more confused when they heard an over-the-hill saloon voice, full of cigarette smoke and whisky, gravelly purr, "Swedish massage is $20, a French massage, is $25, an Around the wprld is $30 . . ." whereby Mason, savvy enough to understand they were limiting their descriptions because, after all - even in 1975 there were still vice cops trying to bust these poor sweet souls of the baby oil fields, egged them on with, "Umm, could you explain that to me?" Then, to the best of their law-abiding abilities (after all, they knew this young boy on the other end of the phone line was no cop), the ever-patient masseuse tried to delicately and sometimes not-so-delicately explain what they had, what they did, and what they were trying to get Joe to buy.
Of course, KHRU listeners were either puzzled beyond comprehension, or in the case of Mason's ever-growing fan base, secretly delighted. At the radio station, fellow disc jockeys covered their mouths and nervously giggled, eyes darting back and forth to the main door in apprehension of a teacher storming in and shutting down the broadcasts. Some at the station reacted with frenzied glee, like high school boys often do. More fires were set in trash cans, more urinating in wastebaskets, and even more fire extinguishers were discharged.
Mason knew no one listened to the high school radio station, and in fact, was like listening to election results - for the dog catcher races in rural counties. Even the adult sponsor, a teacher who had been bribed into supervising the boys, or more likely caught in a compromising position and consequently blackmailed into doing it, didn't listen. So a good thing turned into a great thing. Of course, there was a lot of nervous apprehension every time a faculty member showed up to replace the dry fire extinguisher, demanding to know how these new devices were emptying so rapidly. The standard answer among the student D.J.'s was, "Maybe they shouldn't have replaced the old ones. These new ones seem to be evaporating on their own." Of course, calling the unwitting masseuses and putting them on the air without their knowledge and permission was illegal. But that was the least of Mason's worries. He didn't even have a license to broadcast, which at the time, was a Federal requirement, and could have resulted in a felony,and the station losing its broadcast license. Whoops.
Early influences at the station included Bill Kaufman, (the station GM when Joe was a freshman who eventually bought a small fleet of satellite trucks and owns a successful sateliite television business), and Henry Karandjeff, a boy one year older, who gave Joe his first radio name, "Scoee." Joe also worked at the station with Marc Buxton, who later briefly worked at KADI radio, but gained some notoriety as a disc jockey at many local clubs. Joe also worked on-air with Chris Strahan, who would become a lifelong friend and who also became (later) a business partner in first a stereo shop, and then a partner in a video production company. Mason's first exposure to A Clockwork Orange's soundtrack, which he would later play on KSHE radio, was from Chris.