My First Job

Today’s blog stems from a daily writing prompt – “What was your first job?”.  I’m surprised that I haven’t written about this before.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that my first job actually led to my radio career!  Let me tell you how…

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Let’s be honest, what 16 year old really wants to get a job?!  I know that was the last thing on my mind!  Oh sure, I wanted to have money, but I was perfectly content asking my parents for it!  Once I got my driver’s permit, and wanted to drive the car, my dad told me I was going to have to start helping with gas money.  He thought it was time for me to work.

My dad played in a wedding band for many years.  One of the guys he played with worked at a boat marina right down the road from my house.  He asked if they needed any help and he said they did.  So I went in and talked with Dennis.  I knew him from the band.  He asked me a few questions and then told me I’d be helping out in the back cleaning and such.

I don’t really remember, but I think minimum wage was like $3.35 an hour when I started.  I was clueless about boats.  I remember the first couple days I did a lot of cleaning.  I swept the floors and emptied trash.  I also remember washing and waxing boats that were being delivered.  It was hard work.  Hell, I didn’t like cleaning my room, and here I was cleaning the shop and washing boats.  It was quite a change for me!  I remember chuckling at the brand of boat I was waxing – a Sea Nymph!

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Now, I know that according to the dictionary a “nymph” is “a mythological spirit of nature imagined as a beautiful maiden inhabiting rivers, woods, or other locations”, but a 16 year old kid knows the other (more sexual) definition and, of course, finds it funny.

Dennis was my boss.  He was also a salesman.  A couple other salesmen worked there, too.  Bob and Gary.  I remember Gary always called me Cosmo (this was long before Seinfeld).  I don’t remember much about the showroom, other than some of the boats that were in there, the racks of accessories, and a sign for one of the brands of motors we sold.

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In the shop, there were some mechanics who worked on the motors. The only one I remember was Leo.  He was a big guy who I always thought looked like a wrestler or body builder!  He was very friendly, though and I liked him.  He made me laugh a lot.

Dave was the Service Manager. I think we started talking about the Three Stooges one day, and became instant friends.  When I was promoted to work in the Parts Department, I worked very closely with him.  He would send parts requisitions and orders for jobs that they were working on in the back.  My job was to gather what parts we had in inventory and order what we didn’t have.

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It was while I was working back in the Parts Department that I really got a glimpse at how expensive owning a boat was! I was clueless about motors and Dave was very helpful in schooling me on some of the important basics.  He told me about the most commonly ordered parts and I learned about water pumps, crankshafts and O-rings! I also learned that this fancy gadget is called an “impeller”:

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And this thing is called a “Flush Muff”:

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Whenever someone came to the Parts counter, I needed to ask them what motor they had.  Once I knew if it was a Johnson, Evinrude, Mariner, Mercury or Volvo, I could grab a Microfiche and look for whatever part they needed.  We had this big honking microfiche machine where I slid the films into and it would project the schematics on the screen so I could find parts.

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There were plenty of times I had NO CLUE what the customer was asking for, so I called Dave up to the office.  He could usually find whatever it was in like 3-10 seconds!  He also knew the “exceptions”.  “Oh, that’s a 1979?  Well, for that motor, you need ….”  I was amazed at how much he knew.  He was such a great help!

I remember he always ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day.  I remember he was a big Monty Python fan, and we often spoke in quotes from their bits.  There were times where him and I would be working late and for no reason at all he’d hit the page into the shop and just laugh or say something silly.  So I’d be in the parts room and I would hear the “ding” in the shop followed by him laughing!  He did a spot on Archie Bunker impression, too!  We had a lot of laughs while I was there.

Dave remains a good friend.  He often offered up an ear when I was dealing with stuff at home.  He always had some great advice.  He also was instrumental in clearing up some issues I was having with some things of a religious nature.  I can never thank him enough for his counsel on those things!

