Frank Gutch Jr: Radio— The Longest Acid Trip Ever; plus Notes

frank-pic1

GodDAMN, I feel sorry for the youth of today!  I just finished listening to Jaimie Vernon‘s Nightmare at 20,000 Watts yet again (What is that— 500 or so?) and I’m thinking radio, radio, radio and while The Vermin’s version might be the latest, it brings back an entire world pretty much lost these days.

I am awash with thoughts and memories and good good feelings (including Paul Revere & The Raiders‘) and grieve for the format— formats, actually, because radio has survived many decades by adapting and adapting is reinventing-for-survivals-sake, is it not?  I mean, when radio started… 

jaimienightmareWe’ll get there soon enough, but allow me to start at the end, as if there is one.  When Jaimie mentioned Nightmare to me a number of months ago, I confess to being intrigued.  “The end of radio as we know it” was his description and I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant, but my first time through the hour-long “broadcast” and I understood fully.  In one hour, he put to rest the foundation upon which the rock music industry was built— rock radio— or maybe I should call it music radio because it mattered not the genre— it was the music that counted.  Before that…  well, let’s just start with Nightmare and see where it leads us.

“All the hits are meant to be/Right here in the Beaufort Sea.”  That’s a radio jingle and damn if that doesn’t say it all.  Know anything about Canada?  Beaufort SeaWell, I didn’t.  Not much, anyway.  Turns out The Northwest Territories butt right up against northern Alaska, right up there close to the Arctic Circle.  You couldn’t pick much more of an isolated area to place a story and I am sure that is why Vernon picked it.  Well, it helps that it is part of Canada, him being Canadian and all.  No man’s land with the last remaining terrestrial radio station on Earth.  Science fiction.  AM radio.  In fact, AM radio’s last hour, at least as AM radio.  It is what radio used to be and used to be all about— entertainment.  (if you want to read more about the album and concept (and you do, whether you know it or not), click here and be informed.  It received The Great Gutchola Award this past year for creativity and performance beyond the call.

dick-clarkMan, but I love(d) radio.  It ruled my world when I was a child, the mental pictures so much better than the actual ones to be provided by television a handful of years later.  It introduced me to music long before Dick Clark‘s American Bandstand made its way to the wilds of Oregon.  I “watched” my first football and baseball games on radio and the radio gave me one of my few sports moments— I was riding in a car on Rodeo Drive in L.A. when, I think, Oregon (though it could have been Oregon State) pulled off a basketball upset, beating UCLA which had on their team at the time Bill Walton.  I made the girl who was driving pull off the road so I could get out of the car and do a little dance.  I hated UCLA.  Did you know that during the Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton years, Oregon and Oregon State were the only teams to pull off back-to-back victories against the Uclans?  Someone told me that once.  I hope to Christ it’s true.  I have never cared enough to fact-check it.  But thank you, radio, nonetheless.

peoplearoundradio

I didn’t think much of it back then, but when I tell my friends that radio broadcast track meets from the University of Oregon and Oregon State, they don’t believe me.  I remember walking down the street, radios blaring the meets from garages and through open doors of houses and from pickups and cars, old-timers (which meant they were over 25) leaning on doors or standing with a foot on the running boards, listening intently, beer or coffee in hand.  Not everyone in the old small town had a television set when Kennedy was assassinated and as I walked home from school, I looked through the windows of some houses to see people gathered around the radio, a la The Waltons.  It seemed like The Apocalypse.  Pearl Harbor all over again.  I often wonder how much greater was the impact of pictures of the Viet Nam War on TV than the mental pictures provided by radio.  Theater of the mind, indeed.

