Picking a Partner

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a radio buddy who is now out-of-state. He was surfing around the internet and came across an article written by one of my radio mentors, Jay Trachman. It is probably a huge coincidence that just a few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about him, but then again, sometimes the stars line up … as you will soon see. The article was one that Jay had written based on an email I sent him. Let me set this up for you.

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In 2007, I was hired for a second stint at B-95. This time I was coming back to do mornings. Upon arriving, I worked with the amazing and talented Jeff Kelly, who always had me in stitches. The program director, Coyote Collins, pulled me into the office one morning and said that we were going to do a contest. The contest was going to let some non-radio person be my co-host for a year.

As a radio guy, I really had some deep concerns about this. How do you bring someone in who has never done this before and expect them to “get it”? I was scared to death. I was doing full-time, making decent money, and this whole thing could literally leave me without a job! It made me very nervous.

I found out that we were going to run auditions at the local mall. People were going to come in, come up on stage, we’d ask them some questions, jot notes and rate them and narrow the field down to like the top 20 people. From that point, we had those people come in and record a “Hi I am contestant # ___ in the Bee a Radio Star Contest. Vote for me” greeting. Those ran throughout the weekend and then the field was narrowed again. The top contestants came in and had pictures taken and they went up on the website with “Why you should vote for me” audio. Once we had our top 5 contestants, they each came in and did a show with me. Five contestants – five days – five shows. Then the audience got to vote for who they felt should be my co-host.

Back to the article – I asked Jay what kinds of questions he thought I should ask. I asked him what things I should be judging the contestants on. The article was his response. As I sat I read this 12-year-old article, and saw Jay’s suggestions, it made me smile. At that point, we didn’t even know if any one would show up to the auditions! The fact that people did was awesome. In hindsight, looking back at the article and his suggestions and knowing who eventually got the gig, the winner was the absolute PERFECT co-host.

The Auditions

There were more females than males who auditioned for the position. One by one people walked up to the stage and the panel of judges asked questions. I remember getting in trouble because I was asking questions that you really couldn’t ask in a job interview (about family, marital status, etc). “You can’t ask that,” I was told. I replied, “Well, I need to know if the candidate is going to have life content to bring to the show.”

Stephanie

While many of the people auditioning were a little shy when they got to the microphone on stage, Stephanie grabbed it and showed no fear. I remember she was asked to tell us about herself. She mentioned that she was married with a house full of kids! I remember thinking that there would have to be many great stories to share there (I was right). Steph recently reminded me of the question I asked her and her answer. I asked her who her favorite country singer was and she said George Strait. I asked her why and she said something about him “rocking a pair of Wrangler jeans”. Pure Steph! I don’t remember much more about the rest of her audition, but I know she stood out.

There were some really great people who auditioned. Steph told me that she almost didn’t go through with the audition. I guess there was a young red-headed gal who auditioned and Steph was like “I’m voting for her!” She called her husband, Thom, and said she wasn’t going to do it and he told her to follow through – THANKS THOM! Long story short (so I can share some funny Steph stories) – She won.

The Bee Morning Buzz With Keith and Steph

We always prepped a show. We had some sort of idea of what we were going to do on the air every day. We almost always knew the day before a few of the things we were going to talk about. If I am being honest, most of that stuff was NOT our best stuff! Much of the “greatest hits” material came from unexpected moments, bloopers, and ad-libs.

Before I move on, I have to give major credit and kudos to Hal Maas. He was our news guy. He was also on the morning show at WHNN. Since we both did news at the top and bottom of the hour, we recorded Hal from Saginaw at quarter after and quarter to the hours. When it was time for Hal, we’d record while music or commercials played on the air. Sometimes we knew we wanted to ask him about stuff we were going to do later, most of the time we’d just start rolling tape and some of the passing conversations made it on air. Hal is a MASTER. Hands down, he is the best damn newsman I have ever worked with. He could set you up for a line, or have the best line of the bit. While our show would have been funny without him, it was hilarious with him. He was an equal part in the success of the show!

Hal often ended his newscast with what we call a “Kicker” story. It’s those funny little stories about crazy people like the woman who recently was drinking wine from the Pringles can in Walmart on her scooter. We never knew what the story was going to be, so many of the comments made were on the spot or ad-libs. Sometimes they were funny, sometimes they fell flat. A lot of these stories and punchlines were featured weekly on our “best of” shows.

