Frank Gutch Jr: Before Radio Was Radio, It Was Television, Part Two… Plus Notes

Frank Gutch young

If I hadn’t known rock radio was cool before I saw Gentleman Jim Hunter, drivetime disc jockey for KRKT Radio in Albany Oregon, lean out and wave to the crowd which had gathered beneath the huge T&R sign, I would have known it then.  The sign was HUGE, the main section trucked in on a double-flatbed , and was the talk of the Willamette Valley as it was erected right next to Interstate 5, then a fairly new project itself.

T and R Sign

Hunter broadcast the grand opening from about a hundred feet in the air, ensconced within the sign itself, but would occasionally stick his head out with mic in hand and encourage the crowd, which not only packed the parking lots but whose cars lined the road which went over the freeway into Albany, to cheer and shout.  That was what live promotion was back then— a lot of hoopla and personalities and the occasional live band.  In this case, no band was needed.  The sign was enough.  And wouldn’t you know, I searched high and low in this damn Internet thing which was supposed to give the world access to just about everything and could not find one damn picture of the sign to show you what a monster it was.  What few I found were closely guarded by the people who posted them and I have no real problem with them, but damn!  You would think there would be one, for chrissakes!

Oh I already knew the power of radio.  I grew up in the cusp between the major radio networks and their nightly and weekend programming which slowly became television’s nightly and weekend programming (like, for instance, did you know that Gunsmoke ran on both radio and TV for a time, each with a different cast?) and rock radio— the all-day and half-the-night rock extravaganza as portrayed in the movie American Graffiti.

xerbchart

Yes, Virginia, there was a Wolfman Jack and he did broadcast on free-channel station XERB just across the border in Mexico, though I do believe his actual broadcasts originated on US soil.  I remember placing the transistor radio beneath the pillow to deaden the sound (Dad would have taken it away had he known) so I could listen to stations we could not get during the day— XERB, KSL out of Salt Lake City unless my brain wires have been crossed, and many more which would fade in and out at the whims of that crazy ozone layer.  I went to sleep listening and, as a result, would find myself constantly begging for battery money (“Jesus Christ, Bud, I just gave you money for batteries!  What are you doing, eating them?!!” at which point I would pout and say some very Father-Knows-Best-like, like “Aw, jeez” until he caved, which he always did if he had cash in his pocket).

Even before that, I knew that radio was as important as eating, though I luckily never had to find out.  When I could talk my sister into it, when I was really young I would grab her transistor and walk around “the grounds” (a cornfield and a swamp with a sewer creek flowing alongside) listening to Barney Keep spin platters on KEX.  He had a slot on weekends I never missed (unless my sister had co-opted the radio) on which he played the coolest and the greatest.  One gray afternoon sticks in my head.  I heard Charlie Gracie‘s Butterfly, which I absolutely loved, followed by Jimmy Bowen‘s brand new song, By the Light of the Silvery Moon.  That’s right.  The same tune probably performed by Dorothy Collins or Snooky Lanson on Your Hit Parade, only rockabillied up somewhat.  I gave it a 98.  I think I still have that 45, though a bit worse for the wear.

Bob Segarini knows what I am talking about.  He writes about radio in the Bay Area and around Stockton California with great zeal— the stations the record stores, the eateries (those who do not understand the connection between food and music really need to do some research).  He remembers radio as do I, as a living and driving-force organism.  He knew the jocks and the musicians and the music around Stockton.

alirecords

He had a record player in his freaking car!!!  (That is not Bob in the picture) We bonded over those days.  Pop Culture Press magazine was preparing for a “Summer of Love” issue and gave me a list of musicians to interview.  Bob was on the list.  It would have been a good interview because I was prepared, but it turned out to be a great interview because we fed off of one another’s questions and comments to the point that we lost all contact with the real world.  I don’t think I have ever laughed so much doing an interview.  By the time we were done, I knew more about Stockton than one man should be allowed and I was sore from the laughter.  What does this have to do with the subject at hand?  It was radio that gave us a common bond!  We were like two war vets rehashing good and bad times.  We were at our high school reunion.  We were working at the same radio station and competing for best set!  (A set is a string of songs which flow smoothly within a certain framework and, if done right, build to a crescendo by news time at the top of the hour.  (“Nice set, Ice Man.”  “Thanks, man.  Want a hit?)  A few years later, he would ask me to write a column for DBAWIS.  I personally think he just wanted to relive his teen years.

markebabyWhereas radio in the older days united families (i.e., gave them something to do together like listen to variety shows and aural sitcoms), rock radio united teens.  While doing research for a story on Fort Worth’s Space Opera, I was introduced to a flock of like-minded adults who remembered their like-minded teen days joyfully, and not just musicians.  A lot of what I heard revolved around radio station KFJZ and two of their dee jays, Mark Stevens (Mark E. Baby) and Randy Robins (The Big R).  They were central, along with The Beard Brothers, in getting live music to the kids.  If there was truth in what the now-adults said about KFJZ, Stevens and Robins were welcome in just about every home in the Fort Worth area.

doughertyandfriendsIn my old stomping grounds, the Willamette Valley of Oregon, stations fought over the rights to sponsor teen dances and, thanks to Ed Dougherty and his E.J.D. Enterprises, some stations scored big with the teens.  Station KBZY in Salem helped Dougherty stage more than a few shows and KRKT (Albany), KGAL (Lebanon), and KFLY (Corvallis) had, during the summer, shows on most weekends.  The number of national, regional, and local bands who played the National Guard Armory circuit was humongous and radio sponsorship grew with every show.

I saw bands like The Wailers and The Sonics and Don & The Goodtimes and The Bards and a whole string of  artists who were little known outside of the Pac NW.  All brought to Lebanon, Albany, Corvallis and Eugene (the four closest cities to my hometown of Sweet Home) by radio stations.  In the case of many of those artists, the stations were playing their latest (and, in the case of The Wailers and The Sonics, their entire catalogue of) releases.

My favorite story to tell is of The Roadrunners.  They came through to play a gig at the Albany Guard Armory and stopped by KGAL, unannounced.  They told the receptionist they were playing Albany that night and wanted to leave a 45 for airplay.  The DJ on duty told her to send them up (the studio was on the second floor), grabbed the 45 out of their hands, slapped it on the turntable and told the listeners that they were in the studio and were playing Albany that night, and spun it.  The phones evidently lit up.  The track was I’ll Make It Up To You (they played the flip, too) and the kids loved it.  They left 25 copies at a small store in downtown Lebanon and they were gone by the next day.  The thing that makes the story so cool is that I don’t believe that was a KGAL-sponsored dance but one sponsored by a competitor.

I was in the Army with a guy who took radio to heart and made it an occupation.  No FM for him.  He wanted the pilot seat and the only ones existing were on AM radio.  He started out as a typical teen with hormones aplenty, got the music bug, and ended up on the air.  In front of the mic on concert nights too because he partnered up with someone in Detroit and backed shows by Frijid Pink and Salem Witchcraft and a handful of other local bands.  Of course, the radio station through some big shows so on occasion he would find himself at the Grande Ballroom introducing whichever act was top on the bill as well as the locals.  Here’s how he says he got into radio— you kind of have to read between the lines.

michaelmarinoforshah 001The Pez and Hulahoop generation was embracing this new music like a long lost lover. It was and still is the three chord trinity Holy Grail. We not only told Laura we loved her and gave her one last kiss as she smiled sweetly and took her last breath in our arms amidst the twisted and tangled metal wreckage— once a car, now unrecognizable. Our teen angel was gone, dead, zero to 60 in 14 seconds. Thank God the car was insured! However, amidst all the angst and the anger, Danny and the Juniors still had a positive outlook and invited us all to the Hop to dance the night away and forget our cares and woes. (In the picture, Marino is on the right)

There was reel to reel when reelin’ and a-rockin’ and cassette tapes and eight tracks and quad and now, the i-Pod. A diseased parasite that eats away at the sound quality of the final product and the poof! there goes the disappearing album cover art work. Vinyl produced a sound quality still unmatched today but the album cover art, damn Louvre stuff if you ask me…Led Zeppelin albums, the Janis Joplin Cheap Thrills album and of course the Holy Grail of album cover art…Sergeant Pepper! Then again, there is also the White Album…The sound systems were towers of power, along with turntables and amps, RCA plugs everywhere in and out of every electronic orifice.

