Some old radio stories…Part 1

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Yesterday was National Radio Day. Many of my radio friends shared pictures and stories from their careers throughout the day. Looking back, I really wish I had taken more pictures! I am not sure why I didn’t. I absolutely loved seeing many of the old pictures of old studios and old friends on Facebook! If any of my friends have pictures of studios we worked in, prod rooms, etc…. please let me know, I would LOVE to see them!!!

In my almost 30 year radio career, I have (like all of my radio friends) a gazillion stories. Here are some that I’ll share off the top of my head. I am sure there are plenty more, but for now – enjoy these:

WKSG

My career started here. I was a lowly intern ripping news and sorting it. I then started to intern with Paul Christy, the morning guy. He eventually was responsible for me doing overnights full time.

  • I only used my real name once in my entire career – and almost didn’t. Every hour at the top of the hour we had our Legal ID. There was what we called a “donut” in the middle of the music where the DJ would say what time it was and their name. I’d heard it a hundred times. “It’s 10 O’clock and I’m Jim McKenzie”, “It’s 3 O’clock and I’m John Bailey”, “It’s 7 O’clock and I’m Johnny Molson” – every jock did it. My first night on the air, I hadn’t decided what name I was going to use yet. The ID played and I had no choice – “It’s midnight and I’m … (brain fart – and real name)”. I remember a gal I went to high school with was listening that night because she remembers hearing me use my real name. I used Keith Allen every day after that and have never been anyone else.
  • Speaking of those live ID’s, Johnny Molson was on before me each night. It seemed that he and his crew always were trying to mess with me when the ID played. They’d make weird noises, bang on cart racks, knock over my music stack, and all kinds of other things to try to get me to mess up. Sometimes they’d get me to crack up and sometimes I was able to keep it together. One night, the time was ticking away to the ID and they were all out of the studio. The ID started and I heard the studio door behind me open fast. They had found a huge box and as I started to talk, they threw it over my head. My hands were still by the mixer board so I could see what button I had to push next, so I just continued to talk as the box was over my head. Listeners heard nothing but a muffled voice and the music bed. Johnny was cracking up, he told me, “I can’t believe you just kept going”!
  • At one point during my time at Kiss-FM, I was doing Friday night/Saturday mornings which consisted of me being on air from 12a-6a doing my own show, and then running Paul Christy on tape from 6a-10a. I don’t recall why I hadn’t slept much the day prior, but I was tired. I did my show, and about an hour into Paul’s show, I started a song, put my elbows up on the board, my fists to my cheeks, and nodded off. About 20-25 minutes later, my head fell from my hands and I was startled awake. I had no idea where I was. The phones were all lit up, and nothing was on the air! I grabbed the first cart (what songs were on) in the music stack and jammed it into the machine. Fittingly, the song was “You’ve Got Your Troubles” by the Fortunes. Once the music started, the phones stopped ringing. I, however, knew that Paul was always listening! I dreaded the call that I knew was coming. I was sure to get fired for messing up his show! 10 minutes later the “PC hotline rang”. I answered it and as usual, Paul was chomping on something (he was always eating when he called). “How’s it going?”, he asked. He had to have heard it, I knew he did. Why wasn’t he saying anything? I finally blurted out that I had fallen asleep for a couple minutes and awaited the verbal beating. Nope. Not Paul. He laughed and said, “You Asshole! I remember this one time I fell asleep while I was at Super CFL in Chicago….” and told me the story. That was the kind of guy Paul was … a damn cool dude!
  • One more Paul Story. He drank coffee all through his shift. He liked it black and hot! One time he had Vince get him some coffee. It sat next to him for awhile while he was doing other things. He finally grabbed it and took a sip. He yelled, “What the hell is the matter with you guys?! You call this hot coffee?! I could piss warmer than this!! Get me some fresh stuff and make sure it is hot!” So Vince went to the coffee pot, filled the cup and then put it in the microwave for about 2 or 10 minutes…LOL. I don’t remember, but it was in there for a good while. He took the cup to Paul, who rather than set it down as he normally did, put it to his lips and burned the hell out of his tongue and lips! Paul yelped, “Jesus! What is wrong with you?!” Holding his tongue in pain, he continued, “I use this thing for a living!!” I think every one of us broke a rib laughing so hard.

WMXD

I followed Paul here to do some part time work after being let go from Kiss-FM. The format started as a mix of Urban/R&B music and Pop. Eventually it went all R&B and Urban. It was here that I met The Electrifying Mojo.

  • Mojo was a cool dude. He played most of his stuff off vinyl records. The thing I remember most about Mojo was that the studio was always like a sauna! It was always SO hot when I came in. There were always records all over the studio, so I rarely was able to pull the first hour of music for my show. I have to admit it was so cool to watch him say his closing line every night I worked: “Hold on tight. Don’t let go. Whenever you feel like you are reaching the end of your rope – tie a knot. Don’t slide off. Keep hanging. Keep remembering that there ain’t nobody bad like you.”

WHND

Honey Radio! I grew up listening to this station and I was honored to have the chance to work with radio legends! Richard D, Jon Ray, Boogie Brian, Ron Tavernit, Bill Stewart, Greg Russell, and so many others were such an influence. Honey was on the day I was at the drive in to see Smokey and the Bandit in 1977 – the day Elvis died. Honey was the first oldies station in the country – and I got to be there as they turned out the light…..

