Monday, November 3, 2014

Claude's Commentary No. 36r2

Today at 8:09 AM
November 3, 2014

Claude’s Commentary No. 36
By Claude Hall

I worked on the kind of newspaper that was fast disappearing.  We didn’t know it.  We thought we were something else and great and just as good if not better than the New York Times.  The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, however, was even then right out of a history book.  The newspaper still used hot-metal type set on Linotype machines that looked like monsters out of a horror film and made a noise that would have pleased a Jack Nickelson.  Our photos were etched with dragon’s blood.

My children haven’t the slightest idea what I’m talking about.  That kind of newspaper is history.  To be honest, most newspapers are also fading into that distant realm of what used to be.  And I may have also written the last rush-to-print story.  I’d been investigating Jim Garrison, the district attorney.  He was filing charges, but never bringing the “culprits” to justice and the assumption, then and now, is that he was being bought off.  You don’t take the culprits to court.  Time expires.  Eventually, they go free.

Finally, I’m writing the story for pi (page one) and not only the city editor, but the editor-in-chief are hanging over my shoulder.  No sooner than I typed a couple of paragraphs on that old manual Smith-Corona, one of them would pull the paper from my typewriter and start editing what I’d written with a No. 2 lead pencil.  I would quickly insert another page of newsprint and continue to type.

My “exposé” appeared top left with a byline the next day.  I doubt that Jim Garrison even raised an eyebrow when he read it.  He was locked into the political system and got reelected anyway and later became famous when he claimed the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy.  I think there was a movie about it later.  He was a crook.  But that was more or less the modus operandi of New Orleans, a great city for a reporter.  I’m still very proud of my reporting career.  I later had many exclusive stories when I worked on Billboard magazine in Manhattan and would sometimes have three good stories on page one (only one with a byline).  I’d like to think that my reporting soon put Cash Box into a distant second place in the industry.  But I never had the intense excitement with an exclusive news story that I had with that Jim Garrison exposé.  All this before Barbara and I  went north again and I joined Billboard.

Art Wander:  “Your articles continue to bring joy to this tiny tot of the kilowatt (thanks Perry Allen).  It’s so great to read the great names like Art Holt, Ken Dowe, Mel Phillips, Don Berns and so many others.  I just want to say that I was saddened by the passing of Marcia Strassman following a 7-year battle with breast cancer.  In early 1967 when I was programming WOR-FM, faithful secretary told me a nice girl wanted to see me.  I said OK.  In came this delightful looking person.  What impressed me was that she was wearing yellow tinted glasses.  She said, ‘Neil Diamond suggested I come to see you since you were featuring new artists on your station and if you would play my recording’.  I said I would listen to it, which I did.  The song was ‘Flower Children’.  I told her that I would be unable to play it since I was seeking compatibility to the format.  She thanked me and I then told her how impressed I was with her glasses.  She said, ‘Come with me’.  She took me to her optometrist and bought me a pair of glasses, which I selected blue tinit.  I was so pleased for her when she scored as Kotter’s wife on ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ and the many appearances she worked on ‘M.A.S.H.’  I still have the glasses.”

Burt Sherwood writes that when I printed “Bob Sherman was the general manager of WNBC when Sherman brought Don Imus back from Cleveland” I was not totally correct.  “Sherman was the GM alright and Pittman was the PD.  It was Jack Thayer that made Pittman fly down to Cleveland and bring Imus back ... I think he said ‘or else’ ... not sure on that.  Thayer told me this many times over ... I have yet to see Pittman use WNBC as a place he worked (or WMAQ)  ... let alone the Ellie Dylan story.”  Burt also said that it was Pittman who fired Imus that first time from WNBC.  Thayer by then was president of NBC Radio.  He’d hired Imus for Sacramento, then WGAR in Cleveland, then took him to WNBC in New York City.

Freddy Snakeskin:  “I enjoy your Commentary every week and find I’m looking forward to it every bit as much as I used to look forward to your column in each week’s issue of Billboard, way back when. Especially liked hearing from some of the other ‘kids’ who likewise grew up reading Vox Jox.  My parents bought me a $20 gift subscription every Christmas beginning from about 7th grade on.  I got bit by the radio bug very early, but since I didn’t know anyone who actually worked in a radio station I learned everything I could about the Biz from the pages of Billboard’s Radio-TV section – maybe I couldn’t listen to much outside Phoenix, but at least I knew all about the big-time Top 40 stations, their famous boss jocks, assorted national programming wizards, etc.  Or so I thought.  But I was sufficiently inspired to start my own (pirate) radio station from a small storage room at my folks’ house in Phoenix. My ham radio friend set it up – sounded like total splattery crap, and we had to wait each afternoon until a certain AM daytimer signed off because that was the only frequency we had a crystal for.  But it got out almost a mile, and we were on the air!  I noticed in your column that you sometimes ran items from new stations asking for record service, and I got to wondering if that might work for me.  So I wrote you a very nice letter, and sure enough, you were kind enough to help me, by printing my heartfelt plea for free records (along with mailing address) in Vox Jox. I was elated! Initially I had my doubts whether you’d go for it – for one thing, I didn’t have any kind of letterhead on which to type my ‘official’ station letter. Then there was the matter of the call letters I’d chosen for my ‘station’ – KRUD (remember, my staff and I were all age 12 or 13).  Then about a week later, my mother got a phone call from some guy inquiring about employment opportunities at the ‘New KRUD’. She burst out laughing, then when she realized it wasn’t one of their friends making a joke call, patiently explained to the poor guy, ‘Sorry, dear, but the program director is my son and he’s in 7th grade, and unless he has a source of income we don’t know about, I highly doubt he’s going to be hiring anyone for anything.  And the station’s in a closet off our carport’.  At that point he just hung up on her.  And apparently to get back at me (for not having a job for him?) and my mom (for laughing at him?) he then proceeded to snitch me out to you. And a couple weeks later you even printed a retraction, warning your readers to ‘watch out for KRUD’ (see attachment).  Oh well -- easy come, easy go!  And I hope by now that you have forgiven me, for trying to put one over on you (just as I hope the Statute of Limitations on 1967 Mail Fraud cases has long since expired).  I’d also like to belatedly thank those few record companies that DID service me back then (on your recommendation). I hope that by now they’ve all, at least indirectly, gotten their moneys’ worth for those free records they did send me; (for the record, in addition to my humble KRUD roots, my resume also includes such illustrious stops as KRDS, KRUX, KRIZ, KPFT, KTNQ, KWST, KROQ, KSRF/KOCM, KEDJ, KZON, Sirius, plus a few other stations too dubious to mention).  For the past 8 years I’ve been with KCBS-FM (JACK) in LA (doing music programming), and KROQ-HD2 (, doing all programming.  Nobody ever sends me free records anymore, but if you wouldn’t mind mentioning in Claude’s Commentary that I’m looking for service, I’d appreciate it!  Thanks again Claude!  PS:  In the attachment the KRUD’ mentions are near the top of column 2 (1st page), and in column 1 on the 2nd page. (BTW Billboard actually misspelled the name of my street, but I still got a few packages every week, at least for a few months.) [It also just occurred to me that perhaps you’ve even heard this story by now – sometime last year, at dinner with mutual friends I met your son John Alexander Hall; pretty sure I told him the story that evening….]”

John told me the tale.  Funnie!  Still, I’m pleased to hear from you now, Freddy.  It’s obviously difficult to keep a good radio man down!  By the way, I’m really pleased at the help this week from you guys.  Some awfully good people in Commentary!  And I loved all of the tales!

Dan McCurdy, Sherman, TX (Charlie Brown, Dan Patrick - KLIF, Dallas; Fenway at WMEX, Boston; Dan Patrick at KBOX, Dallas):  “Claude ... for every 1,000 radio heads, I'm sure each entry into radio's tempting talons is different from any other.  Mine began with a benign invitation to be a 'guest DJ' at KSAM in Huntsville, Texas.  As a high school freshman football fullback, I bravely accepted the challenge, and did OK. Still, no big deal to me, until the next day, when a number of school folk told me, ‘Hey, Danny, you sounded pretty good last night’.  ZOINK!  The needle was in and I haven't shaken the high yet. ‘You mean I can talk into a contraption and a bunch a folks think I'm cool?’  ZOINK!  The me-kid was a bowl of wobbly fantasies.  After moving to West Texas, I lied my way into a freebie Sunday afternoon show on KDWT, Stamford, when a buddy's cousin wanted Sundays off.  Fast forward to Abilene, my college town, where I lied my way into '8 O'Clock Rock' on KRBC. ‘Yessir, Mr. Owner, I've been at a station in Stamford for two years’.  I conveniently omitted the fact that it was for no pay and only on Sunday afternoons, subbing for a guy I don't think the station manager even knew skipped work once a week.  From KRBC, an aircheck was sent to KLIF a few years later which began my major market radioverdose; an OD begun years before with an innocent  'guest DJ' needle injection.”

Does anyone know anything about Perry Bascom?

I don’t receive many records these days.  I remember the day when if I mentioned liking Marty Robbins, someone sent me the entire catalog.  Same with Frank Sinatra’s Capitol years.  And once I mentioned that I would love to have a copy of the original “Boxcar Up Ahead,” I think that was the title of the tearjerker, and a buff sent it to me.  Not so anymore.  But Don Graham, the Don Graham, sends me a CD now and then, for which I’m grateful.  He just sent me the new Blue Note CD of Annie Lennox.  I showed it to my son Andy who teaches English at UNLV.  Eyes light up.  He is impressed.  Tells me all about her.  Says my other sons would know her, too.

Then I get this note from Don Sundeen:  “Hi, Claude, if Don Graham hasn’t sent you a copy of the new Annie Lennox CD, ‘Nostalgia’, demand that he do.  Although there’s been a fad the last few years for pop singers to redo the American Songbook, few had the pipes and range to do tunes like ‘Summertime’ or ‘God Bless the Child’.  But Annie does it with spades, and she kills, singing 12 great tunes and accompanied by some wonderful, hip production.  I was not paid for this review … check it out.”

Truth is, we’re all paid by Don Graham.  In favors.  I owe him a truckload of favors.  But you’ve got to be aware that Don, the Don, deals in quality.  The man knows winners.

How do I judge music?  First, would other people like it?  Second, do I want to hear it again?  That is, do I keep it on this laptop?  “I Put a Spell on You” is dramatic, different, intriguing.  I think a good programmer would play this tune.  I know for sure that I want to hear it again.  Several times!  And Don Sundeen is right about “Suppertime.”  It’s a bit slow, but powerful.  Annie has, as Sundeen said, a killer voice.  “I Cover the Waterfront” is a soft ballad for the evenings.  Quite good.  Jazz.  Annie, I loved “You Belong to Me.”  Definitely a song radio should play.  What a magnificent job on “I Can Dream Can’t I.”  “Mood Indigo” is a bit long.  Great, though!

So I’m talking with our youngest, now an adjunct professor of English at UNLV, Andy Hall, and he gives me a 15-minute lecture on Annie Lennox.  “Doesn’t matter what she turns out, it’ll sell a million or more copies.”  He tells me about the Eurythmics.  “She can do the blues.  She can do just about anything she wants to do.”  And I have to agree.

And it appears that Annie Lennox can turn some old standards into beautiful and quite new ballads.  Great on you, Annie Lennox.

Jack Casey, WERS, Emerson College:  “Long time no talk.  I think the last time we spoke I was PD at Magic (WMJX) in Boston.  Lot of water under the bridge since then.  Roger Lifeset forwarded one of your recent blogs and I loved it!  I’m wondering if you could put me on your mailing list.  I would sure appreciate it.  I knew most of the folks who posted.  Maybe that’s because our numbers are dwindling but it was nice seeing what guys are up to.  Let me know if you’re ever in Boston… would love to have you talk to our students.

