Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On the Radio

Doug:  I'm sure for many of us our transistor radios were prized possessions.  We've discussed these before, but today I want to focus on specific radio stations and especially on-air talent that you recall fondly from your childhood.  Who were those sometimes larger-than-life personalities who carried you through your days?  Did they have a schtick, or recurring shows/features that you loved and looked forward to?

Doug:  For me, the be-all-and-end-all of radio in my youth was the "Big 89", WLS radio out of Chicago.  I understand that at night, WLS could be heard throughout the Midwest and adjoining Canada, and perhaps even farther.  The line-up that I most remember consisted of Larry Lujack in the mornings, followed by Tommy Edwards in the late morning/early afternoon, Bob Sirott on the drive home, John "Records" Landecker in the early evening, and Brant Miller to take us through bedtime.  There were numerous regular moments in each program, like Sirott's "Let's Talk Softball" -- wondering why a show like that?  The game of 16" softball was invented in the Windy City, and is still a mainstay of the lakefront parks to this day!  However, the highlight of all listeners' days was the broadcast of "Animal Stories" near the end of Lujack's show.  "Uncle Lar" would welcome in "Little Tommy" and the two would examine the previous day's animal headlines from around the world.  You can listen to a sample of their program here; it was often quite hilarious, as the two men would get to laughing so hard they couldn't get through the next story.

Doug:  Most of those guys remain fixtures in the area.  While Lujack is retired in New Mexico, Tommy Edwards spent years as the PA announcer at the Chicago Stadium and United Center for Bulls games (including during the championship years).  Bob Sirott is the 10:00 anchor on the local Fox Evening News, while Brant Miller is the lead meteorologist for the local NBC affiliate.  Landecker continues as a disc jockey, working around town on the various "Oldies" stations.  Great times, great memories -- how about you?


r said...

Doug- We lived within the range of WLS that you mentioned; I too made a point of catching Larry Lujack and "Animal Stories". Sometimes it came in with a fair amount of static, but that was part of the charm of AM radio anyway.

Locally, in Anderson WHUT was the usual AM destination, although late at night I'd tune in WHBU to hear "CBS Radio Mystery Theater". That ominous theme music still resides within my memory. That, and the local "Best Ever Dairy" ads that sponsored the show. As an aside, I still like to listen to AM radio at night. There is something vaguely haunting about hearing those distant voices and tunes emerging from and receding into the static.

As for national programming, Casey Kaseem's American Top 40 was a never miss show each week. He was always friendly, and upbeat about all the songs he played. Loaded with music trivia, "Long Distance Dedications" and the occasional special show; featuring the top songs of a given decade or genre.

Finally, Sunday nights were devoted to Dr. Demento. What an incedible array of fun, twisted, and obscure music! He was my first introduction to such artists as Frank Zappa, Tom Lehrer, and Allan Sherman. My wife says listening to this for so many years left me a bit off; she is probably right (and wouldn't have it any other way)...

Edo Bosnar said...

When I was a really little kid, I just listened to whatever station my mom or older brother and sister had on - usually some AM Top 40 station.
However, the station that pretty much served up the soundtrack to most of my childhood and adolescence, up to the end of high school when my family moved out of state, was KGON, 92.3 FM, "Oregon's best rock." If you were a fan of mainstream, hard or classical rock and/or heavy metal and lived in northwest Oregon back in the late '70s and most of the '80s, you listened to KGON. It had a pretty funny morning show as I recall (although by the mid-80s it lost popularity to some Top 40 station's 'Morning Zoo'), and good evening features like battles of the bands, with listeners voting on favorites, or "The Metal Shop." Some of the cool DJs I remember are Gloria Johnson, Iris Harrison and 'Marty Party' - all of whom apparently still work there.
If you stayed up really late, like 2-3 in the morning, the graveyard shift DJs often played really obscure, and long, songs - you know, stuff by Yes or King Crimson, or Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." Ah, FM rock radio...

david_b said...

Ah, Radio Days.. A medium that I'm still in love with. Currently enjoying “WKRP” on the retro cable channel, being surprised with just how many episodes I missed back in my youth.

(I even enjoy the song "Pilot of the Airwaves", a TRUE testament to just how much I enjoy the AM/FM dials..)

Growing up in rural Wisconsin, you HAD to listen to the Saturday evening ‘barn show’ on AM radio, also the morning AM news reporters. It’s amazing just how that stirs so many quiet moments from your childhood. My older brother would always have WOKY on (an early 70s Pop-Rock formatted AM station, before it went easy-listening later on), where you first heard Stones, Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, you name it. FM and album rock was just coming into play from the late ‘60s. Loved George Carlin and how he’d dedicate volumes of material to AM Radio.

I always loved mystery theater-type radio dramas. One of the coolest events was NPR’s Star Wars 13-part radio dramatization from 1981. With the reported glut of huge, multi-million dollar movies being doled out, it was so refreshing to simply turn the lights down in your bedroom, put the big headphones on, and… listen, letting your imagination flow. A big Doug Adams fan at one time, I still think ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe’ is BEST done on radio, far better than it’s TV or movie renditions.

Humanbelly said...

Ha-- well, Doug, from just seeing your post's title, and knowing you're from Chicago, I immediately knew that you'd be the first guy to get to WLS!

Yep, I lived in a tiny town in the SW corner of Michigan (Cassopolis), and Big89 was our clearest and most beloved station. Really, a terrific format at the time that happily saturated the airwaves with top 10 hits ("Isn't She Lovely", "Silly Love Songs", "Copacabana"-- easily three times an hour at the height of their popularity), while keeping a steady, dependable secondary stream of oldies coming as well (particularly Beatles).

Lord, "Animal Stories" was the silliest, funniest thing on the planet. They even released two LP's, which I bought for my Dad, and still have around here somewhere.

Larry Lujack: And now, it's time for Animal Stories, with me: your host, charming and delightful old Uncle Lar; and my trusty sidekick, little SNOTNOSE Toooooooommy! Say "Hi", Tommy.

Tommy Edwards: Hi Tommy!

And yes, a good 20% of each segment was them simply laughing themselves silly, which was impossibly infectious for the listener. Tommy in particular was an easy mark, and had this high-pitched yelp of a laugh separated by gasps for air.

One particular darker memory, though, was the horrific crash of flight 191 out of O'Hare in 1979. The first word we heard of it-- and perhaps anyone heard of it-- was the WLS traffic copter's normal report. He must have been right there when it happened, and immediately advised people to avoid the effected roads in that area. It was impressive, because he briefly reported what had happened, but also kept it in the realm of what his duties required.

One other memory I have is from being on tour in 1988, in upstate New York, and feeling dreadfully homesick in a motel. I was listening to a radio with headphones (drowning out a snoring roomie), and unexpectedly picked up the faint-but-welcome signal of ol' WLS. Different DJ, music had moved on a bit-- but it was still that voice-from-home late at night that provided just the bit of comfort I was needing.


Doug said...

David --

During the brief 2 1/2 years I lived in Milwaukee as a 6-9 year old, WOKY was my station of choice. Huge fan of "The Night Chicago Died", "Someone Saved My Life Tonight", and "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey". AM radio was certainly influential in my music tastes of today -- which not-so-strangely enough are rooted in the 1960's-'80's! Sort of like this blog!!


david_b said...

Doug: I still have a 60min cassette tape of WOKY doing a Beatle weekend, with the 'top-of-the-hour' newsbreak talking about Watergate hearings, so that'll be summer '74.

("Now...., what did I do with that cassette player.....???")

Another fond memory is heading off to a weary college class at 7am on a Friday morning (slightly hung-over), and someone in the dorm building I'm passing is blasting 'We're Not Going To Take It'....

Anonymous said...

Being in Saskatchewan, our choice of stations was kinda limited (especially in the 70s). CKCK in Regina was the main AM station...I remember in the late 70s two of the DJs used to read the Sunday comics from the newspaper on air. Later they changed formats to "all-oldies", then to country (which is where they lost me).

Was WLS the Chicago station that ran the Top 500 countdown of the best songs of all time...around 1981 or 1982...or was that a different station? I remember listening to some of it up here in Sask., probably simulcast or some kind of rerun.

Mike w.

Doug said...

Hey, Mike --

Yes, WLS did those countdowns -- usually either on Labor Day or Memorial Day weekends. It was always a battle at the end between "Stairway to Heaven" and "Hey, Jude". Always.


Doug said...

HB --

Great story about Flight 191. I have no memory of that, however -- which would be strange as we always had WLS on the car radio when out and about. Thanks for bringing it up.


Edo Bosnar said...

Heh, sorry if this is inappropriate, but when HB mentioned the traffic copter in his comment, it reminded me that KGON's morning show in the early '80s had a fake traffic reporter in the station's 'sky cruiser,' whose reports always turned into some kind of completely off-topic rant, or threats of engaging in dogfights with the traffic copters of competing stations.
By the way, Doug, I think rock stations in major metropolitan areas all over the country did those top 500 countdowns on holiday weekends. And yes, it was always "Stairway to Heaven" in the top spot, with "Hey Jude" usually coming in second (or sometimes third, after "You Can't Always Get What You Want" or "Won't Get Fooled Again"). The funny thing is, I never thought either of those songs were even close to the best by Zep and the Beatles...