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Favorite Bits

Let me say here that we were probably very lucky that we recorded these newcasts before they aired. You see, Steph sometimes forgot that some things (while they were very funny) were inappropriate for our “family friendly” show. Many kicker stories were followed by a Steph comment with some sort of innuendo to which I was forever saying “No! No! Not on this show!” “Absolutely not!” “Are you crazy?! I need this job” and so on and so forth…..Off air, we had some big laughs. Here’s an example:

Right around the time of the Kentucky Derby, there were many stories about a horse named “Big Brown.” He was on pace to be a Triple Crown winner and it seemed like he was talked about for weeks. Right around the same time, Barbara Walters had admitted to having an affair with African-American Senator Edward Brooke. After Hal read that story Steph said, “Well, I guess, he was her Big Brown!” I can’t even begin to tell you how glad I was that we were not live!! I pictured hundreds of complaint letters rolling in and me in the unemployment line!!

A line that DID make it on the air had me waiting for the complaint letters: Steph was telling me about how her and Thom were watching this little squirrel who was outside their window tossing acorns onto their trampoline. She kept saying how it was the funniest thing and they couldn’t stop watching him. Then she says, “You should have seen him bouncing his nuts off the trampoline!” How we weren’t called into the boss’s office, I will never know!!

I was often the butt of jokes from Steph and Hal. One time we were talking about elementary school pictures. I mentioned that kids in grade school always have pictures with teeth missing. I told them about my 2nd grade picture which I had three or four teeth missing. Steph had the best ad-lib, “Let’s get the visual, Hal. That’s back when Keith had hair and no teeth, now he has teeth and no hair!” That was ALL her! It still remains one of my favorite lines!

With all of her kids, she was often on the phone with them as they got ready for school and such. Sometimes I would be giving her the “eye” that said, “the song is ending – we need to talk here” so she would get off the phone. One day, I heard something seconds before we had to go on the air and it cracked me up. Naturally, I had to point out on the air that “Steph just said to he kid – ‘don’t forget to wear pants today’!”

One day, Steph and Hal did something that comedy legend Jack Benny would often do – there would be a joke early in the show and as his show went on, that joke or a variation of it would show up later to bigger laughs. I don’t really recall what we were talking about, but Steph called me a “bald-headed freak” going into a newscast. Hal did all his stories, does his kicker story about a groom who baked an engagement ring in a cake for his fiance (who swallowed the ring). Steph says something about it being ‘karat” cake, and as I went to say how bad a punchline that was, Hal chimes in and says, “Karat cake – did you get that you bald-headed freak?!” to which I was left rolling on the floor in laughter!

Another great bit (well, we thought it was) was about Sarah Jessica Parker. One of the radio personalities that I exchanged bit ideas with shared a website (www.sarahjessicaparkerlookslikeahorse.com) which shows Sarah Jessica Parker’s face next to horses that look like they are in a similar pose. For whatever reason, this website kept coming up in conversation. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup that year, and we were talking about how each team member got to take the cup for a day. The bit we did asked what listeners would do if they had the Cup for a day or what celebrities would do with it. Hal, without skipping a beat said that SJP would “eat her oats out of it”!

One of my favorite bits started with an argument. Steph asked for a sheet of paper, so I grabbed one off the printer in the studio. Whether someone had sneezed on it, or someone got some food on it, something had hardened on the edge of the paper. She literally asked me “Why do you have to give me the one with the booger on it?” I told her I didn’t do it on purpose and that I had grabbed it off the printer. She told me how gross it was and that I was sick for putting “boogers on the paper.” Hal jumps in and says, “That actually has the makings of a great country song.” and I started singing “Our love’s like boogers on the paper … but it’s snot” which led to hilarious laughter. Another great ad-lib.

Speaking of boogers. We got into a discussion one morning about raisins. I don’t recall why. I told her that I couldn’t eat raisins made from green grapes. She asked me why and I told her that they looked like boogers. I even call them Booger Raisins! I am sure we had some sort of phone bit with the topic and listeners were calling about it or foods they couldn’t eat. I remember we were sitting in our boss’s office and he commented how “Maybe the topic of boogers wasn’t such a good thing to discuss while people were eating breakfast. But I thought it was funny as hell!”

One of the great tricks I played on Steph came from a kicker story from Hal. The story was about someone who got struck by lightning twice. Steph said “Lightning doesn’t strike three times in the same place” and Hal said, “No that’s knock three times on the ceiling if you want me” (a hit for Tony Orlando and Dawn) which led to a long discussion on our COUNTRY station about this 70’s song. I waited for Steph to leave the studio and quickly found the hook from “Knock Three Times” and had it ready on our audio player. I waited for her to read the sponsorship for the traffic or weather (I don’t remember) and as soon as she started to read it – I played the hook from that song. She couldn’t hold it together. I faded it out. Waited for her to gain her composure and as soon as she started reading it again, played the hook again! I did this off and on a few times because it just made me laugh.

One thing that I will forever associate with Steph, and she can probably remember how this topic came up (because I can’t), was a character from a Flintstones spin-off. On Saturday mornings, there was a Pebbles and Bam Bam show which features the kids from the Flintstones as teenagers. There was a character who always moped around and had a cloud over his head that was raining. His name was Shleprock. She probably called me that once, I don’t know, but whenever I see that character – I think of her.

