27 August 2006

Radio "Kazoo", part 2: Ancient Talmadge

Previously on Five Flavors: We analyzed the schedule of KASU radio in Jonesboro, Ark., circa 1986. The format resembled the sex child of the radio station in Good Morning Vietnam before Adrian Cronauer's arrival and WKRP in Cincinnati before Andy Travis darkened its door.

Come with me to Saturday, March 22, 1986. Chernobyl was on the verge of blowing its stack, Ronald Reagan still had two functioning brain cells (I'm feeling generous today.....), Arkansas State University's football team was experiencing a golden age at the helm of one Larry Lacewell, and a young, foolish, very green, talking-from-the-diaphragm, stodgy-sounding, hyper-stilted Talmadge Gleck was spending Saturday night inside the control room of KASU 91.9: "The Broadcasting Service of Arkansas State University."

All this came about because I found a single cassette tape. On a yellowed label was written: "3/22/86 KASU" That's right, it's a portion of an old aircheck of that evening's Moods in Music program. Inhaling deeply, gritting my teeth, and exhaling with a deep sigh, I press PLAY.

Holy crap, you mean I survived this musical molestation, night after night?????

Here are the super hits Talmadge Gleck, Hot-ta-trot KASU Good Guy, spun on a super Saturday night whilst the teens cruised Nettleton Avenue, 91.9 blasting on their Craig stereos:

ONCE UPON A SUMMERTIME / Frances Lai
Definitely not an easy one.
IF YOU GO AWAY / Jeanette Reno
Please.
AT EVERY END THERE’S A BEGINNING / Tom Jones
That's how I felt when I had to work the next evening's show.
I’M COMING HOME / The Living Brass
12:00 couldn't come soon enough. Either I'd go home (Twin Towers room #810), or I'd go walk the practice track behind the building, or sometimes meet up with Bolivar S. at Larry's Restaurant for a late-night meal.
ANNIE’S SONG / Placido Domingo
And now the sound of Moods in Music being strangled ... thank you.
I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU / Art Garfunkel
There were a couple of contemporary-esque albums. For some crazy, mysterious reason, The Weaker Half of Simon & Garfunkel's cover of the 1958 belly-rubbin' standard "I Only Have Eyes For You" was kosher on the KASU format. The scary thing is, I lived for the chance to play at least one thing bearing a faint resemblence to .... music .....
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER / Kay Hart
Bridge, nothing. I was swimming in it.
ONLY ONCE / Robin Wilson
If only it were.
MAKE IT EASY ON YOURSELF / Frank Purcell Orchestra
Impossible. The night was still young. 11:45 was hours away.
THE HILLS OF YESTERDAY / Henry Mancini
RAINDROPS KEEP FALLIN’ ON MY HEAD / Boots Randolph
For KASU is like a cloud, and it has rained on me. (apologies to D. Killion)
MY REVERIE / Jim Nabors
Where was Sgt. Carter when I needed him? PYYYYYYYLE!!!!!!
TRACES / Jane Morgan
STELLA BY STARLIGHT / Bob Crewe Generation
The BCG was most well-known for the hit instrumental (and Diet Pepsi commercial) "Music to Watch Girls By." This girl was Stella. And she was no looker. Neither was the record.
THE HANDS OF TIME (BRIAN’S SONG) / Perry Como
Drop-kick me, Perry, I want to swing on a star.
??? / Englebert Humberdinck
(I'd intro'ed this song just by artist, and then segued into the selection below)
SUNSHINE / Francois Hardy
And now the sound of John Denver getting his throat back. Please. And thank you.
(THEY LONG TO BE) CLOSE TO YOU / The Living Strings (Plus Two Pianos)
I kid you not. This made me feel rather bulimic............
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD / Julie Byrd
I think somewhere in the KASU library was the Jerry Vale LP containing his cover of "Revolution 9."
STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT / The Party-Timers
That was the name of the group. They recorded an album or two for the KAPP record label. If this was a party, why come I wasn't invited? I have a keg of some kickin' White House Apple Juice waiting for a rip-roarin' party.
PLEASE COME TO BOSTON / Roger Whittaker
Too bad this came before his last farewell.
LOVE WITHOUT WORDS / Johnny Mathis
Too much "music." Too little freedom. Too late, I'm stuck in here 'till 11:45.
CARA MIA / Mantovani Orchestra
Mi Cara fell asleep, too.

This was actually the 8:00 to 9:30 portion. There was nothing on the tape after this. Oh well.

In case you're wondering, there wasn't a dictated rotation; we had free reign to pick the music we played, so long as we didn't repeat any conspicuously, i.e. the 10-minute Carmen Cavallaro piano medley. "Free reign", of course, meaning "within the strict parameters of what's proper for the program."

Please do not misunderstand my feelings ... in my recent years, I've developed a closet fascination for classic "adult standards" (read: MOR) and some easy listening. Not all, just ....... some........ As you saw above, this was not even good MOR. Where's the bleedin' Sinatra??? Or Rosemary Clooney?? Ohhhh, but there was plenty of Jerry Vale, and a complete study in the recorded works of one Jim Nabors.

That's right. Back in my day, RTV majors at Arkansas State University learned radio by playing decrepit Jim Nabors albums.

I think the best comparison I could make here is that the KASU flavor of MOR was akin to a top-40 station playing nothing but the bottom third of Billboard's "Hot 100." All the stiffs and very little geniune hit product.

*********

When the chairman of the RTV department retired at the end of 1987 (coincidentally enough, the same time I finished my studies), that spelled the end of much of this insanity. Gradually, KASU began changing with the times. Dinner by Sunset was the first to go. And just one year later, while visiting Jonesboro, I heard something by Bobby McFerrin on Moods in Music -- something that would've gotten my balls cut off had I played him. By the early '90s, Moods had evolved even more ... becoming an awesome locally-produced version of Echoes. By the mid '90s, KASU completed its amazing transformation. Gomer Pyle has left the building.

And there you have it. Talmadge's musical hell. And you folks wonder why I'm so insane today.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Must ... have ... Led Zeppelin ...." Gleck

Radio "Kazoo", part 1

Today, a two-edged tribute to a great radio station.

Her call letters are KASU. It's the station licensed to Arkansas State University, located in the northeast Arkansas city of Jonesboro. She operates at the frequency of 91.9, with a full 100,000 watts of power. KASU is an NPR member station -- a charter member, in fact, as the station has been an affiliate since day one, 1970.

I feel a great reverence toward KASU, the first non-commercial station in Arkansas. There's also a really funny piece of trivia about KASU: When the station first signed on in 1957, the parent institution was known as Arkansas State College. The call letters they tried to secure for the new station were, as you might expect, KASC. Trouble is, they were already taken - by Arizona State College. So, after a little brainstorming, they tried KASU. Those calls were available, so they went with 'em ... the ulterior thought being "Arkansas State's on the grow ... one of these days we'll be a university, and then we'll be ready."

That's right: the radio station attained university status years before the college! Meanwhile, Arizona State became a university in the early '60s, and was said to have approached Arkansas State about trading call letters. Ark. State politely declined, and when ASC was bestowed university status by Arkansas' legislature in 1967, the call letters finally matched the licensee.

Today, KASU is a proud beacon of arts and information in northeast Arkansas, the Missouri "bootheel" and portions of three other states (Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky). It is a highly-valued outreach of Arkansas State, and its programming and credibility are unimpeachable.

Even when I was a paid student announcer (1984-1987), KASU's reputation for weather, news coverage and agricultural news were unmatched.

Today, KASU's musical offerings are diverse: everything from classical to jazz to "ambient" to blues. But 20 years ago, KASU's music was ..... well, if you could call it music. Students at A-State in the '70s and '80s, especially RTV majors, probably don't think back on KASU with a great deal of fondness. And there was a reason why.

There was a dirty little secret known only to those within listening range of 91.9 .... while there were some programs offered along the lines of "normal" Public Radio fare, including a limited amount of classical music, the dominant format of KASU once upon a time was:

EASY LISTENING.

And not the "Muzak"/"elevator" variety, either. This was horrible, second-tier middle-of-the-road (MOR).

Now why would a university radio station program such a horrid excuse of a format? Simple: the director of Radio/TV dictated it. And he liked that kind of music, so that's how it was.

The KASU music library was a marvel to behold when I was there. The seams of most album jackets had long since disintegrated, so they were being held together with massive amounts of duct tape. Records carried codes: "T" for male vocals, "V" for female vocals (I kid you not, and get your mind out of the gutter, Quagmire!), "G" denoted group vocals, "X" marked the spot for instrumental LPs, "S" was for soundtrack/cast recordings, and "R" was for classical (since there wasn't much classical music being played on KASU at the time -- the RTV director was said to have hated it -- those LPs were by and large pristine).

You'd think "C" would've stood for classical, but that was already taken: by Comedy. That was a mystery, because had any of us so much as dropped the needle on a comedy record, we'd have been strapped to the railroad tracks adjoining the ASU campus! I sure wish I could've liberated some of those comedy records, though; KASU had some original, promo (some with white labels) copies of vintage Stan Freberg, Smothers Brothers and Bob Newhart LPs. I want to shed tears just thinking about that missed opportunity........

We were by and large confined to the T, V, X and G albums for our shows. The records were full of surface noise, subjected to the flagrant abuse by many students who detested the crap they had to play. Looking back, KASU's audio processing deemphasized a lot of treble ... probably necessary, given the condition of those records.

There were a variety of programs, all calling for varying shades of the MOR genre. I shall now offer you a fer-instance in the form of the weekday schedule for KASU radio in 1986:

6:00 a.m. TOWN & COUNTRY RADIO HOUR
KASU began its broadcast day with an hour of programming aimed at the vast agricultural audience. It consisted of farm news, markets, hog and heifer futures, that sort of thing .... and a heapin' dose of easy listening music, preferably with hints of country -- a few steel guitars were okay(i.e. Danny Davis & The Nashville Brass), but not enough as to require trips to the dentist to reattached loosened teeth, or sudden carnal attractions to ones' cousin.

7:00 a.m. TODAY IN ARKANSAS
KASU didn't yet air NPR's Morning Edition. This was a locally-hosted version of the show, featuring NPR and regional news, weather, some interviews with local figures, and easy listening music -- usually midtempo to upbeat.

9:00 a.m. MORNING CLASSICS
One of two daytime programs devoted to classical music. Two hours' worth, hosted by students who often butchered pronunciations so badly they could've been served as hamburger.

11:00 a.m. SHOWTIME!
Strike up the band, fire up the footlights, and pull the "S" albums .... this was 30 minutes' worth of music from Hollywood and Broadway. One (1) album was featured per day, and what the poor student was supposed to do is read the liner notes between songs, to provide a synopsis of sorts. More often than not, the album was tracked ... at least to the extent 29 minutes allowed. Adding to the fun was the fact that the most recent soundtrack LP was, ohhhh, circa 1972.

11:30 a.m. THE WOMAN'S VIEW
"Featuring items of special interest to ladies." Y chromosomes, beware. Between appropriate easy listening/MOR selections, said "items of special interest" consisted of preproduced syndicated modular programs and feature stories pulled off the AP and/or UPI wires. All in all, a relatively harmless program.

12:00 noon MIDDAY
The most house-rockin' hour KASU had! You could play those uptempo, nearly big-band selections during this hour. You read the 'almanac' section off the AP wire at 12:30, and plugged in a module here and there, but the rest of the time it was good ol' Si Zentner, Ray Anthony or other head-banging MOR. The testosterone counterpart to Woman's View.

1:00 p.m. MUSIC OF THE MASTERS
One hour of afternoon classical music. Its theme was The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi, and even today when I hear it, my mind always catapults back to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

2:00 p.m. ACCENT ON MUSIC
Ahhhh, KASU's signature afternoon easy listening music program. Its theme was Rogers & Hart's "I'll Take Manhattan," and opened with the dulcet tones of KASU's then station manager, declaring "The accent is onnnnn MUSIC!!"

"Listen for a lively show tune ... music of your favorite vocal artist ... or a lush, dreeeeeamy instrumental. Whatever your musical taste, you'll find a pleasing tune on KASU's ACCENT ON MUSIC."

Some of us had another name for the program: Accident On Music.

3:45 p.m. LOCAL/REGIONAL NEWS
Self-explanatory. If I have to elaborate here, you're probably an Armstrong Atlantic student.

4:00 p.m. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
In 1986, here's where KASU finally resembles a normal Public Radio station.

At the time, ATC was a 90-minute program, not the two hours of today. At 5:30, KASU offered up a potpourri of news and information programs, including the module Star Date, some agri news, a sportscast, and a preproduced news package known as KASU Journal. And then.....

6:00 p.m. DINNER BY SUNSET
"Listen as the music forms a soothing pattern of pleasure......"

59 minutes of broadcasting which simply had to have been experienced in order to understand it. This was in no way to be confused with so-called "candlelight classics" programs often offered on Public Radio stations once upon a time, featuring classical music appropriate for the dinner hour.

This was no "classical" program. Dinner By Sunset was one thing, and one thing only: 59 minutes' worth of continuously-segued lush music. Mantovani, Living Strings, 101 Strings, Hollyridge Strings .... one right after another, without any breaks. Intro at the top, a brief station ID at 6:30, and a closing at 6:58:30. This, being played by college students at a radio station operated by a university.

7:00-9:00 usually marked a rotating series of various and sundry syndicated Public Radio programs, often symphony concerts.

The rest of the evening was devoted to the illustrious Moods in Music. It was a program of -- yup, you guessed it -- easy listening/MOR music, taking the poor listener (and poor announcer) through 11:45 p.m. The prescribed format called for something along the lines of Accide--er, Accent on Music at the beginning, and gradually get lusher and lusher as the evening progressed. By 11 p.m., you were to be just one notch above Dinner By Sunset.

A 15-minute newscast -- News Final -- wrapped up KASU's broadcast day.

To get a taste of just what the average "Ludes" in Music show contained, stand by for part 2....

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Good Nabors You Can Turn To" Gleck

24 August 2006

Oh, "GREAT"

It's about 1:30 in the morning, and -- having caught up on blogs -- I sit here in one mean state of wistful nostalgia. I just finished reading Nettiemac's tributes to her grandfathers and "Pop John", the former inspired by something I'd written .... a previous post (on another blog) about my grandfather, Big John.

And this got me thinking even more about Big John. Lately, his role in my life and all he was to me has suddenly asserted itself. Memories, big and small, have come back to my mind's stage.

Now, you're probably wondering just what in tarnation this has to do with the old Holiday Inn logo, perhaps the single most important piece of roadside Americana ever created, and the identity for the lodging chain from its inception in 1953 until circa 1982. Founder Kemmons Wilson designed it. He even gave it a name: The Great Sign.

NOTE: pictured here is my re-creation of their classic smaller roadside billboards -- the upcoming city's name in the marquee square, with the distance marked at the bottom. I used Bainbridge for two reasons: 1) my wife lived there for many years and has kinfolk in the area; 2) My Gran Lera used to always stop at the Holiday Inn restaurant in Bainbridge when going to Tallahassee to visit her sister and family.

Ruins of one such billboard still stood as of a couple of years ago: along US 80 between Montgomery and Tuskegee -- trailblazing the way toward the HI in Phenix City, Ala.


Well, some of the memories of my grandfather involved trips. He made many, brother did he ever. Sometimes I wish MY employer sent me all over the state on business (wish #2 to a genie: "Reincarnate me as Charles Kuralt!"). Many of those trips were business-related, and included stays at something called, ummmmm, er, ah, I believe it's called a "MOTEL."

Most of the time, Big John would rest his head at a Holiday Inn. And, I'm forever certain, basking in the solitude (!) and peace (!) of his Alabama Power Company-paid room. Comfortable bed. TV. White towels with "Holiday Inn" stitched in green. Paper "Sanitized For Your Protection" strips around the commode lid. The best swimming pool to be found. And, to top it all off, a "#1 Restaurant" Back then, Holiday Inns ran the on-premises eatery -- it was rarely ever 'outsourced', as is the case now -- and that restaurant was oft-times the best place to eat in town! A Holiday Inn was intended to be as much a community asset as it was a roadside motel for travelers.

Those restaurants were more important than you think. In 1971, fast food wasn't as common as it is now ... but even so, who cares; wasn't it nice to have a good place to grab a bite to eat, without having to get back into the car?? Holiday Inn restaurants weren't special -- their menus contained mostly basic, no-frills American food. Classic dining. Something for everyone. I'd give many things to have a good restaurant on the premises at a motel where I'm staying.

Just look at this artwork, from the cover of the Summer 1965 Holiday Inn directory:

Doesn't this image just make you want to bury your head in the keyboard and short it out with your sobbing? I know it's just a picture, but this could've been "any" family traveling in the '60s. Maybe yours.

See the kids? They're having a blast eating at a Holiday Inn. No bitching and moaning because Dad didn't stop at freakin' MICKEY D's. "I don't like this. There's no toy with the food. I want McDonald's! McDonald's!" (the word "McDonald's" repeated like a chant)

Damned kids of today.....they don't get it. :-)

Holiday Inns also had a feel about them. A distinct, welcoming feel. I can still picture the warm, yet dignified lobby, always with a hallway connecting it to the courtyard pool .... and the glass wall, partitioning the lobby from the restaurant. Behind the counter, jockeying the Holidex (the proto-Internet computer system created for making reservations at other HIs) was a friendly face. No attitude. No indifference. No cutting corners. No curry. There was a natural order to things in a Holiday Inn. Kemmons Wilson would've had it no other way.

The rooms were always clean. You knew what you were getting when you checked into a Holiday Inn, whether in Sacramento, California ... Sugarland, Texas ... or Summerton, South Carolina. All with the Great Sign out front, pulsating with its miles of electric wiring, hundreds of bulbs going off in a chase sequence, tubes upon tubes of neon, and -- God love it -- that star on top, with the multi colored 'rays.' To see the Great Sign in the distance was to mentally hear the words the neon and incandescent lights were trying to tell you: Hello. Enter. Welcome. Stay here tonight.

You had to have been there to see and appreciate the magic of a Great Sign all lit up at night. Trust me, it looked like no other sight on the nighttime roadside. (a precious few seconds of one at night can be seen in The Blues Brothers, just prior to the infamous "Murph & The Magic-Tones" lounge scene)

And, I'd always know when Big John had spent the night under a Holiday Inn roof. Because on my next visit to Birmingham, he'd bestow goodies upon my person -- the stationery (always in the drawer beneath the TV - several sheets of paper and a couple of envelopes), ink pen, post cards (some HIs had the generic post cards, but others got very creative with 'em) ... and often the latest copy of the "PASSPORT" motel directory.

My grandfather was also a world-class hoarder of matchbooks and soap. There was a small basket in his bathroom closet that contained dozens upon dozens of small bars of soap, wrapped in black-colored paper with the Great Sign logo emblazoned upon it.

And today, with apologies to any teacher who might read this, I proudly leave no motel soap behind. I hoard 'em. My "dop kit" has a ton of 'em inside as I speak. Big John would be proud.

[I cannot emphasize enough that my grandfather never once liberated a towel from a Holiday Inn .... he only took what he called the "disposable" items in a room]

And Holiday Inn today? I can't put it any other way except to say "a shitty joke of an overpriced motel coasting on its past glory." Too pricey for what you often get -- a small room, usually remodeled from one of Kemmons Wilson's old Inn designs, with very little real extras to speak of. Not a problem ... so long as I get what I pay for. Look, pal, when I want no frills, I'll stay at Motel 6. Believe it or not, Motel 6 has yet to disappoint me. Yeah, Motel 6. Who'd have thunk?

