September 29, 2014
Claude’s Commentary No. 31
By Claude Hall
I wrote Vox Jox, a column, for almost 13 years and 11 months at Billboard magazine. Even though I once broke my left hand playing basketball and wore a cast for a while, I never missed a deadline. Since then, I’ve written Commentary for at least 466 weeks (I missed just two weeks under RadioDailyNews.com by Larry Shannon because of Internet troubles). Some of these were written for the Hollywood Hills published by the late Jack Roberts. Since the death of Jack Roberts, I’ve written 31 weekly columns under the title Claude’s Commentary. These days, other people write more of the column than I do and I’m very grateful for their help. However, perhaps that’s always been the case.
Gary Bridges of Bala Cynwyd, PA, was one of at least three readers this past week who did not receive their Commentary at first. I wrote him that I’d obviously been hacked again and Gary replied: “Just so you’re not hacked WITH ME! I did receive the full Commentary #30 moments later, thanks for the playful mention of my daring comparison (you vs. The Bard). Looking at it further, I realize that $49.95 is a BARGAIN price, especially when I consider that it comes with a cheery weekly newsletter of names and places otherwise mostly forgotten. Which, by the way, brings up a distinction I think George Wilson would appreciate: How much better it is to be, like him, ‘Gone but not forgotten’, rather than ‘Forgotten but not yet gone’. I can just hear him in the deadpan he’d adopt when offering a critique of my radio station. George rarely doled out programming specifics -- it was up to you to find the humor or the implied threat in his comment and act on it accordingly … and, of course, how you reacted said a great deal about how your relationship proceeded from there. What a guy.”
Gary, I just received (Monday) a royalty check from Kindle Books for $66. That represents my total earnings on more than a dozen books over three years! Most priced at only $2.99. Obviously, I’m not selling books regardless of the price and, thus, my chance of becoming wealthy is fairly slight. Cry, cry. I wrote and rewrote “Hellmakers” over 40 years. It was one of the passions that kept me functioning while I worked at Billboard. People saw one thing in the magazine; once we reached California, the reality was another. Ask Rollye James, who became radio-TV editor after a fellow named Don Hall (Lee Zhito, publisher and editor-in-chief tried to persuade everyone that he was my son. Not!). Rollye, may the Good Lord bless her, wrote me two long emails about her Billboard experiences. Just wish I could locate those emails for she has given me permission to print them. Or you can read “Xtreme” with Amazon.com/Kindle Books. That novel doesn’t have anything to do with Rollye, but it has a lot to do with me.
Mel Phillips: “Just thinking about the good times I had in radio. Like the time I made one of the national promotion guys so nervous, he knocked over the fresh flowers I had on my desk. We had just met and he must have had some preconceived idea that I was a hardass or something. We later became friends (kind of) but when I found out he dressed differently for each station he visited, it changed my opinion of him. He turned out to be an okay kind of guy. Then there was the time an oldie started playing and the promotion guy (a friend) asked me why I was playing it since it was never a hit in the market we were located in. I told him I would take it off and I did. It probably didn’t hurt the sales of the record because it wasn’t a current song. But one of my all-time favorite stories involved my dear friend (as long as I was playing one of his records), the late Al Coury. Al had brought Linda Ronstadt up to the station. Linda was on her first tour and she had just scored her first major hit with the Stone Poneys (“Different Drum”). I told her we were playing a new single of hers (can’t remember the title). When she asked me why I was playing it, I told her she was hot and I liked the song. “Why are you playing that - it’s a piece of s—t.” I said okay, we’ll take it off. Al Coury had a fit and screamed at her all the way to the elevator. Al used to get beet red when he got mad but I never saw him that mad. On a sad note, the WRKO Alumni Association just lost one of our former alums when Dale (Dan) Tucker passed away on September 18th at 73. In August he was diagnosed with a rapidly spreading cancer. One month later he was gone. Dan ran WRKO-FM after I had moved over to the AM as PD. He would later relocate to California (the Sacramento area) to continue his career in radio He will be missed by all his friends and former employees at WRKO. Keep those much-anticipated Commentaries coming.” We come, we do, we go.