One thing you learn to overcome when you’re working your ass off in morning radio is to lose your “fear of heights”..the radio waves that carry your voice…your persona on a magic carpet ride across the sky and into the A/FM radio of a regions listeners. You have to not let the fact that there may be thousands listening to your every word, move, and waiting for that inevitable live radio fuck up…equipment failure, tongue failure (more often than not) or unplanned mishap that may occur and following the law of Murphy… it is inevitable.

The other fear to overcome is stage fright. Being on air, especially a morning show (the Olympus of radio gigs) you will be asked to MC shows that come to town that the station sponsors and you will be responsible for getting out in front of 10,000 or more screaming rock and roll (and country music) fans to scream louder, overflow with enthusiasm and intro the band…at ten decibels yourself with only a microphone to protect you from a crowd of adrenaline-rushing drug-infused audiences who get carried away as you are the only thing standing in the way of that first note of “Stairway to Heaven”

Okay, maybe it doesn’t tell how he got into music but it certainly tells you how hooked he was.  When the Detroit scene fell apart, Marino moved from station to station as all who wanted to work in radio did after the bubble burst.  He finally turned to writing to survive and it is a good thing he did because he has been turning out reams of stories about not only radio but pop culture and beyond.  You can find his works by clicking here.

The thing that always impressed me about Mike was that he came out of nowhere and is still going.  I told him he needed to write for years and when he finally put fingers to typewriter he couldn’t stop.  I mean, the dude has worn many hats but the one I believe has been his best is writing.

donsteelekisn
Outside of Oregon, I think if you mentioned Oregon radio, the response would have been KISN who were the 800 pound gorillas in that region.  Portland was their base and they had listeners in the many thousands and during their heyday had the city RealDonSteelepretty much wrapped up.  They were, after all, the KISN Good Guys, the template for most of the jocks in Oregon wanting to hit the bigtime.  I didn’t listen to them because their signal was weak, but they had a reputation way beyond that of the much smaller stations of the mid-Valley.  The only KISN jock I remember was Don Steele, who gave up Portland for the more lucrative market of Los Angeles.  I wouldn’t even remember that but for his name being included in Don & The GoodtimesI’m Real.  It’s at the end, folks, but the song is only a little over two minutes long.

For myself, FM Underground saved radio from a sinking grave.  When I returned to Eugene from the Army in 1971, AM was as weak as it had ever been, to my mind.  The hits were beginning to not be hits, if you know what I mean, and most of the good stuff, unless released as singles, got little if any airplay.  In stepped KZEL and the deep track format.  Perfect timing, too, because the whole music scene was exploding wide open.  Those guys played Dave Mason to death (every track), jumped all over Rod Stewart, played The Doobie Brothers right out of the box and at night it was a free-for-all.  A dude name Gary Palmatier (God, I hope I got that right) AKA The Wasted Potato reigned until midnight and, man, did I get turned on to some outstanding music.  Even today, I can hear the trifecta of all-time for me— The FunkadelicsMaggot Brain, War‘s Four-Cornered Room, and Curtis Mayfield‘s Freddy’s Dead, 1-2-3.  The even more amazing thing was that he started his next set with The TemptationsMasterpiece.  My mind was fried.  Let’s see, by this time KZEL had worked out the glitches of the whole underground thing— maybe summer of 1973.  Play these in a row and you will have an idea why radio was important back then.

I was laying on the semi-couch in the living room and feeling stoned as hell, though I wasn’t, and thinking that it doesn’t get better than this (I said that a lot back then) when Palmatier came back from a break only to start again with this.

Wasted Potato, wherever you are, I hope you are doing well.  That was one of the best radio nights of my entire life.

That cruisin’ scene you see in American Graffiti?  We had that, too.  On weekend nights, we would “cut the gut” or whatever you called it in your town— hop into a car if you were lucky enough to have one or know someone who did— and cruise.  In Eugene, it was downtown Eugene (Willamette Street) straight out about four or five miles past Civic Stadium where the Emeralds played baseball.  It got so bad sometimes that the cops would shut the road down and cars would go to their favorite hangouts and park.  But when things were running, it was something else.  One night I remember everyone tuned in to KASH radio (1600 on your radio dial) and the volume high.  Swear to God, it was better than beer.

