A new, powerful WTAC promotional tool had come along with our introduction of “Midnight Madness Movies” in cooperation with ABC, which owned two major theaters in Flint. Although “In Concert” had been a disappointing turn in our relationship, WTAC was associated with the ABC Contemporary Radio Network and the folks in New York could read ratings books.
Every two or three weeks, we would run a “rock-oriented” movie such as “Woodstock” or “The Song Remains the Same” or “The Concert for Bangladesh” and pack both theaters on Friday nights at Midnight. Then we added Saturday nights. WTAC disc-jockeys would greet the crowd before each showing and give away a few prizes, plug several station features and then bring-on the film. A pre-recorded tape was played as the audience entered and left each showing, filled with great rock music and station hype. Each “Midnight Madness” weekend would provide in-person WTAC exposure to three or four thousand listeners and generate two or three thousand dollars in station revenue. I assisted with the bookings and eventually expanded the menu to include such classics as “2001”, “A Clockwork Orange” and “Catch-22” which were attitudinally “Rock ‘n Roll”, if not musically. It worked! “Three Stooges Marathons” and Road Runner and Bugs Bunny “Cartoon Festivals” also were highly favored
In early February, I had just signed-on my WTAC morning show and was chugging-down the first of many heavily-brewed cups of coffee when I heard the distinct sound of a motorcycle roaring up our station drive-way.
The “Concert Associates” were often still prowling about at that early hour and it was my assumption that one of them was stopping by with a request or dedication which I was always pleased to provide.
I heard the engine die and then the sound of female laughter. No, it was two females laughing. And a voice from the recent past.
“Jesus Christ! My dick just fell-off!”
The ladies’ laughter increased in volume and intensity.
“Jesus Christ! Was it that last fuckin’ bump or that last fuckin’ hump?”
The gals were howling.
“Jesus Christ! We’ve gotta go see Peter C. Maybe he’ll letcha C. his “Peter!”
Now they were literally choking with hysterical hilarity. One more funny line might mean death.
He said the same words, but not the same way.
John Irons had been Born-Again from being Born-Again.
He was swigging from a quarter-filled fifth of Wild Turkey as he introduced me to “Rene” and “Janet”, a perilous pair for whom the term “bimbos” would be descriptive and not at all sexist. He had met them in a bar north of Pontiac several hours before at closing-time and had suggested a spin up to Flint with both on the back of his 300 cc. Kawasaki. It had evidentally been a longer than usual journey with a few stops along the way for refueling or free-fooling. Both seemed probable. There were many convenient woods on the way. With direction chosen and commitment dedicated, John had never been a slacker.
After five minutes at the station, the bimbos were getting bored. Any place without a tap and a pool table was clearly a pain-in-the-ass. Their purpose having been served, John rudely suggested that if they wanted to get back to Pontiac they could “grease their asses and slide”. I called a “Concert Associate” and reported “two live ones who needed a ride home”. The “ladies” were whisked away within minutes. They even kissed John and I goodbye, as “Dollar Jones” almost did out of pure gratitude. He was glad he’d stayed-awake. He later reported he’d safely escorted both Rene and Janet back to Pontiac the following day, after which he finally got to sleep.
John sacked-out on a couch in the reception area. I covered him with a blanket and a hand-drawn sign which read: “Do Not Perturb”.
After my air-shift ended, I woke him up to extreme, although anticipated, disorientation. The last thing he remembered was ordering another round of drinks shortly before ten the prior evening and eating a pizza. Rene and Janet were vaguely recalled and he hoped he’d had a good time. I assured him they were absolutely gorgeous and would be looking for him again in the bar, assuming he could recall which bar it was wherein he had made his encounter. He was fairly certain he could narrow the list down to three or four places.
We went out for breakfast and John ran it down.
Almost two years of Christian “witness” had finally driven him sane. He had had enough “preachin’, screechin’, teachin’ and reachin'”, testified John. It was the “reachin'” part that had finally shaken him loose. The “Preacher Man” who had “saved” Irons was now the “biggest con-artist since P.T. Barnum”. “At least P.T. had real fuckin’ elephants”, John added. Amen.
