Saturday, January 15, 2022

Rocket to Stardom, Bob Yeakel, and Johnny Burnette's Success Through Stalking! Hippie Love Turbo Radio Show - Code Word "Cherimoya"

On this episode of Hippie Love Turbo, on KUCR 88.3 FM I kicked the show off with a fun instrumental by The Teen Rockers, a group that was comprised of some middle-school and high school aged kiddos from South Gate, CA. I won't delve too much into the history of the band but if you are interested in learning more about them check out this post, on a blog that goes by the name Doo-Wop, which was one of the few biographical sources I could find. 

During their brief existence, The Teen Rockers gained local popularity by performing at high school dances and by winning the televised competition show, Rocket to Stardom. For those of you who may not know, Rocket to Stardom was a talent show that ran on both KHJ-TV and KTTV-TV in Los Angeles and was similar to American Idol or America's Got Talent except with longer episodes more akin to international variety shows such as Sábado Gigante, or Wowowee

Background Image from Betty Yeakel's Matinee.

Rocket to Stardom was hosted by an Oldsmobile dealership owner, Bob Yeakel who was known for his outgoing personality and keen interest in entertainment and, from what I can gather from various comments, forums, and social media posts, was somewhat of an unusual cultural figure to the Los Angeles area and beyond. Unfortunately, in November of 1960, Yeakel died while piloting an aircraft, during a rainstorm, to his home in Indian Wells. According to a report in the Desert Sun, Yeakel's small passenger plane collided with power lines before eventually crashing into the San Bernardino freeway during evening rush hour traffic. Three passengers onboard the flight, including two of Yeakel's adopted children, and a motorist were also killed during the incident.

It seems that the show had a fairly weak or non-existent vetting process as critics and audiences alike were both entertained and sometimes bored by the shows contestants which ranged from decent to completely awful. In a Los Angeles Times article by Walter Ames, Ames stated that:

 "When Bob Yeakel first started his Rocket to Stardom marathon show some months back it was considered a freak show. In fact, Bob had to hustle to find talent to fill the all-night show."

Despite this, (or perhaps because of this) the show was extremely popular at the time and attracted a fair amount of artists and pranksters including: Duane Eddy, Phil Spector, and Lenny Bruce. For more information on the show check out this fun article by Steve Harvey for the LA Times that also talks about a similar program named Hollywood Opportunity and a few outrageous incidents which occurred during both shows' live broadcasts. If anyone out there has any copies of Yeakel's television shows I'd love to see them or work out some sort of digitization because the only surviving video I could find was some sort of a Christmas holiday special which doesn't seem to capture the same charm as Rocket to Stardom.

After The Teen Rockers you heard a tune by Johnny Burnette and The Rock N Roll Trio and I briefly mentioned that Burnette began working with Ricky Nelson after traveling to California in a last-ditch effort to find continued success in the music industry. In the June, 1961 issue of TV Radio Mirror, Burnette recalls how he came to California and bought a map of celebrity homes that included Ozzie and Harriet's house where he waited to for over an hour for the chance to speak with Ricky Nelson about a possible collaboration. According to Burnette, Ricky Nelson had heard Burnette's group before and the meeting eventually turned into an impromptu jam session in front on the Nelson home. Afterwards a deal was struck between the two artists which led to Nelson performing songs written by Burnette including: Just a Little Too Much and It's Late, the later of which has a subject matter that reminds me of George W. Bush's favorite song by the Everly Brothers Wake Up Little Susie. It's difficult to imagine a similar incident occurring today but in this case Burnette's stalking endeavor led him to success. 

Burnette as he appears in the TV Radio Mirror Article 


Funnily enough, in the same article by Helen Bolstad, she explains how Burnette received one of his first recording contracts due to his appearances on a televised talent show named The Original Amateur Hour which was hosted by Ted Mack. Coincidentally, Los Locos Del Ritmo, who recorded the last song on this week's episode, had also gained popularity from performing on the same show. It's strange how sometimes unintentional patterns form when putting these shows together. Ah yes, serendipity.

That's about it for now folks! Thanks for reading the blog and be sure to listen over the air on KUCR 88.3FM on Saturdays at 9pm or through! If you'd like, you can also listen to KUCR through Radio Garden or Tune-In.

You can listen to this episode's playlist below:


The Tigers - The Broken Earth
The Spiders - The Sad Sunset

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