Too Early??

Halloween is barely behind us, and we are just a day or two into November.  Christmas is over 50 days away, however, it is everywhere! Even before Halloween, many stores had their Christmas displays and decorations up!

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For years, people have pondered, discussed, and debated the “how early is too early for Christmas” topic.  In September this cartoon was all over the internet:

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Just before Halloween, Sirius XM radio began adding their holiday channels to their line up.  Countless radio stations across the country flipped to “all Christmas” music yesterday and Facebook and almost every major news outlet had stories about it.  I really don’t know why people were acting so surprised by this, because it happens every year!  Is this the earliest stations have flipped?  No.  I recall a few years where some stations flipped to all Christmas BEFORE Halloween.

There was a time when Christmas music didn’t even start playing on the radio until Thanksgiving weekend.  I recall scheduling 3 to 4 Christmas songs an hour throughout that weekend, and then cutting back to 1 an hour after Thanksgiving weekend.  As Christmas got closer, the number of songs we played increased to 2, 3, and eventually 4 an hour.  We almost always went all Christmas music at 12 noon Christmas Eve and then would continue through 6pm Christmas night.  That’s not the case anymore.

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People inevitably ask me the question – “Why do stations go all Christmas so early?!”  The answer is a simple one – ratings!  Its not always the case, but most of the time, these stations who play all Christmas music do very well in the ratings books – which means more $$ for the station.  Some retail stores do not have the pre-recorded satellite music, so they will pipe the “all Christmas station” throughout the store.   That means more listeners to that particular station.

Is it good or bad?

So this brings me to a Facebook discussion some friends were having (after one person voiced his disgust at the fact that his station flipped to all Christmas) yesterday.  His argument was that “holiday music increases stress and is unhealthy for people.”  I knew exactly what he was referring to.

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A couple years ago, a psychologist named Linda Blair said that listening to Christmas music too early in the holiday season can have a negative effect on people.  She stated that it can affect mental health triggering “feelings of stress.”  She said that hearing holiday music is a reminder of all the things that you have to do to get ready for the holiday.  She said the music will cause you to worry about (and become overwhelmed by) the things on your “to-do” list like travel planning, shopping, and planning for parties.

She also said that people who work in retail, especially those who work at places like shopping malls, face a higher risk of what she called “Christmas music-induced stress”! “Hearing the same songs over and over each day could make workers struggle to ‘tune it out’ and they become ‘unable to focus on anything else,’ she said. “You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing.”

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That story first hit the news in 2017, and has already be reprinted this year on many social media and news pages.  Blair never really cites any concrete evidence, or study results, so how do we know that this is actually the case?  Maybe she is just a Grinch who hates Christmas Music?? Who knows?!

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On the other hand …

In response to Linda Blair’s findings, there is another article (this one citing “scientific studies”) that says the exact opposite!  In those studies, it was proven that listening to “uplifting music”  – like Jingle Bell Rock, Frosty the Snowman and A Holly Jolly Christmas, to name a few – has been known to have a positive effect both physically and psychologically.

According to these studies, the feeling associated when listening to music can be sorted into two categories, perceived emotions (when we appreciate the emotional tone of the piece, but not feel that emotion ourselves) and felt emotions. Felt emotions are when we connect to the feeling behind the piece we are listening to and it can impact our emotional state.”

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As someone who has worked in radio for 30+ years, I know first hand the connection that music has to memories.  Do a google search on “music memory quotes” and there are plenty of them. One quote in particular holds true for the next point – from Michigan’s own, Stevie Wonder:

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“Music has a strong tie to nostalgia.”

This is why hearing a song from your childhood may bring back memories of elementary school, a high school dance, or a major life event like it was yesterday. It’s also why listening to certain Christmas songs can make people feel warm, fuzzy and child-like. Part of the reason why Christmas music is associated with joy is not necessarily the music itself, but the memories that come with it.

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So, listening to Christmas songs may make you feel nostalgic for your childhood or just generally happy, because your brain has already created positive associations with the music. And it’s been proven – research conducted by researchers at McGill University proved that when people listen to happy, upbeat music, they can recall happy memories within a short amount of time.   The entire article can be found here:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170228131027.htm

“In the experiment, the researchers had participants listen to four different genres of original music they had never heard before: happy (positive, high arousal), peaceful (positive, low arousal), scary (negative, high arousal) and sad (negative, low arousal). The researchers found that when the participants listened to happy, upbeat music, it brought about happy memories.”

