Friday, August 13, 2010

DJ Alan Berg Esquire

Esquire is a term of British origin with Latin roots in the word scutarius in the sense meaning "shield-bearer." It's an unofficial title of respect, or high social status. Here in the U.S. it's used mostly by lawyers. I apply it to Alan Berg in both senses of the word, with no irony. Alan Berg was an attorney and radio talk show host. He was assassinated June 18, 1984 by Christian White Supremacists attached to the Christian Identity Movement.  Gifted with a dark sense of humor he once said:
"Hopefully, my legal training will prevent me from saying the one thing that will kill me.
He passed the Illinois bar exam at the age of 22 in the year 1956. He practiced law in Chicago for 10 years, once defending none other than comedian Lenny Bruce.  . He had no intention of going into radio. But then he began to have grand mal seizures. Stricken with neuro-muscular seizures he became an alcoholic. His wife convinced him to go into rehab in Denver. After rehab the cause was diagnosed as a brain tumor. It was successfully removed but left large surgical scars covered with a bowl haircut. None of that has anything to do with the radio-theme here except that it's how he ended up in Denver... which is how he met Larry Gross, (Son of radio man Jack Gross) a talk show host at 1150 KGMC-AM in Englewood. Berg guested on Gross. When Gross left for a gig in San Diego at KNSD-TV, Alan Berg took over his radio slot.

In 1977 KGMC, which changed its call sign to KWBZ, (now KNRV) and owner Robert Bruce McWilliams and Lee Mehlig sold out to Grady Maples. Maples didn't take to Berg's aggressive, inflammatory style and liberal politics. They made his childhood nickname "Bambi" all the more ironic.  Berg crossed the street in 1977 landing at 630 KHOW-AM Denver. It was in the studio of KHOW that KKK leader Fred Wilkins threatened to kill Berg. Death threats aside, KHOW is the far bigger station so ultimately it was a coup for Berg... except that they fired him a few months later. (Some versions say he quit.)  He went back to KWBZ now owned by John Mullins Jr.  His new slot was mornings, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm. He ramped up his show and began to get more threats from White Christian Supremacy groups such as the KKK, the Arizona Patriots, and a few Christian Identity Groups, most notably Brüder Schweigen (aka The Order) led by Minister Gordon Kahl. Alan stayed at KWBZ stayed until 1980 when the station flipped to Oldies.

He was unemployed for a stretch in the early 1980s but was rescued by an offer for an afternoon slot at the biggest AM station in Denver, the 50,000 watt 850 KOA-AM. He continued to be inflammatory and outspoken. He was suspended in 1982 for berating Colorado Secretary of State Ellen Kaplan. The suspension was brief, but Berg returned somewhat calmed, still bullish but less abusive. Berg's popularity grew. In June of 1984 he was interviewed on the TV Program 60 minutes. His success only served to further inflame the KKK and Brüder Schweigen. On June 18th at 9:30 PM Berg was shot in his own driveway 34 times with a semi-automatic Ingram MAC-10. He was 50 years old. More here.
The killing attracted the ire of the FBI who mercilessly raided the bunkers of Christian Identity Groups (CID) in the Midwest and North West.  they arrested more than 25 members. In 1987 four members of The Order were indicted by the FBI but only two were convicted of violating Berg's civil rights shooter Bruce Pierce and getaway driver David Lane. Lookout Richard Scutari was acquitted but later served time for racketeering. Jean Craig, who stalked Berg to plan the hit was also acquitted. their combined sentences add up to over 500 years in prison. More here.