“Mama’s Got a Squeezebox…”

It wasn’t until I was working at B-95 that I discovered National Accordion Awareness Month. My buddy Tim and I would get together quite often and think of bits we could write and produce to play during our radio shows. We came up with some really funny stuff.

It was mid-May and we were writing stuff for June. I am pretty sure that it was Tim who told me about it. I don’t recall who came up with the idea, but we produced this little sweeper to play in between songs. It was the silliest thing, but it always made me laugh. It basically went like this:

The song playing on the air ends. Then the announcer says, “B-95 reminds you that June is National Accordion Awareness Month! Here’s an Accordion Awareness Month Update!” Then we’d insert 10-15 seconds of some ridiculous accordion clip which was followed again by the announcer. “Keep it here all month long for more Accordion Awareness Month Updates – on B-95!” Then the next song would play. It was so out of place and so funny to me. I used this bit for years even taking it to other stations.

According to the National Day Calendar Website:

Through a complex construction of bellows and reeds, the accordion (also known as a concertina) produces its mournful timbre when air is forced over the reeds. While the accordion accompanies traditional polka music, the instrument has found its way into many classical and modern works of music.

For generations the accordion complimented many genres in American music. From jazz and zydeco to folk and Gospel and Blues, musicians found the accordion a fit a variety of musical styles.

The instrument changed, too. Manufactured in several different sizes, the smaller squeeze boxes became popular. The accordion fit well into country music, and when Rock and Roll made the scene, the accordion followed. Today, the instrument is no stranger to the recording studio.

Musicians such as Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and Mumford and Sons all have recorded hit songs with the accordion playing a supporting role.

In honor of the occasion, here are some of my favorite accordion players:

Weird Al Yankovic
The other accordion playing Yankovic – Frankie
Lawrence Welk – orchestra leader and accordion player
The fantastic Linda Lee, who can be seen at the Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth, MI!

Happy National Accordion Awareness Month! Squeeze This!!

Remembering my friend, Jay

radio

In 1994, I was working at Honey Radio.  Richard D. had a box full of jokes and show prep that he had collected over some time.  He recycled many lines and adapted them to make them current.  One day, while prepping his Top 12 at 12, I noticed a brown “newsletter looking” booklet.  The title of it was “One to One”.  I glanced at it and there was an article, some “this day in history” stuff, artist notes, and many one liners.  That was the first time I saw it.  It was 4 years later that I came to know more about the author of that publication, began to learn from him, and gained a wonderful mentor and friend.

WFBE – 1998

B-95 hadn’t been on the air too long when I joined the on air staff in 1998.  I was brought aboard to do mid-days.  Art Opperman was the Program Director.  During one of our aircheck meetings (when you sit down with a tape of your show and the boss offers suggestions and such), he heard a break that I had done and he liked it.  He told me it would have been better if I had edited it.  “Time matters” he said.  With that, he reached into his briefcase and handed me a few photocopied articles by Jay Trachman.  They were “Talent Tips” articles from “One to One” that he had been given by one of his Program Directors.

I remember he said to me, “This guy is good.  He knows his stuff.”  I did some research and found Jay’s number.  I explained who I was and asked about this publication.  We chatted about radio a bit and shared a few stories.  I immediately signed up for “One to One” and began applying the things in it to my show.  Art was right – Jay was good!  Each week a new tip, a new suggestion, and, of course, funny lines for the show.  I really felt that I was becoming a better on air personality because of the principles and ideas from Jay’s publication.

A year or two into my stint at WFBE, Jaye Albright was brought in as a consultant.  I remember telling Jay about this and he praised her for her work.  They had been friends a long time and she was on board with the same thinking as Jay.  Jaye was a joy to work with and we spoke often of our mutual friend Jay and the stuff from One to One.  Most DJ’s get a bit nervous at the thought of sitting down with the PD and consultant, but this was not the case for me.  I always found our chats very positive and beneficial.

In one of his weekly publications, Jay stated that there was a “rare opening for a rater”.  A rater was sent all of the comedy lines that Jay had written for that week.  The rater went through it all and rated each line – the best rated lines made it into the publication.  I jumped at the chance.  This meant that each week, after sending the rated material back to him (via fax!!!), we would then go over what he called “maverick items”, which were lines that were topical and wouldn’t keep another week.

I grew to look forward to those weekly chats with Jay.  It wasn’t like work at all.  It was a weekly chat with a good friend.  He often offered advice about a bit I wanted to do, helped me craft a promotional idea.  The more we worked together, the more we spoke to each other about our families.  I came to know his family, even though we’d never met, because of our chats.  He was a good friend.

Some of the most basic radio principles he taught me, I shared with my staff when I was a program director:  Talk to one person; Time Matters; Edit – Brevity is essential; Don’t lie to your listener; People bond with people; Be Yourself; and Entertain.  I will forever remember his definition of that -“If you make your listener feel something – whether you make them smile, make them cry, make them angry, make them think – then you have “entertained” them.”  THAT was one of the most powerful things I ever learned from him.

There came a point where Jay decided that he would stop publishing One to One.  His “family” of readers were sad about this and much of the final year’s publications had letters to “the editor” praising him and thanking him for all his hard work and advice.  It was a very emotional year.

I don’t recall if it was before he decided to stop publishing or shortly after, but I remember he told me that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.  It must have been before he stopped publishing, as I remember a few phone calls where he told me how tired he was from the treatments.

We spoke often even after One on One ceased publication, whether it was by phone or e-mail.  I am glad that I still can access the last year of One to One, as they remain in my inbox.  I also have a few of his final e-mails to me.  He still spoke of Will, Joy, his granddaughter Sophie and the rest of his family.  He always asked about my son, Dante’.  He loved hearing stories about him and shared Sophie stories with me.

Every January, I still get an e-mail reminder saying “Jay Trachman will be celebrating his birthday – send him a birthday greeting”.  I also get the Facebook reminder on his birthday on January 15.  I realized that Jay would have been 80 this year.  He passed away in November of 2009 at age 70.  What amazes me is that as I read some of these articles from 15 years ago, they still hold true.  Yes, the landscape of radio has changed a lot, but the “tips” are still good ones.  The comedy lines, however, are a bit dated.

There have been times over the course of the past 10 years that I have wanted to reach out to him.  I miss being able to bounce an idea off him.  I miss being able to ask him about the business.  I miss his guidance and his friendship.  As I think back over the many conversations I shared with him … I am thankful to have had such a wonderful mentor and friend.

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