Rest In Peace, James Lipton

I was saddened to read of the passing of James Lipton this week at age 93.  Many know him from Inside the Actor’s Studio, but he did so much more.  He was a writer and producer (working with greats like Bob Hope, and writing for many soap operas).  He was also an actor (on Guiding Light, Arrested Development) and voice actor (often playing himself on shows like the Simpsons and Family Guy).  He was also an author (he wrote the novel Mirrors, which was made into a TV movie in 1983).

He was born in Detroit and worked as a copy boy for the Detroit Times.  He actually starred on radio’s The Lone Ranger (which was broadcast out of WXYZ in Detroit) as Dan Reid, the Lone Ranger’s nephew.  He wanted to be a lawyer, but went into acting to earn money to pay for his education.

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It was with Inside the Actor’s Studio that made him a household name.  The show was a non-credit class at the Actor’s Studio Drama School where successful writers, directors, and actors were interviewed by him about their craft.  The acting students could also ask questions of the guests.  The sessions were recorded, edited, and broadcast on television for audiences to enjoy.  The show began in 1994 and continued with him as host until 2018, when he stepped down.

He was parodied by many, including Will Sasso on MadTV and David Cross on Mr. Show.  But the most memorable parody was done by Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live.  Ferrell’s portrayal was over the top and hilarious.  When asked how he liked it, Lipton said, “I love it!  I love it!  It’s flattering.”  The thing I always remember about it was the HUGE stack of blue question cards Ferrell had on the table for his guest.

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I know many people found him to be a bit creepy, but I found him fascinating.  I was always amazed at how he was able to get his guests to open up and share stuff.  He was very good at that.

Whenever we interviewed someone on the radio, we had a jar with questions.  The questions were written by staff members, listeners, and some were just made up.  We’d have them dig into the jar and answer five of them  We called it the “Final Five”.  It was far from an original idea, as James Lipton always wrapped up his interviews with a series of questions inspired by French interviewer Bernard Pivot.

In honor of his passing, here are those 10 questions.

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What turns you on?
  4. What turns you off?
  5. What sound or noise do you love?
  6. What sound or noise do you hate?
  7. What is your favorite curse word?
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  9. What profession would you not like to do?
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

Here are my answers:

  1. Ridiculous.  I am not sure that I’d call it my favorite, but I use it a lot!  I am guessing it changes from day to day.
  2. Moist.  That’s the first word that pops into my head, and I hate it!
  3. My wife. Constantly!  She is beautiful.
  4. Smoking. I was exposed to it as a kid and I find it disgusting.
  5. Birds singing on a spring or summer morning.  Love it even more when I hear it on the golf course.
  6. Children crying – it always breaks my heart.
  7. Fuck.  Not proud of this, and believe me, I am trying really hard to stop using it so much!  There are just some things that force me to say it – like my co-workers – they’ve come to expect it from me.  LOL
  8. I would love to teach.  Today’s atmosphere is a lot different from when I was in school.  I would love to teach some sort of fun subject – music or entertainment oriented.  Wishful thinking, I know.
  9. Any political job.  No matter what you do, someone disagrees with you. I’m not sure I could handle that kind of criticism or pressure.
  10. I believe heaven does exist, and I would love for God to say, “Welcome, Keith.  You’ve done well.  You were a good father, a good husband, and a good friend.  You’re mom and grandparents have been waiting for you.  They need a fourth for pinochle.”

What are YOUR answers?

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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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