Remembering ‘The Cruiser’

himmelDuring the mid- to late-‘70s, Disco ruled and FM rock radio sucked, especially in San Diego. Then New Wave hit and along with it came a DJ, who called himself “The Cruiser.”

Time dulls the details, but I recall first hearing him on a small, weak-signal station during the late ’70s—before he transferred to KGB, where he is said to have started his San Diego radio career.

A memorable aspect of Larry “The Cruiser” Himmel’s early gig came with his segment “Bootleg Homework.” Every Tuesday night, Larry featured a “student at large,” who gave answers to that evening’s homework assignment. Different San Diego school’s and classes were featured each week.

He next caught my attention in the mid-1980s when he moved to KFMB-TV and anchored a venture in local programing called “San Diego at Large.” Our young family gathered around the TV just after dinner hoping that an installment of “The Adventures of Biff & Skippy” would air on that night’s program.

Himmel, who succumbed to brain cancer last week, played Biff in a running skit that was horribly bad but in a charming, eccentric manner that captured the San Diego beach malaise. His partners in this crime included Rick Rockwell, who later became the first bachelor in “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire,” and Gaye Straza, a bikini model turned actress who founded Kai cosmetics.

As years turned to decades, Himmel became a versatile TV news everyman that could charm a snake or bring you to tears, such as when he steadfastly described the scene in front of his home as it burned to the ground during a raging 2007 wild-fire.

He was a San Diego institution and an icon, who used understated humor to tell a story in a memorable way.

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