Sunday, September 16, 2018

Covering the Storm

This weekend, as I began to write this, Tropical Storm Florence was passing overhead at the breakneck speed of all of 2 miles per hour. This is perhaps the slowest event I have ever seen. At first we were expecting a tiger in the night as the storm approached. Wednesday a week ago it was a threatening category 4 hurricane. But it finally came ashore near Wilmington NC as a category two. And that seemingly mild storm was bad enough, the tidal surge and heavy slow moving rains brought misery to the North and South Carolina coasts.

Slow moving is the operative observation. This meant the storm dumped over 40 inches of rain on some parts of the coastal areas. In fact, one of the television stations in New Bern, NC was inundated by flood waters in the middle of its live storm coverage. I don’t envy the staff there the work they are going to have to do to clean up that mess. The storm was moving so slowly, that the total distance the center of rotation moved during my Saturday midday show was only six miles.

My small part of the storm coverage during that show brought back memories of doing live radio shows during major weather events in the past. Back in the day, not unlike today, it was all hands on deck for the radio station staff. Not only the air staff, but everyone at the station was expected to contribute to the coverage effort. Salesmen and even engineers were out in news cars using the two way radios to report weather conditions and road conditions back to the news room. For example, back in the late 70s, I was the chief engineer (That’s what the lead broadcast technician was called back then.) of WIS-Radio. We had a major snowstorm hit the city unexpectedly. I drove a VW Karman Ghia back then so I was able to get to the station during the blizzard unlike most of the staff that had to wait for jeeps from the National Guard to get them to the studio. After making sure that the generator, transmitter, towers and studios were all ship shape and ready for the storm, the news director asked me to take “News Car One” out and do reports of road conditions. That news car was a Ford Station wagon outfitted with a Motorola Two way radio that connected us to both the radio and the television stations. Our helicopter was grounded and most of the news crew was still inbound. It was not lost on me that I was driving around in the midst of terrible road conditions reporting live on the radio that the roads were unsafe and that everyone should stay home.

I want to note here that we took great care to make sure that what we reported was accurate and to the point. News departments were generally independent with their leadership reporting directly to the general manager unlike today when they are usually part of the entertainment division. That alignment can sometimes create, shall we say, unusual situations. I’m sure that everyone has seen the viral video of a field reporter appearing to struggle mightily to stay on his feet during a live report. At the end of the report the camera shot widened to include two men casually strolling down the street with no difficulty. I’ve followed that reporter’s work for years and I feel certain that is not something that he would do of his own volition. There had to be some “expert” consultant out there that felt that the field reports needed some spicing up. That consultant should be banned from working in the industry ever again.

There was another factor that had an impact of the coverage of Hurricane Florence; duration! When the storm finally crossed the coastline of North Carolina the media had already been covering it for 10 days; each day with more and more intensity, resources and longer report duration. The result was that the storm finally came ashore, everyone, reporters, producers and audience was burned out on the story. Yet, no station that I was aware of, felt that they could bail out of storm coverage and go back to normal programming. The duration of this event also led to some controversial decisions by our political leaders. Their decisions would have been perfect for storms moving at normal speeds, but under these conditions not so much. We all have lessons learned here.

I think what we see today is the best that can be done given today’s circumstances. Not as many people are available but technology is better than what we had to work with back in the day. There is more information to work with now. Those men and women out in the field, in the air chairs, behind the consoles and on both sides of the cameras did a great job. I wish there were more of them. I’m sure they feel that way too.

A final note; as I complete this blog entry shortly after noon on Sunday, the latest tracking report from the National Weather Service has the storm in the western third of the state and picking up forward speed. There is still wind and rain overhead but this one is about to be put in the books. I just saw a post on Facebook from one of my friends who is a news producer at a local TV station. She has just finished a twelve plus hour shift and is back home cuddling with her sweet daughter. Hope you get some rest, my friend, thunderstorms are predicted for tomorrow. And so it goes! Oh MY!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Of Wooly Cows, Sheep and Pigs

This is my first blog in three weeks because we were out of the country for a fiftieth anniversary trip to England, Scotland and Ireland. After flying into Heathrow and spending a couple days in London, we boarded the M/V Star Breeze in Edinburgh for a cruise around several ports of northern Scotland and the Isle of Man finally winding up in Dublin. There were lots of sights to see.

