Sunday, November 11, 2018

Veteran's Day

The timing is perfect. It is 11:11 AM on 11/11/2018; Veteran’s Day. Unlike Memorial Day when we honor our fallen military heroes, Veteran’s day is THE day for our veterans who are still with us. And as such is supposed to be a more cheerful holiday.

It warms my heart to scroll through Facebook and see all the posts that my friends have put up with pictures of their time in military service. My personal post this year is a memory of one that I put up last year. It was taken back in the summer of 1964 when I was a young Midshipman beginning my third class year in the University of South Carolina NROTC Battalion. I am standing in front of a fountain in Cherbourg France. I had just noted to my shipmates that all the buildings surrounding the square are probably older than The United States. Indeed some parts of Cherbourg predate Columbus’ voyage. Sort of puts it all in perspective, doesn’t it.

During the first couple of decades after WW II, my veteran uncles and aunts did not speak much of their war years. But as time passed, stories began to flow and I began to understand what it was like in the Sands of Northern Africa, on the battlefields of Italy with Patton, on the flight decks of aircraft carriers in the South Pacific and bulldozing runways in New Guinea while under enemy sniper fire. The home front was interesting too with my aunts ferrying planes around the US for the Army Air Corps, serving in the WAVES and coming out of the homes to fill the jobs vacated by men who were in the armed forces.

I tended to think of these events happening some distance away from where I grew up in Jacksonville, FL. But a story my Mom told made me realize how close to home it all was. She had gone out to Jacksonville Beach to visit one of her cousins. One evening, they were sitting on the front porch of her cousin’s blacked out home looking out to sea. The beaches were blacked out so that they did not backlight the tankers and freighters making their nightly run into the port past the hunting packs of U-boats. The entrance to the harbor was a target rich bottleneck as the ships converged at the jetties outside of the St. John’s River. So all the beachfront communities, including Mayport and the Naval Station there went dark from dusk to dawn. Unfortunately, sometimes they saw explosions then fires as some unlucky freighter passed between the U-boats and some flicker of light on the shore. At that moment, it dawned on me that the small silver dollar sixed globs of “tar” that we found on the beaches in the ’50s and ‘60s were remnants of those war time attacks. Wow, I thought, it happened right here! I never looked at the ocean the same way since.

I was fortunate in that my own military service in the Naval Reserves never took me to an active war zone. The closest I came to real action was in May of 1968. I was on a “vacation” from my job at WCOS on my two week training cruise aboard the USS Soley out of Charleston. We had sailed to Ft Lauderdale and early in the second week of my deployment, we had left Florida under calm seas and sunny skies expecting a slow cruise back to Charleston executing anti submarine drills. Imagine my surprise when I was ejected from my bunk by a violent heeling motion. A handful of us were lying on the vinyl tile floor of the berthing space wondering what was going on. Despite still being a hour or more before Reveille we made our way to our duty stations wondering if we missed General Quarters. As it turned out we had not. Shortly after taps we received a flash message with orders to proceed at flank speed to the Virginia Capes area and to begin a sonar sweep for a missing US Nuclear Submarine, the USS Scorpion (SSN-589). Despite several very uncomfortable days in rough seas, our search was fruitless and we returned to Charleston. At the end of October 1968, the Navy's oceanographic research ship Mizar located sections of the hull of Scorpion on the seabed, about 460 miles southwest of the Azores, under more than 9,800 ft of water.

