Archive for April, 2009

“Buying Time”

April 22, 2009

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CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

BUYING TIME

Reams Broadcasting was owned by Frazier Reams, Junior. Frazier was a former Ohio State Senator and had run for Governor in 1968 on the Democratic ticket. He lost to the ever popular Jim Rhodes and decided to devote a career to broadcasting, buying the Toledo stations from his father, a former Ohio Congressman and Lucas County Prosecutor. Frazier’s Dad had put the Toledo AM on the air on April 10, 1938, and the FM in October of 1949. Had Frazier been elected Governor of Ohio, he would have been holding office instead of his opponent when Rhodes called in the Ohio National Guard at Kent State.

Frazier Jr. had also purchased WKBZ-AM in Muskegon, Michigan. He liked the area and had often traveled through Muskegon heading toward his “summer cottage” at Harbor Springs on Grand Traverse Bay in Lake Michigan. To buy the Muskegon station, he also had to purchased an AM/FM combination in Cumberland, Maryland, which he quickly spun-off due to geographic inconvenience. It was not on the way to anything interesting.

Frazier had entered into partnership with Jack Linn, a former General Manager of Toledo’s WSPD. Jack owned a little piece of Toledo, but would share equally in the Flint stations. Jack was the actual operations person and tried to impress the Flint community with his partner’s impressive political credentials, referring to Frazier around town as the “Titular Head of the Ohio Democratic Party”. I started telling everyone that WWCK-FM had been purchased by “Tits”. Of course, I had never met the man. I had yet to make Mr. Linn’s acquaintance either, but felt I should properly introduce myself.

One of the first things WWCK’s new ownership had done was radically slash their rates for concert advertising and offer anything required for station involvement in live rock presentations. This was an excellent move on their part. It was one which could cost WTAC heavily, both in advertising revenue and future promotional opportunities. It was time for a neighborly visit.

I phoned WWCK’s General Manager, Charlie Cohen. I introduced myself in the friendliest of fashions. I asked when Mr. Linn might be in town and suggested that the three of us get together and discuss my purchase of commercial advertising on their station to promote “Peter C. Cavanaugh Concerts” on WWCK-FM. Cohen almost shit. He certainly knew who I was. They still had that dartboard up in their studio. WTAC’s Program Director becoming a client and buying time on their station? Talk about credibility! A meeting was quickly arranged for the following afternoon. Jack Linn was specifically driving-up from Toledo to be in attendance.

I had done considerable research on the Reams organization and specific characteristics of major players. Jack Linn was said to be Irish. I was counting on the fact that he would honestly try to fuck me.

Since I had become much more versed in FCC law than I would have ever preferred as a result of our “Spiro Agnew Letter” incident, I was particularly familiar with various interpretations of Commission policies relating to station involvement in conjunction with the promotion of live events. I had obtained actual copies of proposals made to other area promoters by the new management of WWCK in writing. I had also confirmed several verbal agreements which had been recently established and could obtain affidavits if necessary. I was ready to rock.

I was wearing my standard black leather jacket, jeans and T-shirt as I pulled into the WWCK parking lot for the first time in daylight. I walked toward the building with a look of grim resignation. I was surrendering to the inevitable. Met at the door by both Jack and Charlie, I was ushered into their General Manager’s office, which had once belonged to the Methodist Bishop of Flint. They brought me coffee and donuts. They asked about my family. They just couldn’t have been any nicer.

I told them I was prepared to cut a deal on the spot and seal it with a check for one thousand dollars in advance if terms were right. I clearly sensed twin erections. Jack Linn talked for over thirty minutes and I asked a series of innocent questions. I was assured about any number of things and obtained important commitment in several key areas. It sure sounded good to me!

We shook hands and I handed Mr. Linn my thousand dollar check. He examined it carefully. He smiled. He turned it over and saw the entire reverse-side covered in small print. He read it suspiciously. He frowned.

I had gone to greath lengths in attempting to cover all bases and had succeeded in addressing all central issues. There were several major stipulations which endorsement of the check would certify. Nothing was mentioned that hadn’t already been guaranteed verbally. Why the hesitation?

“What’s wrong?”

There was silence.

“The money’s good!”

Cohen looked confused. Linn looked pluperfectly pissed.

Jack’s acceptance and endorsement of the check would have handed me his Emerald Green family jewels on a platinum platter. He had told me many things in his enthusiasm to bring my business on board. Much was quite contrived and verifiably so. All I had asked is that he sign a statement attesting to his veracity, albeit unconventionally drafted on the back of a check. He promptly returned the check and left the room. I asked Charlie to bring him back immediately or really get fucked. He passed along the message and Jack returned.

I congratulated Mr. Linn on his new opportunities in Flint and discussed FCC guidelines as I understood them. I was speaking as an individual entrepreneur, not as WTAC’s Program Director. I outlined a letter of complaint I could instantly draft to the Commission based on information I had already obtained which existed completely independent of our little meeting. Of course, I would reference our conversations as well, even fully expecting he would completely deny many aspects. Charlie Cohen would have to lie to the FCC for him, but managerial positions were not without unpleasant responsibilities and unexpected challenges. Charlie looked angry, then scared. Mr. Linn asked me what I wanted.

My proposition was “an even playing field”, which I described in great detail.

Agreement was reached. Obviously, I would not be advertising on WWCK. I thanked both gentlemen for their time and courtesy and took my leave. I had made a large impression. I would not recognize its real importance for almost half a decade. Meanwhile, WTAC rocked-on with more restrained competition. R. Nottingham received a full report and was quite pleased.

Twenty WTAC staff members and guests journeyed with me in December to Detroit’s Cobo Hall for a spectacular performance by The WHO. It was the first time I’d seen them all since the Bristol Road Holiday Inn. They were magnificent and had set up rear stadium speakers for full multi-channel effect during their “Quadrophenia” segment. It was outstanding and I did remember to bring my smoke along.

1976 was to be the United States of America’s Bicentennial Year. Bringing it in called for special celebration. With my brother Paul and his soon-to-be wife Cindy visiting from Syracuse, we all journeyed to the new Silverdome Stadium near Pontiac. We finally all saw Elvis Presley. He was in fine voice, but his pants split during the second number and there was a brief pause required for necessary replacement. It had been twenty years and over one hundred pounds since we first heard “Heartbreak Hotel”. We watched him with sad excitement. He had been the first and wouldn’t last.

The main thing on our early WTAC 1976 agenda was a long-shot. We wanted our own Flint FM station.

“Music of Thunder”

April 19, 2009

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CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE

MUSIC OF THUNDER

It was the best concert I have ever been privileged to witness.

It is surely a matter of personal, subjective taste. Then too, they were really “on” that night and played for an uninterrupted three hours and forty-five minutes with precision and perfection.

I had been curious as to how closely they could duplicate their heavily produced studio sound. It was surpassed in every instance. I was concerned they might be a little “fatigued” from their long road tour and/or excessive consumption of various substances rumored to offer relaxing measures of succor and solace during their travels. I had worried for naught. I was anxious about seating arrangements. Atlantic Records had come through when it counted. Eileen and I were sitting in the center of the front-row.

It was at exactly 8 p.m. on Friday, January 31st of 1975, that the lights at Olympic Stadium in Detroit dimmed and four tall figures strolled confidently onto the stage.

Launched with a thunderous explosion of sound, the mighty Zeppelin took flight.

Led Zeppelin had been formed nearly seven years earlier in July of 1968 by guitarist Jimmy Page, who had just left The Yardbirds. Page added singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham from the little known British group “Band of Joy” and completed his assembly with a leading British session musician named John Paul Jones as bassist and keyboard player. Led Zeppelin had quickly stormed into the forefront of “Heavy Rock” with the release of their first album.

The band’s name had been suggested by Flint car-sinking expert Keith Moon of the WHO. As was true of WHO, Led Zeppelin had always been essentially a musical trio with Robert Plant limited primarily to vocal contribution. That the sound had always been as “big” as it was with only three basic players had been an awesome realization.

I had always believed there were a number of consciousness levels accessible through and evident within Led Zeppelin music. Zeppelin’s primary definition and function as a “Rock ‘n Roll Band” was beyond dispute. They offered an enormously evident primal beat which powerfully throbbed throughout their more high volume efforts with unfailing presence and distinction. They were incredibly tight as a unit and could sweep through dimensions of intensity with singular thrust and total command. Their highly accomplished use of acoustical instrumentation offered yet greater focus, depth and unique musical originality. Even on the surface, it was obvious how the group generated mass audience appeal.

Deeper yet, I found them supremely spiritual. WHAT? Yes, SPIRITUAL!

Through Led Zeppelin, I sensed a timeless magic finding expression and release.

In the ancient blood of some flow the genes and genius of masters, teachers, physicians and priests from a time when Druids walked the land and even long before. Celtic mysticism enveloped the night. With both conscious and subconscious awareness, masterful words unveiled an absolute reality, both universal and beyond. Lyrical poetry and sweeping imagery spoke of many parallel worlds, all joined. With soaring sexuality, flesh and spirit became as one in an exuberant celebration of timeless existence and spaceless exaltation. In Led Zeppelin, rock music offered eloquent articulation of the unknown as unrecalled, expressing passionate human desire in both physical and metaphysical terms.

I remain amazed that this singularly unique transcendence has never been fully appreciated nor extensively explored.

Even before the Celts had come the Tuatha De Denann. People of the Goddess. Children of the Light. To Olympia came Led Zeppelin. Ceol Toirni. Music of Thunder.

From “Rock ‘n Roll” (been a long time since I did “The Stroll”) through a final encore with “How Many More Times?”, Zeppelin never stopped. As a psychogenic aside, I watched the entire performance completely straight. We had charged down to Detroit from Flint with little time to spare. My stash had been inadvertently left behind in the rush. It was just as well. I would have mind-melded into the amp circuits.

In addition to all of their most familiar material, the group introduced large segments of a soon-to-be-released double-album. It was thus I first heard much of “Physical Graffiti” with virginal ears.

That night in Detroit I was ruined for life. The measure of excellence established on stage by Led Zeppelin was so far superior to anything I had ever heard before, it automatically became a new standard with which all to come would be subjectively compared. As of 2009, “The Song Remains The Same.”

In March of ’75, I visited Delta College again with “Styx”. “Lady” had established them as a rising national act. We filled six thousand seats.

On Easter Sunday, we presented a rare Sherwood Forest concert with Bob Seger. Bob’s new “Live Silver Bullet” album, recorded at Cobo Hall in Detroit, was about to be released and would finally break him all the way nationally, putting him up there with Alice. Although most of the material represented old Michigan hits, it was all brand new to the rest of the world. After more than ten years of public performance, he was about to become an overnight success. It was Bob’s last appearance at Sherwood and one of mine as well.

The following Wednesday night, a Lansing promoter and I ran “Wedsel’s Edsels”, one of the first “‘Fifties” bands to catch on in Michigan, at the National Guard Armory in Owosso as an “Easter Vacation Special”. A freak Spring Storm dumped twenty-one inches of snow on the ground in four hours. We called-off the concert at 10:30 and headed back toward Flint, only twenty miles to the east. I barely arrived in time for my morning show on WTAC.

WTAC’s Flint ratings remained stable, although WHNN-FM in Bay City was now tearing up the Tri-Cities with their own FM Rock format and impacting heavily on our listenership to the north. Shit. Goddamn Armstrong.

In September, I brought Bob Seger to Delta College. He drew an excellent , “sold-out” eight thousand in attendance. It would be our last time working together. He was heading for the stratosphere and would shortly be commanding one hundred thousand dollar nightly guarantees. No one had ever deserved it more.

Ann Arbor booking agent Ray Schleide had invited me down for a concert at Michigan University’s Hill Auditorium and I took him up on his offer. A new artist had just been released on the Columbia label and word was out that something special was happening. I agreed, after seeing Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band.

On the first of October, new owners bought WWCK-FM from Johnny Nogaj, along with WCZN-AM. They were from the Toledo area and owned WIOT-FM, which had started making major waves in that market. They intended to take Flint by storm.

“Snow On The Water”

April 19, 2009

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CHAPTER FIFTY

SNOW ON THE WATER

I introduced “The Guess Who” in April at the I.M.A. Auditorium. Burton Cummings sounded great, but Randy Bachman had left the group and was recording with a new outfit called “Bachman Turner Overdrive”. They would shortly release an album called “Not Fragile”. It would enjoy phenomenal success.

A New York promoter brought The New York Dolls to the I.M.A. in June
and lost a fortune. Less than one hundred tickets were sold. The next day, I called the A.T.I. booking agency and contracted with the opening band for a November 10th date at Delta College near Saginaw.

I had entered an agreement with the college to use Delta’s gymnasium for a few productions in the new school year, needing a venue larger than Sherwood Forest for continued and slightly expanded enterprise. Although five months distant, I had been blown-away by what I saw. The opening group for the New York Dolls had their initial release coming out shortly. They were four nice Jewish boys dressed-up in the weirdest possible way,  had unusual and highly creative stage effects, and played basic, three-chord, ball-kicking, hard-core Rock ‘n Roll as loud as the MC-5. If instinct demands,  you just have to gamble. I obtained them for a guarantee of one thousand dollars against fifty percent of the gate, including all expenses for sound and lights. I thought I would take a chance with a band called “KISS”.

Our first ’74 “Wild Wednesday” had been scheduled for June 26th at Sherwood Forest. With Bob Seger again heading the Michigan roster, I decided to close the show with a new band which had recently obtained enormous national radio exposure with their first album. They seemed just perfect in chemistry and content. A single release, “Rock The Nation”, was in our WTAC “Top Ten”. Tracks called “Bad Motor Scooter” and “Rock Candy” were getting tremendous request action. The group was named after lead-guitar player Ronnie Montrose. The lead-singer for “Montrose” was Sammy Hagar.  In later years, Sammy would enjoy considerable fame as a solo artist, then find permanent membership with “Van Halen”.

The last “Wild Wednesday” crowd exceeded ten thousand and was a financial and artistic triumph. Everything went perfectly within the park.

One mile to the west on Davison Road, an ambulance raced toward Sherwood Forest late in the day. It had been summoned by phone to a “drug emergency” which was never later verified. It may well have been generated by a crank call from some anonymous “irate citizen” seeking to impact the day with unfavorably publicity. There had been many such calls.

A soft, light rain had started falling which went almost  unnoticed on the grounds. It was enough. The ambulance slid out of control at a high rate of speed and the driver and his assistant were killed, leaving wives and children behind.