Left: The M/V Star Breeze in Douglas, Isle of Man. First of all; in my humble opinion, a smaller cruise ship is the way to go The Star Breese carries up to 212 passengers and a crew of around 150, so you get royal attention the whole time you are on board. The cabins were spacious and comfortable and finding one’s way around the ship was easy, at least for those of us who are not directionally challenged. I must mention the food! Oh MY, THE FOOD! There was 24 /7 food service with at least one of the restaurants, clubs or the casino open late into the night. Room service was available overnight if you woke up hungry in the middle of the night. I must admit that the latter thing never happened. In case you are wondering, I did have the fish and chips with a choice of peas, regular or mushy. I also had a breakfast that included bangers and beans, (sausage and baked beans) scrambled eggs and potatoes. And No! I was not brave enough to try haggis! The evening meal in the main restaurant was 4 or 5 courses, depending on how much you could eat. It’s amazing I didn’t put on weight; thank goodness for all the walking on the onshore excursions.

Secondly, I’m so glad we chose a cool weather destination. A break from the South Carolina heat was definitely called for. Our personal record for the coldest place we have ever been in the summer used to be a late July afternoon on Mt. Cadillac, Acadia National park on the coast of Maine. That record was smashed to pieces at the Sky Life Museum on the Isle of Skye where the temperature was in the upper 40s to the lower 50s with gale force winds and horizontal rain. A piece of advice, to use the rest rooms there it will cost you 40 pence. Oh yeah, if you ask where the rest rooms are, you will get a blank stare, they call them toilets. Other than that and Loch Ness, the weather was enjoyable. It never got above 70 until we arrived in Dublin.

Speaking of Loch Ness, despite spending a couple of chilly wet hours on the south end of the lake, there was no sign of Nessie. Although I could have sworn I saw the Lizard Man from Bishopville, SC down near the lake beating the brush looking for her. The locals seemed very interested in our South Carolina Legend!

At Kirkwall the largest settlement and capital of Orkney, an archipelago in the north of Scotland, I had my strongest connection to my Navy days. About two miles south of the city lays the town of Scapa at the head of a large body of water bounded on all sides by islands and narrow passage ways. If you remember your history Scapa Flow was a large Naval Base during WWI and WWII. I studied this area in my Naval Science days, especially the submarine attack by U-47 on October 14, 1939 that sank The Battleship HMS Royal Oak and caused the construction of the Churchill Barriers. One thing that I didn’t expect was the Italian Chapel on A961 on the island of Burray just south of Glins Holm. It was built by Italian prisoners of war who were sent to Scapa Flow to construct the Churchill Barriers. The facade of the chapel looks like any small Italian church until you walk through the doors and realize that it was constructed from a Quonset hut. Exactly the same size Quonset hut that my uncle Harlo had on his lake property on Silver Lake in Florida. The interior walls were made of paper mache and painstakingly hand painted to simulate granite and wood. If you are ever there, it is worth a visit.

The Star Breese would travel at night, leaving one port around 5 in the afternoon and arriving at the next around 7 the next morning. Most of the ports we visited had space at their docks large enough to accommodate the ship but there were three where we had to anchor a mile of two from the docks and use the ships small craft, called tenders, to make our way ashore. We missed our scheduled stop at Portrush, Northern Ireland because there was no breakwater and the North Atlantic was running 5 foot swells, much too rough for safe transfer to and from the tenders. Speaking of boarding tenders, I proved that I’m not as agile as I was when I climbed down a rope net from a LST into a landing craft off of the coast of Virginia in the summer of 1965.

So, I’ve been asked of all the places we visited, which was my favorite. I am surprised by my answer; the Isle of Man. The cities we visited, Douglas and Castletown where we visited Castle Rushen and the village of Cregnaesh with its thatched roofs and chickens that challenged the Manx cats for a place at the hearth of the farmhouse. It was a perfect day; not a single cloud in the deep blue skies, a light wind from the southwest and rolling hills covered with green farmlands and pastures as far as the eye could see. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann and is represented by a Lieutenant Governor. Manx is not part of the UK, it is a self-governing British Crown dependency with defense is the primary responsibility of the United Kingdom. They have their own money which despite being in Pounds Sterling cannot be spent anywhere but on the island.

OK Rick, what about any radio? Of course, there would be radio involved. Radio Manx the one commercial station on the island began broadcasting on June 29, 1964, almost ten years before commercial radio was licensed in the United Kingdom. There is a 20 KW directional AM station at 1368 kHz AM and several 50 watt stations 89.0 MHz (from Snaefell) for the north of the island; 97.2 MHz FM (from Douglas/Carnane) for the south of the island; and 103.7 MHz (from Jurby) for the island's hills. Additional low-power transmitters cover Ramsey and Peel on a frequency of 89.5 MHz. Despite being a “commercial” Station Manx Radio is heavily dependent on the taxpayers of the Isle of Man. Manx Radio receives a Government subsidy of nearly 1 million Manx Pounds per year. The low power FM stations have limited coverage but the AM station covers most of the Irish Sea including the coasts of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and western England including Liverpool.

We were in Dublin the night of the All Ireland Football (Soccer to us) Championship and the social life was wild. The restaurant and bar crowd spilled over into the alleyways outside and a city wide party was in effect, especially after the home team won. The restaurant where we had supper that night was just a few blocks from Trinity College and was filled with college students out on the town on a Saturday night. Most of the young women hung out in small groups that commandeered a table or two. They were dressed to the nines with lots of bare midriffs and high fashion cut jeans. There were far more cut jeans than you see around here and the quality of the material was much higher than I’m used to seeing. The guys would come in smaller groups dressed in more casual garb and orbit around the tables and the young women. The only kilt I saw in Dublin was on a young lady. Well maybe it was a very short skirt in a tartan pattern.

On the ride out to the airport from Dublin on Monday, our taxi driver turned out to be a huge music fan. Of course, his favorite band was U2. He told me that he was in Berlin for the U2 concert the Saturday before. Yes, he was standing in front of the stage about 20 feet from Bono when Bono lost his voice and the concert had to be cancelled. He said that audience was disappointed but understood and there was no trouble that he could see. When asked, he said that while he was disappointed too, he had seen them over two dozen times and now he had a story he could share with his grandchildren.

Left: Proof!!! A wooly pig in the pasture Wait, you say, What about the wooly cows, sheep and pigs! Well, in Scotland, especially the northern parts, the herds in the pastures are all Scottish Highland Wooly Cattle. They all have a shaggy coat of 4 to 6 inch long hair and horns are sported by both the males and females of the species. So a closer inspection than I was willing to make was required to determine the gender. Sheep were everywhere the most predominant farm animal around. They even had the right away on the streets. That is a hazard in the winter, because they liked to sleep on the paved roadways which were warmer than the surrounding grassland. The biggest animal surprise was rounding the corner on a tour bus in Orkney and tour guide pointing out the wooly pigs in the pasture out there with the sheep. Sure enough there they were in all their hairy glory!! This world still has surprises for this aging boomer. Oh MY!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Old Radios

It was big, encased in polished wood veneer and stood over three feet tall in the southwest corner of the living room. There was a dial, a couple of knobs and a huge speaker grill down near the floor where we would gather to hear tales of the Lone Ranger, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet or Superman. I don’t remember the model but I’m pretty sure it was made by Philco.

Our first radio looked like this one. We laugh at the term “Space Cadet” these days because it became a derogatory term in the 60s. But back in those heady days before Sputnik, it was cool. We followed those stories about the adventures of Corbett and Astro, cadets at the Space Academy as they trained to become members of the Solar Guard. I wanted a Tom Corbett lunch box in the worst way but, alas, I never got a chance to carry one to school.

