Forty years ago, I got the phone call that changed my life.

I had graduated from law school and was studying for the bar exam -- and hating every minute of it. I never wanted to be a lawyer, but I didn't know how to say "no" to my father.

The call was from a friend who was working as a desk assistant at KCBS, the all-news radio station.

"Martin, one of the desk assistant slots has opened up," she said. "Are you interested?" She explained that the news director at KCBS was tearing his hair out because the station's trivia team kept losing year after year in the annual Trivia Bowl to the guys from the King's X Bar in Oakland.

My friend piped up, "I know a guy who knows a lot of stuff!" And to put me on the team, he had to give me a job. So much for my legal career.

KCBS was where I learned to write. I firmly believe that radio newswriting is the best there is because hearing, unlike vision, is sequential. Thought A has to lead to thought B, which has to lead to thought C. You can get away with sloppy writing on television or in print because the eye can scan the page or screen and fill in the gaps.

But not on radio. If you've cut any corners, the ear will pick it up. That's why I advise young reporters to read their copy aloud under their breath before they turn it in. I've been a proud newspaperman for more than 25 years, but I've never stopped being grateful for my time at KCBS. Every year, a bunch of KCBS veterans get together for a reunion, and our next one is next week.


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We have a special reason to celebrate this year because three of our colleagues have been elected to the Bay Area Broadcasting Hall of Fame -- City Hall reporter Barbara Taylor, who has covered every important political story in San Francisco for decades; Mike Sugerman, the best features reporter in local broadcasting; and Mike Pechner, the dean of local meteorologists. All three are most deserving. And to tell the truth, all three are overdue for the honor.

Unfair punishment: Speaking of reading your copy aloud, it's too bad somebody didn't do that at KTVU before they read those racist phony names over the air when reporting the Asiana Airlines crash.

But it's an even bigger shame that Cox Media Group, which owns the station, fired three producers who failed to notice the gaffe. I used to work with one of them, Roland De Wolk, at the Oakland Tribune in the 1980s, and he deserved better than this. For 20 years he has been KTVU's go-to guy, the one they put on their most important investigative stories. He has a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and is a four-time winner of the James Madison Freedom of Information Award.

Everybody makes mistakes, especially in this era of cost-cutting and pared-down staffs, when you're pushing the copy so fast you don't have time to think. But instead of owning up to its own responsibility in loading its employees with more work than they could handle, Cox chose to scapegoat them.

I guess loyalty is a one-way street.

Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net.