Frank Gutch Jr: The Radio Chronicles: Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts (A Mindblower); Mike Marino: The AM Radio Dream; and Jim Peters: Tulsa and KAKC = Valhalla; Plus Two Measly Notes (Would That Make One of Them a Half-Note?)

I must listen to hundreds of albums a year— at least sample that many— and there are few which really floor me. I try to write about the ones which do, though even then the words sometimes escape me and those reviews remain unwritten. It isn’t easy, writing reviews on a constant basis, so when an album comes along which I not only love but wish I could have been part of— or at least been privy to some of the creative process— it is rare.

Jaimie Vernon (and friends)— The End of Terrestrial Radio in Three Acts

When friend and colleague Jaimie Vernon unleashed his latest project on us a few weeks ago, it caught me completely by surprise. It is a concept album, he explained, about the downfall of Pop radio, and then sweetened the deal with the hint that “The Iceman”, Bob Segarini, was somehow involved as were a handful of friends with whose work I was familiar: Brian Gagnon, Lawrence Ingles, Todd Miller, and Jade Dunlop to name a few. It revolves around the last Pop radio station in existence and soon to go out of existence, he said, and….. Well, here it is in Vernon’s own words, borrowed from the liner notes:

Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts is a modern morality audio play in three acts that postulates a ‘what if’ scenario concerning the slow demise of terrestrial radio. What if the corporatization of our airwaves becomes so ubiquitous that every last radio station on the planet is absorbed and reformatted out of existence?

What would the final terrestrial radio station sound like on that fateful day when the playlist is transformed and the on-air talent broadcasts across the ether one last time? C.R.C.K. could be that station. A 20,000 Watt FM transmitter located in the remote outpost of Sachs Harbour in the Northwest Territories’ Beaufort Sea at the tip of Banks Island.

And it is here that the world of past radio glories and current radio collapse collides in a farewell to a format that not only informed my own musical growth but was the audio thread that connected nearly four generations of pop music fans in the Western Hemisphere.

Is that a great idea or does Vernon just make it sound great? I would have to say a little of both. I mean, the idea is not necessarily original— I’m sure there are albums out there which have toyed with the basic idea and, of course, the Cruisin’ series of albums recreated a string of albums featuring the hits of a specific year in the radio format of many of the top disc jockeys of the 50s and 60s. But no one to my knowledge has done it exactly like this.

In the first place, Vernon not only wrote and recorded most of what made it to disc (or into digital format) but created a scenario far beyond that “actual” day of broadcast. His liner notes, in fact, lay out the complete history of radio station CRCK, bringing us up-to-date just in time for that final broadcast. The lead-in for the album is the dial-twisting we have heard many times— well, us old-timers anyway. I grew up on it, the various stations crowding their ways through speakers as the listener searches for station of choice. The fact that it stops on CRCK and Brian “The Iceguy” Campbell is the kickoff, Segarini then hosting a similar program for Sirius under the name Bob “The Iceman” Segarini. Art reflecting life? Possibly.

It is the first in a long line of coincidences and parallels to the real world. The placing of the radio station in Sachs Harbour takes it far out of the reach of the rest of the world, that town being well north of the Arctic Circle, and while the station broadcasts, it is with a sense of isolation. Not only the last Pop radio station in existence, but the last Mom and Pop radio station. Think about it for a minute. For those of a certain age, it is the darkest of science fiction.

Vernon, though serious, cloaks it all with a stunning sense of humor. Bringing in Segarini, a good friend and someone with whom Vernon has worked with more than a bit, was stroke of genius, his off-the-cuff delivery just off enough to fit the whole concept but not drive it into serious ground. Indeed, “The Iceguy” sounds as much Red Green as he does disc jockey, plugging everything from Sterno to beaver shooting to a store called Bill’s Bait & Beer because there ain’t two things in the whole world that go together better than that. Vernon even includes a funeral home ad— fake, of course, but oh so appropriate given the theme.

