April 7, 2014
By Claude Hall
Sad. We work like hell all of our lives and we get out there on the end of everything and only a few people know who we are. And maybe even fewer care. Tom Russell details it extremely well in “The Extra Mile” about meeting Mitch Ryder in a Montana motel. A Mitch who believes his time will come again. As if mere history isn’t enough of a battle, what if there are those around who specifically attempt to make sure whatever glory you may have had is taken away. Not even a crumbling pyramid in a faraway desert. A person tried to do this to Gordon McLendon, Todd Storz, and Bill Stewart a couple of years ago. Tried to rewrite Top 40 history. I fought that off. But we also have those who seek to rob everyone of their chance to fame.
The other day, I received an email from George J. Wienbarg about J. Paul Emerson. I knew J. Paul Emerson personally. A lot of people did. He had a warm personality that made you like him almost instantly. He worked in many markets. Top 40, talk, you name it. Large, small … even Carlsbad, NM, where his parents ran a small bicycle shop and where he retreated sometimes. His real name was Jim Coleman. I wrote about him in “I Love Radio,” an eBook for sale via Amazon.com/Kindle Books. I owe him his history. His myth. We all owe him his history in radio.
George J. Wienbarg: ‘I hope this finds you well! It is so wonderful to be able to write you about the above captioned matter as I have been working to have this page preserved on Wikipedia for the past several years and now apparently the Wikipedia editors are trying to take it down -- again. Would it be possible to get you to look at it and see what you might be able to do in order to preserve it? J. Paul Emerson was important in radio because of his People News Format which he invented at KIMN and for which we won the NAB Station of the Year award in 1973, which techniques, later made use if in general daily newspaper writing (that is replacing the traditional newspaper inverted pyramid with the short story hourglass format allowing one story's clincher like to lead into the next story's grabber line). I in turn employed at WLAC, WGCL, WPIX, WCBS, etc., and which he used during his tenure at Hot 97 (WHTZ) here in New York for those years he did mornings here. The Wikipedia editors are trying to delete this article despite several bibliographical citations -- I believe because he was a conservative, they say because he wasn't notable.
“Because you are a legitimate radio writer, perhaps you could lend the article some muscle by somehow adding to it and citing your addition, even if it's what I wrote above? I had put the article up a couple years ago and the Wikipedia editors pulled it down again, but radio people -- especially those as important as Jimmy Coleman need to have their legacies preserved, don't you think? Anyway. Here is the link. See if you might be able to help me save it. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Paul_Emerson
“Be well, dear Claude! Thank you for your wonderful contributions to an oft under-appreciated art!”
I wrote him back: “George, don't know how I could help on Jim. I tried to put something on Wiki -- the official bio of George Wilson -- and couldn't. You're right about Jim. Great, great man. I wrote about him in ‘I Love Radio’.”
Maybe Wiki repented, because I later received this following note.
George J. Wienbarg: “Bought the book. What a charming and fun book, Claude! Looks like Jimmy's Wiki page will stay. We're going to do you next month ... let me know others to preserve for all posterity besides Mr. Wilson.”
Thank you, George. I will let Wilson’s daughters Terry and Carol Leigh know.
Any of you ladies and gentlemen not in Wiki? I could put you in touch with George J. Wienbarg. He seems to have the golden touch. George Wilson used to say that, soon, no one would remember us. I would hate to see that. Don Barrett has done a phenomenal job to feature the history of many, many broadcasters. But we need something that blankets everyone. Even Rod Muir. And Luis Brunini. And J. Paul Emerson.
And Bobby Ocean, now in the California Hall of Fame, too!
Bobby Ocean: “I am most grateful to find that you continue to include me on your Commentary email list, Claude. As one who pretty much ran from home away to join the carnival and never came back, I see as family those remaining in our ranks as broadcasting rolls onward. And I always see their names in your postings. Too many have lost their jobs, closely held friends, and their once recognised ‘seat-on-the-bus’ the industry had afforded them once along the ride. Too many have lost most of their sense of identity. You, and that itch to communicate through the written word, are essential elements to the very glue that holds us together. As we wander from today's most experienced-but-neglected radio community into Whatever's Next, it's critical to recognize the experiences through which we came. We remember them through your posts.
“There is strength and nourishment of the soul in numbers. We've been reading you for a long time, Mr. Hall. We go back. We no longer wake up to see what the new music is, who had a session overnight, who might be going solo... We don't have that same degree of fever for music we once had because, as we grew, we ceased paying attention with the same youthful perspective. The once obsessive show biz dream withered as we thought something else at the time was more important. The result, as all thought and emotional packages are creative forces and life grows towards the light, is a less intense and interesting records and radio industry, guarded in its behavior, timid and less divergent, immature in character and very much lost in the woods. The spell, under which we all once bonded, has been broken.
“Life is like that. It gives with unimaginable bounty, but it takes away, too. What we call our character is formed by decisions we have already made, and now, under the shadow of previous miscalculations, we continue to make. It is very much like having an out-of-control magic lamp in one's hand, with the force of its energies always pushing against our foothold. Can't seem to get that grip ... So, when we see your commentaries, Claude, it's like a light just ahead. Most of us rush to the fire at the hearth, listen and warm our hearts to the sound of our industries' unique people, their familiar names and their own language. We hear names we knew and make an oath to get back in touch, soon; we copy addresses and contact information. We feel awakened from a bad dream; we feel connected again.
“Whether you recognize it as fact or not, Claude, you already ARE keeping the torch passed you in this chaos, bright and alive. It doesn't matter what you call it, we know it's you and me, us and them -- the Hill Group, the Clause Hall Commentary Consumers, Levine's hilarious lines, Scott James jams or the blog from da islands, bra, emails we send to share a story, a possible last-known address, a plug for something in which we're involved -- and we're all glad to get together again. Thanks for what you continue to do.”
Joe Smith – our Joe – made the front page of the sports section of the Los Angeles Times, reports Danny Davis. The press discovered, finally, that he’s a huge basketball fan. This is something of which I’ve been aware for several decades. He and Tony Richland. Tickets for those front-row seats are now $2,750 per game. As they raised the ticket prices, Richland could no longer afford to go to the games. But Joe, a former disc jockey in Boston and later a successful record executive, became a millionaire along the way – probably even before he took over as head of Elektra Records – and had front-row seats for him, his wife, and his two children. Joe once made the highlight film and I can see him even today jumping up and down on television as, probably, Magic Johnson did one of his amazing shots. I constantly look for Joe when the Lakers on are TV. In more recent years, the TV cameramen have shown Jack Nickelson just as if you watch the Knicks, you’ll see Spike Lee at least once a game. But I’ll bet a cup of coffee that Joe was a Laker fan back in the days when Nickelson wore a sailor suit in the movies. In fact, 54 years. Anyway, the story in the newspaper is that the Lakers want Joe to shell out around $400,000 a year now and $200,00 in advance so they can draw interest on his money. Whups!
Barbara and I are Clippers fans starting this season big time. We used to watch Orlando. Mostly because of J.J. Redick. We've been Redick fans since his early days with Duke.
Hal Baby Moore: “Claude ... so good to read your commentary. Wish you could take over Hollywood Hills ... Chuck Buell told me about Hollywood Hills and I have really enjoyed all of the stories about many of the people that I worked with over the years. I finally retired after 53 years and spend most of my time playing golf ... pickleball and spending time with our grandchildren here in Denver. Linda and I are celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary on June 6th ... a record of some kind for being in this business ... all my best to you and hope to hear from you in the future.”
Believe me, Hal, if this person that I have in mind decides to do a blog … and I surmise we should know in a few months … it will be absolutely fantastic.
And, courtesy of Chuck Buell, I now have a correct address for Hal Baby Moore. And I heard from Hal, too. Great, great, great! I’ve always had great respect for Hal as a radio man.
Sitting here, cutting and pasting emails into Commentary while listening to Steve Tyrell with “It’s Magic.” Just beautiful! Love it, Steve. And that brings to mind: Anyone know how Jerry Sherrell is doing? I don’t have his email.
Dick Summer: “Don't stop writing, Claude. It would be the end of a wonderful era for radio if you did. Here's something you may not know about: I really loved being on the radio. Those were the days, and nights, when I first ran into Big Louie. His theme song, ‘Louie Louie’ was the star of most of the record hops in those days. Any time the party got dull, it was Louie to the rescue. But there was another kind of music born in the sixties. Its mommy was the blues, and its daddy was rock and roll, and the people in power said it was conceived in sin. It was music on fire. Hendrix, Morrison, Clapton. When I heard it for the first time it took me a week to get my eyes closed. Today, you’d call it Classic Rock. And there’s something you don’t know about it and you should. You don’t know about the man who got that music on the air. His name was Al Heacock. And he was a man in the best sense of the word. I know the story because I was
privileged to work for Al, and he was my friend. Once upon a time…all the way back in the sixties … AM radio was still king. Big 50,000 watt flame throwers like WBZ in Boston, WABC in New York, WLS in Chicago, and KFI in Los Angeles ruled. Almost all of them were built on tight top forty foundations. In fact, the playlist at WABC was frequently more like the top twenty, with the emphasis on the top three. “All Hits All The Time.” Jingle, jangle, jingle. The format was the gospel. Except at Boston’s WBZ. This is something that most radio professionals won’t believe, but it’s true. WBZ never had a format in those days. The guys on the air played whatever we wanted to play, including records from our own personal collections, and tapes from local artists. And in between every single record/tape, we had fun. Oh we had fun. And people loved it. Today’s top radio stations pull around a ten rating in a major market. WBZ consistently pulled north of a twenty-five. The mouths at WBZ belonged to Carl deSuze, Dave Maynard, Jay Dunn, Jeff Kaye (and later Ron Landry) Bob Kennedy Bruce Bradley and me. But the brains, and a lot of the heart of the station belonged to the program director, Al Heacock. Al was smart. He was a quiet guy who made a lot of money in the stock market. But he really didn’t care about the stock market. Al cared about his radio station, WBZ. It was a station with ‘tude’. When we broadcast from our mobile studio, which was most of the time, we proudly wore our station blazers. It wasn’t unusual at all for one of us to drop in on somebody else’s show and kibitz for a while. When you walked down the beach, you didn’t need to bring your own radio, because everybody around you would have ‘BZ turned on and turned up to stun. If you stopped your car for a red light, you’d almost always hear ‘BZ coming out of the speaker in the car stopped next to you. Those were the days before cars had air conditioning. The Pimple People wouldn’t remember. For those of you who never heard the station, and for those of you who work in radio and are curious about the legend that was WBZ, here’s how Al programmed his music: Each month there was a staff meeting. At the meeting he would always remind us to play some of the top tunes he left in the rack in the studio each week. And then he’d say, ‘I don’t want to hear two records back to back. We pay you guys to entertain. Entertain’. What a joy it was, what an honor to be one of Al’s guys on WBZ. Here’s what that means to you. If it weren’t for Al Heacock, a man who knew how to say no…and stick to his guns … Classic Rock might never have been born. At least it would have been a much longer labor and birth. Boston has always had a strong Folk Music tradition. At WBZ we were consistently playing original tapes of unreleased songs like ‘Sounds of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel, and ‘The Urge for Going’ by Tom Rush, all kinds of stuff by Dylan, and Baez, and Sweet Judy Blue Eyes Collins. I was doing a weekly MC gig at the Unicorn Coffee House, a major Folkie spot in town. And I noticed that some of the artists were beginning to go electric. I invited Al to attend one night, and he got it. Right away. The next day, he instigated ‘BZs only mandatory music rule: ‘One ‘Liquid Rock’ song per hour’. Al called the music Liquid Rock. Almost immediately the new music picked up a different name, ‘Underground Rock’. The name was the only thing Al got wrong. He gave me two hours on Sunday evenings for the first big time ‘Underground Rock’ radio show. He called it ‘Dick Summer’s Subway’. ‘Subway’ as in ‘Underground’. Then Dylan went electric, Eric Clapton formed “Cream” and Woodstock forged a new musical and political conscience for America, and it went roaring out on WBZ’s 50,000-watt clear channel signal all the way from Massachusetts to Midway Island in the Pacific. (I have an air check.) The suits who owned Group W Radio in New York were aghast. It wasn’t top forty. It wasn’t anything they recognized. They didn’t like it. They wanted it stopped…right now. Al just very quietly said no. For a while, even the suits didn’t want to mess too much with Al’s 25 rating in Boston. Then Arlo Guthrie did a song called ‘Alice’s Restaurant’, featuring a line about the ‘mother rapers and the father rapers on the Group W bench’. The lawyers at Group W headquarters in New York and D.C. freaked. The President of the Group took a flight from New York to talk sense into this crazy program director Heacock. ‘Get it off the air now’ was the order. Al very quietly said “no.” It was a classic Big Suit vs. Radio Guy. And Mr. Suit blinked. The order was changed to ‘well at least edit that line out’ Al very quietly just said ‘no’. If you’re a radio professional, you’ll realize how far out of line that was. A Program Director is a middle management guy. He was talking to the President of the group. So Mr. Suit decided to drop in on me personally one Sunday night, ‘for a friendly visit’. The engineer saw what was going on, and called Al to alert him to the situation. Ten minutes later, Al was at the studio. He asked Mr. Suit to join him for a quick meeting … out of the studio. That’s the last I heard of the problem. A few months later, the great Tom Donahue climbed on ‘Underground’ music on his FM station out in San Francisco, Classical Music WBCN went FM rock in Boston, ‘The Professor’, Scott Muni, Rosco, Jon Schwartz and crew took WNEW-FM rock in New York, and invited me to join them, which I did. And in a little while, FM killed the AM king. It probably would have happened anyway. But the point is that when you hear “Smoke on the Water”, or “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Light My Fire” you’re listening to some of the many echos of that quiet but firm “no” that Al Heacock said all those years ago. Al died a while ago. I think it would be appropriate if you’d remember him, the next time you find yourself listening to ‘Stairway to Heaven’.”
Ed Salamon: “Thanks for another great column. Ken Levine's website, which you touted, is a daily must-read for me. Do you think most of your readers know that he was an air personality on some pretty significant stations before his screen writing career and play by play took off? I had the pleasure of working with him in the late 70s when I was acting GM at 10-Q (and National PD for Storer). Ken, as Beaver Cleaver, was part of an all star personality team that at some point during Ken's tenure included Jack Armstrong, Charlie Tuna (both hires of 10-Q PD Mike McVay and me), The Real Don Steele, M. G. Kelly, Nancy Plum, Jim Conlee and Joe Nasty. It was great to be part of the last blast of AM Top 40.”
Tom Rounds: “Claude, this is wonderful news. I didn't want to add my voice to the many who have already acclaimed you as ‘The Man’, since I have an idea of the immense workload involved. But it looks like you have a solution. I completely support whatever direction you choose to take, and you can count on me to contribute whatever time allows.
Don Whittemore: “The Commentary is just like getting the news from the sage in my home town ... Thanks. Every line seemed to have relevance that rippled into the following cluster of words and just flowed on and on until the conclusion was reached. Next week will come slowly.”
