Whatever Your Source Of Stress Or Strife

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.

 

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Back Off The Airwaves

artandlarry
Art on Larry King’s old CNN show. No, I don’t think the phone number still works.

Over the weekend, I found out that Art Bell had retired from doing his late night radio show after being on the air for about four and a half months. This time, a series of threats on his Parhump compound and to his family have done the deed.

Having worked in radio from 1989 to 1996 (and from the ages of 18 to 24), I have to tell you: sometimes you have to deal with the crazy people.

When I worked for Chuck Harder in up 1994 in White Springs (just northeast of Lake City), a guy got arrested who came to visit all the way from Oklahoma. He said he was getting messages to visit Chuck from his satellite dish. Needless to say, the local cops were called in and the guy was sent jail, but I doubt he didn’t find other objects to converse with.

Back when I worked at Sun Radio and was running board for Stan Major’s radio show in the early 90’s, a guy called up saying he drives the tour bus for Hank Williams, Jr. and wanted the address of our studios. I smelled a rat pretty quickly: why would Hank Williams Jr. want to seek us out, since his song on Monday Night Football had projected him to instant fame at the time? If we wanted him on the show, I had no doubt Stan would either get in touch of Hank’s PR people or had me do it.

Fast forward to the late 90’s when I worked for Home Shopping Network. The same guy claiming to be Hank Jr.’s driver called me, wanting the address to the vast HSN complex in St. Pete. Had to tell him I heard that scam before, and if he had somewhere else to go, why not get there?

I can totally sympathize with what Art and his family are going through, and I would never chide the man for wanting to take care of his family first. Some of his fans doing so this weekend need perspective, which I hope time gives them.

(EDIT, 12/16/15: In later Facebook posts, Art gives me the impression that once the idiot terrorizing him and his family goes away, he may return to the airwaves at some point ahead. Heather Wade has been filling in for him on the Dark Matter Radio Network, and Art hasn’t ruled out substituting for her.)

Thanksgiving, Shortwave Radio, and Uncle Neil

Last week, I had mentioned that one of the shows I ran the board for at Sun Radio had been unearthed: Stan Major’s debut on October 1, 1991. I had the honor of exchanging comments with Stan on that post, and I had reminded him about the show we did on Thanksgiving morning of 1991 on WWCR (World Wide Christian Radio), a shortwave station based out of Nashville.

Getting WWCR to carry the show, even for one night, was a big deal. Only two other shows from Sun had aired on WWCR: For The People with Chuck Harder (which by late 1991 was long gone), and Tom Valentine’s Radio Free America. Remember, the Internet wasn’t as easy to get for the home computer hobbyist (if you were one in the early 90’s) as it is now. These days, all you need is one station and the ability to promote your show and promote the hell out of the Tunein website or the IHeartRadio website or app. The bigger the show in those days, the more affiliates you had to have. In that particular time frame, overnight talk shows were ripe for the pickings. Larry King was in his swan song years at Mutual, plus Tom Snyder and Deborah Norville had shows that could be competed with.

I’m very proud of the work I did with Stan, especially. At Sun Radio, like Mutual or ABC at the time, his crew of the show consisted of one person: me. Larry King would have a person who ran the board, a person who screen calls, and probably a person or two who did whatever gopher work was needed. (I also didn’t have a union behind me either to insure I got paid well, working in Florida, as I would have if I were working out of NYC or DC.) That’s not me trying to brag, that’s a fact. Thank God I (or any of the other board ops) had a medical emergency (or fell asleep, as I once did for a few minutes on another show) of some kind, because whoever the host was would have been s*** out of luck had that ever happened.

My work on this particular show was not as good as I remembered it, to be honest. The last 15 minutes of Stan’s weeknight shows during this time frame where a Chinese fire drill, and I felt more like an air traffic controller than I did a board op! Not only am I answering phones (doing very light screening) and running the board, but I’m also getting the next show prepared, hosted by Max Stewart, calling him up on the Comrex. With that many balls in the air, s*** tended to happen, like leaving the outro music pot a little too hot at the end of the show.  Ouch.

At the end of the show, I get a call on the hotline we had set up for the evening from none other than Neil Rogers. This was three months before WSUN picked up Neil’s WIOD show out of Miami, so what I knew about Neil came from Stan. Neil asks me for Stan, and even a few moments after the show Stan is long gone. Neil’s in disbelief, but I’m telling him the truth. On top of this, Stan was filling in for Joel Vincent (Howard Hewes) for a 8pm-10pm shift the following night (Thanksgiving Night), on top of his normal 12am-5am shift, or 12 hours in a 29 hour stretch.

