Sports teams change their rosters every few years (are the 1982 Oakland Athletics anything like the 1992 Oakland Athletics?), and they're an emotional thing, or a locational thing (would you be a 49ers fan right now if you had grown up in Philadelphia? The odds are against it).
So who's your favorite team? How about Laurel and Hardy? Abbott and Costello? Martin and Lewis?
We'll even take Waylon and Willie as an answer, thank you. Did somebody say Gable and Lombard? Good answer. How about Hope and Crosby? Lennon and McCartney? A fellow over there said Currier and Ives. A good answer, also. And you, sir? Rodgers and Hammerstein? Splendid answer! And over there, we heard ... Frank and Mike?
Someone said Frank and Mike?
Okay, the quiz is over.
Let's review. On your list of great teams, what were your criteria? Memories? Image? History? How many Martin and Lewis movies have you sat through, or Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals? And how many Currier and Ives prints can you identify on sight? We'll disqualify the smirking smart-aleck over there who can, because the other 99% taking part in this exercise can't.
Now, let's break down into smaller research groups. You, over there you take Rodgers and Hammerstein. And you, over by the water cooler, you're assigned Hope and Crosby. The rest of you, it's first come, first served. Anybody mind if this group over here takes Frank and Mike? Great! I'll join them.
First of all, we'll do a little historical perspective. How long did any of those other teams stick together?
According to our Natural History Of Frank and Mike, they've been a team since November 1979, and members of the same air staff since 1971, when Cleary (that's Mike) joined KNBR, where Dill (that's Frank) had been since 1963.
Frank broke into broadcasting as a teenager ... in a manner of speaking. He swept floors at WMAL-TV in Washington, D.C. (Not a bad place to start: The news guy at the time was a fellow named David Brinkley, who later pulled himself up by the bootstraps and became Chet Huntley's better half.) Dill's first look at life from in front of the cameras came when he appeared on WMAL as a teenaged sports expert, sticking around for sixteen weeks before retiring as undefeated champion the program's producers couldn't find any other way to get him off their show.
After a stint with Armed Forces Radio while stationed in the Philippines during the Korean War, Dill returned to the nation's capitol as floor director and assistant sports director at WMAL-TV, then waded into radio for the first time as a disc jockey in Charlottesville, Va. Later, he migrated to Little Rock, Ark., and KARK-TV, where he hosted a local variety show.
In 1955, Frank moved to Buffalo, N.Y., as an air personality on WGR Radio, which he expanded to include work on WGR-TV. The job lasted nine years, until he was beckoned west to San Francisco and KNBR, where he began as afternoon show host, lasting only two years before being bumped into the morning spot, vacated by Doug Pledger.
He's been there ever since.
Cleary, a Chicago native, got into broadcasting the same way: by sweeping floors. In Petaluma.
While stationed here with the Army, Mike toiled as a janitor at Petaluma's KTOB, working his way up to on-the-air work, doing live remotes from local bars and hoping the road from Petaluma led to bigger things in Santa Rosa.
Instead, his path diverged to Honolulu and Sacramento before reaching San Francisco in the late 'Sixties. Although he held regular shifts at the original KYA and, later, the original KSFO, he became the idol of a generation of Bay Area kids as the revered "Sergeant Sacto," beaming cartoons back to KBHK (Channel 44) from his space ship. (Cleary's or rather, the Sergeant's competitor for youthful viewers was Channel 2's "Captain Satellite," alter ego of Bob March, later with KKHI AM and FM.)
Cleary came to KNBR in 1971, holding the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift, Monday through Saturday, until November 1979.
That's when KNBR's brass wised up and paired him with the classy Dill. From the beginning, it was the perfect blend.
To Dill's cool, calm and collected straight man the direct approach Cleary burrows in with a satchel full of vocal partners, including the pretentious O'Bradley O'Bradley, gossip monger Rex Rude, the Reverend Billy Bob Bodkins of the divine Church Of The Prime Rate, as well as the familiar-sounding "Ronald R.," "George B.," and Jack Benny ("...calling from Heaven").
All in all, the two-man team of Cleary and Dill have become legends, and they'll live in the lore of Bay Area radio forever with the greatest names that ever filled the airwaves.
And, like Dean and Jerry, Bud and Lou, John and Paul or Fred and Ginger, years from now listeners will think back on Frank and Mike, and one thought will cross their minds:
What a team!
On a recent morning at the KNBR studios in San Francisco, Frank Dill and Mike Cleary sat down with us to answer the tough questions that the public is asking questions about the economy, the environment, the future of the world ... okay, the questions weren't quite that tough.
BARD: What's the best part about working with Frank?
FRANK: Yeah, what is the best part? (Mike laughs.) I guess there are so many good parts
MIKE: How do we count the ways?
FRANK: Go ahead. I want to hear this.
MIKE: Oh, gosh. Well, part of it is hard to put into words because it's a feel thing. We've been at it so long. I guess we've worked it out to where Frank, as a kind of an anchor, allows me to drift. I respect the idea that I get a chance during that 5:30 to 9 o'clock time to kind of wander away from the rigid requirements, and sometimes I wander a little too far.
BARD: And Frank puts you back on track?
MIKE: Yeah, pretty much so.
FRANK: Well, you haven't said much nice about me yet.
MIKE (laughing): So all of a sudden I realize that in a way he's working harder than I am, because I'm just out there trying to find the things of an esoteric nature you know, maybe a little different creative way to approach something and that the real elements of the whole thing are being anchored down by Frank.
Of course, what's best about it is that I get to work with somebody I was a big admirer of still am (Frank laughs.) but I admired Frank for years before I worked at KNBR.
FRANK: That's pretty nice, Mike. The best thing for me about working with Mike, number one, is that he makes me laugh, and I enjoy laughing. It's not easy to find somebody who's going to make you laugh on a regular basis that early in the morning. Number two, I enjoy working with Mike because, quite obviously, the chemistry of the two of us together on the air worked. Here I am still surviving on the same radio station in the morning after almost thirty years. That must be partly a tribute to Mike in keeping this thing going.
MIKE: Well, we prop each other up.
BARD: What's he like first thing in the morning?
FRANK: What is Mike like? He's just like he is the rest of the time. (Laughing.) He phases out on you, his eyes glaze over, half the time he doesn't hear whatever you've said to him. He's in his own little world all the time, then all of a sudden he comes awake he's missed everything that's just happened in the last ten minutes and he comes awake and starts talking to me about something that has nothing to do with what we're doing. That's what he's like early in the morning, but he's the same way late at night.
BARD: Rumor has it, though, that without that first cup of coffee in the morning, he just basically plugs in a tape that he recorded the night before and he's not even here
MIKE (Amid laughter): I wish.
FRANK: No, we're here.
MIKE: Actually, I get here between 4:15 and 4:20, and usually about five minutes later, Frank comes in. I'd say the mornings before 5:30 have a very definite routine. All of us seem to be doing the same thing every morning. There's very little communication because Frank heads off into one area to prepare in his way, and I have things that I do. Leonard, our producer, in the meantime is doing something else. Somehow, without having made a list, we all seem to do whatever it is we should before 5:30.
BARD: What kind of preparation do you do in the mornings? Do you check out the newspapers?
FRANK: Yeah, we have four or five different newspapers here when we arrive in the morning. We have them all at our disposal.
MIKE: The computers are now hooked into the wire service, so you can take the more esoteric features that come off the wire. We'll run copies of maybe fifteen to twenty pages of show business notes, sports notes, human-interest stories, and historical data from the day. In the meantime, there's an associate producer and Leonard, and they're busy putting the day together in terms of when we'll interview which person and just getting the logistics of it set up.
BARD: Do you two socialize much together?
FRANK: On occasion. Not a lot.
MIKE: We live in different parts of the Bay Area.
BARD: No sports events? No baseball games?
MIKE: Sometimes we meet on the golf course, and also the station has enough promotions and events where we're together.
FRANK: We're out to dinner or out to lunch together as a result of doing something in connection with the radio station or a charity or such.
MIKE: Or if we go on the road, for instance, down to Monterey for the AT&T golf tournament. We'll be broadcasting from there for a week and we'll bring our wives, so we'll go out to dinner.
BARD: Over the years that you've worked together on a personal level what do each of you consider your most memorable moment?
FRANK: When Mike Cleary got married and asked me to be his best man (December 1982), and I cried at the wedding.
MIKE: And the reverse of that was a moment on the air, but I was not there. I was on my way to the court house in Alameda to legally adopt my children. If you've ever been through the adoption process, you know that it's just a long, drawn-out process. They really investigate you. Frank was one of my letters of reference, and it's not your typical letter of reference. It was probably, what, an hour to do?
MIKE: I mean, it wasn't a thing where you could just say, "He's a nice guy, blah-blah-blah," and let it go. So, on the way to the judge's chambers where they hold this little ceremony it's a lot of fun; I mean, it's really a nice little event and that's the formal signing. I was on my way there, and Frank was announcing it on the air, and that made my day. But we've had a lot of those moments: your daughter's marriage, your first grandchild —
FRANK: Yeah, that's right.