That being said, there are Christmas songs that can bring about sad memories, too.  So I guess there is that possibility, too.  For the most part, though, Christmas music is happy and upbeat.  That would suggest that listening to Christmas music brings about nostalgic thoughts which brings about happy memories and you being a happier person.

What’s my take on it?

While I don’t listen to Christmas music 24/7/365, I do have Christmas songs on my iPod.  When I am listening to it and a Christmas song comes on out of season, it depends on my mood as to whether or not I am going to listen to it.  There are some Christmas songs that I can listen to no matter what the season, because (as the latter study suggested) it makes me feel good or happy.

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I remember when I worked at Honey Radio in Detroit, we would throw in “summer songs” when it was summer time.  We’d play “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summmer”, “Wonderful Summer”, “Summertime”, and others and then cut back on them in the fall and winter.  I have never understood why songs like “Let it Snow”, “Winter Wonderland”, or “Jingle Bells” (which are basically winter time songs that never really mention Christmas) didn’t play throughout the Winter.

Final Thought

There are people who complain just because they like complaining.  Bottom line is this – radio is free.  You have many choices up and down the dial.  There are many other stations that are not playing Christmas music 24/7, so if you don’t want to hear it – DON’T!  Pop in a CD, listen to your Spotify, plug in a USB with your tunes on it, or find the satellite channel that plays the format you enjoy.  Problem solved!

I have always looked forward to the Christmas season.  People tend to be friendlier.  People seem to be kinder.  There is a sense of happiness that comes with the season.  Elvis Presely’s “Why Can’t Everyday Be Like Christmas?” captures that sentiment.  Just because you don’t want to listen to Christmas music, doesn’t mean that others don’t want to.  Christmas music and the holiday season bring about a joy that seems to be lacking today – don’t be a Scrooge!

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Voices of the Past

This weekend, I DJ’d homecoming dance.  For high schools, all my new music is on a hard drive and I play it from the computer.  When I do weddings or parties, I still bring some CDs.  Recently, I have been going through boxes of CDs in hopes of putting what I don’t have on my hard drive, on the drive.

While most of my CDs are professional ones containing albums and music, I have some homemade CDs of things that I have burned to CD from various places I have worked.  I found 2 CDs marked “B95 Stuff” and “More B95 Stuff” in a box and took them with me to listen to in the car.  I was unsure if these CDs were data or audio CDs.  When I popped them in the CD player, I was happy to find they contained audio clips.

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Most of the audio was phone calls from listeners.  I used to do an “impossible question” every day for prizes and there were many phoners of listeners guessing the answer.  One of my favorite calls was on the first disc.  A woman caller simply asked, “Yes, is the answer poop?  Going poop!?”  Like the word poop wasn’t enough … she had to explain “going poop”!  There were also many requests, as I did a request lunch show.

I also found some interviews with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tim Rushlow from Little Texas, and Terri Clark.  Some of the phoners were just silly things, I used to have listeners say things like “Keith Allen?  They let him out on parole?” or “I love every thing about this station, but Keith Allen!” or “Keith Allen?  Turn that radio off!”  There were a couple calls that took me by surprise.

Call #1

The first one was hearing a call with my friend, Marie.  If you read my previous blog, Marie was my friend who just passed away last week.

That blog is here: https://nostalgicitalian.com/2019/09/21/time-life-death-ripples/

There were actually 2 calls from her on that disc.  One of them she wins a contest I was doing, and another she called to talk about watching Trace Adkins rear end when he was in concert.  (There were other females who called to talk about his butt, as well.)

She was one of those friends who would do anything for you.  When my oldest son was born, she had this beautiful blanket made with his name on it and also had a small photo album made with an engraved nameplate.  When my youngest was born, she bought him one of my favorite outfits.  I spoke with her just a few days before she passed and she was asking what we needed for the baby.  She was always doing things for her friends.  While it was nice to hear us joking around about Trace’s butt on the CD, it was sad to remember that she has just passed away.  Her funeral is Wednesday.