But I digress; this story is about that old radio. It was newer than the one over at my Grandma Daisy’s home on Atlantic Boulevard across town. Hers had a small circular dial and ours was larger and sported a rectangular dial complete with a needle that moved back and forth in response to a turn of the big knob on the right. Both of them had a great sound but you had to be patient; it took a while for those big old vacuum tubes to warm up and the signal from the radio station began to fill the room and the images of places far away began to form in our minds. That radio had some age on it by time I became aware of it and I wondered if it was on that radio that my Mom and Dad first heard the news about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I once asked Mom about that, she though so but couldn’t remember for sure.

That old radio was our connection from a sleepy suburb of Jacksonville, Florida to the rest of the world. In my early days, it would play the 6 PM news from WJAX while the family gathered in the adjacent dining room for our evening meals. We soon learned that silence was golden at the dinner table while the news was on.

After dinner it would be relaxing with Amos ‘n Andy, the Jack Benny Show or Fibber McGee and Molly until time for bed. In my very early years, I remember Mom listening to Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club and Arthur Godfrey’s Morning Show. About the same time I started school, our first television, a Muntz, found its place in the northwest corner. All those old friends we had on the radio made their way to black and white TV and the radio had less and less use. Since we were in school by this time, homework came into the picture and the living room was silent until we had finished our work around the dining room table. Time moved slowly as I struggled with math problems and diagramming sentences.

I got so I could care less about where Train A would meet Train B or how many oranges were left. Heck in my case the real answer would be one less orange than the correct answer because I would eat that puppy given half a chance.

I must admit that when algebra, trigonometry and calculus came into my life that my attitude changed about math. Now I could see a practical use for all those calculations. Unfortunately I soon learned that I could set up all those problems correctly but I often made simple math errors because I didn’t practice my addition, subtraction, multiplication or division as much as I should have. So I saw my share of red pencil marks on my exams.

I would have never gotten through engineering school if it wasn’t for slide rules, calculators and computers. I loved computers because I loved setting the problems up in them and letting them do the tedious calculations.

Around the time I started high school, the old console radio burned up its last tube and faded into the mists of time. We had a brand new desktop radio in the living room and I had a brand new transistor radio in my shirt pocket. Tom Corbett and Superman had been replaced by something brand new; DJs playing records. That was a game changer! WPDQ and later WAPE became the prime loci on my radio dial. Now Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Pat Boone and Ozzie and Harriett’s younger son, Ricky Nelson boomed into my earphone as I walked or rode my bike to and from school. It was back then that I discovered that even a 2 ½ inch speaker held to the ear sounded pretty good if you turned the volume up high enough. (Kids, don’t do this at home, it’s bad for the hearing.)

Then came the many automobile radios that worked their way into my life. I wrote about those last week so I won’t rehash that again here. In closing I’ll just say that to this day I can’t stand to drive alone in the car without my radio blasting out the oldies. Oh MY!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Push Button Radio

Everyone of a certain age remembers those old car radios with the five pushbuttons right under the dial. Heck, I’m so old. I remember our family car did not even have a radio despite the fact that Motorola introduced the first radio with push-button station presets in 1936. They were so pricey that it wasn’t until we got our brand new ’55 Chevrolet Bel Air that we had our first car radio. Mom and Dad claimed four of the five buttons for their stations. That left my brother and me to fight over push button number 5.

At first, it was easy; WPDQ at 600 on the dial was THE rocker in Jacksonville in ’55 so it was all good until March 1, 1958 when WAPE signed on the air as The Big Ape at 690 on the dial. Now there was trouble in River City. Mom and Dad would not give up a second button. They had a lock on those buttons for WJAX, WMBR, WIVY and WVOJ. We tried arguing that they never listened to WVOJ, a country and western station but they wouldn’t listen.

So we kept our button tuned to WAPE at 690 and when we wanted to listen to WPDQ we would have to tune down to 600, about a turn on the big knob on the right side of the radio. Being kids at the time, when one station was playing a song we didn’t really like, we would tune to the other station to see what they were playing. Fortunately my brother and I pretty much liked the same songs. But dad was almost always complaining about our choices; “What is all that noise anyway?”

Every so often, he would pipe down and listen to a song. From my vantage point in the back seat, I would notice a slight smile on his lips and that the toes on his left foot were tapping when he was not shifting gears. I mentally compiled Dad’s playlist; “Midnight Gambler” and “High Noon” by Frankie Laine, “Cool Water” by Marty Robbins, “Calcutta” By Lawrence Welk and “So Rare” by Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra. When he was feeling really good he would whistle along with the song and then say “What WHAT!” when he saw us looking at him. When I think about those “Bel Air” songs, I now realize that those are some of my favorites.

Mom was more of a fan of Perry Como and Johnny Mathis. My sister was too young to care back in the “Bel Air” days; she was into the likes of Sam The Sham when she began her rock and roll years.

One thing about those old mechanical push buttons on radios is that they were not very accurate. It depended on how you pushed the buttons. Push them firmly and crisply and they got you close to where you wanted to be. Push them softly or hit a bump in the road as you were selecting a station could leave you anywhere on the dial between the station you were listening to and the one you wanted. Just pushing the button again wouldn’t work, you had to select another station first then the one you wanted.

Typically, most listeners programmed their push buttons with their favorite station on the left or number one button and then the rest in descending order. At least two of the stations I worked for over the years had a show named “Push Button One” even if they were on the far right of the dial.

When, I got my first car, while working at WCOS, I programmed buttons 1 through 3 to my station’s frequency 1400. The number 4 button was for our main competition, WNOK at 1230, in case I wanted to hear what they were doing. The last button was kept at 690 good old WAPE even though under most conditions I could not hear them in Columbia. It was there for when I hit US 17 in southern South Carolina on the way home or the times I went to Charleston which was well within the Big Ape’s coverage area.

FM complicated things even more. At first one had to get an FM converter similar to the UHF converters they had on televisions. They did not have buttons on them but you had one on the AM radio dedicated to the frequency the converter used. Finally AM/FM radios came along. But it wasn’t all flowers and roses; now you had to remember if a particular button was programmed for an AM or an FM station. You also had to select AM or FM on a separate switch on the face of the radio. It’s amazing we survived making all those adjustments driving down the highway at 65 miles per hour.

Today’s listening choices have blossomed into a full bouquet; AM, FM, CD, Sirius/XM, external device and USB drive are the choices on my car radio. With the addition of digital selector buttons on my car radio touch screen; I also have 30 pre-settable “buttons” on my car radio. However, I have programmed only five of those buttons, not because I listen to only 5 different stations, but because my smart radio has speech recognition. When I push a button on the steering wheel this sexy and at the same time commanding female voice says “Say your command!” Once I get over thinking about Barbara Eden’s never seen belly button, I can then say “Tune to Sixties on Six”, “Tune 90.5 FM”, “Tune 1170 AM” or “Play USB” and just like magic, the show I want is pumping through the speakers with my eyes never leaving the road. I can even call the station if I need to; “Call WUSC” connects me hands free to the studio phone on the desk to the left of the on the air DJ and flashes a bright strobe light instead of ringing a bell. I can even tell what song is on the air by glancing at the Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS) display on the screen. By the way, if you send me a text while I’m driving, you will get a message that says “I’m driving right now; I’ll get back to you later.” I won’t even know that happened until I leave the car. Say what you will about the better old days; I’ll take that technology over those five buttons below the dial any day. Oh MY!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Longevity and Radio; an Oxymoron!

Last Wednesday afternoon the sale of yet another local radio station was announced. WZMJ-FM, Z93 'The Lake' has been sold to Midlands Media Group, the folks that own WWNQ-FM ‘The Dude’. Normally announcements of the sale of a radio station means that a local owner has sold to one of the conglomerates but happily in this case the sale was from one group of my radio buddies to another group of radio friends, so ownership stays in the community.

The new owners have not said if they will change the programming of their acquisition so we don’t know what will happen with the announcers and staff of the station that was sold. I’ve known many of them for over 40 years. I wish them the best of luck in the world in this transition. At the same time, I am grateful for the commitment of the new owners to the local community.

I am very fortunate in that I have never had to face this kind of change during my long career in radio and television. Although with the exception on one station, every one of my former radio stations has changed hands at least once: more than once, really. The turmoil started in the 80s when stations, announcers, formats and staffs started jumping all over the dial. By that time, I had just started my longest continuous broadcast gig at SC Educational Television. I watched in horror from the sidelines as many very good announcers and DJs got tired of the Whack-A-Mole game and left the business altogether. Some of these guys and gals were great at what they did and the American Experience is much poorer with their departure.

But business forces being what they were; focused on the bottom line, that is about the only thing that could happen. One of the biggest line items of radio stations’ budgets back in the day was the air talent. Unfortunately the solution for that was more and more automation, which negatively affected stations’ revenues which put more pressure on the bottom line and so the spiral begins to tighten.

I know that I’m in a diminishing demographic (read that as “crusty old curmudgeon”) but I love to sweep the dial until I hear a live high energy DJ (or more likely these days, a DJ Team) pursuing their craft complete with “walking up the record and hitting the post.” If I had my preference they are doing this while playing oldies but even some of the newer genres sound pretty good when presented well. One caveat; there are a number of “DJ Teams” that are syndicated on several stations that provide “content free chatter.” That’s definitely not what I’m talking about. Instead, live DJs who are into the local community, take requests and interact with their audience is what floats my boat.

I used to think that if I won the lottery, I would purchase a local station and program it with oldies and all the old DJs who still want to throw open the microphone switch and rock and roll. But I realize that option is not really open to me. Running a successful radio station is a lot of hard work. But if there were a band of brothers and sisters out there with similar ambitions, I’d throw my hat into the ring without hesitation.

Earlier, I mentioned that there was one radio station where I have worked that has not changed hands since it was put on the air. When I worked for it the first time, WUSC was an AM carrier current station that had a very limited range around the campus. It was in its 17th year of existence. Today, 55 years after my first radio show, I’m back on the air on WUSC-FM now a Class “A” FM station that reaches four counties in the Central Midlands of South Carolina. WUSC has not changed ownership for over 72 years. That is the record holder for Columbia, and may be for the entire state of South Carolina. I have tried searching for that but alas Google itself doesn’t know!

WUSC, however has a higher staff turnover than most stations because it is run primarily by students whose tenure is usually less than four years. So the sound of the station is constantly changing as playlist rules are updated by the students currently working there. There are a few voices that have been around longer; the students have help from some University of South Carolina staff, faculty and alumni. Some of the alumni have been there longer than most other local stations have been under their current ownership.

Radio has come full circle for me, beginning and ending at WUSC. I became re-involved with the station in the mid 90s doing a show on Homecoming weekends as a member of the WUSC Alumni Organization. In 2009, I began filling in during the Spring, Winter and Fall breaks and during the summer months. In 2010 I began my current weekly schedule year round by doing the last show every Monday morning; 10 – Noon during the Spring and Fall semesters and 9 – Noon other times of the year.

As I said earlier, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve not had to face the sale of a station from under my feet. I’m also very fortunate that the folks who run WUSC allow me to ply my craft on their air. Aside from some song restrictions on my playlist, they let me pretty much do my thing. I am forever grateful they give me that opportunity. You can be assured that my shows are a bit different then the college radio scene today. More like it was back in the distant past. Oh MY!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Long lost Oldies!

It has been said to me more than one time. “Oldies are dead as a musical genre.” “There is nothing new in Oldies.” “Don’t you get bored playing Oldies?”

My answer to all three of these statements is a resounding “No!” I’ll stipulate that there is no such thing as a “new” oldie. True the old songs keep coming back as covers by today artists and you hear them a lot sampled in commercials for everything from cars, to food, to paint! Like, who dances barefoot on a freshly painted deck anyway.

I must admit that for the most part, the newer cover’s of the old songs we used to dance to don’t have the same vibe as the originals. Mostly because of the tend to use synthesizers instead of hiring musicians to fill out the horn sections that we used to listen to: The Wrecking Crew in California, the Funk Brothers in Detroit, the Memphis Stax Horns or that hot mix coming out of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama. Now those were real backing groups!