I occasionally revisit the old Cruisin’ series of records and flash back to those days.  Of course, Eugene was not big enough of a market to warrant their own album but we thought our jocks could kick their jocks’ asses, even the king of radio up here in the Pac Northwest, Pat O’Day.

I am positive that KASH or even KEED could have kicked either KJR’s or KISN’s asses when it came to music.  Those jocks knew their stuff and were not afraid to play it.  Here are a few which made it onto their playlists of which you are not aware.  This was pure energy bar for the teens in Eugene.  If you heard these, you must have lived somewhere close by or maybe visited your cousins one summer.

From Salem, Oregon.  The Live Five.

From Eugene, Oregon.  Little John & The Monks.

From Seattle, Washington.  The Viceroys.

From Bellevue, Washington.  The City Zu.

From Eugene, Oregon.  The Dominions.

And the first Don & The Goodtimes song I ever heard.

You know, your parents and your grandparents?  They grew up in a different world.  So next time you smell moldy breath when they try to tell you about the past, humor them.  This was important (and to many, it still is).  It’s not like they chose to be born when they were.  But, like me, I will bet that they wouldn’t change it for anything.

Some good things happening these days, music-wise, so how about we get started with this weeks…

NotesNotes…..   It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer, probably because I write about them as much as I can, but I was just just about to put them on my no-fly list because they left me out of the loop for a new video I just found on the Net.  I mean, when I back good musicians, I back good musicians, you know?  Well, my email blasting them for this oversight when I checked the date on the vid and sonofagun if it wasn’t posted a year ago.  A good song, regardless.  I realize that one thing I really like about them is their unique sound.  No one approaches a song quite like them.  For instance…..

I assume that this is the bubblegum of the 2000s, but just like ? Rock On, I dig it.  Major chords, tongue-in-cheek, and a lady who really does know how to play the drums with passion (I know because I checked her out in a few live videos).  Hey, it has a good beat and you can dance to it.  I give it a solid 93.  The Two Tens.

And after watching this, which I like even more, I’m beginning to wonder how these guys got overlooked.  If they did.  I mean, none of my friends or acquaintances have mentioned them.  Of course, I hang out with an odd lot.

Bobby Gottesman over at I Can’t Believe My Earz is always turning over rocks and finding the unusual.  This one is from the Kafka Band and does indeed have lyrics courtesy of Franz Kafka.  It is sung in, I assume, German, which is an oddity in a world bowing mostly to English (it’s the economy, Stupid!), and has a graphic novel approach.  Very interesting.  I wonder if they got permission from ol’ Franz to use the lyrics…

Laurie Shook of The Shook Twins posted this video this past week, a sort of chronology of the band’s existence and journey.  She said she has been doing this all along and I think it’s is a swell idea.  All bands should do this.  ALL!  Steve Koski of Notary Sojac kept a journal of that band’s existence and it is golden.  So much would have been lost if not contended and the story is engaging, to say the least.  Watch this.  Tell me it isn’t one of the coolest things ever.  Then watch it again and put Prince or Guy Clark in the lead role.  Heads would explode.  My head is exploding right now because this is history as it happened.  Things like this will make fans for the band, especially in an historical concept.

This, if you’re interested, is what they do.  (See what I did just there?).

Could anyone tell me how I missed the outstanding music of Gregory Alan Isakov?  Is he big?  He certainly deserves to be.

Whew!!!   I woke up this morning to a link from Ruth Hazleton, eyes welded together by sleep (you know— that crusty stuff we all get now and again), and am wondering if I even need coffee.  I plugged this video in and am wide awake.  Shannon Bourne I know from his work with one of my favorite Aussies, Bill Jackson.  I mean, I knew Shannon could play guitar, but I have never seen him play like this.  And who is this Vika Bull?  I had not heard of her.  But I have heard of her now!!!  Blues in Australia.  Proof that music knows no borders.  Time for some research.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Frank 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 Frank bottle capone 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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Before Radio Was Radio, It Was Television, Part Two… Plus Notes”

  1. west was west.east was east.Also had the trans under the pillow.Although more for stereo sound..

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: