Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree!

It’s that time of year again when Christmas music begins to fill the air as we decorate for the upcoming holidays. As I think back across the years two collections of Christmas music come to mind; A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector which came out in 1963, and A Motown Christmas released 10 years later in 1973! These two albums are a must for the collection for anyone who loves oldies.

Just think of the track list for the Phil Spector album; “White Christmas" - Darlene Love, "Frosty the Snowman" - The Ronettes, "The Bells of St. Mary's" - Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" - The Crystals, "Sleigh Ride" - The Ronettes, "Marshmallow World" - Darlene Love, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" - The Ronettes, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - The Crystals, "Winter Wonderland" - Darlene Love, "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" - The Crystals, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" - Darlene Love,"Here Comes Santa Claus" - Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, and "Silent Night" - Phil Spector and Artists. Wow – what a collection. Those songs were the highlights of all the radio station’s Holiday play lists back in the 60s.

And they still are! I was listening to the Sirius X/M “Holly” Channel over the weekend and heard at least half of those 13 tracks. That one album has been a high point in Christmas music for 53 years! Many of our favorite TV Christmas specials feature tracks from the album that set the standard for Christmas albums that followed.

“A Motown Christmas” is no slouch when it comes to our favorite Christmas Music. Check out this two record playlist. Side 1: "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" – The Jackson 5. "What Christmas Means to Me" – Stevie Wonder, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" – The Temptations, "My Favorite Things" – The Supremes, "Deck the Halls/Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" – Smokey Robinson, and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" – The Jackson 5. Side 2: "Ave Maria" – Stevie Wonder, "Silent Night" – The Temptations, "Little Christmas Tree" – Michael Jackson, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" – Smokey Robinson, "The Christmas Song" – The Jackson 5, and "Joy to the World" – The Supremes. Side 3: "The Little Drummer Boy" – The Temptations, "Silver Bells" – The Supremes, "Someday at Christmas" – Stevie Wonder, "Frosty the Snowman" – The Jackson 5, "Jingle Bells" – Smokey Robinson and "My Christmas Tree" – The Temptations. Side 4: "White Christmas" – The Supremes, "One Little Christmas Tree" – Stevie Wonder, "Give Love on Christmas Day" – The Jackson 5, "It's Christmas Time" – Smokey Robinson, "Children's Christmas Song" – The Supremes and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" – The Jackson 5!

“A Motown Christmas” reset the Christmas music machine and provided fodder for more Christmas TV Specials of the 70s and beyond.

Singles from these two albums filled the Christmas music playlists for as long as I have been in radio. One of the “happy places” in the hallways of my memories were the days when the program director carried the big cardboard box that usually contained the paper used in our teletype machines into the control room and placed it in front of the stand that held our cart machines. Instead of paper, the box was filled to the brim with 45 RPM records. They were not organized or ordered in any way; it was as if a child had played a game of “toss the record” and created a random pile of records. This was not unlike the “grab bag” box of records that were rejects from the demos that were sent to the station.

I would immediately dive into the pile and find my favorites. Songs like “White Christmas” – Bing Crosby, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” - Gene Autry, “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” – Brenda Lee, “Jingle Bell Rock” – Bobby Helms and others by Perry Como, Nat King Cole, songs that I sang as a kid! I was in heaven.

We didn’t immediately jump into a Solid Christmas format as many stations do these days. Instead we started the week after Thanksgiving with one or two Christmas songs per hour, increasing the mix until at 6 PM on Christmas Eve we were solid Christmas for twenty four hours. We didn’t cut off cold turkey on Christmas night, pardon the pun, either. Instead we tapered off until finally playing our last Christmas song around noon on New Year’s Eve.

Say what you will, but that still seems like the right way to do it. A side note about Christmas formatting. If your favorite radio station has gone solid Christmas this year, look out! Many radio corporations use Christmas Music as a way of buffering the old music format from a new one that they are planning on changing to after the holidays. I sure hope your favorite station has not done that. That just seems wrong to me, but I’m old school that way.

So this year I’m happily pouring though my Christmas Music collection, remembering my old favorites and listening to the Holly Channel to see if there are new ones that need to be added; Pentatonix has a nice new album for example. You can bet, I’ll be doing the “DJ Air Chair Behind Boogie” and singing holiday cheer at the top of my lungs. It is a good thing that the microphone switch in the studio works. Oh MY!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Memories of co-workers!

