Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Glories of 45 RPM!

I remember it like it was yesterday. When I was twelve, on Christmas Day, under the tree, Santa had left a record player and three 45 RPM records for my brother and me. The first was Elvis’ "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" backed with "Loving You." The second was Buddy Knox’s “Party Doll.” And finally Pat Boone’s “Love Letters In The Sand”.

Personally, I think Santa had some input from Mom and Dad because the previous year, I had begun to pester them to let me play their records on their Victrola. They were caught up in the CBS 45 RPM frenzy and we did not have any albums or 78 RPM records in the house. Also the record player they gave us played 33 1/3 RPM albums as well. But to my brother and me, it was a 45 RPM world.

It was the same for my friends at school; 45 RPM was where it was at. All the cool cats and hot kitties of the day had those 7 inch vinyl disks with the big hole in the middle. At least we had the big hole in the US. In other countries they had a small hole sometimes with knocks outs for a bigger hole. For me, that big hole became very important.

As it turned out handling records came with some consequences. If you touched the flat sides of a record with bare hands, you left minute traces of oil and grime from your fingers. It didn’t matter if you had just washed your hands or not, there would be a smudge that would gather dust and create noise when the needle passed through it while playing. Careful use of soap and water would take care of that but you stood the risk of ruining the record label if you got it wet. That was a problem. After all, one just did not take a record to a dance party with a ruined label, not cool at all.

Many of the radio stations that played records passed out white cotton gloves to the engineers who actually handled the records so they could play them without putting their hands on them. This was an issue in particular for the larger 78 and 33 1/3 RPM records. You must use both hands in order to touch only the edges of the records and not the grooves.

This is where the 45 RPM’s smaller disk size and larger hole came in. As a twelve year old, I soon discovered that one could handle a 45 with the middle finger and the thumb of one hand. So we didn’t need gloves to protect the grooves. Little did I know how much that discovery would have 6 years later when I started my radio career. I just thought it was cool to be able to do that.

The other cool thing about 45’s was that, at least initially, they had only one track per side. So you didn’t have to read the track listing on the album cover or the record itself, and count tracks to place the needle in the silent space between tracks to hear the song you wanted. This little advance was very important to the radio industry. Before the advent of the 45’s, one of the reason that you had engineers who “ran the board” and played the records was all that extra work it took to play a certain song off the side of an album. 45’s gave rise to the “combo DJ’s” who did all the technical work and announced as well. Since the DJ did not have to coordinate with the engineer in a “presenter/engineer” radio show with hand signals, he or she could “tighten up” the show and interact more with the records, commercials, jingles and all the other program elements that made up a music show back in those days.

This gave rise to some pretty arcane practices like “walking up the record and hitting the post” or inter-reacting with the singer on certain songs. The announcer no longer announced the song you were about to hear, but became part of the performance itself, tying the songs together to tell a story. Sadly, these skills are losing prominence and the cadre of DJs who can still do this are diminishing in number.

I have done both “combo” and “presenter/engineer” radio shows in my day and I can tell you that I greatly prefer the “combo” role.

The down side of the old 45 RPM records in the broadcast environment was a thing called “cue-burn.” This was caused by the practice of finding the first note of the song on the record by placing the needle down and rotating the record until you hear the start of the song. Then the DJ would back the record up manually until the needle was in the groove just a moment before that first note. And that my friends, is how we controlled the moment when you heard that first note.

The problem was that when your play list consisted of only 50 or 60 songs that were less than 3 ½ minutes long and you were on the air 24 hours a day a given record would be played an average of 8 times a day, more for those songs that were higher on the top 40 and less for those that were lower. Still, queuing up a song 56 times per week took its toll on those first few seconds of the song. We had to replace a heavy rotation record every couple of weeks or so. If the record company representative did not leave a spare with us, those records had very noisy starts.

