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Barney Vinson's World: Radio KENO

10 January 2004

Here I was in Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, making $11 a day shilling at the Pioneer Club. All I could do was watch helplessly as my life savings slowly dribbled away, a dollar at a pop. There was only one thing left to do. With enough money to last maybe until payday (that is, if I checked out of the motel and started sleeping in my car), I needed to work two jobs. Eleven dollars a day just wouldn't cut it.

I'd worked in Texas as a disc jockey, so maybe I could find a part-time job in Vegas. There were plenty of stations in town, and someone somewhere must have an opening.

When I got up the next morning, I went to a pay phone and started making calls. I got lucky on the third one. A radio station with the call letters KENO (naturally) was looking for a deejay to pull six-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays. It was minimum wage, but at $3 an hour that came to $36 a week, a regular king's ransom for me.

In fact, that was half as much as I was making at the Pioneer Club, where I was working full time. It made me think of a couple of things that were turning the Pioneer Club into my archenemy. One, they were probably breaking the law by paying me less than minimum wage, and two, they were probably breaking another law by not giving me insurance benefits. The only way I'd get any money out of those crooks is if I threatened to turn them in to the federal government.

The program director at KENO was a teenager named Scotty. He auditioned me, gave me a thumbs up, then had me fill out an employment application. It was the first time I'd signed anything since I hit town.

"Can you start this weekend?" Scotty asked me.


"Noon to six?"

"I'm working noon to six. I could work six to noon."

"Fine. So who do you want to be on the air? Johnny Holiday or Harry Edwards?"

"Why can't I just be me?"

Scotty grimaced, and for a moment I thought his acne was acting up. "We've got singing jingles and they're already made up. The only ones we've got left are Johnny Holiday and Harry Edwards."

I didn't want to be Harry anybody, so Johnny Holiday it was. Scotty reluctantly gave me a key to the station, almost as though he were giving me a key to his own home. Come to think about it, that wouldn't have been a bad idea, seeing as how I only had two more days left at the El Floppo.

I spent the next hour learning how to work the board at the radio station. There wasn't much to it: a couple of turntables, a microphone, a rack full of commercial cartridges, and a few switches. This was back in the good old days, before computers came along and ruined everything.

Then I raced downtown and squealed to a stop in the employees' parking lot at the Pioneer. At least I had that going for me. Then it was back to the crap table, betting $5 on the don't pass while Diane bet $5 on the pass line, making googly eyes at me and practically throwing me kisses.

"How are the dice running?" a stranger asked me, smiling broadly.

"I dunno," I grumbled. "I could care less."

One bright spot about working in a casino was getting lots of breaks. When I was in radio, you didn't get any breaks. You did your show, taped a few commercials, and went home. If you had to take a leak or anything, you just put on a long-playing record, then did what you had to do. My favorite was "El Paso" by Marty Robbins. It was almost six minutes long, which gave you enough time to sit on the throne and read the whole newspaper. That's why the song was number one for so many weeks. The disc jockeys loved it.

In the casinos, you worked an hour and then got a 20-minute break. You didn't want to spend all your time walking the streets or swigging free Cokes at the concession stand, so usually you'd go to the dealers' break room. It was up a flight of wooden stairs and down a narrow hall, so dirty inside that you could actually write your name on the wall with your finger. But it was big so you could sit off by yourself if you wanted to and not listen to a bunch of war stories from the other dealers. There were lots of old but comfortable chairs, a few books lying around, most of them in Chinese, and even a television set that actually worked.

That's where I came up with one very brilliant idea. The clock was ticking on my motel room. Two more days and I was out in the cold, or in my case out in the heat. So here was my idea. I'd sleep right here in the dealers' room! It was almost ironic. They were screwing me. I would screw them.

I could sleep in the dealers' room, take a shower at the Y.M.C.A., keep my spare clothes in the car, change in the men's room, and get a free cup of coffee in the morning at the snack bar. It was perfect. Then, when my various pay checks started rolling in, maybe I'd have enough to get a little place of my own. I mean, I had to start somewhere.

Here came Saturday. I'd sprung for a cheap alarm clock and set it for four a.m. That gave me plenty of time to take my last regular shower, pack up all my earthly possessions, get dressed, load the car, check out of the motel, and drive across town to the radio station. I introduced myself to the all-night deejay, got a cup of battery acid out of the coffee machine, and spun my first record on KENO.

As soon as my show was over, I sped back across town to the Pioneer, skidded to a stop in the parking lot, and dashed inside. I was already 15 minutes late. Diane gave me a worried smile and I nodded back. My beard was starting to grow out already, and I hadn't even started work yet.

In another twist of fate, Diane and I got a break at the same time. I started toward the dealers' room, and she raced to catch up. "Hey, where you going? I'll walk with you."

"Dealers' room. Gonna check out my new quarters."

"Your new quarters? What are you talking about?"

"I'm gonna camp out there for a few days. Just until I get on my feet."

"Are things that bad?" she asked, biting a thin lip.

"Well, I'm not destitute, but I'm pretty close to it. When do we get paid around here anyway?"

Her eyes looked fretful behind inch-thick eyeglasses. "Every two weeks. We just got paid Friday, so the next pay period won't end until a week from next Thursday."

I gave her a brave smile and my best Bogart voice. "Yeah, well don't worry about it, kid. I'll be all right."

She bit her lip again. "Listen, this may be forward of me, but I was thinking that maybe you could stay at my place. It's small, but it's within walking distance. And it's got a kitchenette and everything."

Suddenly life didn't seem so bad after all.

Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson
Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson