Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

Saturday Single No. 461

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

Earlier this week, as I wondered what I was listening to during the late summer and early autumn of 1975, when Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run was released and was in the headlines, I wasn’t sure what station had supplied my radio fix. I thought it might have been WCCO-FM, the sister station to Minnesota’s AM giant; the FM version was playing a format called Adult Album Alternative.

With a bit more thought in the past two days, and some additional collating of memories from the summer and autumn of 1975, I’ve realized I called it correctly: WCCO-FM was my station of choice at home in those days. In the car, where there was no FM radio, I no doubt kept the radio tuned to either KDWB for music or WCCO for sports. But when I was listening at home, and I did so almost every night while reading before going to sleep, it was WCCO-FM.

The memory that assured me I was correct is one that I’ve shared here before: An evening in July, my bedroom windows open to gather what breeze there might be, me on my bed reading, and the radio playing softly, tuned to WCCO-FM. The disk jockey played a portion of an interview with Paul Williams, probably done while the singer was in the Twin Cities for a concert, and the interview segment closes with Williams talking about his song “Waking Up Alone.”

And after that, the deejay cues up Williams’ sorrowful “Waking Up Alone.” I’d never heard the record, and the sad story, the quiet arrangement and, yes, the saxophone solo called to me as I listened. I’ve learned since that “Waking Up Alone” was released as a single in early 1972 and got to No. 60 in the Billboard Hot 100, and as I’ve said many times before, it deserved better.

I jotted the song’s title on a piece of paper so I would remember it in the morning, and the next day, a Friday, I spent a little time at the St. Cloud State library, figuring out what Paul Williams album offered “Waking Up Alone.” It turned out to be the 1971 release Just An Old Fashioned Love Song. And after school, I drove out to Crossroads Mall, where I no doubt checked for the album at Musicland. Not finding it there, I headed to the J.C. Penney store at the other end of the mall, where I found and purchased the record.

As quiet and as forlorn in some ways as the album is – many of the tracks on the album as nearly as sad as “Waking Up Alone” – the album was immediately a favorite. Williams’ stuff sounded like the kind of stuff I was writing at the time, and although I don’t recall purposefully dissecting his songs for craftsmanship as I listened, I have no doubt that if one were to dissect my own songs from over the years, one would find more than a touch of Paul Williams.

Williams wrote all but one track on the album – three of them with Roger Nichols – and I like all of those tracks. But my second-favorite track – we all know the title of my favorite track – is the album’s lone cover, a brief but touching take on Graham Nash’s “Simple Man.” And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Three From The Car

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

I got distracted yesterday, working on a song. Another member of the St. Cloud Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and I are going to be performing one of my original songs sometime this month, so I spent yesterday working on notation, fine-tuning the lyrics and chords and continuing to sharpen my keyboard skills, which have been pretty much dormant since Mom moved out away from the house on Kilian Boulevard in 2004 and left my piano behind.

The keyboard setup here is pretty rudimentary: I have a full-size Fatar keyboard, which is pretty good, and I run it through an old Yamaha sequencer and into the stereo system. The piano sound is a bit tinny, and the sustain pedal doesn’t hold the tones as long as I’d like, but considering that I’d had no keyboard to play until I jerry-rigged things last week, I’m fine with it. Something a little more elegant would be nice down the road, as I think my musical involvement with the fellowship will continue.

Anyway, I spent a good share of yesterday’s time practicing the song that my musical partner – a long-time choir member at the fellowship – and I will be performing. I bought and downloaded a composition and notation program and got the sheet music printed. And I pulled my book of original lyrics – some of which have melodies – off the shelf and organized that. And when the Texas Gal came home a little later than normal because of some errands, I realized I’d made no plans for dinner. I’d gotten the kitchen cleaned and dishes done but had given no thought to a menu.

She wasn’t upset. She’s quite pleased that I’m getting involved in creating music again. It’s something that she’s been urging me to do at the Fellowship for some time. But that still didn’t put dinner on the table. So we decided on a fast food alternative, a Mexican place downtown, and I headed out into the cool evening. And that’s when things got even more fun.

As I headed down Lincoln Avenue toward the railroad crossing, I heard a record with a joyous piano solo coming from the car radio, which is almost always tuned to WXYG. (The only exception would be for sporting events – Twins baseball, Viking and Gopher football and so on.) As I listened to the piano, I thought, ‘Nice! Joy of Cooking!”  And I was right. The track was “Hush” from the group’s 1971 self-titled debut album.

As I crossed the railroad tracks and headed for Riverside Drive, the next track started, offering a mellow rolling electric piano introduction backed by strings and then flute. I knew I’d heard it before, but I cocked my head, waiting for the vocals. And then I heard a sweet female voice: “Come take a walk . . .” And I listened, mentally sorting possibilities as I headed across the Mississippi River. The track ended just before I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, and I thought to myself, “That’s Sweetwater, I bet.” I made a note to check the radio station’s website when I got home with a bag full of dinner, and I got out of the car as a dissonant and rough version of David Bowie’s “China Girl” was roaring out of the speaker.

Twenty minutes later, I got to the computer and pulled up the WXYG website. The song that followed Joy of Cooking was in fact by Sweetwater (“Yesssssss!” I hissed, pleased by my accuracy), a track unsurprisingly called “Come Take A Walk” from the group’s rather jumbled 1968 self-titled debut.

But that was when I got home. In between, as I was heading from downtown toward the river and home, came another pleasant few minutes. It began with an organ wash backed by mellow drums, with the sounds of either an acoustic guitar or a plucked violin then added in front. (I vote for the violin). And after that languid introduction, in came the voices of David and Linda LaFlamme of It’s A Beautiful Day: “White bird in a golden cage, on a winter’s day . . . alone.”

I listened to “White Bird” – a track from yet another self-titled debut album, this one from 1969 – through downtown, across the river, along Riverside Drive, Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue and up our driveway. The six-minute track wasn’t quite finished as I pulled up to the house, but I didn’t want the burrito and the potato hot dish to get cold, so I let the LaFlammes finish without me and headed into the house with dinner.

Andy Hilger, 1930-2013

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

St. Cloud radio man – and so much more – Andy Hilger passed away Sunday. When I was growing up, I’d hear his editorials on WJON, the radio station just down the street and across the railroad tracks from our house. But even when I got to know a few people in St. Cloud’s radio community during college, I never knew Andy Hilger. Faithful reader and friend Yah Shure did, however, and he was kind enough to craft a remembrance:

Andy Hilger dropped by a small, 250-watt radio station in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on his way through town in 1958 and asked if there were any job opportunities. By the time he’d sold 1000-watt WJON and its more-powerful sister stations in 1999, they were worth nearly thirteen million dollars. I still have a copy of the 1980 or ’81 front page St. Cloud Daily Times story in which Andy was named the most influential person in the community. It was not an exaggeration. My former WJON co-worker Jim and I were astonished to read things about Andy’s pre-St. Cloud life in his obituary that we’d never known about. It doesn’t seem fair that Alzheimer’s should have ended such a remarkable run for such a remarkable man.

By the time I first got a foot in the door as a salesman (thank you, Marsh), Andy had transitioned out of some of the day-to-day operations of his WJON/WWJO radio stations. Direct selling was not my strong suit, and after two months, I’d come to a crossroads regarding my future at the place. As I departed a meeting with the stations’ two sales managers, I was met in the hallway by Tom Kay, WJON’s program director. He asked me how the meeting had gone, then beckoned me into his office. Tom was in the process of creating another airshift and strongly encouraged me to apply for the position, which I did. Tom didn’t mention this to me until much later, but when he ran the candidates for the position past the station higher-ups, Andy was of the opinion that if I couldn’t cut it as a salesman, he wasn’t at all convinced that I could cut it on the other side of the glass. Having already been familiar with my college radio background, Tom was able to convince Andy otherwise. While it wasn’t uncommon for former air talent to move into sales, no one at WJON had ever previously chosen the opposite path.

WJON was something of a family operation. Andy’s wife Carol handled the payroll, and the Hilger children were sometimes underfoot. Several staffers happened to be in the lobby when daughter Mollie, who was maybe six or seven years old at the time, was running her toy vacuum cleaner over the carpet. During a lull in the conversation, Mollie blurted out, “My daddy’s going to sell this place!” You could have heard a pin drop. Kids really do say the darndest things.