Morris Diamond: Attention: Joe Smiith … that was a lovely note to Larry Cohen in Claude's weekly. Offering Larry a lunch when he gets to LA and giving your phone number. But you left out one digit of your phone number. Larry, the digit is a 7. You have my number, so call me and I'll tell you where the 7 goes … as I told you, I don't get down to Long Beach that much … I was stationed there in WWII serving as a flight radio operator and delivering B-17s from the Boeing factory to their crews. But if you get to Palm Desert, let me know … I'll buy you lunch. This goes to Joe Smith as well. Long Beach … hmmm … I spent a week there one Sunday. Claude, love to you and Barbara.”
I hope Alice has fared well from her operation, Morris. You and Alice … heck of a team! A nice team.
Larry Cohen: “Cohen to Joe Smith: It has been said that you that you have walked on water. So with these powers of divine status, shouldn't one be able to contact you, even with a phone number containing only 9 digits as shown in the previous Commentary? In your reference that you never have known a Long Beach native, please remember that I have known you for 35 years, long before you recently ‘recognized’ me as a local native. FYI, the natives here have the same daily hygienic practices as those of the Beverly Hills natives, the only difference being that here in Long Beach one-ply toilet paper is more economical then two-ply preferred by the wealthier persona of Beverly Hills.”
Bob Barry: “How is Bobby Vee doing? He was one of the nicest guys in the recording biz. When he came to Milwaukee he would always call. Last time I talked with him, he was at George Wilson's house while appearing in Albuquerque.”
I drop Bobby a note now and then and my last note I also sent to Scotty Brink, who sometimes phones him. We’ll see. A Bobby Vee tale: We were taking our various kids up to a Grey Ys weekend camp near Big Bear. It started snowing. White out. I stopped the stationwagon and handed the keys to Bobby and went around and got in the other side. “You were raised in this stuff (Minnesota region). You drive.” He did and we got there just fine and dandy.
Danny Davis: “Can't offer much to #31 this week, Authorman! Unless we lean on the Civil War sword that's hung in the 'great room', behind glass, along with two rifles from wars in Italy and Guadalcanal! Of course, if you saw the notice about Jesse Rand, throwing 'the seven', and you knew his management history (Sammy, The Lettermen, Jeff Chandler, etc,), I got a story! Jess Rand put me into showbiz! Service-time in the Air Force! I'm lucky. Got the 'rocker' to fit under 'buck sergeant', makes me Staff Sgt! Major White orders SSgt 'me' to escort five civilians, new enlistees to Hollywood. (Had to do with some kinda' recruiting contest, I think!) We have an invite to visit a motion picture studio. Jeff Chandler's on the set of ‘Foxfire’ with Mara Corday! A knock-out! The SSgt is knocked out, and shows it! Jess Rand whispers to Jeff Chandler, and 'the star' immediately takes 'a cue', whispers to Mara Corday and says in tones reserved for heady dialogue, ‘Mara,why don't you let the sergeant pat your ass a little bit!’ A small insight into what creates the kind of life that makes following the elephant, with the broom, a euphemism for ‘Yes, sir, I'm in show business!’ Rest in Peace, Jesse! I owe ya! And the tip of the week, Claude, from Arnie Captainelli, ‘It Ain't What You Don't Know That Gets You Into Trouble, It's What You Know For Sure That Just Ain't So’. “
Robert Richer reports that broadcast veteran Bill Hughes passed away last week in Sulphur Springs, TX, at age of 62. “Hughes’ career included on-air, management, and his true calling of broadcast engineering. His career began in 1974 at KBOX in Dallas. He began his engineering career in 1985 in the East Texas where he continued most of his career up until his death. He took a brief hiatus from Texas in 1992 when he moved to Hawaii to build radio stations for French media giant Hachette in China. He returned to Texas in 1998 where he continued his broadcast engineering career primarily with the East Texas Radio group. Hughes was a very active and proud member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers. Hughes is survived by a sister Judy Williamson of McKinney Texas and several nieces and nephews.” We come, we do, we go.
Ron Jacobs: “Hey, Tex. The URL I sent for your book, below, seems to work fine direct from this email. But not as it appears in your Commentary. ? Can you fix it so all know I am not played a joke? A joke is U. of Hawaii football. 5w – 20 l in 2012 thru now. Aloha from Pearl City.”
Ron also asks if anyone knows whatever happened to Abe Glaser. “He was the ultimate promo man.”
Frank Jolley: “Claude, thanks for sending me your Commentaries. Rockhouse is growing. Listeners in 9 countries and we peaked at 1,585 listeners at one time a week ago. No promotion on the site yet at all.I don't know how anyone is finding it, we're only listed on Facebook but with no promotion yet. We're in what we call the shakedown, attempting to tweak it for 2015. iPhone and Android apps are being built now. Thanks for listing rockhouse.mobi on you commentary page.”
It is with great pride that I announce Lee Baby Simms’ baby has joined the Three Mesquiteers. Lee has been asked to do an interview by someone interested, it appears, mostly in free-form radio personalities. Lee maintains that he has always been a Top 40 radio personality … it’s just that he didn’t always follow the format.
Kim: “Hi, Dad, & Gentlemen. Thought since everybody was chiming in I would, too. Of course, I wouldn't want anyone to tell me what to do, but I don't see any harm in it, it might actually be fun. So, I say ‘Yes, why not?’ I hope all of you are having a wonderful evening!”
From Kim’s father, slightly edited: “I have always thought that free-form radio was something of a joke. Something one did when one didn`t have 'The Makins' to be a real disc jockey. I never liked those holier-than-thou assholes. They pretended to look down their noses at the format guys when what they really wanted was to be one of us. And couldn`t. I don`t know that I want to be on screen with the likes of those lightweights. I thought I`d ask y`all, do you think I should give this man an hour of my time, tell him what its like to be a real DJ and not some wanna be loser?”
In response to Lee Baby, though I believe he has every right to his opinion, I’ve known some very excellent free-form radio personalities over the years and, yes, they were adept at format radio. I’ll just mention here the names of Murray the K and Bill “Rosko” Mercer. Whups! I’d also better mention B. Mitch Reed and Raechel Donahue’s husband Tom. Dick Summers, too, I believe. Was Mary Turner ever format? Getting old; can’t remember. But Jimmy Rabbitt was pretty good at both. I loved him during his KMET-FM days. Jimmy and I had a good time for a couple of hours one evening at a Mexican cantina on the Strip in Hollywood.
Then Woody Roberts asked: “Memories. I have wondered about your stations.”
Lee Baby Simms: “I began in October 1961.
The Sixties: WTMA, Charleston, SC; WTHE, Spartanburg, SC; W??? (I believe the calls were WMRB), Greenville, SC; WZOO, Spartanburg, SC; WMBR, Jacksonville, FL; WLOF, Orlando, FL; WMBR, Jacksonville, FL; WSHO, New Orleans; WIST, Charlotte, NC; KRIZ.. Phoenix; KONO, San Antonio; KTSA, San Antonio; WPOP, Hartford, CT; KONO, San Antonio; WPOP, Hartford, CT; WKYC, Cleveland; KCBQ, San Diego; KTSA, San Antonio; WJBL, Detroit; KCBQ, San Diego.
KRLA, Los Angeles; KROQ, Los Angeles; WMYQ, Miami; KRLA, Los Angeles, CA; WGCL, Cleveland; KKUA, Honolulu; KORL, Honolulu; KPOI, Honolulu; KDUK, Honolulu; KPOI, Honolulu.
KFOG, San Francisco; WLVE, Miami; KKIS, Concord, CA; KCAF, San Rafael, CA; KRPQ, Rohnert Park, CA.
KYA, San Francisco; KOOL-FM, Phoenix; KOOL-AM, Phoenix; KOOL-FM, Phoenix; KRPQ, Rohnert Park, CA;
KISQ, San Francisco.
KISQ, San Francisco; and done, retired December 2001.
“I wasn`t very good at keeping a job but I was very, very good at getting them. Forty years on the air -- 41 jobs, 32 stations, 19 markets. Fired 25 times. Whew! I must have liked being a Disc Jockey.
Woody Roberts: “Lee, very cool you worked with Chuck.”
Lee Baby Simms: “I told Woody that I had worked with Chuck Dunaway in Cleveland in 1968.”
Woody Roberts: “Memories? I arrived at KTSA in front of the Christmas holidays 1967 and was GM through March of '72. Bernie and I met and cut our deal at the Boston Airport bar (MASS law: women could not sit within 10 feet of the bar) on Thanksgiving Day 1967. You had already left WPOP. Joe was a bit upset that I only gave him three weeks notice. Don't blame him. Said he would make Bill Bland PD and I said no, Danny. Which he did. We had never broken WDRC in morning drive on Pulse -- only on Hooper and the newly launched ARB. Before I left, Pulse fall book arrived, Joe said, ‘You lucked out. Pulse is in, you beat 'em in the morning’. I never looked to see the numbers. I knew he was right, I'd lucked out. But now, flashing back for Dr. Bob's book I can see I ran through a lot of material with Miss Fox and newsroomer Ed Clancy. It's exhausting to think about. Where did I get the energy? We came from so far behind. Miss Fox was my hook into all those folks trapped at their desks in the insurance companies. All those women filling out forms, rechecking, filing, retrieving. Secretaries were luckier than the switchboard operators. All those females in the ratings waking up to their clock radios and their kitchen radios, driving to work with radio on. Hundreds of thousands of three-inch speakers reproducing less than a dozen AM broadcasts. I played the dictatorial bumbling boss and she was my obedient worker bee. Hartford was a totally paranoid city and first place I'd heard of someone filing an insurance claim on a homeowner for tripping on the public sidewalk in front of the home. I couldn't believe it. Gads. I remember back in San Antonio you looking at me in disbelief and saying, ‘Hartford? Hartford, Woody?’”
Lee Baby Simms: “Ooooops! Stop the presses! I forgot one. After KYA please insert KFRC, San Francisco. I was only there for a few weeks, but I did receive a paycheck for work preformed. So, 42 jobs, 33 stations. A million tears. A hundred million laughs. Thank you.”
Woody Roberts: “Hats off to you, Lee. That is the most impressive list of its kind I've ever seen. Most admirable. You have traveled the nation and lived in some of its finest cities, Marco Polo, you bring back tales. Because: ‘Wherever you go, there you are’. A-ha! Now I remember! TWICE you ran off and left me stranded all alone in a freezing blizzard to defend myself against the hard-core Connecticut Yankees and DJ zombies at the Big Dreck. Twice!”
Lee Baby Simms: “Poor Woody. Upon this realization, his feelings are hurt ... Lee Baby ran off and left him behind.”
When I questioned Lee about the calls in Greenville, SC, because George Wilson had worked there, Lee came back with:
Lee Baby Simms: “Claude, I’ll be damned if I know. Wanting to get the list right, even Googled radio stations in Greenville, SC. None of the calls rang a bell. Could have been, though. Back in the day George was always helping me get another job. I don`t remember the call letters of that station, but I do remember that station. It was singular to my career in as much as it was the first and ONLY time that I ever took ... Payola ... of any kind.
“One night I was sitting there rockin` away (this is 1963). The doorbell rang. In those days the doorbell ring was a blinking light in the studio. I jumped up and ran out. There at the front door was this 'good ol` boy'. I knew he was one cause I saw his pickup trunk in the parking lot and because he looked like one. Good ol` boys were easy to identify in Greenville, SC, in 1963. He had his son with him, a young man of 15 or so. The young man was a picker and a singer. With dreams of, well, you know, the dreams that young men dream. He had cut a record. There at the front door, his dad handed the record to me and said, ‘I`ll give you five dollars if you`ll play this on the radio’. I said, ‘OK’. I took the record back into the control room, said something nice about it and played it. I lied. I had not even listened to it!
“The man and his son were sitting in the pickup, in the parking lot, listening to the radio. I played it. I walked back to the front door as they drove away. I like to think that they were pleased ... I was not. I had lied. I had compromised my integrity for five dollars. I never did that again. Lie. About anything. I never lie, to lie is to want something from someone that you would not get if you had told the truth. That's not my way. It’s getting late. What's that over there on the counter? Lunch? Yes! Lemme go see. Lunch time. No lie. Wak.”
Just FYI, Lee, Sam Phillips told me that he paid Dewey Phillips in Memphis to play the first Elvis single. $5. And when Jim Gabbert, founder of K101-FM in San Francisco, first started in California radio he worked on a Mexican station. They charged $1 per song request.
I asked Charlie Barrett to identify some folk in an historic photo and this came back. Standing, Don Graham of Blue Thumb Records; sitting Sal Ianucci, president of Capitol Records; standing is Tommy LiPuma and next is Bob Kraznow, head of Blue Thumb Records. “Had lunch with Morris Diamond last week at the Lunch Bunch in Palm Desert. Said he’d spent some time with you recently. We should both look so good as Morris … if we make it to 90!”
Gang, Morris Diamond is 94. One of these days I’m going to ask him how he got into the music business.