But the point I want to make is that no one person can know everything about oldies. No one person has heard every oldies song. Just to make sure we are comparing oranges to oranges, I define Oldies as any popular song that was released between 1955 and 1975. That can include anything from Lawrence Welk’s “Calcutta” to Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby” to Cat Steven’s “Peace Train!” I’m not forgetting the great songs that lie outside these years; Examples of this are "Rocket 88" that was first recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, in March of 1951 by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, who were actually Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm. Many folks argue that this was the first true Rock and Roll song. On the other end of the timeline are songs like "Walk Away from Love" a 1976 song recorded by David Ruffin, former lead singer of The Temptations. "Walk Away from Love" was written by Charles Kipps and produced by Van McCoy.

One of the joys of playing oldies is the deep dive into the archives that I get to make each week in search of great songs that I’ve either forgotten or never knew about in the first place. Each Sunday afternoon I return from the vault of memories with freshly uncovered solid gold. This week three of the gems include: Marmalade – “I See The Rain” (1967), and a pair from Small Faces – “All Or Nothing” and “Tin Soldier.” This week’s additions point out one of the great sources of unknown Oldies; Marmalade is from Glasgow and Small Faces hails from East London.

Left: Pye Records 45 RPM Jacket for The Bystanders "98.6" Songs from overseas are a great source of long lost Oldies. Because of the dominance of American artists in the 50’s and early 60’s several countries, most notably Canada and The United Kingdom placed restrictions on playing American artists on their radio stations. This aided local artists such as Paul Anka and Bobby Curtola to thrive. Paul eventually made it big in the US, but Bobby had limited success here. In the UK, there were some big artists such as Helen Shapiro. Her UK chart toppers, "You Don't Know" and "Walkin' Back to Happiness" were not released in the US. The Bystanders “98.6” was the version of Keith’s 1967 hit song that’s was familiar to the British. Similarly Paul & Paula’s “Hey Paula” was replaced by a version by Elaine & Derek.

Other great sources are “B” Sides and album tracks. Examples of “B” Sides include "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor (originally the B-side of "Substitute"), "I'll Be Around" by the Spinners (originally the B-side of "How Could I Let You Get Away") and "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart (originally the B-side of "Reason to Believe"). There were some “Double A” Side releases such as the ones the Beatles recorded in the heyday of their popularity. Then there were the Part 1/Part 2 records. Examples of this include Ray Charles's "What'd I Say", the Isley Brothers' "Shout", and a number of records by James Brown, including "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud". Don’t forget Little Stevie Wonder’s first hit song “Fingertips Part 1 and Part 2”

Finally there are covers and follow up songs that make for great Oldies airplay. Jay & The Americans had a ton of these in the late 60s that featured the strong voice of frontman Jay Black: The Drifter’s “This Magic Moment” and Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” just to name a couple. Even Rick James recognized the power of Oldies when he released a medley of “This Magic Moment/Dance With Me” in 1989. That non-oldies song is a slice of pure oldies and doo-wop heaven.

But better than all this, my audience is a huge resource for long lost oldies. I get dozens of requests every week from someone wanting to hear their favorite oldie. Every now and then, one of those requests is for a song that I’ve forgotten about or better yet one that I have never heard of. You better believe that I’m all over those, big time. If I don’t have it on my computer, I go looking for it and it gets added to the mix.

So each week, starting with my Monday Morning Show on WUSC-FM, I feature those new additions. They carry over to my other shows and become new / old additions to the hallways of our memories. Oh MY!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Workin’ on the air with a cold!

Let’s face it; I was too cocky. I made it through the winter without catching anything. As old man winter departed the state I gave him a high five and said “Better luck next time! See ya, sucker!”

I should have remembered that “Pride goes before a fall!” Something has been going around town for a month or so and it finally knocked on my door last Wednesday evening and said “Here I Am!”