Every now and then, we would get a “pressing” of a song where the hole was off center just a smidge. This would create a “wobble” effect similar to a Leslie Rotating Speaker in some organs or guitar amplifiers. If the song was “hot”, the rep would have to scramble for a replacement disk and that could take some time. I remember one song in particular that took off so quickly that we never got a replacement; “96 Tears” by “? and the Mysterians.” Watching the tone arm of the turntable move back and forth every ¾ of a second was mesmerizing. It wasn’t until 30 years or so after I last played the song on the radio that I heard it without the wobble. I had to learn to like the song all over again, it was that different.

Every old school radio DJ that I know talks about having the same nightmare; the song that is on the air is running out, there is no song queued up on the other turntable, no commercial or jingle is loaded, can’t find the log to find out what to do next, and the program director is behind you yelling at you to “keep it tight!” I used to have the same dream too until ten years ago when I started doing live shows again. But this past week I had a modern variant of the dream; the song that is on the air is running out, the program director is watching me like a hawk and the batteries in my wireless mouse have gone dead and I can’t find the spares. Times have changed and yet they really haven’t changed that much. Oh MY!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Memories of Broadcast Remotes

Some folks consider Facebook a waste of time, but I see some good things in social media. One of those is the ability for social media to bring long lost memories back to life. I really enjoy the group page “You may be from Columbia, SC if you remember when...” That one always evokes memories from the past.

Last week, my friend Ginny Gayle Boltin posted a link on her personal page to “These 12 Photos of South Carolina In The 1970s Are Mesmerizing” from onlyinyourstate.com. As I browsed the photos I was reminded of some of the most memorable times I had as a broadcaster.

The first was the Broadcast of the James F. Byrnes funeral on WIS-TV in ‘72. It was only a short time before that we recorded an hour long interview with Mr. Byrnes about his long career as SC Governor, a US Congressman and in the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations. For the funeral we rented a remote truck from Jefferson Productions in Charlotte to provide us with the cameras and other gear that we needed to produce the show. The legendary Sidney J. Palmer produced and directed the show. What I remember most was that at on the morning of the broadcast the decision was made that cameras would not be allowed in the sanctuary of the church. As the remote engineer, I began to break down and storing some of the equipment thinking the broadcast was going to be scrubbed when Sidney came by and said to hold on for a minute. He had an idea, and as it turns out, a brilliant one. We used every camera cable extension we had to place the cameras that were planning in using inside the church back out on the grounds of the statehouse located across the street from the church. We carried the audio from the funeral over live pictures of the state house grounds during the part of the service that was inside the church.

We had a visit from President Gerald Ford in 76. That one was a three location remote for WIS Radio. I was directly involved in two of them; the arrival of Air Force One at the airport and a party at the Governor's Mansion. The third was already “wired in” because we already had remote telephone lines to the football stadium as the Flagship station for USC Gamecock Football. We broadcast the USC / Notre Dame football game including the events around the President’s visit at half time to the entire network that day. During the game, I had a few hours to break down the 25 foot steel tower that I had erected for the Marti unit we used to cover the events at the airport, strap it to the luggage rack of my Karmann Ghia, transport everything and set it all up again at the Governor’s Mansion downtown to cover the reception for the president. During the broadcast my car was towed from behind the Governor's mansion by the Secret Service. Hey - I was there before they were. After the president’s departure I remember asking a Secret Service agent where they towed it; his first response was "How do you know I'm with the Secret Service?" I said "Because no one else around here has an earpiece and talks into his sleeve." After a short conversation with his sleeve, he told me it was around the corner, a block away.

Left: Ikegami HL-75 MiniCam! In 1975, television remote broadcasts changed drastically with the advent of Electric News Gathering (ENG) equipment. We called it the WIS MiniCam. There were two main parts to ENG, A television camera that could be carried around by a single videographer and a “window ledge” microwave unit that could carry the signal back to the station. WIS TV was in a fierce competition with WFBC, now WYFF television, in Greenville, SC to be the first station to use the new technology live in a newscast. We received shipment of the camera in time to be the winner but the manufacturer of the microwave unit had a last minute delay in shipping. That didn’t slow us down one minute though. We had a portable microwave unit that we pressed into service. I say portable but it was a two piece unit, a dish on a tripod and a control unit each of which weighed 75 pounds. Unlike the window ledge units, this behemoth required a First Class Radiotelephone License from the FCC to operate.

Left, The "dish" half of the RCA Mobile Microwave Transmitter. So my boss asked me to come in early one Monday afternoon to transport, set up and operate the equipment during our prime time “Seven O’clock Report” newscast at the Richland County Sheriff’s Office. At the time the Sheriff and the County Jail were located side by side on Huger Street near Gervais St. A co-worker, Cathy Malone was assigned to help me manage the bulky microwave equipment. She was a good choice because she was a smart, strong lady. First we tried to get a shot from the ground outside the Sheriff’s Office but it was significantly lower than the station downtown and we could not get a signal back to the station. Next we tried the roof of the Sheriff’s Office without any luck at all. Cathy and I took a Coca Cola break to think about our next move. As we sat there I noticed her looking at the top of the jail building that, if my memory serves, was six stories tall. Unfortunately there was no way of reaching the roof without going through the cell blocks, so the county “volunteered” a couple of trusted inmates to help me carry the microwave unit to the roof while she waited on the ground to feed me the audio/video cable from the ground. It worked! And that, my friends is how WIS TV became the first in the state to employ ENG to broadcast a live report in the state. Our reporter was Tom Fowler

We didn’t stop there but went on with five more live reports during the week. The first was a segment in the “The Eleven O’clock Report” that night in which Joe Petty, our news director, interviewed me about being the first in the state to use ENG. Tuesday evening, Tom Fowler covered the State Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Wade Hampton Hotel across the street from the State House. Wednesday it was Joe Pinner, our weatherman from the Weather Service Office at the Columbia Metropolitan airport. Thursday we took the day off and Friday Jim Forrest did his sports segment from Harry Parone Stadium at Spring Valley High School in Northeast Columbia.

As it turned out, that Saturday was the day of the big sports rivalry in the state; The Carolina – Clemson game. We were going to cut in after the game with a live report. I thought I was supposed to meet our news assignment editor at the station at 10 AM to get my press credentials for the game. But when 11 AM rolled by I realized that I must have misunderstood. So I decided to go out to the stadium and see if I could talk my way past security. I arrived at the foot of the elevator in the unmarked utility van we had rented for the week. When I asked the guard if I could unload the MiniCam gear there and use the elevator to get to the press box, he said, “Wow, that’s the MiniCam! Tell you what. Let me open this gate and then you can drive up the circular ramp to the camera deck next to the press box. And you can park right there behind the deck for the game!” There is no way that would happen today!

During the game, after a great meal of fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw and baked beans laid out for the reporters, I decided to familiarize myself with the workings of the camera. So I began “shooting” the game and sending the live video back to the station over the microwave. About 15 minutes after I started, I get a call on the two way radio from Jim Forrest who wanted me to keep it up. They were recording my feed on the big Ampex recorders in Master Control. Normally we would not have had any film of a 1 PM game on The Seven O’clock Report due to the time it takes to process and edit the film after the game is over. That night we used the video I shot on a lark, and we had video of the afternoon game for the very first time.

As it turns out that was an important game for the University of South Carolina – The Gamecocks' greatest victory over Clemson - Gamecocks 56 - Tigers 20. My friend Drew Stewart produced a sports memorabilia piece a few years ago when he worked at WIS TV that included some of the video I shot that afternoon. It can still be seen on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7aORQt9u0Q

So thanks to Ginny’s post on Facebook, I have spent some time with great memories from my remotes at WIS TV and Radio. Those were good years when the local broadcasters spent a lot of time, energy and creativity to bring the best to the audiences. It’s true that I was involved in many more remotes for local television and the networks over the years. The last television remote that I worked was the last Firing Line Show with William F. Buckley from New York on a chilly night that threatened snow in December 1999. It was a debate in lower Manhattan. If it weren’t for his limo driver, we would not have made it out to LaGuardia in time to catch our flight home. But that is another story. Oh MY!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year’s Eve!

Here we are at the halfway mark of the Twelve Days of Christmas. So far the loot is Six geese a-laying, Five golden rings, Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree. I don’t know about you but the living room is getting pretty messy with all those animals in there.

I know that all around me, Christmas trees are coming down, garlands and electric lights are being rolled up and stored for next year. Somehow it has become tradition to have all the accoutrements of Christmas gone by the end of New Year’s Day. But The Christmas spirit is strong here and the trend is being bucked. Everything stays up until the Three Wise Men drop off their gold, frankincense and myrrh, and not a second before then!

I hate it when the joyful colors of Christmas come down and we are faced with the cold, bare days of January and February. It wouldn’t be so bad if we had a real chance of some snow this year, but being a La Nina year we are looking at warmer and drier conditions in the long range forecast. Notice I said snow not ice! With a few exceptions, southern snows are more gentle and easy going down here. But Ice, that is a totally different story. It seems that when ice takes out our power, we are looking at 5 days before it gets restored. It seems that the house is at the end of a power cul-de-sac of only 40 homes. The power lines in our neighborhood run through our back yards where there is a tendency for them to be surrounded by tall bushes and trees. The power company came by the summer of 2016 and trimmed the trees but they left the job unfinished when they cut down the telephone line behind my house. If we get a lot of ice, Mother Nature will finish the job for them and probably take out the power to my immediate neighbors and me. An outage to a group of four takes low precedence on the repair schedule.

What normally brings snow to our area is the scenario when cold air is in place and a low pressure center comes out of the Gulf of Mexico and brings in moisture. Because the temperatures tend to be just below freezing the accumulations are light and the roads tend to clear up before the snow melts off the grass in the yards.

So far this winter, we have had long range forecasts that predicted winter weather a couple of times, but as the date approaches the snow patterns have retreated to the north or the south. Just last week, we dodged a bullet when the coverage of the winter mix stayed south and east because the low pressure was farther off the coast than the early models predicted. My friends in Charleston didn’t make out so well. All the bridges down there were closed due to ice and everyone was complaining of cabin fever.

So tonight, as I sit in the living room watching the ball drop, my wish for 2018 is that we don’t have any power outages this winter. It’s not too much to ask for, really! So c’mon, Mother Nature help us out.

Tomorrow, New Year’s Day will be one filled with Hoppin’ John (black eyed peas over rice), collard greens and football. Honestly, I never heard of Hoppin’ John until I spent my first New Years in South Carolina. I guess Florida was too far south to get caught up in the tradition. The peas represent pennies or coins, and a coin is sometimes added to the pot or left under the dinner bowls. Collard greens are supposed to further add to the wealth, since they are the color of American currency. Some places allow the substitution of mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, kale, cabbage and similar leafy green vegetables for the collards but around here it is collards or nothing. This explains why you can’t find collards in the frozen foods section of the grocery stores around here. They become as scarce as bread, milk and eggs before a snowstorm. Now that’s another southern tradition that I’ll never understand. “Hey everybody, snow and ice are coming to take out our power, so let’s go buy stuff that will spoil in the power outages!”

So, this afternoon, I’ll grab the fresh collard greens out of the refrigerator. First, I’ll wash down the leaves that are as big as the palm leaf fans that were waved over the Egyptian Pharos. Then I’ll cut the stems out and roll them up and cut them in preparation for cooking in the morning.

Left: "The Hit!" Lunch will be simple, Hoppin’ John, collards and a small slice of ham, on the TV trays watching the Outback Bowl from Tampa where hopefully our South Carolina Gamecocks will be spurring the Michigan Wolverines like they did in 2013. I wonder if the Houston Texan’s Jadeveon Clowney will travel down from today’s game in Indianapolis to root for his old college team. I remember “The Hit” like it was yesterday.

