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Weekly printed playlist of KFWB, Los Angeles, during its glory days. Chuck Blore, the program
director, was then and now a god of radio and without question influenced all radio the world over.
When it comes to the Top 40 format, there was Todd Storz and Gordon McLendon and Bill
Stewart, who worked for both at one time or another. And then there was Chuck Blore.
By Claude Hall
Claude Hall: “I made a big mess this past Monday. I’d already written my obit. I want my
son John to send it out to a few people once I pass on. So, I only intended to email him a copy
of the obit. But I was very tired and my heart specialist had just told me that he was referring
me for a stent placement. So, I accidentally sent the obit to about two dozen ‘special’ people
on the list. My apologies, folks. I had no desire, I assure you, to upset your day. Or mine!
“‘Oh, well’, as Gary Owens used to say.
“I had been discussing the death of Lee Baby Simms with Woody Roberts and Dr. Bob
Weisbuch. Very special friend of us all. For a gag, I called the four of us the Three
Mesquiteers in reference to an old Saturday afternoon movie serial that featured John
Wayne. Yeah, before ‘Stagecoach’ days. This email goof probably comes from reading too
much H. Rider Haggard over the past several weeks. Books such as “She” and “She and
Allan” where death is merely the result of life and quite glorified. I wrote to Dr. Bob and
“Suicide is basically the ultimate gesture of saying ‘to hell with you’ … throwing one last
temper tantrum. In this kind of selfish rage, the culprit is trying to get even with you, with
someone else, with the world at large. Now it may be that the culprit is suffering. Mike
Gross, talent editor in the 60s at Billboard magazine, suffered from hepatitis. No cure of
which he was aware. If I’d been there, I think we could have talked it out. But we’d shifted
the main office to Los Angeles. Billboard Music Editor Paul Ackerman, lord bless ‘em, was
a kind old soul, but his view of the world was tied up in his prize camellias. I believe he had a
brother in the secret service, but even they didn't talk much. The closest element of relief for
Mike, a sage of Broadway, was a window near the bathroom. So, he opened the window and
stepped out, completely aware that it was a seven-floor step to the rooftop below. His wife
was probably just as concerned as I was that he hadn’t bothered to tell her he was hurting.
Mike wasn’t the type to tell you something like that.
“Lee Baby Simms had friends to whom he talked … to whom he wrote constant emails.
George and wife Jackie had driven up to see him a couple of times and Dr. Bob, who is
working even now of the final draft of a book about Lee Baby, had dropped by for a lunch that
was jolly and fortified with an excellent wine. But there was a silence for a week or so. And I
don’t think Lee Baby was trying to tell us to go to hell. He was souped up on pot and wine or
a couple of Anchor Steam Beers that last morning. He was probably fairly pleased with
himself, his daughter and grand daughter. Life was pretty good. He could enjoy a crab now
and then at a favorite restaurant, his music at home. He had a collection of knives, but, to tell
you the truth, I don’t think Lee Baby ever considered ‘falling on his sword’ much as a Roman
general might do having lost his last battle. We corresponded all of the time … rambling, jolly
emails that never mentioned death in spite of his cancer, the death of our best buddy George
Wilson, cruddy politics. I never knew about the gun. It was a huge surprise to me when he
came out on his back porch one morning and looked at his crop of tomatoes and the few,
almost invisible pot plants, and then pointed the gun at his gut and pulled the trigger. My
doctor just shook his head when I told him. That’s not the way to go, you know. So, I still
don’t understand why he did it like that. Woody Roberts, one of his very best friends from
years and years ago, believes it was a heroic gesture. Not me. I’ve tried to understand his
death and I can’t.