John had just gone into business with his brother and had opened a small motorcycle dealership in Royal Oak. Still, he was interested in a little radio work if anything opened up at WTAC or elsewhere. Hmmmmm. WTAC had nothing immediately, but there might be something elsewhere.
Radio station WKMF in Flint was being struck by NABET. Their Program Director had walked out. So had announcers and engineers. They were union members and took it seriously. Management was looking for a new Program Director. Opportunity has many doors, but this one was on the other side of a picket line.
The strikers told authorities that the guy in the pick-up truck had almost run them down when they tried to block his entrance. It wouldn’t happen again. Too much was at stake. They doubled their strength for the next morning’s encounter.
Police were informed that the same guy had not only barrelled-through at thirty miles per hour, but had fired six gunshots over their heads in the process, screaming that they were “Fucking Cocksuckers“. Convincingly feigning wounded innocence, Mr. Irons firmly denied such shocking allegations and gave the officers permission to thoroughly search his vehicle and person. No weapon was found. In leaving the facility later that day, Mr. Irons stopped his pick-up at the end of the WKMF parking area and strolled-up to a nearby striker. He smiled and gently whispered.
“Tomorrow, I’m aimin’ ten feet lower, Jim.”
Henceforth, he was allowed to pass unchallenged.
The strike ended two weeks later and John Irons was appointed Program Director at the facility and permanent Morning Show Host.
Memorial Day Weekend of 1973 was splendidly unique. I attended my first national radio convention and, although frequenting dozens of others in future times, it turned out to be the very best. Then again, none like it was ever held again. It made far too much sense.
When I had first entered the industry, Broadcasting Magazine was the radio trade publication of choice. On the music side, one had either Billboard and/or Cashbox.
In the late ’60’s and early ’70’s, a West Coast disc-jockey and radio guru named Bob Hamilton started a new publication called the “Bob Hamilton Radio Report”, later changed to “The Radio Starship Report”.
The “Bob Hamilton Radio Report” was nothing short of revolutionary.
Whereas Broadcasting Magazine had become old and stodgy and more than a bit slanted toward the television side of things and while Billboard and Cashbox were still a combination of record company propaganda and sales figures, the “Radio Report” had made an astounding leap into the future. It was published weekly with music rankings based on radio requests and airplay. It was compiled and graded on an absolutely current basis. It had sections dealing with radio station news and gossip; promotions, sales, marketing and programming. Best of all, it was completely contemporary in focus. It was Rock ‘n Roll oriented, first and foremost. The “Radio Report” and its format is what “Radio and Records” became and is today, more or less.
I was an early and enthusiastic subscriber. When the publisher announced a “Radio Carnival” was going to take place over Memorial Day Weekend ’73 at Estes Park, north of Denver. I signed-up like a shot over the heads of strikers.
Friday morning, May 25th, I drove to Metro in Detroit and boarded a non-stop flight to Denver. I was seated by fate next to an eighteen year-old, long-haired, “hippy-type” who had been brought in by ABC to program their Detroit FM, WRIF. He was the youngest ABC executive in the entire chain by at least a full decade and was rumored to be a “genius”. It was thus I first met Lee Abrams. We talked for most of the flight, primarily about the relationship between relativity theory, pagan religions and rock culture. There was unanimity in agreement.
When we arrived in Denver, a number of us “radio radicals” gathered together and waited for buses to arrive which would swing us north to Estes Park. It was a motley assembly. Onlookers suspected another “Woodstock” was being clandestinely sprung somewhere near, but these flower folks were traveling “up the country” by jet and motor coach. As soon as our bus departed the airport, spontaneous demand was issued to stop at the first convenience store en route. Twenty cases of Coors were added to our collective luggage and immediate consumption initiated. Within forty-five minutes, as the bus wound its way up mountain roads, an unsuspected physiological phenomenon presented itself with painful reality. We all learned that copious Coors consumption, combined with rapidly ascending altitude, brought bladders threateningly close to bursting-point after mere moments.