“What! No New Year’s Eve Party?” you say. Well, there have been some good ones in the past but so many of my New Years Eve celebrations have been in the control rooms of the various radio and television stations in my career. BTW, you have probably heard this rant before, but one of my bosses thought he would be fair to his guys and gals by giving Christmas Day off to the ones that had children and New Years to the ones that didn’t. The problem is that he gave New Years Day off not New Year’s Eve. Since I worked the prime time evening shift, which meant that I worked EVERY New Year’s Eve during my time there. Yup, you’re right, I’m still complaining, but now with a wry smile on my lips. Oh MY!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Traditions!

Everyone has them, those special things that make Christmas what it is. They may change over time but they are there nonetheless.

I remember Christmas mornings, lying in bed waiting for Mom and Dad to wake up so we could all run down to the living room to see what Santa brought. Time passed so slowly those cold crisp mornings, unlike other days when Mom had to pry us out of bed for breakfast and boarding the bus for school. We could hardly stand it. Mom and Dad’s room was between the bedroom that my brother and I shared and the living room so it was impossible to sneak past them to spy what was under the tree. There was a second route through the kitchen and the dining room but we dared not try it for fear of discovery.

Finally, there was a stirring in their room and we would all be out like a flash to check out what Santa brought while Mom dashed off to the kitchen to make breakfast. Then it was off to church where I would sit in the choir loft looking down through the golden light of the early morning on my family and the rest of the congregation dressed up in their finest.

After Mass, it was round two of presents, the wrapped ones. These were from each of us to the others as opposed to Santa’s unwrapped offerings. Among those gaily wrapped packages were the ones that were to our cousins, aunts and uncles. They were put aside for later when our extended family would gather for ham, turkey and all the fixin’s, (that’s southern for stuffing, rice and gravy, beans ETC.) After the big meal, while the tryptophan was wearing off, there was the grand gift exchange. I must admit that most of the gifts in this exchange were clothing items, especially as we all grew older. And I might add, gain a higher appreciation for clothes.

By the time I reached the 7th and 8th grade, the timetable flipped. By then I was a senior altar boy and my presence was required at Midnight Mass. It was so cool to be up late on Christmas Eve and put on the red cassocks and the fancy surplices. My last year as an altar boy, the surplice was replaced by a cape with fringes. We thought we were cool then. Before you start thinking, what an innocent scene that might have been, I need to let you know that from my vantage point on the altar, I could check out my female classmates all dressed up to the nines in their Christmas finest. I can tell you that as pretty as they were in class; they really knocked my socks off at Christmas time. Hey, don’t forget that I was a teen-aged boy, of course I looked.

Midnight Mass gave us the opportunity to sleep in a little later on Christmas. I rarely woke before Mom and Dad in those years. Into the living room for Santa, then a leisurely breakfast, family gift exchange and then off for the big meal. By the time we were in high school, a new Christmas tradition started; pizza at my cousin’s house after Midnight Mass. That meant getting to bed around 3 am or later. This tradition stayed around through my college years.

After college with each of us developing new traditions with our in-laws, the big extended family gathering at Christmas began to slowly fade. But I remember those like they were yesterday. As I sat here writing this, a rather poignant memory came to mind. My niece and her cousin who were both around five at the time would come up to me and ask me to spin them around. I would spin them one after another until I got too dizzy to continue. They would beg for more but alas, after fewer and fewer spins each year I could not continue. These days, they could probably spin me around more easily that I could spin them. I wonder if they spin their daughters around like I used to spin them.

Between the late 60s and when Mom passed in 2004, we would travel to Jacksonville during the holiday period, sometimes for Christmas and sometimes for New Years. When we were there for Christmas we would always go to Midnight Mass and be part of the extended family gathering the next day. One year sticks out in my mind, 1989. The plan was to drive to Jacksonville on the 23rd and back to Columbia on the 26th. But something unprecedented happened. You see, that was an unusual weather year; Hurricane Hugo slammed the South Carolina Coast and wiped the smug assumption that we did not have to worry much about hurricanes here in Columbia right out of our heads. As we were packing for the trip we started hearing reports of snow and ice from the Low Country of South Carolina all the way down I-95 to Jacksonville. As the interstate became impassable, we were forced to postpone our trip down until New Years. So this is how, my home town came to have their one and only White Christmas while I have yet to see one.

