TO RECEIVE THIS COLUMN BY EMAIL EVERY WEEK, CLICK HERE.
by Rollye James
Claude Hall: “I loved trips to Nashville. Wouldn’t want to live there, but visiting – especially
with my mentor Paul Ackerman, music editor of Billboard – were absolutely fun! One of the
reasons, I suppose, is because Paul was always treated like some great and wise and wonderful
idol … literally a god in the music world. Everyone knew him. Most worshipped him. At the
very least he was always treated with enormous respect. But such as Sam Phillips, the man
who discovered and produced early records by Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash,
Jerry Lee Lewis and others, literally worshipped Paul and Paul never tired of telling how
Phillips had a piano lifted outside the building of the Billboard offices in New York, and placed
in Paul’s office through the window just so Jerry Lee Lewis could play for him.
“So, we were going to do a story with Audrey Williams, known by and large as the widow of
the great late Hank Williams (she performed a few times under that byline after his death and
so did his second wife), at the then major restaurant in Nashville. Paul was to ask most of the
questions. I was to write the story. We had done this with a few people, including songwriter
Johnny Marks. It always worked out well. I don’t recall what we ate. At that time even the
best restaurant in the city wasn’t much better than a hotdog stand in Dallas.
“We were doing the story, as I recall, for one of the annual issues of World of Country Music,
printed as a magazine and today a real collector’s item with some of the best articles ever
written about country music. The story went well. She may have exaggerate her role in the
success of her late ex-husband, but probably not.
“I pulled out the little 35mm Leica and small flash that I generally had with me.
“‘No picture’, Ms. Williams said. ‘I’ll mail you a photo’.
“I guess I stared at her a little.
“’I’m a blonde’,” she explained. ‘This is my brunet wig’.”
Rollye: “Among the cities I’ve lived (which number over 30), Nashville is probably my
favorite. But whenever I’m asked which one I like best, I always include this caveat: ‘Places
only exist in time.’ So my Nashville, circa ’70, is not the same one that’s there now. I don’t
like the current incarnation. It’s true that you can now get a decent meal (and Claude’s right—
even the concept was missing in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Mario’s, The Peddler, Ireland’s all come to
mind, but for the most part, when eating became a priority, I’d leave town). Same for medical
care. There’s plenty now, but back then, I remember someone misunderstanding my reply,
‘When I’m really sick I go to the airport,’ thinking that maybe there was a hospital near the
“When it came to Tennessee, Memphis was the city. But Nashville was the place to be.
Outsiders claimed that 16th and 17th Avenues South (Music Row) was an impenetrable clique.
I still wonder how I got in. Entrenched Nashvilleans were apoplectic and apologetic that they
were from the home of country music. They’d cite publishing (bibles in particular), banking,
and government as the area’s real assets. And radio reflected it.
“No one who was anyone was playing country music, at least not all the time. WSM would
run the Grand Ole Opry, and even installed Opry announcer Hairl Hensley on an overnight
country show, but by day, WSM was MOR all the way. Country was as hidden on the
venerable AM giant, as R&B was on WLAC. (The entire central south listened to John R.,
Hoss Allen and Gene Nobles after dark, but during daylight, there was no hint of the music
they played.) Madison’s WENO was country radio in Nashville, but according to Hooper and
then Pulse, most listeners never heard of them. (They were hard to miss visually as they
planted old semi trailers on hilltops everywhere emblazoned with the call letters.) With the
growth of ‘countrypolitan’ in the latter ‘60s, WSIX-FM debuted an easy listening-like
approach dubbed ‘metropolitan country’ that ultimately did quite well as the FM band
blossomed, but for the most part, to Nashville society, country music back then was akin to a
tacky tourist attraction and an export they’d just as soon ignore.
“I loved every minute of it. Sodom & Gomorrah had nothing on Music Row. Today, it’s much
less of a ‘members-only club’ and while I’m sure the outward image is considerably hipper,
beneath it, I’m equally certain its current state is quite sedate compared to days long gone by.