Doug said...

That's funny that you mention those songs as not being favorites, Edo. We've at one time or another asked about people's fave Beatles, etc. songs. But you're right -- for a short list, I like "I Saw Her Standing There", "The Girl I Love, She Got Long Black Wavy Hair", "Gimme Shelter" and "The Real Me" as my favorites by the artists you alluded to.


david_b said...

Ah, jeez, 'Hey Jude' is SO BLOODY OVERPLAYED.. I'm a big Macca fan (and Beatles enthusiast..), don't get me wrong, but I sure wish McCartney can encore with **another** song.

Agreed on 'Saw Her Standing There', perhaps 'Long Tall Sally', which is a non-original, but he still 'owns' the song when he belts it out.

Redartz said...

Favorite Beatles songs could be the subject of a whole new thread! Growing up in Anderson, the best "oldies" at the time were on Muncie's WERK. Consequently, I developed a great affinity for the whole British Invasion ( so many of those tunes just sound 'right' playing on an AM station; "Ferry Cross the Mersey" being a prime example). David_b, I agree about "Hey Jude"; give me "I Feel Fine" any time.

Doug said...

As I was just cleaning up from dinner and had our local oldies FM station on, The Carpenters' "Yesterday Once More" came across. Lord, I am in love with Karen Carpenter's voice!!




humanbelly said...

Redartz, your comment about some songs just sounding "right" on AM radio is exactly I point I've tried to (unsuccessfully) explain to my own kids recently! There's an indefinable quality, something different in the sound. . . I don't know. But HARD DAY'S NIGHT; HELP; and GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE (to stick with the Beatles) have a wholly different, vibrant life when they're cranked out of the small box on the AM airwaves. I'd also pull HOTEL CALIFORNIA and 5 O'CLOCK WORLD as a couple of other random examples.

Those Top 500 countdowns were still happening on a couple of oldies stations here in the DC Metro area in recent years. The movie GHOST, however, brought about a huge sentimental shift, and UNCHAINED MELODY took over the top spot pretty much forever after that. HEY JUDE fell 'way the heck down the list, last time I caught one of these events. . . although the Beatles still dominated the list ridiculously with something like 60 or so songs on the board.


Fred W. Hill said...

I recall those countdowns from listening to Top 40 or classic rock radio in the late '70s and early '80s, and, yep, Stairway to Heaven always came in at number one year after year. In the early 80s, when I lived in the San Jose area, I mostly listend to KOME, but by the end of the decade my tastes in radio stations had shifted to alternative music and I was regularly listening to Live 105 out of San Francisco. Now I mostly listen to the local NPR station in my current home city of Jacksonville, FL. My musical tastes include a weird mix of '60s & 70s classic rock, punk, alt, a bit of heavy metal, folk, classical, whatever. The Beatles remain one of my all-time favorite groups, but as with anything I don't want to be saturated with any particular song or album. I like variety.

Edo Bosnar said...

Hey, Fred - my family moved to San Jose area in mid-1986, so I have fond memories of the lively SF Bay Area radio scene back then. I generally preferred KSJO over bitter rival KOME, while my favorite station out of SF was KFOG.
Kind of sad that with the exception of KFOG, none of the hard rock stations in the Bay Area exist any more - they've either shut down or changed format entirely.

Rip Jagger said...

When radio was mentioned here, the first thing I thought of was the serial "The Secret Adventures of the Tooth Fairy". This two-minute serial adventure was a rare satirical hoot in an ocean of AM pop rock.

I wouldn't discover the virtues of real radio adventure for many years, when I finally got hold of some of those great Shadow episodes. Nowadays that stuff is very available. Most recently I got hold of the Doc Savage adaptations from public radio, both ran in the 80's. Lots of fun.

Rip Off

Karen said...

The stations I recall listening to were LA-based, KROQ and KLOS. I think one of them used to do a "Christmas with the Beatles" show each year. I used to sit next to my boom box to record mix tapes with all these obscure Beatles tracks they would play.

When I got in my late teens I mostly listened to college radio, with the Cal Poly -San Luis Obispo station at the top of my list (can;t recall the call sign). it was often hard to pull in, but always worth it, as it played this new thing called "punk." :)

Edo -KFOG was my favorite station when I lived in the Bay Area, especially the "Ten at Ten" show with Dave Maury!

david_b said...

Some 'I Feel Fine' finds..:

Rare Germany '66 ~

Fun music video filmed in '65 ~

'Course here's the fish 'n chips one Epstein refused to distribute.. ~


Redartz said...

Good stuff, david_b! Loved Ringo on the stationary bicycle. Thanks for sharing!

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