This Thanksgiving week, it warmed my heart to see many postings of what I thought was the funniest moment in Television Sitcom History; the WKRP Turkey Drop. I look forward to it every year from Richard Sanders’ frantic portrayal of newsman Les Nessman’s reporting at the shopping mall to Gordon Jump’s deadpan delivery of the line “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly” as Mr. Carlson, the Big Guy! The impact of that episode was so strong on me that every time I saw him as the Lonely Maytag Repairman, I thought of Turkeys.

I often get asked if any of the characters on WKRP reminded me of folks I worked with in radio. My answer is not just any of them, but nearly all of them remind me of friends I have worked with over the years.

Now, you may say, no one could have been as clueless as the big guy, but we all have our moments. Once during an electrical storm, I was sitting in the back of the control room as my fellow DJ was completing his shift that ended just before mine. There was a lightning strike out at the transmitter a few miles northeast of the studios. From the remote control meters we could tell that there was no power at the site, so we sat back to wait for the power to be restored. Our station owner, who even looked like Gordon Jump ran into the control room to find out what was wrong. When we told him, he ordered us to make an announcement that we would be back on the air as soon as power was restored. When my friend hesitated, he reached over, turned on the microphone and made the announcement himself. As he left the studio, we could hear him slap himself on the head and mutter to himself “That was dumb!” This man was really smart, he knew how to run a radio station and hire the best folks he could. His stations were always at the top of the charts. He just had that momentary lapse. I like to think that Mr. Carlson was the same.

Did I work with any Jennifer Marlowes? You bet I did and like Loni Anderson they were all beautiful and sharp as tack. In fact, you could not work as a receptionist at a radio (or television) station very long unless you were wise, sophisticated, intelligent, and well spoken. If don’t believe me, try working an afterhours shift when the receptionist is gone and the phone lines ring directly into the studios. It’s a trip!

There were no “enthusiastic junior employees” Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) in radio, but in television we had productions assistants which was definitely not a junior employee but were a major team player who made it all happen.

What can I say about Frank Bonner who played the sales manager Herb Tarlek? Frank played Herb as if he were a sleazy car salesman. I never knew a radio or television salesperson who I would call sleazy. These guys and gals were the best and without their effort the rest of us could not have done our jobs. So guess this is one WKRP character that I never met in real life.

Gary Sandy as program director Andy Travis was probably the most atypical of most of the PDs I’ve known. Although there was one or two who didn’t pull air shifts who were as laid back as Gary. They were a real pleasure to work with and I’d do anything for them; even working on air on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when they got into a bind when I was the engineer and not responsible for air shifts.

In some of the stations, I’ve worked for; the program director was either the morning or afternoon drive DJ. These guys were anything but laid back. One of these and the only one I’m going to mention by name here was the legendary South Carolina DJ, Woody Windham. When I was looking for my first real job in radio, I nervously dropped off a demo tape with Woody at WCOS and spoke with him briefly. Within a couple of hours, I received a call from the station asking me to come in. I was hired initially as the control operator for Georgia Tech football on the FM station but quickly progressed to weekend part timer, all night show DJ and eventually doing the evening show out at Doug Broome’s drive in near the corner of Two Notch and Beltline. I will be forever grateful to Woody for seeing something in that skinny, nervous college kid who came to see him that fateful afternoon with only a couple hundred hours of college radio experience.

Then, there are all my DJ friends as represented by the characters Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid.) Each of us was “wild and crazy” in our own style. But everyone had a fire in the belly for rock and roll. Some of these great voices are stilled now but the rest are just as fun as they used to be. When we run into each other we immediately drop back into the old days and the radio war stories fly back and forth. Some of them are even true!

