Really classy move, WPYX…

I was in broadcast radio for several years – first in college radio, then for a while at Schenectady radio station 3WD.  And yeah, there are times when you accidentally play the wrong song or read the wrong public service announcement – i.e., a public service announcement about offering support for the blind, followed immediately by a Ray Charles song.  Oops.

And I’ve chronicled when local radio stations go beyond and below the levels of common decency and good taste … in fact, I’ve called WFLY 92.3 to task years ago about their parody song three years ago about calling Albany a location for “haji-marts,” a crass pejorative and racist comment that stereotypes owners of mom-and-pop convenience stores as Middle Eastern immigrants.

But there are things I’ve learned since then.  The local radio stations don’t give a shit about what offending people.  All they care about is ratings.  Ratings drive the sponsorship engines.  And as long as those Arbitron or Birch numbers are nice and high … and they don’t mention any of the seven words that George Carlin says you can’t mention on television any more … they are in the clear.

Which leads us to yesterday’s WPYX morning broadcast.

Continue reading “Really classy move, WPYX…”

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Play-by-play radio announcer calls epic “idiot on the field” broadcast

So last night, I watched the Pittsburgh Steelers completely dismantle the Washington Redskins 38-16.  After that exciting game was a veritable snoozefest match, as the San Francisco 49ers pulverized the Los Angeles Rams 28-0.

About the only exciting thing about that late-night matchup occurred during the fourth quarter, with the 49ers up 21-0, a red-shirted idiot sprinted onto the field.  As is customary for network television covering sporting events, the cameras immediately photographed something else rather than give this clown any more than the allotted 15 seconds of fame.

That being said, though… the radio call of this idiot running around the football field like he thought he was the second coming of Jerry Rice is epic.  Kevin Harlan called the game for Westwood One Radio, and when you’re a radio broadcaster, you tell the fans EVERYTHING that’s going on at the stadium.  They can’t see it, it’s the broadcaster’s duties to help the fans see in their minds what’s happening.

So while most people were watching the Monday Night Football game on TV, radio audiences heard broadcaster Kevin Harlan give an awesome play-by-play coverage of a clown who ran onto the gridiron and was eventually tackled by security and hauled away.  Listen to this clip.  Harlan’s call is ten levels of awesome.

If you don’t have time to hear the full call, here’s a transcript.

“Hey, somebody has run onto the field!  Some goofball in a hat and a red shirt, now he takes off the shirt!  He’s running down the middle, by the 50!  He’s at the 30!  He’s bare-chested, banging his chest – and he runs the opposite way!  He runs to the 50!  He runs to the 40!  The guy is drunk!  But there he goes!  The 20!  They’re chasing him!  They’re not going to get him!  Waving his arms, bare chested, somebody stop that man!  They tackle him at the 40-yard line!!  That was the most exciting thing to happen tonight!  … Look at the police, they’ve surrounded this man like he’s – like he’s just robbed a bank!  … I hope it was worth it, my friend, because you’ve got a night in the clink coming up!”

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the only “idiot” to try to crash through prime-time television on a live broadcast from California.

Maybe he was buddy-buddy with those two track stars who tried to bum-rush Ryan Lochte on Dancing With The Stars last night.

 

 

Ten great old-time-radio shows you can hear right now

One of my presets on my SiriusXM car stereo satellite radio is channel 148, Radio Classics.  Hosted by radio historian and preservationist Greg Bell, the channel shares a melange of restored radio dramas, comedies, Westerns and anthology shows from the golden age of old-time broadcast.  Many of these shows even contain the original commercials from way back then.

Now in the past, I’ve blogged about a more recent old-time-radio drama, the 1980’s-era CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which was my first introduction to radio’s “theater of the mind.”  But on SiriusXM’s Radio Classics, I can listen to the shows from their original broadcasts and constructions.  I can hear the double-entendre humor that Charlie McCarthy could get away with, considering that McCarthy was a tuxedo-wearing ventriloquist’s dummy.  I could enjoy the surreal humor of Fibber McGee and Molly, or of the Phil Harris and Alice Faye show.  And as for Westerns and dramas…

Here, let me share some episodes of these programs here.  You will enjoy.  Trust me.

OUR MISS BROOKS

Eve Arden starred in this workplace comedy as Connie Brooks, an overworked and underpaid teacher at Madison High School.  In addition to dealing with her overbearing principal Mr. Conklin, her perpetually puppy-loved student Walter Denton, and her absentminded landlord Miss Davis, Connie Brooks pined away for the love of biology teacher Philip Boynton… and some of the repartee and humor on the show bordered on the ribald.

THE WHISTLER

Sponsored by the Signal Oil Company, this West Coast network radio show featured Bill Foreman as The Whistler, an observing narrator of murder and horror stories.  He comments on the perpetrator almost getting away with the crime… and will also taunt the perpetrator all along the way, up until the final twist.