I will make one other comment about that cruise. This was in the middle of the Vietnam War and there were a lot of protests stateside. When we were preparing to debark, usually done in our dress white uniforms, the Executive Officer came down to the compartment were a handful of reservists were getting ready. He asked us if we had civilian clothing with us. I told him that I had driven to Charleston in my civilian clothes as I had just completed an air shift just in time to get to Charleston for departure. He told us not to leave the base in our uniforms but to leave in our civilian clothes. “Civvies” were provided for the one of my shipmates who had none with him. He told us that there was an active protest going on at the main gates of the Naval Base and all the cars driven by uniformed personnel were targets of bricks and rocks being thrown by the protesters. We exited the base by a gate onto Spruill Avenue base and then onto I-26. There were protesters present but I escaped the bombardment. One of the other reservists from my squadron suffered minor facial injuries when a brick went through his windshield. All I could think about was those 99 men who were missing and presumed lost. The results of the U.S. Navy's various investigations into the loss of Scorpion are inconclusive. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the theory held my friends who are former submariners is the one where she got caught up in an underwater duel with one of the Echo II-class submarines that was operating with the Soviet task force she was shadowing.

As interesting as this story is to me, it pales in comparison to those that I hear from my high school and college classmates and military service peers these days. As they get older, like my parents generation before, events long held inside are being shared, along with tears and laughter.

There is a civilian side to my story of the Vietnam War. During the height of the war, I was working at WCOS, doing a live radio show from Doug Broome’s Drive In near the corner of Two Notch Rd and Beltline Boulevard. Fort Jackson, the largest basic training base in the Army was just a few miles away so it was not all that unusual for a soldier to come by and request a song or two.

Probably the most requested song was Fortunate Son by Credence Clearwater Revival. This one came out in late 1969 and several Drill Sergeants back fresh from the war held it reverently in their hearts as the song that defined their Vietnam experience. They could not get enough of it. I think they would have been happy if that was the only song I had with me.

The other most requested song by soldiers was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and recorded as a 1965 hit single by The Animals. At the time, recruits had only a single night of “liberty” during their six weeks of hell, better known as basic training. This was their favorite song, despite the fact that Barry and Cynthia did not write this song about Vietnam but instead about the frustrations of big city life. The words “In this dirty old part of the city, Where the sun refused to shine, People tell me, there ain't no use in tryin'” were changed by the servicemen to lyrics that expressed their feelings about the war and military life in general. A completely different set of meanings came along around prom time each year. It was a very popular number to be played at high school senior proms and graduation parties.

Even after these songs fell off the top 40 and out of rotation, I kept personal copies of them with me, just in case a soldier came along and requested one or the other of them. Oh MY!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Christmas Music

Last Friday, I was sitting in a local restaurant enjoying my traditional end of week lunch when all of a sudden, I heard IT! What is that?!? Some hip hop version of Sleighride! Really! It’s only November Second already, only two days past Halloween. Twenty days until Thanksgiving and some fool is playing Christmas Music. I almost choked on my salad.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Christmas Music. I just don’t want a two month supply of it.

The cynical side of me thinks that is all a plot to make the Christmas buying season longer every year. Indeed I saw a story on the news the other day that said that Black Friday, the traditional big kickoff to the season the day after Thanksgiving is becoming a thing of the past. The story said the retailers were running their specials, which used to be run on Black Friday, are being run now. Furthermore the story warned that stocks of some of this year’s hot items may not be available come Black Friday. Trust me, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I may become one if this kind of thing keeps happening.

SiriusXM announced on October 22 that they are offering no fewer than 16 commercial-free holiday music channels this year and some of them went on the air last Thursday. For example, their Holiday Traditions Channel is now on Channel 3 and Holly is now on Channel 4. So if you are a fan on Forties on Four, you need to find the new channel for your music. Hint; it is Channel 73.

Which brings up something I have noticed in the past; if your favorite radio station goes “All Christmas” soon, you had better start a search for a new station. Yours is probably going away. It seems the corporate programmers use the pretense of going “All Christmas” to avoid the audience fallout that usually accompanies a format change. I’m not saying this happens all the time but for stations going “All Christmas” a high percentage of them do not go back to their old format when Santa hangs his hat on the mantelpiece at the North Pole and takes his long winter’s nap.