I should add, that the biggest change for country music is that now it’s big, big business. Back
then, when a number one single sold maybe 100,000 copies (80,000 of which went to
jukeboxes) and a number one album moved 20,000 units, our fondest but elusive hope was that
country music would go mainstream. Now that it has (and boy has it— I contend it’s really
male-oriented AC today, while soft favorites and Delilah go for the gals), there’s a rawness
absent— probably less in the sound than the stories behind it.”
Ed Silvers: “With respect to the Alan O'Day single ‘Undercover Angel’, this was the first
release of Pacific Records. Pacific was owned by Warner Bros. Music and distributed by
Atlantic. I was president of WB Music from 1971 until 1981----Pacific Records was to be the
label for my writers exclusively. As our first release, a number one hit was really gratifying,
and Alan had been a writer of mine or long before Warner's acquisition of Viva, a company
owned by Snuff Garrett and myself. I was a Liberty Records promo guy years before and love
hearing about the many promotion men of the early 60's! I knew and respected them all--- even
Jerry Moss was among that esteemed group. Just wanted to let you know how much your
letters mean to me. I have been sailing the Caribbean since retiring in 1981. Calm waters to
all of you!”
Rollye: “It’s our pleasure, Ed. It’s great to have you with us. Snuff Garrett was a production
god to my ears. Anyone who made Gary Lewis sound good was a diety before digital. But
even the acts with a lot of talent were enhanced by his efforts. I’ve heard Snuff tell stories
about Gene McDaniels being resistant to doing rock and roll, but no one could have gotten
more out of him than Snuff did with things like ‘Chip Chip’, ‘Point of No Return’, ‘Tower of
Strength’ and ‘A Hundred Pounds of Clay’. And I’m as enamored with Bobby Vee’s “The
Night Has A Thousand Eyes” as I was the first time I stopped in my tracks when I heard it.
“Most of all, I appreciate Ed dropping us a line. Contributions were somewhat sparse this
week, which is why there’s too much of me. What makes Vox Jox special is hearing from all
Bob Brennan (to Claude): “You had sent me some pics of Felix Pappalardi a while back and I
just finished a screenplay about him. I'm starting to pitch it and will let you know if I have any
Claude Hall: “I knew Felix ... Barbara and I attended one of his birthday parties at the Bitter
End in Greenwich Village ... met his folks. In my opinion, he was a genius. Bud Prager, his
partner, invited me to a recording session when Felix produced the first Cream LP. I was
studying for a master's in Oklahoma when his wife Gail shot him. Hurt!”
Rollye: “Good luck to Bob. True confessions: I knew the name, Felix Pappalardi. I was
aware of his work with Cream (from Disraeli Gears on), and his eclectic Greenwich Village
background. But while I’m very impressed, none of it is to my tastes, so I missed it— Shot by
his wife?! I spent a while reading up on that today and all I can say is Bob’s gotta get that
screenplay produced. I’ll buy the first movie ticket. (In case you too are unaware, his wife was
found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and spent two years in jail, after which she
moved to Mexico, where she lived until her death in 2013.)”
Chuck Dunaway: “I was MD at the time of the Rod Stewart recording of Maggie May and it
was little old me who flipped the record and began playing the hit side....Bill and I worked on
the music together, but I was the one who insisted we flip the tune...Bill was a dear friend, but
deferred to me on most tunes.....most of the time he didn't even come to my listening
Rollye: “I’m confused by the timing, if Chuck Dunaway is referring to the Bill Young story
from last week’s Vox Jox. I think Chuck was PD of WIXY in 1971 when Maggie May hit, not
KILT. I remember he went to work for WIXY around 1968. As Claude Hall chronicled in
the January 2, 1971 Vox Jox, Chuck replaced Bill Sherrard as PD at the beginning of 1971,
after being PD at co-owned WIXZ in McKeesport (Pittsburgh). (The same column mentioned
16 year old Kevin Metheny getting his first on air job. ) So Chuck— clear this up for us.
“You can read every one of Claude’s Vox Jox columns (mine too) from Billboard online at
Radio Report too:
David Gleason: “I got 5 of them , including an issue almost totally dedicated to disco! [Read
.] I have to get in contact with Steve Casey and ask him about his days as Disco
Editor at that magazine.”
Sid Grubbs (TheMojoMan.com): “Read the columns regularly but never see the line
‘TheMojoMan’ is still looking for a GIG, like you used to do in years gone by. Thanks MOJ’”
Rollye: “This just in— The Mojo Man is not looking for a gig. Or is he? Life after radio
worked out just fine for Sid, but from what I’ve seen on his website, www.mojoman.com
Mojo Man could be persuaded to un-retire. I wish radio could be pursuaded to hire him. Back
in his prime, trade ads often read “No floaters, nor drifters need apply.” But often it was the
floaters and drifted who sparked the most fun. If you’re on Facebook, reach out to The Mojo
. He’s still telling wonderful stories.
Gary Smith: “I’m glad you now have Johnny Holliday's book listed on the left. Anyone who
did radio during the glory years will enjoy it. A wonderful read.”
Rollye: “I concur. My copy arrived on a particularly busy day. Even so, I dropped what I was
doing to leaf through it. First name I saw, I hadn’t thought about in years— Johnny’s high
school pal, Tom Sgro. (Tom was a local Miami promo guy when I was at WQAM. There was
nothing I could do to influence the playlist— other than perhaps to say I liked a song, which
pretty much guaranteed it would sell a maximum 30 copies nationwide and management knew
it. Even so, he never left without giving me a bear hug. Great hugger, with a heart to match.)
The familiar names didn’t stop there, and the stories that go with them are enchanting. So yes,
it is our pleasure to include Johnny’s book on the left side column. And if anyone reading this
has written one we didn’t include, let us know about it.
—initially it was a misinformed take by one of the website’s readers, which Ken Dowe quickly
set straight. It took off from there. Adding more details this past week is Michael O’Shea
who is now president of Sonoma Media Group in Santa Rosa, CA:”
Michael O’Shea: “ I was reading back issues of JRRR and having fun seeing the back and forth
of the KLIF-KNUS-FM saga from the early 70’s. Ken Dowe’s recollection is spot-on (of
course) as he was “on the spot” at the time. Gordon McLendon was a quiet, non-assuming
individual, a true genius and a great businessman, but gentle in his own confidence and
demeanor. I had a front-row-seat during this period as I was the current PD of KLIF (1190)
when GBM sold the station. I recall the “big announcement” in the KLIF movie theatre on
Commerce Street that Mike mentioned. Ken Dowe was my mentor. He ‘found’ me doing
nights in Toledo and brought this ‘yankee jock’ to KLIF in ’67. He also promoted me to PD of
KLIF in ’70 after our then pd (Charlie Van Dyke as I recall) left for CKLW and I wrote a six
page, single spaced, type-written letter to Ken on ‘why’ I should become the PD. I hand
delivered it to his home while he was at church one Sunday after hearing rumors that Scotty
Brink from WLS was being interviewed for the job…and candidly I was just scared for my
job as an on-air jock there . Ken called me and said ‘You really want to be the PD of KLIF
don’t you, Michael?’ I lied and said ‘yes’ .
Ken Dowe: “I read Michael's (O'Shea) comments today in JRRR regarding the sale of Gordon
McLendon's KLIF in 1970, and its subsequent demise from the sudden success of the leftover
from that sale (then almost dormant) KNUS-FM.
“Michel O'Shea was our Program Director at KLIF at the time of the sale. He was an
outstanding radio personality and quite a fine programmer. And, he has remained one of my
great friends since those long ago days when he would visit his wonderful mom in Dallas. He
actually would spend much of his holiday at our Triangle Point KLIF Studios, watching the
jocks and hanging out with me. It was to KLIF's and my personal benefit that I later had the
pleasure of bringing him aboard at KLIF/1190. First as a personality, and then as Program
Director. I didn't give him that title, he earned it.
“Michael's finest talents may always have been in his competitiveness. Perhaps, I am the most
competitive person with whom I am acquainted? However, Michael may be ahead of me in
that line. And, he certainly helped us achieve that extraordinarily high sale price. At that time
the most money ever paid for a single radio station.