I wasn’t sure that something was going on Thursday morning, so I went to work and pretty much isolated myself from my co-workers. By the time I went home I was pretty sure that I was coming down with a summer cold.

Friday afternoon, I needed to record a show that runs on Radio Tatras International located in Poprad Slovakia. RTI-FM is an English speaking station operated by some of the most famous voices in Europe. So I sat down in the air chair and cranked out a pretty decent show despite being a little groggy. Yesterday, was the same for my three hour live show on my own station; Our Generation Radio. Other than that it has been mostly Aleve, Benadryl and my easy chair. I missed out on two events so as not to infect anyone else. In retrospect, I should not have gone to work on Thursday morning. My only defense was that I was not sure that I was coming down with a summer cold. I’ll know better next time.

Today I’m glad to report that I am Naproxen free and feeling decent.

Left: a typical "Air Chair" of the day WPDQ Jacksonville circa 1968 When I sat down to write this blog, of course this cold was foremost on my mind. Flashing through my memory were those times back in the day, when I worked on the air with a cold, sore throat and even hoarseness. We didn’t have the luxury of letting the automation run the station while we lay in bed. There had to be a live DJ in the station to play the music and run the transmitter. If things were really bad, we could call the boss and he would get a part timer to come in and cover our shifts.

So, a box of Kleenex was added to the cluster of records, carts, copy and logs on the console desk. During the course of the show the trash can under the cart machine was filled with a toxic mess of tissue paper. While the records played we would fold our arms on the desk and lay our heads on them. I was very lucky in that I never fell asleep but some of my co-workers did. But we were all so attuned to the primary rule of no dead air allowed that the first hint of silence at the end of a record shocked us awake. This explains some of the goofy comments that went on the air back in those days. Well, some of them at least. The others were a result of wacky DJs working in wacky times.

As you can imagine; with all of us working on the same console, touching the same knobs and switches, handling the same records and carts and working close to that RCA 77-D Microphone that we shared colds each year. The first DJ to come down with a cold came in to the station with a big bottle of Lysol. Each DJ sprayed and wiped everything down while the first record was playing. The biggest problem was the records themselves as it was possible to ruin one with too Lysol and there were so many to clean. The next biggest was the RCA 77-D as it was possible to spray Lysol through the grill of the microphone case and coat the sensitive ribbon inside. That could negatively affect the sound of the microphone.

Indeed, I came into possession of a pair of those RCA 77-D microphones that we used at WCOS. When I rebuilt them, I discovered stains on the “innards” that smelled like Lysol when I cleaned them. Fortunately, from what I could tell, Lysol was the only thing that penetrated the screen.

One of the other things that made it possible to do a show with a cold was the fact that the consoles in those old studios were at standard desk height and sported a real “Air Chair” which was usually a standard office chair of the day. As crude as that seem by today’s standards; in my opinion; those studios were much better than the “stand up” studios that we have in most stations these days. It seems that during the 70s some bright consultant came up with the idea that DJs sounded better when they were standing rather than sitting. You couldn’t prove that by me. WUSC-FM has a stand up studio and I have tried standing while on the air. Listening to the show playback, I can’t tell the difference between when I was standing and when I was sitting on the bar stool kept in the studio for old guys like me.

Come to think of it, I have never been in a “stand up” studio that did not have a bar stool in it. And rarely do I see a DJ who is not seated on that stool while announcing. Before you say, “Wait a minute, Broadway Bill Lee stands up at WKTU in New York and JoJo Cookin' Kincaid rocked San Diego from Q-106 on his feet”, I stipulate that they did, but if you look carefully at the videos of these guys, I do believe that you will spot a bar stool behind them somewhere. Additionally, those guys pull air shifts much shorter than the ones we used to do. Five or six hours were the norm, not the exception.

So you can count on me doing the DJACBB (DJ Air Chair Behind Boogie) on the nicely padded bar stool at WUSC-FM tomorrow. I can do stand up radio but I’m much more comfortable with my groove thing firmly in contact with the air chair. So I’ll see you cool cats and hot kitties at 9 AM in the morning. Oh MY!