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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I Am Not Your Guru

What do you all think of Anthony Robbins?

I met Anthony working at Sun Radio Network one day in the summer of 1992. (If you saw one of his infomercials in the 1990’s, I’m in a window at one brief point in it looking at him and talk show host Charles Adler.) The first thing that struck me about him is he’s very tall. I’m about six feet one, and I had to look up to greet him, and that’s rare for someone of my height.

There’s a documentary out about one of his mass coaching sessions on Netflix these days. According to Instantwatcher.com, it’s #3 on their charts as of yesterday. I sat down to watch it last night, and found the whole experience very eye-opening, if not very well choreographed.

The one thing that I noticed right away is how Robbins uses expletives in these conversations in his sessions, a much rawer language from what I remember and reading his books a couple of decades ago. That being said, I liked his explanation of why he uses them, as an aid to help break down barriers.

The documentary is a good watch, though I found some of the moments in it to be emotionally intense in a good way.

All Traffic, All The Time

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On top of the Howard Frankland Bridge on I-275 North, April 17, 2014.

We’ve all had days where we wished we had stayed in bed as the day developed, and I’m no different. One of those days in my life was one of my first days at the Sun Radio Network and it’s flagship station out of Brandon, Florida, WEND back in 1990.

I was one of two board operators in Clearwater working simultaneously one Friday in December of that year, with one board op handling the calls and commercials for SRN, and the other taking SRN’s feed and getting commercials on and off three times an hour. The boards were right next to each other, but if you ran the local station, you’d need headphones, as the WEND signal would be on a seven second delay. During the overnight hours, there was just one board op running both boards simultaneously, with 10 second “sweepers” (brief promotional messages) thrown in with automation.

As many markets across the country did then (as they do now), there were also traffic reports to keep listeners who may be in their cars updated on local road conditions. WEND used an aggregated service that was then known as Metro Traffic for such updates, and I’d tape a few reports to be aired on a slight delay at various points during the shift. Most of the time the reports were given live, which is how things got interesting this one afternoon.

Metro Traffic didn’t just provide updates for our station at the time, but for most of the stations in the Tampa Bay area. On this one day, I thought I had potted down (turned off) Metro and went on to one of my other tasks, ripping and classifying copy from the United Press International wire. A few minutes later, I’m being urgently alerted that the Metro Traffic pot was still up, and that traffic reports meant for other stations in the area were being broadcast on our air!

The reason why this was doubly embarrassing for me was that the reporters at Metro use different names on different stations, so “John Smith” reporting for WEND would be using the name “James Jones” doing a similar report on another station or stations. Making that kind of error got everyone’s attention, so when everyone in management knows the rock you pulled you get put on a lot of people’s s*** list rather fast. I had inadvertently made fans of talk radio in the Tampa Bay area more aware of Metro’s inner workings.

I sat in front of the board the rest of the day thinking, “All right, so what else is out there that can I do for a living?”

The good news is I didn’t get fired that day, and managed to survive there until the local station was bought by Sonny Bloch, moving to Brandon in 1992. Over the next four years, I’d work for WBDN over in Brandon at times, then for them again when they moved back to Feather Sound in Clearwater shortly before the station went all-Spanish in 1996, remaining that way these past two decades, still broadcasting today as WLCC.

The lesson: pay attention, and when you think you’re paying attention, pay attention some more.

My Christmases In Radio

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I had the honor (and I always thought of it as such) to work in radio either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, sometimes both days. I did so five straight years from 1989 to 1993, hit an unemployed stretch in 1994, and was in the biz but had the nights off in 1995.

Christmas of 1989 really sticks out for me, because of the big freeze we had that gave the Tampa Bay area a teeny bit of snow flurries Christmas Eve morning. This aircheck off of WDAE (then at 1250 AM on the dial) mentions the unusual forecast that weekend. I had the midnight to 7am overnight shift at WTAN radio on the night of December 23rd and morning of the 24th, but this night, it presented a problem with freezing rain and sleet in the forecast that night. My shift didn’t start until midnight, but I arrived at 8:30 that night just in case the weather made travel impossible later on.

The guy running the board before me was throwing a decent sized party at the radio station (who had a nubile blonde girlfriend who seems interested in me, though she was spoken for), and without any real prep to do, I heavily imbibed on some Budweiser beer among other beverages. It was only the second time in my life to that point that I had gotten drunk, young teetotaler that I was. As midnight approached, it was time to run the WTAN board, which was only playing a set of cassette tapes in a proper sequence. I always had a digital timer on me, so while the tape played for 45 minutes or so, I slept it off, getting up in time to change sides and play commercials. That morning, I aired J.T. Gardner’s gospel show from 6am-7am, and I don’t think anyone was wise to my inebriation, thankfully.

The next four Christmases I worked at Sun Radio Network in either the Feather Sound studios in Clearwater, or after 1992, at the complex in St. Petersburg not too far from the Home Shopping Network. Instead of talk radio, we played Christmas songs from 6pm Christmas Eve all through Christmas Day off of half a dozen or so reel-to-reel tapes. I’d play the top of the hour news from UPI Radio, later the USA Radio Network, then right after it ended it was Christmas music wall to wall, no commercials. I’d cut away from the music ten seconds prior to the top of the hour, hit the news, cue up the next reel, and do it all over again.

I loved the hell out of it, and looked forward to the Christmas programming every year I ran the board. It was the easiest shifts of the year for me to do, and it was a guaranteed night of no hassles and a lot of fun. Every radio station that doesn’t play music ought to do this every year.

But that’s just my opinion.

Tomorrow, a little treat to help you get into the Christmas Spirit…the post is scheduled for 6pm US Eastern time Christmas Eve.

Back Off The Airwaves

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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.)

Rest In Peace, Stanley

I’m very saddened to learn tonight that Stan Major, who I’ve mentioned on this blog many times, has recently passed away, according to his son Chris. I figured something might have been up for a while now since his blog hadn’t been updated for over a month, but it could have been computer problems or whatnot.

He was simply the best talent I ever had the pleasure to work with, and sometimes in life you don’t know what you have or have had until it’s long in your rear view mirror. (He had to be, he put up with me. Just a joke, Stan!) He was also the best talent Sun Radio Network ever had, and looking back it is no small wonder that a little over three years after he left SRN, the network folded. But that’s just my opinion.

It should also be mentioned that he also had runs on some of the great Miami talk stations (WINZ and WIOD standing out) along with other major US markets too numerous to mention (including WDAE in Tampa), and as a newsman for NBC over a variety of TV and radio programs. He also served NBC as a war correspondent during the Vietnam War, once getting to interview Bob Hope for the NBC Monitor program.

It was nice to get to connect with him one more time through our respective blogs. He gave my blog a bit of a boost, and I appreciated the gesture that he thought enough of me to do that.

Rest in peace, Stan, and I hope you enjoy meeting all the people up in heaven who’ve “invaded” your dreams as you mentioned in your blog entries.

The OJ Verdict, 20 Years Later

I couldn’t get enough of the first O.J. Simpson trial.

In fact, I predicted about a month before the verdict on an overnight show called “Greg and Fran” on the Sun Radio Network that O.J. would be completely acquitted about a month before it happened, and I’ve never been to legal school. Too much reasonable doubt, I thought, had been placed in the jurors minds.

The date I came to that conclusion was my 24th birthday, September 6th, 1995. LA detective Mark Fuhrman had been recalled to the witness stand in the trial that day. Earlier in the trial, Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey had asked Fuhrman if ever used racial slurs in his work, which Fuhrman denied, thus perjuring himself. When he was called back in September after tapes had surfaced that did indeed prove he used racial slurs, he pleaded the fifth. That is, he asserted his fifth amendment rights against self incrimination as offered to any citizen in the United States Constitution.

When that happened, I knew it was game, set, and match. It probably didn’t help either that D.A. Christopher Darden wanted Simpson to attempt to wear the black gloves found at the crime scene early in the trial, either.

I did think O.J. killed his wife and Ron Goldman, basically a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the verdict was announced, I did feel bad for Ron’s sister Kim and his father Fred, who had a look on their faces of complete disbelief. But they were done in by a bad cop who had a racist history, and that created the reasonable doubt in a community still reeling by the Rodney King verdicts a few years earlier.

History has proven O.J. to be who I thought he was. He hasn’t won a major court trial since, and currently sits in Lovelock, Nevada doing time for a robbery in Las Vegas back in 2007, two years away from a possible parole. If he gets out in 2017, he’ll be 70 years old.