This reality was driven home in a big way earlier this week when I called the Holiday Inn outside of Pittsburgh, Pa. to make reservations for a trip late in September. Seraphim will be attending some Wilton Cake training up there, and it'll be held at this Holiday Inn. The "special rate" for the seminars were all for double bed smoking rooms, and that was $89.00. To get a king sized non-smoking room would've been $129.00!

I don't think so, Tim!! For starters, smoking rooms are out; I don't want to breathe in traces of our predecessors' smelly carcinogens. Second, do you really think my wife and I -- you'll never see either of us as poster folks for "Save the Children" -- would be comfortable on a standard double bed? You have to be anorexic to be comfortable sleeping two abreast on one. "Calista, you fatass, MOVE OVER!!"

Anyhoo, the lady at the HI answered the phone as "The Newly-Renovated Holiday Inn." Boy, talk about a color-guard of red flags! I pulled out one of my old "PASSPORT" books -- yup, there it was. This is a 1967-era property. The architecture didn't and doesn't allow for much modification from the original design .... back in the Great Sign days, Holiday Inn didn't have many high-falutin' rooms, they were mostly basic, one big room with TV on credenza, and a small table beside the one or two beds. Kemmons Wilson designed Holiday Inn for the middle-class traveler, with affordable rates. It was neither a flophouse "budget" chain, nor was it ever intended to be a high-end hotel!

I don't think the room we'd have gotten would've been worth the $89, much less $129.

We're going to spring for the Hampton Inn a block away -- $119 a night, but much better laid-out and you get The Hampton Bed. Damn, those are the most comfy things I've ever slept on. Like sleeping on a friggin' cloud.

I dare say Big John would've gone somewhere else, too.

That experience, along with thinking and reminiscing about my grandfather, got me thinking about the Holiday Inn of old. It was something special on the highways of my childhood.

Today, there's an abandoned Holiday Inn off I-85 in Tuskegee, Alabama. It left the chain in the early '80s and was an independent motel for a number of years before closing down for good. But it still retains most all the features of a circa-1973 Holiday Inn, right down to the yellow neon "RESTAURANT" atop the breezeway roof in a gothic-like font, typical of HIs built in that time frame.

I pass by that motel whenever I make my regular trips to Alabama to see my son. And every time I see it, I get all melancholy. I think about the original Holiday Inn. The way it used to be. Back when people who ran motels gave a rats' posterior about pleasing the traveler.

Man, what a concept.

Things WERE so much better a long time ago.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "The Blog's Innkeeper" Gleck

15 August 2006

One year ago today......

.....a longtime off-and-on "alter ego" name, Talmadge Gleck, was adopted for my venture into the blogosphere.

For those just joining the network, this "name" dates back to around October 1981. I was in 11th grade, and the name just came out while fiddle-fartin' around before class one day. The class, curiously enough, was Journalism. I was looking for a wacky name to use as a byline for a parody story I'd written. The name just came out. Talmadge Gleck. And for 24 (!) years, the name would tag along like a pesky younger sibling. It would occasionally emerge when I'd need a fake name for whatever. I dare say I used it a handful of times when I wrote a music & radio related column in a short-lived newspaper (1995-2000) in southeast Alabama.

Now, fast-forward to 2005. The idea of starting a blog appealed to me; to be honest, I miss doing that stupid little column back in Troy. But I also work in a moderately-visible profession. I wanted to vent what would sometimes be very outrageous, often politically-incorrect musings. The solution? A pseudonym.

And what better name than TALMADGE GLECK for such a venture.

Today's a red-byte day, as exactly one year ago -- 15 August 2005 -- Five Flavors of Reflections debuted with this dubious entry.

I predicted -- on this stage, rrrrrrighthere on this shew -- that my musings would constitute "a haphazard, erratic and off-kilter contribution to the blogosphere"

Wouldn't you agree that I've succeeded far beyond my wildest delusions expectations?

I know for certain that I have a small, but allegedly loyal, bastion of readers. Frankly, you all deserve a medal. Maybe even a gold medal. So hit the grocery store on your way home tonight, go to the baking aisle, pick up a package of Gold Medal ... then go make some cookies.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Rock, Paper and Scissors Anniversary" Gleck