June 22, 2015
Claude’s Commentary No. 69
By Claude Hall
Woody Roberts: “Claude and Dr. Bob, it was fifty years ago a polite young man walked into my office at KONO. He was a tall fellow who could have been a running back yet bore the airs of a Southern gentleman. This was the new kid in town assuring me in a very matter-of-fact manner that he would blow away the nighttime jock on KTSA. I hadn’t before met anyone exuding that much self-confidence; it recalled Babe Ruth pointing to center field. I wanted those nighttime ratings at any cost and so did this guy standing in front of my desk. George Wilson and others warned, Lee Simms was very good DJ but ‘hard to handle....’ So I asked George is this guy a complainer or gossip? ‘No, great guy -- but he might break your format’. It was then I decided to let Lee slip in and out of my format at will just to see might happen. Dr. Bob’s manuscript for ‘Hitbound’ took me aback when he said Lee considered San Antonio to be the starting point for his career. At first the remark didn’t make sense, but now I realize it was indeed the Alamo City where the unfettered Lee Simms first went on the air. Age 22, he had just quit KRIZ Phoenix and left behind a wife nagging him to quit radio and get a study job. He proudly showed me a photo of his 2-year-old daughter, Kim. The man really was starting over. Complete with a new name, Lee Baby.
“Because Lee’s show followed my afternoon drive we had the chance to become good friends. Those were the days of the British Invasion and I used 6-7 p.m. to do a battle of the hits with phone voting. Lee would take the calls back in the music room and via in-station phone report the votes giving us a chance to interact on air. Lee was constantly tossing me curves … like the first time I excitedly called back for his tally and he said no one had called. What! A year later we forever bonded when I decided to jump stations. Being good friends I decided to tell him my secret. Long, long silence and Lee said. ‘Woodyrow, I'm coming with you. I don’t want to be at KONO without you. Take me along’. For the next several days, San Antonio radio audiences -- my 35% share and Lee’s 50% -- heard us plugging our upcoming surfing venture to Padre Island. All that weekend we phoned the station with zany surf reports and gave away copies of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Then on Monday we showed up at 55 KTSA. Across the street, owner Jack Roth flipped out claiming we had contracts and got a court injunction taking us off the air and the payroll. Our trial went on all summer long and was heavily covered by local news media. Meanwhile, I stealthy programmed KTSA from my apartment and in 90 days we had totally smashed KONO. I even got a call from Don Keyes: ‘How’d you do that?’ But in the end, the judge overruled his jury box full of Woody and Lee Baby listeners and ran us out of town. Lee announced: ‘Woody, it’s up to you to find us a job’. Me? I had no clue. But thanks to David Klemm at Blair Radio and consultant Grahame Richards we got signed on as mercenary hit men in the battle for Connecticut. Time flies and here I am celebrating this Golden Anniversary replaying old memories and enjoying a snifter of Cognac and a hand-rolled smoke, a la Lee Baby. Think I’ll pull ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ off the shelf and read the last act…. Again, thank you, Claude, for reuniting me with Lee.”
Great honor! Don Barrett of LARP.com and wife Cherie dropped by. No, they weren’t in town just to see me and Barbara but I’m grateful as heck they came by. We had a very pleasant half-hour or hour. It was like meeting home folks. Cherie, may the Good Lord bless her, sat on the living room floor and chatted with Barbara. Don and I spun old windies. Just a fantastic time! Don and I have more in common than I realized. Don henceforth: Mi casa es su casa.
Rich Robbin: “May the good be upon thee, too, and may the Bluebird of happiness build her nest within the lint of your navel!”
Robert E. Richer: “In past notes, I mentioned that I started my broadcast career in the ABC Mail Room. Nice to see that the illustrious Mel Phillips did, too. It was a great learning experience, and allowed me to meet everyone from Ed Noble (the original money behind ABC) to Bob Kintner (president) to Martin Block, Bill Stern, and of course, Telly Savales. And a tip of the hat to Nancy Plum. What a great career; demonstrating that you never really leave the business. I am sure that Frankfort, KY radio listeners have no trouble recognizing a pro when they hear one.”
