Sunday, July 19, 2015

Claude's Commentary No. 74r2

Today at 3:59 PM
July 20, 2015

Claude’s Commentary No. 74
By Claude Hall

Bobby Ocean:  “Hope this note finds you enthused and sailing on the vibes of inspiration.  Positive Energy like this takes all the work out of whatever it is we do.  After reading an article recently, I started writing to myself about the state of radio and how it is misunderstood by even those who have been in the biz for a few decades. Those personal notes {started, ‘Dear Bobby Ocean, There they go again, misunderstanding the bigger picture right out of the box...’} steamrolled into the observations I enclose below.  Hope you have nothing against cutting and pasting for posting, should you decide to use the following assembled thoughts on ‘fixing radio’.

“The question put to us recently by Fred Jacobs (on; ‘The Revenge of the DJ’) is, ‘Can broadcast radio go back to its archives, re-read its history, look in the mirror, and save itself by updating and modernizing its own programming model?’

“Let's clarify.  Who is WE in this inquiry?  Is it the DJs or the Management having them replaced?  Regardless, the answer to that question is ‘there is no such thing as a broadcast radio to revaluate or interpret itself anymore. Only the PEOPLE inside those establishments can do those things’.

“There ARE multiply operated stations, corporate-owned clusters of broadcast facilities, but there is no longer the community's very own individual radio station, the one entity that COULD look in the mirror and see something reflected back.  It has been sold to the highest bidder.  In its place, Management finds an empty building filled with recording and playback equipment, which returns all questions without response.  There's no one really there, just a bunch of machines, each with an input slot marked ‘content’.  Now, trying to pay off that enormous price tag, the corporation which now owns the station, along with several more high-cost broadcast properties in town, is strapped for dough, thus firing any paycheck cashing soul on board their sinking ship(s).  That done, the ‘content’ is no longer in house, and for remaining staff the climate is fear, which does not foster positive growth and advancement.  The opportunities for making things work effectively are crushed by the clusters' role model at the top, who usually knows nothing about the business and techniques of entertainment and certainly cannot be counted on to lift the station from it's sinking position and set it on an upright course.

“So how can something very real be saved by something unreal, a an abstract idea, an icon?  It cannot, of course.  An idea without a patron can do nothing, let alone go back to its archives, re-read its history, look in the mirror, and save itself by updating and modernizing its own programming, a red herring thrown in by the misguided guys at the top of the cluster.

“Programming isn't even close to the problem - or solution.  The Management who eliminated Those That Understand broadcasting and entertainment and know how to make it turn a buck, missed the chance at a solution as they watched her pack her belongings into a cardboard box and head for the elevator.  Not only did they miss their chance at turning the ratings and listenership around, they created a very real, accumulating problem by cutting costs in the division of the station dedicated to its product, that which goes on the air -- the money-making house.  Programming is the key organ in the body of any radio station.  It is the station's heart.  It is where the station 's identity lives.  Letting on-air people go, based on money amount they earned and not their talent or contribution to the team, has, at the least, the consequences of losing any forward momentum, the continued harboring of the existing chaos and firmly keeping major obstacles in place.

“That which is conceptual, cannot be saved by something that also isn't even here.  The best thing a boss in this situation CAN do is stop and accept the fact that he and his club know nothing about their number one product, the business of entertaining on radio, then realize this reality is killing their investment.  With this awareness, a person determined to succeed in broadcast radio will immediately begin a recruitment search for those who do know entertainment and can share their body of knowledge with the rest of the staff.  Again, there is no such thing any more as the ‘broadcast radio’ we once knew.  ‘It’ cannot do anything because there is no ‘it’ there.  ‘It’ consisted of PEOPLE coordinating their best efforts to create something much bigger than the inventory of its parts, but, in a colossal management misperception, the very employees that could actually have bolstered and saved the radio station were considered a liability.

“It has fallen much farther by now than those incipient days of new management.  Once upon a time, decades ago, we, the DJs, created IT; made radio stations fire out a sound that compelled listeners to remain glued to their speakers; made an art out of the many different personalities and delivery styles, formats, music flow.  All the sad stories of misguided motivation sound the same.  New owners arrived, understanding and focusing solely on the bottom line, appointed and put in charge their Lords Of Minions, who agreed to loyally say yes to this impoverished plan.  The new boss' Yes Man then guided the ship along its Bottom Line Course and drove it straight to the bottom.

