Today at 10:38 AM
October 20, 2014
Claude’s Commentary No. 34
By Claude Hall
It was a love/hate relationship, my appreciation of New York City. But if you’re trying to make a go of it – find a career and grow in it – New York is the place for the creative soul. This includes the writer. It especially includes the radio person. It’s like no other place in the world. Everybody who is anybody is there and that’s where the very greatest are and as Marty Iger, the photographer, once told me “if you want to compete against the big boys, this is where you have to be.” I was living in New Orleans at the time and Barbara and I had a 2-year-old, but we packed up and drove back to New York City in our little Volkswagen Beatle. I joined Billboard magazine in March 1964. I expected to stay on Billboard for a couple of years. However, I was named radio-TV editor of the weekly trade publication by July and a year or so later, Bill Littleford, head of Billboard, loaned me interest free $7,500 (his idea) so that Barbara and I could buy a home in Hartsdale just north of Manhattan. If you don’t think this is a big deal, you’re mistaken. And Bill Littleford gave me a raise so that I could pay back the loan without any sweat; the raised equaled the payments. And Hal Cook gave me and family a free admission to a neighborhood swimming pool for the summer. Life was pretty good on Billboard for a while. I cannot recall all of my mentors. Paul Ackerman, music editor of Billboard, without question. Mike Gross, Harvey Glascock, Don Graham, George Furness, and I remember great conversations with William B. Williams, Dan Daniels, Gary Stevens, Murray the K, and Shelby Singleton.
Next week: A feature on how some legends got into show biz and a comment regarding Tom Russell’s book “120 Songs,” a great, great book.
John Lund: “Claude: Mel Phillips said: ‘Kevin followed me (WNBC) as PD in 1980. I was replaced by Bob Pittman in 1977’. Actually, I preceded Bob Pittman as WNBC Program Manager in the mid-1970s. Mel was likely PD at WNBC before that time. Legendary Jack G. Thayer, NBC Radio’s new president, hired me away from WNEW to program WNBC in 1974. Don, Jack and I were previously in Cleveland and before that in Sacramento. At 66WNBC we were fortunate to have a great on-air staff: Don in the morning, Cousin Brucie midday (from WABC), Bob Vernon ‘with a V’ in the afternoon, Oogie Pringle early evening, and smooth-as-silk Dick Summer later at night. What a team! Bob Pittman was programming WNBC’s sister station, WMAQ in Chicago, at this time for Charles Warner. When Charlie came to WNBC Radio he brought in Bob Pittman (and I went to Milwaukee for Hearst, then to Denver for Doubleday). Several years later, when Bob left to start MTV, he recommended to the new GM, Bob Sherman, that I be hired (back). Kevin was also interviewed. I still have the small toilet that Bob Pittman gave me when I returned to WNBC in fall, 1979 (with the note, ‘don’t put WNBC in the toilet’). First thing I did was bring Imus back for mornings. When I left nine months later (in 1980) to start my consulting company, I suggested Bob Sherman hire Kevin Metheny. And he did. Coincidentally, several years later, when consulting stations in Phoenix managed by Gary Fries, I worked with Kevin’s mother, Carolyn, who was Gary’s assistant. And when Gary became president of the Radio Advertising Bureau, Carolyn Metheny also worked for the RAB in Dallas.”
I lost Bob Pittman’s email years ago. Hope someone forwards Commentary to him this week. I’ve also lost Mary Turner’s email and she’d wanted to get Commentary. I think Norm Pattiz still receives Commentary. Whether he reads it or not, quien sabe? Just FYI, I wrote the first story even about Norm and his then partner. I think they’d just produced a film about Motown for theater showing.
Bob Walker: “Wow, what a treat to hear from Lani Bennett. I met her many times when I worked with Buzz here at WTIX in '67-'68. Especially when Buzz broke his shoulder in a football game, and I had to jockey the board for Buzz for a few weeks, sitting side-by-side with him at our cramped U-shaped console. During that time just about every day around 6 pm Buzz would ask me to go downstairs and let Lani in. Nice memories of a special time at the Mighty 690. Lani may enjoy my YouTube video ‘WTIX 20 Years Later -- a Visit Back’, on which a couple of Buzz clips are included, along with many others from our '67-'72 era DJs.”
I sent one personal email – and a note -- on to Lani Bennett and got this back: “Thank you, Claude, for your email ... I sure got a laugh and a kick out of your fond memories of The Central Grocery ... it’s absolutely still there! The Muffalata is still the number one sandwich that they sell … dropped R a little email ... happy to be back in touch! God's Speed, Claude.”
That Muffalata is one of the best sandwiches on this planet. When I was on the Times-Picayune, I went down there and asked a huge, huge guy right out of a Danny Davis email what kind of sandwiches they had and he growled, I swear, “Whatda ya mean, what kind of sandwiches we got?” There was only one sandwich. The more you paid, the taller it got. Get the big one. Last time I was in New Orleans, I bought a grocery sack of them home on the plane. Just great! It do pay to be Italian from time to time.
