“Get a load of this guy …”

On Facebook earlier, I posted an article that was written about Honey Radio going off the air.  For the article, they interviewed the “Bard of Lincoln Park”, Boogie Brian (who did an amazing send off for Honey’s last 15 minutes on the air), me, and my partner, Rob Main.  Rob has been on my mind a lot in the past couple months.  Thoughts of him led to the Valentine’s Day Blog on World Radio Day.  I have been meaning to write an entire blog about him for some time, and so here it is.

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I don’t know that I would call him an impressionist, because while he did many celebrity voices, he also did other characters.  His celebrity impressions included Muhammad Ali (We called him “the Champ”), Charles Bronson (We called him “Chuckie Buchinsky” – Bronson’s real name), and Elvis Presley (We called him “EP”, E for Elvis and P for Presley). His other characters included a Hillbilly Ex-Marine named Red Neckman, Red’s brother Earl Neckman (who repeated everything he said two to three times), and Lucky McCloud (the Scottish Weatherman).  What made him unique was that I could say to him, “I need a British doctor”, and he’d be able to come up with the voice.

The first time I ever heard Rob, I was listening to Honey.  I didn’t work there at the time, and I was listening to Bill Stewart.  He was talking to “EP”.  Now I have seen a lot of Elvis interviews, and I gotta tell you, when I heard him, I truly believed it was Elvis!  What was great about the way they handled the character (which continued when we worked together) was that EP NEVER said he was Elvis, but often eluded to the fact that he might be him.  He’d say things like, “I remember when I bought, I mean Elvis bought his mother a Cadillac” and when Lisa Marie married Michael Jackson he said, “I’m very upset about that!  I know Elvis would be upset about it too!”.  I remember that he said his real job was selling cars at Buck Williamson Chevrolet or something…I guess that was his cover.

As I listened to EP, I remember thinking, “If this IS NOT Elvis, whoever is doing this voice has NAILED it!”  What made it work was first and foremost, Rob was an Elvis fan and had a brain full of knowledge about him.  We’d play a song and he’d say, “That song’s from 1958, that’s when I was going into the army” “1961 was the year that I, I mean Elvis made Wild In The Country and Blue Hawaii.  I remember Joan Blackman was so nice to me, I mean Elvis”.  Second, he also knew all of the co-stars, the names of Elvis’ characters in the films, and those things made you truly question whether it truly was The King.  Lastly, he watched almost every Elvis interview.  He had Elvis’ speech pattern down and knew when to pause and when to stretch out syllables and words.  It was perfection.

I remember one Fourth of July, Honey was broadcasting live from the Veteran’s Picnic at Freedom Hill.  I did my show from there and Rob was with me.  He took his microphone and went into some building and we chatted and I’d ask EP why I hadn’t seen him and he’d say, “If I showed myself in public, it’d be pandemonium.  I’m wearing a disguise today.  The disguises that he’d mentioned were things like “My Gregory Peck from Moby Dick disguise” or “No one saw me, cause I was wearing my Chuck Connors disguise from the Rifleman”.  It always cracked me up.

We became close friends, because we shared so many of the same interests.  He was a few years older than me, and he was amazed that I was a fan of old black and white movies.  He loved that we could talk about old TV shows, old actors, and classic films.  He once said to me, “How the hell does a young punk like you know about (Fill in the actor or movie)!?”

He’d comb through old movies looking for “drops”.  A drop is a radio term for a snippet of a movie that you play in a bit, a promo, a liner, or just outta no where.  A drop is often used in a DJ liner.  For example, the big voice guy might say “You’re listening to Keith Allen” and then you insert the movie or TV line “Oh, good….the hippie’s here” followed by the big voice guy saying “On WHND Honey radio” and into a song.  He had some of the most bizarre drops and I would always ask where he got them.  That’s how I came to watch The Jayhawkers (with Jeff Chandler), Mr. Majestyk (with Charles Bronson), Patterns (with Van Heflin), Hercules and Hercules Unchained (with Steve Reeves), The Wild One (with Marlon Brando) and Hotspell (with Anthony Quinn).  We had drops from every one of those films!

Sometimes, we’d just play drops to crack each other up.   Radio is all about theatre of the mind.  It’s about painting a picture.  We utilized sound effects to paint a picture.  We had a “city sounds” tape that we played to make it sound like we were outside in the parking lot.  We had a “bagpipes” tape that played whenever Lucky did the forecast.  We had a door close sound effect to signify when a character had left the studio.  We had a tape marked “fight scene” (which was a barroom brawl from an old western movie) and the sound of glass breaking which we used in a very unique way.