The station partnered with a bowling alley to do a bowling league. We invited listeners to come out and bowl with us once a week. We had bowling shirts printed up and many of our listeners came out and joined the league. Steph’s bowling was always the talk of the show the next day! She would throw the ball down the lane and dance and swing her arms and try to “control” the ball and where it was going. It was hilarious! I’m not sure who had more fun, the listeners or us!

We worked together for two years. We had three bosses. Two that “got us” and liked what we did on the air, and one that may not have. I can’t be sure. We were told that they wanted to save money and they brought in a semi-syndicated live show which was based in Grand Rapids and Flint. Our positions and salaries were eliminated.

Perfectly Aligned

The words “Steph – B95” have been on the pad of paper where I write ideas for future blogs for some time. I knew there were stories to share – I wasn’t sure how to present them. For example, I think the fact that she called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays the “Tampa Day Bevil Rays” is hilarious! Oh, I suppose one day, I’ll have to tell you the story about the “Hoover Maneuver”!!

At any rate, just like the “stars aligned” to set me up to write this blog, they also aligned to make her the winner of the contest and my co-host. I couldn’t be happier for that. She brought so much realness to the show. She was funny. She was entertaining. She was genuine. She was literally our target audience!

Jay told me to consider the following things in a co-host:

* Do they have something to say?
* Do they have a colorful way of expressing themselves?
* Are they reasonably comfortable with who they are?
* Are they emotionally varied?
* Do they like their lives?
* Do they respond to things you say?

He then said, “Get them to talk, and listen to how it feels. If they’re expressive and varied, and they make you respond to them, then you’ve got a decent chance of success.”

She was PERFECT!

After B-95

You would think that when we got let go, we’d have gone our separate ways. I mean, we got her to leave her full-time job to work in radio – only to get fired two years later for no reason! Thankfully, we have been friends ever since! Over the years, it is not odd for one of us to call each other with some story and say, “Man, that would have been a great bit to tell on the air!” I have looked back and seen her children get married, go off to college, give birth to her grandbabies….there is no shortage of great stuff that she could share on the air.

Over the past few years, she has been a true friend and was always there to lend an ear in tough times. She was honest and supportive through my divorce and rejoiced with me when I got remarried. How cool is it that a radio contest not only gave me a co-host, but a life long friend?!

Thanks for the wonderful memories, Steph!

More Musical Memories …

The more I thought about my last two blogs, the more I realized how many memories I have that are tied to certain songs and the people in my life. My family members alone, and the music that I connect them with is an entirely separate blog! For this one, I jotted down a few songs and the friends (and memories) I connect with them.

WKSG

My first program director, Paul Christy, was such a great guy to work with. I remember that when we didn’t have a song, he’d contact a couple local guys (Tom or Tom) and get it. Those songs would come to us on a reel to reel tape. He used to talk about the song Gee by The Crows on the air and he finally played it off of one of those tapes. He raved about how much he loved it. It was one of the first Doo-Wop songs. Now there were plenty of other songs that came to him on tape, but the other one that sticks out was a song that a listener always asked him for – Blame It On The Bossa Nova by Eydie Gorme. Not that I hear it often, but every once in a while on Sirius XM it plays and I think of Paul.

One of the morning show guys was Vince. Vince and I share a love for The Blues Brothers movie (because it is a masterpiece). Vince and I often cracked up behind the scenes while Paul was on the air. Besides The Blues Brothers Soundtrack, two songs make me think of him. Fats Domino’s My Blue Heaven is the first. I’m not even sure how it came about, but we both talked about how it sounded like Fats mumbled almost the entire first line of the song and then you finally could make out “My … Blue …. Heaven”. We’d often pass each other in the hall mumbling that first line.

The other song is Leap Frog by Les Brown. It was Les’s Theme song, and was used in the prom scene in the Jerry Lewis film, The Nutty Professor. In the scene, Jerry’s character is standing and listening to the music, which slowly he gets more and more into. Jerry ends up doing this ridiculous dance to the song. Vince could do that dance move for move. Damn, just the thought of it makes me laugh!

I was lucky enough to follow Johnny Molson each night after his show. Many of the songs that remind me of him are related directly to stuff that happened off air or with his listeners. Examples of this would be Miracles by Jefferson Starship and Rocket Man by Elton John. I think of Johnny, because of two listeners in particular who had … unique … ways of requesting them.