Bill Dial on the left with the beer. There is one radio broadcast role that was not well represented on WKRP, the station engineer. Series writer Bill Dial occasionally shows up as Bucky Dornster, WKRP's station engineer, but he never got his fifteen minutes of fame. We all had First Class Radio Telephone licenses issued by the FCC, issued after passing a tough electronics test. We were the station geeks and we kept everything running. Like me, several of these worked on both sides of the microphone, doing air shifts as well as working on the equipment. The term “engineer” was loosely applied to us as very few actually were Registered Professional Engineers. In fact, I have known only three or four RPE’s who worked in broadcasting. A few, like me were electrical engineering degree holders but never sat for the RPE. Most were graduates of technical schools. Today they are called “Broadcast Technicians” and due to deregulation, the First Class License is no longer required or available from the FCC.

So, as I sit back and watch “The Turkey Drop” episode one more time on YouTube, I’ll be seeing all the faces and hearing the voices of the men and women I’ve had the privilege of working with in broadcasting. Somehow, time has flattened and those faces and voices from 50 years ago are as vibrant and energetic as those of the student DJs that I will see tomorrow when I go into WUSC-FM for my Monday Backbeat Show. Life is good! Oh MY!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Clock

We are there again; that day that we spend hours resetting clocks back an hour after Daylight Saving Time ends. It seems that we spend most of that hour we got back messing around with clocks.

The analog clocks are the easiest, and they all work the same. Just grab that knob on the back and crank until the time is right. Worst case scenario with them is that on most analog clocks, you can only crank forward so you must crank through 11 hours and heaven forbid that you crank too far because then you have to crank 12 more. Boom! Done!

The problem with the digital clocks is that each and every one has a different method and button selection to reset it. And to top that, none are intuitive. “Press the third button on the right while holding your tongue to your left cheek” will get you where you want to be on one clock when “Standing on your head, press and hold the left button until the hour digit is correct” sets the next one.

The radio controlled clocks are supposed to be the easiest. Supposedly they will set themselves off of the signal from the National Bureau of Standards atomic clock broadcast from Fort Collins Colorado on WWV. The only problem with that is that if you live in the Southeast part of the country, the signal from WWV is spotty and a little bit unreliable. So half the radio controlled clocks in the house made the change but the other half didn’t. To that point, I have three in my studio and two of them did not make the shift. One pair is less than a foot apart! Go figure.

Left: THE Clock Naturally, the clock that the most difficult to set is one that I have to set by hand. It is a radio controlled analog clock! You might ask why I mess with an analog clock. The answer is simple; when I give time on the air from the shows that I produce in the studio I want to be able to say “20 minutes until the hour” instead of “40 minutes past the hour.” All those years reading from the analog clocks on studio walls had trained me to be able to do that almost automatically. I still can’t do that from digital clocks as easily as I can read the hands on the clock on the upside of each hour.

So, in the next hour or so, I’ll pull this clock down off the wall, change the battery and then fiddle with it to get the time as close to the actual time as I can. The problem is the second hand. It resets to zero when your push the set button to advance the hour and minute hands and then starts ticking when you release but button. So the trick is to be able to time it to get the hour and minutes to align with the correct time at the exact second that the correct time starts the next minute. You can count on language that cannot be used on the air will be uttered before I get the second hand close enough for me to use and to where it will align off the radio signal the next time conditions are right for the clock to receive the signal from WWV.

Each time I go through the clock resetting period, my mind’s eye wanders back in time to those iconic Western Union Clocks that were connected by a telephone circuit to the US Naval Observatory. They were ubiquitous to almost every radio or television station in which I worked. There was red light just above the numeral 6 at the bottom of the clock that flashed each time the clock received the reset signal at the top of the hour. None of the clocks that I ever worked with were very accurate, but they were extremely stable. For example, I knew that the clock in the control room at WCOS was 2 seconds fast, the signal always came at 2 seconds past the hour, the light would flash and the second hand on the clock would snap to attention momentarily under the number 12. So it was easy to time out the record and the station ID and hit the network program at the top of the hour. At WCOS, there were not many network programs, so that kind of accuracy was not really necessary. I still practiced hitting the top of the hour because I knew that someday I would need to be able to do that.

The clock in the Master Control Room at WIS-TV was a second and a half slow. So each top of the hour at 1 and ½ seconds before the hour, I knew that we had to punch the network button on the switcher to pick up the time tone from NBC. That wasn’t too hard because each station break was 1 minute and 15 seconds long. There was time for one 60 second commercial (or two 30 second commercials) a 10 second promotional announcement and a five second station ID. I would always check the clock at the beginning of the station break to make sure that the clock was the usual second and a half slow. And, you know what, it never varied!

The most accurate Western Union Clock I ever used was the one at WIS-Radio. It was exactly one half second slow. When I was chief engineer there, I would help out the programming department by filling in on a weekend show every now and then when the regular weekend announcer was out. I could back time my last record of the hour to end at 5 seconds before the hour so I could announce “This is Radio 56, WIS Radio, Columbia, SC” while turning up the network channel on the audio board and have the NBC Time tone put the period on the sentence; that was as satisfying as walking up a record and hitting the post. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Indian Summer

According to Wikipedia, the definition of Indian summer is a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather that sometimes occurs in autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. The US National Weather Service defines this as weather conditions that are sunny and clear with above normal temperatures, occurring late-September to mid-November. It is usually described as occurring after a killing frost.

So what happened to the killing frost? We had some cooler weather near the end of the South Carolina State Fair a couple of weeks ago but no killing frost. Since then it has warmed up again and we are looking at a high of 86 degrees today. Really, Mother Nature, 86 degrees! What’s up with that? The record high for today is 84 set in 1998. It’s been a long hot summer and I’m ready for fall. I’ve even seen pictures of snow this fall out west and up north. So Mama N, quit fooling around and bring on the fall weather.

I know I’m risking bringing on an early and hard winter asking for the end of Indian summer but most of the weather sources say we will have a mild onset to winter. I am not asking for blizzards and most certainly not asking for ice, but cooler weather would be nice.

Growing up in Florida, I used to think that 45 degrees was really, really cold, the kind of weather where we would bundle up in scarves, hats, gloves and our thickest coats. If it were cold enough to see your breath, then it was best that you stayed inside. I must admit that my blood has thickened a bit living in South Carolina and I will even go to the street to get my morning paper from the tube on the mailbox post in my shirtsleeves with temperatures in the upper teens. But I would be running both ways to do that.

Thank goodness for central heat. My home in Jacksonville sported a single kerosene heater in the hallway nearest the living room. My bedroom was at the other end of the hallway so there were lots of blankets to keep us warm at night. We did not use the heater at night because of the slight risk of a fire. One of us, usually me, had the responsibility to get up before anyone else and grab a match from the kitchen and a scrap of yesterday’s newspaper from the living room, opening the door to the barrel shaped heat chamber, turning on the kerosene, lighting the paper and throwing it in. Usually I was rewarded by seeing a flicker of flame. I would close the door and make sure that the furnace was still burning by looking through the glass insert in the door. If all that didn’t happen, I would turn off the kerosene, wait a minute and go through the process all over again. By time that heater warmed up, I was wide awake.

My brother and I had our assigned spaces on either side of the furnace in which we would get dressed for the day. Then it was off to the kitchen while my sister took her turn by the heater. Mom and Dad, being the hardy folks they were, dressed in their room. All of this is a far cry from lying in bed today until the timer on the thermostat clicked and the gas furnace central heat warmed up the house.

Left: You can see the breaker I'm talking about below! There is a running joke about how did we ever live in the south without air conditioning. I think the winter analog is also true; how did we live through winters without central heating? Being an engineer by training, there is one huge downside to all of this modern heating technology. I sometimes lie awake and worry about what could go wrong. Power outages are the biggest problem that sometimes shakes us out of our comfortable routine. Especially concerning are power outages that are caused by ice storms. Our house is in sort of a power cul-de-sac. There is a sensitive breaker on a power pole in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center that feeds the high voltage line in our neighborhood circuit. Because there are only 30 – 40 homes on the circuit it usually has a low priority for repair. So it can take days for the power company to get to it. So the homes across the street usually have power back days before we do. It is so sad to watch the trucks with the cherry pickers on them drive past that pole with the breaker hanging down taunting us.

I don’t want to get cocky, but this summer the power company came through the neighborhood trimming the trees in their right of way to cut down on ice induced power outages. It has been a decade or more since they have done that. They even trimmed the big magnolia tree in my back yard that surrounded the individual line to the house. So I’m hopeful that we will not have the problems that we have had in the past. (Knock on wood!)