As I think about it, I was very lucky to work here.  They were very understanding of my schedule, even if it meant more work for everyone else.  As a band kid, we had football games, concerts, after school rehearsals, band festivals, and so many other things.  I would often go right after school to work and on a normal day worked 3p-6p (they closed at 6).  Some days I would only be able to go in and work a couple hours.  Many times, I would only be there long enough to put in the orders for the day because I had band rehearsals.  I know that Bob probably hated the fact that I was there sporadically.

Summer time I was there more.  We used to run over to the Dairy Freeze for burgers for lunch.  I’d work full days until the week of Band Camp.  Summers were busy at the boat place!  There would be a steady stream of customers at the window needing parts.  The radio played all day while I worked.  The two things I remember ordering the most were (1) these little blue O-rings that everyone seemed to need and (2) propellers.

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I am sure they are more expensive now, but I remember these things being about $120 for aluminum props.  I remember having to know what “pitch” they were, too.  The stainless steel props were like $300 if I remember right.  We also sent props out to be reconditioned.  Usually they’d bring it in with some big chunk taken out of it because they hit a sand bar or a log or something.  Sometimes they could fix it, other times they couldn’t.

When winter rolled around, we did a lot of winterizations of motors and shrink wrapping of boats.  That’s the crappy thing about Michigan, you can really only use your boat about 3-4 months out of the year.  I want to say by October or November, they would run on a skeleton crew.  Hours were cut because we just weren’t busy.  After all the winterizing was done, I had to do inventory.  I HATED inventory.  You had to go into every box and count everything to make sure that the inventory was correct.

It was during this slow time that I paid more attention to the radio.  Paul Christy and the Christy Critters were on WKSG Kiss-FM in the morning.  I would get to work at 9am and hear their last hour.  At 10am, Jim McKenzie came on.  I listened to him every day.  I always tried to guess his “Slow Motion Stumper” (a song intro that he slowed down a lot).  One day I actually won – movie tickets to see the movie “Can’s By Me Love” which starred a VERY young Patrick Dempsey!!

The more I listened to Jim, I always felt like he was having fun.  He was great talking with listeners.  He always had great topics to talk about.  He had loads of trivia stuff that would say about the songs he played.  This guy was getting paid to do something FUN, while I was counting friggin’ O-rings and impellers! It was during the summer of 1987 that the idea of working in radio first entered my head….all because of Jim McKenzie and Kiss-FM.

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It’s funny how that first job eventually led me to my radio career.  I started as an intern and eventually got the overnight show.

I still hear from Dave regularly on Facebook.  Dennis and I are still friends, too.  I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to work at Suburban Marine.  I had hoped to find a copy of their logo, which was kind of a boat steering wheel like this:

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I can’t remember how many years I worked at Suburban, but it was probably like 2-3 years.  I remember while I was in school, I also started doing work as a stage technician (running lights and sound), and was working at Kiss-FM as an intern every morning before school late in my senior year.

If I had actually gone out to look for a job as a 16 year old, I know I would have never looked at a boat place.  I probably would have ended up at some fast food place or something.  It was a good job where I learned a lot.  It also gave me plenty of time to work on homework, study, practice my trumpet, or go out toilet papering houses at night.

Now that I think about it … I wonder why no one from work ever took me fishing?! I must have been a real pain in the ass……

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Tune Tuesday – Pilot of the Airwaves

In honor of today being National Radio Day, and as a former full time radio DJ, today’s tune was VERY easy to pick.

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Charlie Dore is a singer songwriter from England, who reached the Top 20 with this song in 1979.  I was about a decade away from my start in radio when this song came out.  When I started working at WKSG, Kiss-FM in Detroit, we were “all request.”  I did the overnight show and many people called to hear their favorite songs.  I remember one listener in particular (her name was Heather) who used to request this one all the time.

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What I love about this song is that it shows what all DJ’s hope to accomplish – bonding with our listeners!  We hope that when you listen, you feel like you are hanging out with a friend.  That’s what made me want to get into radio, really.  I listened to Jim McKenzie all the time when I was working in the Parts Department at Suburban Marine.  Jim always seemed like a friend.  He had a friendly voice, told stories, was nice to his listeners, and funny.  While I worked, I was hanging out with my friend.