“Lee Baby Simms was, I think, a reluctant hellraiser. Many disc jockeys from the 50s and
60s, especially those in Top 40 and Progressive Rock formats, were hellraisers from the
get-go. Nope. Not Lee Baby. His was the same kind heart of a Paul Ackerman. Both will
be there at the pearly gates to welcome me in. That towering son-of-a-gun will slap me on the
back and knock me clear across the room, yelling, ‘Claude, you ol’ son-of-a-gun!’ and we’ll
start spilling lies about Jimmy (Eddy Payne) Rabbitt. Rabbitt and Lee Baby used to raise
some hell together back in San Diego when they were on the air at KCBQ. Rabbitt just spent
a few days in a Colorado hospital, you know. Says Tracey got him to the hospital in the nick
of time. Good on you, Tracey. Take your pills, Jimmy. Get kosher.
“With my father-in-law, whom I never met, there seems to have been a touch of shame
involved. The family denied that he’d tried to kill himself; it was an accident. The insurance
firm agreed with them. With Lee Baby Simms, I feel no shame about it. I only feel a sincere
regret that I’ve lost him. Lord, but he was fun to have around! He brightened many a day for
me. What a rare and wonderful talent.”
Bobby Ocean: “Greetings, Claude and Rollye. Hope this cluster of opinions finds you spunky
and daring. I love that you're here with us, still offering the chance to occasionally sound off
about the multiverse of Records and Broadcast Radio we love so shamelessly. Stay well. All
this thinking about Bringing Back The So-called Good Ol' Days Of Radio seems to have
spilled over into my keyboard....
“The kind of radio we knew will NEVER BE ABLE to make a return, sorry. Radio's inability
to muster a comeback is not due to the reasons you and I have been reading about, but
something much more fundamental. What's wrong, clearly, is NOT the music, not the DJs or
lack of them, not the budget nor the cluster mentality. These things all need to be rebooted, for
sure, but to jump into that before handling the primary problem is a waste of time and energy.
So, what's the REAL problem? It's the AUDIENCE.
“Today's ears have heard what passes for radio in this era and couldn't be less disinterested if
they make an actual effort in that direction. There are Different People on the other side of the
dial (more facing a screen). These are totally unfamiliar demographics and absolutely not the
familiar concepts assembled in what we call a memory. The dissimilar individuals that
constitute todays listenership won't respond the way the earlier audiences of our recollections
did. They cannot even HEAR the lame, trite clichés that come through the speakers saying,
‘OK! So WHAT radio station gives away the most money?’ ... ‘Ninety-four percent more
music’ ... ‘an hour of commercial-free music tomorrow and every morning starting at 8:15 ... ‘
That ya-da ya-da crap has become an invisible part of their audio landscape as they commute
through life. They don't hear it and they don't want to hear it. What's to be done? The whole
the stinking mess originates from behind the scenes, which, from the top, harbors so-called
Reasons Why it's that way. This thoroughly POISONS the staff (and all living creatures) and
ensures that what comes out of the speakers is tainted and false.
“Ears keep listening. Elsewhere. They hear the false notes and choose another direction.
They keep listening wherever they go. Those ears don't care about the reasons why their
radio sounds so limp -- whether it's the budget, the need for tracking the huge overhead --
whatever the stories are - nothing personal, but, gotta go, bored to dismay. And, like that, those
ears are long gone, in search of something they can relate to called entertainment. And there it
is. The one thing in common today's ears share with those of their parents and elders: They
want to be entertained.
“NOT ONLY WHAT YOU DO BUT HOW YOU DO IT. And, it's not at all the same
entertainment that their parents sought. Earlier listeners were among the Baby Boom
forerunners, the first to be designated as such, the first to be catered to as such. They related
to different stimuli. Today's audiences take all that came earlier for granted. Broadcasters
have to be more IN TOUCH with them to know what they are interested in; free intel for
today's parents; costly data for radio's research addicts. It would be great if radio management
were no longer afraid of those in Programming. It would be fabulous if there were no ignorant
budget restrictions. Nice as it might be to make radio a fun and respected environment, that
won't bring back the listeners. We're not in search of the new format, we're looking for who it
is that constitutes our listening audience. When we know who's listening, we know who to
communicate with, to whom we will entertain. Right now, clearly, we do not. Sadly, simply
bringing back and recreating another radio station with a tight hit playlist (even a top rate
Image Voice), some genuinely awake and enthused DJs, and rat-a-tat-tat short jingles is never
going to make any other mark more lasting than that of a rehashing copy.”
Rollye: Bobby brings up the crucial point— and a reminder that those of us reading this
column do not natively think like the audience radio needs to attract and keep. That’s
something Jerry Del Colliano will be addressing in his upcoming seminar in Philadelphia this
spring. Jerry’s daily missives are vicarious fun for me to read, but I suspect what he will share
at this one day event will be more than worth the admission price for anyone on today’s
programming front lines. Wish I could be there. Here’s
a one sheet.
Dave Anthony: “Claude, in your February 15th email, you jiggled a few programming
philosophies loose. The one constant that ran through all the stations I programmed was that
personality was vital. Shutting up the air talent was never an option for simple basic human
reasons. If you made someone laugh, they’d come back. If you touched their heart, they’d be
back. Playing music alone can’t accomplish either one. Simply playing more music than the
competition didn’t work, either. True radio personalities can win, however, using the
well-honed skills with which we’re all familiar. Music radio has always had competition.
Only the format has changed. Decades ago when vinyl was king, listeners had the option of
stacking albums on a record player and listening to their favorites for hours with no DJs, no
news, and no commercials. Radio won big. Then came 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, mp3s, and
digital downloads. The concept today is the same. So is the solution. Give listeners the
human interest items they can’t get digitally – information that’s important to them, music
they like in an unpredictable fashion, and reasons to tune in (like the aforementioned laughs,
heart string tugs, or compelling information). Even with the ease of loading up a smartphone
with 10,000 songs, it eventually gets old hearing the same tunes because we all know what we
downloaded. Radio’s playlist can be unpredictable if we’re smart programmers. Simply trying
to out-music a downloaded library isn’t the solution. Instead, it’s simple logic: Give listeners
what they can’t get on their phones. No big mystery about it.
“So can “done right” radio make a comeback? I’m a firm believer it can, considering the latest
Nielsen study shows 90 percent of people still listen to AM/FM radio sometime in the course
of a week. But then again, today’s radio programmers have to offer something more than
wall-to-wall music. They have to stop conceding victory to Pandora, downloads, and satellite
radio. (All of those COMBINED still don’t equal radio’s reach today.) Lots of music is a great
start but packaging it with short, compelling, and entertaining intros and outros polishes up the
overall product. Gripping promotions (PLEASE end the ‘10th caller’ stuff) can still add
excitement when done right. True, there are no commercials on that 10,000 song personal
playlist, but if listeners are in the market for a new flat screen TV, car, or cordless drill at
Home Depot, won’t they perk up when an appropriate commercial comes on? The basic
human need for information can’t be ignored. It’s human nature. It doesn’t go away because
somebody invented music downloads. Too few programmers today understand the value of
the hits presented in an appealing and complementary fashion. Some do, but many of those
give in to the pressure of today’s corporate radio – shut up and play the music. That’s what’s
Burt Sherwood: “I won’t bore you with detail; suffice to say I gravitated to management when
my contract as a DJ was up on WMCA in NYC, there was no placed I wanted to go … so I
thought I could manage, I met Bpb Price by accident (and I worked for food money for a
while as we bought a station in Brattleboro, VT) … and another long journey again began. I
ended up running WMAQ and WKQX Chicago (under the aegis of Jack Thayer) … we did
well … Thayer got fired, by Fred Silverman for some unrelated reason. I stayed as long as I
could stand the mis-management that followed (I feel most of them now are dead) … when
Fred left … I left the next day (with Bill Hennes) and went into consulting with Willy … I
hated it. Willy loved it and I sold him my share of it for a dollar … and went into brokerage,
and ownership AND NOW TO MY POINT
“One of the brightest guys I ever met was L. David Morehead … he wanted an FM in
Chicago … I found a class B in the northern burbs and away we went … his life got ruined as
a certain Washington Black activist (he was not a black and he is still alive) filed to stop the
sale as there was no black on the staff ... the station was in the northern suburbs … the owner
could not get blacks to come there was no public transportation and even though he was
willing to pay for their trip to the station they still could not come … it was better than an hour
trip … each way! So David and I ended up losing in Federal Court … we sat there in tears as
the Washington activist had a black man to take the station and the owner was then forced to
sell it to him or have license problems … David and I cried in public … I would not go to the
closing … the owner that was forced to sell went to my bank and put my fee into my account.
The man chosen to operate the station failed and he committed suicide (long horrid miserable
story) … a nice man and a what a shame … when I heard this I found David and called him …
we tried … Lord knows we both hired all the minorities we could that wanted to work for us,
and we had some wonderful ones … and this story of Morehead broke camel’s back (David
never recovered) has remained silent until today … I am still sick over the outcomes, and yes I
heard the former owner never was fully paid (my client), who knows, this might even be
true. It is still a nightmare to me.”
Rollye: Of all the laws our government has passed, none exemplify its inner-workings better
than the Law of Unintended Circumstance. The outcomes range from funny to disastrous, as
Burt detailed in his frustratingly sad account. Individual stories are far too many, but
collectively, it only took one act of congress to imperil all of radio. The Telecommunications
Act of 1996 inadvertently created the ultimate game of musical chairs for the medium. While
the number of existing stations remained the same, the rules suddenly allowed anyone to own
what amounted to almost half of them. The feeding frenzy that ensued caused prices to
predictably skyrocket past the point that it was possible to profitably operate. Forget about
iHeart or Cumulus as examples— the most stunning comes from Jerry Lee’s WBEB.
Arguably the finest individually owned and operated radio station in America, upon the
passing of his partner, Lee was obligated to pay the estate what amounted to half of the
station’s current value. He had to finance it. And ultimately, by paying half of what it was
then worth, he was no longer able to operate it on his own. That example includes a highly
successful station, and half of its value. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the fate of the
operators who paid full price for an average station. And it isn’t a stretch to look to
congress— on both sides of the aisle— to understand exactly how we got in this mess.
Claude Hall: “We helped put Ken Levine in touch with Johnny Holliday. I recommend you
tap into Ken’s website, by the way.”
Ken Levine: “Thanks, Claude. I had a long talk with Johnny yesterday. Tomorrow in my
blog I’m doing a whole piece on Pete Myers with audio examples of him as Mad Daddy and
also on WNEW. What a fascinating and tragic character.”
Rollye: And I know exactly what I’ll be reading tomorrow morning, and as I bet you’ll be
to read. There are so many stering examples, but I think you'll find this priceless tale
55th birthday to be all too relatable.
Claude Hall: “I think the most humorous comment in reply to my “death” came from son
Andy Hall: ‘Not during basketball season.’”
Ken Dowe: “Oh, no….”
Rollye: And that started the avalanche of condolences for Claude after the premature email of
his passing. It’s been said (according to those who claim to know and weren’t shy about
sharing while I was doing Coast to Coast a couple decades ago) that routinely, the dead don’t
depart to the hereafter until attending their own funerals and memorials. It’s not surprising.
Many of the living have expressed almost as much a desire to know what will be said about
them when they go, as to where they might be going. After last week, Claude won’t have to
wonder. And neither will I. The list of radio luminaries in my inbox over the news was fitting.
Kent Burkhart: “This man was a hero to me. Loved him. Will miss him. Sad day.”
Rollye: …which quickly turned to glad day for all of us, when Claude’s son, John, sent a
follow up email setting us straight. Maybe it was whatever passes for the journalist in me, but
even before John’s correction, I didn’t believe it. The date wasn’t filled in. All of us have a
blank contract with death. We know it’s coming, but, save the few who take destiny into their
own hands, we don’t have advance notice of precisely when. Based on the volume of mail I
received, I can say with certainty that we’re all hoping that Claude’s expiration date remains a
long way off.