Starting the end of 1977 I was hired by KISW “Seattle’s Best Rock” Radio to promote the station to their listeners. The promotion was somewhat unique because it required that I appear on behalf of the station wearing a custom-made “duck” costume costing in the neighborhood of $1500 and weighing nearly 75 pounds. Yes, I was to become the official mascot of the radio station around town performing as the infamous KISW Duck.
Being 30 years old at the time and somewhat of a “bon vivant”, I was quite excited about accepting the job and couldn’t wait to get started. It meant an additional $250 dollars each week in my pocket and all the perks, free records albums and free concert tickets I could appropriate. I was somewhat of a mini celebrity immediately. Plus it availed me the opportunity to play a clown and not have to show my face. So I had the freedom to act a little crazy without any personal repercussions. Little did I know that it would later even provided me with a few “duck groupies” and numerous fans that identified with the radio station promotion?
The idea of the Seattle radio station creating a mascot dawned on station management when they saw the success being enjoyed by a mascot for Radio Station KBG in San Diego. The San Diego station had created a mascot in 1974 named the KBG (San Diego) Chicken who was played by a young man named Ted Giannoulas. “The Chicken” for short as he was often referred to in the radio business was to become famous not only in Southern California but up and down the West coast by the late 70’s. Giannoulas proved to be extremely adept at performing as the “chicken” and also garnering loads of free attention for the chicken and for the radio station he represented through his clowning and brazen self-promotion at public events, concerts, and San Diego Padre baseball games. Giannoulas always played it strait and always appeared in costume when in public. The KGB Chicken eventually became so popular, because of Giannoulas’s talent and public relations savvy that he sued the station for the rights to the promotion claiming he was primarily responsible for it’s success and identity and therefore should have control of the hefty revenue stream that the bird was by now producing. Since that time Giannoulas has created an empire build around the “chicken” mostly through personal appearances and novelties. Today he is known as “The Famous Chicken” and is regularly seen at sporting events throughout the country. But I digress.
In late 1977 KISW thought they’d try this type of promotion also and rather blatantly ‘ripped off” the KBG idea. Instead of a chicken it was to be a DUCK. This was a time when there weren’t that many commercial or sports mascots around so I’m sure the powers to be thought they were getting in on the “mascot” bottom floor, so to speak. A costume making company was retained and the costume was made. It consisted of a oversized head piece with screen mess eye holes, a huge foam rubber body with large foam filled wings which gave the duck a rather rotund look and a broad wingspan. Yellow tights were worn underneath the costume, which gave the illusion that the bird had yellow legs, and finally, webbed duck feet made from leather were strapped on to complete this little piece of theater. The large letters KISW were emblazoned across the duck’s ample chest. The duck also had a rather stupid looking and “goofy” fixed expression with big dark eyes on a brown head and a long yellow bill. Women would often swoon when meeting the duck and say that they thought he was “cute”.
I was instructed to attend rock concerts, sporting events, fairs and festivals, radio station promoted and personal appearances. I was in charge of most of my bookings and the station gave me free reign to go and come as I pleased. I would make personal appearances at car dealerships and station ad clients stores doing promotions and giveaways. The duck was expected to make several appearances each week around town. I gave away free donuts to listeners when they drove by in front of the station each Friday morning on their way to work. A promotion called "dollars for donuts".
But, The rock concerts I worked were the most interesting to me. Often it would mean an appearance before the show outside the venue and an appearance on the floor of the concert hall or on stage when the first act was being introduced. A usual night consisted of performing before the show, then retreating back stage for short breaks during the show. Most of these concerts took place in the local sports arena before large audiences of “stoned out of their minds head bangers”. KISW station format called for lots of “heavy metal” and this attracted mostly “head bangers” especially the shows the station promoted directly. Backstage I could remove the costume headpiece catch my breath and dry the considerable amount of sweat from my brow. I’d usually end up smoking a joint with the roadies or other hangers-on, or just watching the show from a non-conspicuous spot in the wings. I sometimes would get to meet the performers who’s attention I get because they were attracted by the strange man in a funny looking costume or interested in what it was like “being in there”. The most asked question was usually “doesn’t it get hot in there”? The answer was yes hot as hell.