One thing I do know; when I see a station go “All Christmas” there is usually an accompanying flurry of resume and air check being sent out by the few live DJs still working there to cover their bases. It is not like it was back in the day when there was always another “Mom and Pop” over in the next county or the next state that is looking for someone to cover that afternoon board shift. With today’s focus on the bottom line and use of automation, live radio DJs are fading into the veils of mist in our memories.

These “All Christmas” periods are not good for the artists who perform the music that the radio stations play. If they are unfortunate enough to be climbing up the charts or the station’s rotation when the transition comes, their efforts are likely to be stale and falling out of popularity when the end of the Christmas season arrives.

OK, you are thinking, you say you like Christmas and holiday music, how should we mix the sounds of the season into the record rotation. My response, in my most curmudgeonly of voices is to tell you how we did it in the old days.

The Friday after Thanksgiving, back in the 60s, the program director or the music director would bring a cardboard box that contained the teletype paper for our AP/UPI machines into the control room and place it on the floor in front of the cart machines. This box would be filled to the brim with 45’s of all the holiday music that was in our rotation that year. That music covered the years from the 30’s to the present time. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was nestled right next to Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans’ “The Bells of St. Mary”. On the other side of the box were Christmas offerings from Elvis, The Supremes, The Drifters and many more. It was better than sugar cookies and eggnog. To make it all more festive, there were red, green, blue, yellow and even orange colored records in that box. It looked like Christmas decorations! We were in heaven.

The instructions were to start by playing one Christmas song every half hour the first week, and add another to every half hour every week until on Christmas Eve, at 6 PM we were “wall to wall” Christmas music. We stayed there for 24 hours and then started gradually reducing the Christmas music in the mix until it was finally gone just before midnight on New Year’s Eve! This way, we didn’t go cold turkey on the folks that love Christmas music.

So in my old school way of thinking, this is the way Christmas Music should be played every year. So look for your favorite Christmas oldies to appear in the mix on my shows the Monday after Thanksgiving and stick around until the weekend before New Year’s Day. That’s just the way I roll. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Cooler weather and vinyl!

The temperatures have fallen like a speedometer when you spot a highway patrolman on a lonely stretch of interstate. I’m not sure we are gonna have much of a fall this year. I hope so, I love the crispy blue skies and the leaves falling off the trees. According to the Farmers' Almanac's famous long-range weather outlook, “it's going to be a ‘teeth-chattering’ cold one, with plenty of snow. Contrary to the stories storming the web, our time-tested, long-range formula is pointing toward a very long, cold, and snow-filled winter.”

Well, ain’t that just dandy! Really, I can’t complain too much. It has been over a decade since the last big ice storm here. But on the other hand, this summer we have been hit by the remnants of three major hurricanes; Florence, Michael and even Willa crossed Mexico and the Gulf to become our first Nor’easter of the winter. So, I’m not taking it easy I’m digging in for the winter. My heavy sweater from the trip to Scotland this year is still laying out on the bed in the spare bedroom. And if it gets really bad, my “Michigan Coat” from my days traveling up there in the winter to run projects is still hanging at the ready in the coat closet in the foyer. My snow boots are all cleaned up and ready too.

There is a good side to this cooler weather. It’s now comfortable in the Air Studio at WUSC-FM. This summer, temperatures in the studio ran in the mid 80s with little or no air circulation. So “working over a hot console, spinning the tunes” was more literal than allegorical with the hot summer sunlight pouring through the southward facing windows. There was a double whammy with the heat rising off the bricks of the patio three stories below, overwhelming the modest window shades that tried to keep things livable. It’s all the result of progress. The rooms on that floor were reconfigured when the studios were moved down the hall from where they used to be. Unfortunately the HVAC was not reconfigured correctly.

