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Tommy Allsup - luckiest man in music touring history
by Rollye James
Rollye: “Unfortunately, 2017 hasn’t slowed the onslaught of deaths we saw last year. One of
them, on January 11th, was Tommy Allsup, a true guitar great— and all around nice guy.
Between sessions in Nashville’s famed Quonset Hut at the Columbia Records building, he’d
occasionally sit and talk with me. There was something different about Tommy— I knew
about his losing the coin toss to Ritchie Valens which led to Valens taking his seat on the
doomed plane ride, and I witnessed his bemusement when all the stories credited everybody
but Tommy for giving up their seat (eventually the truth came out), but there was something
beyond that. Later I realized it was the resolve to be an upstanding guy that would probably
follow anyone’s getting another chance at life. Tommy was calm, self-assured and kind. I’m
not sure why, but he was prominent in my mind these last couple of months. Maybe on some
level I knew he was about to soar and tour again with all those who went before him. The list
keeps getting longer.
“If you’re not familiar with the depth of Tommy Allsup
’s career, here
’s a glimpse from the
Rockabilly Hall of Fame
, and more from the CMT
. (The BBCs take is here
getting to know Snuff Garrett, Tommy spent quite a bit of time at Liberty, playing on sessions
(like Bobby Vee’s) and producing acts (Willie Nelson among them). I was thinking about
those sessions when I saw an email from Claude Hall, forwarding the thoughts of Woody
Roberts who notes that Willie Nelson turns 84 this April. Woody included some copyrighted
pictures, and in my quest to find shots in the public domain, I found a jewel of a publicity
one-sheet, dating back to 1956 when Willie was playing records instead of making them
(though he made his first one right there):”
Rollye: “If the 910 dial position sounds familiar, a year or so after Willie left, so did the
country music and the call letters. It became Don Burden’s legendary KISN. But back in ’56
when Willie hopped on board, it was billed as “the station with the sense of humor”. Hiring
Nelson gives a certain amount of credibility to that slogan, though the outlet’s other catch
phrases underscore the comedic theme. From their “Ear-O-Phonic Sound” to their proud, but
bewildering, proclamation of offering “Instant Radio”, KVAN was memorable.
“Since his was a one hour show (six days a week), Nelson had time to moonlight, signing at
the Wagon Wheel Skating Rink & Dance Hall in Camas. And he wrote and produced his first
single, “No Place For Me” while he was in town. (The back side, “Lumberjack” was written
by Leon Payne, a fellow jock on KVAN.) Willie, without a doubt, has lived a colorful life.
But through all the various phases of his storied career, there is one absolute that jumps out at
me, and it’s something that may even top his phenomenal song writing ability— his tenacity.
Willie is the antithesis of an overnight sensation, and I bet everyone who knows him can think
of a dozen or so points along his career journey where the rest of us would have hung it up for
good. As Woody noted in his email, Willie spent his 80th at the unveiling of his statue outside
the Austin City Limits theatre on Willie Nelson Boulevard. (Here’s an article on that
Willie Nelson singing at the Grand Ole Opry
Wee Willie Nelson, host of The Western Express
Bob Sherwood: “On the passing of the legendary Howard Kaufman, I was asked by
Billboard for a comment. Thought you might find it of interest.
“‘Not surprisingly, since Howard was--respectfully--an extension of Swerving (Irving Azoff), he
was tough and unrelenting. He was also fair. And always interesting. Given our positions he
wanted/demanded more for his artists than what we might spend in support of any of our other
artists, which was typical of the best artist's managers. He had my respect and I'll be lighting a
couple of candles and offering some prayers in St. Mary's tomorrow morning.’
“By way of background I dealt with him primarily in the early and late 80s when I was SVP,
Marketing, Columbia Records.”
