Compiled and written by Don Barrett 

A Secure Road to LARPdom
The Rob Marinko Story

When young people want a career in radio, they will generally ask a radio person how they did it. If you ask 10 LARP how they got to LA, you will undoubtedly get 10 different responses. Rob Marinko, utility Talker at KABC, took the strangest route of all – he was an investigative security executive in the aerospace field for 17 years before the end of the Cold War left Rob and his “job security” out in the cold. 

Back to the beginning. Rob studied law enforcement at El Camino College and wanted to be a cop. He wanted to join the El Segundo Police Department. While studying, his family who was in the aerospace industry, convinced Rob that nobody ever gets fired in aerospace. He started out in the mailroom at Hughes Aircraft and from 1977 to 1991 he worked mostly at Hughes (except for a brief time at Lockheed). “I loved the work. I intended to spend my entire career in aerospace security, thinking that it was better than being shot at and the other things that police officers have to deal with,” observed Rob. 

From the Hughes mailroom to security guard to traveling with sensitive documents, he eventually became part of the team that investigated the background of prospective employees and the businesses that wanted to do business with Hughes. “A big defense contractor like Hughes would sub-contract many areas of work. I would travel to these companies along with a financial person, construction person, and engineer to check them out. There were stringent rules. The facilities had to be built a certain way. They had to be alarmed a certain way. And employees had to be cleared with extensive background checks,” said Rob one afternoon on the beach at Marina del Rey where we talked about his radio journey.

In the early 1990s, the aerospace industry suffered the biggest defense lay-off since World War II. Between Hughes, Lockheed and TRW, somewhere between 65 and 70-thousand defense workers lost their jobs. “A year before it happened they sent a letter to those who might be candidates to lose their job.”  

Following his lay-off, Rob had a little less than a year to find a job before his finances would run out. After high school and about the time he started El Camino College, his sister thought he had a good radio voice. Rob explored the KIIS School of Broadcasting, but was warned how tough the business was and that he probably wouldn’t be able to start in L.A. “I was 18 or 19 and I wanted to stay close to home,” Rob remembered. So he never pursued radio. 

While attempting to figure out his next move, Rob talked to some friends at the Academy of Radio & TV in Huntington Beach. A professor there, Mark Weiss, encouraged Rob to explore a career in radio. He felt that Rob had a gift. “So I made an audition tape. I was going to give myself one year to see if I could make it,” said Rob. He sent out 200 tapes to stations in the Southwest, everywhere from Fresno to Albuquerque. “The first person to respond was the program director of a station in that flying saucer city, uh, Roswell, New Mexico. I talked with the pd but could never get a straight answer about the job. He kept saying that he had once been abducted by aliens.”

Rob followed up all the tape mailings a week later. KNUU in Las Vegas was interested. “Their morning news guy was leaving. They asked me to come in and talk about the job. I thought it was a little odd that a station in a market the size of Las Vegas would want someone who had never worked before. Turned out they wanted someone to write news and occasionally do some reporting until they could get a veteran pro to fill the slot. They paid me $5.75 an hour and it was just the kind of job I wanted. I learned to do everything, including the task of finding the most reasonable buffets on the Las Vegas Strip, since they weren’t paying much.” 

Rob figured that he would use the job for as long as it lasted, get some experience, and make some legitimate audition tapes and move on. In 1992, KLKX, a new fm station in Palmdale (actually Rosamond), was about to sign on. They were looking for a news director. “I talked with the station owner and he said that I would be in charge of the news operation. At our first welcome dinner, I met the morning person, the midday gal, and I kept looking around for the news staff. Well, I was it. Turned out to be fortuitous because I learned even more. It put me in a position to move on. I worked morning drive. I was kind of a mix between Ken Gallacher/Rich Marotta and Bill Handel.” 

“One day the general manager invited me to lunch along with a couple of others from the station,” Rob remembered. “We were joined by Tami Schroeder of a company that I hadn’t heard of before, Metro Radio Networks in Los Angeles. She told station management that she could provide news and traffic and it wouldn’t cost the station anything They could get this all for free. Now, I’m not the brightest guy. Why would a station not want what they were offering? I was surprised that I was invited to the lunch, but maybe it was a way to ease me down. After lunch everyone was fat, dumb and happy with thumbs up. I got home and started thinking, ‘Why would I be happy about this?’”