Via the great Wally Roker, we learn that Walt Baby Love is the deacon at First AME, Los Angeles. When Walt was at R&R, I could always phone him for help. A good man. And I’ll bet he’s a darned good preacher.
Ken Dowe: “Good writing, Claude. Really good. Yours are the thoughts that loom larger inside the heads of all who sense the Reaper reaching. Every day he is nearer. And, most of us wonder about our legacies. Why? In this life I am not certain the values we allot to most tangibles, and the majority of those we cannot physically grasp, are of any remarkable value. Gold after all is merely a ductile and malleable metal. As for praise, we all enjoy hearing our names called. And, then what? As a Christian, I am personally content about eternal issues. About earthly concerns, for longer than I can remember, I have assigned my own reality jolt to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius:
"See how soon everything is forgotten, and look at the chaos of infinite time on each side of the present, and the emptiness of applause, and the changeableness and want of judgment in those who pretend to give praise, and the narrowness of the space within which it is circumscribed, and be quiet at last. For the whole earth is a point, and how small a nook in it is this thy dwelling, and how few are there in it, and what kind of people are they who will praise thee.
“You are a remarkably kind and thoughtful gentleman, Claude. A rich man, because of Barbara, your entire family, invaluable memories, and more friends than you can count. I am in that long line. And, as one Texan to another, I remind you of these words: ‘All you need for happiness is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife’. Daniel Boone”
Heard from Bob Barry. Was it raining or was it wasn’t raining? Or were you visiting Texas? The dry part.
George B. Segraves: “Claude, Dave Anthony's story flashed me back to spring 1967, when Bill Drake actually DID come into a station -- KAKC, Tulsa. He, Bill Watson, Gene Chennault and Bernie Torres were in the GM's office when I got off my ill-advised (and worse enacted) morning show and I was given the hand-written note from our European-vacationing owner, explaining who they were and why they were there. We got the whole jock staff back to the station and Watson gave us the concept lecture, while the business guys did whatever business guys do. Next day I noticed that Drake had disappeared. Watson explained that Bill had run into some of Oklahoma's stone-age liquor laws, so had quickly booked a flight to Dallas -- so he could enjoy some ‘winkipoos’ while airborne.”
Great on you, Scooter!
I printed a diatribe about Ron Jacobs a week ago and immediately had this response from Woody Goulart in San Francisco: “Oh shit, Claude. I thought when I started reading your Commentary that Ron Jacobs had died.”
Nope. Ron then wrote commenting to Betty Breneman, I had mentioned her, and I asked if I could print it.
Ron Jacobs: “Aloha, Claude, be my guest. The fact that Betty was already established in the LA radio scene as MD of KHJ was key to the success of Boss Radio. She expedited our drive to the top of the ratings. Bill Drake and I valued her opinions and were in awe of her stable approach to a chaotic responsibility: picking the music, which comprised the majority of broadcast time. Everyone LOVES Betty Breneman. Best to you both.”
From Ron Jacobs to Betty Breneman: “Dearest Betty, Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’ was and is playing as I open your email and it ALL comes rushing back, in another time, in another place like the song says. J. Paul Huddlestoned out of my mind, nahe nahe pakalolo (sweet ganja), God, we had to walk through the halls with 45s in hand to play something for one another. Now I can zap this from Hawaii to California in a minute or so. Yes, you must hear this one more time to re-focus BOSSynapses … and before I can read the end of the first sentence I get all sad and happy at the same time flashing back to our touchstone, 5515 Melrose Avenue in Boss Angeles. The year was 1965. And damned if Kindness didn’t pay off with Happiness and Joy. We share a bond with the few who were there at the creation, those of us still alive. Marveling that we’ve seen so many come and go. Praise Jesus that we made it this far, Betty. Survived long enough so there’s more kindred souls on the other side, the flip side, the B-for-Boss side. Oh the memories, the names.
