Aircheck: WNBC (New York), 8/25/1977

In case you missed it over the holidays, radio talk show host and DJ Don Imus passed away last week.

I first heard about Imus back in the 80’s thanks to a cousin of mine who lived on and off in New York City. How can I describe Imus to anyone who never heard him? I think of him as being “cutting edge” at one point of his career – more or less using bits and methods that Howard Stern would later perfect.

Tbe “Billy Sol Hargis” bit struck me as the most funny – where Don voices a fictional Texas evangelist (though the character is based on real-life evangelist Billy Sol Estes somewhat) who would ask listeners for donations in exchange for products of a dubious nature.

Imus would wind up simulcasted in Tampa – first on WQYK, later on WTAN from the 90’s onward. By then, the show wasn’t as catered to sophomoric bits and hijinks as it once was, but still engaged of plenty of satire. I’d watch his MSNBC show in the late 90’s and wonder a few times how he would get away with saying something controversial. Blackmail? Stock ownership?

When the show said disparriging things about the Rutgers women’s basketball team one time in 2000’s – everyone who vouched for him over time could (mostly) do it no more, and everyone who wanted him gone finally got their wish. Even with those remarks, he still found work on WABC and the Fox Business Network – saying there until his retirement in 2018.

Yes, he was a controversial figure – few people in that business are successful these days without controversy. However, very few people in the media industry let you see who they really are – and Imus was in that sense one of a kind.

August 16, 1977

elvispresley.jpg

The calendar just went by the 16th of August a couple of days ago, marking the 39th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s passing.

Believe or not, I know where I was when I heard the news, three weeks before my sixth birthday. My parents took a couple of friends on a fishing trip down to Sarasota. As we headed back up to Largo, word of Presley’s passing broke on the radio in the late afternoon.

I really wasn’t too sure who Elvis was other than a guy who liked to sing, and why his death shocked everybody. The more everyone tried to explain it to me, the less I understood. The concept of someone dying in the prime of their life and maybe the concept of death itself, I didn’t get that also. When you’re almost six, you think you’re going to live forever. Not always the case.

Then again, I was only five years old. Some things are a bit complicated when you’re that young, and that’s okay.

Going to Graceland, that’s on my bucket list.

The Great Antonio

Comedian Bill Burr recently did commentary on a professional wrestling match held in 1977 in Japan between Antonio Inoki, the man who fought/wrestled Muhammad Ali a year and half prior to this fight, and a crazy, bulbous strongman named The Great Antonio.

Inoki’s bout with Ali in June of 1976 is considered by many to be the first MMA fight in history. Such an unusual bout had unusual rules: if either man pinned the other for a count of 3, or knocked his foe out for a count of 10, that fighter won, regardless of whether or not the wrestler or boxer scored the feat. It was possible that the boxer could pin the wrestler, or that the wrestler could KO the boxer.

The story goes that the bout was supposed to be a work (a scripted fight), but that Inoki was agreeable to throwing away the script and having a legitimate fight with the boxing great. The rules were ridiculously altered so that Inoki could not use his advantages as a wrestler, not being able to tackle Ali or take him down with a leg dive.

Instead, Inoki spent most of the 15 rounds in a crab-like posture, kicking at the champ’s legs. Muhammad’s legs swelled up from being kicked upon, and his left leg had blood clots that nearly required an amputation. The result of the bout was a “draw” and both Ali and Inoki were able to save face, and Ali was able to make a lot more money in the remaining years of his prizefight career.

For the Great Antonio, wrestling seemed to be a hobby as he traveled through North American circuits, as he was much better known for performing (as Jerry Stiller would say later in Seinfeld) feats of strength. According to Wrestlingdata.com, Antonio (real name: Antonio Barichievich) wrestled mainly between 1959 and 1961, specializing in handicap matches (where a team of wrestlers usually face one individual, or a smaller team) to get over as an attraction.

Promoters saw the strongman from Canada as a sideshow, and didn’t view Antonio as the kind of grappler that should be a champion. That was usually the case with bigger and stronger wrestling performers, because if the bigger man was told to lose a bout to relinquish the title and they didn’t want to lose, how would you get the title off of him? At 52 years of age in 1977, Barichievich was making a comeback of sorts in Japan, usually wrestling and “winning” 1-against-3 matches in Inoki’s New Japan wrestling promotion.

The bout degenerated quickly, with Antonio no-selling Inoki’s offensive maneuvers, then hitting Inoki in the back of the head and neck with blows that certainly didn’t sound as if they were being pulled or simulated. It was clear that Great Antonio was not being cooperative and had no interest in making Inoki look good, as is usually the custom in the stagecraft of the business. He had gone into business for himself, trying to get himself over the smaller, more agile Inoki, who had spent years of his career building his reputation. Usually, such a move without any kind of orders meant retaliation was in order, and in Great Antonio’s case, that retaliation would occur for the whole arena to see, and to be chronicled on tape (and now on YouTube) for years on end.

After a few moments of this, the proud Inoki had had enough, and what should have been a scripted contest got very real within an instant. He began striking the Great Antonio with everything he could muster, taking the strongman down by the legs and legitimately stomping on his head and busting him up. The bout was awarded to Inoki with Great Antonio deemed unable to continue, lying in a bloody heap on the mat, perhaps losing consciousness at some juncture.

Inoki would go on and build a career for himself in Japan, fighting many other boxers, kickboxers, and other various martial artists in staged competitions. The Great Antonio would have success on TV and movies, playing a caveman in a 1981 film called Quest For Fire before passing of a heart attack in Montreal in 2003.

Even for the unreal world of wrestling, this was quite a strange bout.

Flashback: “Piece Of My Heart” by Janis Joplin

This is one of the songs that if you have your alarm set to the radio, and you hear it first thing in the morning, it will definitely start your heart, no pun intended. Happened to me one Saturday morning back in the late 1980’s when I had my radio set to WYNF, then a hard rock station on 94.9 FM in Tampa.

The first time I heard “Piece Of My Heart” though, it was not Janis’s version, but Bonnie Tyler’s back off of her first album, “The World Starts Tonight” in 1977. I happened to find that album at a Record Bar in Charlotte, North Carolina in the ritzy Southpark Mall back in 1984 when I vacationed up there during the summer. That version of the song was a bit odd, with a violin track behind Bonnie’s soon to be raspy vocals she’d make famous with “It’s A Heartache” a year later in 1978.

Janis’s version of the song made me a fan of hers, and “The Essential Janis Joplin” CD has been in my possession now for over a decade.

Homestead

I was just shy of six years old when I visited the Florida Keys on a summer vacation in 1977 with my parents and a couple of friends of theirs, staying in Marathon, Florida to be precise.

I don’t think I-75 had been built all the way to the east coast of Florida by ’77 (which makes sense, because the Pinellas portion of I-275 wasn’t built all the way until the mid-1980’s) so my parents drove down to the Keys via Orlando and the Florida Turnpike all night one Saturday evening. Most of the time, I slept in this van which belonged to a friend of my dad’s, and I remember being awakened somewhere on the road to have breakfast early on a Sunday morning.

As we got closer and closer to our destination, I noticed that we crossed this town called Homestead that, of course, was south of Miami and was impacted heavily by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Somehow, I got Homestead and “home instead” mixed up. Hey, give me a break, I was five years old and was a proud graduate of kindergarten.

I asked, “You mean, we’re back home?”

A Reason To Be Thankful

Feeding the animals at Marineland.  St. Augustine, Florida during the summer of 1978.
Feeding the animals at Marineland. St. Augustine, Florida during the summer of 1978.  Pull your tank top DOWN, little guy!

The day before Thanksgiving always stands out in my mind for some reason.

About a year ago I mentioned that I had spinal meningitis in the fall of 1977 after turning six, and that my week and a half stay at the hospital had it highs and lows.

I got out of the hospital on November 23, 1977, the very day before Thanksgiving. There was a big gathering at the house the following day, part Thanksgiving feast, part homecoming. Football on the tube, and I remember the Miami Dolphins destroying the St. Louis Cardinals 55-14 that afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys being a rare no-show on the Thanksgiving cavalcade that season.

My dad set me aside at one point during the day and gave me a very early Christmas present: a toy typewriter. You put regular tying paper into it, and it typed what you wanted to say.

How cool!

But I had a question: why was I getting this gift now? It wasn’t Christmas yet.

I don’t remember my father’s answer. I think they were just thankful I was still alive and well.