Call #2

The second call was one from my friend Pat.  I always called her Pat, but I think most people called her Trish.  I also met Pat while at B95.  She was forever trying to win prizes.  She always came up to our remote broadcasts and talked with us.  She was a HUGE fan of the band Alabama.  She used to call up and say that she was lead singer, Randy Owen’s wife.  I used to kid her and ask is his wife knew about that!  She and I had a lot in common, and became good friends.  She was a huge Elvis fan and we often talked about him and his music.  I remember how excited she was when she told me she was going to Graceland.  I had been there while in Memphis for a St. Jude visit, and I told her how much she was going to love it.

The first time Pat won a prize from me she was SO excited.  “I won?!  OH MY GOD!!  WE DID IT!  WE WON!!!  THIS IS AMAZING!!!  (Laughter) I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!!”  It was such a great response that I used to use that call as my “stunt winner”.  If we ever had someone win a prize who was not excited about it, I’d say “Bring in the stunt winner” and play Pat’s call!  The call on the CD was when she won some hockey tickets and she kept saying how much her boys were going to love it.  She passed away suddenly in 2014, leaving behind her four boys and a granddaughter who she spoke of so often.    She was such a wonderful person and we shared many laughs together.

Call #3

The third call that got me was a call I made to my grandma.  Phone calls from my grandma were a staple on the show.  I used to call her every Christmas Eve (if I worked on the holiday) or the day before.  Christmas Eve was ALWAYS at her house – I wrote a blog about it here:

https://nostalgicitalian.com/2018/12/24/the-ghost-of-christmas-eve-past-and-yet-to-come/

The phone call would consist of me asking grandma what was for dinner.  She would go on to talk about homemade ravioli, breaded steak and ammoglio (pronounced moy-gyoo) sauce, the many varieties of cookies, cakes, and cannoli, and the other items featured in the Christmas Eve Feast.  This call, however, was NOT about Christmas Eve, which is what made it even more special.

This call actually helps me date the CDs.  This call was made July 24, 2001.  How do I know this?  I was calling grandma to wish her Happy Birthday.  During the call she offers up without hesitation that she is 77.  She goes on to talk about how my dad was razzing her about something and then asks when I am coming over.  She then went on to tell me how I needed to come see her “while my eyes are still open” because “I’m not going to be around much longer” as she often said.

It was emotional to hear her voice.  She was sharp as a tack for so long.  She was your stereotypical strong willed Italian woman.  Knowing that shortly after that call, she would develop dementia was sad.  She passed away in 2007, at age 83.  Hearing her say “I love you” one more time on the phone – was priceless.

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A Recovered Memory

I must have been doing a phone topic about teddy bears.  There was probably a story about people sleeping with Teddy Bears or something, which led me to ask “Who still sleeps with a Teddy Bear?” or “Who still has their Teddy Bear from their childhood?”.  The calls were about bears and toys that they had growing up.  I don’t remember what the caller is talking about, but I respond about something I had growing up that I had totally forgotten about.  This has a tie-in to my grandma, who I just mentioned.

It is funny how you can forget about things.  I will forever remember a Teddy Bear that I had when I was little.  I had it with me in the hospital when I had my tonsils out at 3 years old.  The thing I had forgotten about is something I probably had around 5-7 years old.  It was a hand puppet of Ernie from Sesame Street.  Today, PBS has tons of kid shows.  As I remember, Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood were pretty much it on PBS.  On CBC there was Mr. Dress-up and The Friendly Giant, but that was it. Sesame Street was my “go to” show.  I think somewhere there is a picture of me with Ernie and Bert slippers!

What do I remember most about this Ernie puppet?  First, the head was not felt like the real Muppet.  It was a hard rubber/plastic.  This helped when you went to make him talk.  I guess I took him everywhere.  I remember I’d bring him over to my grandma’s house and she would tease me.  She’d put a lit cigarette in Ernie’s mouth and make him smoke.  I hated that!  “Ernie doesn’t smoke, grandma!  That’s bad for you!”  Grandma never said his name right.  She always called him “Arnie”.  I remember her telling me when I was older that when my brother and I stayed overnight there I used to make her kiss Ernie goodnight!  “I had to kiss that dirty old Arnie!”  I literally just chuckled out loud as I wrote that because I can hear her saying it!