I would often lose 5 lbs or more while sweating profusely as I danced, tumbled and jumped around flapping the enormous wings as I performed different variations or moves. I specifically remember meeting Bruce Springsteen who seemed quite interested in the duck. Another time I meet Crosby Stills Nash and Young while wearing the suit. They buzzed about me playfully as they were coming off stage and I remember thinking how strange it was to meet these icons of sixties rock wearing a duck costume that hid my face from them. I once preformed on stage with the TUBES when they performed a final encore at Seattle’s Paramount Theater in 1979. Fee Waybill the charismatic lead singer noticed me standing in the wings and invited me on stage. The band was known for great theatrics and apparently Waybill thought the duck was “off the wall” enough to fit in that moment. Other bands that stand out were the Talking Heads who unexpectedly invited me into the their dressing room to chat and smoke a joint and find out more about what the experience was being a professional duck. I think they took pity on me more then anything else. I performed with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra with William Shatner special guest hosting the performance. The evening was entitled "A evening in outer space". It featured themes from all the great space movies. It must have been during a low point in Captain Kirk’s rollercoaster career I guess, but it was a thrill for me. Although I was a little amazed because he turned out to be short with a bad hairpiece in real life. My god it was freaking Captain Kirk. It was more common that I’d avoided the performers not wanting to impose myself on them being only a guy who was wearing silly duck suit. Not really high art. It was fun to observe all the back stage happenings, as you would imagine. At the time my “day job” was selling advertising at “The Rocket Magazine” a popular northwest entertainment scene and pop music publication I helped start. I also wrote a gossip column called “lip service” under the byline Ricky Cresciend’o. So what I saw back stage often became fodder for the next issue’s column.
As the duck became more established and popular the station decided, with my urging, to provide me with a van so that I could travel to events and have a place to change into the costume. It also became necessary for me to ask the station to provide me with a bodyguard who would protect me from rowdy fans who often were stoned or drunk or wanting to make a name for their self by roughing me up in front of their friends. I convince them to hire a friend of mine named Richard Koch who was a local tough guy. Richard loved to party and fight so it was right up his alley. He became my regular traveling companion and would regularly ham on guys who got a little to exuberant or pushy. Concert revelers in the late 70’s were always stoned and felt it was their job to “get the duck high” also. They would often blow marijuana smoke in the eyeholes. This of course would fill the head with smoke and get me quite stoned too. Which at that time I enjoyed because I was a slacker and pothead and thought it was cool. I had stopped drinking alcohol at the time because that didn’t agree with me so pot became the drug I used quite often to feel normal. Or what I thought was normal.
The most peculiar thing about being the duck was the phenomenon of being able to see people react to the duck’s presence and persona and not have them really know who I was inside there. It was rather like watching a “Fellini” movie especially while stoned. Children of course would often become hysterical and call for mommy and perhaps now are damage for life because of a inadvertent meetings with the duck. The second best thing about the duck was that I could literally do anything artistically or physically I wanted, when in costume, without having to reveal my identity. This allowed me lots of freedom to experiment and clown.
Next to rock shows the duck next most frequent duty was attending local sporting events. Washington Husky football, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners, Seattle Sounders and Sonics all involved roaming the sidelines, isles or seating area looking to get the duck’s face on for a few seconds of free TV time. That would keep the radio station management happy. This was crucial because it was the reason for the duck’s existence. A few seconds on local TV with the station call letters plainly in view on the duck’s burly chest during a game made the cost of the promotion literally pay for itself. Lots of time and effort and the occasional bribe of a camera operator were not unheard of if it meant getting a camera’s “red light”. Record albums, concert tickets, favors and perks often would change hands prior to the game. Playing to the cameras was commonplace of course. Yelling and cajoling a camera operator so they’d “just give me a couple of seconds” was part of the days work. It’s got to be emphasized here that this was an era went the mascot craze really was in it infancy. So there wasn’t that much competition. TV directors were looking for something novel or interesting to put on the screen in between plays instead of athletes adjusting their jockstraps. A man in a duck or chicken costume making an ass of their self would do just fine. I appeared on TV during a number of games. I remember being on “this week in baseball” several times. A weekly show of major league baseball highlights. I recall Mel Allen the popular announcer doing the week’s baseball highlights and saying, “now what do we have here, a happy duck” referring to that week’s Mariner’s game highlight and a shot of the duck dancing after a hometown homerun in the Kingdome. The hapless Mariners drew about 10,000 fans a game, if they were lucky, in those days so you pretty much had the run of the stadium.
One special night I recall the baseball club had hired the San Diego Chicken to come to the Kingdome and do his show. His rising stardom seemed boundless and he was in demand from ballparks all around the country. In my head there was a certain amount of professional jealousy when I learned of his pending appearance. Granted he was the first modern day mascot but I deserved some share of fame too, I reasoned. I also resented that he was invading what I considered to be my “turf”.
I arrived at the game as usual and had with me several empty buckets of “Kentucky fried Chicken with rubber chickens in them”. I also had a sign that said ‘it’s finger licking good”. I brazenly shadowed the chicken in the stands getting a few laughs pulling the rubber chicken from the KFC bucket and placing it in my mouth as if to eat it or alternatively ringing the props neck, then throwing it down on the ground and stomping on it. Meanwhile my bodyguard followed close behind me flashing the “ it’s finger licking good” placard. I could tell Ted Giannoulas, the person inside the famous chicken costume, was getting pissed. I could hear him swearing and mumble something in my direction. I approached and when I got within hearing distance I said “Hi”. I then yelled a question, “would you like to do a little “shtick” together, maybe a little dance for the fans”? Thinking it would please the crowd to see the two mascots dance together. Giannoulas turned his chicken head towards me lean over and said loudly. “I work alone asshole”. “Your really are a chicken after all”, I responded. I thought he was just a fun loving guy who’d be more then willing to help his fellow local mascot out, NOT! The chicken from San Diego was all about the chicken from San Diego and getting those big appearance fee bucks. In a way I can’t blame him. I was just a blue collar working man type of mascot pretty much.
In 1978 the duck attended the Rose Bowl sent there by the station when the Washington Huskies won the Pacific Ten berth in the game. I attended a 100 football games, even a few minor level bowl games held in Seattle. The station knew that most of the Northwest would have the sets tuned to the Rose Bowl game. “It was the granddaddy of them all”. This was to be the biggest stage yet for the KISW Duck. It meant a week all expenses paid in LA with my bodyguard and a working vacation with lots of parties. But, the main reason for making the trip was to get on TV. The game was the highest rated bowl game of the year and was seen by millions across the country. The station would consider the promotion a total bust unless I got some screen time, even if it was only for a few precious seconds. In preparation for the trip I need some professional mascot advice so I called the nationally known attention seeker “Rockin Rollin”. (aka: The Rainbow Man Rollen Stewart) who lived in Washington State and made a career of traveling around the country. He was obsessed with celebrity and in order to feed the inner hunger he relentlessly tried to get on TV whenever possible by attending nationally televised sporting events. He was known for his “rainbow” wig, long mustache and garishly colorful clothes. He would dance and mug for the camera so they’d give him airtime. This lead to a strange form of celebrity for Rollin as he appeared on more and more broadcasts. Howard Cosell and other sports announcers would talk openly about him when he was spotted in the stands. He became so well known Budweiser hired him to do a beer commercial. By that time he had appeared on literally thousands of sports broadcasts. Later he found Jesus and would go to great lengths to hold banners up made with bed sheets that simply said John 3:16. Being apparently obsessed with prophecy about the "end of the world”. The broadcasters began to avoid him and he eventually ended up in jail in 1992 for taking a hostage and holing up in a Los Angles hotel room in a convoluted plot he had cook up mostly in his mind to draw attention to his belief that the world would end in six days. But that’s a story for another day.