Scott St. James, Los Angeles:  “Claude, those of us who live here are looking forward to celebrating Don Graham's 80th birthday on November 15.   I'm thinking about wearing a grass skirt.   Don and I had the pleasure of seeing Isabel Rose perform a week or so ago.   Fun, fun evening.   She has terrific stage presence, I love her new album and my favorite song is ‘Never Satisfied’.  Meanwhile, I hope all is well at your end.”

Things fine.  John has gone back to LA and Darryl to SF.  Only Andy is home at the moment.  Thank God!  He does all of the shopping and errands.  Going to miss the Don Graham party.  Cry, cry.  My best to you and my very best to Don!

Bill Hennes:  “Claude, your letters just keep getting better and better! I came from a somewhat musical family.  My dad, who was an attorney, played a mean piano and my mother was a wonderful alto and I played the drums.  So I came by my love of music on the radio quite naturally.  Then in 1956, when I was 14 years old, I entered a radio contest, that WXYZ/Detroit number one DJ Mickey Shorr was running and I won first place.  The prize was a Webcor tape machine.  I was really lucky, Mickey took a liking to me.  He was a lot older, and he recognized that I had a unique ability to pick the hits and I knew what he should be playing.  I got the chance to know and hang around with the likes of Hal Neal, who was GM of WXYZ, and, of course, went on to run the entire ABC Operation.  Thus began my radio career. Then after PM DJ Ed McKenzie, who was the ‘original Jack the Bell Boy’ at WJBK, resigned his afternoon drive show at WXYZ in '59 over refusing to play what he termed ‘Silly Teenage Records and Formula Radio’ (he went to work at WHFI-FM/Detroit playing jazz and standards and I became his record spinner and newscaster).  My real first on air job was working for Milt Maltz at WBRB AM/FM in Mt Clemens, MI, which is a Detroit suburb.  My father, who was an attorney, always said I was ‘Vaccinated With A Phonograph Needle’.  Thanks for all you do.  Love it.”

Red Jones, Georgia Radio Hall of Fame:  “You had a couple of stories about early days of radio, just starting out in the crazy business.  Brought back this memory. I got the job at my hometown station KRGV, Weslaco, TX, in 1948 ... control room operator (announcers in a booth with a cough button).  The PD befriended me and I worked hard for Sunday relief on-air work.  I was not all that good, age 17.  But decided to enroll at UT in Austin and gave my notice.  GM Barney Ogle (he has passed away) called me in and told me to forget radio, ‘you ain't suited for our work.  Do something else’.  Fast forward through four years in Austin with KVET and UT, three years with AFRS, Berlin ... and there I was at KILT, Houston, with McLendon and in 1957 named PD.  Walked in one morning and who should be waiting for ‘The PD’ with the latest Pams jingles ... my old GM buddy Barney Ogle.  We briefly talked about ‘old times’ and with the subject of jingles, I introduced him to our GM Bill Weaver who had already heard my story about the past.  Bill had fun with him.  Jingles bought?  No.  Found out later that Ogle was DUI on his way back to Dallas.  Maybe we should have eased up a bit.  But, it takes all kinds.”