“In and out the cement doors of the fortress marched the workers with whom we toiled daily. No concern for hours or pay, we new guys came to play. And we were blessed with Betty, The Pregnant Music Librarian, who took no shit from Senor Bernie Torres and had the LA music and record scene DOWN. Betty was an All Star before we all arrived. We’d made it. Like in our Fresno dreams. Time to blow away KRLA. More juiced energy in the studios than at the transmitter itself … the twin towers at Fairfax and the Santa Monica Freeway … electric, controlled frenzy. This team, which had never worked together previously and on a sudden six-hour deadline, performed with the precision and professionalism that would become the hallmark of the Original KHJ-AM Boss Radio format, to be copied globally as the ‘Drake format’.
“At 5515 we knew who all was stirring the pot. Who gives a damn about titles and credits? ALL music programmed on 93/KHJ was programmed by Betty Breneman, Bill Drake and Ron Jacobs. Separately then collectively we concurred, ‘All radio stations start with the same deck: all the same songs are there for the choosing. To succeed one has to pick the winners. And then shuffle the deck so it flows. Don’t jump titles without a reason’. Now Morrilson is singing ‘Tupelo Honey’, and I’m tripping on this one-month-old BOSS iMac. Betty, if we’d been able to use all the new technical advances of the past 50 years, who knows what kind of trouble we coulda caused? The Big Kahuna on Facebook. Video streams. Tina Delgado Burgers. I love Van Morrison, from way back to ‘Gloria”. He’s my fave singer/songwriter off-island. Over here it is a wonderful musician and composer, Jerry Santos. So Betty, the mighty Pacific Ocean itself cannot sever the bond, the connection we share, one so special that even we, who were there, lived through it. Thank God for placing us there, at that time, in that building, cementing a Legacy. Pardon the stream of consciousness, sweetheart, but you’ve heard EVERY OFF THE WALL THING I bounced around in that corporate temple we captured and could play some of the best records made in the history of pop music and like this ain’t the weirdest thing you ever heard outta me anyhow. Aloha, which even Cameron Crowe couldn’t fuck up.”
Doc Wendell: “I made it through another Playboy Jazz Festival and I'm about to drop like a one-legged parrot.
I wrote a diatribe a while ago that receive four of five responses (Don Barrett even commented on it) and, sadly, I wrote Dick Summer and asked him to forgive me, but that I couldn’t print his response … that the primary purpose of this weekly Commentary is to honor radio and radio people.
Dick Summer: “Good Lord no, Claude. I didn't expect you to post that. I was just very taken by the way you expressed pretty much the same idea at the beginning of your last post. You and I are at similar points in our lives. Satch Paige famously said, ‘Never look back. They might be gaining on you’. He was a little off the plate with that. I think you need to look back sometimes to put where you are and where you're going into perspective. A guy by the name of Joe Goodavage was a good friend of mine. He was a New York Daily News reporter, and the author of four or five NY Times Best Seller titles. There's a chapter in my book about him too, which I'll attach ... (and I don't expect you to post that either ... I just think you might enjoy it). I fly a little airplane, and I took Joe up one rainy afternoon for a short flight. Small planes don't climb like jets, and as I was climbing through the clouds, the grey started getting lighter and lighter ... and we eventually came out on top ... and Joe saw a rainbow off the right wing. He said, ‘Oh my God’. And I couldn't help but think ... ‘Yeah’. Joe was dying of cancer and we both knew it. It had been a number of years since his last book was published, and he very quietly said on the intercom, ‘I know I'm a has been, but thank you for letting me see that’. A HAS BEEN? No. He was an honorably discharged battle hardened US Army Vet, a reporter for one of the biggest newspapers in the country, a best selling author ... a talented painter, a lover of three wives (one at a time) and a Goddamn good friend. I told him, ‘I'd much rather be a has been than a never was’. That's one of the reasons for ‘Smudge’ that I sent you. I just got the idea that you were playing with some similar thoughts. You're a giant, Claude. No one will ever occupy the position you so proudly held for so long. AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT.”
As I was talking with Don Barrett during his visit, I realized that I was probably not that big in the state of affairs, but I’d been awfully lucky to know so many really wonderful people. This includes Jim Gabbert, who’s KPEN was just honored. Gabbert, who attended the event, sent me a note: “Claude, FYI … what a day!”
Ken Levine: “The Whitefire Theatre in fabulous Sherman Oaks is staging a night of three TV pilots that never made it to air. One is a pilot my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote for Fox (and then NBC) called UNDER ANDREA. We’ve turned it into a one act play and I’m directing it. It’s very funny as are the two other pilots that will be presented. The program is called DEAD PILOT’S SOCIETY and will run for four Monday nights beginning June 29th. (June 29, July 6, July 13, and July 20) Would love for you to come see it. Here’s the information:
It promises to be a night of fun and bitterness that these pilots didn’t get on the air but SELFIE did.’
Courtesy of a suggestion from Dick Summers, I wrote a couple of people to see if they’d fulfilled their goals.
Joey Reynolds: “My goal in life was to become a good father, husband, employee … now there is no employer, the kids have left the house and I am divorced. We all fall short of the glory of GOD. Seriously, in a short form, the best thing is what Mark Twain said, the 2 best days of your life are the day you were born and the day you realize why you are here. I know my purpose now and have developed a style and philosophy like Paul the (almost apostle), and john Lennon. (Imagine). There have been many poets in words and music who teach I can keep it if I give it away. I am most thankful for Harvey Cooper helping me to sober up and providing a safe place to live and the ensuing fellowship with everybody on the trail of my new life after I screwed up in the first half of the game. Thank God there is a second half. I am a grateful recovering alcoholic and drug addict 40 years sober, this is the best that there is. My health comes from this and a lot of years doing Bikram yoga. The cosmetic stuff is only a cover-up from what's going on inside. There has been a lot of people putting me together, too many to mention as they would usher me off the stage for taking too much time on an awards show.
“I have been on the red carpet since childhood and have had just enough fame to not have to hire bodyguards and have some paparazzi stick their nose in my salad. The money stuff is best told when I went to Bob Bruno the GM at WOR, who incidentally was a humble mentor who got stuck hiring me reluctantly but gave me the room to play and the direction along with David Bernstein who brought me in. I asked Bob for a raise and said I don't know where my money went? Bob said ‘you spent it’, I quietly said ‘0h’?. Rick Buckley and I were friends since he took over the radio stations for his dad in Hartford and they bought WIBG, he moved me to Philly where I lived like a rock star because I was one, but was like Mick Jagger on steroids. Rick did everything he could to back me up but I had a self destruct mechanism that was loaded and ready to fire. So I went to LA with my over-the-intro jingle package and made a million bucks from Bill Drake to prove him wrong. Rick’s friend Tom Merriman (TM) imitated my jingles and I slapped an injunction against him. The good news is that I was the first to do TV jingles for Metromedia and John Kluge, opened the Universal Amphitheater with the Who and was arrested for a live Christ hanging on a Billboard on Sunset Blvd for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. I told the cops Nixon should be hanging there for what we did in Vietnam. I was booked with a DUI. Back to leaving Philly, it was quite a ride to defy Rick Buckley, my friend, as we achieved great success together … as we achieved our goal of beating the WFIL Empire. WYSP was our FM from San Juan broadcasters and selling it was the biggest fight we had. Many years later I grew up and was rescued from obscurity by Bruce Holberg and Jay Myers, they convinced me to move from LA and go back on the air regularly at WFIL. Jay loved baseball and should have directed a sports format, it was a home run.
“Interestingly my return to an oldies format on a dead AM station where I didn't play too much music on an AM station during the FM heyday. I am proud to say we outperformed the power station down the hall by being more connected to the black community than they were, we did a wake-a-thon for Ethiopia live aid and shamed WMMR and all the big guns by going to the people directly which attracted Bono and the live aide guys in Philadelphia as a hotspot, we did it without taking donations from businesses or sponsors, this might be a key to success in this generation of starting over. I would keep the special profit interest out of it. Money is killing the banks, if you can imagine that redundancy, also the airlines. The irony is the fact that the demise of radio as we know it was begun by a Broadcaster, Ronald Regan with di-regulation. As a result of his voodoo economics, radio and TV shifted from a public trust to real estate. Only the strong survive, although minorities were thrown a bone with stations after we milked them dry. No wonder there is a resentment. Most of the successful black stations were owned by white interests with deep pockets. The situation of 6 or 7 people controlling hundreds of properties with towers designated to serve a community is as much of a fable as Jurassic World. All we need is satellite since we have become dinosaurs in a world of drones. Rupert Murdoch was not an American citizen when he bought properties in NY, the Post was an add on with the promise to the city to keep employees because it was not grandfathered and he had his full compliment. The equal time rules for elections aggregated congress which controls the FCC, so they conveniently offered the privileged a reward for helping their re elections, and we do live off of democrat and republican war chests as well as pharmaceutical monies. In other words look at the history of the disgrace of Alan Freed and Dick Clark with congressional action on Payola but in the hypocrisy the congress practices Payola which we call lobbying. P.S. -- I was the first Satellite Broadcaster with Satellite live out of Dick and Bert’s studio in LA from 1977-79.
“My church was the Bel Air Presbyterian on Mulholland along with Nancy and Ronald Regan when he was between jobs of Governor and President. We were on the building committee for a bigger Church since we did such a good job with taking in people during the fires in Beverly Hills the church and our neighboring synagogue got good guy T shirts. This made us good neighbors? Ronald Regan was recording at Harry O'Conner studio with Howard Jarvis on a weekly financial show, he really believed by lifting the restrictions on business that money would trickle down to the middleman. The only thing that trickled down was the pee on my daughters diaper when I held her up and tickled her. The Minister Don Moomaw was headed for a big church job with the new President in Washington but he sinned and resigned because of adultery on the hill in Bel Air. They eventually did build a bigger church to accommodate us sinners.
“As a child of Marconi, I am passionate about radio, and like Pope Francis with global warming, everybody is too busy in the profits from denial to start from the beginning. My epistle here is too long in a short form world. George Carlin got grumpy instead of funny and Jon Stewart got serious (without xm). I don't want this to happen to me by surrendering my sardonic edge and become a victim who lives in the winter of discontent with the ice frosting of cynicism. It's no good to complain without a solution, I have been doing my homework and want to share my experience, strength, and hope. I have evolved by getting involved with newcomers and millennials, Jerry Del Coliano invited me to his recent conference in Philadelphia and suggested I go short form, very unlike this long message. In that effort I am on CityWatchLA front page with my radio Reynolds raps on video. I believe talk radio on politics is over and the shift to sports is a good sign of audience loving personalities. Even Howard Stern has turned Americas Got Talent with its circus format into a personality show. This is going to give us the breath of life we need to create a friendly environment because radio is like belly buttons, everybody has got one. We can get people to use the sets by being interesting and lifting the restrictions on formats instead of ownership di-regulation, this moves us from a money medium back to a people mover. We owe it to ourselves to be truthful on the air with respect, we know how to treat Bruce Jenner with respect for his lifestyle but not much else. I am suggesting a cut the crap format of no age discrimination, the broadcasters cannot talk about this over the air because they are found guilty and live in a money bubble with investors and stockholders who make money off of somebody else's work. I am already doing the recovery work, my age has nothing to do with my performance ability, I can relate to my daughters, their children, my friends, and you. It was a travesty in justice when WOR got rid of me because of age without being truthful, the only ones who missed out was the management, the audience, the newcomers, and the sponsors, they haven't recovered since and Bob Pittman is my age, he needs to fire himself if that's the case.
“Frankly, with my relationship with Les Paul, Soupy Sales, Joe Franklin, Sid Bernstein, Casey Kasem, Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, not any one of the radio stations called me for a talk or a comment, I had to go to TV, mostly on NBC. Herb Cohen said it brilliantly years ago as a best-selling author: ‘You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate’. Please check out my website: Joey Reynolds.tv. And thank you Phil Arno, owner of WBZZ TV in Buffalo, and John Discullo for the excellent job of prime-time ratings on the prescription pot show with a live audience and the only marijuana documentary with real doctors, even CNN and CBS missed the boat, it took a radio guy working with TV to accomplish this. To be continued.”
Thank you, Joey. May God bless.