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In Conclusion

I have CDs of my Honey Radio shows with my partner, Rob (https://nostalgicitalian.com/2018/04/26/get-a-load-of-this-guy/), which I listen to often.  I still laugh along with them.  He always made me laugh.  While I am sad that he has passed away, I think he’d be happy to know that I still listen to those shows and they are still funny 25 years later!

I’m glad that I decided to pop those CDs in and give them a listen.  Much like the CDs of Rob and me, these also made me chuckle, but also made me sad.  At the same time, they are a reminder of good friends and family, who continue to make ripples (see previous blog) long after they have gone.

 

 

 

The King is Gone

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May 1977.  The month I turned 7 years old, two movies were released that would have major influences over my childhood, and adulthood.  The movies were Star Wars and Smokey and the Bandit.  I can recall exactly where I saw each movie, too.

I saw Star Wars at Hoover 11 when the movie theater was still in the complex.  I don’t recall the exact date I saw it, but it was within a month of it’s release.  Eventually, the theater closed and became a TJ Maxx.  It was a one screen theater, and I remember the line was long.  I remember waiting in line for what seemed like forever and it being a full house!  I also remember not being able to sleep for a week, because Darth Vader scared the hell out of me.

I do remember the exact date I saw Smokey and the Bandit. August 16, 1977 – 42 years ago today.  I believe my folks had a station wagon at the time, and we drove to the Gratiot Drive-In in Roseville.

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When you saw a movie at the Drive-In, you always got their early.  You found a good spot where you could see the screen without obstruction.  The spot also was ideally close to the bathrooms and concession stands.  You had to pull up to the pole that held the speaker that you would hang from your window, so you could hear the audio of the movie.

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The movie never started until it got dark, so I remember bringing a baseball and mitt to play catch, or we’d go to an old playground that was up near the screen.

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As the sun began to go down, we’d go back to the car and dad would usually turn on the radio.  We had an AM radio in the car, and Dad turned on Honey Radio (where I would years later have the honor of working).  I remember the DJ (I don’t recall who it was) coming on and saying that Elvis had died in Memphis.  He was only 42.  They played Elvis music for the remainder of the time we listened.

I remember the news sort of putting a damper on the night.  My dad was a big Elvis fan.  I remember him watching the Aloha From Hawaii concert in the living room. I remember the many albums he had (including the Moody Blue album on blue vinyl). And I remember how he recorded the song Way Down on 8 tracks that we listened to on the drive to Caseville.  Dad would often put Elvis songs on the stereo and play his guitar along with them.

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I’m glad that we were at the movies to see a comedy.  I recall my dad being visibly upset by the news.  I don’t know that I had ever seen him that way before.  Once the movie started, I knew he was ok.  I recall the hearty laughter from him as Jackie Gleason shouted out profanity into the CB microphone.  Those scenes continue to make dad and me laugh out loud today – no matter how many times we’ve seen them!

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I remember in the days before VCR’s.  I used to record movies on cassettes so I could hear my favorite scenes.  I had no idea that in the future you’d be able to go out and buy your favorite movies on DVD and Blu-Ray.  Smokey and the Bandit was on cable one night at like 12:30am.  It was the last time that month that it was airing.  To me, it could have been the last time it ever aired!  I asked my dad to record it for me on cassette.  When I listened back to it, I could hear dad laughing at all of the Jackie Gleason scenes.  I was probably mad about it at the time, but looking back, I know I’d have done the same thing!

In everyone’s life, there are events that become etched forever in your mind.  For some, it was when they heard Buddy Holly died.  For others, it was when JFK or Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Those become memories that when you look back on them, you remember exactly where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing.  I have a few of those memories – President Reagan being shot, the Challenger explosion, and, of course, 9/11. The first one that is forever etched in my mind, though, happened 42 years ago today.

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Tune Tuesday – Don’t Let Go

When I first started working in radio, it was at an oldies station.  My dad, who was my biggest musical influence, took advantage of the fact that we had an extensive library and asked me to throw some of his favorites on a cassette for him.  This was how I was introduced to the music of Roy Hamilton.

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Roy Hamilton would have been 90 today.  He started singing in his church choir and eventually landed a record deal at Columbia Records, which quickly sent him to their new subsidiary label, Epic.  He recorded You’ll Never Walk Alone from the musical Carousel, Ebb Tide, and an amazing version of Unchained Melody (which reached number 1 on the R&B charts).

In mid-1956, he developed a lung condition which forced him to announce that he was retiring from the music business.  When was well enough, he got back into show business, but there had been quite a change in music – rock and roll music was big and the standards he was recording before his retirement were on the way out.  In 1957, Epic Records coaxed him into recording “Don’t Let Go”.  The song was produced by Otis Blackwell, who had just produced “Don’t Be Cruel” and “All Shook Up” for Elvis Presley.  It became a top 15 record for him and the song is said to be the first Top 40 record recorded in stereo.

He was Epic’s first major star and they treated him very well.  He released 16 albums for them.  He was a big influence to singers like Sam Cooke and Elvis.  In 1969, while at home, he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage.  He spent a week in a coma before his family took him off life support.  He passed away at the young age of 40.

Working at WHND Honey Radio, we played music exclusively from the first decade of Rock and Roll.  I got to play quite a bit of Roy Hamilton’s music.  You Can Have Her and Don’t Let Go still sound fresh and fun today.  His voice is powerful and even though it shined on ballads, I am partial to his uptempo stuff.  In honor of his 90th, birthday, here’s Don’t Let Go….

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Remembering my friend, Jay

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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.

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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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“Made in 1938”

 

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Introduction

Since I started blogging about a year ago, I have stumbled on some great blogs that focus on old movies, film noir, music, books, and various other things that I find interesting.  Some of these blog sites have hosted Blogathons, and I have participated in a few of them.  A while back, the “Pop Culture Reverie” and “In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood” sites announced their “Made in 1938 Blogathon”.  The only real rule that was that whatever you wrote about had to be something “made” in 1938.  This blog is my contribution to this blogathon. I am posting a day early, but you can read the other participants blogs by clicking:

https://popculturereverie.wordpress.com/

or

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/

At first, I began to look at movies from that year, hoping there would be one of my favorites from that year.  Then, because of the celebrity birthday page I had on Facebook, I wondered if there were any famous people born in ’38 that I might find interesting to write about.  In looking over the list of celebrities, three stood out as having a significant part in my life, so I chose to write about them.  I hope you find this blog interesting and entertaining. What follows is a brief salute to a great impressionist/comedian, a great radio personality, and a great actor.

Rich Little (Born November 26, 1938)

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson - Season 12

Rich Little shares the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Voices” with the great Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc).  While they both have many voices that they do, Mel’s were more original voices and dialects for cartoons, while Rich did impersonations or imitations of real celebrities.  He claims to be able to do about 200 voices, and he has had quite a career “being” other people!  He even eludes to this in the title of his 2014 book “Little by Little:  People I’ve Known and Been…”

I remember when we first got cable TV.  HBO often featured stand up comedy shows and specials.  One of the first specials I ever saw was Rich Little’s A Christmas Carol. I was mesmerized by this guy!  This special was like an awesome dream come true – all these big celebrities playing the different roles of the Dickens classic – except, they were all done by one man, Rich Little.  Can you imagine WC Fields, Jack Benny, Peter Sellers, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Falk (as Columbo), Jimmy Stewart, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson, Laurel and Hardy, and Groucho Marx all in the same show?!  He made it happen!

As a kid, not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life, and thinking I was funny, I thought maybe I could do what he did.  After watching him often, and listening to him, I began to try out voices on relatives.  I really thought I did an excellent Richard Nixon, but in reality, I was doing a bad impression of Rich Little doing Richard Nixon.   (Later on in my radio career, while on Honey Radio I did create a few generic voices that I used on our morning show, but never anything close to what Rich has mastered!)

I was always excited when there was some new Rich Little Special on HBO, whether it was his stage act or his take on Robin Hood (which is where I first saw him do his Carol Channing, which blew me away).  Every time he did a new celebrity I hadn’t seen him do, I would watch in awe. There was no shortage of people he could do.

One surprising fact that I was unaware of was one of my favorite singers played a big part in his American TV debut.  He was asked by singer Mel Torme’ to audition for the Judy Garland Show in 1964.  He did, made an impression (pun intended) and made his first appearance on American TV on her show.  He stated in an interview that if you watch this appearance, you should watch Judy.  She had never seen him perform before they taped the show and her reactions are very genuine.  He went on to appear on other TV shows like Love on a Rooftop, That Girl, The Flying Nun, and Petticoat Junction in guest roles.  He is probably best known for his appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Kopycats (a show featuring impressionists), and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.

Rich is often asked which impressions are his favorites.  He says he has many, but the two that stand out are Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Stewart.  His Reagan is just wonderful and President Reagan loved it too!  He did two albums as Reagan – “The First Family Rides Again” and “Ronald Reagan Slept Here”.  I owned them both, and they are very funny (one of them features a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards)! His Reagan is a great example of how Rich can find something unique about someone and use it in his imitation.  I’ll be honest, I never knew how many times Reagan started a sentence with the word “Well…” until I saw/heard Rich doing it in his act!

Jimmy Stewart was the first celebrity impression he worked on (and it is amazing).  Rich was on the dais of The Dean Martin Roasts when Jimmy was the “Man of the Hour”.  He got to the podium and began to school Jimmy Stewart on how to do Jimmy Stewart!  After Jimmy tries to do all the things Rich is telling him, Rich finally tells him that there is no hope for him and that Jimmy was doing “The Worst Jimmy Stewart” he’d ever heard! Rich even went as far as to have the audience stand up and do Jimmy, to which Rich tells Jimmy that everyone does a better Jimmy Stewart than he did!  Word is this was all ad-libbed and Jimmy, being the amazing guy that he was, went along with it all.

It would be hard for me to pick my favorite Rich Little Impressions, because they are all so good.  Among his best, in my opinion, are Reagan and Stewart (just mentioned), Richard Nixon, Jack Benny, Don Rickles, Raymond Burr, Truman Capote, James Mason, John Wayne, Paul Lynde, and Johnny Carson.  His Carson was so good, he was asked to play him in the movie about the David Letterman/Jay Leno feud called “Late Night”. After seeing Rich do an impression of him, Jack Benny sent him an 18 karat gold money clip  that was engraved; “With Bob Hope doing my walk and you doing my voice, I can be a star and do nothing!”

How good are his impressions?  When David Niven was ill, he actually dubbed in lines for Niven in a couple Pink Panther movies.  He did the same for James Cagney in the 1984 film Terrible Joe Moran and for Gene Kelly in a 1991 Christmas special.  I’m not sure how true it is, but some people say that there was some fierce competition between Rich and Frank Gorshin (The Riddler on TV’s Batman), who was also a good impressionist.  Those sources say that this little rivalry only made Rich work even harder to perfect his voices.

In researching for this blog, I came across a quote from Rich that really made me admire him even more.  He said, “I don’t like it when people imitate someone for political reasons or if they hate somebody.  I’ve never imitated anyone that I’ve really hated.  Usually, it’s people I admire.”

Thanks Rich, for the many laughs you provided throughout my childhood. Sorry about my Nixon impression!

Wolfman Jack (Born January 21, 1938)

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Radio Legend!  What more can I say?!  He was one of the best.  He knew what people wanted and gave it to them.  He was a master at talking to his audience.  He could be making you laugh out loud one minute, and crying  the next.  I never had the chance to hear a live show of his, but I was lucky enough to hear some of his syndicated stuff growing up.  I can tell you this, I can only WISH to be as good and as talented as he was! In my 30 year radio career, I have never come close!

With the creation of the Internet and access to YouTube and other radio websites, some of Wolfman’s radio stuff is available to listen to and enjoy.  I’m no dummy, I know that he must have done a lot of prep for his shows, but everything seemed so spontaneous and ad-libbed!  Maybe it was, I don’t know, but I do know that it was good.  His interactions with listeners were always entertaining.  His random thoughts about peace, love, and brotherhood always hit the nail on the head.  In this world where hatred runs amuck, we could use more people like Wolfman spreading the “love” on the air.

I got into radio because of the guys I listened to growing up (Paul Christy, Jim McKenzie, Richard D., Boogie Brian, Dick Purtan, etc…), and so did Wolfman Jack.  To keep him out of trouble, his parents bought him a radio and he fell in love with R&B music.  He listened to Jocko Henderson from Philadelphia, Dr. Jive from New York, the Moon Dog from Cleveland, Alan Freed (who coined the phrase “Rock and Roll”), and his mentor John Richbourg from Nashville.  He spent a year at The National Academy of Broadcasting and landed a radio gig in Virginia where his on air name was “Daddy Jules”.

Three years later, he took his “Wolfman” character to XERF, a Mexican radio station that broadcast at 250,000 watts (5 times the power of any US radio station), and people listened!  The station pretty much covered most of the US.  The music he played (lots of great R&B) and his vocal stylings started to make news. His popularity grew and there were feature stories about him in Time magazine, Newsweek, and Life magazine.  Newspapers from all over the country all wrote about him, too, wondering, “Who is this guy and where did he come from?!”

In 1972, he became the host of an NBC show called “The Midnight Special” where he co-hosted and interviewed musical guests.  Director George Lucas grew up in North Carolina and was a fan of Wolfman’s show growing up.  In 1973, he cast him in the film “American Graffiti” and made sure that he got a small percentage of the profits from the film.  The success of the film brought Wolfman to New York to do a radio show on WNBC, but the commuting back and forth to do TV and radio became a hassle, so he moved back to California.

Wolfman Jack became the first radio DJ to nationally distribute his radio show.  The show was heard on over 2000 stations nationwide and in 53 countries! Along with his radio work. he continued to do movie work  and appeared on TV shows like The Odd Couple, What’s Happening, Vega$, Wonder Woman, Hollywood Squares, and Married…With Children. He also appeared as himself in the 1974 hit single by The Guess Who entitled “Clap for the Wolfman.”

In 1995, he wrote his autobiography (a must read for people in radio) “Have Mercy:  Confessions of the Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal,” which received good reviews in The New York Times and LA Times.  On July 1, 1995, after finishing a broadcast from The Hard Rock Café in Washington DC he boarded a plane and flew home.  He had been away from his family for days promoting his book.  He told his limo driver as they pulled in front of his house that he was happy to finally be home.  He walked inside, hugged his wife, and collapsed after having a massive heart attack.  He was 57 years old.

To close this section of my blog – here are some of my favorite Wolfman quotes:

“We are put on this earth to have a good time.  This makes other people feel good.  And the cycle continues.”

“I know it may sound corny, man, but I like to bring folks joy and I like to have a good time.  I know folks like to be with someone who’s having a good time.  You sure as hell don’t want to be with somebody who’s having a bad day.”

“Love is not a matter of counting the years – it’s making the years count.”

“If you do right.  Everything will come out right.”

And my favorite quote, which I often used (giving him credit, of course) to close my own radio show:

“Remember to keep smiling because a smile is like a light in the window letting people know your heart’s at home”.

Thanks, Wolfman, for being an inspiration to young DJ’s like me, and for being a positive in a world full of negativity!

Christopher Lloyd (Born October 22, 1938)

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When I first saw the trailer for Back to the Future, I was filled with anticipation.  It was everything a 15 year old boy could ask for, action, adventure, and time travel! I’ve always been a fan of time travel stories.  I have a collection of old radio shows that all have time travel as a theme.  What kid didn’t wonder, “What would it be like to see my parents as kids?  What would it be like to go back to the past?”  I had to see this movie!

The Back to the Future trilogy remains one of my favorites (second only to the Godfather).  Looking back now, I can’t imagine anyone but Christopher Lloyd playing Doc Brown.  While there are great characters (and actors) in the film, Lloyd makes it all worth watching!  He’s the epitome of a crazy scientist!  He’s everything you expect one to be!  He’s manic!  He’s constantly moving!  He’s always thinking and processing!  In an interview he said that there were times he was so into the role that he didn’t know exactly what he had done until he saw it on screen!  Believe it or not, he almost passed on the role!!

In an interview I found, he said that when he was initially contacted about playing the role, he had some doubts about it and seriously considered passing on it.  He was in Mexico when his agent called to tell him that the producers wanted to meet with him.  “I was anxious to do a play that I had been offered back east, and I wasn’t sure this was something I wanted to get involved in at that point.”  Luckily, his future wife Carol reminded him that “I always told myself never to turn anything down without at least checking it out.” After the meeting he says he was “ready to put on the wig and hop into the Delorean!”

Doc Brown is probably one of two roles that Christopher Lloyd will forever be identified with.  The other is that of “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski on the TV show Taxi.  That character won him two Emmy Awards!  I have always appreciated when a TV show has a great ensemble cast – Taxi was one of them.  Each character stands out in their own way, and Reverend Jim never ceased to make me laugh!  One of the greatest scenes in this show is when Jim has to take his driver’s test.  Almost all of the gang is there while he is taking it and trying to help him.  If you’ve never seen it – it’s comedy gold! Here is the link:

Christopher is one of those actors who is believable in comedy roles as well as dramatic roles.  I have always felt that is what makes a great actor.  He reminds me a lot of Robin Williams, in that he can play comedy for comedy, play straight for comedic effect, and nail a dramatic role perfectly.  In his first movie role, as a psychiatric patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he is brilliant!  It is one amazing performance!

He is one of those actors that has so many memorable roles.  It would be impossible to give space to each one of them.  One movie that sometimes gets over looked is the 1985 comedy Clue.  As Professor Plum, we are treated to Christopher playing straight for comedic effect.  In one of my favorite scenes, the characters are paired off to search areas of the house.  Plum is paired with Mrs. Peacock (played brilliantly by Eileen Brennan) and he looks at her and says, “It’s you and me, honey bunch.”  As strait as he says it, that line cracks me up every time!  What an amazing cast in this film!

As someone who doesn’t care too much for movie remakes, I was pleasantly surprised at the Addams Family films.  I loved Christopher as Uncle Fester.  I always felt like the TV show was more comedy than dark comedy.  The films were closer to the comic strips and I thought Christopher captured that dark comedy and mischievous aspect of the character in his portrayal of Fester. This is probably because he was a fan of the comic strip and claims to have always read the New Yorker Magazine (where the strip was featured in every issue).

Two of Christopher’s roles were so powerful they scared me!  The first being that of Klingon Commander Kluge in the 1984 film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  He is just so vicious, and over the top in this film.  One of my favorite scenes is where one of his crew destroys a ship and he yells that he wanted prisoners.  The crew member says it was a lucky shot.  At this, his anger boils over and Kluge kills the crewmember.  After this, he simply says “Animal.”  He really does a great job of showing us how crazy the character is.

The other role that scared me was his role as Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  As much as I hated him throughout the movie, when he snaps and goes nuts at the end, wow!  When he is run over by the steamroller you are almost happy!  When he melts, you are ecstatic! When an actor makes you hate a character he is playing that much – he’s done it right! He says that people come up to him often and mention how much this character scared them, so I am not alone.  He also says that he loves playing villains, because it’s a “license just to be as bad as the script allows you to be”.

There are many other movies that Christopher has played in that you may be familiar with, like The Dream Team, Dennis the Menace (Switchblade Sam is an awesome villain), and My Favorite Martian.  He has done so much more that I wish I had been able to see.  For example, in 2010, he starred as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in a Weston House Production. I can only imagine how well he played this iconic role.   In 2008, he played Scrooge in a production of A Christmas Carol with John Goodman and Jane Leeves.  WOW – I would LOVE to see him as Scrooge!!!!  Many have played Scrooge, and played him well…but I know that Christopher’s interpretation would have been off the charts!

He continues to do voice work (my kids loved him as the Hacker on Cyberchase), television, and movies and is very active on social media. If you don’t already, follow him.

Thanks, Christopher for entertaining so many over the years!  You are a treasure!

In Closing

I want to thank the hosts of this blogathon, “Pop Culture Reverie” and “In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood”,  for allowing me to participate.  It was a lot of fun for me to think about these three influential men and their work, and ultimately write about them.  I hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

 

 

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:

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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…..