Media coverage didn’t directly place blame on the concert, but the aftermath provided an emotional rallying point for those who sought to have “Wild Wednesdays” ended. Postures were again assumed. Everyone went to Court. Nothing was decided. Expensive litigation would have gone on for months. I voluntarily pulled the plug. The latest controversy converged with the changing nature of the rock promotion industry. 1974 would have been our last season, regardless of community climate. Rock ‘n Roll had outgrown Sherwood Forest and an era had passed after five short, exciting, wonderful  years.

It wasn’t alone in change.

On September 20th, Charlie Speights announced his immediate departure for Las Vegas. He was packing all his worldly belongings in a ’74 Buick Station Wagon and heading-out. Charlie was taking along with him our twenty-one year-old, strikingly-attractive station receptionist, “B.J.” Furman. She would provide comfortable company.

“B.J.” stood for “Barbara Jean” and she deeply resented casual joking about any other interpretation her initials might suggest. Ironically, “B.J.” had lived only two blocks away from me in Syracuse when I grew-up. Being a dozen years my junior, our paths had never crossed until she started working at WTAC in Flint. What a small world. She thought Charlie was just about the coolest guy she’d ever met.  Charlie was equally enamored.

Charlie thought he probably wouldn’t miss radio at all. He felt the whole business and, in fact, much of which seems important in life was only “snow on the water”.

The phrase is from an Incredible String Band song called “Big Ted”.

Big Ted’s dead and gone. Gone like snow on the water. Goodbye.”

A horrible corporate accident accompanied Charlie’s resignation.

Fuqua Communications President Asa Stallworth had died of a heart-attack a few months earlier. Fortunately, he was not felled by another FCC inquiry into “D-J Datebooks”, but a sudden coronary brought on by normal broadcasting stress and strain, combined with high blood-pressure and decades of fine, deep-fried, home-cooked Southern food. He had been replaced as President by the Vice-President and General Manager of Channel Nine in Columbus, Mr. Joe Windsor, a tight, taciturn man with a sparse, grey crew-cut.

Mr. Windsor had briefly stopped in Flint for no more than several hours in the midst of a whirlwind tour of all the broadcast properties via corporate jet and was understandably not that familiar with the operation. All he knew was that WTAC’s Vice-President and General Manager was resigning to “play horn” in “Vegas” with “B.J.” in tow. The corporate chart indicated an immediate successor was available and one who had already secretly campaigned for the position behind Charlie’s back.

Robert Nottingham Hill  had been hired by Charlie as National Sales Manager after Don Mayle had left to pursue station ownership. Later, “R. Nottingham”, a sniveling,  supercilious bore with beady eyes,  was made General Sales Manager just to stop his whining. He was from Chicago and had sent his resume directly to Asa Stallworth, who had passed it on to Charlie. Charlie was impressed with the fact that Hill had worked for Taft  Broadcasting, a corporation which enjoyed high reputation within the industry. He’d been released from employment following a “personality conflict” with a visiting engineer who, unknown to R. Nottingham, was  a Corporate Vice President. Shit, they should wear uniforms or something!

Hill was regarded by Charlie, most of the Sales Department and all of the Programming people as our “Station Honkie”. We borrowed this Black term of derision since nothing else said it better.

R. Nottingham had made it plain that he wanted to be a “Vice-President”. It appeared to matter not of what.  He hated long-hair, rock music and “hippies”. He despised “decadence, “decline” and “drugs”, although he considered copious consumption of Jack Daniels a refreshing adult pastime. He walked out of Pine Knob Music Theater, just north of Pontiac, during a performance of “Hair” since they “desecrated the American flag”. He had openly wept when Nixon left office.

Hill had been much excited over the appointment of a new Fuqua President since he hadn’t made much of an impression on Asa Stallworth, who always thought his name was “Hillingham”. R. Nottingham had composed a “Confidential Memo” which he sent to Mr. Windsor. This discussed at length all the things wrong with WTAC and Charlie and, importantly, how Hill could straighten it all out. He said all the right things. The arrival of this communication coincided with Charlie’s resignation. Joe Windsor thought the best thing to do was to set Charlie loose and give “Hillingham” a try. He immediately flew to Flint to effect the decision.

A staff meeting was called. Joe announced Charlie’s resignation to a surprised staff and Hill’s appointment to utter silence. I stood up and shook R. Nottingham Hill’s hand in congratulation. Then, I resigned on the spot. Five others followed suit immediately.

After several weeks of negotiation, we all returned.

I had agreed to tolerate the appointment, but only if I could report directly to Joe Windsor on any matters concerning programming. Mr. Windsor had spent more time in Flint than planned, hearing negative testimony regarding his new General Manager from a number of employees. I met privately with Hill and told him he was a fucking jerk-off, but that I was prepared to accept him as “our fucking jerk-off”, providing he stuck to Sales and developed “product appreciation” in an evident and demonstrable manner. Excited over his new designation as “Vice-President”, he willingly agreed. I made a mental note which has never been altered. People who seek titles are usually the last to deserve them.

In November, “KISS” drew a crowd of eight thousand at Delta College with a five dollar admission. Between my booking and the date, their first release had sold a million copies in its first few months and they were on television all the time. We had stopped selling tickets a week before the show.

I picked them up at the Tri-City airport and we headed for the gig, smoking several joints on the way. They were out of make-up and were playing “Name That Tune” with each other. I joined in and stumped them all with “The Theme From Navy Log”. They had just seen “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” the night before and had been impressed and inspired. We drove past a large, cement, windowless building and they asked what it was. I had no idea, but told them it was the “Michigan School for The Blind”. I had them for about three seconds. Gene Simmons then called me an “asshole” and we fired up some hash. They gave a great performance and fried the audience. These were some awfully bright boys who sat down one night and tried to figure out what it would take to “make-it”. They exceeded their expectations many times over in becoming, arguably, the greatest rock “show-group” of all time. Get the “Firehouse”!!!

On December 19th, I presented Jim Dandy and “Black Oak Arkansas” at the I.M.A. in partnership with Don Sherwood. Don had been good to me at “The Forest” and deserved a chance to remain in the action. The group cost ten thousand dollars and, with percentage and expense considerations, we each made around fifty bucks. The margin was disappearing. I was not allowed to open with a Flint or Michigan act.  Any future concerts would have to be carefully structured and craftily booked with minimal risk. For the first time since 1969, nothing was planned for Christmas Night at Sherwood Forest.

Another New Year’s Party at the Cavanaugh’s ushered in ’75 with clamor and class.

“B.C.” got stuck crawling down a  laundry chute. “Goodbar” accidentally locked himself in a broom-closet with two female WTAC employees and had to pound for release (an experience, I pointed out, with which he was undoubtedly quite familiar). Jessie Scott had brought along three beautiful young ladies whose names he couldn’t recall. Pete Flanders got his van stuck in the backyard a little before sunrise.  Mike Kahn dramatically produced a large tray covered with baking powder drawn into lines, which he immediately “accidentally” tipped-over. He tried to pretend it was spilled contraband covering the beer-soaked, whiskey-stained, hardwood floor. “B.C.” warned him about being sacreligious. Who could have a better night with fine friends? Well, I could. And only four weeks later!

“F.U.C.K.I.T.”

April 19, 2009

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CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

F.U.C.K.I.T.

It was refreshing returning to the “wild” rock scene at Sherwood in the following months of autumn with Ted Nugent, Bob Seger and other “house bands” running every other Sunday through the end of the year. On Christmas Night, REO Speedwagon defied horrendous weather conditions (including a major ice storm) to play before another sold-out crowd. Their cover-version of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” had already become a major Midwest hit and they were finally realizing long-awaited national recognition.

Instead of staging a concert, I decided to welcome in New Year 1974 with a party in my home on Concord Street in Flint. I had an enormous basement area wired for serious sound and a most understanding wife. WTAC staff members mingled with my Sherwood Forest crew and other guests well into the following morning. A handful hung around for football games later in the day.

John Irons was there. We made some cassette recordings which were quite creative. Although John was alone in experiencing a brief period of religious conversion, I was the one speaking in tongues. My extemporaneous dissertation had something to do with Shelly Fabares and a dozen orangutans, each of which I named after someone everyone knew. They were alleged to have performed various acts with Ms. Fabares based on personal characteristics with which those assembled were familiar. I was much more eloquent and imaginative than I would have suspected, given my level of alcoholic splendor. I have no idea why Ms. Fabares was subconsciously selected as central participant. I suspect it was probably a reflection of her “Donna Reed Show” virginal innocence. I must have sensed that ’74 would be a great year to begin in drunken elaboration upon fantasies unexplored.

Another Terry Knight group graced our Sherwood hall in late January.

Their claim to fame had been found in an incredibly successful record about remaining secretly awake through a gruesomely prolonged, terrifyingly detailed experience of accidental and agonizing death. The cheerful little tune was called “D.O.A.” Terry had appropriately named the group “Bloodrock”. They were surprisingly good musically, but all the crowd wanted to hear was their “hit”. It was saved for the last number. The dirge-like sirens were particularly enjoyed.

“Bloodrock” was to return on Easter Sunday and draw another decent crowd, but they refused to play “D.O.A.” They were trying to resurrect themselves from the dead professionally and felt that the religious significance of the day might add moral endorsement to the effort. For the omission, they were soundly booed at the end of their performance, sacrifice denied being decried. They broke-up a short time later.

The middle of March had been set-aside for our annual WTAC “Client Trip” wherein dozens of clients would receive a free vacation with the station to somewhere interesting in return for purchasing more advertising than they really needed. This time the destination was Nevada. Any place good enough for Elvis was good enough for us! Viva Las Vegas!

An entire plane had been leased for the journey.

It had been airborne for under five minutes when two stewardesses came charging down the aisle, demanding to know who was “smoking marijuana?”.

They zoomed in on “B. C.” like avenging angels of death.

“B.C.” was William “Billy” Coleman. He already looked like Willie Nelson eventually would, but was a decade ahead.

If the long-hair, handlebar-mustache, red bandanna and purple shades didn’t attract the attention of an anxious stewardess; the snakeskin cowboy- boots, orange sombrero and twelve-inch silver belt-buckle marked “F.U.C.K.I.T.” might. Those things, and the fact that Billy had been passing ice-cold bottles of beer around the cabin after first opening them with his teeth, raised suspicion to convictive levels.

“F.U.C.K.I.T.” was the name of B.C.’s “social club”, which included many of our “Concert Associates”. It stood for “Fraternal Union of Casual Knights-Integrity Tomorrow.” He was on the client trip as a guest of Mister Goodbar, who was traveling as “John Smith”, official representative of his theater circuit.

I had first met Mr. Coleman ten years earlier when he worked as top salesman at “World-Wide Furniture Warehouse” where WTAC did “remote broadcasts” from time to time. He had an extraordinary line of bullshit. Many were lured to the establishment by my irresistible broadcast offers of free records and hot-dogs. Billy had excelled at convincing those so enticed of their fundamentally undeniable need for at least five or six rooms worth of cheap furniture. He wore expensive suits, had slicked-back hair and used to drive two or three gorgeous women all over town in a brand new Cadillac convertible. “B.C.” had been “Born-Again”, but he had saved himself.

He had become tired of the job and felt that money for purchases beyond the basic necessities of life just came down to “points on a scoreboard”. He could win anytime he seriously played anything, so why bother? If ever existed a “Rock ‘n Roll Renaissance Renegade”, it was “B.C.”

Billy’s wallet was lovingly filled with pictures of his Triumph motorcycles. He supported himself as a projectionist and specialized in removing four or five seconds of “interesting moments” from various films passing through his booth. These bits and pieces had been spliced-together into a rather stream-of-consciousness epic called “Tits and Creases”. It was constantly being upgraded and improved upon as a continual “work in progress”. The current version ran approximately twenty minutes. I had included it in several WTAC “Midnight Madness” showings as a special bonus with excellent response and many requests for repetition.

Coleman lived in a old ramshackle, brown-shingled, dog-infested house almost falling into the Flint River near Flushing, Michigan. Billy referred to Flushing as “Toilet Town”. He was definitely “crazy Irish”. We were bonded closely by genetic predisposition.

Billy noticed the stewardesses and frantically beckoned them to approach quickly. He assumed a look of frustrated intensity and an attitude of patronizing impatience.

“Look, sir, we–”

“Ssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!”

He reached in his vest and withdrew his “credentials”. It was an impressive leather-folder. You could clearly make out the highly-visible “F.B.I.” in bold, raised-lettering on the gold badge and an agent’s picture on the card underneath. It looked very official. Prolonged inspection would have revealed small print which noted “Fucking Bastards Incorporated”. The photograph was that of an old man grinning at the camera with no teeth. Billy had found it in a magazine at his dentist’s office. It was from an article on the dangers of periodontal disease.  Billy flashed his identification and demanded rapt attention. It was granted.

Billy’s voice was a strained whisper.

“Special Agent Coleman. Undercover.”

The girls simultaneously bobbed their heads with excited appreciation.

“I’ve got a radio group. I’ve been on ’em for months. This is it.”

The nodding increased.

“I need your complete cooperation. Don’t stop anything these people are doing. You’re destroying government evidence.”

Both stewardesses looked shocked and ashamed. Billy produced a small notebook and extended it.

Here. Write down your names, addresses and phone numbers. I’ll be in touch. Don’t say a word to anyone about what we’ve discussed. This is a “Code Green” case!”

“Code green?”

“Green. How long have you known the pilot of this aircraft?”

The ladies looked at each other and one softly confided.

“We’ve flown with him before, but we don’t really know him.”

Good. You both looked clean. Remember, not a word to anyone!”

“Yes, Sir.” “Yes, Sir.”

“Now, don’t come near me again. Oh, and bring that guy with the glasses up there as much Chivas Regal as he wants. He’s one of the leaders. I need him loosened-up a little.”

“Yes, Sir.” “Yes, Sir”.

We were ten minutes out of Flint with three hours left to go.

Much of the “WTAC Las Vegas Adventure” is lost in a whirling, twirling, technicolor blur.

There were highlights.

Upon arriving in Vegas, Coleman jumped me from behind as I passed through the terminal entrance and screamed ,”You’re Under Arrest!” for the benefit of his stewardesses. Since I had not heard his exchange and was carrying an ounce of “Mother Nature’s Finest”, I was momentarily convulsed in raw terror.

Charlie Speights, again a single man, was changing female partners every twenty minutes. Everyone stopped keeping track.

John Smith lost his toupee on the giant bumper-cars at Circus Circus and Mr. Goodbar made them stop the action so a thorough search could be conducted. It took five minutes. A crowd of spectators grew to several hundred. Word filtered though that there had been a fatality on the ride. A little kid found the hairpiece tightly wedged under a tire. It looked like a small, dead animal. Goodbar put it in his pocket and abandoned pretense of disguise for the rest of our stay.

We all went up to Mt. Charleston, just north of town, and rode horses.