Of course, none of this would work minus music and in the end it is the music that holds it all together. Vernon went out of his way to include songs by Lowe & Brow, San Diego’s Atomic Enchiladas, The Terra Cottas, The Hudson’s Bay Brothers (think about that one for a bit), and Sydney Australia’s The Modern Punk Quartet, et. al. That would be hell of a lineup, folks, if the bands existed. They don’t, of course. The thing is, the album is put so well together that it is hard to believe they don’t. The songs, all Vernon-centric except two (Frank Marzanos Drink Her Goodbye and Jim Lowes I Feel the Beat), are first rate and the production the same. You can hear influences of The Beatles, ELO, Klaatu and others, but the songs stand on their own. In fact, I hadn’t even realized that the musicians on each of the songs are pretty much the same in odd combinations until maybe my tenth listen. I had somehow fallen into the fantasy and for me The Middle Americans and Atomic Enchiladas had taken on a form as real as any I could imagine. In fact, I began to worry about myself. I began having this urge to search the band names on the Net just to scope out their discographies. (Pictured above: Sharon and Jaimie Vernon)

Any real drama must come to an end, and this is true drama in odd form, and Vernon wraps it all up with the sign-on of new kids in radio town, CWSH, and the smoother jazz format. Pop radio is no more.

The PDF file Vernon sent me shows the insert, marked Disc 1. Turns out that there will be a second disc. (Note: Already issued) Basically, it will be the music from the “radio broadcast” minus the radio patter and with all of the proper lead-ins and lead-outs— just the music. It will also include bonus tracks, from tracks relating to the “broadcast” to others written during the time period the album was actually being recorded. Soon, he promised. When time and energy permit.

Am I impressed? I am totally knocked out. Each day I find time to listen, and always all the way through. It isn’t getting old— any of it. The music, the vocal palaver, the humor cheers me up. It is radio as it should be. The fact that the music and characters are weaving an audio tale of creative consequence fascinates me. You want to hear it? It’s streaming here. Do yourself a favor and pop a cold one, lay back and hear it for what it really is. This will be in my Top Ten of the year, easy, and it isn’t because I know that guy. But, just for the record, I know that guy.

I do know that guy, I am not ashamed to say. He is an excellent writer (The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia, Vol. One and Two; True Tales From a Cemetery Cop; Life’s a Canadian Punk; and others— and he is working on an authorized biography of Canadian music legend Skip Prokop as I type), a musician, a record label owner, and the source (and butt) of many a fine joke, some but not many of which are even printable here.

That record label, Bullseye Records Canada, has recently been resurrected and Jaimie has been working hard to get the full catalog up and running. Good artists, good music (and oddities such as Nightmare) and a fascinating story behind it all. I will be writing more about Bullseye Canada, but if you want to get a head start, you can check out and sample the product available by checking out its Bandcamp page (click here). Jaimie assures me that there will be much more added in the future, both old and new.

Mike Marino: Riding Radio On the Downhill Slope

I remember the first time I met Mike.  He had just transferred in from Okinawa, a Sad Sack of a guy (no, I mean that he actually looked like Sad Sack after Sarge had given him what for), skinny, short, unkempt.  But when he smiled, his teeth reflected light enough to make you wish you had sunglasses handy.  One look and I could tell he didn’t belong in the Army (an observation he spent his last number of months as a soldier promoting) but to those of us who hated the War (and, by default, the Army) he was a brother.  For months he spent his time in a haze, popping pills and smoking weed whenever he could get some.  I thought for sure he was as good as in  the stockade, but he somehow made it through.  I remember when he left Ft. Lewis, a truly sad day for the handful who had befriended him.  None of us was big on goodbyes, but we had all promised to meet at the little cove up the tracks from the Steilacoom  ferry dock in ten years time, so we let it go.  He walked away with a duffle bag over his shoulders and a shit eating grin on his face.  My thought was mainly, I wonder if he can hold down a job. He did.  He ended up in radio.

He, in fact, 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 threw 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.

The Pez and Hula Hoop 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”

AM radio and concerts were great for awhile, then he found himself traveling thew country on a regular basis, hooking on at station after station.  The golden era was gone and the pay skimpy at best, so what does he do?  For years I had told him, Mike, you should write!  You have a style and enough panache to fill a buffet.  One day, he just did it.  He called and said, hey, Frank, guess what, and I probably said, you in jail again?  I’m writing.  For a newspaper.  My next statement should have started with “You sonofabitch,” but I think it was more like, it’s about damn time.  He started out small, working at a newspaper in New Mexico, then a string of community papers in Washington State.  To my knowledge, he never stopped. 