This was a common theme with my favorite DJ’s.  They were story tellers.  They were friends.  They included me in the stuff they were talking about.  I laughed with them.  They did radio, as my mentor Jay Trachman would say, “one to one.”  So many great DJ’s:  Paul Christy, Jim McKenzie, John Bailey, Gail McKnight, Johnny Molson, Richard D., Boogie Brian, Ted “the Bear” Richards, Ron T., Jon Ray, Kris King, Tim Roberts, Brian Cleary, Dan Richards, Jim Biggins, and SO many more!  The list of people who I worked with and admire is a long one!  They were all “Pilots” of the airwaves!!

Happy National Radio Day to all my radio friends!!

Pilot of the Airwaves

[Chorus:]
Pilot of the airwaves
Here is my request
You don’t have to play it
But I hope you’ll do your best
I’ve been listening to your show
On the radio
And you seem like a friend to me

Or a record of your choice
I don’t mind, I’d be happy just to hear your voice
Saying this is for the girl
Who didn’t sign her name
Yes, she needs a dedication just the same

[Bridge:]
Late at night I’m still listening
Don’t waste my time chasing sleep
People say I look weary
But that’s just the company I keep
Ooooh, you make the nighttime race
Ooooh, I don’t need to see your face
You’re sounding good (Sounding good)
Sounding good to me

[Chorus]

[Bridge]

You’re sounding so good to me

[Chorus]

Oh, I’ve been listening to your show on the radio
And you seem like a friend to me

[Chorus]

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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)

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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.

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…..

“World Radio Day” Thank You

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I guess it never ceases to amaze me that there is pretty much a day for everything.  While everyone knows that it is “Fat Tuesday” (the day to eat those huge overstuffed donuts), I was reminded that today is World Radio Day.  I was thinking about one of my deceased radio colleagues last night as I watched a movie and was going to blog about him today.  In thinking a bit more on this, I figured “Why not give props to those who played a significant role in my former full time career?”

WKSG

Jim McKenzie: I guess I start with Jimmy – after all, he is the reason I decided to get into radio in the first place.  I spent many hours working in a boat marina as a 17 year old kid.  Music on the radio, the contesting on the radio, and the radio personalities are what helped me pass the time on both busy and slow days.

Jim did the midday show and he always sounded like he was talking to you as a friend.  He was loaded with music facts and stories.  I never felt like I had his talent, but I certainly felt with the proper direction, I could do what he did.

Paul Christy:  He was the program director and morning show host.  He is the man responsible for giving me a chance – and ultimately my big break.  I started off interning (yes, working for nothing) while I was in high school.  I worked in the news room and then eventually helped out with the morning show.  Eventually, Paul had me run his Saturday morning show – a show which was recorded on reel to reel on Fridays (kinda like today’s voice tracking).  I would interject the live weather report, sports information, and lottery numbers.

Paul was in a pinch one night and asked me to do the overnight show.  I was scared to death.  I told him I hadn’t done a whole who before and asked for direction.  Bluntly, Paul said, “Don’t worry about it.  Answer the phones.  Play the songs.  Be yourself and have fun!”  That was it.  I must have done ok, because they ended up letting the overnight guy go and I was asked to fill in “until further notice”, which ended up being a good year or two before big changes came to the station.

Johnny Molson: John did the evening shift when I got to Kiss-FM.  He was funny.  He could ad-lib.  He was one of the most creative writers I have ever known.  He knew how to use radio to create the “Theater of the mind”.  He was instrumental in my learning to think out of the box, engaging the listener with words and sounds, and how to use a good “drop” (more on this later).

In the 30’s and 40’s, The Golden Age of Radio was full of shows that allowed listeners to use their imaginations.  They pictured what Amos and Andy, The Lone Ranger, and Superman looked like.  Each person imagine what Jack Benny’s old Maxwell car looked like and what fell out of Fibber McGee’s closet because of the use of “sound effects”.  John knew how to incorporate things like this into his show.  One example I will never forget is when he would “hit” one of our staff members on the head with something.  Chaz was often the target.  John would simply throw something at a cookie sheet hung on the wall, which made it sound like he was being hit.

Today, John remains a good friend who is working in the creative services department of his current station.  He produces some of the most creative and powerful commercials and gets results for the sponsors.  Our friendship is one that has lasted nearly 30 years.

WHND – Honey Radio

Before I say any more, let me say that working at WHND was not work at all.  It was like play.  We had so much fun.  Anyone who tuned in and listened to this station could tell that the DJ’s were having as much fun as the listeners.  Honey was the first “Oldies” station in America.  I was honored to work here and honored to work with everyone here.

Richard D. Haase: Richard D. remains to this day one of the guys who offered me some of the most amazing advice.  I was probably a big pain in his ass.  I was always asking him something.  I had this want and need to be better.  I wanted to be the best.  I was forever asking him to listen to my show tapes and offer criticism and advice, which he did always.

One of the things I learned from him, was the importance of talking to one person.  To create the illusion that it is just me and you listening to our favorite songs and hanging out together.  I understood what he meant, and began to drop phrases like “everyone”, “all of you”, and “out there”.  He also connected me with a mentor who would take that premise and continue to grow into a better personality, the late Jay Trachman.

Richard’s show was full of “benchmarks”.  Poor Richard D’s Almanac (This Day In History), The Off The Wall Record (a rare song that he played each day), and “The Top 12 at 12” (His countdown of the top 12 local songs from a specific year).  He also featured many characters on the show that were sometimes referred to and never heard (another gimmick of old time radio).

His show was also filled with insanely bad jokes.  I often kidded him that even Milton Berle (who was known for stealing others jokes) wouldn’t touch his stuff.    He often poked fun of the other DJ’s on the station, which I found to be a unique way of cross promotion.

There were many days that we’d sit in his office and talk about radio, computers, and life in general and we’d laugh until tears rolled down our faces and our sides hurt.  Richard was a legend who had been on the air for many years, a far cry from being young!  Yet, when we worked together, we were like a bunch of elementary kids laughing and hooping it up.

Rob Main: This is the guy who I mentioned as the beginning of this blog.  Rob was a guy who used to work with Bill Stewart, Ron Tavernit, and Jon Ray doing the morning show.  He was a master of voices.  He did, in my honest opinion, the best Elvis “speaking” voice of anyone I have every heard.  He also did a spot on Charles Bronson and Mohammad Ali.  What was great about him was that he also did other original voices, which became characters on the show as well.

Shortly before Honey Radio left the airwaves, Richard gave us the opportunity to work together on the air so that we could create a good demo tape for a morning show.  Those final weeks were some of the best memories I have in the business.  While there was always a “roadmap” of what we wanted to do….he would often break in as a character and I would just follow along for the ride.  It was some of the most insane moments of radio ever.

He was SO good, that he would often talk to himself as two or three different characters!  I was often the referee who had to come in and break up the squabble that the characters were having!  We were two guys in the studio – but if you listened, you’d swear that there were 10-15 guys!  It was amazing.

Rob was the one who took “drops” one step further.  No show had a shortage of them.  A drop is a clip from a movie or TV show that is played mid-conversation, in a sweeper, or as a way of trying to crack up the other person.  He had stacks of drops.  Many from popular movies like Shane, Robin Hood, The Wild One and others.  Some of the drops were from other sources.   Today, I can watch a serious movie and if a “drop” line comes up, I will start laughing because of an instance when it was used on the show.

Health issues led to an early death for my friend and I miss him a lot.  I can hear him laughing with me though, whenever I hear a “drop” from Van Helfin, Alan Ladd, or Jeff Chandler.

WWWW (W4 Country)

Tim Roberts: There is a reason that Tim is one of the most respected men in Country Radio – because he is one of the best programmers in the country and he knows his stuff!  Tim helped me to understand the importance of preparation.  I can still recall the “Bit Prep Sheet” that he gave me.  I remember him stressing to always have a “Feel Good” or a “heart” story to talk about.  His direction expanded on the things I had learned about editing and creating a bit.