This year, one more life long tradition is ending; the live Christmas Tree! Like other years, we purchased a live tree. For the past dozen or so, we would go with friends to a Christmas tree farm and cut the tree ourselves. Our friends were not able to participate in the tradition this year. This year we chose one from a Christmas tree lot near our grocery store. We needed to cut down a fresh tree because being purists; we kept our tree up until the Twelfth Day of Christmas, which is Epiphany, January 6th. This year, after putting our tree in a bucket of water, we realized that we no longer had a place for the tree because of a new piece of furniture in the living room. So a new tradition begins; three small desk top artificial trees in the living room and a live tree complete with lights near the modest light display on our front porch railing and light post.

So, I’m sitting in my easy chair watching the stories about snarled airline travel and highways clogged with travelers and snow on the nightly news. I realize that there is not a little knot in the bottom of my stomach worrying about getting out there in that mess. That is kinda nice. I’ll just recline in the chair and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Oh MY!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

What are your favorite Christmas Songs?

Last year I wrote about my two favorite Christmas Albums from back in the day; “A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records” released in 1963 and “A Motown Christmas” released a decade later. These two albums are a must for the collection of anyone of a certain age.

But they don’t cover the waterfront of all the great Christmas Tunes out there. I remember the plunk plunk western sound of Gene Autrey’s “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.” What Christmas would be complete without Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or Perry Como’s “I’ll be home for Christmas.” I have always had a soft spot for the Christmas tunes from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Elvis Presley’s iconic 1964 album “Elvis' Christmas Album” is another favorite. Those songs include; "Santa Claus Is Back in Town", "White Christmas", "Here Comes Santa Claus", "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)", "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Silent Night" and "Blue Christmas!" Blue Christmas is still one of the most requested Christmas songs on my shows today as is Alabama’s Christmas In Dixie.

But there are some Christmas songs that I feel don’t get their due. So here goes with some of my favorite relatively unknown Christmas tunes.

The first is "All I Want for Christmas Is You," by Vince Vance and the Valiants was initially released as a single in 1989. The song charted several times on the Billboard country singles charts around Christmas time, but for some reason it never broke into the Billboard Hot 100. It features lead vocals from Lisa Burgess Stewart, who now records under the name Lisa Layne. In it Lisa, explains that she does not want Christmas decorations, or gifts from Santa Claus. Instead, all she wants for Christmas is her lover. The melody used in the song is based on Bobby Vinton's number 9 pop hit single from early 1964, "My Heart Belongs to Only You", with a few minor alterations. You can’t listen to this one without getting into the Christmas Spirit.

John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas, War is Over” did not chart on the Billboard top 100, but it did reach number 36 on the US Cash Box Top 100 in 1972. It was performed by the John & Yoko / Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir. The lyrics, by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, are set to the traditional English ballad "Skewball". "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" was the culmination of more than two years of peace activism undertaken by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Then, there is "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" is a novelty Christmas song written by David Seville in 1958. This is one of those love or hate Christmas Songs. It was the follow up to "Witch Doctor" by David Seville, which did not identify the Chipmunks but used the same recording technique. In “The Chipmunk song” as usual, Alvin, the lead Chipmunk singer was too full of himself and wound up messing up the tune with a big discussion at the end.

Another of my favorites is “The Little Drummer Boy” by Ben E. King. This rock and roll version of the classic tune written by Katherine Kennicott Davis was first recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1951. The song was further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale; and was re-released successfully for several years since. Ben E King’s toe tapping version features a horn section that is second to none.

I can’t let this discussion go without bringing up a psychedelic Christmas song. You may remember, The Electric Prune’s “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night.” Well this same group had a version of “Jingle Bells!” It starts off with a spoken word into over a fuzzy guitar riff, claiming that Christmas is a psychedelic time of year complete with colored flashing lights, a guy flying around the sky with animals, elves and then those bells, followed by a pretty straight up interpretation of the song. Just when you think this is going to be nothing special, it turns on you with the words “Help me, help me! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up for Christmas!” spoken over full blown psychedelic guitars. Boom! Mind sufficiently blown! When I played this tune on the radio the other day, an audience member commented that that was the strangest song I’ve ever played.

By the way in case you are wondering if this was the first time the words “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” were used in the modern lexicon, the answer is probably not. “Jingle Bells” by The Electric Prunes was released in the 2008 Album “Christmas A Go Go” by Little Steven. Allmusic.com does not list any other release of the song.

So there are some of my “alternative” Christmas songs. Well, at least for this year. I hope you enjoy them and your favorites as well. Oh MY!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Old Man Winter – 0, Columbia SC - 1

I sure hope this doesn’t jinx us!

The first big snow storm hit the east coast this week. As usual many of the locals got ready to clear out the grocery store supplies of bread, milk and eggs. It’s a southern thing, Y’all!

I looked at the synopsis to see what the mechanism was that would bring us the snow and immediately relaxed. It seems that we were supposed to have a bunch of rain in place and then a cold front would roll in and change the rain to snow.

That almost never happens. Over long years of doing the snow dance and being disappointed when the snow line stops in the Upstate of South Carolina, I knew that the chances of snow on the ground here in the midlands was not very good. It has happened but very infrequently and usually when it did there was little accumulation and what did stick melted off pretty quickly.

When we get freezing precipitation in this model, it can arrive in the form of ice. That is because the temperatures at or near the surface is usually right at freezing to a few degrees above freezing. As the temperature lowers, we get sleet, freezing rain or ice. That is never pretty down here; the ice breaks on the branches break the off trees and they fall on power lines. Then we lose power for days on end. I don’t want to see that again.

The synoptic model that normally brings us significant snow is the one where we have cold air in place and a low pressure center bearing a lot of tropical moisture comes out of the gulf crosses Georgia and then dumps that moisture on South Carolina in the form of snow.

I would like to say that I came up with these observations were my own but that would not be true. Although I have always had an interest in the weather, I truly began my study of it in 1969 when I was studying for my pilot’s license. I already knew John Purvis, the chief meteorologist of the old Columbia Weather Bureau, now called the NOAA Weather Service out of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

During the 90s, John and I worked together at the State Climate Office and we spent a lot of time talking about the local weather. It was from him that I learned about the two snow producing weather models and that the second one was the most likely to give us some snow in Columbia.

I hear that 2017-18 is supposed to be a La Nina year, meaning moderately drier and warmer winter. So I am not hopeful of seeing much snow this year. In case you were wondering, the winter that produced the Blizzard of 1973 was a strong El Nino year and the ice storm of 2004 was a weak El Nino year. So come on baby girl (La Nina), give us a break this year, after all it has been a heck of a hurricane season this summer.

So whether Mother Nature has a baby boy (El Nino) or a baby girl (La Nina) I hope you get the winter weather you want this year. Oh MY!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Music of the Vietnam War

At the urging of my friend Joe Daggett, I am reading a very interesting book; “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” by Doug Bradley and Craig Werner. Joe told me that I would find it interesting and that is an understatement of the first order.

The subtitle of the book is “The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War” and I have to tell you that my understanding of the impact of the music of our time on the soldiers has already been expanded significantly and I’m only half way through the book.

As a radio DJ on a stateside station during the late 60s, I was aware of a couple of Vietnam War Anthems.

The first was “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil initially for the Righteous Brothers for whom they had written the number one hit "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' “ but then Mann gained a recording contract for himself, and his label Red Bird Records wanted him to release it instead. However, before Barry could record it, record executive Allen Klein had heard it and gave the demo to Mickie Most, The Animals' producer. Most already had a call out to Brill Building songwriters for material for the group's next recording session (The Animals hits "It's My Life" and "Don't Bring Me Down" came from the same call). The “place” according to Mann and Weil that we needed to get out of was not the jungles of Vietnam but the industrial, working class inner city environment. Eric Burdon concurred that was the vision he had at the time of the song’s recording.