Don Sundeen: “Got a surprise last night when my long time friend and former client, Scott, (‘Scooter B.’) Seagraves sent me the enclosed picture that had been posted on the website of WNOE in New Orleans. It’s very special to me because it shows Scoot and I with Lee Arbuckle, my late friend, traveling companion and partner in SUNBUCKLE, a record promotion firm. It was just last fall that Lee passed away, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and our adventures over the decade of the 70s. We knew Scoot from the time he was a jock in Tulsa at KAKC in the early 70s, to his years in New Orleans, and especially at the AOR, WNOE-FM, where he did the music and was a legend. I have no recollection of where or when the picture was taken, we look so young and joyful, but it appears it may have been in a publication. I’ve been very fortunate to have a couple of friends in my life whom I considered ‘brothers’, and Lee was certainly one of them. After a great stint as a TOP 40 jock at places like Big WAYS in Charlotte, he became one of the finest, most honest and personable record promotion men of his generation. May God bless his soul.” (picture: Don, Scott, Lee)
Danny Davis: “Hey-Hey! Lookee here! The ol' computer sez Claude #4! I ain't seen 1 to 3!! Matter of fact, I still have your e-mail (along with mine) where we 'whine' about the age now 'befoggin' our bodies! Pleased as I am, able to read the Authorman's observations, I note your commitment to the task and applaud your dismissal of what ails 'us'! (I'm takin' a page outta' your book!) I've thought of Jack, like yourself, most often! I missed any personal exchange with Robertsman, I never had contacted him at a radio outlet, and yet, the gracious manner he extended me (even allowing my own blog, along the right side with you'se and Levine and the ol' Jock and the bright lights of an industry in 'morgue-mode) turned my own wattage fully on! I'd love to read you all over again! Maybe even contribute to new health! Bless ya', Claude! And lemme have the next 'out poring'!”
Later from Danny: “Claude-ie! (Learned Elder Go-Between, 'what' is no mo', and the chutzpa to revive it!! Charlie Barret (or Barrat) one of the good guys from long ago and 'better times' made it to the lunch-bunch today! Whatta' day to be dere'! Shecky Green didn't disappoint! He was in rare form and hilarious, with nary any prepared stuff! Off the top of his head, like always! Sheck's the reason I wouldn't trade Thursday for two Tuesdays! It was a pleasure sittin' next to Charlie and catching up from 40 years ago! Gotta' toast that time spell next week! Mail from Tom Shannon today! Always good thoughts prevail when you hear from the 'mighty men of the mike! Tom's coming to SoCal, with his new wife and daughter, but not close enuf to Palm Desert! Maybe another time!! Roy Kohn (if you remember? Song Plugger with a publisher?) is currently recuperating from heart failure and double pneumonia! No, he didn't make it to lunch today! Best to you, Claude! (If you catch hold of a single dollar ... place me on the 17-20 split (roulette) and I'll get the ace to you! You take an extra 5 for sweating the bet!”
Just FYI, I sent No. 1-3 to Danny. Love you, Danny!
We added a few people to my list and got the addresses of Hal Baby Moore and Michael O’Shea straightened out. Featuring the Commentary of Facebook paid off because I heard from Jim Maddox. He’s a damned good radio man from my Los Angeles days that I admired immensely. We lost touch in the long ago. He’s a grandpa now!
John Ostlund, owner of KYNO in Fresno, CA: “It struck me recently that many of us would not have a job in the industry we love had it not been for Bill Drake. In fact, you could argue that if it weren't for Gene Chenault, the industry may not have had Bill Drake -- at least as we knew him. While digging through the archives, I've come across an amazing collection of KYNO in the earliest days under Bill Drake's leadership, including the attached memo from Gene Chenault announcing Bill's appointment as the new Program Director of KYNO. I thought you might get a kick out of it. If you're wondering whatever happened to KYNO, you can find out at KYNOFresno.com and 'like' us at KYNO 1430.”
The above note was sent April 1. As Scoot St. James says, “Just saying.”
May the Good Lord bless us all.