Typical of so many “remote studios” of the old AM radio days, the buildings WCOS occupied at the various Doug Broome’s drive in restaurants had their own challenges. The one on the roof of the Main at Confederate location was accessible only by a ladder and had heating and cooling issues as well. Far better was the 10’ x 12’ cinder block studio in the parking lot at the Two Notch Road near Beltline location where I spent most of my time on the Nightbeat Show. It had large 4’ x 8’ windows on three sides and a door and an air conditioning window unit mounted in the rear wall. Heating in the winter was left to a small electric space heater. Nothing was turned on until the DJ arrived, unlocked the door and turned on all the equipment.

Fortunately, in the summer months, that was not a big deal as the A/C could cool things down in about 5 minutes. But in the winter it was a different story; that space heater needed assistance from the heat from the tubes in all the equipment to make things comfortable. But the worst part of it was the need to warm up the rotary equipment; turntables and cart machines. In the dead of winter, it would take 20 minutes or more of spinning pieces parts before they would operate at the correct speed. It took 15 – 20 minutes to drive out to Doug’s with the records, commercial carts and the rest of the paraphernalia required to do the show. So I had to leave the studios within five minutes after the Open Mike show with Dave Fedor went on the air. It was a good thing that the parking space behind the booth was reserved for the DJ. On the rare days that I was delayed and it was cold, I would call Arthur Broome, the manager of the restaurant and ask him to use their copy of the key to open up the studio and turn everything on. He never failed me.

They say that the sense of smell is the one that provokes memories. I believe that. Right now, sitting here writing, I can smell that studio; the odor of tubes warming up, the grease in the motors of the turntables spinning, the smell of mustard and onions drifting over from the kitchen in the restaurant 50 feet away, and most of all the smell of vinyl.

Left: The vinyl section of the WUSC - FM Music Library. The smell of vinyl being scraped by sharp needles is what I miss most from those old days of 45 and 33 1/3 RPM records. Every radio station had that distinct air about them it permeated the entire station. It isn’t just me. Last Friday Evening the WUSC – FM Alumni Association had its annual reunion gathering at the Village Idiot Pizza restaurant in Olympia. Eventually the smell of vinyl in the studio emerged in the conversation. Eyes glazed over, heads raised up as if we were all smelling those old records. It got a little quieter as we all drifted back into our collective memories. Could it be that we are all addicted to sniffing vinyl?

The comparison between playing a vinyl record at home and the smell of vinyl in an old radio station is like comparing home strength ammonia to that used in blue print machines, or like comparing a peanut to a bowling ball. I’ll just offer you this advice; if someone offers you a whiff of blue print ammonia – DECLINE! Unfortunately, most modern radio stations no longer have vinyl records so it is hard to get that experience. Hmmmm, I think I’m gonna have to take a detour into the music library on my way into WUSC – FM tomorrow morning. In the far back, almost out of sight and mind sit thousands of LP records in their sleeves and covers, just waiting for a DJ to carry one into the studio and put it on the air. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

I’ve always wanted to be a Pip!

I admit it! I have always wanted to be a Pip! Now before you spit out the coffee you just drank, being a Pip is pretty cool, at least to those of us of a certain age.

I am talking in broader terms than being a member of the classic soul group, Gladys Knight and the Pips. Not being a member of the Atlanta Georgia family, I would not qualify. I’m talking about being a backing singer in a doo-wop or soul band in the golden age of oldies 1955 – 1975. You know those guys and gals who had the great dance moves and harmony that made those acts fun to watch as well as to listen to.

It would have been cool to be standing in the shadows of Motown or backing a doo-wop act, just out of the beam of the glaring spotlight. Hey, it was easier to spot the hot chicks in the audience if you didn’t have that glaring light shining in your eyes. Better yet, it would have been fun to make those dance moves back and forth behind the microphone even taking a complete spin if you were a member of the Temptations or the Drifters.

Another reason being a Pip is better than being the lead singer is that you don’t have to remember as much as they do. Not only that, but the backing lyrics are the ones that most people relate to the song. So there is little risk of forgetting the lyrics in the middle of the song and if you do, you can fake it while your fellow “Pips” cover for you. I’ll give you an example; Take the song Lady Soul by the Temptations. Here are all the lyrics that the backup singers have to know.

'Cause you are my, my, my, my lady soul
You warm my heart when I grow cold
Oh you are my, my, my, my lady soul
You are my life, you make me whole

That’s It! Just sing those words three times and you are done! The rest is all oohs and ahhhs and nobody forgets those. So you can put your brain into idle and scope out the aforementioned hot chicks. What’s more, as long as you are not the drummer, you are a hot commodity yourself. (With apologies to all my drummer friends, who are already picked on by the rest of the band.)

Alas, I never got to be a Pip. Although I got to sit in with several bands over the years and that was a lot of fun, but I never made to Pip status. Many thanks go out to the bands that put their reputations on the line allowing me to have my moments on stage with them.

The closest I ever got to being a Pip was back in 1968 at a “Woody With the Goodies Hop-a-roonie”, put on by our Program Director at WCOS, Woody Windham. The main act was Peaches and Herb who sang their big hits accompanied by a local band augmented with recorded tracks. They didn’t bring backup singers with them. So the other WCOS DJs and I created a makeshift doo-wop line somewhere between “For Your Love” and “Lets Fall In Love,” By the time we got to “Love Is Strange,” Herb Fame, nee Feemster, the male half of the duo had had enough. He turned around to us and said with a big grin, “You guys are terrible!” You know what, he was right. We were terrible but everybody including Peaches was having a great time. Our response to Herb was, “Yeah man, but we have radio shows and you don’t.”

To make it up to Herb, we invited him to come into the station the next morning and do an hour-long show with the bunch of us. Just like our doo-wop efforts, that show was probably better consigned to the fog of our memories than having been recorded for posterity.

But my desire to be a Pip was never sated. Even today, when a great old doo-wop or soul song is on the air, I have been known to be sitting in the studio singing along at the top of my voice. It is a good thing that there is an off switch on that microphone, or I would have zero audience, everyone would be fleeing to the hills.

Heck, one Monday morning a couple of years ago, I had Gladys Knight and the Pips spinning at 45 RPM on WUSC-FM, and as usual I was singing in the studio at the top of my lungs when one of the campus police officers stuck his head in the door to check that I was not strangling someone in there. Yup – Herb was right; I’ll never be a Pip. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Broadcasting Out In The Wind!

This week while Tropical Storm Michael was coming ashore in the Florida panhandle, a video went viral of NBC reporter Kerry Sanders nearly getting blown off his feet while live on the air. Fortunately for Kerry, Jim Cantore of the weather channel was nearby waiting for his satellite time and was able to come over and help Kerry remain upright despite losing his hard hat.

Source: NBC News The Weather Channel and NBC are competitors; The Weather Channel is owned by The Weather Group LLC.; a consortium that was owned by NBC Universal (Comcast), The Blackstone Group and Bain Capital until it was sold to Entertainment Studios earlier this year. But despite that competition, Jim did not hesitate to come over and help Kerry out. He did it in a way that the viewers at the time could not tell that he was the one rendering aid. He saw a fellow broadcaster in a tight place and came quietly over to assist.

When I saw the viral video on U-Tube my first reaction was to think that it is good to know that there can be cooperation in the middle of competition: the band of broadcasters is as strong today as it used to be. It also reminded me of some of the terrible weather conditions that was the background to one of the most memorable events of my career.

My scariest moment came while I was at WIS Television and Radio One winter’s day in the early 70’s, a low pressure center came up from the Gulf of Mexico and into the very cold air mass in place over the Carolinas. That day, we started to get ice pellets, freezing rain and 20 – 30 knot winds in the early afternoon. I was in master control getting things set up in the studio while Tom our studio supervisor was at the remote site aiming the microwave transmitter on the roof of the Carolina Coliseum at the receiver located on a steel grid platform some 350 feet up our 400 foot self standing tower downtown at the studio. He called me on the radio saying that he had the transmitter on and it was time for us to align it to the receiver.

We tried for an hour but the best we could do was to get a marginal signal from the receiver. It was a real possibility that we would not be able to broadcast the Carolina Men’s Basketball game. This was a really big deal. It was the Frank McGuire as head coach era and losing this game would have a huge financial impact on the station. I began to wonder if there was a problem with the receiver so I did my Kerry Sanders/Jim Cantore imitation walking out onto the ice covered parking lot in the wind with a pair of binoculars to look up the tower at the 4 foot parabolic dish on the receiver.

Sure enough, despite being carefully secured by steel wires after it was aimed at the Coliseum the month before, the high winds had popped one of the wires and the dish was now 20 degrees out of alignment. Someone had to climb the tower, realign the receiver and secure it back. The roads were nearly impassible so calling in a tower crew was not an option. It was up to our 58 year old chief engineer or 29-year-old me. He handed me the portable radio and said be careful up there. Now just to be sure, this radio was not a handheld that could be stuffed into my back pocket. It was an 8 inch, by 3 inch by 6 inch brick that weighed about 20 pounds with its battery and antenna attached.

So on went my knit hat, my gloves, my tool-belt and my heavy jacket. The radio was firmly strapped to my back. All I had with me were my street shoes, they would have to do. I slip-slided across the roof top of Studio A, and made my way over to the tower leg closest to the door that led out from Master Control. I must admit that my eyes got pretty big and round as I looked up the 350 feet that I was about to climb. The rungs of the ladder going up the tower were covered in a quarter inch layer of rime ice. It was at that moment that Larry Verne’s famous words from the song “Mr. Custer” crossed my mind “What am I doin' here?”

Still being young and immortal, I put that thought behind me and started up the tower. Mind you, this was in the days before OSHA work safety regulations had real teeth, so there was no safety strap, no hitches, no nothing. My “safety net” was the small triangle of steel girders that made up the tower’s structure. In my naivety, I was sure that I could grab one of those if I slipped.

To make a long story short, somehow I made up to the receiver and using the radio to talk to master control below and the remote site a mile away, we got the receiver lined back up and locked down. Just to be sure, I added five more tie down wires as there was no way I was going to climb this tower again. Up there on that ice coated steel grate, with wind driven ice pellets bouncing off every part of me. I realized how stupid that stunt was.

My second tower story occurred in 1977 or 78 when we were planning on the installation of our Marti remote system at WIS Radio. We needed a point high enough to cover most of the state so we thought the 1,250 foot tall WIS Television tower would be a good choice. It was my job to do a site survey on the tower to see if there was a good place to mount the repeater so that we would have the coverage we wanted. This was going to be different, I thought. I chose a beautiful day, with light and variable winds to ride the tower elevator up to the 1,000 foot steel grid platform and have a look. This will be easy-peasy I thought as I boldly stepped aboard the single person elevator that measured 2 ½ by 2 1/2 feet by 6 ½ foot. On the way up, my confidence waned as I realized two things; the elevator has the same dimensions as a coffin, and that a tower that tall moves around in the slightest wind. When I got to 1,000 feet, the structure was inscribing a 4 to 6 foot figure 8 in the light wind. Fortunately there was a tower painter’s harness available and you can bet I used it. Also, knowing that I was going up the tower that day, I had my old Navy issued Chucka boots on as well.

That cured me! I was no longer young and immortal and I have never climbed a tower since then. What’s more, I never will. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

College Food isn’t what it used to be!

Last Friday, my old buddy, John Ellis came down from Greenville for lunch. You might remember him as Johnny Ellis on WNOK from the days when I was at WCOS. I haven’t seen John in over 40 years so we had a lot of catching up to do. We worked at a lot of the same radio and television stations but somehow never at the same time. It’s funny how life is sometimes.