The authors of the book, two University of Wisconsin – Madison employees, one a Vietnam veteran, began an in-depth survey of hundreds of Vietnam veterans in 2006, and found that "We Gotta Get out of This Place" resonated the strongest among all the music popular then: They had absolute unanimity in that this song was the touchstone. This was the Vietnam anthem. Every bad band that ever played in an armed forces club had to play this song. Indeed in every chapter of the book that I have read, the soldiers’ first person stories were about troops, back in their hooches after patrol unwinding to the song often singing their own Vietnam related lyrics drowning out Eric Burdon’s voice with their own experiences. This song was the most requested song on my radio shows from two sets of GI’s who came by my broadcast booth at Doug Broome’s Drive in Restaurant. The first set was from the draftees who have just completed basic training and were nervously waiting for their first real assignment. The second group of GIs was much smaller and much sadder. They came by, one by one, and never stuck around to hear their request. They drove off into the night, alone, to deal with their memories. Try as I might, I never could get one of these vets to talk about it. It was too soon, too fresh.

I would have thought that “Let’s Live For Today” by the Grass Roots was the other big anthem, as it was stateside, but I discovered that “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival was much bigger “In Country.” “Fortunate Son” was not explicit in its criticism of that war in particular, rather, it "speaks more to the unfairness of class than war itself," according to its author, John Fogerty. “'Fortunate Son' wasn't really inspired by any one event. Julie Nixon was dating David Eisenhower. You'd hear about the son of this senator or that congressman who was given a deferment from the military or a choice position in the military. They seemed privileged and whether they liked it or not, these people were symbolic in the sense that they weren't being touched by what their parents were doing. They weren't being affected like the rest of us.” Reflecting on John’s words, I can see why this song spoke to the Vietnam Vet so strongly.

Serving all my military time in the Atlantic Fleet in the Navy from 1963 until 1969 there is no way I could have the perspective of the soldier or marine fighting their way through the rice paddies and jungles of South East Asia, the sailors who crewed the river patrol boats or the airmen who flew sorties in support of our ground troops. Even my friends who were DJs in the Armed Forces Radio Network (AFRN) had a somewhat detached view. Every single person I knew who came back from combat duty in Vietnam, came back a changed person. One thing noteworthy is that nearly all of them maintained a sense of humor, even if it was a different more gritty sense of humor, it still came out occasionally.

I was reminded of that this morning while talking to my brother this morning. My brother’s Navy experience was in the Vietnam Theater. His home was flooded out by Hurricane Irma in September. He was talking on his cell phone from the bare floor of his home, which despite being on 15 foot stilts was still flooded by 5 feet of swamp water from the Okefenokee Swamp. I had sent him a package and he had to laugh as he told me the story of that package’s delivery.

Earlier this year, one of the pine trees near the long winding driveway to his home was knocked over in a storm. One of his friends decided that the remaining 6 foot tall stump needed some decoration, so he nailed a hockey mask that my brother had lying around to the stump near the top. At night driving in, the headlights would flash across the hockey mask, which was pretty alarming to fans of Jason Voorhees and the “Friday the Thirteenth” movies. As if that wasn’t enough, my brother had an assortment of old broken chain saws in the carport section of the house that was flooded out. They were hung on the wall for anyone who wanted to borrow one and try to fix it or to get a needed part for their own saw.

The flood of course rendered all the chain saws useless so he and his friends decided that they needed to join the hockey mask out on the tree. This week, when the delivery service truck came up the driveway, it came to a screeching halt when the driver spotted the tree sporting the mask and chainsaws. The driver yelled at my brother that he was coming no farther; he had to walk out to the truck and get my package all the way out there. Of course, my brother thought that was hilarious, and you know what. I think so too. Oh MY!