germanyinvadespolandWas television really the key to turning the populace in the US against the Viet Nam War?  Could radio have done it?  Possibly, but not as quickly nor as thoroughly, I am sure.  Still, radio brought war home during WWII.  My parents would occasionally tell of sitting around the “talk box” listening to any and all news they could about the war in Europe.  It started early, pre-War for the US.  Radio was there for the invasion of Poland in 1939, and for the Pearl Harbor bombing— the day which finally brought war home to Americans.  D-Day and the dropping of the Atomic Bomb was covered, as well as many battles in Europe and on the islands of the Pacific.  Perhaps not at the moment they happened, but soon enough thereafter.  Many broadcasters made their careers by being at the Edward R Murrowright  place at the right time, whatever that means.  Edward R. Murrow is probably the most remembered, but that could be because after the war, he continued to build a stellar career not only in radio but on the new television device which would turn us all into slobbering idiots and teach us that thinking for ourselves was a fools errand.  On the other side of the coin, radio provided such characters as Tokyo Rose, Axis Sally, and Lord Haw Haw means of spouting their supposed truths— not unlike the Fox News of today.  I can hardly imagine the impact of such broadcasts, but radio in itself, during those trying times, carried a lot of weight.  Perhaps when the chips are down, as Marshall McLuhan has suggested, the medium really is the message.

warbondsad

While radio was going to change drastically after the war (as life in the Americas would on all levels), it would grow before being edged out by television.  A battle had been going on for a short time, much of it behind closed doors because of the War and broadcasting’s commitment to it, which was to pit sound against picture-with-sound.  While it is true that television in the end won the battle, radio did not go down without a fight.

Radio was, indeed, still king for some time after WWII.  Not a little of that came on the skirts of Hollywood.  The motion picture moguls, some of whom had started in radio, put their might behind the medium.  In the thirties, broadcasts from Hollywood became common.  It was a two-way street, really, the stars of Hollywood populating the airwaves with radio supplying future stars.  During WWII, it became even more commonplace, everyone pitching the war effort— toting those bales and selling them bonds.  When the treaties had been signed, though, it became business again.  Only big business.

Without going into the history in detail, let us just say that business boomed.  By the time I got to college in 1965, TV and radio had split the profits, TV building upon the entertainment factor, radio becoming the beacon of the soundtracks of our lives, as people call it.  Our family may have been a bit late to television (we got one Christmas of 1954, I believe), but it quickly became a centerpiece.  How could it not be for us kids, who came home right after school because Mickey Mouse Club and American Bandstand and even Eugene, Oregon’s knockoff of Bandstand, Teen Scene, were on the air.  When they weren’t on, though, it was radio for most of us, rock ‘n’ roll having filtered its way into our youthful genes.  There was nothing better than turning the radio way up when Momma and Dad weren’t home to get the full effect of, say, The FranticsFog Cutter or The RoyaltonesPoor Boy.

I became accustomed to radio early, you see, my young self carried away by the sounds of Jo Stafford and Dean Martin and the like.  I heard the story of Momma picking me up when I was a child and dancing me around the room to Shrimp Boats so many times that I swear I can remember it though I probably can’t.  Momma plopped me down in front of the radio many times to get me out of her way, turning on then-educational radio station KOAC (the letters may have stood for Oregon Agricultural College which later became Oregon State College and then Oregon State University).  Afternoons were filled with what they called “cultural” broadcasts then— classical music, literature readings, childrens storytelling.  I don’t think I have ever felt as safe as those nights when Momma and Dad sat reading, the radio playing low in the background.

The radio dramas (and comedies) changed my life, as it did most of youths.  I didn;t really understand what going to college meant until I heard Ronald Colman as a professor in radio’s The Halls of Ivy.  There was something about the program which captivated me at a very young age and while Momma was telling us kids our future was college, it became real when the glee club sang the theme from that program at the beginning and end of each show.  I found myself so attached to it that I began looking for books about college at the library, books which were far too advanced for me to read at the time.  When The Glenn Miller Story hit movie screens, I could remember little outside of the scenes filmed in Boulder, was it?  That was college!  That was where I wanted to be.

uolibraryThe really cool thing about the University of Oregon was its library—  this huge labyrinthine structure which housed so many books it took my breath away every time I entered.  Our little school library at Sweet Home High and even the small town library, as good as it was, was minuscule in comparison.  In fact, there was no comparing beyond the fact that they all contained books.  I had never seen so many books in one place.  As a freshman, I would go there to study and would find myself spending two hours exploring instead of reading.  Maybe my grades weren’t the best, but I knew that library like Mr. Peabody knew the WABAC Machine (Yeah, I always thought it was “wayback,” too).  By the end of my four year run, I knew everything about it, including the “book stacks.”