: “Here’s a link
to the Billboard piece with Bob’s quote on Howard Kaufman
sent it to me because the emails he was sending to Claude were bouncing back. It all started
when he tried to open a link he thought Claude sent. I’m mentioning it here, because I got that
same email and you may have too. Apparently Claude’s email address was hacked. If you see
an email from Claude at “inthenola.com” toss it. Depending on your operating system, the
attachment might open, and it’s doubtful that any good can come of it. Claude didn’t send it. I
don’t know if he’s aware of the hack, but I’ll write to him before I put this column (and me) to
bed this morning.
“I wish I could say that this concludes our mention of those no longer with us, but alas, there
are two more well known radio names to add. Metz is no longer here. WHAS Louisville
listeners will recall “Metz Here,” Milton Metz’ long running talk show. He was a fixture on
that station from 1946 to 1993— almost 50 years, during which time, Metz gracefully rode the
non-stop waves of changes in the industry. When he started, television wasn’t yet a big factor
and talk shows were the norm. When he ended, he stood out from the crowd for his civility
and courtesy, which sadly can often be euphemisms for “boring”. Some demos undoubtedly
saw him that way, but to the masses tuned to WHAS’ 50,000 watt night time signal, and to the
many broadcasters who cite him as an influence, he was everything they aspired to be. The
Courier-Journal, which used to own WHAS, did the obit here
. I looked for some public
domain pictures and came up empty, but perhaps that’s fitting. Though he was on and off
WHAS-TV over the years, it was on the radio where he reigned supreme. Listeners were
always welcome to join him at Juniper 5-2385, and it seemed like every one of them tried to
phone one night in 1962. Milton was the referee and his guest, Cassius Clay, was taking calls.
Here’s an hour of a 90 minuteshow packed with what would not be considered traditional talk
radio callers in anyone’s universe:
If it doesn’t play, click here
“In 1978, Barb Polk did 3 TV commercials for Metz, the second of which (voiced by Gary
Burbank) still make me laugh out loud. Here they are:
If it doesn't play, click here.
Rollye: “The other radio light now extinguished is Pat Patterson. Claude Hall will
remember him, as Claude bestowed four Billboard awards on Pat over the years including two
for Best Morning Personality. Patterson is probably best remembered for his tenure on WKIX
in Raleigh, and most of the obits, like this one
, center around those days. When Pat went to
North Carolina in 1969, Billboard (probably Claude Hall, as those of us who served as radio
editors had to write multiple uncredited stories every week) did an article on his background.
In it, Patterson who came to WKIX from Cincinnati’s WLW, credited WLW morning man
James Francis Patrick O’Neill for his approach to rigorous show prep. There’s been quite a
bit of press over Patterson’s passing, but it surprised me that none of it mentions he was ever at
WLW. It was good to see some of his funnier bits recalled however, including Fundermontz
Airlines (‘You think your flying, but you’re not,’ a phrase probably funnier to listeners putting
up with Piedmont back then), and the ‘Patterson School of Announcing And Practical
Embalming’. He was 81.
“Still with us, thankfully, and if genetics count, will be for a long long time, is Rich Brother
Robbin. With blood relatives pushing 100, he assures me he’ll not only be around, but will
continue to do RichBroRadio.com
! (OK, I put that last part about RichBroRadio
in there, but
he’s nearby me in Tucson now and I’m gonna hold him to it, even if he didn’t promise it).
Rich has a birthday later this month, and RichBroRadio.com turns ten on February 7th, still,
according to Rich, ‘playing the greatest variety of oldies on the planet (minus the clunkers and
gaggers)’ Check it out.”
Bobby Ocean: “Some great memories were unearthed while reading your recent Vox Jox
column (1/16/17). Suddenly forty years evaporated when I read about that offensive
programming trick used ‘…during the McLendon/Storz battles....one would play Sousa
marches whenever the other broke for news, to make them sound like an 'all-news &
“WE did that same thing in the late 70s at our 'new stick,' KCBQ, when we crossed the
pavement and began battling our previously winning, Drake-consulted, Boss Radio, KGB.
With Buzz Bennett at the helm, Rich Bro Robbin all over the music, Chuck "Magic"
Christian, Shotgun Kelly, Chuck Browning, Jack Vincent fortifying our cellar, myself and
the rest of our staff went to work on the blueprints we had drawn up a few weeks before on the
green felt of a pool table. Every cue was poised to run the table. And we did.
“We had fought hard to get the Brown's AM station, KGB, in number one turf - when such a
thing counted - but were still being treated like we didn't know what we were doing. All
unauthorized production or ideas were not allowed. If we snuck something on the air, it was
ordered removed. Often, we would hear our ideas via air checks on the air at other Drake
consulted stations; never given credit, always talked down to. We only went across the street to
a place where we could call the shots because we weren't being recognized for our worth and
not allowed more free rein at KGB. From the inception, the money was never the issue...
“At KCBQ, we pulled out our good stuff again and this time it wouldn't be yanked off the air
unless it didn't work. But we made sure it didn't get close to being broadcast unless it was just
right. (We had learned from Jacobs: "Concentration, Preparation, Moderation!")
“And, again we pulled our tricks out of the hat, rewrote them and made them brand new. As we
suspected, they made a lasting impact on our audience.
“Whenever they went into news, we hit ‘Snoopy And The Red Baron.’ Every time, hour after
hour. It's a short enough tune to be finished, done with and back to the power hits very soon -
and effectively sent the audience straight into our competitor's news cast. Their drab news cast
delivered the ears right back to us, by then well into a power hit.
“Our numbers jumped. We finally got the recognition we were after.
“The Boss Boss was furious. Beaten by his own. Great memories.”
Frank Boyle: “Storz History— we, Eastman, repped KXOK 630, 5KW St Louis; and WTIX
690, 5 KW New Orleans. After Todd died too young, the Group Manager was George G.W
“Bud” Armstrong, Omaha. GW enforced the Storz staff suit and tie-short hair dress code.
“Story 1— Miami. Jack The Ripper, famous WQAM- AM GM died suddenly too young -
under 50. I got a call from G. W. asking if I had any GMs who might replace Jack. G.W.’s call
was interesting in that we repped Wobert Wounsaville's only ‘white’ station, WFUN— PD/
wild ’n crazy Frank Ward— tough Top 40 local competitor to Storz' WQAM. I said the best
guy I know is already a Miami GM. He used to work for McLendon in Buffalo, and Eastman
at KAFY in Bakersfield. GW said ‘Have your guy call me.’
“My guy was Ron Ruth who was then GM of Tanger's Classical Music -- WTMI-FM. I called
Ron to ask if he'd like a new Miami GM job that would predictably double his current income.
I told Ron he'd have to pass tough physical exam - the Mgt part he'd easily pass. But here are
changes Ron would have to make. Cut off his pony tail— go to a Marine type Brush cut—
shave off the goatee— hang up his usual velvet ‘comfort’ suit. Go with blue suit— white
shirt and plain tie. Black shined shoes. I'll call Bud and be your ‘front’ man. Bud will want
you to come to Omaha to discuss the ‘what ifs'. Having worked for McLendon made Ron a
shoo in. Ron made all the personal changes. Got the WQAM job. So much for making the
supreme sacrifice to help your major competitor.
“Story 2— St Louis. We repped KXOK GM Jack Sampson, arguably smartest top 40 GM in
Midwest. . KXOK at 630 had great day and night signal. The time was when City Fathers on
both sides of Mississippi agreed to build the Great Arch over the River. Nicely--the height of
the Arch was to be 630 feet— Jack Sampson understandably created a lot of classy collateral
sales material outlining how the Arch Engineers had wisely picked the Arch height to 630
Feet. (I think 630 was the width of the river at that point.)
“A well kept secret was that when the two sides were meant to nicely fit at the top--they found
the two arches were about 60 ft apart. One option was to reduce the Arch height and make
them meet at 530 feet vs 630 feet. Jack heard about this problem and found some way to solve
it--inexpensively. Jack went to the key city fathers. Said if they changed from original 630
foot height he would make public their revisions on the powerful Storz stations in Kansas City,
St Louis, Minneapolis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City. With that the embarrassing story
would certainly go public. The Arch stayed at 630 feet, Jack Sampson won and never got
“Story 3— As FM's came into dramatic Competitive importance in 70's and 80's--- GW Bud
Armstrong would be constantly asked " When is Storz going to buy its first FM?" Bud's
standard response was-- ‘When FM proves itself!’ The Story of What Mighta been!”