Jay Lawrence:  “I was in the air force (our side) was MC'ing on base shows at Lackland Air Base, San Antonio.  Air Force Band of the West show on WOAI invited me to announce for their shows.  First song I ever announced was ‘Valencia’.  Career, WEAW (Edward A Wheeler) Evanston, IL.  Phone call from Mr. Wheeler almost every 10 minutes. ‘We are not a humor station’.  WJPS, Evansville, IN; WIRL, Peoria, IL; KLIF, Dallas (hIred by Don Keyes, fired by Bill Morgan, rehired by Don Keyes, fired again by Bill Morgan).  KTKT, Tucson (my first station with David (Guy Williams) Morehead; WNOR, Norfolk (first talk show, Malcom X guest for two hours, he tore me apart, news director.  I had everyone using sound effects with news stories, DUMB.  KYW, Cleveland (became WKYC).  I probably should have gone to Chicago with Ken Draper, Dick Orkin and rest of staff, but NBC offered me a TV show to stay, gave me contract, new manager fired me.  I looked for new job in the Mediterranean, Checks sent to PO box in Athens.  Strangely enough did not find job in Med.  Fifteen months later (end of NBC contract) went back to Cleveland, WBBG, then to WGR, Buffalo.  Then back to David Morehead, KFI, Los Angeles.  Then KLAC, (thought I was going for talk, turned out to be country, I stayed, loved it), then WNEW, NY.  Also talk at WMCA and Boston, (Emperor Hudson ‘argued’ with PD.  I was temporary replacement).  Then WNDE, Indianapolis, Gulf Broadcast Group.  David hired me to be new Arthur Godfrey (too many stories for less than a book).  That ended, I went back to WERE, Cleveland, to create talk station.  Then to Seattle, KMPS Country, Then to KJJJ Country, Phoenix, became KFYI, I went to KTAR talk, stayed more than 20 years until I ran for office.  I have been elected to AZ House of Representatives.  Claude, as you know, all of us have stories that should be a book.  Mine would sound like Rally Round the Flag (hopefully that funny).”

Ron Brandon:  “I may be the only one you'll run into who got into radio by accident.  In the 10th grade in high school in Memphis, I picked as an elective ‘typing’.  Upon being told ‘sorry typing class is full’ I was given the option of taking ‘bookkeeping’ or ‘radio’.  Tough call ... hah ... radio sounded simple.  I'll float through that like the ‘art’ class I was also taking.  Some weeks later, upon being told by the instructor that I was going to fail the radio class if I did not learn the Morse Code (the radio course consisted of learning the code, radio theory, and a new subject, television theory).  So I buckled down and learned the code.  Turns out the FCC examiner came to Memphis four times yearly to give exams at the Federal Building downtown and if you took a test, you got out of school for the entire day.  We would always take a test, and upon graduating in 1956 I had a ham ticket, a 3rd class telegraph ticket, and a first phone.  I thought perhaps I could get a job servicing taxi 2-way radios, but some guy from WTUP in Tupelo called and wanted to know if I would be their engineer.  Forty dollars a week and no real work ... just hang my license on the wall (all stations had to have a 1st in those days).  They had a kid playing rock and roll after school afternoons, and when he quit I told the GM ‘I can do that’ ... (I'd been watching the kid talking to the girls on the phone, etc.)  GM realized that he could save a paycheck by letting me do it and you know the rest.”

Roger Lifeset sent notice that Dale Dorman, a Boston radio legend who began his career playing Top 40s hits in the 1960s and 1970s, and then played the same songs as oldies to the rock 'n roll generation, died Tuesday at his home in Tewksbury after a long illness.  He was 71.  Dorman was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2010.  He worked at WRKO, Boston, for 10 years, starting in 1968.  He also worked at KISS-FM for 20 years.  He ended his career at WODS.

Mel Phillips:  “After 2 days of unseasonable 70-degree weather we've cooled down.  We'll hit a high of 59 today.  And I hope it stays that way.  Has it dropped below 100 in LV yet?  After Bill Drake came along to consult all the RKO stations in the summer of '67, WRKO supplied some great talent for KHJ, including Shadoe Stevens, Bill Todd (WRKO's Johnny Williams), Jerry Butler and Charlie Fox (I was one very fortunate program director with some extraordinary on-air talent in those days.)  They would also get our promotion director -- the best in the business, Harvey Mednick.  Very rarely would Drake send us any talent but in the summer of '68, KFRC had a DJ who wanted to come back east and we decided to hire him as our morning man.  He managed to work out pretty well, lasting 10 years at WRKO and then moving over to KISS-FM and CBS Oldies station WODS-FM. He never left Boston, spending 46 years in The Hub. On October 21, 2014 we lost one of the great morning personalities in radio history when the legendary Dale Dorman passed away. R.I.P Dale Dorman (1943-2014).”

We come, we do, we go.

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