  • You can read all about my buddy Rob in a previous blog. I am not sure if I tell this story in that blog or not, so I apologize if I did. It was the last week Honey was on the air – the week of Thanksgiving 1994. Listeners knew that this was Honey’s last week and we had been given free reign to have fun. We had a listener who used to call up and his name was Mitchell. I had gotten to the point where I could do his voice pretty well. I had been doing a character based on the real listener and I called him “Mitch”. True story – Mitch would call and talk to us and really never have anything to say, so I prerecorded calls as Mitch where I just rambled about nothing and then hung up. Afterward, we’d say something like “He’s a nice guy, but ….” kind of a thing. So now it’s the last week we are on the air and it was clear that some people were upset the station was going off the air. So we planned a bit. I was going to do the character live on the air. I was going to come in and say how upset I was the station was going off the air, yell and scream and (using the theater of the mind) pull out a gun and start shooting (keep in mind this was 1994 and public shootings were not as prominent) it. At this point in the bit, our bouncer character (loosely based on Charles Bronson) was going to come in and beat up “Mitch” and throw him out the studio window. In order to accomplish the bit we needed sound effects (to make it sound real on the air). We had 6 cart machines and everything was on its own cart. So in cart player #1 was the song we just played. Cart #2 Door closing sound effect for when Mitch comes in Cart #3 – gunshot sound. Cart #4 – The sound of two guys beating each other up. Cart #5 – The sound of glass breaking (studio window) . Cart #6 – always had the weather music in it. After Mitch was thrown out the window, I would have already put the commercial we were going to go into in Cart player 1 and proceeded with the show. That is NOT how it happened on the air. As soon as I began to do the character live on the air, I saw Rob crack a smile, which made me start to laugh hard. As the Elvis character, Rob tries to save the bit, so I once again try to do the “Mitch” character – which only made me laugh harder. By this point we are both laughing so hard that we have tears in our eyes. Rob, as Elvis, says “That takes care of that bit, man!” and I go to start the commercial – but the commercial never made it to the machine, so the button I pushed was the gunshot sound effect, which only made us laugh harder….you hear us dropping carts and shoving the commercial in the machine and finally we went to commercials. I have often called this the worst 5 minutes of Detroit radio, but to me it is also one of the funniest. Yes, I do have audio, and it still cracks me up.
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  • (This is not the WHND studio, but it will give you a visual for the last story – Cart players are on the left in this picture)
  • Richard D was one of the funniest men I ever worked with. He gave me lots of direction and I have talked about him in previous blogs, as well. I was producing his show the Top 12 at 12, which was an hour of his show which featured the Top 12 songs in Detroit from local charts from different years. It was a fun show to produce. It included new stories, TV and movie clips, old commercials, info about how much things were from that year, etc… Richard had to play the 12 songs and sometimes there was extra time and we’d give him songs that were on the charts form that week to play as “extras” if he needed them. He was doing a countdown from 1966 and I had put a Dean Martin song in there as an extra and he played it. He made some comment about it not being the greatest song or something and moved on. I went into the studio, as I often did, to give him crap. I said something along the lines of “Why are you messing with Italians! Dean was Italian and so I am I! Look here you Old Bastid (a term of endearment), If I were you, I’d watch what you say about Dean Martin … and Frank Sinatra for that matter!” and left the room as he laughed hysterically. After the next song he said on the air, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I must offer an apology. A little while ago I played (whatever the song was) by Dean Martin and made some negative remarks about it. Well immediately after that, Keith Allen came in here with about 12 goons who roughed me up a bit and told me that my comments were distasteful. So I must now publically apologize. I really had no idea that Keith Allen was the President of the Dean Martin Fan Club!” From that day on, I always tried to find a way to sneak a Dean Martin song into my show, so I could say I was President of the Dean Martin Fan Club. When Honey went off the air, I received a package from a listener named Sandy (who I remain friends with to this day), who sent me a membership to the REAL Dean Martin Fan Club with a note that read: “I thought you might actually want to be a member of the Fan Club you claim to be President of….”
  • For years I listened to Boogie Brian rhyme his talks up song intros until he nailed the post (where the vocalist starts to sing) with no effort at all. His energy was constant and the smile in his voice was ever present – until November 25, 1994. That was the day Honey stopped broadcasting locally before eventually signing off. My partner Rob and I were listening to his sign off from the other room. The day had already been full of listeners wishing us well and many tears were shed. The biggest tears came as Boogie signed off that day. A powerful memory that I will never forget.

WWWW

I had just come back from working on the west side of the state, where I did country radio for the first time. It wasn’t long before a new PD, Tim Roberts, would take the chair and offer some advice that I still use today. Every year Tim was responsible for booking acts to the Downtown Hoedown (which at the time took place in Hart Plaza).

  • We worked at the Hoedown in shifts as I recall and mine was over. I was waiting in the blue W4 Country Suburban to go back to the station with Tim Timmerman. The Dixie Chicks were an up and coming act who had a very traditional sound. This was really not like anything on the radio at the time, and while I loved it, I didn’t think it would do as well as it did. Tim looked out the window and said “Dude, it’s the Dixie Chicks! We should go get a picture!” I told him he could because I was tired and “they probably won’t go anywhere”. Boy, was I wrong! There’s an opportunity I missed and regret to this day!

So many stories….so little time….

The more I write, the more stories I recall. Tell you what….More to come in the next blog…..

“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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