Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Let's Pretend"

Harry Heuser's post about that much loved radio kid show really got my memory cells and hyperactive radio glands glands percolating. Harry was surprised that I wrote to the show asking for a piece of transitional music in one of the dramatized stories rather than something a child would be more interered in. That can send me off in a couple different directions. First off, I wasn't a small child, but probably a young teenager. Today's vintage radio program collectors categorize the shows in their databases. But back in radio's so-called golden age, radio listening was a family event. Mom and pop and the kids all heard the kid shows, soap operas, dramatic and musical shows.Crime shows, too, and I didn't become a serial killer. There might be the big console radio in the living room and maybe a small set in the kitchen. If you wanted big city entertainment in your home, you got it from radio. That's all there was. The family listened to it together. "Gathering around the family radio" is not a Norman Rockwell myth. It was really like that, incomprehensible as it might be to today's generation. It's probably impossible for anyone under age 70 or so to imagine the role that radio played in American family life in those days. My parents heard "Let's Pretend" with me and I listened to "Amos 'n Andy" along with them.
Ok. I popped off about that part of it. More personally speaking, I was probably born to be in radio, fascinated by the medium at an early age. When I won a grade school spellintg bee and got to tour WWJ and The Detroit News plant as a prize, the only question I asked at WWJ radio was "what's the difference between a record and a transcription?" I had to know how radio worked and why those golden voiced announcers told me "the following program is recorded and transcribed." Incidentally, as late as the 50's, when I got into the radio business, we still had to let the audience know that those musicians and actors were not really in the studio but they had been recorded. I even had to enter on the station log the time when I made that announcement. As a deejay, I would say "these records are just that" to make it legal. I doubt that anybody out there in radioland thought that Doris Day and the Les Brown Band were realy there with me, but the FCC was slow to change outdated rules. Now they have gone the other way. But that's a subject for another discourse, rant or whatever it turns out to be. So thanks, Harry. You ask good questions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Whither Rod McKuen?

Is old Rod still around? I was holding a cat, reading Sara Teasdale and Rod's verse "Me and the Cat" popped into my head. He would be 3 or 4 years younger than I am, so I suppose he's still in business. Back in the 70's he was hailed as the all time most commercially successful poet. The envy of all the starving versifiers.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tommy Dorsey ... Fallacious Forward

Trombonology's tribute to Tommy Dorsey, the bandleader who did everything right, reminds me of one of those heart-tugging e-mail forwards I got not long ago. Well meaning friends are always sending me things they think I need to know, whether for inspiration, patriotism, warning about some awful virus or who knows what. This one was presented a lot like one of Paul Harvey's "rest of the story" tales. The punchine was that Tommy Dorsey wrote the gospel song, "Take my hand Precious Lord" when his wife and daughter died. Thomas A. Dorsey did write it under those very circumstances. But he was an important, African American blues,jazz and gospel musician who worked with Mahalia Jackson among other stars. I wrote an article for our local senior paper about those legends and hoaxes that are partly true at best and most often totally false. But folks will go right on believing what they want to and the forwards keep piling into my mailbox. Oh, the junk we must wade through to find the good stuff the internet has to offer. Oh boy, I just had a dreadful thought. Do my blogs sometimes contribute to the cyberjunk that's piling up? Oh well, You know what they say. One man's junk is another man's treasure. Did anybody really say that or is that just another legend?

My Big P's

One of my several quirks is a tendency to compartmentalize things. Anything that shows up in this blog must be at least loosely related to media or pop culture, often with a definite tilt to things that stopped being popular a long time ago. Radio, TV, Newspaper, books, film, music, internet and such like. Other predilections, propensities, proclivities,preferences and passions are covered elsewhere, should anybody care. With something like 140 million blogs out there, I am not much concnerned about a big readership for this one or the others. I do it because it's fun.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Manatees, Apples and Yams

Only Jean Shepherd could leave me fascinated, intrigued, laughing out loud, running to the computer to find out all I can about Manatees. His tale of befriending one such sea creature in the Everglades, feeding it McIntosh Apples and Sweet Potatoes, is a rare treat for anyone who loves a good story. It's here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The First Internet President

The Obama team's massive database had a big part in getting him elected. If I sign up, I can probably receive e-mail from the oval office. FDR had radio, JFK had TV. BHO has the world at his keyboard. He will have cyberspace and I expect that whoever follows him in that office will have outer space. What amazing times we live in. I'm just the slightest bit disappointed that I won't live to see that, but my ten year old grandson will.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Funny Side of War

If I were a crusader type, filled with evangelical zeal and passion to teach the world something it needs to know, I might run around accosting strangers and asking, "Do you know about Jean Shepherd?" If one or two replied, "Sure, I still play some of them 78 rpm records of hers on my Victrola," I'd be in trouble. I would be forced to relive my days as Country Western deejay Cousin Clif in Flint, Michigan. That would not be good. But I digress again, leaving my readers, all two of them, with yet another Cliftonhanger.
Shepherd's claim to fame with the present generation is the 25 year old film, "A Christmas Story" about Ralphie, his air rifle and his old man's leg lamp. He was one of the past century's great writers/story tellers/raconteurs. Only Shep, who was elected to the radio hall of fame a few years ago, could do a laugh-out-loud funny 45 minute monologue about wartime humor. It's on Max Schmid's site. Get it while it's still there.
If my campaign to get Shep elected president of the universe fails, there's always my divine Sara Teasdale to go to bat for. Maybe I need to delete the "If I were" from my first line up there.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Art Bell and James Dobson?

Only in America. They were both inducted into the radio hall of fame last night. I listened to hear former inductee Orion Samuelson, one of the great farm broadcasters, eulogize WGN's Bob Collins. Uncle Bobby and several others who have gone to whatever awaits old broadcasters were inducted at the annual Chicago ceremony.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Playing With Words

Harry says I told a story that's a Cliftonhanger. That's funny. Playing with words is the most fun you can have without doing something illegal, immoral or fattening. On second thought, having too much fun with words can get you in trouble if directed at one who takes things literally and personally. I used to say what I thought were pretty innocent, brilliantly creative things to women, anticipating smiles of appreciation for my great cleverness and wit. What I got ranged from righteous frowns to disgusted glares. I don't do that anymore. The hypersensitive, painfully correct times we live in forced me to give up that kind of verbal recreation. Or maybe I just got too soon oldt und too late schmart.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election Night Nerves

Although long retired from the broadcasting business, I still get seriously nervous at election time as I remember some major gaffes I committed while covering election returns on radio. You might ask, if I was and still am generally not interested in who is running for what office, why was I at election headquarters, microphone in hand, authoritatively reciting all kinds of names, numbers and percentages that meant nothing to me. If you were in small and medium market radio you had to do everything. I'll write more about that in another post one of these days.
I loved the three memorable years I spent at KOJM in Havre, Montana except at election time. (Say it "Haver" with a short "A.") It's not "Harve" and don't try to make it French like the seaport city it is named for. What a last frontier and land of opportunity. I would drive a hundred miles to tune a piano, emcee the Miss Havre Pageant on Saturday night and speak at three churches on Sunday Morning. One Sunday in Chinook, Montana,I rattled on in my great wisdom while those Montana Methodists left in mid-sermon to rescue their burning roasts. That green-eyed Norwegian girl who became Miss Havre was pretty cute. What was her name? That town's claim to fame was its annual national record low temperature. Anyway ... My first politcal faux pas brought only tolerant smiles when I played a political commercial and gave the guy's opponent credit for paying for it. Things got serious when I pushed the wrong button and put a political commercial on the air on election day. I was quickly informed that I had committed an illegal act of such magnitude that it might jeopardize my job and the station's license, if not the whole State of Montana. The boss literally made a federal case of it, drafting a letter to the Feds. It said I had been heavily scolded for my gross error and warned that any future such breach would find me no longer in the business. I don't remember if the candidate opposing the one whose spot I aired heard it and complained, or if the boss heard it and wanted to cover herself before the excrement hit the air circulator. Even as late as the 60's, which was when it happened, broadcasters were still scared to death of the Federal Communications Commission. They could yank your license if you broke the rules. Deregulation, automation and satellite broadcasting have pretty much ended that. Incidentally, the then program director at KOJM, Stan Stephens, later became governor of the great State of Montana. I made another election day broadcasting blunder or two after returning to Michigan. I have mercifully forgotten the details. I only remember the boss calling me to correct something dumb that I said. I probably announced that the incumbent mayor had been elected county Drain Commissioner or something equally crazy. I wonder if some election night party goers heard it and decided to give up drinking. Sports got me in trouble, too. But that's a tale to be told later, after I recover from these true confessions.
I must leave now. I'm starting to sweat just thinking about that dreadful election day in the Great Northwest.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Covering the coverage, then and now

The great demographers tell me that something under one percent of the world's 140 million bloggers were alive during FDR's first term. Should any young voters who put Obama in office happen to stumble upon my geriatric ramblings, they will probably think I have gone senile when I claim to be one of a great many Americans of the Roosevelt years who did not know that the president could not walk. The media, consisting of AM radio and the daily newspaper, kept the secret. If President Obama sneezes, the whole world will know about it.

Media Mania

You say you are relieved that the pre-election punditry is over? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Horsing around with Sara

Hold it! Do not fire off a comment telling me that if I want to stump for Ms. Palin I should learn how to spell her name. Get off your political high horse, dead horse, dark horse or candidate you are horsing around with. I do not talk or write about politics because I am shamefully dumb about the political and governmental process. It is ignorant , uniformed voters like me who put crooks and scoundrels in office. Jean Shepherd, that great radio philosopher, was right. If you don't know what you're doing, don't vote. As for what this post is about, I quote a past president who got in trouble for horsing around with the truth: Let me make this perfectly clear. I refer not to the Governor woman, her political candidacy, her appearances on late night TV or anything else about her. I speak of another, very different Sara who has no "H" on the end of her name. She did but she dropped it. Borrowing a line from yet another commader in chief, who horsed around in the oval office, I did not have sex with that woman. I couldn't because she died when I was three years old. My love for her is pure. The lady's name is Sara Teasdale. She wrote poems. One of them made me fall eternally in love with her when I discovered it thrity-five or more years ago. Maybe forty-five. It was a long time ago. I believe this lovely little verse says something simply beautiful and beautifully simple to all of us, even though Sara named it...

Advice to a Girl
No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed;
Lay that on your heart,
My young angry dear;
This truth, this hard and precious stone,
Lay it on your hot cheek,
Let it hide your tear.
Hold it like a crystal
When you are alone
And gaze in the depths of the icy stone.
Long, look long and you will be blessed:
No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed.

You can have your Emily Dickinson. Give me Sara. I have high hopes of meeting her in heaven. We will sit on a cloud and I will read her verses to her with my best radio voice. She will say Oh Cliffie, my words never sounded better."