MIKE: A hole-in-one ... These things sound pretty prosaic, but they're what everybody experiences. The difference is that when we talk about it on the air, we'll meet people who'll say, "Oh, you know what? Marge and I got married in 1982 about three weeks after you did, and Marge had two children from a previous marriage, and they were six and four, and they're both girls."
FRANK: Listeners relate to things that happen to us, and they know what happens to us because we talk about it on the air.
MIKE: And they relate to it because they are regular, everyday things. That's what I remember most.
BARD: What would you consider to be your most memorable moment on the air?
FRANK: I think the most memorable thing I remember is right after Mike's wedding and he went on his honeymoon
MIKE (Laughs): Yes!
FRANK: He stayed in my condo in Kapalua on Maui, and knowing, of course, where he was on the honeymoon, I couldn't resist getting on the air while he was away and getting the cooperation of some people, and we played a practical joke on him. I hired on the air by telephone the Maui High School Marching Band, and had them bussed over to the condo. At seven o'clock that morning, they marched up the hill to serenade them, playing "California, Here I Come." (Laughter.)
MIKE: That's the only song they learned.
FRANK: And we did it all on the radio, which made it extra fun. Listeners were all able to hear what was happening.
MIKE: Yeah, and one of the reasons they could hear it on the radio was because it was raining outside and we had to let the band into the condo. And most of these local boys are about six-foot-two and 350 pounds.
FRANK (modestly): That was kind of fun.
MIKE: That was a pretty memorable event, probably more so than interviewing anybody. I think that we've been pretty much around the block in terms of interviewing people. Not that we're dulled by it...
BARD: Has there been a favorite interview that you've done?
MIKE: Well, we were surprised by Bill Clinton's call.
FRANK: I would say Angie Dickinson —
MIKE: Oh, yeah!
FRANK: Because she became such a kind of a friend that (effecting a "big-shot" tone) I've got her home phone number and we call her from time to time, we get her on the air, or off the air, it doesn't matter.
MIKE: She's a great sport.
FRANK: She's just a great sport and a good friend now as a result of an interview.
MIKE: I'll tell you, a surprise for me was when Truman died, and I got that letter from Bing Crosby. It was kind of a significant moment, because you never imagine that you have someone like Bing Crosby listening to you regularly. He wrote me because he thought that we handled the former president's death announcement in a tasteful way; we shifted our music policy and lightened up a bit. It was kind of nice getting a letter from him.
BARD: How about a worst moment?
MIKE: Well, I burped once and you had to tell the world.
FRANK: I think that's why our bad moments are not that bad, because we're honest about it, like the time Mike was talking and he burped. I mean, a lot of people would just keep going and not pay any attention, but I said, "Hold it, hold it, stop! You just burped!" And he said, "Nah, I didn't burp!" "Yes, you burped!" So, what could have been an embarrassing moment turned out to be a funny moment.
MIKE: There really aren't any dramatics here. What you see is what you get; what we are off the air is what we are on the air. We don't take a different personality onto the air.
FRANK: Things have happened, we've made mistakes, but how bad can it be? It's not brain surgery here. We're just doing a radio show.
MIKE: Yeah, I can't think of anything ... I'm sure there must have been something. Maybe it's selective amnesia. I've blocked it out!
BARD: This question is specifically for Mike. Do people still come up to you on the street and say, "Weren't you Sergeant Sacto?"
MIKE: Yeah. (Frank laughs.) I wore a space suit. It was a job to pay the rent. But I was a kid's show host, and it was for about a year and a half, so there's a whole block of people here in the Bay Area who were, say, five to eleven years old in 1968, who remember that.
BARD: It must have been quite a change, coming over from radio.
MIKE: No, because in broadcasting you learn how to pay the rent by being able to do a lot of different things. I worked in Hawaii for a while in an all-Hawaiian music format, I was a rock'n'roll disc jockey, I did a kid's show on TV at the same time, I was doing the morning show at KFOG-FM, which, at the time, had like a 24-hour-a-day Muzak format, easy-listening.
All you did was play records and every fifteen minutes you gave the call letters and played a fog horn, and you got $400 a month for it. You just do a little bit of anything to stay employed. I started here by being summer relief, but Frank came out here already an established broadcaster, coming from a major market back east.
FRANK: But I'd done everything in the world along the way. Everybody does.
This article was written with the assistance of Isabelle Lemon, Victor Nierva and the staff of KNBR, and Carolle Van Someren of The BARD. The interview was transcribed by Robin Thompson.