I’m going to try something different. I stopped running email addresses because of hackers, etc. But Don Sundeen has an item that’s a bit too long and if you’re interested in Elvis, you might wish to read. So, tap into Don at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask him to email it to you. Don, hope you don’t mind. But this is history. Ken Dowe had sent me a thing; it’s at the end of the feature by Don.
Robert E. Richer: “Claude: You’re right; it was KPEN and not K101. Actually, the original KPEN team was John Wickett, Gary Gielow and Jimmy Gabbert. Mike Lincoln came along later. In my judgment, Jim remains one of the most knowledgeable and able radio engineers on the planet. As far as I know, Gary still operates a very successful winery in, I believe, Napa. And K101 remains the most powerful FM west of the Mississippi, with 125 kW. I used to love listening to Joey Reynolds’ show on WOR. But it was so full of radio inside stuff, I could only assume that it stayed on the air as long as it did because ‘OR’s owner, Rick Buckley, was such a dedicated radio guy himself. So great to see all of those wonderful call letters that get mentioned in your memorable ramblings.”
Ken Dowe: I had somehow forgotten the KPEN call letters until you mentioned them, Claude. The station was actually licensed to Los Altos. In the mid-80s I bought the station (estate sale price) from Don Burden. Don tried rock and pushing the signal into San Francisco and Oakland, but the powerless Class A never even dented the Arbitron. I thought there was an opportunity to serve a large easy listening audience in the potentially booming Silicon Valley with good programming and some ‘rock'n roll engineering’. I called Tom Churchill in Phoenix. Best easy listening programmer I've ever known. Tom said he'd tried to work for KBAY with their San Francisco monster signal, but there was no interest. I signed up Tom and signed on KLZY. Classy had friendly, easy to the ears jocks with a bit of the McLendon panache. I brought in a couple of great engineers who aimed the signal down ... to cover more of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto and the rest of the Valley. The audio we equalized as if we were a big city rocker. It was LOUD. Perfectly legal, but our friends at KBAY didn't think so. Of course, a handful of audiophiles didn't appreciate that the stereo dynamics were not as good as when you couldn't hear the signal. Ha! Que lastima! So, San Jose and the Silicon Valley had a new radio station. In a year and a half KLZE was fourth 25-54 and third 35-64 (Arbitron) in San Jose. Broadcasting from a tiny born again Class A, booming ‘classy’ music from a Los Altos mountain top. Dottie and I sold ‘KPEN’ for a nice profit, thank you. It wasn't the dog the non-believers laughed about after all. The San Francisco peninsula was pretty darned good to a country boy from the far off Mississippi Delta. Didn't radio used to be so much fun? Jim had great promos for his TV station (KOFY) in San Francisco. Viewers' dog photos...endlessly appealing.”
Dave Anthony, Dave Anthony Custom Voicing: “Okay, here we go. After so many newsletters filled with names I either know personally or have worked with, I felt the overpowering need to chime in. (Might be the same overpowering need I instilled in my staffs to sweep quarter-hours back in the day.) From Tom Shovan who used to call me often at KLUC and always began every conversation by clucking like a chicken – his version of how to pronounce KLUC; to Joey Reynolds who first entertained me on KB with Sarge and his trumpet; to Kevin Metheny who tried to hire me at WNBC (I wonder how that would’ve worked out), leading to a lifetime friendship; to Lee Simms who I had the pleasure to hire, work with, and learn from at KYA; to Bob Hamilton who I’ve known since his FRED days (along with his entertaining wife); to Chuck Knapp who programmed KS95 and held massive female numbers that I endlessly pursued over at KDWB; and to you who wrote the column I never missed. And those names are just from this week’s missive. Don’t stop writing these things.”
About “Hitbound”: Bob Weisbuch reports in from Portugal where he and his wife are celebrating their anniversary. Says he’d received a note from Barbara Bodnar Linden, regarding the book and she loved it. She was a partner with Woody Roberts on the air at WPOP in Hartfort, CT. Woody thought she was great.
I finally got Chuck Dunaway on the email list: “Thanks, Claude. My computer and emails are a great company these days. I turn 80 in two months. Never thought I’d live this long but sure am happy I did. I have the same breathing problem Bill Young had. I’m seeing my doctor regularly as he tries to figure it out. I’m keeping fit and full of medication. Take care old friend. Stay healthy.”
Bob Wilson: “Claude, it's great to be back at the computer after 8 full weeks of 'rehab'. In late August a daughter stopped by and found me in the hallway bleeding from every orifice. It took a dozen doctors to finally find that my eating white bread had caused a tendency to react to gluten overload. After four transfusions they found that amonia had eaten my blood. I'm now taking four servings a day of a liquid that dilutes it and might have to look forward to more of it forever. The loss of my short term memory (stroke) is making it impossible to engage in much conversation about 'the old days' though if i worry over a name, it usually flashes in the next hour. While in rehab I shared a room with a patient just this side of insane ... all night long, calling out for mother or god every 15 minutes. After he was released I got a man who lost his touch with reality and tried to undress and walk the halls ... but he, too, had many occasions when I had to press the red nurses button for him because he was busy trying to contact 'god'. I then had an idea: a tape machine containing a thousand first names ... and if a patient was not quite ready for freedom, the nurse would push a button and in the screaming man’s room ... an orchestral rif with heavenly tones would sound ... then I would come on in a slight echo chamber and say: ‘... Charles ... this is god. Go to sleep’ in that the patient was dreaming, I could say things like: ‘... Charles, your children love you’ or ‘Charles, heaven is waiting for you’. I shared my idea with a few of the nurses ... they all thought it would work. Can you imagine? Every hospital, rehab clinic would want one.”
What a funny story, but a horror story, Bob. I respect doctors, but I’ve never met a hospital that I didn’t instantly hate. In the army in Germany, cast and all, I was going to sneak out to a Globetrotter’s game on crutches and a huge female nurse picked me up,198 pounds of pure GI muscle (me, she outweighed me), and carried me back and dropped me in my bed. Here in Vegas, I once spent five days in a godawful building, tubes here and there, with cellulitis and when they gave me freedom, I couldn’t find the way out and I was on crutches and this door and that door wouldn’t open. A nightmare! Awake! I now think I’ve found a good doctor in the medical system that Barbara and I have. God doesn’t make good hospitals though. There’s some kind of celestial law against it.
Sorry about the bread. Glad you’re better. Down with hospitals. Up with Whiskey Nan, whomever she is.
Larry Cohen: “An update for Don Berns. Gunther Hauer has been reported to be between 92-94 years young. His telephone # is 215-673-6260. Coincidently, today (Tuesday, 10/14/14) was a ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’ in Phily with over 65 former industry folks attending. And Gunther Hauer was one of them.”
Mel Phillips: “I was one of the fortunate people who worked in both the radio & records (great name for a trade publication) business. Although related, there was a decided difference between the two industries. In radio, I always felt that I could be replaced at any minute. There was a certain insecurity about being in radio. ‘You're only as good as your last ratings’ was something I took to heart. I never felt that when I worked in records. I guess working for CBS Records will do that to you. So, on the security issue, the edge goes to the record business. Salary-wise, I made more money in the record business. Edge to records. Creativity-wise, I never felt creative working in records but always did when I worked in radio. Check -- radio. And finally -- what industry do I most connect myself to? Edge to radio. My first job was in radio and I've been writing about my first love for the last several years. It would be interesting to hear from other radio & records people about the differences they experienced. Happy to contribute to another Commentary. Keep em coming.”
Vince Cosgrave always spoke highly of his radio experience, but I think the record business bubbled in his veins. Kept a couple of rebuilt jukeboxes in his study, one for LPs, one for 45 rpms. And one of his prized achievements was producing the last album of Bob Wills.
Barry Salberg: “Rich Robbin forwarded me your commentary #33, and frankly I'd like to be able to receive all future such efforts directly ... please add me to your mailing list accordingly. BTW: was nice to see the inclusion of comments from Bob Sherwood and his memories of Paul Revere at KROY, Sacramento ... Bob hired me at KROY, and was the best PD I ever had ... one further anecdotal memory ... quite understandable if you won't remember ... Steve ‘Smokin’ Weed and I met you in your Billboard office on Wilshire, circa 1969 ... we were attending UCLA, wannabe disc jockeys, etc, and he had somehow set up a meeting with you ... while we were at your desk, you also took a call from Terrell Metheny ... thanks for being nice to a couple of guys who really wanted to be in the biz.”
Marlin Taylor: “You're right, Claude ... I couldn't think of the call letters at the time I wrote you, or Jim's partner's name. Re Dick Summer, I listened to him on the air and talked with him personally, but it's been many years since any contact. The last I knew he lived in suburban Philadelphia. Keep writin', Claude. Never had personal contact with many of the ‘characters’ whose names appear, but those names are familiar to me. After all, even with nearly 60 years having passed since my first paying job in radio, much of my activity was in a rather different genre of programming from where most worked. It was so interesting, though, after I landed at XM Radio in 2000 for ‘my last grand gig in radio before I was too old to be physically and mentally able’ ... to talk with my fellow programmers and find that we had many call letters in common ... I had been there a generation or two before them -- KFOG, WBCN, WHFS to name just three.”
Kent Kotal: “Hi, Claude! Going to run a couple of your Paul Revere comments as part of our next tribute ... probably tomorrow in ‘Forgotten Hits’. This man touched SO many lives ... and we're still getting mail and tributes every day. Check it out if you like ... and scroll back to last Sunday's and Tuesday's postings, too ... a much-loved entertainer to be sure.”
Click here: Forgotten Hits
Kent, I hope, as a matter of courtesy, you give credit to Bob Sherwood or whomever. That would be nice.
Lest We Forget
Jack Roberts, Larry Shannon, Aaron Sternfield, Bill Drake, Bill Ward, Joe O’Brien, Bob Poole, Eddie Hill, Slim Willet, Jay Blackburn, Al Dexter (talked to him once on the phone), Paul Ackerman, Al Galico (a great, great character in the music business), Bill Gavin, Don Ovens, Bud Prager, Shelby Singleton, Mike Gross.