fundamentalsofbroadcastingThe Book Stacks (and I hope I am getting the terminology right) were rooms which ran the edges of the old building and held books which had proven themselves of dubious consequence re: education.  Books tossed aside for the newer volumes which were appearing by the truckload on what seemed a daily basis.  Rather than trash those books, someone at the University thought it best to store them in an out of the way place, just in case.  I would have shaken that person’s hand mightily, had I known his or her identity, because I lived in those rooms during portions of my college existence.  The books I found there were not germane to my studies, on the whole, but oh what I learned!  I learned about the early days of radio, and not just the basic history as supplied by the textbook for Fundamentals of Broadcasting, a 100-level course necessary for me to gain my Radio-TV Broadcasting degree.  I learned the deep history:  How and why the Federal Communications Commission was set up.  How networks virtually wrote their own laws.  How licenses were granted.  I learned about the creation of NBC’s Red and Blue Networks and how they were eventually “forced” to give up one or the other (the term “forced” is in parentheses because even though the history pundits claim that NBC was preparing the Blue Network for sale, there is more than a hint of antitrust in many of the documents of the period).  Edd Wynn failed in his quest for a radio network.  William Paley and David Sarnoff’s building of broadcasting empires.  The books were dusty and the writing mot the best in places, but the stories they told!  The real history, not the handpicked history we are so often given.

1946selfchargingportableradio

Of course, radio was morphing big-time in the fifties and sixties, variety programming giving way to music.  Rock ‘n’ roll was a moneymaker, it seemed, and when music became portable, it fed the fire.  Car radios were fine, if you happened to have a car, but so many teens did not.  The transistor changed all of that, though, and the availability of music on-the-go gave radio the boost it needed.  All of a sudden, you could hit the beach, pick beans, take the radio into your room or out on the porch.  All of a sudden, music followed you and it made a tremendous difference.  Disc jockeys became friends and even members of your family, in a way.  Radio station jingles became as popular as the songs played.  Your choice of radio station in some cases defined which group of people you ran with.  Music became the message.

With what became known as Old-Time Radio gone, a strange phenomenon occurred.  While not specific to radio, small groups of people began mimicking what radio had once been.  Some, like SF’s The Committee, Firesign Theatre Nick Dangerbegan performing live as did others.  Monty Python blasted out of the UK to take over the globe around the same time The Firesign Theater cranked up their engine.  All of a sudden, radio had gone psychedelic, or so it seemed.  While it is true that The Pythons took theirs to TV and the screen, Firesign took theirs to radio and the stage.  Those were glorious days for comedy.  You were never quite sure what you would get, but what you got was mostly well worth it.

Later came The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its following work, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  Add the Pythons and the Firesigns to that and you had brain cells frying everywhere.

Now that you have the basics, let’s look at Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts again.  Here is what I didn’t tell you before.  This is not just about the last broadcast of a genre.  This is history, albeit a fake history, of radio as it has evolved with an end all too obvious to those of us who have lived through it.  Vernon wrote a complete history, Cliff’s Notes-fashion, of radio station CRCK-FM,(Sea Rock) broadcasting out of Sachs Harbour on Banks Island in the Northwest Territories.  He traces it back to its beginnings as an RCMP Ranger outpost to its last broadcast many decades later.  He suggests in a roundabout way that had the station been anywhere but in virtual isolation, it would have been put out of commission earlier.  Much earlier.

The last broadcast of a pop radio station in the far reaches of Northern Canada may seem like a stretch for many of you (chances are, you have no idea where Banks Island is on the map or in reality).  CRCK lives in the same dimension for me as The Thing on the Fourble Board (as presented on Quiet, Please, an old-time radio program) or Leiningen Versus The Ants (as presented by Escape, with William Conrad taking the role of Leiningen) or Mars is Heaven, a Ray Bradbury tale adapted for radio for the program X Minus One.  It holds together as well as any of the Cruisin’ series of broadcasts recreated by the classic disc jockeys of the fifties and sixties (Bob Segarini knocks his role out of the park, playing Brian “The Iceguy” Campbell, the DJ chosen to shut the station down).