The call the farthest away that night wound up being someone in Scotland, but Stan also wound up getting calls from Canada and England as well.  Out of all the shows I did in seven years behind the scenes, it is the one that sticks out in my mind the easiest.

Again, thanks to John Baker, the Neil Rogers Archives and Stan Major for making this recording possible.

Casey Reaches The Stars

The irony of Casey Kasem passing away on Father’s Day and on a Sunday morning didn’t escape me. On our local station here in Tampa Bay, Casey was heard on Q-105 from 10am to 2pm on Sundays for what seemed to be years on end.

I once nearly had a chance to speak with Casey, if you can believe that.

In early 1991, I was working at the Sun Radio Network, producing for Howard Hewes/Joel Vincent, Chuck Harder, and Sonny Bloch on an early week 12pm to 6pm shift. This was a little over three years before I worked with Chuck at People’s Radio Network up the road in White Springs, Florida. I’m working at Sun’s studios in eastern Clearwater, with Chuck at a studio in Cedar Key hooked up to us via a Comrex device.

One day, Chuck asks me to get a hold of Casey Kasem out in his offices in California. I guess Chuck was trying to get him to pop in for his “For The People” national broadcast, but it would wind up being a game of telephone tag. Knowing of Kasem’s work, I would have immediately recognized the voice, that’s for sure.

It was a shame that his life ended with squabbling and arguing, but everyone but the immediate family were mere spectators in that battle. Hopefully now, he can rest in peace.

The Sun Years, Part VI: It’s A Great Night For Some Homophobic Talk

After working nine months or so as the exclusive board operator-slash-producer for The Stan Major Show, I thought it was time to explore some other options.  Stan Anderson, our operations manager, came up with a brilliant idea to give the board operators at SRN a working knowledge of the majority of the shows on the network at the time.

What he did was he took myself and two other board operators and decided to “wheel” us.  Or at least that’s my term for it, anyway.  I’d work the 6am to noon shift on Mondays and Thursday, the 6pm to midnight shift Tuesdays, and the 12pm to 6pm shift Wednesdays.  Now, I still had to do Stan’s shift on Friday night going into Saturday morning, and I think I had a Sunday shift to do as well.  But working with Stan once a week would be better than working with him all the time, or so I thought.  Stan’s show would continue on, and the crew of board operators we had at the time…well, it really didn’t matter who was producing his show.

Continue reading “The Sun Years, Part VI: It’s A Great Night For Some Homophobic Talk”

The Sun Years, Part V: You’re Just A Board Op

As 1992 began, I was a beginning my third year as a board operator-slash-producer of the Sun Radio Network.  It seemed I had found my place at the fledgling network producing The Stan Major Show, which wasn’t too easy considering how rapidly they went through talent (show hosts) and board operators.

My shifts by the start of ’92 were now down to five a week, eight hours a night.  Max Stewart no longer had his 5am-6am farm hour by this time, he had been replaced by an exceptional talent named Ed Hartley, then shortly after that my boss Stan Anderson helmed the hour, and then by mid-1992 SRN ran a one hour replay of Stan’s show.

Continue reading “The Sun Years, Part V: You’re Just A Board Op”

The Sun Years, Part III: A Menagerie Of Transitions

So here I was in the spring of 1991, working for the Sun Radio Network in Clearwater, Florida.  As I’ve mentioned before, Sun also had it’s own radio station locally at the time, WEND, and also owned a satellite chain that carried Sun programming 99% of the time, North America One (at one point, NA1 was its own entity entirely, but merged with Sun before I was employed there).  SRN had a quality lineup of hosts who brought in stations, large and small, from all over the country.

The network had one significant problem: it wasn’t just losing money, it was hemorrhaging it, to the tune of $202,000 a month.  It takes a lot of money to keep a national network on the air between cutting edge (at the time) phone technology, paying building rent, and paying employees.  To help pay for this white elephant came an organization from Washington D.C. called Liberty Lobby.  According to a 1991 interview with Richard Benton, who was with SRN’s affiliate relations director at the time, Liberty Lobby paid about $166,000 of that $202,000 of debt SRN was piling up, and was doing so every month.

Continue reading “The Sun Years, Part III: A Menagerie Of Transitions”