Sunday, March 26, 2017

Road Trip, Richard Harris, Jimmy Webb and others

Driving to Charleston yesterday afternoon we had the radio tuned to Sirius 60’s on Six. Tommy James of Tommy James and the Shondells was counting down the top 40 one hit wonders of the sixties. We were grooving to songs like “Telstar” by the The Tornados, “Wipe Out” by the The Surfaris, “Green Tambourine” by the The Lemon Pipers, even “They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha - Haaa!” by Napolean the 14th. When all of a sudden Tommy played Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.” MacArthur Park is one of those songs that folks either hate or love. Personally I am on the “love” side of that ledger.

I remember playing this song on WUSC - FM a few years ago when a millennial student walked in and professed that MacArthur Park was a pretty cool song and asked who that was singing it. The name Richard Harris didn’t ring a bell so I decided to relate Richard to his world. I said, “You know, Professor Albus Dumbledore, the first one.” He said, “No way that old man could sing this!” I reminded him that Richard was not always an old man and that he starred in many other films such as Camelot (1967), A Man Called Horse (1970), Unforgiven (1992), I got a glimmer with Richard’s portrayal of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000).

I continued with more information about MacArthur Park and the imagery of Jimmy Webb’s words. I explained that song was about Jimmy’s breakup with his long time girlfriend, Susie Horton who later married Robert Ronstadt, a cousin of singer Linda Ronstadt. MacArthur Park, in Los Angeles, was where the two occasionally met for lunch and spent their most enjoyable times together back in 1965. Interestingly Susie later married Robert Ronstadt, a cousin of singer Linda Ronstadt. Other Jimmy Webb songs about breakups include Glen Campbell’s "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and “The Worst That Could Happen" by Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge. All of these songs appeared to be inspired by that sad time in Jimmy’s life.

Another thing that ties most of these songs together is that the session musicians for all of these songs but The Brooklyn Bridge’s “The Worst That Could Happen". However “The Worst That Could Happen” is a cover first done by The Fifth Dimension. You guessed it; the Wrecking Crew was the backing instrumentalists for their recording.

Then there is Dionne Warwick and the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Bacharach - David appears on all but one of Dionne’s hits recorded in the “The Scepter Era” (1962–1971). That one lone song was “Theme from the Valley of the Dolls” which was written by AndrĂ© and Dory Previn but, guess what, that song was produced by Bacharach and David. Not only that but it was a “B” side to “I say a Little Prayer” and that was written by, you guessed it; Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Remember all these great tunes; "Don't Make Me Over", "Anyone Who Had a Heart", "Walk On By", "You'll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)", "A House Is Not a Home" , "Are You There (With Another Girl)", "Message to Michael", "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose". All came from that incredible musical collaboration.

When people think of songwriters most think about The Beatles’ Lennon/McCartney and Motown’s Holland/Dozier/Holland but these are other great examples are just samples of the songwriters who created the songs that made their way on to the 45 RPM records inserted into those green record sleeves that are stacked in the bins that line the walls of the libraries of our memories. Oh MY!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Memories of walls and light.

The experts say that the sense of smell is the one that evokes the strongest memories. I agree with that, especially when I drive past the Krispy Kreme Donut Shoppe on the way to work. I am immediately transported to the Krispy Kreme store that was right at the bus stop where I got off the Southside bus after band or track practice on school afternoons where a donut and a small coke would tide me over until dinner which was still hours away. A two block walk took me to the bus stop where I would pick up the 22 Lake Shore bus to complete my trip home.

Left: A view of the "T" at the foot of the Acosta Bridge. The wall in this story is to the right of this view. But to me, light is a strong memory enhancer as well. There is a certain actinic light that appears on late winter, early spring days that does that for me. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, near the foot of the Acosta Bridge before the old metal bridge was replaced by the new structure, Riverside Avenue was elevated over the local rail yards and formed a T with the traffic going onto an off of the bridge before going into downtown. There was a brick and mortar wall that lined the east side of the roadway. I remember late one afternoon noting the sunlight glancing off that wall as I rode the bus past it. I wondered if this must be what it looked like in the really big cities. I had never been outside of the state of Florida at the time. But my imagination took me to those faraway places to the north.

When I came to South Carolina to go to school, I found that wall and that light cattycorner across from my dormitory on the corner of Devine and Sumter Streets. It isn’t there anymore but next to the rear of Longstreet Theater there was a wall and steps that lead up to Davis Field that captured the same light and feeling as I walked up to the main part of the campus and my classes. When the light was right, I would see that wall on Riverside Avenue and the faces of my classmates on that bus. Those were special moments of peace and tranquility in those hectic, sometimes stressful college years.

Now you may be wondering if I ever saw “that wall in that light” in any northern city. I’m glad to report that the answer was yes. The first time was in the mid ‘90s while riding in a cab driving 80 MPH on I-76 between Philadelphia International Airport and a theater on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. I can’t remember the name of the theater now but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The driver didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak his language which I presumed was Russian when I heard his say “spasibo” to his dispatcher on the radio. He kept telling me that “The University of Pennsylvania is a very big city” and that he didn’t know if he could find the theater in time for me to make an important production meeting. As we sped off the interstate, into downtown Philadelphia, I saw it! The Wall! In the right light! Immediately I knew all was going to be OK and sure enough several blocks later while stopped at a red light, there was my destination, just a block away. “Let me off here!” I said, and after paying him, walked the last block an into the theater scant moments before the meeting was to start.

Did I find my wall in New York City, you might ask. Yes indeed. It was 2006 and I was driving on my way to a project site in Hicksville, NY out on Long Island. My team and I had rented a car at LaGuardia and taken the Grand Central Parkway past The Met’s Ballpark and Flushing Meadows, the site of the 1964 World’s Fair. A tight spin off the Parkway placed me in the right most lane of the Long Island Expressway right in the middle of rush hour traffic. “Oh BOY! This is gonna be interesting, I thought” because I needed to get across five lanes of one of the busiest highways in the country at one of the busiest times of the day. One of my team members started looking for alternative routes in case we couldn’t get across all that traffic.

All of a sudden, off to the left, while still in Queens, there was “my wall” again. The light was just right as it was on Riverside Avenue. I knew, then and there that it would be ok. I flicked on my left turn signal and to my amazement, the car behind me in that lane slowed to let me in. I was astounded, that would never have happened on I-26 leaving Columbia in rush hour traffic. OK! I had one down and three more to go. About 100 yards later I tried it again and again I was let in. I made it to the far left lane in plenty of time to make my exit off of the LIE.

I have to tell you, that I made that same trip 20 or so times during the life of that project and I never had problems getting over once having spotted “my wall.” I saw that wall every trip, but I never saw that wall in the same light as I did on that first trip when the stress level was pretty high.

St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. But I think I am blessed to have a patron wall as well. I can see it now, bathed in sunlight. I can see me as a teenager wondering if that was really what it was like up north, with the sun hanging low to the southwest in an azure sky. It just occurred to me that azure is defined as the color at 210 degrees on the RGB color wheel, the same direction as the sun in all of these memories. Oh MY!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

When things go horribly wrong, part 2

The day dawned clear and cool. I was sitting in the master control room of WIS-TV standing the engineering watch on November 11, 1971. I remember looking out the window in the middle of the door next to the bank of monitors at the sunlight glinting into the room through the venetian blinds. My friend Bill was the “switcher” on duty and I was loading and setting up the video tapes for the Sunday morning shows. There were no live shows on Sundays until the afternoon so the studio floor cameras were silently standing by.

The station was busier than usual because the demolition of the Columbia Hotel just down the street from the station was scheduled for that morning. It was the first of two Gervais Street Hotel implosions; the second was the Wade Hampton Hotel which occurred on July 21, 1985. The news team had arrived early, grabbed their film cameras and headed out to cover the story. The two way frequency we shared with WIS Radio was alive with chatter as the countdown to the implosion neared.

Bill and I had planned on watching the demolition from the roof of Studio “A” underneath the legs of the 400 foot self supporting tower that was one of the most prominent features of the Columbia skyline. Unfortunately for Bill, delays pushed the event closer and closer to station break time. We were coming out of a film show with two 30 second film Public Service Announcements, a voice over slide station identification then a half hour videotape show from one of the local churches. Everything was loaded and ready so Bill said that he would cover the break by himself so I could stay out there and watch the building come down.

As I stood there watching the structure’s last moments, I thought of some happy times I had there. My friend Mackey Quave was the morning man on WQXL in the mid 60s. Their studios were on the second floor of the Hotel. Before I started doing the Nightbeat Show out at Doug Broome’s Drive In Restaurant, I was doing the “All Night Satellite” at WCOS just a couple of blocks away at the Cornell Arms Apartments. Sometimes, I was too wired up after the show to go home and to bed, so I’d walk up Sumter Street and visit Mackey as he did his morning show. We had some good times there. Burning news copy turned upside down was occasionally involved. Mackey could handle anything.

Finally the ten second countdown crackled over the radio less than a minute before the station break. I felt bad that Bill was going to miss the event. Little did I suspect that the coin would be flipped within the minute.

A series of loud booms occurred and the building slowly folded in on itself and came down almost in one chunk. I remember someone saying on the radio that part of the building fell outside of the designated fall zone. The two way radio crackled with the announcement that some nearby power lines had been pulled down by the falling debris.

“Rut Roh” I thought. Well not exactly “rut roh” but you get the meaning. Bill called out “Rick! Get in here; something is wrong with the video tapes.” I came through that short doorway without even stepping on the three steps that led to it from the control room floor.

“The tape machines won’t roll”, Bill said as I rushed down the row of equipment racks to the tape machines in the projection room behind the control room. “What the heck!” I said as I looked to make sure that I had put the machines into remote control for Bill to start. They were! I took control back to the local panel and tried to roll them myself. Nothing!!!!

In the meantime Bill had put up the dreaded “Please Stand By” slide. As a control room operator, this was the last thing you wanted to see on the air. It meant that something was “BAD” wrong. The only thing worse was to put up “black” a completely dark screen. The next film show was sitting in the film rack to be played in an hour. I pulled the show that had just completed, loaded the show and Bill rolled it. It would be at the wrong time but it was better than nothing.

Now, I had a half hour to figure out what had happened and get it fixed. I check the fuses on the servo modules on the tape machines and sure enough they had all blown. I replaced them with new fuses and they immediately blew again. This was not going to be easy. I asked Bill to call Tom, my new boss and tell him what was going on. By the time I had the servo modules pulled and on the bench and the first one opened. Tom had arrived. To my amazement he was in a good mood despite being awakened on a Sunday morning. After troubleshooting we determined that the decoupling transistors which isolated the servos from the incoming power source, where all blown. There were eight of these transistors in four modules in two machines.

I pulled the spare parts drawer where we kept the transistors and thank goodness there were exactly eight of those transistors in the bin. I got busy replacing the transistors in the first module while Tom checked the rest of the circuitry in the other module to make sure there was no damage to the other components. These weren’t little transistors stuck into a socket on a circuit board. These babies were as big around a quarters and a quarter inch thick. They were held in place by two hex head screws and had to be coated on the bottom by a heat conducting gel to dissipate the heat they generated. About an hour later, we had the first module ready for “smoke testing” that is, to power it up and see if it worked or smoked. To our relief it worked! That was a good thing, because we would have big problems if we blew even one of those transistors. By the end of the shift we were back up to speed with all machines.

Tom and I went downstairs to the canteen to eat a delayed lunch. Oh and the next morning, we ordered 16 more decoupling transistors. It is worth noting that when the Wade Hampton Hotel was imploded in 1985, they shut down the power grid for a block around the hotel. Even the State House was dark and H - Hour. But nobody lost decoupling transistors and had a story to tell. Oh MY!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

When things go horribly wrong

I haven’t seen it personally, but I know that out there, in a sun drenched cemetery somewhere in the south, there is a gravestone marked with the words “Hey Bubba, get a load of this!” Why do I know this, because the Internet says it is so, so it must be true!

It seems that sometimes in our lives, usually when we have reached maturity but before we have reached the age of wisdom we have done something that garnered, shall we say, unexpected results. I’ve had my share. Except for mine, names are omitted in the stories that follow in order to protect the guilty.

News announcers are fair game in both radio and television. Someone is always trying to “break them up” while they are on mic or camera. The only time they are safe is when they are reading about a death. The rest of the time, it’s on. Sometime during my first radio gig, the infamous “Beatle Wig Incident” occurred. In this operation, the news was read from the FM studio that looked into the AM control room through a 4’ x 8’ glass window. Our beleaguered news guy was diligently reading the news when the on air DJ and a couple of others in the control room thought it would be hilarious to put on a Beatle Wig and make faces at him. A couple of guys tried but alas were not able to raise even an upturned corner of a mouth. They got nothing at all.

When the newscast was over, the newsman walked around the corner into the on air studio, placed his arm on the top of a piece of equipment where the wig was laying. This stack of equipment towered over the main turntable which happened to be spinning a 45 RPM record at the time of the incident. The newsman, a wiry thin guy, gave each and every one of us “The Eye” then started to laugh. As he turned away, the corner of news copy he had in his hand caught the Beatle Wig and knocked it off the equipment… right onto the turntable that was on the air. The needle was knocked off the record and onto the felt cover on the spinning turntable. It sounded like the end of the world. Everyone jumped towards the turntable to reset it. Well everyone but the news guy, he smiled, and walked away whistling happily. Let it be known that he always professed that was an accident, but he had the last laugh, in fact the only laugh.

On a sunny weekend afternoon, I was up at another station working on a transmitter that was being a bit difficult that Saturday. One of our part time DJs was spinning records and eyeing a basket of fresh peaches that one of our listeners brought by. We were both enjoying them when he came up with the thought of eating the pit of one of them. There had been a recent article about the health benefits of eating peach pits so he announced on the air that he was going to do that. It took some doing but he finally got it all down. It was only after he announced what he had done that the phone started ringing off the hook with concerned listeners telling him that peach pits contained cyanide, arsenic, and other toxins. There was no internet at the time so there was no way to confirm or deny this. I can tell you that he was a little nervous about it all. I looked up the number of poison control but we didn’t call. Instead, I kept an eye on him for a couple of ours. I’m glad to say that he went on to have a long career in radio and television with no after effects.

This last “Hey Bubba” story goes back to my first job in radio at the same station that was the home of the “Beatle Wig Incident.” It was the middle of the night, sometime around 2 in the morning. My best buddy, who also worked there, had been out clubbing and dropped by the studio to wind down before heading home. He had brought a beer up to the station in a brown paper bag. After consuming the beer and disposing the can in the trash can across the lobby he sat there playing with the bag.

He and I were always looking for “production elements” to spice up our shows. These elements always involved loud, sudden noises. And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that blowing up and popping that bag would be a good addition to our collection of weird noises.

As the record I was playing was about to end, I decided to go for it. “Gimme that bag, I’ve got an idea”, I said. What I was about to do dawned on him and he said “Yeah, that’ll be great!” About fifteen seconds before the end of the record, I planned to say something smart like “We’re blowing up the hits,” blew up the bag, turned on the microphone and blewie…. knocked the station right off the air.

Because he was not wearing headphones and I was, he had no idea what happened. All he could see was the shocked look on my face as I slammed the mic switch to the off position and yelled “Oh No!” (Well it was something like “Oh No!” anyway) as I jumped up to the transmitter remote control panel to reset it. I was fortunate, the station came right back on. I am the kind of guy that loves a crowd in my studio when I am on the air, but you had better not bring a paper bag in with you. Oh MY!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Draw of Water

I live in a shining city on a hill, literally, Columbia, SC. The land falls off in nearly every direction so that from given locations, you can see the land and the incredible skies that lie above. For example, from my office window you can look over the low lying building across the street and see 20 miles to the northwest. That vista brings a sense of peace on busy, fast paced work days. As I leave the parking garage I find myself turning south along Assembly Street headed out to I-77 more often than not. That route is slightly longer than the other way home, which got me thinking; just why do I do that? It finally dawned on me that I could see out across several counties as I drive off the hill down towards the Congaree Swamp. The view between the buildings at the University is really spectacular. But there is something missing.

I was born in a city on the water, Jacksonville FL, where it is flat and the vistas are created by great bodies of water; fresh salt and in between. Water was as near as a mile or so in three directions from my parent’s home and my elementary school. We were bound by the Ortega River on the East and the Cedar River to the South and West. It used to be called Cedar Creek, which caused my Uncle John, who was from Montana, to quip; “What you call ‘cricks’ down here, we called rivers up there.” I guess someone listened to him because they changed the designation to river some years ago.

I would ask my uncle what “Big Sky” country was like since he was from Montana. His answer was interesting. He said he liked the big skies of Florida more. The reason eluded me until I moved inland away from the oceans, rivers and bays of my childhood; water is what was missing from my inland views! If you have ever experienced viewing a large river, a bay or even the ocean from a sunlit shore with the wind blowing overhead you know what I mean. I’ve seen my share of vistas from mountains and prairies. They are nice, but to me, water makes the scene!

Crossing a river or going to the beach wasn’t an everyday event until reaching my freshman year of high school. At that time, my route to and from school crossed one of the three bridges that spanned the St. John’s River at the time; The Alsop Bridge, The Acosta Bridge or the Fuller Warren Bridge. Each day the bus would climb the ramps over the bridge and we would all be treated to the sunlight glinting off the water below under the blue skies that were the norm, especially during the school months.

Rainy days were even more interesting. The clouds hung low in the sky, sometimes almost touching the superstructure of the older bridges that rose up majestically like some metallic tinker toy creation across the river from Downtown and the Westside over to the Southside where the school was located on the river’s shore. You could see the columns of rain splashing down on the green land and the rippling water between the shores. I often wondered what it would be like to be one of the ever-present seagulls flying between them and sometimes landing on the bridge to watch the traffic go by underneath.

As one got farther and farther from downtown and the busy port to the East, where the water was brackish and the tides more pronounced, one would encounter mud flats covered by sawgrass. If you were from Charleston you would call these areas “Pluff mud” but whether or not you were in Charleston or Jacksonville these tidal areas gave off a peculiar aroma. Growing up I was not too fond of the smell of sawgrass but these days I actually miss that smell.

I think my dislike of that aroma was another that was common around both Jacksonville and Charleston; that of pulp mills. All up and down the East Coast from the Carolinas to Florida there were vast expanses of pine forests that were harvested to make paper. The only way to describe the smell is to say that some actually preferred the odor from a skunk. Thank goodness that the technology has come along that has the capability of scrubbing the smoke from paper mills so that these days you can stand directly downwind of one of them and not smell it.

I love the neighborhood where I live today. It used to be on the edge of town but these days it is closer to downtown than it is to the rural countryside that was nearby. We are surrounded by beautiful 75 foot tall pine trees that keep the winds at bay in the winter and the house covered in shade in the summer. But I have no “Big Sky” view from my street.

So I was sitting here in my office/studio wondering what I was going to write about today when suddenly the thought of big sky vistas complete with sawgrass and Pluff mud came to mind. As much as I have enjoyed my reverie, I’m not sure where it came from. Hmmmm, it is possible it could have been one of the dogs. Oh MY!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What was the name of that song again?

One of my favorite internet memes is one where a disk jockey is shown hard at work taking requests. He is saying something like “OK you want to hear a song, you can’t remember its name or who sings it! Ummm, I’ll get right on that for you!”

That one slays me every time I see it. As it does for everyone who has ever slung a disk on the radio or DJ’d an event. We all love our music even if we forget that “We’re caught in a trap” is really Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” of that “Faded Photographs” is “Traces” by the Classics IV.

The problem seems to be getting worse as my listeners and I get a little older. My memory has become like a steel trap; all stuck and rusty! When I was a young pup, I could immediately connect “The purpose of a man is to love a woman” with Wayne Fontana and the Mindbender’s “The Game of Love”. I must admit that there was the additional motivation of the young lady standing there in bobby socks and blue jeans waiting to hear her song. But today with a memory like a sieve I have to work harder at it. Usually I can get there by singing it to myself.

This works because usually the “remembered” title is either the first words of the song as in “Faded Photographs” or is from the song’s “hook” as in “We’re caught in a trap.” Singing it usually brings the singer or group into focus in my mind and that is half of the battle, because I can then type the artist’s name into the search feature of my playback software and when I see the list of songs he or she has recorded, I can pick the correct one from the list and add it to my queue. Unfortunately, the search engine provides for a search by artist or title only. If I don’t know either it won’t help.

Most of the time, I can get to the correct song immediately because like the two examples above a lot of folks remember their songs the same way. Another example of this is The Cowsills’ 1967 hit single "The Rain, The Park & Other Things" which is often requested as “I Love The Flower Girl” again remembered by a phrase from the hook.

A variant of this problem is when someone sends me a request via a written note that could be more than one song. “Stairway to Heaven” is a great example of this. It could be either Neil Sedaka’s 1960 song that peaked at number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, or Led Zeppelin’s smash hit which was released in late 1971. The person who wrote the note is not longer around for me to ask which one, so it is now a guessing game. If I am clueless, I usually opt for the latter song. The method to the madness is if the person wanted the original one, they are aware of the later song and that lets me off the hook a little. Since there are 11 years between these two, the reverse is not always true.

In recent years more and more frequently after trying all my tricks I have to say “I got nuttin!” I’m completely stuck; it just won’t come to me. The fact that I’m still selecting songs and playing them doesn’t help either. The further I go the less likely I am to come up with the correct song. So there is a sense of urgency to figure it out quickly.

All is not lost, there is a last resort! The best engineering and scientific minds in our culture have put together something that works almost every time; the Internet! I just open a blank tab on my WWW browser and type in the phrase that was given to me and voila, “I Love the Flower Girl” comes back as “I Love the Flower Girl” but it also comes back as “The Rain, The Park and Other Things.” After smacking myself in the middle of the forehead I go find the song and load it into the queue. The older I get, the flatter my forehead is getting. Once in a great while, even the internet fails me and I write the song snippet down on a piece of paper. Usually in the middle of the night a couple days later, I’ll sit bolt upright in the bed and smack myself in the middle of the forehead because I just remembered the name of the song. Somehow that smack makes the song stick in my brain until morning.

One of my favorite sayings is that I wish I could empty my brain of all those old song lyrics so I would have room for something else. I say that but I don’t really mean it. There is nothing like the feeling of driving down the highway with a great oldie playing and singing along with it at the top of my lungs. It is a good thing that we have air conditioning and windows and that no one else can hear me sing in the key of “R”. “Oh give me the beat boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.” Oh MY!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Radio Promotions

It is that time of year! Last Thursday, a pair of groundhogs were hauled out of their nice warm dens into the early morning cold to predict the end of the winter. They came out with a split decision under decidedly suspicious circumstances. Up in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow under cloudy skies and predicted six more weeks of winter while down in Georgia, General Beauregard Lee did not see his under sunny skies and predicted an early spring. How did that happen? Well, they are rodents, not meteorologists. But they had the attention of the whole world and for a while, the Facebook and Twitter universes argued about something other than politics for a change.

Thinking about groundhogs, top hats and burrows reminded me of some of the radio and television promotions that used to pop up this time of year. “This is radio station WXYZ, home of the most accurate groundhog in the country!” and “Our groundhog can out-predict yours any day!” were just two that come to mind. The whole radio promotion idea can be found on the “I Thought Turkeys Could Fly” episode on the WKRP in Cincinnati TV sitcom. But just where did all of this craziness come from.

The answer was simple, after busiest time of the year; the Christmas Season, the station sales always ramp down with the after Christmas Sales then the President’s Day sales to the lowest point in the year. Instead of running 18 minutes of commercials per hour, then the limit placed on the stations by the FCC, sales would drop off to five or six total commercial minutes per hour. Most of these were the sponsors of the shows who bought packages that ran year round. The station copywriters began to twiddle their thumbs and get cabin fever.

Copywriters, by their nature were creative people who worked closely with the Sales Team, and now both of these groups had time on their hands. Ideas began to be bounced around as they sat in bull sessions and the radio and television promotions were the result. Besides there was a lot of surplus air time floating around.

These boredom – driven meetings resulted in some of the most creative local spot and promotional activity ever. A good example of this is the creation of “ChickenMan” a series of 60 to 90 second vignettes started at WCFL in Chicago that wound up being syndicated on many of the stations in larger markets in the county. This was something that the sales department could sink their teeth into. Sponsorship of “ChickenMan” the earnest, bumbling super hero spiked late winter, early spring sales figures for a couple of years. “ChickenMan” can still be heard daily on a couple of radio stations. Here is a link to a ChickenMan episode.

Medium and smaller markets could not afford the syndicated “Chicken Man” show resulting in many “Turkey Man” knockoffs. WCOS was one of those stations that did this. I can tell you that it was so much fun to produce. Woody, our program director was the genius behind our “Turkey Man” episodes that ran in 1969. Once a week, the entire on air staff would gather into the production room and surround the microphone in the middle of the floor. Woody would hand out the script and we would then roll tape and let it roll. Let it roll is a good euphemism for what happened next. The script was not complete but a loose story line. We would all then ad-lib our assigned character’s lines for the next minute and a half. The DJ with the deepest voice was always assigned the narrator’s role because at some point during the bit, he would always say “Weeelllllll, Turkey Man is in yet another fix!”

That same year, 1969, I was in Atlanta for a couple of months and got to hear one of the best “Turkey Man” promotions ever on WQXI, the big Quixie in Dixie. For months and months, they promoted that “Turkey Man was coming to WQXI.” There were lots of plot inserts and funny pieces inserted into these announcements. I noticed that these announcements carried a sponsorship. I thought that was a pretty cool way of extending sales on the series, so I made a note to share that with the sales team when I got back.

As it turns out, there was a reason that these pre series announcements were sponsored. I was fortunate enough to be back in Atlanta the Friday that WQXI finally ran the first episode of “Turkey Man” Luckily, it was in the morning drive time and I was able to listen to it live. The episode started off normally, the imbedded commercial ran, and then Turkey Man took off after the baddest of the bad guys. The biggest of fights ever on the radio ensued and at the end of it, Turkey Man lay unconscious on the floor. The deep voiced announcer came on and said “Weeeelllll, is this the end of Turkey Man?” A long pause ensued and then he said “Yes! This is end of Turkey Man, presented by the sponsor!” I was on the I-75/I-85 corridor near Georgia Tech just about to turn off at The Varsity on North Avenue, when all I could see was a sea of red brake lights in reaction to what everybody just heard. After the initial shock, I laughed all the way to my destination, the FCC Atlanta Field office where I was going to sit for my First Class Radiotelephone License. I smiled all the way through that exam. Now, that was local radio creativity at its best. By the way, I passed the exam on my first and only try. Oh MY!