Decades before YouTube, Karaoke or Howard Stern became part of the public’s vernacular, a young Mill Valley man and self-proclaimed “Spazz” was entertaining thousands of Marin young people with little more than a few phone lines and some modified home answering machine equipment.
Starting in 1978, callers dialing into Mark Power’s free “Dial-A-Spazz” line could listen to uncensored raunchy messages, jokes, and songs left anonymously by Marin pre-teens and teenagers. At certain times of the day the lines became a “conference” where callers could anonymously “meet” each other in a virtual chat room much like the old telephone “party lines” of the 1940s and ‘50s.
Power built, operated and maintained the entire system on his own and served as its producer and host, splicing all the incoming messages into a combined show reel that he played on a revolving outgoing message 24 hours a day.
“It was like having my own radio show,” says Power, who was born in San Francisco and has lived in Marin all of his life. “I did (Dial-A-Spazz) ‘cause it was fun,” he says. “I got a thrill out of it. It was like my own little radio show. I’d always wanted to be a radio DJ, and so it was like I had my own pulpit, to say whatever I thought, whatever was on my mind, to share it with the world. I felt like I was having an impact and reaching people, and creating something that gave to people 24 hours a day, and it wasn’t that expensive to do. So it was gratifying…”
If all this talk of user-created programming and anonymous chat rooms sound a bit like today’s Internet, it was. Says Power, “When I look at YouTube and things like that, I go ‘That’s just video Dial-A-Spazz!’ And had I’d been on it, I could be a multimillionaire right now.”
Power graduated from Tam High in 1975 and has been self-employed since he was 21. Today he is the longtime owner of a Disc Jockey and Karaoke company called Goodtime Disk Jockeys (www.goodtimedj.com). His career as a professional entertainer is colorful — lead singer of a rock band, Karaoke MC at Ted’s bar in San Anselmo, singer at various restaurants and events, and male stripper.
He says, “I was a male stripper from the time I was 21 until I was 30. I did private parties. I would do birthdays, bachelorette parties, mostly all-women parties. Bachelorette and birthday parties were the main thing. I would dress up as a policeman, Prince Charming, a cowboy, or a surgeon, or in a business suit, and come in and do anywhere from one song to a half hour’s worth of dancing and entertaining. I was kind of a comedy stripper. I would put on a funny show and have innuendos within the song lyrics that (would) make a joke.”
Like its current internet descendants such as MySpace and YouTube, Dial-A-Spazz had its share of critics. “Some people thought that I should censor it more,” remembers Power. “There were parents who didn’t like the fact that their kids were being exposed to things. I didn’t censor it a lot. I allowed pretty much whatever. I allowed any kind of language and so forth. I wanted it to be a safe space where you could be anything. You could be yourself. You could be as spazzy or as crazy as you wanted. But for everyone who criticized it, there was someone who loved it.
Powers says Marin’s appearance has also changed over the years. “I’ve watched a lot of buildings go up in (empty) lots…. In Mill Valley where Red Cart (market) was and Long’s and Albertson’s, that was all just big piles of dirt and I used to ride my bike there. When that TV show “I Want It All Now” came out about Marin and that “Mill Valley” song from Rita Abrams promoted Marin, people wanted to come here from all over the world,. So of course the property values skyrocketed. I watched Tam Valley get busier and busier to the point where it was hard as heck for me to get in and out of Tam Valley on weekends ‘cause so many people were going to the beach. “
For more info about Mark Hester Power and to visit his professional website, click HERE.