Today at 8:23 AM
March 9, 2015
Claude’s Commentary No. 54
By Claude Hall
I’ve got to tell this story, but I haven’t the slightest reason, really, to tell it. Except that Woody Roberts, once a great program director, still a person of considerable intellect and a good friend, sent me this book by Larry McMurtry titled “Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen” and it has a cover of a Dairy Queen in what is obviously a small Texas town like where I went to high school, Winters, except that the Dairy Queen is at the wrong end of town. Pity for McMurtry, a renown writer, to make a mistake like that. He wrote “Lonesome Dove” and has won a Pulitzer and some of his books have been made into movies. I always considered “The Last Picture Show” a horror story. I never heard a Greyhound going past but that I wanted to be on it … even when I was attending The University of Texas. But, overall, I’m just jealous of McMurtry. He has been successful at writing and, although I’ve supported a wife and three kids and a dog with words, I feel that I have achieved virtually nothing. Vox Jox will never win anyone a Pulitzer.
In reality, I don’t care much about Larry McMurtry and whatever jealousy I bear, is trivial. Even my wife Barbara says she doesn’t care for McMurtry and doubts that this book will become a bestseller. I tell her, he didn’t write it for that. He wrote it, really, to try to wriggle a spot for himself in the world of literature. A lot of writers try to do this. Some achieve their goal. Most do not because, when you get down to it, they didn’t write anything worth calling literature. And neither did Larry McMurtry. Which is pretty odd, because he wrote about Archer, TX, and I wrote about Winters, TX, and the two towns are essentially mirror images of each other. His writings sold like crazy and he made a lot of money. My tale about Winters is literature and will likely go unread. Pity. I think my tales are better than anything he ever wrote. This is typical, however, of writers. We all think we can out write, out think, and out drink any writer in the room. Doesn’t matter who the writer is. You name them. Hemingway, Chandler, Faulkner, Flaubert, Leigh Brackett, Dorothy Parker.
We followed two different tracks. We both studied other writers, just different writers. Trying to figure out why they were so great. D.H. Lawrence; I’ve even been to the old ranch in New Mexico. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, too. I confess: I didn’t even know how to pronounce his name correctly until a couple of students from Russia laughed at my pronunciation one day in a course I was teaching at UNLV, Las Vegas. The writers I studied trended more toward the commercial. Leigh Brackett, for example. I loved Edgar Rice Burroughs, Theodore Sturgeon, Dashiell Hammett. Barbara and I have visited the homes of Earl Stanley Gardner and O’Henry and Mark Twain. Yes, I studied the great masters. Intensively. And more or less worshipped the off-beat writers of the Algonquin, the Paris Review and various other avant garde publications. I don’t know why. I think their beat lifestyle intrigued me at the time. I read Jack Kerouac, but didn’t worship him. Passed him by. The Algonquin Round Table, however, was like a monument where Dorothy Parker held reign.
What’s odd is that, though I frequented some of the haunts of the esoteric writer including the Kettle of Fish and I once saw Shel Silversteen walking by in Greenwich Village, I don’t recall venturing into the Algonquin during my years in Manhattan. Neither before nor after marriage. Barbara, too, was an Algonquin buff. Then we moved the headquarters of Billboard magazine to Los Angeles. In the day and many nights, I worked on Billboard. At night when I could, I wrote on “The Hellmakers.” And I continued to study not only the various religions, but the various serious writers. Not the Brits, but the French, the Russian, the American. I don’t know why I avoided Dickens. People I know and respect know and respect Dickens.
One day, I received a phone call from Herb Helman, head of publicity for RCA Records in New York. He wanted me to fly into New York to interview one of the executives about quadrasonic music. I suppose I should explain. I’d written some of the early news stories about quad music, both discrete and matrix. And this led to writing about the broadcast experiments of Jim Gabbert and Lou Dorren on KPEN-FM, San Francisco. I am egotistical, but this is not ego talking: I was probably the overall media authority. This, in spite of the fact that Hal Cook, publisher of Billboard, had one day had a tantrum and tossed all of my collected data in the trash back before we moved headquarters to Los Angeles. Ben Bauer, the acoustic scientist at CBS, even flew in an engineer from Japan and personally installed a quad system in my office at 9000 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. Lou Dorren promptly gave me one of his demodulators and I had the best quad system in the world, matrix and discrete. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard the Doobie Brothers in discrete quad.
So, Helman wanted me to personally do the story in New York City. I refused, of course. Not only was I writing the radio-TV section of Billboard, but I covered several labels such as MCA and 20th Century Records for news. And organizing and conducting a convention once a year. We had a staff in New York. Let someone there do the story. No, Helman said. I had to fly to New York. Again, I refused. He put on enormous pressure. Finally, I told him that if he could get me a room in the Algonquin, I would do it. He tried. Phoned back. No room available. “Great. No story.”
What’s funny now, after all these years, is that I can’t remember whether or not he finally chiseled a room in the Algonquin or not or doing the interview or not. I certainly wish I could apologize to Herb Helman for giving him such grief.
I’d forgotten all of this until I got the book from Woody Roberts and remembered that I used to study how other writers got famous. When you get right down to it, I can’t envy anyone, however, that lives in Archer. At least, I had good enough sense to leave Winters.
Walt Pinto in regards to last week’s picture of Buffalo radio men: “Haven't seen Sandy in many years, but that has to be him on Joey's right. And I believe that's Danny on the other side of Joey. Never had any time in the Buffalo area, but went to the NY Broadcasters Hall of Fame Induction a few years ago when Danny was inducted. I said hello, told him Joey and I worked together, and that I had a copy of the 45 ‘Rats in My Room’ (the record he and Joey released).”
Later: “After sending the previous email, found this link on YouTube:”
For posterity, a must hear. Joey Reynolds is a family friend. And this is a horrible record! But it’s history. Just as Joey is part of radio history.
Damion Bragdon: “Claude, always enjoy your info ... many names from my past -- Lee Baby Simms, Danny Clayton, Sandy Beach, Dick Robinson, Joey Reynolds -- and so many more that influenced my venture into radio broadcasting while growing up in Hartford, CT. Radio has been a great career path for me in Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco and what I had called home for 40-plus-years Los Angeles. Still keep my toe in the water with a one-hour show called ‘Rock & Roll Cowboy’ (mixing today's country and rock) playing in over 180 US markets and 50 countries. Thanks to all the aforementioned talent and yourself for keeping the passion alive.”
Bob Walker, WTIX ret.: “For those of you missing New Orleans ... temp here now 75, expected 79 for Wednesday. Cafe Du Monde and Central Grocery open for business, with beignets, coffee & chicory, and across the street at Central Grocery: Muffalettas plenty. Uh, just thought you folks would like to know.
Ah, ah, ah. Those mufalettas! I’d been told about the Central Grocery when I was working on the Times-Picayune. So I meandered there one day and strolled inside. Someone pointed toward the back when I asked about sandwiches. Huge guy behind the counter in back. Arms like tree limbs. I swear! I asked what kind of sandwiches he had. He said in a voice like a bear, “Whatdayuh mean what kind of sandwiches we have. We got one kind of sandwich.” There were three versions. The more you paid, the more filling you got. One of the world’s greatest sandwiches!
Bob Skurzewski: “The photo ... left to right ... Sandy Beach, Joey Reynolds, Dan Neaverth, unknown MC of the night), Stan Roberts and Shane Gibson. Joey and Dan did ‘Rats in My Room’ and followed up with another single called ‘Got Rid of the Rats’. Stan Roberts recorded a single with the Buffalo Sabres audio in the background. Shane also recorded a single, ‘Summer in America’.”
Larry White: “Hi Claude, I'm sure Joey Reynolds will have the details on this, but if you haven't heard already, Don Berns died yesterday in Toronto where he'd been living for about 30 years. I know he's written you several times recently and thought I'd pass along the his passing. He and Joey were very good friends and I'm sure he can give you the details. Best to you and Barbara.”
Sad news. I enjoyed the notes from Don Berns. We come, we do, we go.
Don Graham: “Hi, Claude … we just received a call from Bill Miller, host/producer of the nationally syndicated program ‘The Bill Miller Show’, a pre-recorded show featured on 180 stations throughout the U.S. Bill, a long-time member of the Kansas Broadcast Hall of Fame, does not have email, and therefore asked if we could contact you … he records his program on a Sony mini-disk recorder/playback unit type r, and his current recorder has failed beyond repai4. Bill asks if any of your Commentary readers have one they would be willing to sell. Bill’s phone # (913) 397-9651. He thanks you for your help and consideration.”
Scott Paton: “As usual, another entertaining and informative post. As I couldn't find any reference on Amazon.com to ‘Hitbound’, the Robert Weisbuch-penned book on Lee Baby Simms that you referenced, I'm guessing that it may have been self-published. If you have any leads as to how or where a copy could be purchased, I suspect that I am only one of many of your subscribers who would be interested in doing so. On another note: As an unabashed fan of Phil Spector's creative legacy, I was greatly saddened for both victim and suspect alike, and hoped that it, indeed, was an accidental shooting. As a friend and colleague of Spector's, I'm sure Danny Davis was even more upset. But based on evidence and testimony in the trial, I wouldn't put too much creadence in the speculations that those ‘bent-nose fellas’ evidently shared with Danny. That smacks a little of the old specious defense tactic of painting a rape victim as a slut. Spector has a long-acknowledged history of waving pistols around in threatening fashion. He was a brilliant producer and, unfortunately, often a substandard human being. I wish Phil was innocent. More importantly, I wish that Lana Clarkson -- who, by all legitimate accounts from those who knew her, was a lovely person -- was still alive. But her error in judgment that night, coupled with the fact that Spector is a disturbed individual, cost her life. I certainly don't blame Danny for wanting to believe that his friend is innocent. But the ‘gents’ who've unfairly trashed the victim were not there that night either. I've gotta side with Danny's wife, Marie, on this one. Unequivocally.”
Don Barrett, LARP.com printed that Bob Pond was in a hit and run last October. Severe head injury. Unable to talk. Needs help. I used to be in touch with him during my Billboard days. Not since. Good radio man. Worked markets such as Phoenix and around Los Angeles.
Mel Phillips: “This Friday, March 13 marks the 48th Anniversary of WRKO. Several years ago I wrote 'WRKO ... The Launch' and I have linked the story on my latest post. I offer it here to the sizable radio and records viewer audience. We have lost many members of the original staff but those that remain are Perry S. Ury, GM, the first WRKO PD whom I replaced - Bob Henabery, Promotion Director Harvey Mednick, the last surviving member of the sales staff, Bill Wayland and on-air personalities Al Gates, Joel Cash, John Rode, J.J. Jeffrey, Arnie Ginsburg, Chuck Knapp, Dick Burch and morning team newsman Palmer Payne. I've attached a photo of the WRKO Marquee that announced the arrival of The Now Crowd.”
Ron Jacobs, Hawaii: “Sorry you ain’t up to using Facebook. It reaches many new generations of radio people and listeners. Maybe someone could set it up for you. Photos are duck soup and ANYONE you assign can run it, after we both are gone! Anyway, my present ‘Banner’ shows a section of a bookshelf with mostly radio books. Notice yours, close to the left. The condition is evidence of how long it’s been on the shelf, ready reference. Usual aloha to you both.”
My own copy of “This Business of Radio Programming” is, too, fairly worn from use, Ron. In retrospect, there are a couple of interviews I wish were in the books. But, by and large, I’m proud of it.
The Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame, a program of the California historical Radio Society is honoring KPEN, San Francisco, June 17 as Legendary Station of 2015. It was created by two Stanford University students in 1957, James Gabbert and Gary Gielow.
Lunch tickets: http://www.broadcastlegends.com
Mel Phillips: “Morning, Claude, from snowy NYC but (fingers crossed) this will be the last storm of the winter and soon to be spring. See what you miss by not being in NYC anymore? In the interest of supplying the results of a recent music study and plugging my Monday, March 9 piece, here's the open of my latest story: The Edison Research/Triton Digital 2015 Infinite Dial aka 'The Gift That Keeps On Giving' tells us that 'Friends/Family' and 'AM/FM Radio' are in a virtual tie for music discovery. When asked by the study which sources are used for keeping up-to-date with music, the former category edged radio 70% to 69% ... (Read more at http://melphillipsradioviews.com). Since the majority of your readers and Hallophiles collected over the years are either in (were in) the music business or are (were) in Radio, they might find this story interesting. Stay in Las Vegas Claude - there's no snow there.”
Robert E. Richer sent this note: "FM radio as we know it began this month in 1941, says the U.S. Census Bureau. March 1941. This is when the first commercial FM station went on the air -- W47NV in Nashville. FM was first proposed in a scientific paper by Edwin Armstrong in 1922. By 1934, he demonstrated how FM was unaffected by static, unlike all the stations then on the air, which used AM or amplitude modulation. Critics said the idea was impractical. World War II interrupted the advance of FM broadcasting. After the war, the FCC moved the entire FM band up from 42-50 MHz to the current 87.8-108 MHz -- rendering as many as 500,000 pre-war receivers useless. RCA boss David Sarnoff had something to do with that, as he battled to preserve the hold of AM radio.”
As some of you know, my latest writing project is about George Wilson, a personal friend and one of the greatest radio men who ever lived. It’s called “George.” I sent out the first chapter to three friends. This is from Jack Gale, Florida, godfather to two of the children of George Wilson and his early mentor in radio. Jack Gale: “In 1965, when I went to Charlotte to run BIG WAYS, I had no idea that George was running WIST there. He came over to see me, and said he'd never go against me in the same market. He asked me what music I was going to play. I had just come from WMEX in Boston, so I told him the Kingston Trio, Andy Williams, Patti Page, etc. He got furious and said, ‘You're gonna get killed. This is the South’. He stayed for three weeks and programmed all my music. Wilson Picket, Sam and Dave, Fats Domino, etc. Then he left for Baltimore. BIG WAYS became #1 in one month. Later you gave me my plaque for Program Director of the Year at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1970. Thank you, George.”
Woody Roberts, Texas: “I learned quite a bit about early Top 40 by reading this piece. It reads like a memoir rather than one of your stories and will be an important addition to 20th century radio history. I hope you will eventually send it to your list and, too, Kindle it for a free download. It needs to go on a website somewhere so it will show up on Google searches, I hope some radio people will post it to their blogs. A keeper for posterity. George is an enigma with me, I got my first radio job in Galveston K-ILE '59 and basically was never intrigued by the programmers in the north. None of their stations interested me. Being a lad in Texas I was a McLendon student and aware of Chuck's honing of that format in LA. Which reminds me that Don Keys is a name often left out of radio history, he followed Bill's tenure with Gordon as Grahame had with Todd. The first time I became aware of George's name was in '65 as one of the references listed by Lee Simms. When I called I think he was PDing in Baltimore. Lee spoke of him but I never heard anything from others about his stations and never heard an aircheck of one. I did spot his name in the Gavin Report. Wish I had known George.”
Timmy Manocheo, California: “Well, just to give an early appraisal, the first two pages are DYNAMITE!” and, later: “Next, I finished reading the draft of ‘George’. I love it.”