The Chuckie character was “the bouncer”. If we were in the middle of a conversation and someone barged in the studio to yell something at us (which would be the drop), we’d call for Chuckie.  He’d always be annoyed that we called him to take care of the people bugging us.  He’d start to beat the heckler up (the fight scene) and throw them through the studio window (glass breaking) and leave (door slam).  It became such a silly thing, and yet we’d use it often.  Sometimes, Chuckie would have to take care of one of the other characters.  It was insanity.

That last thought brings me to something I have mentioned in the past.  Rob was a wonder to watch as we did a show.  He did all these characters and sometimes, he’d hold entire conversations between two or three of them at the same time.  It was amazing to see him bounce from character to character.  He knew which character was further away from the microphone and adjusted where he was when he talked for that character.  Brilliance!  To watch him argue with himself as two different characters was simply amazing.

If there was a main character that he did, it was probably EP.  I would say the second most used was Red.  Rob said to me that Bill Stewart came up with the name, which doesn’t surprise me because Bill is one hell of a funny guy.  The name is just plain funny.  I’m not sure where this started, but the word was that Red was the station custodian and he lived out in the dumpster behind the station.  Red often fell asleep on the floor of the studio during the show and everyone was always tripping over him.  He spoke with a deep voice and a southern drawl.  He had an opinion about everything.

The final week Honey was on the air was Thanksgiving week 1994.  Red said he wanted to voice his opinion about the Detroit Lions (who were not that great a team that year).  He did this entire rant (with the sound of a teletype underneath his voice) about how he was sick and tired of the Lions always losing and how he was putting his own football team together.  He wanted people to join and offered beer and salami for playing.  He was including members of the Honey Staff and some listeners.  I asked him if I could be on the team.  I think he said I could be the water boy, and then said “No, we don’t have one of those, you can be the beer boy!”

Rob also played himself on the show.  He interacted with me and did traffic reports and such.  I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but it had something to do with sailors or something cause I mentioned Popeye.  Rob (as himself) said he remembered Poopdeck Paul, and out of no where Red yells “I remember Captain Jolly!” which cracked me up to where I almost couldn’t recover so as Red he just said, “I think I’m gonna go get me a fish sandwich”….which made me laugh even harder and then we went into commercials.

Lucky McCloud was one of my favorite characters he did.  It was easy for him because he was Scottish.  His mom had a wonderful Scottish accent and I loved when she would answer the phone when I called.  Lucky was basically his mom.  What I loved about Lucky was that he was always accompanied into the studio with his bagpipe player.  He’d always have something to say about Red “That daft man” or me “You’re just a wisenheimer”.  We never knew if it was going to be “Partly McCloudy or Partly McSunny”.

Occasionally, Lucky would talk about how much he loved Scotch (surprise surprise).  Glenfiddich was his brand of choice.  He’d sometimes sound a bit loopy and we’d question him about it and the response was always, “I just had a wee nip”.  That was the great thing about Rob.  I never knew what the characters were gonna do until we turned on the microphone.  That’s a no no in the biz – you always know where you are going with something.  Most of the time, I was able to play along and find “an out”.  Sometimes, it didn’t go so well.  For the most part, what followed was spontaneous humor.

Five of the worst radio moments in Detroit Radio History:  The week Honey went off the air, Rob insisted I do a voice on the air.  I had done it a couple times, but had recorded it.  The character was “Mitch Wallace”, who was loosely based on a real listener who called us all the time.  I had called him at home and used that voice and he said it was so good, he though the guy had his number!  This particular day we had a stupid bit planned.  I was to enter the studio as Mitch.  I was to be upset about the station going off the air.  I was to have a gun and Chuckie the bouncer was going to beat me up and throw me out the window.  If only it had gone that smoothly…..

We had 6 cart (tape) machines.  In #1 was the song we were talking out of.  In #2 was the gunshot sound.  #3 had the fight scene sounds.  #4 had the glass breaking .  #5 had the door slam and #6 had the first commercial.    I had NEVER done the character live before.  So when I did, I saw Rob start to chuckle and I started to lose it.  We both began to laugh hard.  I was laughing so much, I had tears in my eyes and couldn’t see the board in front of me to push the buttons to start the commercial (because by this time, it was obvious we couldn’t do it.  Now out of commercials, we decide to try again.  As soon as I start to do the Mitch character, I started laughing.  We were going to do the weather out of the bit this time, so the first thing I did after laughing was cue up the bagpipe music….miraculously, Rob was able to jump into the Lucky character and eventually the bit happened on the air…..it was a long way to go for something that was probably only funny to us, (which may be why we didn’t find a gig…LOL) but it remains one of my favorite moments on air with him.

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Rob and I spent many hours singing karaoke.  He was in a band and was the vocalist.  He would drag me to this little hole in the wall place on Dequindre called Jacmars.  We’d sing and grab beers.  I’ll never forget there was this one guy who sang there.  No matter what song he sang, he sang it like Mario Lanza or Pavarotti.  We called him Opera Man (this was before the Adam Sandler bit).  You haven’t heard anything until you hear a classic R&B song like Kansas City being sung like its an aria!  (If you have never heard this – consider yourself lucky).  There was another guy who looked and talked like Bela Lugosi.  He spoke like Dracula….and sang like him too!  Rob and I shared many laughs about those nights!!

The week following the station going off the air, we were in and out of the station.  We were editing a tape so we could send them off to try to find a gig.  When we reached a point where we needed a break, we’d go into the old Honey office.  One day, he whipped out this business card and said (like he always did- and I still do to this day) “Get a load of this guy!” It was a guy who was a DJ and his business card was touting him as the best of the best.  Rob grabbed the office phone and called the number on the card.  He got the guy’s voicemail and proceeded to adlib one of the funniest things ever.  “My name is Michael McClingling (I’ll never forget that was the name!) and I was hoping to get you to come to my party.  I hear you are the best and I was hoping you could do a clown act!” (I am literally laughing as I type that!  Man, I wish we had the audio of that) We then wasted the entire afternoon calling this poor guy using different voices and such.

After Honey went off the air, we hoped to find a place to do our show.  Needless to say, there weren’t many stations that allowed for the kind of show we were doing.  Rob was frustrated with the biz and eventually said he was over it.  There was quite a bit of depression afterward, and there were some very difficult conversations that followed.  He was having health issues and I did whatever I could to cheer him up.  He had a lot of stuff happen in his personal life, including the loss of his parents.  There were times I wondered when he hung up if that was the last time I was going to hear from him.  I never knew, because he was buying pay as you go phones toward the end and he always seemed to call from a new number.

The last time I saw him, we had chatted earlier that week.  He had told me that he wasn’t even sure where his parents were buried.  I did some searching and found that they are actually buried at Great Lakes National Cemetery – the same place my mom is buried.  We made plans for me to pick him up where he was staying and I took him to see his folks.  He was overwhelmed with emotion.  He told me that it was the greatest thing anyone had every done for him.  I told him I would let him have some time with his folks, but he insisted that I stay by him. I remember he started talking to his mom and dad.  He told them “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this kid. He found you for me.”  He broke down and put his arm around me and said, “thanks – now lets go see your mom.”

After that, we talked once or twice.  He had mentioned that he was sick, but didn’t go into much more detail no matter how much I asked.  I don’t know how I knew it, but I had a feeling this was going to be our last conversation. He was a bit too nostalgic.  He reminded me of so many of the fun times we had.  He reminded me of the people we met and our friends from radio.  He reminded me of the day at the cemetery.  He thanked me for being the kid brother he never had.  He thanked me for the many laughs.  The last thing he said before he hung up was, “I love ya, kid”.  Then the phone calls stopped.

It wasn’t until within the last few years that Facebook connected me with a mutual friend of ours.  It was Mary who told me that Rob had passed away.  I remember the shock at first, and then the last phone call replayed in my mind.  He said what he needed to say.  I wish I had done the same.

Today, whenever I see one of those old movies, whenever I see Gregory Peck or Van Heflin, or whenever I hear Roy Hamilton or Brook Benton, I think of Rob.  When I hear Elvis doing an interview on Sirius XM, when I hear Waterloo by Stonewall Jackson, or when I hear bagpipes, I think of Rob.  I have a feeling that I will be revisiting this blog and adding stories, because there are plenty of them I forgot to tell.  I am lucky that I have the last week of shows that we did on Honey Radio in a digital format and can listen whenever I want.  I have listened to them SO many times, and they are just as funny as when we did them 24 years ago.  Thanks for the memories, big brother.

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