“Stop at a Bush!”, we all cried at our driver in agonized unison, even though drinking Coors.
Three minutes later, groaning with every bump and gear-shift, we were let off the vehicle at a small rest area overlooking a two hundred foot ravine. There was one facility and everyone properly lined-up in queue. Except Lee Abrams and I.
The mathematics were quite simple. There were forty-five people who needed to relieve themselves and at sixty seconds-per-leak (much beer had been consumed and that was a conservative estimate) we would be there more than a half-hour. Moreover, those near the end of the line would require morphine injections to tolerate much more waiting. There was a giant rock overlooking the deep ravine and it offered both gorgeous scenery and immediate resolution.
I climbed to the top of the rock and pissed over the ravine’s edge, my flow joining yet another stream two hundred feet below. I felt a pure, natural poetry was inherent in the act and reflected that I was returning the Coors from whence it came. Lee joined me and estimated that, factoring gravity-velocity, wind-speed and air-resistance, it was taking 3.25 seconds to hit the creek-bed below. We instantly created a trend. Suddenly everybody wanted to piss off the rock. Well, it was a radio group. Lee and I had finished and zipped-up before a Greyhound Sceni-Cruiser filled with senior citizens went by. We pretended we didn’t know any of those people pissing off that rock.
We arrived at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. A short time later, Steven King would stay there and use the Stanley as his inspiration for “The Shining”. It was really cool. There were only around two hundred and fifty registered for the convention. That turned out to be plenty. Ninety percent of us were either from FM “Progressive” Rock facilities or very aware “Top Forty” stations such as my own. The other ten percent were corporate stragglers who weren’t too sure what was coming off. There were two major assemblies. One was when we first arrived Friday afternoon and the other was Sunday morning before we left. The rest of the time was “do it yourself”. I barely slept until we returned to Denver. The way it worked was simplicity itself.
There was a large blackboard in the hotel lobby where our twenty-five “experts” would “register”. The blackboard said who they were and where they were. That was it. You would decide who you wanted to hang-out with and just go there. The “experts” weren’t tied-down, either. They might want to be in their room or in the bar or walking the grounds or climbing up a tree. They would just return to the blackboard when wishing to change location or even take time out. They would just write it down so anyone interested could keep track. The “experts” were categorized by areas of specialization.
The “experts” in “Parapsychology” were Dr. and Mrs. Rhine from the Rhine Institute at Duke University. You couldn’t do any better. They were in their early eighties and had a hell of a time. One of several “experts” in “Comedy” was a virtual unknown named Martin Mull. He was usually in the bar, calling-in truckers with a C.B. radio hidden in his guitar. For “Art”, we had Shel Silverstein of Playboy, who had written “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash. For “Music”, we had Judy Collins and my buddy Alice Cooper. Former Monkee Michael Nesmith was our expert on “Mass Communication”. Shep Gordon was there for “Artist Management”. We spent time together discussing Shep’s plans to have Alice play the part of Bunny Hoover when Robert Altman got around to making a film of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions”. Shep, Alice and I shared a deep admiration for Vonnegut.
The biggest names in the record industry were “experts”, as were top radio programmers from across the country. There was one room in the attic where “2001” and “Electra-Glide in Blue” were showing continuously for the duration of the meetings. There was snowfall Saturday night throughout the Rockies. There was also some “California Snow” available in certain suites, mostly occupied by West Coasties. There was high quality marijuana and hash in abundance everywhere which circulated freely. Even the Rhines took a polite toke or two. On Sunday morning, the Edwin Hawkins Singers serenaded all with “Oh Happy Day!” as the sun came up over the majestic snow-capped mountains surrounding us. Everybody clapped right along.
Bob Hamilton gave a speech about how we all had “Come Together”, just as in the title of the famous Beatles’ tune. He said it had been “sociologically transcending”, “psychologically profound” and “intellectually orgasmic”. He had spent much of his time in the West Coast suites. We all bid adieu and headed-back to L.A., San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Philadelphia, New York, Detroit and——Flint.