So, Mother Nature, here is my request for this winter. Please bring cool, not cold weather along with one or two light fluffy snow showers. You know the kind, ones that don’t interrupt the power and cover the yard with a light powder and leave the streets drivable. That would be nice! Otherwise, the normal southern winter with sunny, clear skies and temperatures from the 20’s to the 50’s would be just fine. Thank you! By the way if one of those snow showers could come at Christmas, that would be awesome. I have never seen a White Christmas. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Touching History

I often get asked if I have a bucket list of things I want to do before I die. In fact, I’ve had a bucket list of widely disperse things I wanted to accomplish since I was a teenager, and because I’ve had it so long, it is mostly filled; at least the top items are filled; learning to SCUBA dive, flying a jet plane and being a DJ on the radio. I was fortunate; all of these were done before I turned 30.

This past week was one of those times when everything converges into a perfect few days.

This past Saturday, the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation (SCHAF) held an Aerofest and Hangar Dance at Hamilton-Owens Field a few miles from here. As I wandered through the static display of old war-birds and aircraft I realized that I was touching history; especially when I approached the modified North American B-25 Mitchell World War II bomber. This particular plane was recovered from nearby Lake Murray where it crashed during a training mission. Not just any training mission, this was a training mission for the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo that followed in the months after Pearl Harbor. It dawned on me as I ran my hand over the leading edge of the left propeller that if this plane had not crashed during training; it would have wound up in China with the rest of the raiders. I was indeed touching history.

I ran into two guys from my past at the Aerofest; Larry Yon was a fellow flight instructor whom I haven’t seen since the 80s. He is doing well and still is actively flying. It was good to catch up with him. The other old friend was the reason I was at the Aerofest in the first place. David McIntosh is the news director at WPUB FM in Camden, SC. He is a member of the SCHAF. He and I never worked at the same station together but knew each other as members of the broadcasting community. Notice to all other SC Broadcasters, if your ears were burning on Saturday we are the reason why. We were talking about you. It was great to see David and Larry!

On Wednesday, I was out at the AARP Pavilion at the South Carolina State Fair, DJ’ing their Dance Party. There was a crowd of folks coming by and visiting the agencies that provide services to the aging community. Everybody from kids to grandparents were sharing time and listening to the oldies that filled the air with the sound of our lives. Quite a few times, someone would come by and tell me that they used to listen to me out at Doug Broome’s Drive In or the Nightbeat Show on WCOS back in the 60s. We would share memories of some favorite song or of a request that they made back in the day.

As I stood there talking with them, my mind’s eye would see their teenage faces excitedly asking for their favorite song. I’m sure they were seeing the younger me as well. The best part of seeing them once more was being able to play their song again, an “Instant Request” just like back in the day. Reconnecting with them was worth all the work involved lugging speakers, amplifiers and computers to and from the fairgrounds.

Thursday afternoon I attended the Naval ROTC Pass in Review Ceremony on the Horseshoe at the University of South Carolina. As I sat in the shade of the magnificent trees and watched the young men and women march in the ceremony, I was transported to my own time in the unit, marching in parade across Davis Field. The field used to lie in front of the Undergraduate Library and was used by both the Navy and the Air Force ROTC units every Thursday afternoon. Eventually Davis Field gave way to a reflecting pool in front of the library and the extension of the West Wing of the Russell House Student Union.

It was warm on Thursday, much too warm for the Midshipmen to be decked out in their winter dress blues. I really felt for them sweating in the temperatures. But I felt pride also in this long line of blue that was connected across history not only through the time I was in the ranks but also back to WW II when the battalion was young and many of them interrupted their college careers to go to sea in defense of our country. History touched again.

At the reception that followed the ceremony, I re-connected with others who were in the unit at the same time I was. Of course there were plenty of sea stories passed around; stories of rough seas, near collisions, and action in theaters of war, and events on the high sea during the cold war. As I drove home afterwards, it dawned on me that even though the stories were about things that happened, they centered on the people that were involved; that submarine driver who turned left instead of right or that commanding officer who was tough as nails (not the words used in the story) but was the best ever. History may be about events but more importantly, it is about people, people like you and me. We have all touched history. Oh MY!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A light in the night

If you ever navigated air or sea after dark, you have an appreciation for lights spinning in the night. They are called “rotating beacons” at airports and along the coast they are called lighthouses. I call them “the way home,” because they point the way there. Because of this, beacons in the night have a place close to my heart.

In this modern age, most air and sea navigation is done in a virtual universe crated by radio signals. But at some point most navigators must make the transition from the screens and dials to the real world outside the craft. True, there are “automatic landing systems” in some airplanes but they are rare indeed. I may be a curmudgeon, but I am not quite ready to trust my life to a circuit board yet.

Besides, there is nothing to be compared to recognizing that blip of light that tells you that you have found home amongst that myriad of lights along the shoreline or on the land below you. At that magic moment, you make the transition from virtual to real. There is always a feeling of relief, because no matter how good a pilot (air or sea) you are, you cannot land in the virtual world.

Some of my beacons flash white only denoting lighthouses while others flash white and green alternately denoting airports. There are other combinations around but these are the most common. One of the first that I remember seeing flashed white, white and green, denoting a military airport. That was at NAS Jacksonville, just a few miles from my home. When it was cloudy, I could sit on my front porch and watch the beams reflect off the clouds overhead. Often, when riding in the family car coming back in the twilight after a daytrip to the lakes or the beaches, I would see the flash of light that meant that I was within a few miles of home. That always brought a smile to my lips.

There were two trips in my life where I was glad to see the rotating beacons. The first was a mid winter trip to Florida for my uncle’s funeral. My aunt asked me to fly one of her friends back to Atlanta since it was on my way. I chuckle a bit because if you ever look at a map, Atlanta is not “on the way” to Columbia from Jacksonville. It was late, just after 11 PM when I climbed out eastward from Peachtree DeKalb airport. It was a crystal clear night and at 9,000 feet I could see the entire state of South Carolina in front of me as I approached the Savannah River which forms the state line between SC and GA.

I was flying on an instrument flight plan primarily to help navigate the busy Atlanta airspace under positive control. A few minutes earlier, I had flown directly over the Hartsfield – Jackson airport and was amazed to see the airliners strung out like pearls of light on threads of airways tacked down on one end at the runway thresholds. But now all that was behind my tail. There was this beautiful carpet of lights as far as I could see. The outside air was below 20 degrees so it was smooth and I could enjoy the view. As I approached the state line, because it was so clear, Jacksonville Center handed me off to Columbia Approach Control instead of Washington Center. My friends in the approach control room asked me if I could see the Columbia Airport beacon. Mind you, I was still over Georgia but sure enough, there was a flash of white light ahead. I kept my eyes on the spot and a few seconds later there was a flash of green. To be sure that I was looking at the correct beacon, there were probably about 20 or more that would have visible from my location, I asked him to “hit the rabbit” for a moment. Now, don’t worry, no furry bunnies were being mistreated, the rabbit is a double row of lights that flash in sequence, pointing the way to the end of the runway. Sure enough, I saw the rabbit and was given clearance for a straight in approach to runway 11. I was still 75 miles from the airport and I would not see the runway lights themselves for another 20 minutes. There is always a sense of relief when you see home.

My lighthouse story is from an open ocean voyage I took with some friends as they were sailing down to the Caribbean from Annapolis in their 44 foot sloop. We left Hilton Head around noon on a Saturday and headed out a few miles offshore, far enough to be out of sight of land. We could pick up the signal from the outer marker at the St. Augustine, FL harbor and it was right in the best place for sailing into the prevailing winds which held true for that entire trip. As sunset approached we could just begin to see some lights to our west. The first lighthouse we spotted in the moonlight was the Tybee Island Light on its perch next to the Savannah River. As shooting stars flitted across the sky, we took compass bearings on the Sapelo, St. Simons and Cumberland Lighthouses and marked our progress with hatch marks down the radio beacon path we had marked on the chart. Just before dawn we passed St Mary’s into the Florida coastal waters. Those lighthouses, while not showing us the way home, chronicled our progress in the real world as well as the virtual one in which we were making our way.

One of my favorite lighthouses is the Morris Island Light on the southern edge of the entrance to Charleston Harbor. When constructed in 1876 it stood about 1,200 feet from the water's edge. However, in 1889 the construction of the jetties altered ocean currents, resulting in the rapid erosion of Morris Island and the destruction of many structures and historical sites. Morris Island Light now stands several hundred feet offshore. But last night something magical happened. The Morris Island Lighthouse was re-lit for the first time in over a decade on what was also the 140th anniversary of its first beacon. Crews from SCE&G outfitted the top of the tower with LED panels to simulate the cupola that has long been out of use. The ceremony was part of a continuing fundraising effort by Save the Light, a group that is trying to restore the lighthouse to what it once was. That makes me smile! Oh MY!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

One Hit Wonders

This morning when I popped open my phone and checked into Facebook, the first thing I saw was a posting from a friend who was celebrating, among other things, One Hit Wonder Day. She asked everyone what was their favorite one hit wonder and I replied; “Navy Blue” by Diane Renay.

But if the truth be told, that great song by Renee Diane Kushner from South Philadelphia is not my only “favorite” one hit wonder. I often get asked what my favorite song is and my answer is that I really don’t have one, there are so many great songs out there that choosing my absolute favorite is impossible, so there are a group of songs that are favorites, and of that group there is a sub-group of one hit wonders.

“Suspicion” by Terry Stafford was written for Elvis by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. Terry’s cover was released on Crusader Records in February, 1964 and battled five Beatles songs being number six on the Billboard Hot 100 on April 4, 1964, when the Beatles held down the top five spots. When I first heard “Suspicion” on the radio, I thought it was Elvis. By the way, Terry sought permission from Elvis to record the song and Elvis graciously said yes. Terry did have another song, "I’ll Touch a Star", rise to number 25 on the Billboard charts but it did not make a big enough splash to be a “Hit!”

“Angel of the Morning” by Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts was recorded in January 1968 at American Sound Studios in Memphis after Connie Francis turned down the song because she thought it was to risque’ for her career. The Turnabouts had been touring that year as the opening act for Paul Revere and The Raiders. When The Raiders recorded their album “Going to Memphis” at American sound Merilee was discovered by Tommy Cogbill who had been hoping to find the right voice for "Angel of the Morning." And as they say, “The rest is musical history.” Angel peaked at number 7 in the U.S. and Number one in Canada that summer. It was one of the most requested songs out at Doug Broome’s on my WCOS Nightbeat Show. I always smile when I hear those iconic trombones on the opening bridge of the song.

Speaking of trombones, that brings up another “One Hit Wonder”; Kai Windig’s “More.” This instrumental from the movie “Mondo Cane” features a melody performed on the electronic Ondioline by Jean-Jacques Perrey. Kai and his trombone are prominently featured in the syncopated musical background. To be sure Kai had other charted hits in the jazz genre, but this was his only Billboard Top 40 chart topper.

Speaking of jazz, there was another jazz cross over that became a one hit wonder in pop music; “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Like “More” and Kai Windig, this great track was not fronted by Brubeck but rather by the song’s composer, Paul Desmond on saxophone. I’ll give you a hint, don’t try to clap your hands or snap your fingers to “Take Five,” you will get lost before you go through a couple of bars. You see, “Take Five” gets its name from the tempo of the song which is written in 5/4 time. Like Windig, Brubeck had numerous charts in Jazz but this was his only pop top 40 hit.

“Fire” by the “Crazy World of Arthur Brown” is a wild and flamboyant song which opened with the screamed words; “I am the god of hell fire, and I bring you… Fire!” was just too tempting for us DJs not to play with. My favorite trick was to engage the song in the daily morning power change. Back in the day, most AM radio stations had to reduce power at night because AM signals propagate better at night than they do during the day. So imagine this, right at 6 AM, I would complete the 5:55 news block and play the station top of the hour ID. Then I would reach over to the remote control and flip the switch to turn on the daytime transmitter which was four times more powerful than the night time transmitter. Then I would release the slip-que on the record and Arthur’s opening scream would roust everyone who was hoping for a few extra winks that morning right out of their peaceful slumber! Even today, I still hear from listeners who got caught in my wake up trap.

For sure, there were many other “One Hit Wonders” over the years, but this is a collection of some of my favorites. Think back, what were your favorites? I’m sure there are some great ones back in the hallways of your memories. Oh MY!