“The DJs (including Programmers, Music Directors) had been systematically released, and are not inside the operation anymore, so someone else has to re-read our history.  Even more significant: A larger percentage of what made that kind of radio successful, never brought into today's discussions, was the complete ambience within which it occurred.  Those beginning days of our good ol' audiences and new born enthusiasm have passed, and with them, many of the relatable major ‘secret ingredients’ that made the life of the radio station seem so vibrant and personal.  Once, DJs were responding to the same environment as that of our listeners, in their language.  We were accepted as part of their everyday life.  It was 'groovy.'  That context isn't here any longer.  We've grown, evolved, passed the last century by along with its ‘far out’ characteristics.  Oh no, it's gone!  What to do?

“Well, assuming today's radio stations valued listeners enough to listen to them, those with an on-air Programming sense, a dissatisfied DJ probably, would turn her attention to Now -- what's happening Here and in this Present Moment -- and find words that are relevant to, and extrapolate from, the endless current associations and connections to THIS TIME we are passing through now.  Nowadays we watch as our supervisors, having handed us a pink slip, try in vain to understand and react to their audiences, and swerve around and into them.  They don't ‘hear’ the audience, do not understand them, do not know what they want and consider them ‘in the way’.  They're blocking profits.

“The question, ‘Can broadcast radio go back to its archives, re-read its history ... and save itself by updating and modernizing its own programming model?’ has a simple answer for both entities described as WE here.  ‘No’.  If the ‘we’ in this question is DJs, we can go back to our common radio archives, examine our history and gaze into the eyes looking back from the mirror til our heart's content, but we still cannot save a medium that is being hobbled from above our position and within our ranks.

“If the ‘we’ in this question is management, they must consider their DJs, their content presenters, as assets.  They must transform their way of seeing things into those of someone watching our back and be willing to move into a sense of support.  From management, DJs simply want to be recognized for what they do, and thus considered an asset of highest rank.  This means management must learn what it is DJs DO that raises the entire station, and then avidly support it.  If we are to go anywhere, we must do it all from scratch.  Then, starting from an empty format, ask the right questions, fill in the blanks.  Jump in with both feet and make mistakes; that's called ‘learning’.  And, while we have much to learn, we DJs have the background and interest to start fast and comprehend quickly, become aware of what works and what isn't correct and gain knowledge from our actions.  Scratch Radio -- that's the station I would have my money on.”

Bobby, my thanks.  It is an honor to partake of your wisdom.  Really be interesting to take a radio station in some medium market and let several “pros” see what they can do in that market in a year.  The late L. David Moorhead planned to do exactly this … first in Las Vegas.  He wanted to manage once again such as Mikel Hunter, Gary Allyn … you know the names.  Wild promotions (he had a notebook with more than 100).  Hard, quick news.  Ach!

Ken Dowe:  “We saw Tom Russell here in Santa Fe on Tuesday night.  It was a terrific show.  I mean one of the best I’ve ever seen.  Small venue, but filled. Tom is by equal measure:  A wonderful singer, incredible performer, and an extraordinary songwriter.  I very much enjoyed his scholarly and classical sources in a harmonic presentation of poetic stanzas in some stunning songs.  He’s written a Cowboy Opera.  I have it, and so should you.  Did you know he is also a artist?  A painter, not just of songs.  His works are available here in a Santa Fe gallery.  Most surprising to me was that Tom Russell is a superlative entertainer on stage.  Perfectly and amusingly engaging, to an audience that leaves believing he is their new best friend.  Maybe he will be...

“If I were a television executive, on Monday morning I would host a press conference proudly announcing that Tom Russell would be airing a new nighttime TV program on my network.  (On the order of Carson, or Letterman).  He’s that fine an entertainer.  Really … good.  I’ve seen some great shows during a long career and been backstage at many.  From the Beatles and Beach Boys, to the Grand Ole Opry.  I’ve enjoyed Tom Jones, Rod Stewart, and many more from Vegas and around the world.  But, Tuesday night in Santa Fe, Tom was as good as the best.  He had too many fans post-show for any long visit with Dottie, me, and our admiring 18-year-old, but his last comment to me was:  ‘That Claude Hall!  A GREAT man!!  Tell him!’

“Thanks for the introduction, Claude.  I very much appreciate.  Gotta get back now to his new opera and all his older songs I never tire of hearing.  Older, but still not deaf to great talent.”

Mel Phillips:  “I always look forward to contributing to your Commentary -- a masterpiece of memories made by radio and record people who contributed mightily to this business we've loved for a lifetime. You, my friend are the maestro conducting that symphony and no one does it better.  Today I'd like to touch on the subject that for years was taboo -- being fired.  For far too long our friends have carried around the stigma of rejection, failing to even admit they were ever fired.  I'm not one of those people.  Given the volatile nature of the radio and record business, it's not a disgrace to be fired.  In most cases the firing had nothing to do with performance. It's due more to new people coming in and bringing their friends with them.  Too bad if you stand in the way of that process.  I was fired five times but instead of treating those firings like a curse, I wear them as a badge of courage.  In each case I had the courage, confidence and persistence to keep going.  One of the Keys To Success I write about in my book ('From the Mailroom to the Majors') is 'Never, ever, give up': Persistence is more important than talent.  Everyone has some talent but not everyone refuses to give up.  Of the seven keys to success I've outlined, I would say the last one is the most important: Never, Ever Give Up.”

Mel, I was fired once.  From Cavalier magazine published by Fawcett.  They decided to take the magazine to a “girly” format from a “blood and thunder format.”  The new editor hired his own people.  I was given 15 minutes to clear my desk one Friday afternoon.  Whups, I was later “fired” when legendary magazine publisher George von Rosen closed down Casino magazine.  I was given four issues to make a go of the magazine … failed.  That’s when I went back to earn a master’s of education degree, largely via the encouragement of Bill Randle.

Doc Wendell:  “As you can see, it's been a busy summer so far. Here is my review of the new Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4. I've been waiting for this one for a long time.
Hope all is swingin'.  I'm still locked in one of my nerdy, obsessive compulsive jazz states right now but my audience seems to love my record recommendations. This one is on a great Sonny Rollins album.  I'm pretty sure Sonny Rollins is either god or tight with the head honcho.
I'm keeping busy in order to keep my sanity.  Here's my latest record pick.”

Doc, remember when you’re feeling blue that you’re a legacy.  Jack Roberts thought so … I think so.  Keep on keeping on!

Hal Whitney: “Claude:  “A couple of weeks ago someone mentioned Sebastian Stone as the PD of WOR-FM back in the late 60s.  Does anyone remember if Bill Musser was the GM around that time?  Thanks.”

Robert E. Richer: “For those who do not really comprehend why Facebook exists ... presently, I am trying to make friends outside of Facebook while applying the same principles.  Every day, I go down the street and tell passersby what I have eaten, how I feel, what I have done the night before, what I will be doing and plan to do.  I freely spout my political and religious thoughts without regard to theirs.  I give them pictures of my family, my friends, my dog, my vacations, my gardening and spending time in my pool. I also listen to their conversations and I tell them I love them.  And it works.  I already have three persons following me: two police officers and a psychiatrist.”

Bill Hatch:  “Re: Sebastian Stone, real name Ed (Edward) Phillips. I enjoyed Gary Allyn's Lee Baby/Gary Allyn/Dick Casper story.  All three players were at KCBQ during my tenure there, but I don't recall the incident referred to.  If it happened before I arrived, they had re-hired Lee Baby by the time I got there.  Unless it was he who got replaced by China Smith, I have no memory of Lee being fired before the arrival of Buzz Bennett and crew.  That changing of the guard essentially flushed out the entire air staff with the exception of the news guys (whew) and the all-night jock.  Of course, it was the '70s and there are many things I have no memory of.  Please keep up the Commentary.  It provokes fond memories and reminds me of the good fortune I had of being in radio on the west coast during that magical era.”

We are daydreamers all.  Part of human nature.  And just one of the reasons I’m now reading about Tarzan again (more perhaps about this later) and was once whisked away on the fantasies and science fiction of Theodore Sturgeon, Leigh Brackett, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein.  Woody Roberts has gone with me on those flights of fantasy and journeys.

