He was as savvy as they come in his role as Pete Malloy, a veteran officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, patrolling the streets with his novice partner. And for eight seasons, from 1968-75, Martin Milner and Kent McCord (as officer Jim Reed) helped make "Adam 12" one of the most popular television series of its time.
But as savvy as Milner was, on or off the screen, even he had no idea that a show that brought him so much fame would eventually land him a role he never dreamed of playing: as host of the Southland's most popular weekend fishing radio show.
"Let's Talk Hook-up," which airs Saturdays and Sundays from 6-8 a.m. on XTRA 690, is celebrating its 10th year on the air and serving an estimated weekly audience of 50,000. And at least part of its success has to do with Milner, 70, who has been on board for the last eight years.
"Marty is the guy who adds the color--he's the John Madden of fishing," says Pete Gray, 46, Milner's co-host, who created the show and shaped a format that features experts within the fishing industry, who respond to the inquiries of call-in listeners.
Over lunch recently in Solana Beach, near Milner's home in La Costa, he said that he met Gray through his friend, Bob Marriott, owner of an Orange County fly-fishing store and travel center, who was invited to be a guest on the show. Since Marriott and Milner had fished together in Costa Rica and Russia, Marriott asked Milner to join him. Milner agreed, and the next step was taken by Gray.
"I lived for 'Adam 12' when I was a kid. That was totally my era," Gray said. "When he came in, I was so awed by him, but I figured, 'What the heck, I'll ask if he wants to be my partner.' And to my surprise, he said OK." For Milner, who was still doing some acting, it seemed an ideal way to ease into retirement.
Gray, an avid fisherman then doubling as a sales manager for a Carlsbad radio station, would line up guests, plan each week's show and sell all the spots. All Milner had to do was show up each week, provide a little humor and insight, and collect a paycheck. And there were some attractive perks--mainly free tackle and travel.
The decision was easy. After all, Milner had always loved the sport. He took his rod and reel whenever he went touring with a play. While filming "Route 66" ( playing Tod Stiles) and later "Adam 12," he worked only six months of the year, so he had ample time to visit such Eastern Sierra hot spots as Crowley Lake and the Upper Owens River.
He relished the freshwater fishing experience, casting amid the splendor of the great outdoors. He could talk about it for hours. But it didn't take long for Milner to realize that he had jumped in over his head. The radio show, which originally was meant to cover a wide range of topics, took on an almost exclusively saltwater flavor.
"When I first started, I had to get educated on a whole bunch of different subjects," Milner recalled. "I remember the first time I heard the expression 'salami bait' and I said to myself ... 'Are these people actually fishing with salamis?"'
They weren't, of course. A "salami bait" is a large mackerel used to catch very large tuna.
Though Gray and his guests field most of the technical questions, Milner is able to provide some answers as well. He knows that kite fishing is a means of more effectively presenting the bait. He can talk at length about the latest high- speed reels and graphite rods--he probably has several in his closet.
More than likely, he knows something the other famous radio personality at XTRA doesn't: that a clone is not necessarily a listener trying to sound like the host; it's also a hook-less lure designed to bring game fish closer to the boat.
Indeed, over the years the versatile Milner, while still preferring the use of light tackle when knee-deep in a clear-running stream, has adapted well to the high-tech world of big-game saltwater fishing. Or so it seems anyway. It could all be an act.