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Sending out charity on the airwaves

Canyon Country resident and live radio show host uses platform to make a difference for SCV children

Posted: March 22, 2014 10:52 p.m.
Updated: March 22, 2014 10:52 p.m.

Ethan Dettenmaier, host of L.A.-based radio show "Combat Radio," displays two of his acrylic works of art created with construction tools and barbed wire. The piece in the foreground will hang in the recording studio of heavy metal rock group Guns N' Roses.

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Canyon Country resident Ethan Dettenmaier is known for his crazy ideas, live radio candor and comical good luck.

Dettenmaier isn’t the president of a nonprofit. He doesn’t sit at the helm of a foundation.

A lone individual with a contagious passion for philanthropy, he’s a wildcard in the Santa Clarita Valley scene of do-gooders, fundraisers and charity events.

Dettenmaier is the host and producer of live, celebrity radio show “Combat Radio” based in Los Angeles.

Through a serendipitous string of events, Dettenmaier has learned how to use his platform to gather charity support from the entertainment industry. Since then, he’s been hosting annual and occasional events for local children in need.

“‘Combat Radio’ has never been the victim of much planning,” Dettenmaier said. “We don’t even plan our interviews — but we do care about people. And we realized we could mobilize our audience to do a lot of good.”

‘Combat Radio’

Starting his career in the Warner Bros. mail room, Dettenmaier had worked in the entertainment industry for years, working on development for producer Steve Reuther and later writing for Steven Seagal.

Eventually detouring into radio, Dettenmaier started “Combat Radio” five years ago to provide a more candid platform for celebrity talk radio. With 3.5 million listeners and broadcasts in multiple countries, the radio show leaves everything on the table.

“We’ve had just about everyone on the show from (former Los Angeles) Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to the members of Guns N’ Roses to the cast of ‘Saturday Night Live,’” he said. “This show has been an unexpected part of life and an interesting ride.”

Despite its edgy style and banter, “Combat Radio” began to take on a philanthropic role when Dettenmaier’s daughter moved him to get involved with a cause.

How it started

Four years ago, Dettenmaier’s 7-year-old daughter watched her friend shut the door on a foreclosed home.

“She was devastated,” he said. “She thought she’d never see her friend again.”

Trying desperately to answer her questions, he decided he had to show her what was right in this world.

“I had to find a way to make the world a little less dark,” he said. “So we came up with a way to make a difference.”

Dettenmaier got in his car, determined to find a venue that would host a Christmas breakfast for the homeless children his daughter now worried about. At his first stop, he found himself in front of Greg Amsler, the owner of Salt Creek Grille in Valencia, pitching a zany idea.

“I was standing there thinking, ‘This probably sounds so ridiculous coming from a total stranger,’” he recalled. “I could hear myself sounding crazier and crazier.”

Dettenmaier was asking to bring famous entertainers, a Santa Claus and 300 local homeless children to the restaurant for a star-studded, Christmas-morning charity breakfast.

But after his long, impassioned speech, Amsler simply “nodded and said, ‘Yeah, I think we can do that,’” Dettenmaier said.

A breakfast miracle

In its fourth year, the Combat Radio Christmas Event for Homeless Children gathers about 300 local children, a Santa Claus, heaps of donated presents, tons of tiny Christmas trees and a room full of celebrities at Salt Creek Grille for a fancy breakfast on Christmas morning.

Children from the Domestic Violence Center of SCV, the SCV Food Pantry and a few children from out of the area were served.

“The kids come in on buses, Polar-Express style, onto a red carpet lined with small Christmas trees,” he said. “Then they’re greeted by heroes.”

Pulling from his lifetime of connections in the entertainment industry, Dettenmaier arranges for life-size “Transformers” characters, Disney princesses and other film impersonators, even a real movie-set “Iron Man” suit.

Each child receives a gift, and whatever is leftover goes to Toys for Tots, he said.

“For the first time in a long time, they get to feel like they belong,” he said. “These kids are served by waiters and greeted by superheroes. There is no disdain for their social position here.”

And each year, Dettenmaier pays for the event out of pocket, he said. Since the event has become more well-known, he receives more donations.

“There’s a huge stigma against homeless,” he said. “They have no self confidence. But when people get the chance to give these kids a cool toy, it’s like a friend saying you’re not in it alone. And these celebrities are openly moved — people don’t show that side of themselves that often.”


Kicking off another event

After Dettenmaier hosted the first Christmas breakfast, he began realizing his radio show’s potential to rally celebrities and industry professionals for charity events.

“People connect the dots, and they will support an event on some level,” he said.

With enthusiasm growing, Dettenmaier jumped on the chance to host the Combat Radio Celebrity Charity Soccer Invitational at Canyon High School last June.

“People are kind of used to hearing my crazy ideas by now,” he said.

With all the formality of a real game, the event gathers celebrities and special needs children with the Kindle Project for a game of surprisingly competitive soccer.

In a formal press box, celebrities — including actors from “Breaking Bad,” “Spartacus,” “30 Rock,” and “Iron Man” — do live radio interviews that are broadcast around the world.

He plans to host both events in 2014, as well, he said.

“I’ve seen the act of kindness create this unforeseeable momentum,” he said. “When you meet someone who sincerely needs what you’re giving them, you gain the wisdom it takes to give.”


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