Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The (W)ABCs of HOA: the Morning Mayor Of NY

I'd like to think I saved the best - and most interesting - of Radio Records month for last.

If you're of a certain age, you probably listened to 77 WABC. Practically everyone of that age did. And if you listened in the mornings, chances are you heard Herb Oscar Anderson, aka The Morning Mayor Of New York. Herb was a one-of-a-kind DJ. The housewives loved him. The teenage girls exchanged socks because he told them to. And he sang. Every hour on the hour, he'd sing, "Here's my best to you/Are your skies gray? I hope they're blue."

HOA sang well enough to record an album in 1967, toward the end of his reign on WABC. You could tell it was going to be a great album just by the names behind it: produced by Creed Taylor. Most arrangements by Don Sebesky. A couple of the songs were recorded in Nashville (and they were arranged by Bill McElhiney), but most were done in New Jersey, most likely at Rudy Van Gelder's famed studio in Englewood Cliffs given the Creed Taylor connection.

Some people might also have been able to discern that there was a dichotomy in play: HOA was playing the latest and greatest on one of America's biggest stations...but he had little knowledge, or even appreciation of it. Rick Sklar, WABC's ace program director, had to coach him on the songs and artists. In fact, that's what led HOA to leave WABC in 1968: he just didn't like the music, instead preferring the type of music here on this album. It's an interesting mix of standards like Pearly Shells and Long Way To Tipperary and country-flavored songs, with maybe a little folk squirted in here and there. It's a comfortable mix.

HOA's rendition of I'm Movin' On. He's having a lot of fun here with the scatting:

The title track, What Would I Be. An interesting question for sure, in this context:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

There Was Only One...

Radio has always been in a state of flux. But some stations refused to change, and swam upstream like salmon, against the trends. For a time, WBBM, the CBS station in Chicago, was like that. This 1963 album gives you a taste of what WBBM was putting down: vibrant local talent doing live music shows well after most other stations had moved on.

WBBM sure was proud of what they had going on...so they produced this album in 1963. How they came up with the time to do it, nobody knows for sure: WBBM produced 35 hours of live "showmanship" each week. This album may have been a special gift to advertisers, who, as the liner notes claim, spent more advertising dollars on WBBM than any other Chicago station at the time.

On this record, we hear Chicago standouts like The Hal Kartun Orchestra, an 8-piece big band with a fiery sound that belies their size. There's The Skynoters, fronted by a harp. The King's Jesters (in the red jackets and bowties) is a trio with a multitude of styles in its repertoire. And solo artists like Bob Vegas, who sang every morning. That's him on the bottom right. Carole March is the redhead you see front and center on the album's cover. Between them is Gini Patton who according to the liner notes, "does more than interest the listener when she sings...she bewitches."

Here's the Hal Kartun Orchestra, off to an auspicious start with the first track of the album, "Something's Coming:"

And now, Carole March fronting the Skynoters with the torchy "Guess Who I Saw Today:"

The All-American Sound

What better way to extol the virtues of radio...than with radio? The National Association Of Broadcasters (NAB) uses a few different campaigns each year to do that. At least they used to. Some of the campaigns were downright catchy: singers, celebrities and even the brilliant Stan Freberg created great reminders to "take a portable radio along" or to enjoy "the sound of year-round pleasure."

Unfortunately, the specifics of this campaign are lost to history: no singer or production credits here. And frankly, this campaign's not as catchy as many others. Also, an all-American theme in the winter?

Radio commercial and PSA records get a little repetitive at times. For one thing, this one is the same on both sides so if a track on one side gets damaged, it could be dubbed to tape from the other side. For another, these records contain variations on a theme: a minute-long cut, a :30, a :10, a :60 with a "donut" (there's a hole in the middle that the station fills with its own copy). I'll pare this down to the essentials: the full :60 and the :30 with the girl soloist. And I hope you'll enjoy them.

The full :60

The :30 with the female singer:

The following is (about) a public service announcement

 A while ago, I showed you how a radio show looked on vinyl. But hot hits and countdown shows weren't the only things radio stations got on vinyl. They also got commercials and PSAs that way. And here's a package of PSAs you won't soon forget. It's a collection of Brite Spots: uplifting PSAs with various themes for various station formats. Believe it or not, this was produced in 1981. Jesus Christ, Superstar! There were still MOR stations in 1981? People still called soul "black music?" "What even was MOR?" a young visitor asks.