Wind Parade by Donald Byrd wasn’t even a song we played on our station, but I had to find it to hear what it sounded like. It is on my iPod today and when it comes up, I think of Johnny and our mutual friend Joe Crawley, who requested this often (no matter what the station format was). This was one of Joe’s favorite requests, but he had more: Do You See My Love by Jr. Walker and the All Stars, Julie Do You Love Me by Bobby Sherman, Got To Be There by Michael Jackson and Home Cookin’ also by Jr. Walker. All remind me of Molson. Finally a song that reminds me of classic Johnny moment is Walk Away Renee by the Left Banke (because of an on air blooper).

My friend Victor Hughes just so happens to be the guy who was the lead singer for the group The Tymes on their hit single So Much In Love. Vic s responsible for me getting to finally shake hands and meet one of my idols – Soupy Sales. Vic used to work in law enforcement in New York and often saw Soupy there. He sent his business card back stage and next think I know, I’m shaking hands with him. It was pretty cool! I still remember Vic showing me his gold record for this song.

They started as listeners, but remain life long friends today. Roxanne, Gary, and Lee all used to call and BS through the night on the request lines. Roxanne would laugh about Elvis’s Wear My Ring Around Your Neck, Gary would always ask for some surfing instrumental called Penetration by the Pyramids, and Lee would ask for Grady Martin and the Slew Foot Five!

WHND

Richard D. used to have a feature called The Off-the-Wall Record. He’d say, “To my right is a wall. On the wall is a peg. On the peg – records. When I take one of the records of the peg on the wall and play it on the air, it becomes a Tricky Dickie Off-The Wall Record”. When he did this feature it usually consisted of rare or obscure tunes. One day I gave him Stormy Weather by the Spaniels to play. He LOVED it. He told me that was one of his favorites.

He often spoke of the group the Hi-Los and told me about the “tight” harmonies that they had. He was right. Good stuff! As a fan of the big bands, I let him listen to The Spitfire Band’s version of Cherokee, which featured an AMAZING trombone part. Again, he loved it and I think of him when it plays on the iPod.

Long story short – I gave him hell one day because he played a Dean Martin song and made some comment about him. I told him that we were both Italian and I could make some calls if he bad mouths our heritage again or something stupid like that. He laughed and then went on the air and said that I had come in and thrown him around the room and trashed the studio because of what he said about Dean. He said “I had no idea Keith Allen was the President of the Dean Martin Fan Club”! After his last show on Honey Radio, a listener suggested I play a Dean Song in Richard’s honor….I chose “I Will”. The first line of the song is “I don’t wanna be the one to say I’m gonna miss you, but I will…” it fit the somber occasion.

Then there was Rob, my morning show partner in crime. The list of songs that remind me of him are plenty. Most because he sang them at Karaoke (And I Love You So – Perry Como, Delilah – Tom Jones, There Goes My Everything – Englebert Humperdinck, and My Cup Runneth Over -Ed Ames). Three stick out for other reasons. The first two stand out because of a hillbilly character he did named Red Neckman! He’s always get “giddy” when we played Ringo by Lorne Greene and Waterloo by Stonewall Jackson. The one that I can’t believe we played on the air was by actor Robert Mitchum. Rob had this song called My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms from an album that Mitchum did. It was catchy and Bob actually sounds ok singing it…..unlike some of his other songs.

Lesley Ronson and I have “hated” each other since high school. She used to call me all the time when I was at Honey and ask me to play her a song or something. Personally, I think she just liked hearing her name on the radio. One day, I hit the wrong button and played a sound effect of the Frankenstein monster moaning and screaming (which we said was Richard warming up for his show) and said it was for Lesley…..The song I wanted to play – and eventually did – was Mean Woman Blues by Roy Orbison.

WFBE

I was in a meeting with my program director Brian Cleary when the first plane hit the World Trade Center on 9/11. We were called out of the office by the morning show gal and we watched in horror as the second plane hit. To this day, when I hear Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning by Alan Jackson, I think of that morning.

On the less serious side, Brian was/is a big Simpsons fan. I have on the iPod the 45 second classic song from the Stonecutters episode “We Do”. It still is my ringtone for him on my phone.

My morning show partner from my second go around at B95 was Stephanie Carroll. Three songs stand out immediately that make me think of her. She has a very unusual infatuation with George Strait. I’m sure he has some sort of restraining order on her. Give It Away reminds me of her. One of the coolest stars we had in studio was Jeff Bates. He was a blast. Funny. Talented. Boy, he could sing! Rub It In always makes me think of Steph.

Our newsman, Hal, was doing some story about a guy who was truck by lightnight more than once and Steph responded by saying, “Lightning always strikes three times”. Hal said, “No, its Knock Three Times on the ceiling if you want me”….which led to this crazy Tony Orlando and Dawn rant. I quickly found the hook of the song and without telling her, I waited till she started to read the traffic sponsor and just started playing it…she lost it. I did this a couple more times until I finally just jumped in and finished while she laughed. One of my favorite bits and the song will forever be connected with Steph (and Hal)!