Damn, ol’ Mikey can write, though even today his editing skills could use some work.  What does that matter, though, when he is spieling so fast you can’t get a word in edgewise. Stringing words together like granma hanging the wash out to dry?  He has written more in his short period than I have my entire life, self-publishing a book along the way (The Roadhead Chronicles).  I think I wrote a review of that book, citing Frederick Lewis Allen and probably Salvador Dali and Edward R. Murrow to boot.  “Like a lawn mower on acid,” I wrote and I think Mike liked it because he uses it to this day.  I told him once, hell, people don’t know who I am and Mike said hell, they don’t know who I am either. 

Well, I certainly know who he is.  I wish I had lived in a region he had broadcast radio in.  I wish we had been closer so that we could have seen one another rather than lived off of a phone call every few years.  I wish I had a taco.  See?  I threw that in there because that would be something he would write.  Mike is one of a kind.  Trump’s scientists, in fact are trying to find out just which kind he is.  We may have to wait awhile for that one.  Unless Mike decides to head down the road and give them a hand.  And I sure as hell would not put it past him.

Jock Talk: Tulsa’s KAKC DJ Jim Peters Talks Sixties’ Radio

A simple recipe it was. Sprinkle a few hundred radio stations throughout the United States and Canada, mix with rock ‘n’ roll and stir. Stir up would be a more apt term because when the music hit the airwaves, the shit hit the fan— the music fan, that is. Not a big deal, you say? You’re probably right. In the grand scheme of things, a handful of traditionalists screaming McCarthyisms in a world already changed beyond their understanding would turn out to be flies on a horse’s ass, so to speak, and to scream them at teens plugged into a jukebox or record player at full volume was, well, laughable, but scream them they did and, as they say, the rest is history.

Rock ‘n’ roll history, that is. And what a rich history it is, then filled with scandals and which in the future would include lives overflowing with MTV and VH1 and stories about rock stars which challenged even the steamiest happenings in the world of Hollywood, good and bad, and eventually access to everything about The Life. Drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll, man! We’ve all heard it. The fame, the money, the chicks! Hey, even the chicks have chicks these days! Of course, that is the overlying view. It’s never as generalized as history makes it seem. If you want to know the real story about the music— the real history, if you will— you need to talk to the disc jockeys who brought all of that music to life.

I said disc jockey, Barclay, not dee jay. No nightclubs or raves or dueling turntables or portable mixing boards. Just one person sitting in a booth spinning music on records which somehow magically made its way to— gasp!— a radio! Sure, it first it was little if anything at all. In the early days (before rock ‘n’ roll), disc jockeys and their music filled holes in schedules between real radio programs— news broadcasts and variety shows and dramas and what would eventually be labeled sitcoms. It was television without the pictures, if you can imagine that. I mean, programming music had gone on before, but it wasn’t recorded. It was live. At first.

Then, the economic wheels began slowly turning. Networks began pricing their programs out of reach of the small stations, then the not large stations and then….. well, you get the picture. On many of those stations, music slowly became the program. And when rock ‘n’ roll came along, it (on a very large percentage of the stations) became the music.

My point, Barclay, is this. At that point, everything changed. Radio quickly became another entire animal— one which relied upon persons to listen to rock ‘n’ roll and those people just happened to be teens. Yes, there were radio stations which programmed R&B (more, early rockin’ blues), jazz and “old people’s music” (that would be classical). The point being that it didn’t take long for the station manager to realize that shaking money from teens’ pockets was much easier than fleecing adults.

Jim Petersactor, disc jockey, musician, teacher— lived during the peak of rock ‘n’ roll radio and he could tell you what it was like. He watched the teen culture take over Tulsa, all on the wings of rock.

It was lifebood,” he remembers. “People had the radio on all the time when I first started in radio.”

Peters started on station KAKC in Tulsa, The Big 97, in the late sixties.

Those memories are so hard to describe to the kids these days. For me it was fun, but it was also a business. As disc jockeys at KAKC, we were moving massive numbers of people around town. We threw concerts. We brought Jimi Hendrix to the Tulsa Civic Center. We had The Animals, Three Dog Night, and The Supremes in there. We created a music scene— a whole arts and music scene which had not previously existed in that part of the country. And we, as disc jockeys, had a great time producing the shows because in those days it wasn’t just ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the band.’ We were part of the show. We had to get up there and do stand-up comedy or something before and between acts.”

Yep, it was happening all over the country, Barclay, and Tulsa was no exception. Radio was quickly becoming big business.

Everything we did seemed to make the station bigger in those days,” Peters went on. “We had huge ratings. We had one survey where my show had 92-percent of the teenagers in town listening. And we had the adult audience, too! All of the AOR stations (that’s adult-oriented radio for those not in the know) were scratching their old bald heads saying, how is this possible? We were pulling 48- and 49- percent of adults in town. We somehow just controlled!”

Of course, it wasn’t just radio doing it. It was the music. But how did the music get to the kids? There was no MTV or VH1 and pod thingies were well into the future. It was all radio!

After KAKC, Peters went on to work in music in different facets. He managed a little known band from Tulsa known as Rubbery Cargoe which they shortened to just Cargoe when they moved to Memphis (read their story here). Though the band signed a deal with legendary Ardent Records, fame eluded them and the money ran out and Peters went back to radio before heading to the West Coast to try acting. He jokes that radio happened “between short periods of money” and that the allure, once so strong, is now gone.

How many companies are left handling radio?” he stated more than asked. “One? Okay, maybe three. So the opportunities are just not there anymore.”

It doesn’t stop him from remembering those special nights, though. Like the night in Tulsa when his first son was born.

I came to the concert and saw one of our disc jockeys on stage between acts. He spotted me coming down through the aisles— The Civic Center was like an ice arena and basketball court type of place. I was walking between the chairs they had set up on the floor and the jock says, hey, there’s Jim Peters right now, who is just now coming from the hospital where his son has just been born. So I went up on stage and everyone was cheering and carrying on. Right there in front of me were ten thousand people cheering the birth of my son.”

His KAKC days came abruptly to an end in 1970. Cargoe had moved to Memphis and had been asking him to move there as well to help with what was looking more and more like a budding career as rock ‘n’ rollers.

Going to Memphis would have meant quitting my show,” he said. “But conveniently, I got fired because of a rumor of dope. They fired the entire staff. Of a Number One radio station. Except for the program director, who was conveniently on vacation at the time. So I was then free to go.”

And go he did. First to Memphis, then to Florida and then to other places before ending up in California where he worked with young musicians, got the occasional acting job and eventually ended up teaching.

Any regrets, I asked? Only that Cargoe never got their due, he replied. “They were a tremendous band.” About radio?  “No. After 9,000+ shows, it had become second nature and though the lows were low, the highs were really high.”

Getting bored, Barclay? My point is, you see, and see if you can follow along, that without the Jim Peterses of the world and without the KAKC’s and the teen dances and the kids running around with transistor radios plastered to their ears, music would not today be what it is. Does it matter to you? Probably not. But it matters to Jim Peters and all of the other disc jockeys who lived those times. And it matters to me. And it matters to rock music. Well, it mattered, anyway.

I would tell you more, like about the party the station threw for Three Dog Night, but some things are better left unsaid. I hear a radio station is doing a remote at a big truck stop down the road. Disc jockey’s supposed to be broadcasting from this huge sign they built. Supposed to be six or seven stories high. Think I’ll drive by and honk the horn, see if I can’t get him to stick his head out and wave. Here’s the remote. MTV’s channel 63. Lock the door on your way out.

I tell you, I am embarrassed,  Damn embarrassed.  I have never had so few…

Notes…

If you don’t know the name Jini Dellaccio, you didn’t grow up in the Pac Northwest in the sixties.  Her name is legend in music, largely because she was shooting sessions with some of the Northwest’s best bands— The Wailers, The Sonics and a whole raft of bands and artists which supported the growing teen scene of the day.  Peter Blecha had warned me someone was putting together a film about her work and my first thought was, well, it’s about damn time.  I don’t know the availability of the documentary— it is past the buy-by date on PBS— but here is the trailer.  There are some surprises here, let me tell you.  Jini, you made the music that much better and we love you for it.

Brand new from The Barr Brothers!!!

Still, you have to admit that the two are worth sharing.  Think I will step out now.  Need to find out why there is such a dearth of videos this week.

=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.”

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