Woody Roberts:  “Just to let you know ... I did get to the Moon and to Mars.  And on Mars I have the most distinguished set of colleagues, was uber proud to make that journey with them.  A boyhood dream indeed.  Ever since I can remember my dream was to go into space, walk on the Moon and Mars and travel to the stars.  Always been an escapist.  It's looking as if my destiny is to remain Earth bound this time around, but ... tomorrow (14th) my name is on a disc attached to the side of the New Horizons spacecraft that will fly by Pluto and into the deep beyond.  Although I've gotten pretty far out in my life this event sets the record ;-)  WR aka WU aka GWU.”

When vaudeville was replaced, I guess, by the movies, vaudeville wasn’t really killed, per se … it sort of morphed.  I recall when I was in high school we’d have these “acts” that came around.  The principal would let everyone out for assembly.  The entire student body of Winters High School in Winters, TX, maybe 400, would convene in the auditorium and watch a “dog and pony” show.  Usually a dog act.  One dog would do amazing stunts, another cute stunts and one cute little dog did humor; she would run around the hoop rather than leap through it.

I was introduced to Bill Randle early in my Billboard career by legendary promotion guru Don Graham.  I recall doing the interview over a sandwich poolside of a swimming pool atop a Manhattan hotel just before Bill sped away to do his hourly show on WCBS radio.  Little did I know at the time that Bill would one day ask me to go with him to do a “dog and pony” show, circa 1981, at some high school west of Enid, OK.

Ostensibly, we were attempting to promote student recruitment.  There were about 30 students in a classroom.  Bill had introduced Elvis Presley the first time he was on TV and predicted that he was going to be a star.  Earlier, Bill had promoted a concert at a high school in Cleveland that featured Elvis Presley.  His red suit days.  I still have a photo of the occasion on this laptop.  Tommy Edward, a disc jockey on WERE along with Bill, is shown with Bill and Elvis and Elvis’ bassman.  But the “dog and pony” show just showed the TV introduction clip and some other acts and and Bill Randle talked about music.  The 30-minute TV cassette was the pre-runner to what Bill hoped to sell for television, a show called “The Selling of Elvis.”

I doubt if we recruited many students that day for Phillips University.  But I still believe it was a good idea.  I think he did it once again.  I didn’t go.

A funny:  I was watching a basketball game a month or so ago (I sometimes tape a Clipper game – Barbara and I are huge Clipper fans -- to watch it again later) and, behold, there was a dog show during the half-time.  Cute little dog catching a frizzby while doing a flip.

Bill Desing: “Claude, You probably know about this Billboard history site, but just in case:
There is also the main page with other publications:
I look forward to reading your emailing every Monday as much as I looked forward to your column in Billboard.  Keep it up as I'm sure I'm not alone.”

You know, Bill, it’s sometimes difficult to believe that I was probably famous.  A funny:  I used to tell my students at the State University of New York at Brockport that I was more or less a tin god … and then remind them that tin rusts easily.

John Long: “The mention of my name as someone who introduced you to someone at an NAB convention had me going for a moment.  By strange coincidence, when I was in radio at one point I was ‘Dr. John Winston’.  Just another piece of radio trivia or should I say a trivial piece of radio history!  Loved your story about Mr. Ellis and Bob Van Camp.  Bob played organ at the Fox Theater and was music director.  When I worked with Morris Diamond when he was head of promotion for Mercury, I took ‘A Walk in the Black Forest’ by Horst Jankowski quickly over to Bob at WSB.  He put it right on the air.  I was so proud because i was a real ‘green pea’ promotion man.  The Georgia Radio Hall of Fame has a special award in honor of Mr. Ellis.  His daughter Janet Ellis Beerman is the one who presents the award in years when someone is selected.  This year the honoree is retired CBS White House correspondent Peter Maer.  Another interesting tidbit about Mr. Ellis: When Hank Aaron was about to hit his record 714th home run, Mr. Ellis recorded a song called ‘Hammerin Hank’.  It's attached for your listening pleasure.  Here are a couple of pictures you might enjoy.  Hello to Mrs. Hall!”

T’was a different Long.  Involved in jingles.  Very important man at the time.  Always been grateful to him for introducing me to Dr. Tom Turrichi.  Big news story.  Scoop!  Thanks for the pictures!

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