We all rented dirt-bikes and took them out into the desert.

My wife Eileen spent twelve consecutive hours at the nickel slots.

Goodbar spent fifteen hours at the dime slots.

Billy Coleman spent no time at the slots, but ten minutes at “Blackjack” netted him seven hundred dollars. He retired from further gambling for the duration.

We partied. We drank. We smoked. We laughed.

No one slept.

On the last night, Charlie was missing.

We split up into “teams” and combed the casino area.  No Charlie.

We checked in his room. Billy popped the lock in less time than to read that he did.  No Charlie.

We looked in several other rooms where it was suspected he might be. Three were empty. A fourth revealed a naked couple enjoying mutual oral sex. Billy produced his ID and apologized for our presence. No Charlie!

Around four-thirty in the morning we abandoned our search and decided to have last call at the top of the Landmark. As we exited the elevator and approached the lounge, a wailing trumpet could be heard high above the din. It rose and fell in ecstatic release.  Charlie!!!!

He had brought his horn along to Vegas just in case. He had talked his way onto the bandstand and had been playing there for hours. He told us all later that he was sick of radio and had always wanted to “play horn in Vegas”. He said that he was going to move there, and pretty damn soon. He wasn’t kidding.

“Satin Sheets”

April 19, 2009

jeanne-pruett

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

SATIN SHEETS

John Irons had approached me about doing a “Country” version of “Wild Wednesdays” on Labor Day. What the hell. We agreed to a fifty-fifty split. The WKMF “Country Carnival” drew four thousand. We had Bobby Bare and Jeannie Pruett as major draws and a dozen or so local country bands.

Jeannie Pruett had a #1 Country-Western hit with “Satin Sheets To Cry On”. Jeannie sat in her mobile home as fans lined-up outside for autographs.  “Look at ’em fuckin’ squirrels”, her road manager reflected aloud.

Well, he wasn’t all wrong.

The Country audience in Flint during that era was rather rural in both background and predisposition. There were quite a few exceptions, but those were far in the minority. There was a pronounced lack of sophistication and a tangible aura of subcultural angst highly evident and prevalent from the moment we opened the gates at Noon. The “WKMF Country Carnival” had been promoted as a “family affair”. That it was.

There were picnic tables, fold-up chairs, beer kegs and blazing grills as far as the eye could see. Little kids were running around everywhere with no obvious supervision, many falling into the lake completely unnoticed. There were near-drownings every five minutes. The whiskey flowed. Major fist-fights were breaking-out everywhere. Even women were punching women and pulling-off each other’s wigs.

A number of younger couples had playfully headed back into a wooded area where, according to reliable sources, they were pulling down each other’s pants and screwing their brains out in broad daylight, otherwise remaining fully-clothed and “decent”. Many families had brought their dogs along. These were starting to pack-up, rummaging through unguarded food baskets and over-turned trash cans with reckless abandon. My entire long-haired “roadie team” locked themselves in the “record room” and refused to come out without police protection.

A giant of a man grabbed John Irons and proudly announced that he was John’s “favorite fan”. He demanded to meet Jeannie Pruett. When John allowed how that just wasn’t in the cards, the son-of-a-bitch drew a foot-long butcher knife. John kicked him in the balls and called for a cop. The “favorite fan” was arrested and brought downtown. He was back an hour later with three brothers. They were all hauled-in.

By the time the day ended, there had been forty arrests. Those detained were just the obvious ones who moved slowly and were caught. The park was a wreck. Irons and I made a grand total of two hundred dollars each. Security costs had tripled due to a number of off-duty officers wisely called-in by Chief Boyce. Oddly enough, there were no serious injuries reported. The folks had obviously practiced this sort of thing before.

There was absolutely no disagreement from anyone that the “WKMF Country Carnival” had wrought more havoc and had engendered more flat-out trouble in ten hours than every “Wild Wednesday”, “Super Sunday” and regular Rock ‘n Roll concert ever held at the facility all put together.  There was no press coverage whatsoever. The day went unknown by most and forgotten by almost all.

“Pussy Cheer”

April 19, 2009

fitz

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

PUSSY CHEER

On August 22nd, our last “Wild Wednesday” of the summer headlined the English band Flash and Bob Seger. Attendance was a little over five thousand and we had posted Sheriff O’ Brien’s big “Narc” sign at the park entrance as promised. Everything appeared to be completely under control.

The only slight annoyance was a State Police “Safety Inspection Team” which had been stopping a few vehicles near the park on Richfield Road for several hours, ostensibly looking for balding-tires, bad-brakes or improper tail-lights. They halted one hundred vehicles and made three arrests. It was only a marginal hassle, except for my friend Michael Kahn. Mike had pulled onto Richfield and had seen the inspection team looming ahead. He knew what to do. He opened his glove department, retrieved a dozen joints and swallowed them all with barely a chew. It was a questionable call. Two minutes later, a State Police Sergeant approached his vehicle. Michael looked too responsible to bother with a search. He was waved right-on through. Michael later reported the day lasted longer than “Seven Thousand Woodstocks”.

The media aftermath of the “O’Brien Raid” had  given positive press to the Sheriff, primarily since he had been allowed to run his rap without contradiction or clarification.

The cops knew better. Cops talked with cops. There was serious snickering.

In law enforcement hierarchy, status is generally based on the size of governmental unit represented. Chief Boyce was employed by the relatively small city of Davison and used several adjacent township and village forces to augment his forces. There was joint jurisdiction between the Sheriff’s office and other departments and a variety of agreements had been reached. There were still many areas which were definitely “gray” with specifics unresolved. Sherwood Forest’s concert operations had become a question of “ownership”.

Shortly before sunset, Chief Boyce approached me with fire in his eyes. He was most embarrassed and genuinely apologetic. He was also understandably shaken. A dozen Genesee County Sheriff’s Department cruisers had just pulled into Sherwood Forest. A Deputy-Chief was in charge, Sheriff O’Brien being out of town on “official business”. The Deputy-Chief had been ordered by O’Brien to lead fifty armed, helmeted deputies, dressed in standard riot-gear regalia, into the concert area and surround the crowd. They were to make no arrests, but were there to “observe” and offer a “display of strength”.

THIS WAS MADNESS!

I attempted to reach Stewart Newblatt by phone, but he was unavailable. There was no time to obtain a Court Order. Chief Boyce was powerless. There was no other option. I would resort to open honesty.

I charged the stage and, as Savage Grace completed their set, brought them off with thanks. Bob Seger was next to perform.

I begged the crowd’s forgiveness and asked for their serious attention.

I explained the situation. I spoke of how jurisdiction over Sherwood Forest had become a “big, fucking deal” with Sheriff John P. O’ Brien. I said the “P” stood for “Pussy”. John O’Brien was a “Pussy” for running away and beating a path up the driveway at the prior concert when things got scary. He was having other men do his dirty-work. Innocent officers were being exposed to danger and distress. I told the crowd that Sheriff O’ Brien wanted them to “take on” his cops, who were being forced to encircle the audience. The Sheriff was risking the well-being of his very own men. I stressed that the deputies were only doing their goddamn jobs. Being there was not their fault. They were there because of the “PUSSY WHO STAYED AWAY”!

I led the crowd in a “PUSSY” cheer.

Sheriff O’Brien is a –?”

“PUSSSSSSSSSSSSSY!”

“That’s right. John  P. O’Brien is a–?”

“PUSSSSSSSSSSSSSY!”

“And the “P” stands for what?”

