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PROFILE : U. K. Radio's Emperor Rosco Is Back in Action


Michael Pasternak may well have the most far-reaching home office ever. From his residence in Thousand Oaks, the DJ and rock 'n' roll correspondent records radio shows heard from Yokohama to York, from Bahrain to Birmingham.

Birmingham, England, that is.

Pasternak, 51, was one of Britain's best-loved rock 'n' roll DJs of the '60s and '70s. Emperor Rosco, his nom de spin , was known throughout the United Kingdom and Europe for fast-paced, never-talk-if-you-can-shout shows that, at their height, reached 60 million listeners.

Now, after a 15-year exile, the Emperor has returned--in voice if not in body. Virgin Radio, the first privately owned, nationwide rock station in the U. K., signed Pasternak for six hours of broadcasts each week from "L. A."

A tape of screeching sea gulls conveys a convincing, if not authentic, live-from-the-beach image. In reality, the only bird nearby is a parrot that frequently accompanies him with squawks and caws while Pasternak whoops and hollers for people living eight time zones away.

"Make sure you fiddle with your knob correctly so you can tune us in," he tells listeners.

"Knob is slang for a portion of the male anatomy," he explains, chuckling. "Broadcasting over there is a bit more literary, more double entendre, and the humor is lower key."

Radio in thK. is more restrictive regarding licensing of transmitters. The state-owned British Broadcasting Corp. held a monopoly on national broadcast stations until recently, when one FM and two AM bands were opened for commercial broadcast.

Virgin Radio, the latest venture of maverick businessman Richard Branson, bought the rights to one of the AM bands. His aim is to blanket the country with the album rock/classic rock format so familiar to American listeners.

Pasternak produces 12 to 14 hours of programming a week for Virgin and a handful of other stations around the world that buy his taped shows. He does a three-hour show for Virgin on Friday nights titled "The Weekend Starts Here." On Saturday afternoon, he does the "Great American Music Show."

"Rosco's fresh, upbeat style was just what we wanted to get our listeners ready for the weekend," said John Revell, joint programmer for Virgin. "That, coupled with his knowledge of American music, has added another dimension to our programming, and we're very pleased to have him."

The requisite pre-programming means that Pasternak puts in a solid 40-hour week and then some.

He also does bar mitzvahs.

"I have a mobile music van for parties and high school things," Pasternak said. "I have two DJs working for me, but I like to do the parties myself because it keeps me in touch with the people."

Pasternak found his fame in the early '60s, broadcasting from a ship in the North Sea. Radio Caroline (named after the ship) was wildly irreverent and hugely popular in Britain.

It was pirate radio at its finest. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones rowed out to visit the floating broadcasters, and the pirate station was even credited with electing Edward Heath as prime minister, Pasternak said.

When the government outlawed offshore transmitters, Pasternak went to Paris, where he produced shows for the BBC and a French language station (he's fluent) that broadcast from the tiny country of Luxembourg.

Pasternak left Paris during the student riots of 1968. The station management wanted him to play soothing classical music; he wanted to play "Dancing in the Streets."

He spent the next 10 years with BBC's Radio One, the government-owned pop station that, until the advent of Virgin Radio, was the only nationally broadcast rock station in the U. K. One tabloid called him "the king of '60s radio and the hippest, coolest, most innovative disc jockey of his time. To many, there was Emperor Rosco and the rest of Radio One."

When he wasn't in the studio, he was on the road in a mobile-studio van hosting private parties and public events that generated 5,000 watts of Rosco delivering his trademark one-liners, honks and caws.

He was at the top of his profession, a partier of the first order. Suddenly, he chucked it all to return to California.

Pasternak, all his French liaisons and London shenanigans aside, is Californian.

His father was Joe Pasternak, the movie producer whose musicals helped launch the careers of Mario Lanza, Gene Kelly, Esther Williams and Doris Day.

"I found out that my dad had Parkinson's," Pasternak said. "I never had a chance to spend time with him when I was young. I was always in boarding school or overseas broadcasting, so I came back to California. It was more to comfort him than for anything else, I think. It was just being around. We watched Dodger games on TV. The conversations were one-sided because he couldn't talk very well. There wasn't much to talk about anyway. You're going and I'm staying."

Joe Pasternak died in 1991.

Although Mike Pasternak visits the U. K. twice weekly by tape and in person a few times a year, he has no plans to return permanently.

He wants to increase his radio presence in Southern California. He and Virgin Radio are looking for a local radio station at the bottom of the ratings to see if they might be interested in carrying the Virgin broadcasts here while at the same time providing facilities for Pasternak to broadcast his shows live to the U. K.

"I'm here because it suits me," said Pasternak, who is single. "If the right job came along, I'd probably go back to Europe, but right now, this place has more pluck for the buck."

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