The next morning Rob was informed that the station was going to accept the Metro offer that provided news and traffic in exchange for inventory to run commercials. Rob was out as the news director, but they wanted him to stay on as a Classic Rock dj. To make extra money, Rob hosted a Classic Rock Night at the Antelope Valley Inn to supplement his income, so it wasn’t too far from what he knew. He jocked for six months. 

One of the engineers at his Antelope Valley station was a part owner of a Classic Rock station in Barstow. “The morning person was going on maternity leave and they could guarantee me at least six months to host the morning drive show by myself. I thought this would be terrific experience. The station could be heard from Victorville to Las Vegas. Things weren’t bad where I was, but I thought this was the road to something bigger and better,” Rob said confidently. 

Management invited Rob to Barstow on the Thursday before the Monday morning start to meet the staff, drive around town and get a feel for the businesses and area. They put him up at the local Holiday Inn. “Rooms were decent and not too close to the railroad tracks. On Sunday I returned to the hotel and thought the luggage in the lobby looked familiar. Turns out it was my bags and shirts that were draped over some chairs. My first thought was someone is stealing my stuff. I found the manager and he told me that the arrangement with the radio station had been terminated, apparently over a bad check.” 

Rob reached the station manager who apologized profusely and arranged for other accommodations. “I drove through town and found the Tiki Palms Motel. It was getting dusk and the flickering neon sign showed a dangling letter blowing in the wind. I was impressed to see a dirty sign that advertised ‘Color TV.’ As I pulled into the gravel courtyard, there was a prostitute on the left of me and a prostitute on the right of me. My first thought was the station wanted me to have some experiences to talk about Monday morning and the Tiki Palms would be a good story. I rang the buzzer a number of times before a Pakistani Indian came to the door. There was an aroma that came from his room that was just rancid. And I’m thinking if the manager has the best room at the motel, what do the other rooms smell like? He denied there was any arrangement with any radio station and he told me to leave.”

The next morning Rob did his first and last morning drive show for the Barstow station. “When I got to the station at 4 in the morning, there was one person to help out. She wondered what I thought about the financial challenges the station was going through.” 

Rob left his morning opportunity and called Tami Schroeder at Metro. “You owe me a job,” he told her. She didn’t remember Rob directly but confessed that there had been a number of Rob Marinkos who had been displaced by the addition of Metro Traffic Services. It was 1994 and she hired him part-time to do traffic. The timing for Rob was fortuitous. They were just beginning a separate news department headed by Joe West. In February 1995, Rob was hired full-time along with Joe and Todd Leitz (now at KNX).

“I was thrilled to be broadcasting on KABC because it was one of the first stations I ever listened to when I was a kid,” remembered Rob. “My dad listened to Vin Scully and the Dodgers every day.” 

For almost a decade, Rob has been doing primarily work at KABC. The station is a key selling point for Metro. If a client is going to spend $30,000 at KABC, Metro presents a package for $30,000 that includes KABC and a bonus of a dozen other stations. For a brief time Rob was news director at Metro, but for a number of years, outside of a major event like 9/11 or an OJ Trial, he has worked at KABC.  

Rob has become the go-to guy at the ABC/Disney station. During round-table marathon broadcasts Rob is always invited. He works evenings and besides providing news and traffic, he banters with Mr. KABC. When a Talk host takes time off or is on vacation, many times Rob is called to fill-in. This week he has been subbing for Dan Avey in morning drive with Ken Minyard

“I love what I do,” enthused Rob. “One of my strong points is recognizing when I’m in a good position and to not push it. I want to do more hosting and co-hosting and management seems to be receptive. I know that things will come to me and I don’t have to push anything. The more the opportunities come up, the better chance I’ll have at them.” (Photo: Mr. KABC with Rob Marinko)

Like the back-up quarterback, Rob is waiting to get the call to start the game, but is mature and confident enough to be patient. “At this point in my life, I don’t want to make any big changes. My wife and I live in Burbank. We love where we live. We’re happy. She has a stable job and career. One day I would like to host my show, but until that happens, I think I’m in a good spot.” 

Rob added, “Luck has a lot to do with it.”

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Copyright 2004 - Los Angeles Radio People
Last modified: August 3, 2004