Rollye: “Sounds like the Bud Armstrong I knew. A testament to the soundness of Todd
Storz’ programming philosophy is how long it survived after its death with nary a change. It
was as if time stood still for Robert H. Storz, who as far as I’m concerned, ill-advisedly
elevated Bud Armstrong. Not that it would have mattered. Robert H. had the mentality of a
beer brewer like his grand dad, not a broadcaster. The suit and ties that persisted through the
‘70s were part of Todd’s attempt to legitimize top 40 jocks, who back in the 50s were akin to
the lowest elements of society in some circles, finding it hardtop rent apartments and open
bank accounts. (The Todd Storz’ Disc Jockey conventions were another such attempt, though
the 2nd one backfired badly in that arena, to put it mildly.) The ban on FM, likewise, went
back to a time before the field effect transistor conquered the drifting problem. All of that was
lost on Kiewit Plaza (Storz headquarters).
“I don’t doubt for a minute that Frank Boyle’s advice to Ron Ruth cinched the job for Ron,
but I do question the timeline. When Jack Sandler died (in May 1966, two years after Todd’s
death), Herb Dolgoff, the Storz attorney was immediately sent down to Miami until a suitable
replacement could be found (not that anyone could really replace Jack— he was an amazing
guy). Stan Torgeson from Memphis was selected. Dolgoff went back home to Omaha,
Toregson arrived and in months it proved to be a very bad fit. (I’m not sure exactly what
Torgeson did to upset the home office, but he even upset Todd’s secretary Ruthe Peterson who
remained in Miami. She never told me what the issue was. Apparently the hiccup did not
affect Torgeson’s career. After going to San Diego’s KCBQ in 1967, he achieved his goal of
station ownership in Meridian, Miss. WQIC took him full circle. He started his career doing
play by play (coming to WHBQ in ’54 to call for Memphis State and moving to WMC to
announce for Ole Miss until he rose in WMC management), and ended it doing the same thing
(in addition to WQIC, he was again doing play by play for Ole Miss— active in sports
announcing until his 2006 death). For the little I knew him, I liked him.
“When Torgeson unceremoniously left WQAM, Dolgoff returned— this time for good, or as
good as it got until 1969 when he left to manage WWOK. (That was another story I wish I
investigated— why Dolgoff left Storz to work for Jack Roth. San Antonian Roth sold his
Miami area property (daytimer WRIZ) to buy WAME. Roth didn’t like the Wammy call letters
though. Because they had been a soul station since dropping top 40 in the early 60s (after
losing Frank Ward to WFUN in 1960), Roth was worried that WAME would be synonymous
with negro radio. His plan? Bring his Charlotte calls, WWOK, to Miami, and put WAME in
Charlotte— it didn’t rhyme (like Wammy in Miami) but it wasn’t stigmatized. There was only
one problem. And you may be way ahead of me on this.
“Paglin-Ray were well known in the south for their soul stations. Jules Paglin and Stanley
Ray owned several of them all soul, and all ending with “OK”— WBOK New Orleans,
WXOK Baton Rouge, WYOK Houston, WLOK Memphis, WGOK Mobile. National
advertisers were well aware of the Louisiana-based “OK Group.” It was synonymous with
soul radio. So Roth may have solved the local problem he perceived by inadvertently creating
a national one. Whether it had any real effect is questionable, but not more than why did
Dolgoff leave Storz. Maybe you know? Ultimately Dolgoff’s goal was ownership, and he
achieved it in 1972 when he bought Leonard Walk’s WLTO. (The daytimer, which had long
been Spanish, for a while in the 60s was country WOAH, until WWOK came on, when it
switched back to Spanish.) Dolgoff dubbed it WCMQ (ostensibly after well known Cuban
station/network CMQ) and kept the Spanish format— but I’ve digressed enough. Back to
“When Dolgoff left, Armstrong sent in Phil Trammell, a loyal lieutenant who had been at
KOMA when Todd died, and was later promoted to WDGY. He remained at WQAM until
1974 when he was transferred to KXOK. I believe that created the opening, which allowed
Frank Boyle to recommend. Ruth was undoubtedly of interest to Storz, less for his interest in
classical music, than his background working for McLendon dating back to his San Antonio
high school years when he was a gopher for KTSA. But it was that classical music expertise
that catapulted him to WTMI.
“San Juan Racing bought the FM at 93.1 from Ucola Katzentine (it had been WKAT-FM) and
chose the call letters WTMI for ‘Where The Music Is,’ though to many of us, it would forever
be 'Timmy'. SJR owned it until 1979 when they sold it to Woody Tanger (son of the founder
of GCC). Woody kept it classical. (Cox bought it in 2000 and it’s been a variety of
anything-but-classical things for awhile, currently ‘easy’ something or other.) It’s interesting to
note that Ron Ruth had the love of classical music in common with Jack Sandler. Sandler
was in no way fond of rock and roll. But he loved winning and relished promoting. He was a
master. I remember one party, probably around 1960. WQAM was in the McAllister Hotel
and they held a party there for all the buyers in town. The disc jockeys (all of them— from PD
Charlie Murdock, to overnighter Al Martinez) had to show up wearing prison uniforms. The
theme was that WQAM locked up all the good talent. If you want more insight into Sandler,
a nice piece that Jack Anderson, the Miami Herald Radio/TV editor in the ‘60s did on
when Jack Sandler when he died that 560.com
“This is in no way to discount Frank Boyle’s great memories. The older I get, the more
confused I am. About most everything, actually. Recently, I was under the impression that
Jack McCoy had died. Not only that, but I could recall details, or so I thought. Bill Gardner
set me straight, and that brought out a memory — and picture, from Claude Hall.”
Jack McCoy, program director of KCBQ in San Diego, during the 70s
with Claude Hall, radio-TV editor of Billboard magazine, right.
In background at left is noted Canadian program director, Keith James.
Claude Hall: “So Jack McCoy is still around … and doing well, evidently, and I’m pleased.
George Wilson, too, would be pleased. We talked about Jack and Rochelle Staab often. He
admired both of them. Rochelle as a better program director than the radio world realized and
the first female national program director. Jack as a great program director and genius. I, too,
was aware of the genius of Jack. He was one of the very few people that I literally had to put
on tape during an interview in order to catch everything he was saying … to make sure I wrote
it correctly. And a couple of radio achievements of Jack I will carry forever, particularly the
story about when he took over the programming of KCBQ in San Diego he asked for a cot to
be placed in his office and exclaimed that he was living there until the station became No. 1 in
the market. Which it did. And, of course, everyone knows about his “The Last Contest,”
which blew competitors off the map. It was the greatest radio promotion since Chuck Blore’s
“The Amoeba.” And equal to the great treasure hunt of Todd Storz/Bill Stewart in Omaha back
near the beginning of Top 40. Indeed, I revered Jack McCoy and tried to track him down for
years. Not even George Wilson knew more than he was living on a boat docked in San Diego
… or at least he was sworn to keep quiet. As a great many of you know, Rochelle is a
successful novelist; no bestseller yet, but her books are being published. Great on you,
Rochelle. And Jack, I salute you, sir!”
Rollye: “Claude also sent some clarification on Lady…”
Lady, the menacing chihuahua
Claude Hall: “That was cute: Bill Gardner's thing about Lady. She's a rescue dog. Worships
Barbara. Sleeps at the foot of the bed. Pays attention to me only when I've got a bite of ham in
Rollye: “It sounds (and looks) so innocent doesn’t it? But make no mistake of it, Lady comes
from a line of killers. Granted my tongue is firmly in my cheek as I type that, but here’s the
reality: Three years ago, a big news story in Phoenix was about a suburb terrorized by packs
of roaming dogs. The lead piqued my interest… until I got to the part about the dogs being
chihuahuas. Don’t believe it? Here’s
one of the many links. On the Hall front, seems like
Barbara’s got the situation covered. Claude too as long as he’s got meat, but I wouldn't let my
guard down, if I were either of them.
“In more enticing news from Claude, he tells me he’s working on another short story dealing
with radio. Mostly fiction, in a style all his. I’m pleased his health is allowing it, and more
pleased at the thought we’ll soon be reading it.
Jim Gabbert: “I was going through my computer and found this:”
Gabbert continues: “Very interesting as the station had been on the air 20 days. I did morning
drive and got a 3+(morning drive, total average was 1.8) in Arbitron beating a lot of FM's. We
were a kilowatt daytimer in San Mateo and a very poor signal north towards the city.
Ultimately I bought KPAY (10 Kw, 1060) and killed it which let me increase KOFY's power to
50 KW full time with a huge signal up and down the Sacramento Valley and of course the Bay
“One thing that was important was we never called it oldies! It was the incredible KOFY time
machine! Having the TV station we had tones of Movietone news reels so in our newscasts we
time warped them to the fifties . For instance today President Eisenhower said so and so and
we used the actuality from the films...It was mucho fun.”
Rollye: “And I can attest it was every bit as fun to hear as it was for Jim to program. My
favorite line in the 1986 Radio Ink article is ‘Employed no research.’ That says it all. I think
Joey Reynolds also resonates with that concept. His latest Reynolds Rap includes some
great insight, though the abrupt ending has led me to ponder what it was that Shakespeare said
so well. You’ll see what I mean in this week’s radio philosophy, Reynolds style, here:
If it doesn't play, click here.
Mel Phillips: “I loved the photo of Shotgun Kelly's mic collection and accompanying story. I
always thought the RCA mics were the best - bass-y and almost impossible to pop your p's on.
I'm fascinated by the A-I devices (someone has started calling them 'smart speakers') but don't
want to own one. It would just make me feel lazy. I'm also not crazy about getting into a
driverless car. I doubt that they would work on the streets of Manhattan. I can just see a crazy
cab driver getting into an accident with one and being confused when he/she couldn't find
someone to argue with.”
Rollye: “I think Mel has the makings of a great comedy plot there. The cab driver scene alone
would be worth the price of admission, and I bet he could easily include smart speakers (and
their not-smart users) — not that he’ll have time until after the June reunion, speaking of
Mel Phillips (January 20, 2017): “This update will serve as a tribute to the general managers
of WRKO during the top 40 era which ran from 1967 to 1981. Following the photo tribute, all
the information you need to know about our anniversary celebration in June:
Perry S. Ury John Papas Jack Hobbs Chuck Goldmark Bob Fish
(67-72) (72-73) (73-78) (78-80) (80-81)
WRKO 50th Anniversary Dates:
“Friday, June 2, 2017
Dinner invitations will be emailed in March for the Anniversary which will be celebrated at the
Crowne Plaza (Charles Ballroom) in Newton. Cash bar at 6 will be followed by dinner.
Jordan Rich (seen above) will emcee. Parking fees for those driving to the event will be
waived with front desk validation...
“Saturday, June 3, 2017
Al Gates J.J. Jeffrey Arnie Ginsburg Art Vuolo
Joel Cash Chuck Knapp George Capalbo, Jr.
“On air live (7pm-11pm) on WRKO & Backbone Network (streaming) (produced by George
Capalbo Jr.) All music & jingles from 1967. Art Vuolo will video tape the festivities, a copy
of which will go into the National Radio Hall Of Fame in Chicago.
“Reservations: Rooms are still available at the Crowne Plaza (Newton). Check-in: Friday (June
2). Check-out: Sunday (June 4). Call 617-969-3010 and ask for special "WRKO Reunion" rate
of $159 a night (tax not included). You'll pay about $175 after taxes but more if you park at the
hotel. We suggest using local transportation getting to the hotel and while staying there...
Dinner invitations will be emailed in March. Party time is less than 5 months away…”