THE PHIL HARRIS / ALICE FAYE SHOW

Bandleader Phil Harris and his movie-star wife Alice Faye present this screwball situation comedy.  The show features veteran radio actor Elliot Lewis as Frankie Remly, the lead guitarist in Phil Harris’ studio band – and who always has an alcohol-fueled scheme to make some money.

THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM

Phil Harris’ radio career began with the Jack Benny Program, in which actor-comedian Jack Benny interacted with his gang of friends – including gravel-voiced valet Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, girlfriend (and real-life wife) Mary Livingstone, rotund announcer Don Wilson, and others.

GUNSMOKE

One of the longest-running television dramas, Gunsmoke originated on radio, with William Conrad as Matt Dillon, U.S. Marshall.  This show featured many adult-themed progressive concepts for a 1950’s radio drama, and in many cases Matt Dillon only drew his weapon to protect himself or someone else.  But he never backed away from a fight.

YOURS TRULY, JOHNNY DOLLAR

Several actors portrayed the insurance investigator with “the action-packed expense account,” but most old-time radio fans agree that Bob Bailey’s performance as Johnny Dollar ranks among the best.  He was an independent insurance investigator who traveled around the country – and in some cases, around the world – reconciling claims and battling crime.  And during the 1956-57 season, Johnny Dollar shows were spread over five weekdays in 15-minute serialized episodes.  Here’s one such episode.

FIBBER McGEE AND MOLLY

This surreal comedy featured a happily married couple living at 79 Wistful Vista – in the town of Wistful Vista – and their friends and neighbors.   Characters would walk into the show for no reason at all except to vex the McGees; the sponsor’s announcer would walk onto the show to promote the sponsor’s product in an integrated commercial, and heaven forbid anybody go into Fibber McGee’s overstuffed closet to find something.

THE CBS RADIO WORKSHOP

This experimental anthology series challenged the abilities of the writers and actors to create amazing drama and comedy for the listening audience.  I’m posting one of my personal favorites here, the CBS Radio Workshop’s recreation of the classic children’s story The Little Prince.

X MINUS ONE

A companion program to science fiction anthology series Dimension X, X Minus One featured writing from some of the greatest science fiction authors of the 1950’s.  Definitely worth hearing now and again.

EDGAR BERGEN AND CHARLIE McCARTHY

Officially known as the Chase and Sanborn show (yep, these shows featured lots of sponsorship), the show’s breakout stars were ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his collection of dummies, including Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.  And as I said before, Charlie McCarthy got away with a lot of humor that a regular-sized human might not.  Which in itself, is pretty funny.

All of these programs, and many more, can be found at SiriusXM’s Channel 148.  The schedule rotates around, so that you get to hear different radio programs at different times.  It’s worth a listen, and it’s great for long car rides.

And, if nothing else, it provides us with a window into broadcast radio and its influence on the entertainment world.

K-Chuck Radio: Call me…

Once upon a time, there was a device called a telephone.  It allowed people to communicate with each other over long distances.  You know, similar to a cell phone today.  The telephone was often wired directly to the walls of a house; some public telephones required the user to drop quarters into a slot for communication time.  God, this seems so ancient, doesn’t it?

So on today’s K-Chuck Radio, let’s celebrate the telephone and all the calls we made with it.  Including these classic hits:

THE MARVELETTES
Beechwood 4-5789

This was from the first iteration of the Marvelettes, when they were more of a dance music group. Before Smokey Robinson turned them into a smoky ballad music group.

WILSON PICKETT
634-5789

Okay, for all you youngsters, this is not the same telephone number as the Marvelettes’ hit. The Marvelettes’ “Beechwood” would have meant the first two letters – BE – were replaced by the telephone button numbers 2-3. It was our early version of texting. 🙂

SQUEEZE
853-5937

Thankfully, I can still hear all of Squeeze’s classic hits on my SiriusXM “First Wave” channel. Would have preferred to have heard these tracks on Top 40 radio when they were originally released.

THE TIME
777-9311

If you’re not familiar with Morris Day and the Time, they were an awesome funk band from the 1980’s who worked with Prince back in the day. They’re also in the movie Purple Rain. Go put that film on your Netflix.

TOMMY TUTONE
867-5309 (Jenny)

Oh you knew I was going to add this to the playlist. Sing it with me, 8-6-7, 5-3-0-9eyne…

JIM CROCE
Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)

Telephone songs are also used as metaphors for breakups. This is one of the most beautiful of that genre. Just remember this – Jim Croce wrote some absolutely breathtaking and heartbreaking ballads. Yes.