I was only a part time air personality for Tim.  Yet, he coached me as if I were a full time talent.  He respected my thoughts, and often asked me to think a bit more broadly.  Create.  Edit.  Make it better.  He got me to think about things that I could bring to the show that I may not ever have thought about.  He helped me hone my delivery.

There is a reason Tim, and so many of the talented people who work under him have won awards – THEY DESERVE IT!

WFBE (B95)

Brian Cleary:  I’ll never forget my first coaching session with Brian.  We submitted a show to him a week before.  He wrote a critique and suggestions that were discussed at the actual session.  I remember her handed me a piece of paper that had one of my bits typed out word for word.  It was long.  He even typed out the “uhs” and “ums”.  He then asked if I had planned the break ahead of time.  I said I had.  He asked if I wrote it out, I said no – I had an outline.  He then handed me a piece of paper with that same bit written out with red lines through various sentences, “uhs” and “ums” crossed out, etc.  It was like getting a rough draft of a paper back from your English Teacher.

I remember thinking “Dude, you have way too much time on your hands”.  However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized that it was a lesson in time.  “Don’t waste your listener’s time” was what he told me.  “Know what you are going to say”, “Know how the bit will end”, “Edit.  Edit. Edit.”  He was building on things that I really already knew, BUT he took it to a whole new level.

I remember after the first day we did our radiothon for St. Jude, he pulled me aside and told me “I’m so used to hearing the jokey Keith on the air, I wasn’t sure what to expect today.  However, you did an amazing job and you really know how to get the importance of what we are doing to the listener”.  I’ll never forget that.

WCEN (The Moose)

Joby Phillips: Whenever a new program director comes into the building, everyone freaks out.  You never know what the plans are.  It is not uncommon for the PD to come in and fire everyone and bring in their own people.  Joby came in and taught me a lesson that I took with me as I went into management.  “You are all here to do a job.  I trust that you can do it.  If I think we need to correct something or address something, I will.  Do what you do best”.

In today’s society, we see micromanaging in almost every occupation.  I truly admired Joby for this attitude.  When I programmed my station, I had good DJ’s who knew what they were doing.  I let them do their job.  If there was an issue – it was addressed.  Other wise, I left them alone.

In critiquing, both Joby and Brian always started out by pointing out your strengths or something good about the show they were going over with you.  Then you went on to work on the thing that needed improvement.  Positive reinforcement.  Discipline when you have to and praise often.

A few others

Jay Trachman: What an amazing guy.  He was the authority on One to One communication.  His weekly tips were always something I took to heart and brought into the studio.  He helped many personalities and sadly passed away before I could get him to do a critique session with me.

Jaye Albright: One of the reasons I loved working with Jaye, is that she believed much of what Jay Trachman believed.  Her coaching sessions when I first began at WFBE were loaded with information.

Joel Raab: Joel is right up their with Tim Roberts.  He knows country music.  He knows the audience.  He is respected in the business and is a class act.  As a Music Director, I often found our weekly music calls frustrating.  Music can be a passion.  When you hear something that you think is amazing, its important to remember that not everyone feels the same way.  Joel always was on the side of caution.  He looked a music a bit different and it helped me to really think about songs more objectively.

Brian Wright: Brian was the last real consultant/coach I was able to work with before going in to the management end of the business.  Brian’s laid back demeanor and wise observations and suggestions were of great help to me as I began to critique my own staff.

….in closing:

I have met some of the most amazing people throughout my radio career.  I have had the chance to work with some of the best.  Maybe we worked together, but didn’t mention you in this blog.  Please do not be offended.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have worked so many talented people.  Maybe you worked in Sales, maybe you worked in Production, or maybe you were a member of the on air staff with me. Maybe you are someone who started as a listener, and are now a friend.  If radio was the connection that brought us together – I am truly thankful for it…and you.

I miss doing radio full time, but I still enjoy the time I get to do it once a week.

Happy World Radio Day!