“Cleveland Rocks!”

For our anniversary, my wife and I wanted to plan a little getaway to celebrate.  Neither one of us had too much PTO in our “banks” at work, so we decided on a weekend trip.  During the planning the destinations changed frequently.  Originally, we had hoped to head back for another trip to Florida, but due to the lack of time available, we decided on something a bit closer to home.

There was talk of going to Nashville and maybe catching a show at the Grand Ole Opry.  Then there was talk of Gatlinburg, where my mom so often talked about.  I think we even chatted about Pennsylvania, too.  Eventually, we decided that Chicago was where we wanted to go, but then realized that it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and we figured it might be just a tad crazy (although seeing the river turned green would have been cool.

Cleveland??

To be honest, I am not even sure how we decided on Cleveland, Ohio.  I had mentioned that my dad had gone to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and said it was cool.  I started to look at things in Cincinnati.  There was a lot to do there, but why wasn’t the Hall of Fame coming up in any of my searches?  I knew that Cincy was close to Louisville, KY and thought that we could maybe do something there, too.  I had gone as far as to drop a radio buddy a note to say we were gonna be down there and asked for good restaurants to eat at … only to then realize the Hall of Fame was in Cleveland!

Now that we had cleared that up, we were set for Cleveland.  Now, I will be the first to admit “Cleveland,Ohio” as the answer to “Where did you and your wife spend your first wedding anniversary?” is not at all romantic.  Many people laughed when I told them.  Here is the thing about my wife and I, the destination really didn’t matter – it was simply the fact that we were going to be together.  To me, this is just one of the reasons I love her.  We can be content with just having time with each other, no matter where we are, or what we are doing.

We have made it a tradition to go to restaurants that local wherever we go.  If we can go there at home, we’ll go there at home!  By doing this, we have really been treated to some amazing food.  We always try to find a good steak house or something very unique to the city we are in and we have yet to be disappointed.

The Hall of Fame

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Personally, I think Sam loves watching me get excited about stuff like this.  We both love museums, but I must have been like a little kid on his birthday during this trip!  I had, of course, seen pictures of the Hall of Fame, but it was something else to be standing in front of it.  The big red block letters that sit upon the sidewalk read “LONG LIVE ROCK”.  As I walked up the steps, there are phoney concert speakers erected by the hand rails. The excitement builds as you walk in.

As you enter, you walk into a huge foyer/lobby.  The gift shop is to your right, to the left a cafe/coffee shop, and in front of you there is an escalator to take you down to purchase tickets.  After buying our tickets, you get ready to enter and above the doors the perfect AC/DC quote to welcome you: “For those about to rock …”

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Walking into the main exhibition hall, the first thing I noticed were pictures of John Lennon and Ray Charles on the wall.  The first thing I am drawn to is a glass case containing Bill Haley’s guitar.  Bill is often credited as being the singer of the first “rock and roll” song – Rock Around the Clock.  There is a picture of him playing it in the case as well.  I am not sure why I was so taken in by it, but I was.

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The next thing we saw was a line of bass guitars that belong to Geddy Lee of Rush.  I didn’t count , but there had to be like a dozen of them.  The information said that this was only part of his massive collection.

The Roots

One thing I was thrilled to see here was the fact that the “roots” of Rock and Roll were well represented.  Rock really evolved from a combination of Gospel, R&B, Bluegrass, Country, Folk, and Blues music. Each of those genres was represented here.  Among my favorite things I saw:  a suite belonging to Hank Williams Sr.; Louis Jordan’s music folder with his music and cue sheets; stuff from Muddy Waters, BB King, and Mahalia Jackson; Ray Charles sunglasses; Carl Perkins Guitar; salutes to Johnny Otis, Big Joe Turner, and Sam Cooke and so much more.   The roots of rock were so well represented.  Without these people and the genres of music, there would be no rock and roll.

Elvis

There is a pretty cool section devoted to Elvis, who was one of the first 10 artists inducted into the Hall of Fame.  The Hall has a standing agreement with Graceland in Memphis (which is a museum in itself) and they send memorabilia to them often, so the exhibit changes often.  There was a very cool motorcycle that was custom-built for Elvis.  His gold sequins suit is there, and a jukebox which was given to him as a gift from RCA Records – it contains only Elvis records.  Also on display was a double Gibson guitar which he played in his film Spinout.

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The Summer of Love

With the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love”, there were some very cool things here.  I saw groovy outfits from the Mama’s and the Papa’s, clothing from Jimi Hendrix, and the HUGE mixing board that was used to record some of Jimi’s music.

On thing I really liked to see was the various things that song lyrics were written on.  There were quite a few original pieces of paper where the beginnings of songs were scribbled.  There were also plenty of hotel pads of paper with lyrics on them.  Loved seeing where changes were made to lyrics.

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Cities and Sounds

I loved that there was a section of the hall that saluted cities and sounds.  There was a section devoted to Memphis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and Liverpool, Seattle, and of course, Detroit.

In the Memphis section, there were plenty of neat things from Sun Records.  Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison all recorded there.  To stand in front of Roy Orbison’s glasses and guitar was pretty awesome.  My earliest musical memories are of my dad playing Roy’s music for me.

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A nice tribute to Motown is here with stuff from Barry Gordy, The Supremes (you can see some of their dresses), Smokey Robinson, and the Temptations are all here.  They were playing the episode of To Tell The Truth with Barry Gordy as we walked through this section.

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones each have a nice section at the Hall.  I thought Mick Jagger of the Stones was taller, but standing by some of his outfits, he’s shorter than I thought.  There is the Asher family piano that Paul McCartney donated, some of John Lennon’s outfits, and the handwritten lyrics to “In My Life”.  A very cool documentary was playing in their section as well.

