Looking back 25 years – WHND

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Monday, November 21, 1994.  6:00 AM.

My partner Rob Main and I walked into the studio of WHND to begin what would be the last week of live broadcasts from Honey Radio.  We had heard the news weeks prior to this that the radio station was going off the air in favor of Spanish programming.  When the station was not broadcasting from our studios, we were airing satellite programming from the Cool Gold Network, which was no longer going to providing services. Honey was no longer financially viable.

At the time, Honey Radio was the oldest Oldies station in the country.  While there were stations that played oldies in the Detroit market, none were focusing exclusively on the “first decade of rock and roll”.  We primarily focused on the songs that were hits from 1955-1965, while occasionally playing some of those earlier songs from the 1950’s, too.  I think that was one of the reasons I loved working at this station so much.  When you think of the music from that decade it included rockabilly, doo wop, surf music, Motown, British Invasion music, songs from the “Brill Building”, and early soul and R&B.

We not only played the hits from this decade, but we also played songs that were local hits from local artists that were not being played anywhere else! We played music from Nolan Strong, The Dynamics, Gino Washington, Jack Scott, and so many other local acts. We did a daily show (The Top 12 at 12), which focused on a different year of the decade and counted down the Top 12 songs in Detroit from that particular day.  We always used a local chart to count down the hits.  Those charts could be from The Detroit News, WJBK, WKNR, WXYZ, or other charts.  It was unique to our station!

Today’s radio is what many refer to as “liner card radio”.  The DJ’s on the air rarely have any content and read things from cards in the studio (usually promoting station events, station appearances, or sponsor information).  The most entertaining DJ’s are usually the morning show hosts, but even they are overloaded with sponsor reads and liners.  One of my radio mentors, Jay Trachman, used to say “People say that DJ’s talk too much.  This isn’t true.  The truth is that DJ’s tend to waste their listener’s time by not having anything to say. They don’t have any REAL content to share.” This is where Honey was different.

Honey Radio DJs were “personalities” – each unique.  Boogie Brian was the “Bard of Lincoln Park” and often spoke in Rhyme.  Richard D. was the “Silly DJ from Savage Minnesota” who now lived on Lack Of Drive in Warren with his wife Oldielocks and kids Doo Wop and Bee Bop.  Other personalities included Bill Stewart, Ron T., Greg Russell, Dr. Bob, “Young” Jon Ray, Scottie OJay, Rob (and every one of his characters), and me. Each of us had our “features”.  Scottie hosted the “Soul Patrol” show, Richard had the “Off the Wall Record” and “Poor Richard D’s Almanac”, Boogie had “Cruise Casts” and Boogie’s Forgotten Favorites”, and  the list goes on and on.  There was always something fun and unique happening on Honey.

Another thing I loved about Honey was the jingles.  Our jingles were PAMS jingles.  They were many of the same tracks/jingles that were used by local radio stations all across the country during the 60’s.  They were just re-sung with our call letters.  These jingles were just awesome!  Today, you can hear many of these same jingles on Sirius XM’s 50’s on 5 and 60’s on 6. I am lucky to have many of these jingles that were taken from the master tapes on CD in my collection.

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With Honey going off the air, many of us would be out of a job.  Rob and I had been working together off and on whenever I was on air for a while.  After Honey went off the air, we hoped to find a job doing mornings somewhere.  In order to do this, we needed some more “tape” of us together.  Richard D gave us permission to go on the air instead of the satellite show in the morning that final week.  We had free reign to “play around” and have fun on the air.  At the same time, we’d be getting hours of material that we could potentially use to try to get a show somewhere.

25 years ago today, Rob and I hit the studio with a few ideas, many voices, many characters, some great music, and had the best week of our career!  It was Thanksgiving week.  Music was scheduled for Monday-Wednesday and Friday.  Thursday we were supposed to air satellite programming.  Instead, we were on for 6 hours that Thanksgiving and played songs with a different theme each hour (Number songs, Songs with girls names or guys names, Instrumentals, Songs with body parts in the title, etc…)  Originally, those shows were recorded to cassette tapes.  Those tapes were called “Skimmers”.  The tape recorded only when the microphone was turned on.  Some time ago, I took those tapes and recorded them digitally and transferred them to CD.  I still pop them into my car and listen to that final week whenever I need a laugh.  I am guessing, I will need to pull them out to honor the 25th anniversary of Honey’s end.

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The only CD I have a difficult time listening to is the last show, from November 25, 1994.  It was the last day of live broadcasting.  We had friends visit us in the studio (South Bronx Johnny, Helen & Beverly, my dad, and others).  The calls we got from listeners that day were very emotional.  They made us feel so loved.  The last break of our show, Boogie’s wife had recorded a message for him that we played right before he went on the air.  He did the final four hours of live programming.  He had prerecorded a sign off that lasted about 15 minutes with his personal reflections on the station, the staff, the listeners, and the end.  I remember Rob, his girlfriend Mary, and I all listening to this and just sobbing. Boogie expressed what everyone was feeling and it was the perfect ending to an amazing station.

It is hard to believe that it has been 25 years since that last broadcast.  When I look back, I can’t believe I was lucky enough to work with those legends!  I can’t believe I was lucky enough to be a part of such an amazing station.  I had only been in radio about 6 years when I started at Honey, and I learned SO much from watching and talking to Boogie and Richard!  What an honor to have had them as coaches, mentors, and friends.

The one thing that I will always remember about working at Honey – is the laughter.  There was always laughter whether you were in or out of the studio.  There was laughter whether you were on air or off air.  I always seemed to leave the building with my cheeks hurting from smiling and my sides hurting from laughter.  Today, I can pop those shows in (or some of the Richard D shows I have on tape), and still laugh!

25 years later, Honey is no more.  That makes me sad, because the world could sure use some laughter!

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Tune Tuesday – Don’t Let Go

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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.

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

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

So many stories….so little time….

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

My Biggest Musical Influence – Dad

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Over the years I have been influenced musically by many people, but I would have to say that it is my father who has had the biggest influence. This blog is sort of a continuation of the “series” I have been doing based on “songs from my iPod”.

My dad introduced me to almost every genre of music. My love for oldies music comes from some of my earliest memories of songs he played. I was also introduced to classic country and country music in general by him. He played in a wedding band for years – the first being Now & Then, and the second was Foxfire. I recall him sitting in front of the stereo playing along with 45 records of songs that they were learning for gigs. I remember long nights when my brother and I had to go to “band practice” as well.

Rock and Roll music was a staple in our house, probably because it was the stuff he grew up listening to. The first song that comes to mind is Dream Baby by Roy Orbison. As a kid, I would ask, “Daddy please play ‘boom boom boom….bum bum boom'”. This was a reference to the bass notes that open the song. I loved that song. While so many other folks always connect Roy to Pretty Woman (a classic, no doubt), I remember Candy Man, In Dreams, and Crying. Roy was awesome – and dad introduced me to him.

He also introduced me to Elvis. Man, Elvis was cool! Sure, every one knows Hound Dog, All Shook Up, and the biggies….but dad played me songs like Steamroller Blues, Moody Blue, and Way Down! He had the Moody Blue album (which was on Blue Vinyl) and Elvis In Concert and I remember playing them on the stereo many times. I remember the look on my dad’s face when the news came on the radio that Elvis had died. We were at the drive in movie getting ready to watch Smokey and the Bandit, when Honey Radio announced it. Dad was shocked. We listened to Elvis music until dark and the movie started.

I have to include another person in this section about music – my Godfather, my Uncle Tom. He and my dad grew up together and their exploits can be an entirely separate blog. For now, let me talk about R&B and “local” music. When I first started working at WKSG (Kiss-FM) in Detroit, my dad asked if I could find him some songs. I told him I would look and if they were at the station, I’d throw them on tape for him. These were songs that he and my Uncle Tom grew up listening to.

As I looked over the list, I remember thinking, “What the hell are these songs? Were these even hits? Who are these people?’ The result was me getting a taste of some really amazing music. I cannot listen to any of these songs without thinking of them. This is music that was stripped down, funky, and amazing.

Mind Over Matter by Nolan Strong jumps out at first. This song is classic! Backing Nolan on this is the group the Diablos. Simple instrumentation and a powerful vocal makes this one of my favorites. This was not a song that would play on the radio much in the late 80’s, and I recall watching my uncle and my dad listening to the tape I made and loving every damn second of it. I watched them become transported back to when they were teens and jamming to these songs for the first time – it was magical!

Village of Love by Nathaniel Mayer is another one that is worth a listen just for the bass singer – it is R&B gold!. Two songs that were on his list (and now on my iPod) that were local hits that I absolutely love were by the band The Dynamics. I’m The Man and Misery are two very different songs, but they capture the sound of Motown prior to the Motown sound emerging.

A couple oldies that were on the list which we actually played in a regular rotation at WHND Honey Radio were Don’t Let Go by Roy Hamilton, You Can Have Her by Roy Hamiliton, So Fine by the Fiestas, Let’s Go Let’s Go Let’s Go by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, What In the World’s Come Over You by Jack Scott, and Agent Double O Soul by Edwin Star. I loved when these songs would come up on the play list.

Another one that would come up was the song You’re So Fine by the Falcons. Wanna talk about stripped down? This one was as simple as they come. It was recorded in a garage with probably one or two microphones. You can totally tell that they it recorded all at once on one track and it was one take. You can even hear a little guitar feedback at the end. GREAT song! I love it!

My dad was instrumental in introducing me to blues music too. One of those songs that he and my uncle asked for was Baby, What You Want Me To Do by Jimmy Reed. Wow. It is one of those songs that DEFINES the blues in my opinion. Other songs he had me listen to were Fannie Mae by Buster Brown, which we played at WHND, Baby, Scratch My Back by Slim Harpo, Shake Your Money Maker by Elmore James, and The Thrill is Gone by BB King. The blues and R&B music helped shape Rock and Roll and these songs are a must for my iPod.

I grew up in the Urban Cowboy era when country music got a lot of attention and a lot of radio airplay. I don’t know that I would say country music is my dad’s favorite genre, but he sure introduced me to some great artists and songs. He, of course was responsible for me hearing Willie Nelson & Johnny Paycheck (who are mentioned in other blogs), but he also introduced me to Hank Williams Sr. and Jr. I recall him playing the two of them singing a duet on Tear in My Beer. This was high tech at the time, they took Hank Sr’s vocal and isolated it and then Hank Jr. sang with him, It was a great song with just Hank Sr., but adding Hank Jr. was excellent.

Another song he played for me was Okie from Muskogee. The opening line is “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”…not exactly the best song for a 10 year old to hear, but I had no idea what it meant and I liked Merle Haggard’s voice. I also recall him playing Amanda by Waylon Jennings. It is probably one of my favorite Waylon songs. Such a simple ballad, but I could listen to it over and over. I also loved when he bought the soundtrack to Smokey and the Bandit II because it was the only place you could find a great song by Don Williams called To Be Your Man. Among other acts he played were the great Ronnie Milsap, George Jones, Juice Newton, and Charlie Pride.

Two country albums I remember him calling me in to hear were from Dwight Yoakam and The Kentucky Headhunters. The Headhunters album had a great cover of Oh Lonesome Me on there, but the song he played for me was Dumas Walker. It sounded fresh and almost a little rockish. I remember immediately getting this on cassette for the car. The other album was If There Was a Way from Dwight. In my opinion, this is one of his best. My favorite cut from the album was never released as a single – The Distance Between You and Me. The instrumentation is perfect and the lyric is classic – almost Brad Paisley-ish. I crank it up ALWAYS.

On the “pop” side of things, a few songs stand out, most of which because they were songs he learned and played for his wedding band gigs. The first one I think of is the Breakup Song by Greg Kihn. I remember him putting the 45 on the stereo, and playing that intro over and over. The first time I heard him play it note for note, I was blown away! I loved watching him work out licks and chords and stuff by simply listening to it on the stereo! America by Neil Diamond was another. By the time this one came out, he was in Foxfire and playing bass guitar, not lead guitar. These guys were good. Not that the other band wasn’t, I just know that they sounded amazing. Dennis, the lead singer, (and at one time my boss at my first job) NAILED his vocals. I could swear he was Neil Diamond! Every song he sang was dead on. Man, I miss that group of guys!

Probably the craziest musical incident involving my dad was when he introduced me to the music of Red Prysock. My grandmother always wanted to go to garage sales. I think my dad hated it. There was a familiar look of disgust on his face one day when she asked to go. While at one garage sale, he was going through old 45’s. His face lit up with boyish excitement as he stopped at one 45 with a black label on it. I heard him so, “I can’t believe it…” He bought the 45 and couldn’t wait to play it for me … and to be able to hear it for the first time in years. Hand Clappin’ was the song. It was a jazzy sax number that caused to you tap your toes. It was GREAT. It was like nothing I had ever heard. My dad said that DJ’s used to use it for their “theme song” back in the day. Still remains a favorite for me. Who says garage sales are bad?!

Over the years, my dad has called me over to the turntable, the cassette deck, the CD player, the mini-disc player, and his computer with the words, “Hey son, listen to this …” Very rarely was I ever disappointed. Today, I listen to almost every type of music and have always kept an open mind to genres because of dad. I am so lucky that he was such an instrumental (pun intended) part of my musical influence. Thanks, Pop!

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)!

“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!