Let's take a left turn and answer that question. MOR stands (stood) for Middle Of The Road: "not too hard, not too soft...just right," to qoute a popular radio station slogan of the time. Think of it as a precursor to soft rock. You'd hear Jack Jones, Johnny Mathis (possibly with Deniece Williams), The Carpenters, Bread, maybe some Andy Williams...in short, most of what you'd find these days in a better thrift store's record bin.

Unlike most of my records, though, this one didn't come from a thrift store. It came from the college radio station I worked at...20 years ago.

I have to let that sobering thought sink in a little. Jesus, that long?

Being a college station, we relied on donations of not only money, but equipment and music. Someone donated a roomful of albums to us, and it sat there for years. I had the lack of sense to ask if I could go through it, and my professor allowed me to. Guess where most of it ended up. Anyway, this record (actually a 2-record set) was in that room with folks like Big Buddy Lucas & The Wigglers and King Richard's Fluegel Knights (don't laugh, that's become a favorite of mine). Warning: these PSAs are not for the lactose intolerant. Apols. for not featuring more...I'm subject to the sound quality of the records and sometimes they just don't measure up.
Brite Spots: Rock (I enjoy WHAT?!) [I suspect someone screwed up the Rock and MOR spots - the MOR tracks definitely sound more "rock" for some reason.]

Brite Spots: Black (I know, right?)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Learn To Play Guitar...The Radio Jingle Way

Through the years, it seems there have been almost as many methods to learn guitar as there are people who want to learn it. There are Mel Bay books, private lessons, CDs, DVDs, even video games. But would you ever want to learn guitar from a company that made radio jingles? You could. But not many did.

In the mid '60s, all the action on radio was on the AM band. Giants like WLS in Chicago, KLIF in Dallas, and WABC in New York ruled the airwaves...and they all had one thing in common: their jingles were produced by the same company. That company was known as PAMS: Production Advertising Merchandising Services. Jingles were big business then: stations listened to each other to find out what package they were using and how they could one-up their competitors with the next package they bought. Some jingle packages were sold to as many as 400 stations in the US, Canada and England.

PAMS's founder and president, Bill Meeks, was never afraid to try new things. So in 1965, he gave arranger/guitarist Ray Hurst his blessing to produce a guitar lesson kit. This 2-record set was packaged with a book of color illustrations...and colored stickers for your fingers so you knew where to put them on the frets. That's the Colour-Way!

To judge a book by its cover, or more precisely, its contents, Colour-Way was a fairly standard method: play along to the public-domain songs as you hear them on the records and listen to Ray Hurst's instructions as you see them in the book.

But Ray Hurst was not the only instructor. An electronic instrument called a Sono-Vox was also on board to help. PAMS used the Sono-Vox, a sort of forerunner to talkboxes and vocoders, on many of its most popular jingle packages to sing call letters, DJ names slogans. The Sono-Vox could basically run a person's voice through any instrument with a pair of speakers held against the throat. PAMS liked it so much they actually trademarked the name. So no surprise it would show up here. The Sono-Vox's main role on Colour-Way was to help you understand time signatures: a whole note was signified by a "beeeeat," a half-note by a monotone "Doub-ble," a quarter-note by "three-to-make-a." And for 3/4 time, there was "three-even." Pretty straightforward, if maybe a little creepy.

To sell Colour-Way, PAMS made barter deals with radio stations: can't afford our sparkly new Go-Go jingle package? No problem! Just run these commercials for our new guitar course! Jingle expert and former PAMS library owner Ken Deutsch tells me, "These were mostly instrumentals, with a little sing at the end that said “you can play guitar the correct way, it’s the easy way to play, get Colourway! (Sonovox: “Get Colourway.”).

"The idea was for radio stations to customize these spots to sell the course to listeners. One such jingle was even produced in Spanish."

So did the barter deal work out? Well, not quite. The station got the jingles...but PAMS got a load of inventory that took a while to get rid of. Deutsch says, "PAMS predicted they would sell out right away, but it took three or four years to get rid of all the inventory of the albums that were pressed. I know this because each year in December, PAMS wrote a diary entry in a book that summed up the year. In 1968, they were getting rid of the last of the albums, I think."

Hurst and the gang at PAMS were optimistic. Maybe too much so: on the back of the Colour-Way book is a note to watch for the upcoming Colour-Chourds (sorry, Chords) book. Some die-hards may still be watching.


For TONS of great PAMS jingles, and even a couple of Colour-Way samples. Prepare to spend lots of time here.

Scotland's own Norman Barrington, jingle collector extraordinaire, has a couple of the Colour-Way commercials as originally sent to stations. Click "Rarities" at the top of the home page, then scroll all the way down. Oh, and stick around to hear samples from every major PAMS jingle package!

You'll Find Out
A Youtube clip of the 1940 Kay Kyser movie that made the Sonovox famous. "You'll Find Out" how it works when you watch!

P-A-M-S, PAMS of Dallas! Home to the world's best jingles. Now part of JAM Creative Productions, whose owner, Jon Wolfert, was a jingle collector who eventually worked for PAMS, left to start his own company (JAM), then bought the PAMS library.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

And The Countdown Spins On

It's really a shame what happened to Casey Kasem. there's not a lot more to be said about it than what already has been, so instead of dwelling on it, let's remember Casey for his most famous accomplishment.

It started on the 4th of July weekend of 1970 as more or less a modern-day hit parade of the top songs as played by radio stations. It grew into one of the most popular, most syndicated radio shows in existence. And over 40 years and a couple of hosts later, American Top 40 rolls on.

If you're hungry for the history of American Top 40, I suggest you track down a book by Rob Durkee: it's simply titled Amreican Top 40: The Countdown Of The Century. It chronicles every major, and almost evey minor, event of the show's history: from the recording of the first one, which took about 24 straight hours; to Casey's departure and the saga of his replacement, Shadoe Stevens; to Casey's eventual return. Of course, the book's not cheap these days since vultures have latched on to the misguided idea that just because someone died, every piece of their memorabilia is worth infinitely more than it really is. (If you're one of those people, please. Just stop. Enjoy it for what it is because the true value of anything is not monetary. With that said...)

So how did great radio stations like [insert call letters and location of your local AT40 station] get the show? The first shows were distributed on reel-to-reel tape. But tape wasn't always the most reliable format and a lot of things could go wrong between duplication and airplay at the station. Plus, tapes got to be expensive. After about a year, AT40 was delivered on vinyl records packaged just like this:

As you can see, there are three records. Each one has a half-hour of the show per side. As you can't see, but could probably deduce from the numbering scheme, side A of each disc played first, then each B side. Radio stations were generally equipped with at least two turntables, and sequencing the sides this way made it easier for the DJ/board operator to do his job. Rather than having to flip sides, set the level (there's a 400 Hz test tone at the start of each side) cue up and maybe brush off a record during that final 2-minute commercial break, he could just start one disc and have lots of time to prepare the next one.

That sheet of paper is not signed with Casey's autograph. It's the signature of the guy at the radio station who ran the show on the weekend of May 27, 1972: Vince Weller. I don't know his whos or wherefores, but by his signing that paper, he proved to Watermark, American Top 40's production company, that the show did indeed air that week on whatever station he worked at.

If you look closer at the cue sheet, you can see the first few songs of the countdown. If you have SiriusXM Radio, or listen to select terrestrial or online radio stations (like those on tunein), you might actually be able to hear this exact countdown. And if you're a hardcore fan, you might actually be able to get your own copy through the company that restores the records of the shows, Charis Music Group.

In Casey's honor, here's a Top 5 countdown of great links to satisfy your thirst for knolwedge of AT40.

5. Charis Music Group
If you listen to AT40 on SiriusXM, these are the people to thank for making it sound as good as it can. They're an audio restoration company with loads of countdown shows and tons of passion for doing what they do.

4. Rob Durkee
Wrote the book on AT40. Literally. A lot of the info in Rob's book was taken directly from his experience working on the show. Read the blog for lots of facts and check out Today In AT40 History.

3. Tunein Radio
If you're listening online, here's Tunein's list of stations that carry  American Top 40 shows from the '70s.

2. American Top 40 Fun & Games
American Top 40 and more! Learn and discuss with other fans of AT40 in all its incarnations.

1. AT40.com
The official site of American Top 40. What's up this week? What's down? Who's happening? Stay current with Ryan Seacrest and the modern-day edition of Casey's baby.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

September Is Radio & Records Month

It's a special month here at 33 Revelations. Not just because I'm planning on making more than one post, but because the posts I'm going to make have a little more personal meaning than normal. They're all about radio.

I started in radio 20 years ago this month. It's been a few years since I've done it, and I'd love to do it again if only I could afford to (there's more love than money in radio). But I lived the dream for 12 years. I'm glad I had the chance to do it.

This month, I'm celebrating my 20 years with radio records. These aren't DJ copies of albums you know and heard over and over. These are hit collections from DJs or radio stations. They're commercials and PSAs. Radio shows. And a couple of off-the-wall surprises...one of which has barely anything to do with radio at first glance. So stay tuned. I've got a lot to show you this month.