By 1979, Andy was in the process of building a new house for the Hilger family. WJON had a Heathkit weather station in the on-air studio, so that current weather conditions could be tracked after the St. Cloud National Weather Service office shut down each day at 5 p.m. The temperature sensor for the WJON weather station was housed in a small structure with a shingled top and louvered sides, mounted on a short pole in the yard behind the since-demolished old cinderblock studio/office building on Lincoln Avenue Southeast. A buried wire connected the sensor to the Heathkit unit inside the studio.

One day, the temperature readings on the Heathkit went completely haywire, and after some investigation, it was discovered that the louvered structure had been stolen, lock, stock and broken wire. Morning man Galen Johnson was outraged at the mere thought that some lowlife vandal would abscond with the station’s valuable weather instruments as he speculated on-air about who the perpetrator might have been. This went on for several days before the controversy ended as quickly as it had begun. It seems that Andy had thought the structure was actually a birdhouse, and he’d taken it upon himself to transplant it to the new Hilger residence without consulting anyone. His rather sheepish admission of guilt ended the mystery on a typically quiet note.

Andy was a man whose Christian roots and conservative leanings were as deeply embedded in the community as the city’s namesake granite deposits. Although he tended to maintain a general hands-off approach to the music and personality aspects of WJON’s full-service programming, there were times when he did object if he felt things contradicted his beliefs. When a prominent station client threatened to pull advertising from the station, the Edict of Sister Mary Elephant was handed down, barring further play of the Cheech & Chong novelty hit with the screaming nun. Likewise, Billy Joel’s chart-climber “Only The Good Die Young” was quickly scuttled from the WJON playlist after Andy determined the song’s “Catholic girls start much too late” line was one toke over the line for such a Catholic-dominated community. Only Casey Kasem was allowed to override the ban whenever the song appeared on the weekly American Top 40 countdown show.

From very early on, Andy became very active in the St. Cloud community, as did his WJON, which cemented a tight bond between the listeners and “their” station. Ironically, Andy’s hands-off approach to programming meant that he also didn’t go out of his way to get to know his own airstaff very well. One-on-one face time with Andy was relegated to once per year. As the spearhead of the area’s annual United Way drive, Andy would have the station’s receptionist call each of us at home, telling us when to see Andy in his office to discuss our annual “contribution.” Had Andy taken the incentive to sit down and chat at other times, the airstaff might not have been left harboring a bitter aftertaste toward the United Way.

Andy discovered that the ideal way to tout his views were through daily station editorials. These usually tackled local political and community issues, with equal time always provided for opposing opinions. If nothing else, Andy was a fair man, and his reasoning was well-thought out. However, on one winter’s day in early 1981, Andy dropped the ball.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, the Minneapolis Tribune had run a story about the Kingsmen’s 1963 hit, “Louie, Louie,” rehashing the controversy over the song’s allegedly dirty lyrics that had arisen when the song was a hit. Back in 1963, my mother had sat down with me after I’d bought the single, and after playing it all four speeds, gave the record a clean bill of health. (There have since been those who claim that the drummer uttered an obscenity after having dropped a stick. My own take is that they would have stopped the tape at that point if he had. In any event, it wouldn’t have been part of the song’s lyrics.) The Tribune article also printed the complete lyrics to the song as originally written by Richard Berry, which was the first time I’d actually read them. All those garbled words really added up to a Jamaican love song? Who knew?

Not Andy Hilger, apparently. When I heard his WJON editorial run one morning a few weeks later, he’d climbed high on his soapbox, denouncing the record as unfit for human consumption. But Andy never did bring up any of the actual lyrics to prove his case. He was simply restating the hearsay stemming from the 1963 controversy.

When my nightly oldies show began following the station’s ten o’clock news that evening, I let fly the first record I’d cued up: Wand Records single 143. “Dooo-do-do-do. Do-do. Do-do-do. Do-do . . .” Two minutes and forty seconds later, I recited the newspaper article’s printed words to “Louie, Louie,” then went on with the show. I never heard one word about it. Ever since then, whenever I hear the Kingsmen start to play, I’m reminded that my little act of rebelliousness was nothing more than helping to keep a fair man fair.

Here’s a link to the St. Cloud Times’ coverage of Andy Hilger’s passing.

Incorrect date changed since first posting.

Roogalators, Quetzals & More

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Today’s a good day to follow up on a few bits and pieces, most of them from Friday’s post.

As I wrote Friday, one of the things that caught my eye when I dug into Johnny Rivers’ “(I Washed My Hands In) Muddy Water” was that it had a tune called “Roogalator” as its B-side. I wondered in that post about the connection between Rivers’ B-side – a jam punctuated with shouts of “Roogalator” – and the record that Bobby Jameson made with Frank Zappa, “Gotta Find My Roogalator.”

I got a chance to ask Bobby about it Monday, and he told me: “I got the name ‘roogalator’ from Johnny when we were riding motorcycles in ’66. . . . Don’t know where he got it from.”

I noticed as I was digging that there was also a mid-70s band named Roogalator with several videos posted on YouTube. The persistence of “roogalator” reminds me of the fascination that musicians – mostly on the West Coast, I think – had during the late 1940s and early 1950s with the word “voot.” My collection of mp3s, which doesn’t focus too much on that era, has six songs that use the word in their titles, one of which is “No Voot, No Boot” by Dinah Washington with Lucky Thompson’s All Stars.

In the midst of my thinking about all that over the weekend, I got an email from my pal Yah Shure, who wanted to know if I was aware of WXYG, the new album rock radio station in the St. Cloud market. I wasn’t, but I followed Yah Shure’s lead and checked it out.

The actual radio signal is 250 watts, which is pretty slender, and it turns out that we can’t get it on our radios inside the house because of the presence of WJON less than a block away. But it comes in fine through its website (click the blue “Play” button), and it’s great fun. I looked at the station’s playlist as I’m writing this, and the last five tunes the station has played are “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)” by George Harrison, “Tommy Can You Hear Me” by the Who, “I’m Not In Love” by 10CC, “Star” by David Bowie and “Empty Sky” by Elton John. And if I heard correctly over the weekend, the station is commercial-free all summer.

I found WXYG’s Facebook page and left a note saying that the station reminded me of the now-gone show titled “Beaker Street” that aired on KAAY out of Little Rock, Arkansas. And whoever takes care of the station’s Facebook page responded, saying “We like to think of it as ‘Beaker Street’ on steroids.”

“Give It To Me” by the J. Geils band was one of the tunes I listed last Friday, and I mentioned the single edit of the track, a version that edited out Magic Dick’s superb harp solo. In our exchange of emails over this past weekend, Yah Shure recalled that when he went to his local record store to purchase the single back in 1973, he found that some of the singles had the edited version of the track and some had the full-length version of the track. The two versions, Yah Shure said, were the products of two separate pressing plants. I wonder how often that’s happened.

And while Yah Shure told me he had no insight into the above-mentioned “roogalator” question, he said that he’d similarly wondered about the origin of Sonny Bono’s fascination with the word “quetzal.” (According to Wikipedia, “quetzal” refers to “a group of colourful birds of the trogon family found in the Americas. Quetzal is also often used to refer to one particular species, the Resplendent Quetzal.”) Yah Shure listed three titles in which Bono, as producer, used the word. Sadly – having deleted our email exchange – I can only recall one of them this morning. But here’s “Walkin’ the Quetzal,” a brief instrumental that was on the B-side of “Baby Don’t Go” both when it was released and went nowhere in 1964 (as Reprise 0309) and in 1965, when “Baby Don’t Go/Walkin’ the Quetzal” was released as Reprise 0392 and went to No. 8.

Continuing the quetzal quest, I found an interesting site called Probe is Turning-On the People! – evidently a catalog of webcasts, podcasts or actual broadcasts – and an entry there lists eight separate Sonny Bono “quetzal” records and says:

The so-called Quetzal records were a series of B-side instrumental throwaways created by Sonny Bono and his arranger Harold Battiste, in cooperation with Sonny & Cher’s managers Brian Stone and Charlie Greene. Quickly recorded and musically skeletal, the records were designed (in the manner of Bono’s mentor, Phil Spector) to compel radio attention to their respective A-sides. Although the songwriting was invariably credited to Bono, Greene and Stone, the general concensus is that the Quetzal sides were written (to the extent they were written at all) by Battiste.

The note adds, “[T]he word quetzal was an in-joke among Sonny and his friends, chosen most likely simply because they liked the sound of it.”