So we sat down to a pair of California Dreaming salads and talked television and radio. And of course the two iconic drive in restaurants where we did shows from our respective stations. And that brought up more food discussions.

Thank you Fluffy Cat for letting us crash "The Litterbox" Show Despite his long and illustrious radio career, John had not set foot in a radio studio for many years, so we decided to pay a visit to WUSC-FM after lunch. As it turns out, John was the technician in charge of WUSC-FM during the last days of WUSC-AM. The FM station was a 10 watt classical music station back in those days and was unassociated with WUSC AM. It was located in the Claire Towers that was located in the same block as the Cornell Arms Apartments where WCOS AM/FM was in the 60s. With ensuing frequency shifts and other changes, WUSC FM is now a Class A FM Station running at 2,500 watts broadcasting from a transmitter atop a dormitory at the University of South Carolina five blocks east of the old studio and transmitter. Like WUSC-AM was back in the day it is now a part of Student Media, operated by the student body, staff, faculty and alumni.

While visiting with the students on the air we shared stories of the wild crazy things that happened on the air at the drive in restaurants. Stories were shared that involved patrons who had one beer too many, monkeys going ape on the air and the Hells Angels just to name a few. I am not sure whether the stories encouraged the student DJs to want careers in radio or to scare them off forever. Both John and I were amazed at the depth of knowledge the students had of the music that we played. That was way cool!!

OK – I need to get to the point, this is about college food. Back in the day, the dining hall in Russell House where WUSC is located was a typical cafeteria complete with metal trays and servers in hairnets asking “what you want.” These days we call that fare “meat and three” down here in the south. And there are a few restaurants that have a great business cooking and selling those wonderful memories.

After John and I visited the studio, instead of taking the elevator down to the first floor to back to where my car was parked, we took the stairs down to the second floor so I could show John the dining facilities available to the students these days. What a difference from the days we ate in that same space. The long serving rows and the stacks of trays are gone. In their place are small vending areas similar to what you see in a shopping mall food court or an airport terminal. Chinese, Italian, Greek – any kind of food you want is available. Chick-Fil-A, Pei Wei and Panera Bread are all choices in the newly renovated area. There is even a small meat and three near the back door. I’m sure that one of these vendors honors the old USC tradition, Chicken Tender Wednesdays though. If not, then it is a sad day in the history of the University.

John and I wondered if the USDA is thrilled at this change, but it seems to be definitely a hit with the students. Even the health food vendor had lines at their counters at 3 in the afternoon. I started to comment that I would have missed the old cafeteria until I remembered that in my second semester as a sophomore, I opted out of the food plan and bought my meals one at a time. The reason for that was a local restaurant sitting catty-corner from my dorm. The “Kollege Korner” served the best hamburgers and I ate more than my share of them, usually one a day and on really good days two, one for lunch and one for dinner. Hey it was a lot closer to my dorm than the cafeteria was! And to boot, I could keep an eye on my clothes spinning in the coin operated washing machine in the cleaners next door while eating.

I suppose you can thank WUSC for keeping my diet a little more balanced. I spent a lot of my spare time in the station and usually a small group of us DJs would catch lunch or dinner in the cafeteria that shared Russell House with us. Yes Mom, I did eat my vegetables.

All this talk about hamburgers has me remembering the best of the best hamburgers in my personal history. In High School my favorites were Penny Burgers and Krystals. In college those old Kollege Korner burgers were the top of the pops with me; a 4 inch diameter thin beef patty on a white fluffy bun with mustard, fresh cut and diced onions, lettuce and tomato. During my WCOS days, similar burgers could be found at Gene Long’s Cornell Arms Pharmacy the floor below our studios and Doug Broom’s “Big Joy” delivered by a smiling car hop on roller skates to my booth at the beginning of each show. My favorite burger today is a Pimento Burger at Rockaway’s on Rosewood. It has to come with a side dish of pimento cheese fries and a Coca-Cola to be complete. Only these days, I have to share half of the burger and fries with a friend and the Coke is a diet coke. Oh yes – I can do that only about once a year. Every time I take that first bite, I close my eyes and I’m sitting in a booth at Doug’s next to Scotty Quick and across from Sam the Sham watching him take that first bite. Aaaaoooouuuuuugh! Yes – Sam left his turban in his purple hearse. Oh MY!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

20 pounds of words in a 10 pound commercial!