“PUSSSSSSSSSSSSSSY!”

I then introduced both Bob Seger and the riot-squad. Both received loud, warm, friendly applause.

Seger went right into “Who Do You Love” as the police slowly encircled the gathering. People were smiling and welcoming them. There were handshakes and pats on the back. Seger greeted the deputies and dedicated his next song to them. It was “Turn The Page”. He continued with his performance in the most normal of fashions. After fifteen minutes, the deputies filed-out without a hint of trouble.

Litigation started immediately. The following day, Stewart Newblatt filed a motion in Circuit Court to permanently enjoin Genesee County Sheriff John P. O’Brien from any further “dangerous and precipitous actions on peaceful assemblies at Sherwood Forest”. The Sheriff filed motions to permanently prohibit any further outdoor concerts at Sherwood Forest. Obviously, sides were taken.

There had always been objection toward the concerts by a segment of the community based solely on general principles. A number of church organizations were particularly negative and had referred to me as a “Pied Piper of Perdition” in several leaflets and pamphlets which had been distributed about. On the other hand, virtually our entire WTAC listening demographic was fired-up against the Sheriff and for Sherwood Forest.

Ironically, the dispute turned out to be an excellent station promotion. The WTAC call-letters were in the paper and on TV all the time connected with the affair. My quotes on “democratic principles”, “generational prejudice” and “free enterprise” made red-hot copy. I had intentionally refrained from any further personal comments on the Sheriff’s methods, motives or manhood after my concert rap. The lawsuit said it all. It had also been brought to my attention that the “Pussy” label had really stuck, particularly among a number of younger deputies.  It is always best not to overstate an accepted observation. Chief Boyce reported that the “snickering” had reached a roar in the townships.

After several weeks, I felt another meeting with the Sheriff was in order.
I had learned that the “Pussy Cheer” had rendered him apoplectic. I was not alarmed. He was a dangerous man. And a pussy.

He reluctantly agreed to a meeting.

The first thing I did upon arriving was request an explanation of his orders on the 22nd. He asked me for an apology regarding the “pussy deal”. I responded that had been solely precipitated by his orders and had been intended to diffuse crowd hostility against his officers. I had directed resentment against an inaccessible target. I pointed out that it was nothing more than basic mob psychology, a subject in which he had much to learn. He angrily emphasized that he deeply resented being called a “pussy” in public. He just wouldn’t let it go.

The conversation went on for an hour. I had completely cooperated and he’d fucked me, so I’d called him a “pussy” in public. I was prepared to establish an agreement now that we were even. I also played the “Irish card” and pointed-out that it was just this sort of thing that had brought about English rule and driven our great-grandfathers into starvation and emigration. Pride had gone before the great fall. It was all quite true and he knew it. Since he had so strongly gone on record against the concerts, I would not expect him to suddenly reverse himself. However, if he dropped his litigation, I would drop mine. There would be no further outdoor concerts for the year in any event.  I certainly expected no problems as we moved back indoors come October.

Announcing that the issue had become a moot point, Sheriff O’ Brien dropped his lawsuit the next day. I came through on my end. The next “Wild Wednesday” would take place June 26th the following year and would he held in full cooperation with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department. It would also be the last.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be at all surprising that, in the midst of the swirling  controversy surrounding outdoor “Rock ‘n Roll” concerts at Sherwood Forest, I was allowed to proceed with a different kind of event without the most remote opposition.

“Honest Ambition”

April 18, 2009

sherwood-inspection

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

HONEST AMBITION

Sheriff John Patrick O’Brien had been elected to office by the people of Genesee County in the fall of ’72, right along with Richard Nixon.

Unlike Nixon, O’Brien was an Irish-Democrat. Their interest in gaining popular favor was, however, quite similar; it being a quality rather universal in most of political bent.

John O ‘Brien was studying law and had a limited military background. He was relatively young and, as with many of Irish blood, could charm the worst with his best. He had obtained UAW endorsement on the Democratic ticket and had won his position by a substantial majority of votes. He had aspirations of higher climbs ahead. For any practical purpose, he was completely inexperienced at law-enforcement. Why let details stand in the way of honest ambition?

The planning had been highly confidential. A “rock concert” was being scheduled on August 4th at a place called “Sherwood Forest” in Davison, well within Genesee County jurisdictional boundaries. Four or five deputy-sheriffs would go “undercover” and dress-up like “hippies”. They would enter the concert area and attempt to purchase drugs. If successful, they would effect an immediate arrest and signal such by radio. John O’ Brien would join the arresting deputies in full-uniform, accompanied by two television news crews eager for terrific footage. Think about the press coverage! Talk about media! What a great idea!!

“Wild Wednesdays” were held in a large fenced-in area behind the main hall at Sherwood Forest. Entrance to the concerts was through two check-points. There was a gate at the park entrance where tickets would be purchased. After cars were parked, ticket-holders would then proceed to the hall entrance where their tickets would be taken and their hands stamped. They would then pass through the hall to a large door which led outside to the concert-grounds. Functionally, the hall acted as an extended vestibule for Wild Wednesday activities. At any given time, it might be occupied by no more than several dozen people in the process of arriving or leaving.

At approximately 6:30 p.m. on August 4th, a long-haired “freak” purchased several “acid hits” from an unknown seller just inside the hall entrance. The “freak” then pulled a gun from his pocket and leveled it at the seller. Several bystanders could not hear the words being spoken, but saw the “freak” with the “gun”. They primarily were focused on the gun and feared the worst. They moved in. The “freak” screamed “move back” and fired four separate shots in the air. He was jumped from behind and disarmed. It all happened in seconds. Several other “freaks” pulled radios from their vests and started yelling.

Suddenly, the intruding bystanders (who thought they were courageously preventing sad misfortune) were set-upon by the “freaks with radios”, pummeled to the ground and hand-cuffed. Sheriff John Patrick O’ Brien suddenly materialized with TV crews taping away. Nothing could have been more incendiary.

Other innocent onlookers, increased in numbers by the commotion, quickly added things up. It was some kind of set-up. Look at those “hippies” with badges! Dig that four-eyed-bastard-Sheriff retreating in obvious fear.  Check out those fuckin’ television cameras. The police were breaking the peace!

Words were thrown in anger and then fists, followed by rocks and bottles. The newly-elected Sheriff had successfully started his and Sherwood Forest’s only riot. Thankfully, it was limited to less than thirty participants and had been concealed by fortune from the crowd of six thousand outside the hall. But not if Sheriff O’ Brien could help it.

He and his deputies ran to their cars and shot up the driveway toward Richfield Road. He stopped at the entrance-gate and ordered it closed. He
“sealed-off” the site and issued an emergency radio call for all available reenforcements to join him in quelling  the “rioting at Sherwood Forest”. He summoned the Michigan State Police and police from surrounding counties. He was going to “march right in and clean-out the whole crowd” as soon as help arrived.

Ed Boyce and I reached the entrance first.

It was hard telling which one of us was more pissed.

Chief Boyce had not been informed of the “drug bust” and the County Sheriff was on Ed’s turf.  Boyce had his own “narcs” floating around, too. They also had guns. That could have been a nice shoot-out!

The Chief also hated “amateurs” and used the word repeatedly in his discussion with the good Sheriff. Theoretically, the Sheriff was the chief law-enforcement officer in the county. He out-ranked Ed. But, if O’Brien was an elected Army General, Chief Boyce was a real, thoroughly disgusted professional who was not taking shit from a “rookie”. Oh, and there was no riot going on, thank you. That had stopped when the Sheriff “ran away”,  Chief Boyce properly and accurately noted.

My turn came. I asked the Sheriff to step away so we could talk privately. I was furious. I told him I was not interested in discussing lawsuits or recall campaigns for the moment, but that he had certainly placed two Irishmen in a precarious situation. I asked him to come back to the hall and walk with me through the “rioting crowd”. He could then inform all that he had personally inspected the grounds and had insured lawful assembly. His alternative would be to wait for the militia and lead a major assault on thousands of peaceful citizens. I suggested there were enough witnesses to assure political suicide, but the choice was his.

He walked with me through the crowd. There were a few shouts of friendly recognition from those who had seen him campaigning on TV, but nothing untoward occurred. The “Wild Wednesday” crowds were used to seeing dozens of uniformed officers in their midst and regarded them with casual indifference. They were “part of the scene”. Several dozen police cars had gathered at the entrance to the park and were awaiting instruction. They were ordered to withdraw. The gates were re-opened. I told Sheriff O’Brien that he had made a wise decision and that I would be in his office the following afternoon with my attorney, Stewart Newblatt. Understandings needed to be reached.

Local television coverage was wide. With “live action” footage, that was guaranteed. The O’Brien version of the day’s events was that he and his deputies had made drug arrests at Sherwood Forest, were set-upon by a portion of the crowd, and had restored order by the time reinforcements had arrived. The radio-alert had been sounded purely as a precaution and any reports of his referencing “wild rioting” on police frequencies was a gross misinterpretation. He had said that “rioting” might get “wild” or something to that effect.  Chief Boyce and I were not contacted for comment.

Stewart Newblatt and I met with Sheriff O’Brien the next day. My overall view was that he had been guilty of gross misconduct and had displayed terrifying incompetence. Most importantly, he could have been singularly responsible for a major catastrophe had he actually attempted to “clean-out the crowd”. It was a frightening thought and it made me sick to think of what might have happened. I also pointed out that a minor concern was the fact he had cost me several thousand dollars in admissions by closing the gate. In the final analysis this was of no lasting importance. I proposed that we start fresh with things clear between us.

There were to be no more “television stagings” at my expense or unpleasant surprises from his department of any nature. I would offer complete cooperation in all law enforcement efforts and would also post a large sign at the park entrance warning that Genesee County Undercover Officers were in the crowd and that “dealers would be dealt”. I was candid in stating that this would provide fair warning to all and offer excellent press for him. I also insisted that he reach accord with Chief Boyce and other township authorities and work with them closely. They were genuinely experienced in crowd control and enjoyed excellent relationship with those attending concerts. Attorney Newblatt explained in great detail why my observations made exceptional legal and political sense. It was the latter which brought an agreement. And a handshake.

I underestimated and did not fully understand and factor genuine animosity and bitter distrust which had long existed within area law enforcement communities. And I believed O’Brien. That ended with our next “Wild Wednesday” three weeks hence.

“Born Again- Again”

April 18, 2009

clockwork_orangea
CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

BORN AGAIN-AGAIN

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.

“Jesus Christ!”

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!

“Invisible Ducks”

April 18, 2009

tv-abcinconcert CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

INVISIBLE DUCKS

November 23rd was Thanksgiving Night. For the first time, I encountered serious head-on competition.

Edgar Winters’ White Trash pulled in nine hundred at Sherwood Forest. It was a decent night, but only half a house.

Alvin Lee and “Ten Years After” drew five thousand to the Flint I.M.A. Auditorum for Detroit promoter Bob Bageris, who had booked them in five cities with a guarantee of twenty-thousand dollars per performance. He lost money on three of the shows, but made it back and a little more with the other two. That was the new game. Only big action could play.

Bageris returned to the I.M.A. on December 8th with  Fleetwood Mac opening for Deep Purple.  He used WTAC as his exclusive advertising vehicle and I introduced both groups. If you can’t beat ’em,  greet ’em!

Christmas Night, Sherwood Forest was jammed again for Bob Seger. I didn’t bother running New Year’s Eve. There was nothing of interest uncommitted.

WTAC was still operating at a technical disadvantage to WWCK-FM, but we were countering with everything we could throw at them. Even psychological warfare was bought into play. I made it a habit of pulling into their parking lot on Lapeer Road late at night and pounding on a studio window. When the disc-jockey on-duty would look out, I’d wave and relieve myself on their lawn.  My picture was posted in their control room on a dart-board. They knew who I was!

A challenge was presented when the ABC television network started their “In Concert” series Friday nights at 11:30. “In Concert” featured major rock acts performing for ninety minutes. That part was fine. What sucked was that rock FM stations were offered an opportunity to carry a simulcast of the program in stereo. That meant that Channel 12 in Flint would run the telecast and fucking WWCK would get to do the  simulcast. That would offer them a huge competitive advantage in terms of image and marketing definition. One of the first “In Concert” telecasts would feature Alice Cooper. Goddamn it!

Well, now. What do we have here?

Satellite dishes at radio stations were still a few years in the future and the “In Concert” television audio feed was in “monaural”. The stereo signal could be delivered to FM partners over equalized phone lines from New York (which would be somewhat expensive) or could be re-broadcast with network permission off a nearby ABC FM signal, providing one was available. WRIF-FM, owned and operated by ABC, was right down the road from Flint in Detroit. A well-tuned quality receiver at WWCK could grab the WRIF signal and patch it right in.  Talk about saving money!

It wasn’t just the mechanics, but the art of utilization with which I was most gratified.

It was ridiculously easy constructing a twenty-watt audio generator which would oscillate for limited distance with a screeching roar on WRIF’s exact 101.1 frequency. More difficult was rigging battery-powered operation, but only temporarily.

The entire package fit handily into a Harley-Davidson saddle-bag.

My “Concert Associates” were pleased to offer assistance.

The first “In Concert” simulcast on WWCK went very well. For the first two minutes.

What the hell was wrong with them?

Jesus Christ, you’d be totally into a group and then “WAAAAAAAAAAHHHH”.

It only lasted ten seconds or so.

Everything would be fine again, then look out. The noise would be back, but with rhythm, like someone was knocking on your door.

“Waah-Wawa-Wa-wa. Waach-WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH”

It would leave again for fifteen minutes, then come back in beat with the music. Deep Purple might have started playing “Smoke On The Water”. There it was!

“Wah-wah-wah; wah-wah-wah-wa. Wah-wah-wah;  wah-WAAAAAAH”

A “Concert Associate” was riding up and down Lapeer Road wearing head-phones with one hand on a switch in his saddle-bag. The WWCK FM receiver was straining to pick up every broadcast whisper from WRIF on 101.1. A flick of the wrist kicked on the “WAAAAAH” with substantially less originating power, but much closer proximity at the same frequency. Talk about coincidence!  The exact scope and manner of interference had been discussed at length. There were only six “WAAAAAAAH” appearances during the initial sumulcast and none in the last ten minutes.

The WWCK folks couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Maybe some kind of weird moon activity or something. Anyhow, it had disappeared at the end. Next week might be better.

Next week had nine interruptions, but the “WAAAAAAH” had become a
“THA-THA-THA-THA-THA-THA” “thumping” sound, like you’d just blown a tire. It would come and it would go. What the hell?

ABC technicians couldn’t figure it out.

A WRIF engineer brought a brand new, highly calibrated receiver up to Flint for the third simulcast. It worked fine for fifteen minutes and then on came the sonar.

