Fort Myers Beach Insurance Brokerage owner Richard Karger has a storied past that would drop a jaw or two if he told it to a group. It is a road that has taken a few left turns, but is now on a smooth course.
Last week, Karger returned to the Beach after traveling back in time and reconnecting to a part of his past as an inductee into the Las Vegas Rock Reunion Hall of Fame as a radio personality.
The reunion was like rocking down memory lane for Karger, who today sports shoulder-length hair and walks around his office barefoot in Key Estero Plaza -a perfect fit for the Beach style.
Fort Myers Beach Insurance Brokerage owner Richard Karger shows the pass and certificate he received when inducted into the Las Vegas Rock Reunion Hall of Fame two weekends ago.
"It was so overwhelming seeing 300 music people that I absolutely loved from 30 years ago," said Karger. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world. At age 55 and with 20 of the inductees already passed, it made the impact of the recognition much bigger."
At the induction, Karger was one of the emcees and performed with one of the bands. He has played bass guitar for 35 years.
"It was awesome and a once-in-a-lifetime event," he said.
From 1980 to 1982, Karger spun records as a disc jockey under the stage name "Dice Martin" at KOMP FM 92.3 station in Las Vegas, Nev. Due to his being a principal known player on a rock scene in the 1980s, "Dice" was among many honored rock bands, promoters, clubs owners and managers, light, sound and production managers, fellow DJs and roadies to get the glorified distinction.
Karger's break in the radio business began after a transfer from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (lovingly known to him as ZooGrass) to San Diego State University (where he picked up a degree in Biology in 1980 after beginning his focus in Pre-Med). He was financially putting himself through school and, once he established residency in California, he said he could literally go to school for free by saving full tuition for 2- years.
"During my senior year at San Diego State, I learned to be a DJ at KCR The Live Wire, the college radio station," said Karger. "I was able to get a couple of shifts there using the moniker "Radio Richie."
Having a love for music coupled with an older sister in radio and a grandfather being an announcer in the 1940s, radio was just in his blood.
His big break came in a mixing room during an internship at a commercial station after college. On his final day of the internship, KOMP music director Jessie Summers heard his tape and invited him to Las Vegas for a midnight to six shift.
"They were changing format from country to rock n' roll," said Karger. "On my first night there, I am gambling at the "Circus, Circus" at a craps table and call out 'I'm Dice Martin, baby! I'm a local here in Vegas.' I ended up signing on the next night as Dice Martin."
A year later at the station, he moved to the 7 p.m. to midnight shift, the prime time drive time. The radio format had him play such bands as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who, but he winced at the 1970s rock and decided to play up-and-coming unheard-of bands at the time like The Police, U2, The Pretenders, Elvis Costello, etc.
"I broke the format and played them all over the objection of station management," said Karger. "The kids went wild. That, in a nutshell, was why I was inducted into the Hall of Fame coupled with pushing the music scene in Vegas."
Continued format breaking eventually cost him his job. Karger was fired. He moved to Los Angeles and began working at K-ROQ, the No. 2 station in the radio market.
"After getting denied at the front door of the radio station, I hunted down the program director at The Roxy one night, gave him my tape, drank all night with him and he finally gave me a shot," he said.
After six months at that station, Karger grew tired of the corporate scene, and the illusion of an avant-garde style there was old news again. He took time off, collected unemployment benefits, moved back to Boston and managed 23 employees at his father's business, Steve's Ice Cream. After the business closed, he decided to go back to radio -this time in sales.
"I made the round to every radio station in Boston and was told I couldn't make the transition from DJ to sales," said Karger. "When you tell me something I can't do, I do."
After a third round of trying to get a job at roughly 40 stations, he received a break in 1984 at WROR when manager Jay Sterrin gave him a job.
"About eight months later, I was his top sales dog by hitting the road and plazas," he said. "There was no doubt that having been on the radio gave me the comfort and ability to connect with people. Let's face it, one-on-one was easy after introducing Van Halen to 10,000 screaming kids."
Karger moved to Syracuse in 1986 with Sterrin to work at another radio station for a couple of years. He then traveled back to Vegas, tried his luck there and returned to the Northeast as a sales and station manager in four cities. His first venture to Florida was in Orlando as a station manager.
"After seven years of selling radio time, I saw that my dream of owning a business wasn't going to happen in broadcasting," Karger said. "I was looking at the Albany (NY) paper and saw an ad for Prudential Insurance. I went up there, took the test to become an insurance guy and scored in the 98 percentile and eventually won Rookie of the Year in 1992."
That plaque, like a lot of his music and professional paraphernalia, is hung on his office wall. It is a part of "re-engineering" himself from disc jockey to advertising account executive.
"Since I went out on my own, in 1994, I have founded five insurance agencies, sold them, bought a restaurant, sold it, married a Russian girl, went to Russia and did insurance in Russia," said Karger.
Learning a different language turned into a hobby for Karger. It came easy to him. In fact, he knows seven languages.
After the restaurant venture in Cape Coral, Karger co-owned an insurance agency in the area, but that fell through due to his partner's drug problem and eventual business theft. The courts couldn't help him.
That's when Karger began his brokerage business on the Beach.
"I started this out of a spare bedroom in a condo I live in exactly two years ago," he said. "I went to every realtor on the Beach and told them I was going to sell insurance. "
Fort Myers Beach Insurance Brokerage now brings in an average of $10,000 to $12,000 per month.
"This is what I am most proud of," said Karger. " I have had a lot of sorrow in my life. I lost all my money twice, lost a wife that I loved dearly (they divorced) and she miscarried twins. But, I have never been one to feel sorry for myself. You have to work through your adversity. You have to take perspective."
Karger knows the road has been rough and long, but keeps a positive edge.
"You are only as good as your last sale," he quoted. "I was hand-to-mouth for 24 months. Now this business rocks."