When Geoff Edwards first got into radio in the '50s as a disc jockey at WOKO-AM in Albany, N.Y., the station manager told him he should seriously consider another line of work.
"I was told that if in three days I didn't sound like this ," Edwards recalls in a deep falsetto, "I wouldn't make it."
Edwards' 30-year career proves that you don't necessarily need a radio voice to survive in the medium. He spent 15 years at it in Los Angeles alone, first at KFI-AM (640), then at KMPC-AM (710), and has branched out extensively--as an actor, game-show host ("Treasure Hunt") and talk-show host ("Mid-Morning L.A." on KHJ-TV Channel 9).
Now, after a seven-year break from a regular radio spot, he's back on KFI weekdays, 3 to 6 p.m., with a show that, as he explained during a breakfast interview, is a potpourri of radio genres.
"I can't explain the kind of show I do--never been able to," he said between bites of papaya and toasted bagel. "It's not all music, news or talk and, although it's humorous, it isn't a comedy."
Although Eastern bred, Edwards, 56, has adopted the laid-back demeanor of the stereotypical beachside resident. He has been living in Los Angeles since 1963 and moved to the Marina del Rey peninsula last year.
His ruddy, tanned face hints not only of a penchant for the sand and sea but a sincerity that could sell almost anyone anything.
"This probably sounds weird," he said, "but the closest to the real me is in that radio booth, where I reveal myself most."
He's less comfortable one-on-one, especially when being interviewed. "It's kind of an antagonistic position. I'm always thinking: 'How can I shape (what I'm saying). What's the other person thinking?' But on radio, it's wide open."
And Los Angeles is one of the best radio markets in the United States, he said. "There's so much stuff going on, so many places to be within a little tiny radius and all kinds of life styles and excitement. That's what keeps (radio) alive and good."
With so much from which to choose, Edwards isn't sure what his program will consist of from one day to the next. His concoctions include a feature in which celebrities provide "odd answers to stupid questions we all should know," and another in which listeners are given an opportunity to call in with 30-second to one-minute television and movie reviews.
Edwards was at KFI in the 6-9 a.m. slot during 1966 and 1967. No matter where he rests on the airwaves, Edwards' basic philosophy has stayed the same: "Uh-uh-uh. . .don't touch that dial," he said, mimicking what once was the opening to the 1939 popular radio show "Blondie."
Edwards considers radio the most exciting medium because of its immediacy. "If a TV show could ever get the flavor of radio, (the show) would be a monster hit," he said.
He'll never forget the time he got a call on the air at KMPC from a man who had tied dynamite to himself and threatened to blow up an office building in Century City. Edwards was the only person to whom the man would talk.
"I was scared to death," Edwards said. But he stayed on the air and talked the man out of it.
"Basically, though, radio is made up of lots of little moments," Edwards said. He recalled a time shortly after he'd started at KFI in 1966 when he was reading a public-service announcement for a home for unwed mothers and kept fumbling over the copy. "I finally said, 'Oh, I see someone missed a period.' "
Edwards' first stint at KFI ended when he was hired away by KMPC in 1967. And there he stayed for the next dozen years until "it stopped being fun," he said. Then it was on to game shows and his co-hosting stint on "Mid-Morning L.A." with Meredith MacRae from early 1984 to early 1986.
"The problem was that for the amount of work I was putting in (at KHJ), there just wasn't enough money. Syndication would have made it worthwhile but they didn't want to do that," Edwards said.
MacRae and Edwards got a local Emmy Award for their efforts in 1986. "That was the reward for all of it," he said. "We made a wonderful team."
Edwards still flies to Sacramento on weekends to give the weekly twirl of the lottery wheel on "The Big Spin," seen locally on KTTV Channel 11. For a while, that was all he was doing--the one-show-a-week schedule he'd long wanted. "And when that came true," he said, "I found I could get really bored."
So when KFI program director Ken Kohl asked Edwards to come back on the air a few months ago, he agreed. "No, I'm not bored anymore," Edwards said, offering a wide smile.
Eventually, he'd like to have his own TV talk show. "But 17 others will have to fail first," he said cheerfully.