In 1978 he was important because of his knowledge of how to get on television at a sporting event, the very thing he did with regularity. He and I talk on the phone prior to going to Pasadena and he indicated he meet up with me at the game and help me get some air time. The Rose Bowl stadium is enormous and holds well over 100 thousand people for a game like the Rose Bowl. I arrived at the stadium early and began to scout the camera locations that were placed throughout the gigantic bowl. It was a sunny day with near perfect weather. As the game progressed I feverously worked one camera position then another with out much luck. I’d get the camera pointed at me but no red light with the director probably suspecting exactly what I was trying to pull off. Sponsors are paying millions for airtime for a game like this and this duck thinks he can get some for nothing. I’m sure they thought. At half time I hooked up with Rockin Rollin. He shouted for me to follow him. We began make the rounds, one camera to the next. Rollin would yell and cajole the camera operators to “just give us a shot baby” or “can you help us out buddy” and “we need a red light”. It was getting late and I was getting a little nervous and was exhausted from running up and down and around the stadium. Rollin and I conferred and decided with 5 minutes left in the game we head for the first row closest to the field on the Washington side. We did and positioned ourselves near the 50-yard line in the front row, ignoring ushers as we went. We would shout to the hand held camera operators on the sidelines trying to get their attention. With approximately a minute left in the game and the Washington up by seven points Michigan was marching towards the Huskies goal line. The Michigan quarterback threw a pass that was intercepted by Washington. The enormous crowd of husky fans behind us went nuts. The Husky bench directly in front also erupted. Suddenly the camera operator turned to get a shot of the crowd. The duck stood directly in his sights. The red light came on and stayed on for about 10 glorious seconds. I was a star. I did it I thought to myself! Mission accomplished. After the game ended I sat hunched over in the first row of seats. The stadium slowly emptied. I was totally drained covered in sweat from head to toe. I’d been in the costume for nearly 7 hours by then. Later at the hotel I determined I had dropped about 8 pounds of body weight that day. The KISW duck had many more adventures. Once even playing goalie in a soccer game with the Seattle Sounders at the Kingdome before thousands of fans to raise money for charity.
Probably many remember that In 1979 the duck ran “a fowl” of a Seattle Police Officer while dancing in front of the Paramount Theater prior to a Richard Pryor show. For some reason the officer took umbrage with something the duck did. Why the officer reacted that way he did is still a mystery. The duck was subsequently manhandled, arrested and charged with obstructing an officer. The City attorney dropped the charges a few days later because of the weak nature of the city’s case against the duck. It was probably a bad hair day for the police officer. The duck wanted to sue the police for brutality. It was humiliating to be thrown in holding tank wearing only a set of yellow tights. The station legal counsel advised against it. Saying it would be better to let it just be forgotten. “Duck beaten by Police”. Several national music and trade magazines wrote. Antidotes about the duck being beating by the cops were on local TV. Teen magazine had a full page spread on the incident. People thought of the duck-beating incident whimsically.
Just before all this bad publicity the station had hired a new manager. When I came into work about a week after the incident, when things appeared to have settled down, the receptionist told me the new manager wanted to see me. When I sat down with him in the office he told me that Duck promotion was being dropped by the station.. He didn’t think it was a promotion that he wanted to be a part of station’s future image. He told me to turn in the costume. I went to the van and gathered up the parts to the costume. I brought them into the building and in the hallway leading to the mangers office I propped the costume up against the wall to make it look like it was sitting there. I placed the head on the costume and walk away. Looking back once more I saw that “goofy” expression on the duck’s face staring back at me. He looked rumbled and disheveled like a homeless beggar on an overpass. I had a very “fowl” and sad feeling in my heart as I turned and walk out the door.