“Anyone who has ever spent 5 minutes talking with me about the radio industry, knows the
high regard I have for Bill Stewart. Bill was of the triumvirate of Storz-McLendon-Stewart.
Todd, Gordon, and Bill literally created (invented) Top 40 radio, and in effect, all others that
followed their formatics in other musical genres. My mentor at McLendon was Bill Stewart,
even before Gordon.
“So, KLIF was purchased. PD, Michael O'Shea stayed with the buyers. KNUS was then
created from dust. But, to assemble it, I was legally unable to poach from the staff of our
former station, KLIF. Nonetheless, to our great fortune, we were able to build an entirely new
team for KNUS. These guys (and ladies, who always had prominent roles in my stations)
individually became MVPs, and in a year and a half KNUS...was the city's new #1 radio
station. On FM, yet. When most people hardly knew there was any such thing as an FM.
“The ‘kicker?’ Bill Stewart came aboard to oversee KLIF. Then, he made ...a rare error: Bill
demoted Michael and gave the Program Director's position to another on the staff. KNUS was
off to the races.
“Had Michael remained in charge of KLIF's programming instead of the replacement, KNUS
may not have so quickly unseated KLIF. But, with my protege Michael, MIA...game over.
Michael, of course fell...upward. And began a most exceptional broadcast career. Elsewhere.
And, now you know…’the rest of the story.’
Rollye: “Michael, on more than one occasion, told me how much Ken Dowe meant to him and
his career, but the story that stands out in my memory concerns Michael’s name. He’d been
using his given surname until then. He told me that after landing the job, he was informed that
on KLIF, he would be Rich Burton. He was concerned that he’d never be able to do a public
appearance with a straight face. He was a short, round, red head. Cute as all get out, but
definitely not in the manner of Richard Burton. He pleaded his case, and as I recall, Ken
assured him they’d work something out. He was driving into Dallas to take the job when to his
greatest relief he heard a promo for KLIF’s newest personality, that ‘smiling Irishman Michael
O’Shea’. He’s still using the name professionally today. Good call, Ken!
“Yesterday being was 9/11 was probably lost on none of us. Hard to believe it’s 15 years ago.
At the time, New York radio people were on the air ,at their best. Art Vuolo captured the spirit
of the day and it’s now on YouTube. Joey Reynolds sent us the link.
“If you can’t see it, click here
to watch it. Art’s caption explains what you’ll see: Originally
produced for the R&R Talk Radio Seminar in February of 2002, this 13 minute
mini-documentary pays tribute to how radio stations in New York City dealt with the tragedy of
September 11th. It drew rave reviews and is very emotional. As we approach the 15th
anniversary of 9-11, we have made it available to any station that would like to extract the
audio to use on the air. Response to this piece can be found on the web site:
www.vuolovideo.com. Never forget.
“Joey also made sure we saw his latest Reynolds’ Rap. Now I’m making sure you see it too.
Mel Phillips: “From the time we began publishing a music survey in 1967 until WRKO
dropped the top 40 format for news in 1981, we went through several different designs.
Today's photo theme features the different looks we've used throughout the years. Following
that, a summation of 50th anniversary events scheduled for the weekend of June 2, 2017. Our
first design was simple. We sold the call letters and Now 30 on top with a big photo
underneath. We used the back of the survey to promote our current contest...
“This design had a psychedelic print border around the photo...
“We rounded the frame with this version of the Now 30...
“Then we called our music survey the big 30. It had a sleeker and easier to read design and
We'll feature additional survey designs at a future date.
“The 50th WRKO Reunion Weekend. Mark the date: June 2-4, 2017. There are still a few
rooms left at the special price of $179 a night. For reservations, call the Crowne Plaza
(Newton) at 617-969-3010. Ask for "WRKO Reunion" special rate...
“A Friday night (June 2) reunion dinner party for all WRKO employees (past & present).
On Saturday night (June 3) we'll be live on WRKO (AM) from 7pm-11pm featuring a lineup of
the original air staff & others. Lineup (TBD). Backbone Network will stream the show
(Produced by George Capalbo Jr.). Make plans now to attend. It's less than 9 months away…”