DR. HOOK AND THE MEDICINE SHOW
Sylvia’s Mother

This has to be the cheeziest break-up song of all time. I don’t know if I should start crying or laughing at the end of the song. “And the operator says forty cents more for the next … three … minutes … pleeeeeeeeease…”

NEW EDITION
Mr. Telephone Man

Ray Parker, Jr. produced and wrote this song, and it’s arguably one of my favorite New Edition songs. Yes, I used to listen to New Edition. Back in the day. Yeah, I was young once. Once.

MERI WILSON
Telephone Man

Two minutes of double-entendre. I do remember hearing this song on the radio, although halfway through the song someone would turn off the radio, commenting on how filthy the song was. This song was filthy? Have you heard what WFLY 92.3 is playing lately?

GLEN CAMPBELL
Wichita Lineman

One of these days I’m going to do a K-Chuck Radio on the music of Jimmy Webb. And it will be an excellent K-Chuck Radio. Because of songs like this. Trust me.

Oh good, my cell phone is charged. I’ve got a lot of projects to do today, so if you need to get in touch with me, dial 1-800-K-Chuck radio. Operators are standing by. Order before midnight tonight.

Brother Jon Rivers and the other “Powerline”

A couple of days ago, I posted this picture of a snow-capped telephone line in the Adirondacks.

Powerline
Powerline. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I called the picture “Powerline,” for no other reason than it was descriptive of the scene.

I should note that after I named the picture, I had a tiny flashback.  To a man named Jon Rivers, and hearing him every Sunday on radio station WTRY.

See, Jon Rivers was the radio host of a syndicated Top 40 show called Powerline.  It was an eclectic radio show, to say the least – on the surface, it was a simple radio program with the host introducing Top 40 hits and classic oldies.  But during the show, the host would take a moment and offer a homily, an observation or a sermon – almost as if you stumbled into a church and were welcomed in as an expected guest.

I enjoyed listening to Powerline, even if it meant staying up to 11:30 p.m. on a Sunday night just to hear the show.  Of course, you have to remember that this was the mid-to-late 1970’s, and I was desperate for any happiness or comfort or solace in my turbulent teenage years.

Powerline was hosted by Brother Jon Rivers, who combined his soothing radio voice with homilies about God and Jesus and the choices we all make in our lives.  He took questions from listeners and offered solutions whenever possible.  And for 30 minutes every Sunday morning or evening (depending on when I could catch the show or whenever WTRY played it), Powerline comforted my soul.

Which is why I was surprised to learn that Powerline is still on the air, and is still hosted by Brother Jon Rivers.  In fact, here’s an .mp3 clip of Brother Jon Rivers, in an aircheck demo from a recent Powerline episode.

Wow.  This really takes me back.

Yeah, it takes me back to my teen years, when I felt helpless and hopeless and useless (I remember those words specifically and in that order, my stepfather used them a lot when describing me).  It was radio shows like Powerline and American Top 40 and CBS Radio Mystery Theater that gave me an escape.  They allowed me to close my eyes and imagine myself in worlds of sonic descriptives.  I could count down the hits, I could enjoy the mysteries of the macabre, and – thanks to Brother Jon Rivers – I could understand that there was more in this world, more in the love of God, than my little mind could initially appreciate.

And another thing.  Inspirational programs like Powerline helped me realize that no matter how miserable and painful my life could be at that very moment, there is hope.  There is faith.  There is a chance to find the true meaning of my life.  To get away from all the pain and hurt and abuse, and try to find a new path.  So that on the day when my heart beats its final rhythm, I could say, with unwavering conviction, that I did everything I could to make things just a little better.

So thank you, Brother Jon Rivers, and thank you to the Tom Kent Radio Network for not only appreciating Powerline, but bringing it back to radio stations.

Truly appreciated.

The Snowstorm School Closings Secret

It didn’t matter which school of “The Twelve” I was attending at the time.  They were all in the Northeast – ten in New York State and two in Massachusetts.  But the moment I woke up and looked out my bedroom window and saw a blanket of white snow on the ground, with more snow falling from the sky… I knew precisely what that meant.

My school could have a snow day.

For me, that meant changing the radio station from what I normally listened to in the 1970’s – WPTR or WTRY or WFLY or WGFM or 3WD – to one of the stations that didn’t normally play Top 40 music.  You know… a station like WGY or WROW or WABY.

And then I sat in my bed and listened… and listened…

For purposes of today’s blog post, I will just reference the Capital District schools.  The radio stations would always read the school closings alphabetically.   There were a few schools that endured a one-hour delay, or a two-hour delay, and then there might be a closing for students but that teachers and staff should still report to work.

And, of course, there were always the three school districts that seemed to close the minute five snowflakes hit the ground.  And you know which ones they were, right, blog readers?

Yep.  It was always Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central Schools… Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central Schools… and Ichabod Crane Central Schools.  Those three.  Always those three.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the school I’m attending to close.  In seventh grade, I attended Christian Brothers Academy, which at that time was still on De La Salle Road in downtown Albany.  Me?  I was living in Colonie.  If CBA didn’t close by at least 7:00 a.m., I had to catch the CDTA and ride down Central Avenue, while the bus stopped at what seemed like 200 bus stops along the way.  And on at least one or two occasions that year – I arrived at school only to find that, yes, CBA had called off classes for the day.

And I always wondered… how did all these radio stations know that the schools were closing?  Did some disc jockey get up in the morning and call all these schools, asking, “Hello?  You open this morning?  Two hour delay?  Ichabod Crane is closed, are you closing?”

I also thought… maybe there’s a way to prank the system.  You know, get someone to impersonate a school district representative, give a call to the stations and make up a phony school name.  “And closing today, Berne-Knox-Westerlo, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, and Ipeeka-Booger Middle School, all closed for today.”  Ha ha ha… that would be funny, making the radio guy say “Booger.”

I tell that story to tell this one.

From 1987 to 1988, I worked as a disc jockey at radio station 3WD in Schenectady.   During my tenure there, we had a nasty snowstorm.  You remember, don’t you?  The October 1987 storm that just snapped trees in half, knocked out power cables and plunged the Capital District into total darkness?

Well… there was at least one business that was still open.  Yep.  My radio station.  Get on the bus and get to work, Chuck.

As I worked one of the night shifts at good old “three-diddly-dee,” I received several phone calls.  Hmm… Normally I get about three calls during a six-hour radio shift.  But that night, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing.

“3WD, what can I play for you?”

“Hi, I’m calling from Schalmont.  We are not going to open tomorrow.  Our confirmation code is Schalmont-1.”

“Okay, thank you.”

And at that moment – inbetween playing the latest Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force song and cueing up the latest Freihofer’s commercial – I suddenly realized the school closings secret.  Each school district had an alphanumeric code word or phrase, and they would recite that phrase to the radio stations to confirm that it was indeed a true school closing and not someone pranking the station.  Then, the disc jockey would write down all the closings and recite them every 15 minutes or so – of course, working around commercials and whatever godawful crap song that the PD wanted us to play every hour on the hour…

Today, we can turn on the television and watch the school and business closings on a small digital crawl at the bottom of the screen.  We can log into websites and see in an instant that several schools and businesses are closing.

So this morning, before I finished writing this blog post, I checked one of the websites.  Well, it’s not like I could turn on WGY and have Don Weeks read me the updates… so I’ll do this instead.

Yep.  There’s Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

And Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk.

And Ichabod Crane.   All closed or delayed.

One last look… What, Ipeeka-Booger isn’t on the list?

Aw, nertz.  Since that’s not on the list… sorry, I can’t go out and play today, I gotta get to school…  😀

More on the WPTR “Ballad of Albany” song

A week or so ago, I posted a clip featuring an Albany-centric song called “The Ballad of Albany.”  Sing along with me, now…

But I wanted to find out more about the song.  Why it was recorded, who the performers were on the song…

Thankfully, my blog readers provided tons of info about the song – it was produced by PAMS, a company out of Dallas that did several jingles and songs for radio stations.  But there were still more questions than answers.

And a little detective work provided this name.  One of the song’s co-writers was Jim Ramsburg, who worked at Albany radio station WPTR in the 1960’s.  Some more detective work, and I found he’s not only still alive, but he operates a radio broadcast history website called jimramsburg.com.

One quick e-mail later… and Jim cordially explained the history of the song above.

It was a hoot hearing that Albany song again.  Actually it was one of three (pretty feeble) songs that WPTR sold to Coca Cola to pay for the production of the discs.  We also did one for Schenectady and Troy.  (I still remember the title to the latter – “Oh, Boy, That’s Troy.”  See what I mean by feeble?)

The tunes were part of the “Song of The City” package syndicated by PAMS of Dallas, the foremost station ID producer of the day.  We bought everything PAMS sold to prevent our competition, WTRY and WABY, from getting it.  The name Box on the record was Euell Box who was the composer-conductor at PAMS.  Our songs, like all or our ID material, were re-sings of material created for PAMS’ pilot station, Gordon McLendon’s KLIF in Dallas.

My role was to select from the melodies offered in the package and come up with the lyrics.  Believe me, I did far better work when I got into the advertising business and produced original music for my clients.

Anyhow, that’s the short story behind “The Ballad of Albany” – one of many fond memories from ‘PTR, Where The Good Guys Are in the early ’60’s.

Chuck, I trust you found my email address from my web site, www.jimramsburg.com   That’s what’s keeping me busy in retirement these days.  If you have any friends interested in broadcasting history, I’d appreciate your telling them about the site.

Best regards,

Jim

Thanks Jim, this has been a big help.  Much appreciated.  All the best!