The Unlawful Birth of Rick Shannon

bill fitzhugh the unlawful birth of rick shannon

How do you write a crime story? Commit a crime yourself, apparently! Well, that’s what award-winning author of eleven or so comic and satiric crime novels Bill Fitzhugh is saying. Hear how committing a crime inspired his Rick Shannon series, which includes Radio Activity and Highway 61 Resurfaced.

DISCLAIMER: neither Farrago nor Bill Fitzhugh actually condone criminal activity as a means of inspiring comical books, nor criminal activity for any reason, for that matter.

“Sometimes you have to commit a crime to write a crime story”

Sometimes you have to commit a crime to write a crime story.

Many years ago I was working at an FM rock radio station in a small market, the sort of market where you are required to wear multiple hats. In this case I was not only on-the-air talent (DJ), I was also the Music Director and the Program Director. So I was at the station a lot.

The General Manager of the station (let’s call him Dick) was a big-fish-in-a-small-pond sort of guy who nurtured his status as an upstanding Civic Leader. Dick had spent his life carefully grooming a reputation as an All-American Male, conspicuous member of local service organizations, a lay-deacon in his church, and all that.

Some of us who worked for him sensed this wasn’t entirely the case.

“…well, it may be too salacious to repeat verbatim in this forum”

radio activity rick shannon

Including for Kindle

“Fast, funny, and fabulous. This is Fitzhugh’s finest – and that’s saying a lot!”

Jill Conner Browne

At any rate, one afternoon I was walking down the upstairs hallway when I heard Dick’s voice coming over the speakers in the production room. This was surprising for two reasons: First, Dick never did production. Second was what I heard him say which was… well, it may be too salacious to repeat verbatim in this forum.

But suffice to say that Dick was bragging about having received an invitation to engage in a rather sordid activity (with a woman who wasn’t his wife) and which – how do I say this delicately – involved micturition.

Well, well, I thought.

I knew immediately what had happened. The station’s engineer had just installed a phone patch into the sound board so that we could record phone interviews. He had tested the connection on one of the five phone lines and when he finished, he inadvertently left that line engaged and running through the sound board.

Later that day, downstairs at the other end of the building, Dick made a phone call on that line and the entire conversation flowed though the sound board and straight out of the speakers.

Well, I did what any enterprising young employee would do after hearing their upstanding general manager brag about his invitation to participate in a vulgar bit of extramarital activity: I grabbed a blank reel of tape, put it on the nearest recorder, and hit “RECORD.”

“I grabbed a blank reel of tape, put it on the nearest recorder, and hit RECORD”

This, it turned out, was both a State and a Federal crime. Oops.

In any event, I hit “RECORD” and prayed there was more to come.

I needn’t have worried.

What followed was a wildly entertaining six-and-a-half minutes as Dick regaled an unidentified man with one sordid tale after another involving a veritable parade of degenerates and criminals all of whom were a part of this small town’s business class.

For what it’s worth, the guy on the other end was a wormy sounding fellow, and possibly a virgin, who hung breathlessly on Dick’s every word, giggling like a titillated teenager at every mention of sexual activity.

In the course of things, Dick accused his fellow Chamber of Commerce pals of major insurance fraud, arson for profit, and a serious breach of fiduciary duty to his banking partners. And that’s before we get to the strap-on vibrator bits.

But none of the stories were told for the story’s sake; each one was merely a sidebar to Dick bragging about having had sex with a string of women to whom he wasn’t married.

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“Fitzhugh’s satire isn’t subtle, but it’s hilarious and dead on”

New York Times

“This, it turned out, was both a State and a Federal crime. Oops”

When it ended, I transferred the recording to a cassette and went back to work oblivious of the fact that I was carrying evidence of a Federal crime. Compounding matters was the fact that every time I played the illegal recording to entertain friends (which was not infrequently), I was committing another crime (though one with a shorter statute of limitations).

Flash forwards many years… I’m out of radio and have become a novelist looking for my next story when it dawns on me that I’m sitting on the perfect blackmail plot. Not only that, but I now have a protagonist for a private eye series.

Thus was born Rick Shannon, disillusioned FM rock DJ who become a private investigator in Radio Activity. The book uses every word on the tape (with the exception of names) as Rick investigates the fate of a missing DJ at the radio station where he has landed a job.

As the song goes, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it. I think you’ll like it too.

“Thus was born Rick Shannon, disillusioned FM rock DJ who become a private investigator”

Bill Fitzhugh is the author of eleven satiric novels, including Pest Control which has been translated into half a dozen languages, produced as a stage musical, and a German radio show; Warner Brothers owns the film rights. He lives in Los Angeles.

bill fitzhugh

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More Bill Fitzhugh

pest control bill fitzhugh

Pest Control
(Assassin Bugs 1)

“This is one roach motel you’ll gladly check into”

Time Out New York

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the exterminators bill fitzhugh

The Exterminators
(Assassin Bugs 2)

“A crystal-clear snapshot of the absurd times in which we live”

Steve Brewer

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Cross Dressing

“Fitzhugh tightens his grip on a reputation for absurdist black comedy”


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Fender Benders

“A satisfying murder mystery and spoof of life in the country music industry”

USA Today

Including for Kindle

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Heart Seizure
(Transplant Tetralogy 1)

“A sick, funny book… for a sick, funny world”

Kinky Friedman

Including for Kindle

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Human Resources
(Transplant Tetralogy 2)

Human Resources is humdinger, a darkly comic gem”

Paul Levine

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The Organ Grinders
(Transplant Tetralogy 3)

“Entertaining and thought-provoking… laugh-out-loud funny”

Including for Kindle

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A Perfect Harvest
(Transplant Tetralogy 4)

“Bill Fitzhugh is a seriously funny guy”

Molly Ivins

Including for Kindle