Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My kind of town......

 City of the Big Shoulders....

        I returned home to Chicago...around 1960-61.  
I was Program Director of a 50,000 watt Chicago radio station at 25 years of age.  And I was already well seasoned in the profession to make a go of it in the Windy. (Tough luck WMAY in Springfield!)
Rock music was just catching on and the teens and college-age kids were going crazy over it.  
At this time there were basically two Chicago radio stations “playing the hits” from CASHBOX not Billboard magazine...and WJJD was one of them.  The other WLS...WLS was not a factor they would be in the coming years.
The other station was WIND with their top personality Howard Miller.
WJJD was successful and unusually so because it’s broadcast hours were limited...just like the station I was at in Washington DC.
Here comes a little tech talk...but it’s something  strange in the history of radio.  WJJD  like WPGC(am) was what you called in the business “a daytimer”.  Those stations signed on the air at sunup and had to sign off the air at sundown.  
But the FCC...Federal Communications Commission had allowed  some extra broadcast hours for WJJD...probably based on pleas from the owners that they had to serve the needs of the millions of farmers who lived within earshot of the station’s signal.  Those kind of things generally work well with Washington decision makers.
So we didn’t have to wait for sun up.  We had a set 4 am Chicago time sign on 7 days a week.  But there was a catch and this is really weird.
Because of the huge power generated by our station’s transmitter...(we covered about forty states even during the day) the Commission ordered us to shut it off at 7AM every day for 15 minutes.
This would allow a Salt Lake City station on our same frequency to go on the air and establish it’s signal which then blocked ours in their area when we went back on in fifteen minutes.
Like I said...unusual and I believe the ONLY mandate of it’s kind in radio history.  But don’t hold me to that.
As you can imagine we had a lot of fun explaining this each day to our listeners.  But we had to because there was nothing for them to do but switch to another station at 7AM and we didn’t want that.  Howard Miller over on WIND didn’t have to shut down for fifteen minutes each day!
We were also allowed a couple of hours extra in the evening even AFTER sundown.  I remember we had regular listeners in Boston to our programs.

        As the new PD at WJJD I had to make some decisions that would reflect the music...more than the personalities.
As a result I fired Jack Spector.  
        That’s right...THE Jack Spector who wasn’t a big name yet....but who would return to New York City and become one of the WMCA “Good Guys”.  He’d be working for a long time.  And he never thanked  me for canning him!
I would have a similar situation in 1985 after five years of talk in Philadelphia at WWDB(FM).  Change of ownership brought in new managers and they bounced me out.
If that hadn’t have happened I probably wouldn’t have come to Miami (again),,,wouldn’t have worked again with my friend Neil Rogers nor would I have met my lovely wife, Lauri, who bore me a son, Christopher in 1988.  Chris has made life worth living for me with all the ups and downs of my profession.
Also...when the Miami run ended I then got this great idea to do a national midnight talk show...LIVE... inviting listeners to call in from all over the country.  There was no LIVE national program like this at the time, 1992, and we hit a gold mine doing it! 
But there’ll be alot more on this later.
We had some trouble with the City of Chicago...the police...and about a thousand unhappy concert fans who couldn’t get into see a station sponsored show featuring (I think) Johnny Rivers.  He had the number one record at the time and we booked a “too small” arena and couldn’t handle the crowd.  There was a riot.  Memphis and local management came down on me but I just shrugged as it was great publicity for us. And it showed the impact we were having in the city.
Then...there was “Stan Major’s mystery girl” or something like that.  
I was shopping at Marshall Fields Department store and I noticed this really beautiful girl doing the same.
I went on my show the next day and out of the blue...started challenging her to call in.  I described what she looked like..what she was wearing and the time and place I spotted her. I punched it between records for about an hour. 
She called.  It WAS her (I had not revealed a couple of things and she confirmed them.) How’s that for impact. Out of the millions of females in Chicagoland this one I chose actually heard the show and called to confirm.      Wow.  We were riding high.
Then I began another experiment.
I had about a half dozen friends at big stations around the country.  I got a box of records from an artist named Troy Shondell...and as an experiment to see if I could make this crummy record a hit just by asking my buddies to play it. I sent it to them...
they did play it...and you can check to see that Tory's THIS TIME was
one of the top ten records in 1960.

Getting fired...well almost.

I have to be careful how I write this so bear with me.
As PD it was my job to program the records WJJD would play and how often.  We generally based this on Cashbox Magazine which was everyone’s bible.  Nobody even read Billboard.  Now...all the libraries have Billboard and have a lot of misinformation on record popularity out of sink with what Cashbox had.  It’s a shame but nothing can be done.
There is someone trying to keep the Cashbox dream alive and they contacted me a few years ago because they had read something I wrote about using Billboard for toilet paper.  You might Goggle:
Cashbox Magazine
                                    and see what pops up.
One of the big record companies representatives kept giving me a hard time...I wasn’t caving in to play his records as much as he I finally had enough and bared him from the station.
Turns out he was friendly with some company execs who didn’t take kindly to my decision on the guy.
Orders were issued to fire me over this.  I was given two weeks notice as we were an union shop (American Federation of Tv & Radio Artists).
They brought in a nice guy named Mel Hall...and he assessed the situation quickly and ask me to be his "Sign ON" guy.  
       This was a tough shift..driving from our Mt. Prospect house  15 miles down to Michigan Avenue at the river by about 3:30-3:45AM six days a week to sign the powerful station on at 4AM.  I would do a DJ shift until the funny 15 minute shutdown at 7AM and then the regular morning guy would follow me. 
I would be free from 7AM until 4am the next day.  Not bad except for the winter snow... blizzards and winds that chill every bone in your body off the lake.       I took the job...never saw record management types.  I did this for some months until I just couldn’t take the weather anymore. 
I had the Hollywood bug again and decided to pull up stakes and give LA one more try.
I had an idea for the Rat Pack...or personally for Frank Sinatra and as I reached him once (from Peoria) I was going to try it again...but this time I wanted to be near him...just in case I perked his interest.
I had also made a good contact with a producer who was involved in a new Bob Newhart  comedy show being shot at NBC Burbank studios.

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