Monday, August 29, 2016
Sunday, August 21, 2016
I'll admit that I'm a day late on this, but August 20 is National Radio Day. Since I'm in the radio industry, I felt I should acknowledge that day. I've been planing this post for awhile. I like to talk about what makes radio great. Sadly, it has gotten me into trouble in the radio industry and at my job.
I used to get into discussions on statewide radio industry message board. Once there was a discussion on some of the greatest radio personalities and radio stations ever. I posted my thoughts on the subject. A person, who hosted a show on the radio station I worked for (he paid to be on the air), got upset because I didn't mention him or the radio station. He complained to my boss about my opinions and how he was slighted. The good news is this person is no longer in radio. The bad news is you don't want to know what this person is doing now.
This is a list of some of my favorite things about radio. This will be chronological to keep down arguments. I'm also keeping this national rather than local. I would love to do a post about local radio's influences on my career, but it wouldn't be of interest to very many people outside of Missouri. I'm sure the person mentioned above will be upset that his favorites are not going to be mentioned.
JACK BENNY - Benny was probably radio's first major personality and his show was a pop culture phenomenon. The catchphrases were everywhere, especially in the Warner Brothers cartoons. Benny created a persona for his radio show that was different from his real life self. Benny was a humble, very generous man, who was also a very competent violinist, but on radio, Benny played a conceded, tightwad, who was a horrible violin player. His show also created a strange fictional world that could have only exist on radio. He kept his money in an underground vault with multiple chains, steal doors, loud alarms, lions, gorillas, dragons and, most famously, a guard who had been on duty forever. He didn't know what a car, radio or movie was. Also Jack had his sarcastic African-American valet Rochester drive him around in worn out Maxwell car. The sound of the car was provided by Mel Blanc (he recycled the same voice for the 70s cartoon character Speed Buggy).
FRAN STRIKER - He was writer working at WXYZ in Detroit. He created The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.
In a 1970s poll, more people could recite the opening to The Lone Ranger than they could the Pledge of Allegiance.
ARCH OBOLER - Producer and creative mind behind the horror show Lights Out. Oboler used some graphic sound effects for people being electrocuted, monsters crushing their victims to death and chicken heart that grew to engulf a whole city.
ORSON WELLES - He made his first mark on radio as the voice of The Shadow and his playboy alter-ego, Lamont Cranston. He later created The Mercury Radio Theater of the Air, which produced a great version of Dracula. He produced and performed in a version of Heart of Darkness that Francis Ford Coppala says influenced Apocalypse Now. That would be enough, but his crowning achievement was his version of War of the Worlds, that mimicked radio news reports, blurred the line between drama and reality so well that it caused panic along the East Coast.
TODD STORZ - He watched a waitress use her tips to play the most popular hits on a juke box and thought "What if radio played only the top hits over and over?" He then created the Top 40 format at the exact birth of rock and roll in the mid 50s.
GARY OWENS - A smooth talking, wise cracking DJ, who became famous outside radio and the announcer on TVs Laugh-In and the voice of cartoon superheroes Space Ghost and Blue Falcon.
BILL DRAKE - He took what Todd Storz created in the 50s and modernized it in the 60s. Consulting other radio stations on how to do it. He update the jingles from 40s sounding pop to a dynamic rock instrumental with vocals by the Johnny Mann Singers. He had radio stations remove the sales department from any decisions about programing, including getting rid of long form live ads. An tightened up the presentation to an art form. "AND THE HITS JUST KEEP A COMIN!"
THE REAL DON STEELE - Drake's big star at KHJ in Los Angeles. The epitome of loud, fast-talking radio DJs. Later appeared in the films Death Race 2000, Eating Raole, and Rock & Roll High School.
BIG DADDY TOM DONAHUE - The opposite of The Real Don Steele and Wolfman Jack, but belongs along side Storz and Drake. Began as a jazz DJ in San Fransisco, a general manager forced Drake to fire him because he couldn't talk fast enough. Donahue looked at the growing counter culture scene of San Fransisco Haight-Ashbury and created underground radio. Slower, quieter DJs playing long LP cuts. In the 70s, it morphed into AOR radio and influenced college/alternative radio of the 80s. His DJs included Sly Stone, Ben Fong -Torres and Howard Hessman from WKRP and Head of the Class.
BYRON MACGREGOR - Worked as a news director for the Drake consulted CKLW in Windsor, Ontario, a rimshot of Detroit, in the early 70s. Windsor had very little news, Detroit was coming unglued with so many murders that the morgue ran out of room. MacGregor's booming voice and envelope pushing "if-it-bleeds-it-leads" news writing became legendary. No truth to the rumor MacGregor lead a newscast with "A 5 year old boy was strained like spaghetti through the grill of a Buick today," but he did record a patriotic, spoken word record called "The Americans," that became popular again after 9-11-2001.
CASEY KASEM - Once referred to as "the man who taught America how to count backwards." The L.A DJ and cartoon voice over actor, created the syndicated radio show, The American Top 40 Countdown, where he played the hits, gave positive, uplifting stories about the artist, Billboard chart trivia, sappy, tearjerker dedications, and turned rock and roll into a kind of cross between sports coverage and a soap opera. He always closed with "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."
DR. DEMENTO - A musicologist and music historian, who introduced audiences to some of the strangest novelty and comedy records ever made on his syndicated radio show of the 70s and 80s. He also is credited with playing homemade tapes by a listener named Weird Al Yankovic.
And those are the people who not only made radio great, but inspired my career in radio.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
I'm not sure which historical magazine, a few years ago, had an underrated/overrated article. Recently, I began thinking about doing my own version. I realize my opinions usually get me in trouble, but I'm compelled to do this. I really didn't do extensive research, I'm just going on my opinions verses that of co-workers, former classmates, colleagues in the radio industry, film and music critics and other bloggers. You can be mad at some of what I have here, but the only person that will be allowed to dispute my awards is Kanye West.
UNDERRATED: The Untouchables Truck. How underrated is this vehicle? The only photos I could find of it were screen caps from an episode of Happy Days (above). It deserves recognition because it was a real vehicle. In his book, from which the TV show was based, Eliot Ness explains that his men confiscated a beer truck, used by Al Capone, and fitted it with two steel sheets that were sharpened on the sides. These worked as both a battering ram on the chained doors of illegal breweries and kept bullets from striking the engine.
OVERRATED: The General Lee from The Dukes of Hazard. The doors don't open and you have to crawl through the window. Enough said.
UNDERRATED: Paper Moon. Great dialogue, great casting, black and white cinematography, and fairly accurate historical details.
OVERRATED: Kramer vs Kramer. When is somebody going to admit this is just like a thousand made for TV movies about divorce. Meryl Streep was better in Death Becomes Her and She Devil and Dustin Hoffman better in Tootsie and Meet The Flockers.
UNDERRATED: "I Feel Fine." This is the quintessential early Beatles song. Everything that made The Beatles one of the greatest rock band in history is all right here in this song.
OVERRATED: "In My Life." It is slow and depressing. Not what I want from the Beatles.
50s ROCK & ROLL PIONEER:
UNDERRATED: Screaming Jay Hawkins. His stage act paved the way for Alice Copper, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss and Marilyn Manson. Some of his 60s recordings could be the forerunner of 2 Live Crew and other rappers hits. Plus, his most famous song, "I Put a Spell On You" was one of the first early rock and roll songs to become an pop standard recorded by singers of other genres (Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways" would be the next one).
OVERRATED: Jerry Lee Lewis."The Killer" had about four good songs early in his career, then in the 60s he went country. All of his country songs sound alike and they all suck. The bad part is he just kept recording more of them.
60s AMERICAN POP GROUP:
UNDERRATED: The Monkees. The rock critics and press of the 60s hated them. Over the years that has changed. Their most recent CD has gotten good reviews. They may still get into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame yet.
OVERRATED: The Four Seasons. Let me first say I like the 70s hits by The Four Seasons, but I find most of the 60s output irritating and much of it was overplayed by radio. If that wasn't enough, they recorded an LP, using something called the "Chee Chee Girl" voice, under the name The Wonder Who. That LP will make your ears bleed. One reason they are here is the talk radio contingent are trying to rewrite history (and intelligent thought) and say that the Four Season were a better group than the Beatles. It a good country people would be executed for saying that.
70s HARD ROCK BAND:
UNDERRATED: Blue Oyster Cult. For a heavy metal band they produced some very smooth recordings that border on yatch rock, while having a strange sense of humor ("Joan Crawford Has Risen From the Grave"). I took my blogging moniker from one of their songs. The only thing complaint is (wait for it) they needed more cowbell.
OVERRATED: Lynard Skynyrd. Overplayed on radio, but part of that has to do with music testing and request lines. Once, I was getting my tires changed in Lebanon, Missouri, and there was a radio in the garage on. "Free Bird" came on the radio and every guy working in that garage went "Yeeehaw," like the Dukes of Hazzard. Scary.
UNDERRATED: Boy George of Culture Club. If you close your eyes, forget what about the way he looked in the 80s and just listen to his voice, you will find Boy George has one of the most pleasant and smoothest voice in rock and roll. Sadly, people saw him as a gimmick singer.
OVERRATED: Whitney Houston. Besides being the favorite singer of goody two-shoes people in the 80s, she always seems to be saying "Listen to how good I can sing. I'll hold this note real long and prove it." That is irritating.
UNDERRATED: John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service. All you have to do is listen to some of Quicksilver's instrumentals and you will see why I say he is underrated.
OVERRATED: Stevie Ray Vaughan. I shocked a friend of mine, who lives in California, when I told him that some people here in the Ozarks believe Stevie Ray Vaughan was a better guitarist than Jimi Hendrix. "NO WAY!" He said. "That is messed up thinking." Indeed.
ALBUM BY THE EAGLES:
UNDERRATED: One of These Nights.
OVERRATED: Hell Freezes Over. You have one LP that contains the hits, "One of These Nights," "Take It To The Limit" and "Lying Eyes," but also "Journey To the Sorcerer," which was the theme for the radio and TV versions of Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy. The other CD is several live versions of previous hits and the official national anthem of douche-bags everywhere, "Get Over It."
MOVIE DESIGNED AS A VEHICLE FOR A SINGER:
UNDERRATED: UHF starring Weird Al Yankovic.
OVERRATED: Pure Country starring George Strait. One is a hilarious cult film and the other is the forerunner of the movies on the Hallmark Channel.
NUMBER ONE HIT OF THE 90s:
UNDERRATED: "MmmBop" by Hanson. This is just a great, fun bubble gum song. I don't think any of the radio stations in Springfield, Missouri, played it when it came out. I know KTXY in Columbia played it heavy because it was a NUMBER ONE HIT.
OVERRATED: "Candle In the Wind - 97" by Elton John. I'll just say it. This is not as good as the original version that was on the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road LP. It should have made it to Number One, not this one.
MOVIE OF THE 90s:
UNDERRATED: Matinee. A movie about being a monster kid at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis with John Goodman as a William Castle-like producer promoting a meta-film called MANT!, that is filmed in black and white, with several stars from various sci-fi films of the 50s.
OVERRATED: Jerry McGuire. A jock boy picture. I tried to watch it twice and each time it put me to sleep at the word "Hello."
LINE IN A HORROR COMEDY:
UNDERRATED: "It is true. This man has no dick." from Ghostbusters. Peck deserved that comment.
OVERRATED: "You mean like Democrats?" from Ghost Breakers. After this has been on Facebook 50 million times it is no longer funny.
Who knows, I may give out more of these awards sometime.