“PUH-DI-DOW–CLANK.  PUH-DI-DOW–CLANK. PUH-DI-DOW–CLANK”

Who turned-on the submarine movie?

Word was out all over town that you were much better-off just leaving the Channel 12 television audio up at full-blast for “In Concert” than listening to that stupid FM station with all the disruptive noises. What assholes! Word was also out that the WRIF guy and ABC had come to the conclusion that somebody might be intentionally generating signal-interference. We left it alone for the next three weeks and then came back for the seventh broadcast with an attack by invisible ducks.

“QUACK-QUACK-QUACK! QUACKITY-QUACK-QUACK-QUACK!!!”

WWCK went to phone-line reception, but credibility had been damaged.

Intentional interference with a broadcast signal is a Federal felony, punishable by up to five years in jail and a ten thousand dollar fine.

Do NOT attempt this in your home.

Unless you are a professional.

“Finding Mister Goodbar”

April 18, 2009

200px-lookingformrgoodbar-1

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

FINDING MR. GOODBAR

John "Mr. Goodbar" Smith -- White Horse Tavern -- Flint, Michigan 2009

More “Wild Wednesdays” graced Sherwood Forest on July 12th, August 2nd and August 23rd. At the last show we featured “The Raspberries” from Cleveland. Their “Go All The Way” had gone all the way to #1 on the charts.

With artistic triumph and financial disappointment, I brought Ravi Shankar in September to Flint’s most prestigious facility, Whiting Auditorium. Ravi had taught George Harrison of the Beatles how to play sitar. George would have been a better draw. It was a very elegant act and got great reviews in the “Art Section” of the Flint Journal. We went out for Chinese food after the show. It was the closest thing to Indian cuisine north of Detroit. I had a marvelous conversation with Mr. Shankar. He was tremendously knowledgeable and quite spiritual in an Eastern sort of way. I lost several thousand dollars, but gained cultural insight.

That insight brought me to try another promotion at Whiting in October. This time it was “Cheech and Chong”. It sold-out. They said “fuck” a zillion times. Roy Bower was the manager of Whiting Auditorium. He was pissed. I was pleased.

“They said “fuck!”

Chief Ed Boyce wasn’t even there and could have cared less if he was. It was out of his jurisdiction.

Whiting worked on a guarantee against a percentage of ticket sales. Cheech and Chong had brought in a substantial bonus for the facility. Ravi had not. Business was business. Roy listened-up. Capitalism was calling. It said: “Fuck!”

Later that night, we heard that John Fogarty had said “Fuck it”. Credence Clearwater Revival was no more.  John split from the band, never to return.

Charlie Speights had become involved with the Genesee County Democratic Party in assisting George McGovern’s campaign for the Presidency. When McGovern flew into Flint on Tuesday, October 24th for a speech at Bishop Airport, Charlie introduced him to the crowd. He did a fine job. I later met Senator McGovern and shook his hand. He patted my seven year-old daughter Laurie and six year-old daughter Colleen on their heads and said they were “lovely children”. He also shook hands with my wife Eileen and observed that two year-old Candace must have really enjoyed his address. She was sound-asleep in her stroller.

On Saturday, November 4th, President Richard M. Nixon flew into Tri-City Airport in Saginaw for a rally. I had been cleared through the Secret Service for press credentials and was waiting on the tarmac when Air Force One landed. It always provides an impressive arrival, regardless of occupant. Nixon walked within five feet of me on his way to a hastily improvised podium. Saginaw was one of seven stops on that day’s itinerary, and he was on the ground for less than thirty minutes. I was surprised at how big a man he was and how well he carried himself. I was most struck by his eyes.
They were steel-cold. The only other eyes I had ever seen radiating such hard, furious intensity belonged to Chuck Berry.

Eileen and I voted on Tuesday, November 7th. It was dreary, dark, wet, early evening in Flint as we arrived at our polling place. Several long-haired McGovern supporters were standing drenched in a cold rain, passing-out last minute flyers. “He’ll bring our brothers home”, they pleaded. Eileen voted for George and I wrote-in a vote for Mr. Goodbar.

Mr. Goodbar was truly John Smith, but which name is more believable?

John was the manager of a first-run theater , The Flint Cinema, on South Dort Highway and had premiered most major new films arriving in fair Flint. John looked like a college professor and kept nearly two feet of anarchistic hair neatly tucked-in under a seditious wig. We had first met when I was doing a live WTAC remote broadcast from his theater in 1969 for the Flint opening of “Easy Rider”.

During my last break, I had commented that “Easy Rider” was unbelievably great and, unlike many commercial pronouncements, actually meant it. I also ad-libbed that if “2001” by Stanley Kubrick was a “Space Odyssey”; “Easy Rider” was a “Spaced Odyssey.” I thought it was a superior line.

John Smith walked over, gravely introduced himself as the theater manager, and somberly suggested that I come to his office before leaving.  Great. A right-wing asshole. I was ready for a speech on “family image”, “corporate responsibilty”, or possibly “the encouragement of youthful decadence” as I knocked on the office door with a resigned sigh. Keeping clients happy was a practiced skill and besides, it was his goddamn movie.

Mr. Smith was sitting at his desk. He looked up and simply said: “Lock the door.” I did.

“Try one of these headin’ home!”

John tossed a round, full, generously-packed joint in my direction. It was rolled like a mini-baseball bat.

He placed his hand to his head and removed what I then knew was camouflage. I was looking at Jerry Garcia in a three-piece suit.

“It’s a special “Goodbar” blend.”, beamed John.

That it was.

Goodbar was the product of prolonged parochial education (Sacred Heart/Immaculate Heart of Mary/Precious Blood/Jesuit) and had spent several years working in Ann Arbor. He was acquainted with John Sinclair and the MC5 and all their cohorts. He was skeptical of their revolutionary pretentions, but thought the music was acceptable if “one enjoyed melodic hysteria”. His critique of the new Yoko Ono single, produced by husband John Lennon, was that it “sounded like the woeful wail a beagle having its dick nailed to the floor”. John was arrogantly  intellectual and pleasantly subversive. A perfect companion!

A prominent cartoon figure in many college campus “underground” newspapers of the day was a character called “Mr. Goodbar”. He had nothing to do with candy-bars or a later movie wherein he was sought. “Mr. Goodbar” was several dimensions ahead of normal reality and light-years advanced in cosmic perception. Whenever someone brought a mundane, ordinary, commonplace problem to his attention (or one which he considered such, which was almost anything), he always offered a single, simple, eloquent  piece of advice. Anyone who read “underground” comics knew what Mr. Goodbar said.  Mr. Goodbar would always say:

“Go Fuck Yourself.”

“Mr. Goodbar” was John Smith’s alter-ego and true identity.

To me, John Smith would still make an excellent President and did proudly and patriotically inhale. Mr. Goodbar believed that Vietnamese weed was the only good thing being brought out of the conflict and smoking it was a gesture of appreciation and thankful salute to otherwise unheralded American troops. “At least those Commie pricks can’t get high on this one”, John would seriously philosophize as we sat around three-room “Goodbar Manor” at 4 a.m. listening to Bill Cosby play jazz piano with “Badfoot Brown”. I believe he was on tape.

In spite of my ballot, Mr. Goodbar was not elected President in 1972  nor was George McGovern. Bob Seger summed it up.

“Tricky Dick, he played it slick. Somethin’ I’s afraid he’d do, back in ’72.”