We begin the eighth year of this blog with the sad news most of you know by now. Former President George H.W. Bush passed away on Friday night at the age of 94. He is the fifth former President to expire in my 47-year lifetime and the first in nearly 12 years since Gerald Ford died in 2006.
I do feel a sense of sadness, though. He was the President when I graduated high school and made some tough decisions in his four-year term in office. (To show you what I geek for the news I used to be – I snuck in a radio to school on January 20, 1989, the day Mr. Bush became President. None of the classes I had that day had shown the inauguration on TV, and the school year was either in exam week or was close to it – so the event went ignored.) He is also, perhaps, a cautionary tale for the current President in one respect: after the first Persian Gulf War, his approval rating was above 90 percent – but he wound up losing the following year to an upstart governor from Arkansas named Bill Clinton.
Around the time of 9/11, my mother worked at one of the St. Petersburg nursing homes (of which there are many), and one of her residents was someone who worked for “Poppy” Bush at one time or another. She (the patient) was upset with some issue regarding the aftereffect of 9/11 (or so I seem to remember) and went on a hunger strike, so former President Bush took the time to call this woman up and had attempted to talk her out of it. I don’t remember whether or not Mr. Bush’s talk was successful or not, but I admired the fact that a former President would go out of his way to support someone like that.
The outpouring of love for “Poppy” will no doubt surprise a few. In a nearly unprecedented move, the stock market will close this upcoming Wednesday, December 5th – the day of the former President’s state funeral. Like many leaders, he has his critics – but I always thought he had a quiet dignity about him, and there’s nothing wrong with being quiet or having dignity.
(CORRECTION, 12/3/2018, 4:40 pm ET: I was erroneous in saying Mr. Bush was the fifth president to pass in my lifetime. He was the sixth. I forgot that Harry Truman died on December 26, 1972 – and I was born September 6, 1971.)
As some of you heard yesterday, Roy Clark of Hee Haw fame passed away at the age of 85.
Much like Buck Owens, Clark had a legendary career on the country music circuit. “Thank God And Greyhound” went to #6 on the country charts at one point in 1970, also reaching #90 on the Billboard “Hot 100” that covers pop music.
My memories of Mr. Clark also hearken back to a series of commercials back in (if I remember accurately) the 1980’s. Back in an era when workout videos by Jane Fonda were the rage, Clark had advertisements for a tape he put together on how to learn to play the guitar.
Well, now that I’ve done a bit of investigating on YouTube – my memory may be incorrect. At one point, Clark had a book that taught readers how to play the guitar. Not so sure about a VCR tape now.
Anyways, rest in peace, Roy.
The song was referenced in the “Smokey And The Bandit II” movie, and yes – there was really such a song. It was a minor hit for Reynolds on the country and pop charts in 1980.
Word broke yesterday that the Aretha Franklin had died at the age of 76. Here’s the hit the “Queen of Soul” is probably most famous for, released in the spring of 1967 and reaching the top of the Billboard Pop and R&B charts.
But did you know – the song was originally performed by Otis Redding?
We have had a wave of celebrity obituaries in the past ten days or so, and with so many passings it might have been easy to overlook the news that one of my work colleagues and bosses had died on Tuesday – Chuck Harder. A bit of an irony that Chuck died the same day former First Lady Barbara Bush had, as it never occurred to me that Harder was a fan of establishment politicians.
That being said, a lot of people considered Chuck a conservative wingnut and was often parodied and lampooned by hosts at rival talk station WFLA back in the 1980’s. I never felt that way. I think he discovered what many believe now – that there is an establishment class of politicians that run things up in Washington D.C., a class that many in the know now call the Deep State. These establishment politicians don’t want outsiders (like our current President) running things, and most times they team up to thwart such efforts. In the 2016 elections, they were not as fortunate. Chuck was a big fan of H. Ross Perot, the 1992 and 1996 third-party candidate – and he laid the blueprints for Trump’s successful run as a Republican infiltrator in 2016, I’ve always believed.
I worked with Chuck at the Sun Radio Network in 1991 – I believe (though I could be wrong) that it was around this time he moved from Cedar Key to the Telford Hotel in White Springs. After he helped with the formation of radio station WEND in Brandon and the Sun Radio Network, he had been rather unceremoniously dismissed there (no, I don’t know the details – my guess was he got in a power struggle with Liberty Lobby and lost) in the spring of ’91, replaced by the very capable Tom Donahue. In the proceeding years, Harder started up his own network, the People’s Radio Network – and he gave me a job and provided me with a room at the Telford Hotel.
The “For The People” show Harder hosted was not a small operation by any means. At one point in the 1990’s, the show was carried over 200 stations every afternoon – the only show on more stations in that era was Rush Limbaugh’s operation out of New York.
My memories of Chuck were pleasant ones, and one of the times in my life I wish I could do over again – sadly in life, most of the time you don’t get do-overs. It was just a bit of a culture shock for me as a 23-year-old to go from living in the Tampa Bay area to living life at a much slower pace. I’m not proud of how my stay there ended, and I always felt I had let Chuck down. Another instance of not knowing how good I had it, I suppose – which regrettably seems to have been a pattern in my career.
In all of my interactions with Harder, he was always positive and upbeat, always patient and not one to lose his temper as so many do in the radio business. One time up in White Springs in 1994, I was running the board for him on an afternoon shift, and my duties were mainly to run the commercial breaks and news updates at the top of the hour and on the bottom. Back then, everything wasn’t in electronic form – we used 8-track like “carts” on special machines. Harder always believed in using American equipment – but I was warned of a drawback in using these particular cart machines – that if you jammed a cart into the machine at the last moment, it would play the first few seconds at half-speed or thereabouts.
One day, I found myself in such a situation with Chuck’s bumper music – music used so stations carrying the show could identify themselves right before the host began speaking again. Chuck had a senior producer who screened the phone callers and coordinated with any guests he’d use – and I thought for sure “blooping” his bumper music would lead to consequences of some sort. Chuck mentioned my name on the air – but laughed it off. It was the kind of guy he was – if he ever castigated anybody for anything, I never saw it. At some other places I worked, had I done that – I would have been read the riot act.
I also think Chuck was an example of what happened to the radio business once the FCC allowed ownership consolidation took hold in the mid-1990’s under President Clinton’s watch. I mean this not as a political commentary per se, but to point out that when you have so few companies allowed to buy up so many radio stations, it’s generally not a good thing. The networks like PRN and Sun provided content for these “mom and pop” stations across the country – but once everything consolidated, these outlets withered away if one of the bigger corporations didn’t buy them.
Another quick example if I may: when I lived in Las Vegas in 1996 for a little less than a month, I could hear Chuck’s “For The People” radio show out there. Four years later when I went out there again, he was long gone off of that market’s radio dial.
Rest in peace, Chuck. You were a character.