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I jumped ahead a bit because the next section was London and Liverpool.  There were some very neat things from the Yardbirds, Peter and Gordon, Herman’s Hermits and the Zombies too.  All in all a nice salute to the British Invasion.

San Fran featured stuff from The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, while LA featured stuff from The Eagles, Jackson Brown, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.  One cool thing here was a duffle bag full of hotel keys.  I don’t recall, but I think it said it belonged to one of the Eagles.  They basically kept the hotel key (and keychain) from every place they stayed while on tour.  The bag was stuffed full of some very cool looking keychains!

This section also had tributes to grunge music, punk music and a section called “Rave On” which focused on the “pioneers” of rock.  Those pioneers included Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly.  Soul Music was also spotlighted here with some awesome suits from James Brown, stuff from Aretha Franklin, pieces of the wreckage from Otis Redding’s plane crash, and Sam and Dave.  Featured in the soul section were two amazing things – guitars from Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve “The Colonel” Cropper.  They played on almost every Atlantic and Stax record.  They were members of Booker T and the MG’s, and also played with the Blues Brothers.  Very cool to see!!!

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Don’t worry metal heads, there was a section for Heavy Metal too. Oh, and a section for Rap, as well.

Protests

When Rock and Roll started to make waves, it wasn’t too popular with folks.  We tend to forget the hatred toward the genre, but they had plenty of newscasts about burning records, and protests that happened.  It was weird to watch the hatred toward the Beatles and read hate mail to the Rolling Stones.  Other artists that were discussed in this section were Frank Zappa and ELO.

On the Radio

As a radio guy, it was cool to be able to walk up to an interactive touch screen and select a region of the US and then listen to old airchecks of DJ’s from different eras.  Naturally, I had to listen to some of the Detroit personalities:  Dick Purtain, Robin Seymour, and The Electrifying Mojo!  There were plenty of familiar names from all over the states and it was nice to get to listen to their stuff too.

The Power of Rock

On the third level, there was a wall with each “class” inducted into the Hall of Fame by year.  You could also go to a touch screen and search by class, by year, or by artist, and listen to their music.  SO many great songs!!!

The Power of Rock is a short film by Jonathan Demme which features many performances from past Hall of Fame inductions.  So many stars and so many great songs were in this film.  The theater had a light show and great sound for the film and it was almost like you were watching a concert live.  The film ends with Prince’s guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps – WOW!  Forgot how amazing that was!  They also had some of the great quotes on the walls of the hallway that you left the theater by.  Prince’s outfit from that show and other outfits were there as well.

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Rock on TV

It was also very cool to see some of the TV show memorabilia on this level.  You could go and record something about your favorite singer or album in special booths.  It was pretty cool to stand in front of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand podium!  His microphone was in a glass case with other things like the set design for the Beatles appearance on Ed Sullivan.  They had TV cameras there, Don Cornelius’ suit from Soul Train, outfits from the Jackson Five and Sonny & Cher and the coat worn by Davy Jones of the Monkees that he wore on The Brady Bunch.  There was also some cool musically related stuff from Saturday Night Live, and from various music videos we all watched on MTV.  It was neat to see Paul Shaffer’s keyboard that he played for so many years on the Late Show with David Letterman.

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On the Radio – LIVE

One thing I didn’t realize was that Sirius XM broadcasts their “Classic Vinyl” station out of the Hall of Fame.  Rachel Steele was on air when we went through.  There is a glass window that allows you to look into the studio and watch them broadcast.  I actually felt bad for her.  One thing radio people like is the fact that they can go in to work without really worrying about what to wear, because….who is going to see you!?  Whoever is on the air here, really has to “doll up” every day.

Over all, I loved every second of my visit here!  Any music lover would enjoy themselves!!  If you have never been …. you have to!

Christmas in March

The final stop on the trip was The Christmas Story House.  It is the house featured in the holiday classic.  They renamed the street “Cleveland Street” in honor of the movie.  The Leg Lamp proudly sits in the front window and the Bumpass House is next door.

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This is such an inexpensive treat!  The house looks a little different on the inside, but they have restored much of it to be exactly like it looks in the film, which took a bit because there were a few owners since the movie.

We were allowed to take as many pictures as we liked.  There was a guide who took us through the house and told some stories.  You can see the bathroom where Ralphie solves Little Orphan Annie’s secret message, you can see the many plugs the tree was plugged into, pick up the phone that Mrs. Parker calls Flick’s mom on, see the boy’s room, and see the damper in the kitchen that billows black smoke because of the “clinker” furnace.

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From the backyard you can see the steel mill (still in operation), which helped Jean Sheppard (the author) pick that particular house for the film.  Across the street is a museum with the actual Red Rider BB gun used in the film, outfits from the cast, Darren McGavin’s plaster life mask (used for make up and such), plenty of behind the scenes pictures, and the Old Man’s car.  The gift shop is full of great items and yes, you can purchase a pink bunny suit or a leg lamp (in various sizes).

Sam told me she’d buy me a bunny suit, but only if I wore it every Christmas!  Incidentally, if you have the $$, you can spend the night in the house or next door at the Bumpass house.

The trip was short, but full of good memories.  I love that we were able to do it and I love that we got to spend time with each other. It was the perfect anniversary trip.

Cleveland, does indeed, ROCK!

 

 

 

Some old radio stories…Part 1

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

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

WKSG

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

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

WMXD

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

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

WHND

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

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

WWWW

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

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

So many stories….so little time….

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