Sometimes it is hard not to have fun with a story; sometimes the stories have fun with you. (If they’re true!) This one falls into the nanosphere between — it’s certainly all true and, looked at from the right point of view, fun.
But not if you’re my brother. People talk about making a deal with the devil to give their right arm for success. Tommy actually did, though whether it was the devil he made the deal with I can’t attest. It was certainly a higher power.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This goes back to the ‘70s, when my brother Tommy decided to ride his motorcycle around the world. Now, in the wake of Ewan McGregor and Charley Borman’s “Long Way Around” (2004, HBO), that may not seem weird. On the other hand, one was a movie star, the other’s dad a famous film director, and they had mucho corporate support. In my brother’s case, he had an idea, some savings and, in the early ‘80s, set out.
Ironically, he chose to leave from Los Angeles, where Newsweek had just shipped me to be a correspondent covering the ’84 Olympics. Tommy rode south through Mexico and the troubled Central American isthmus, through Sandanista roadblocks and Noriega drug deals, down left side of South America across to Argentina (a reverse of Che Guevera’s “Motorcycle Diaries”) before putting his bike on a boat for the Dark Continent crossing over Arabia to India, where he found himself in hiding with the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka’s war for independence.
Truth in advertising: I didn’t go. Most of what I know if from postcards sent back (taking weeks to get to L.A.) Where I pick up the story is what happened next:
One night around 3 a.m. in the mid-‘80s, I got a call from the police that my brother had been in a motorcycle accident in Venice. In my sleepiness, for some reason I assumed they meant Venice, Italy, and wondered why they were calling me. Eventually, it became clear that he had taken a break from his world tour, flown home and gone to the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Cruising down Venice Boulevard a VW panel van had suddenly cut in front of him. There were no drugs or drink involved, but he couldn’t stop, hit the van and went flying over the handlebars. Like any halfback, he ducked his head (wearing a helmet) and hit the side of the van with his right shoulder. Unfortunately, he’d met a charming young Latina he’d given a ride to from the race and, as his shoulder was hitting the side of the van, she came flying over his back.
While (as the doctor explained) he might have gotten off with a broken collarbone, the force of a 105-pound Latina slamming into him turned a broken collarbone into a fractured neck and would probably require amputation of his arm. The girl broke her pinkie finger.
He spent weeks at Harbor General while the doctors did all they could. The recommendation? Fly to Duke Medical in North Carolina where they were doing wild spinal surgery. I didn’t see my brother for many years after — I flew him to Duke, spent the night before surgery with him (they were going to clip the nerves from the severed arm in “open spinal” microsurgery) and wished him the best.
Released, he jetted to Sweden and married a woman he’d met in India. To say that as a “one-armed man” on almost permanent painkillers life would be easy would be stupid. But in Sweden (where our mother was from), he found a home.
I didn’t hear much till the early ‘90s. Again, around 3 a.m. When the phone woke me this time, the last voice I expected to hear was Tommy’s. He wanted to know if I had $10,000 I could wire him. That morning. Checking my wallet I said “No,” but what for? He explained that Sweden, a formerly socialist country, was going private and auctioning off its radio spectrum, For $10,000 anyone could start a radio station.
I told him I would see what I could do. Unable to sleep, I went to the gym, the Sports Club/LA on Sepulveda. There, around 5:30 in the morning, I found myself on the treadmill next to Irving Azoff, the Eagles’ manager and head of Universal Records. He asked what I was doing that early and I told him about the call, dropping the fact that I was only asking for $10,000. To my surprise, he got off the treadmill, handed me his card and told me to call him in the office in one hour.
Turned out my brother wasn’t “House”-like hallucinating — Azoff gave me a number in New York and put them in touch with my brother. Before this sounds too weird, allow me to say that those “people” were Metallica’s managers, at the time the No. 1 rock band in the world. Turned out that they were putting Metallica’s money into radio stations in the newly liberalized socialist world (one of the ways Richard Branson made his millions!)
Half an hour later, my brother called: “Who are these people?” I told him about Irving and he laughed: “They told me they’re wiring the $10,000 and sending over lawyers in the morning.”
Turned out Swedish investors ponied up to buy “Bandit Radio, 105.1” in Stockholm for him which, thanks to the Northern Lights (and the way they spread frequencies), quickly became the No. 1 “classic rock” station in Northern Europe. It made him a millionaire, of course, and allowed him to move on to other forms of media — like a Scandanavian Branson — including Radio Lapland (covering Reykjavik to Moscow), filmmaking (the documentary “Adventuress Wanted” about a female partner driving a dune buggy from the Arctic to the tip of Africa!), and a pioneering internet radio station (Tomsradio), which he launched out of Stockholm in 1999.
When he found out people he’d hired or inspired had moved on to start internet radio services like the Swedish Spotify while he was driving his dune buggy through Africa, it was more than he could take. He moved back to the ‘States, to Venice, and this summer resurrected his own service, Radical.FM. Now, I’m still stuck on AM sports but I’m told it’s the “hot new thing.”
Hey, if Pandora could go public for $2 billion (as my brother predicted, when Forbes was saying $1 billion!), then Radical has to be worth more than the 30 cents (exaggerating, obviously) his seed-money people have invested. Because, as Tommy’s explains, like computers themselves, knowledge in this area doubles every 18 months … which means Radial.FM is about four times smarter than Pandora or Spotify.