Caitlin Nebel, the DJ who follows me on WUSC-FM this semester is an advertising major and her show is all about the music we hear on commercials these days. She usually comes in a little early to participate in my show and we wind up talking about commercials while the songs are playing. You had better believe that we have some great conversations about the 60’s and 70’s songs that are featured on radio and television commercials. My theory about this phenomenon is that those feel good songs we danced to at sock hops and parties back in the day evoke positive vibes in the listener and that makes them good choices for background music in commercials.

When I sat down to write this, I racked my memory to check if we used music from the 40’s and 50’s in advertising during the 60’s and 70’s and for the life of me I can remember only one or two.

One of the reasons for that, I explained, is that radio station production managers relied on canned music libraries, a practice that has continued today but not as much as it was back then. I remember those big old 33 1/3 rpm record albums of production music. Most of them were generic big band tracks. And most of those cuts were recorded in 15 second, 30 second and 60 second lengths to accommodate the most common lengths of commercial copy coming from the copy writers in the traffic department or the ad agency. The ones we tended to use the most started with a bang and ended with an even bigger bang with a musical bed in between to use under our voice-overs.

Talking about music in commercials usually brings up a discussion about too many words in a commercial a struggle that still exists today. Commercial copy is typed on special paper with every other line blank. If each line was kept between the margins, that would give you the appropriate amount of words in the copy for the length of the commercial that you were recording. That is a big “If”! On many occasions, sponsors want to put more information into a commercial than fits comfortably. In order to accommodate the sponsor’s wishes, the copywriter often fudge words into the margins of the copy paper in order to get them to fit on the paper.

More than once, I look at the written copy and say “You’ve gotta be kidding!” to myself. There is no room to breathe in this spot! Not only that, but the wording is so complicated that it is difficult to convey the images that the sponsor wants. Taking it back to the copywriter is a fruitless task as they would say that this is what the sponsor approved and this is what will be in the commercial. Making it all worse is that you can’t “run over” a second or two for two reasons: number one; if you do that for one all the rest would expect the couple of free seconds of air time, and number two; you can’t put a 32 second commercial into a 30 second slot in a network spot break.

Back in the day commercial copy that came from national accounts such as Coca Cola or Pepsi was always better, but that did not happen often because they usually produced their own commercials and sent them on reel to reel tape. Those commercials were always timed out perfectly.

So, I would sit down and do the best I could. After doing my best and finding the spot a second or two long, I would resort to whipping out the grease pencil, razor blade and editing block to remove the inhaled breaths and other “blank” spots in my spoken words, similar to “kerning” in typography. Only then would I grab that record and lay down the backing music track. One thing, all the work the musicians did on the opening and closing of the track would be lost because I didn’t have the time to allow the music to establish itself before the first word and the last word was presented over the ending stinger.

Today, that razor blade is replaced by digital editors such as Adobe Audition or Audacity and that kerning process is easier. Almost too easy, we’ve all heard those commercials where every possible gap between words has been cut out. It sounds like Max Headroom caught up in an endless loop. What! You don’t remember the 80’s ABC television series? Where is Matt Frewer when you need him?

So Caitlin and I will talk about music in commercials again in the morning while the songs are playing. Topics for consideration; 1965’s “Barefootin’” by Robert Parker and from the same year, The T-Bones – “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)”, 1971’s “I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” by The Hillside Singers, and even one from 1980, Diana Ross - I'm Coming Out. Do you remember the commercials that featured these songs? I’m sure you remember others! Oh MY!