On June 28th, Eileen gave birth to another baby daughter at Flint’s McClaren Hospital. Johnny Irons did live reports concerning Eileen’s progress all morning long on WKMF. Susan Elizabeth was born shortly before 9 a.m. and became the youngest of four sisters, which she has always reminded me clearly fits the definition of a “dubious distinction”. I promised her a “trip to Paris” someday in consideration of her sequential placement, although that has now been replaced with “a trip to Dublin” and “a weekend in Paris”. I’m not too sure where the “Paris” idea came from, but believe I was drinking cognac at the time.
Sherwood Forest concerts had continued on a monthly basis in the Spring and our first “Wild Wednesday” was scheduled for June 20th with Michigan bands and “Sugarloaf” of “Green-Eyed Lady” fame.
The second “Wild Wednesday” of 1973 on July 11th offered a special treat. “Blue Oyster Cult” was headlining and had arrived in Flint the prior evening, but REO Speedwagon contacted me the morning of the event and explained a horrid dilemma had arisen. They were in a major bind due to a recording deadline which had not been met and open studio time had become severely limited. I agreed to the cancellation in return for a rescheduled date and because of an outstanding substitution offered by their booking agency. Joe Walsh had left the James Gang and had just completed his first studio album as a solo artist. He wanted to try his new band and material out without advance advertising at a venue not yet selected. He had been contacted and had agreed that circumstances presented a mutual opportunity.
For many “Wild Wednesday” enthusiasts, the event had become more the attraction than individual bands, as long as music quality was maintained.
The sum was greater than its parts. It seemed half of those in arriving cars would ask our gate-keeper, after buying their admission tickets, “Who’s playin’?”
I announced that REO had been unfortunately detained, but had been rescheduled for the following “Wild Wednesday”. There were a few murmurs of muffled disappointment, but a great roar of approval went up with my introduction of a “super surprise”. Joe Walsh took the stage and premiered his “Barnstorming” album for the first time before a live audience. He closed with an extended, fifteen-minute version of “Rocky Mountain Way” which all present saluted with tumultuous cheering and applause. Such moments were always magic, but darkness lurked on the horizon.
On August 1st, Bob Seger headlined another 1973 “Wild Wednesday” with Chicago’s Siegal/Schwall Band, Ted Nugent, Catfish and local bands including Justice Miles, Scott, Skin Deep, Nash and others.
It was becoming more evident that the invisible and still largely unnoticed cultural shift which had somehow
begun the prior year had started pointing certain things sideways and downward. Methaqualone had become the rage of the day.
Instead of getting “high” and attempting to view reality from a heightened, expanded perspective, many people started wanting to get “down”. Who wanted to get “into” it? Getting “out” of it and “away” from it had become a popular urge. Echoes of undefined disappointment were now resounding with discomfort and resonating with discouraged hope and tenuous trust.
The stabbings at Altamont before the Stones were safely ‘coptered-out had dispelled many expectations of the peace and love so joyously chronicled at Woodstock. Safety in numbers was no longer seen as an automatic attribute of (or guarantee from) the rock counterculture. Although viewed
in some circles as a national disgrace, the Kent State shootings of college students had broken the back of the more militant anti-war movement.
Richard Nixon had celebrated his overwhelming electoral victory by raining bombs on Hanoi and Haiphong. In twelve days, beginning on the 18th of December, thirty-six thousand tons of explosives were dropped on North Vietnam, exceeding a total of the three prior years. Fifteen B-52 bombers had been downed and forty-four pilots captured. Nixon had ended the war with more war.
The Paris Peace Accords had been signed January 31, 1973 . The agreement provided for U.S. withdrawal and the return of American prisoners-of-war. It was a “peace with honor”. Who knew what that meant? Who knew who had won what? But we were out! Was it a premature evaculation? Who cared?
Where there had been heated confrontation, there was now hesitant conversation. In the absence of protest, came no test. It was time to stop thinking and start drinking. Anxious, dudes? Try quaaludes!