Radio isn’t dead yet, but it has been severely injured by corporate carpetbaggers, right-wing power-grabbers and overseers who seemingly would rather shut the whole thing down than actually make any rulings based upon any ideals beyond money.

jaimieandthebossThere was a time that segments of the population actually cared about the airwaves and what they could mean to a people.  Now, the few who do care are held at bay by those who look upon radio as the crumbling vestiges of a bygone era best left to die on its own, but only after they have squeezed every last dollar out of it that they can.

I loved radio.  I still do.  And I applaud Jaimie Vernon for putting Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts together.  The music is original, folks, most of the tunes written specifically for this project.  The music performances, available on their own in what Vernon claims is a “Singles Edition,” are damn good.  The story and broadcast themselves are worth the price of admission.

You see, for some of us, radio is more than a few broadcasts or a way to get music to someone’s ears.  It is (and was) a way of life.   In my world, it really began at station KDKA in Pittsburgh back in the twenties.  While it is still going, I can close my eyes and imagine CRCK, isolated in a world in which Sterno and beaver hunting still play a role, fades to silence.  I will hate it, but that is maybe what we have in store.  Then again, maybe not.  Maybe it’s all a figment of our imaginations.  Eh?

Well, here are things which are not  figments of anyone’s imagination…..

NotesNotes…..  Is this cool or what?  An RCA promo showing how LPs are made.  Two things before you watch.  Even though the lady does a good job handling the album, it is not cool to put fingers anywhere on the grooves, which she does just before placing the record on the spindle.  It is also uncool to “drop” the album as it could lead to man-made defects.  My father always told me to have respect for your tools.  In my line of chosen labor, the long playing album is the most important tool I have.

As long as we’re digging into the past, how about these clips from around 1965?  A little Joni Mitchell, pre-media, meaning before the legend took over.  It is our own fault that we make stars bigger than life.  We seldom remember them as persons but as actors or musicians or whatever their chosen professions turn out to be.  We disregard the early years or go back later and turn them into much more than they were.  Without the legend, we would not care what said Jimmy Page nor any of the other demigods in the “public” consciousness.  But sometimes it is interesting to view the human side on the trip to fame.

More from the new generation out of Charlottesville:  Erin & The Wildfire.

Frank and Moselle, better known as Crushed Out, surf the web.  They come to your town, you might want to catch Moselle surf the drum kit as well.

For vinyl freaks and for anyone who just plain digs good music buried by this new music business, don’t forget Nylon Union, a band from Slovakia which released an outstanding  album (Sine Sine) in the not too past past.  Here is a track from that album.  Seriously, folks, if these guys were from Boston or Toronto, chances are you would be hearing about them.  Click here for just a taste of what they do.

I can finally stop wondering why Chloe Albert has been taking so much time getting her next album out.  She just posted on her website a picture of her and her newborn son, Daniel.  This time, I will give her a pass, but damn, I want a new album!

I’m pretty sure that Israel Nash is the same guy who recorded an album a few years ago under the name Israel Nash Gripka, and he’s up to his old tricks of knocking the music out of the ballpark.  Think early seventies and Crazy Horse, only acoustic.  Videos like this are a reason for watching the Relix site closely.

And as long as we’re on the subject, listen to this!  Live at Electric Lady Studios—

From the vaults— one of my all-time favorite bands— The Green Pajamas— live on The New Spud Goodman Show around ’89.

This certainly doesn’t sound like geese honking to me, but that is what Nick Hornbuckle named this tune.  The banjo is a strange instrument and can be made to sound so different from one song to the next.  Nick has a touch.

This, hot off the press.  Teb Blackwell just today sent me a notice that his new book, Oklahoma Guide to 45 rpm Records and Bands, 1955 -1975, Vol. II, is done and ready for sale.  I haven’t seen it yet, but Teb did yeoman’s work on the first volume.  If you are a music historian or just want to scratch beneath the surface, this one’s for you.  You can contact Teb at tbii@comcast.net.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: