Early last week, I was speaking with my friend Peter, in New Jersey, when he handed the phone to a mutual friend, Jon. Peter and Jon have known each other since elementary school. I’ve known Jon for at least thirty years… though it’s possible our paths crossed even earlier.
In many ways, though our childhoods were separate, Peter, Jon and I grew up in a similar fashion. We were A/V kids. We ran the lights for the theater productions, mimeographed and rexographed tests for teachers, and were total social misfits.
We also all loved radio. Peter and Jon were WABC freaks!
Back in the 60s, WABC was the premiere top-40 radio station in the country, possibly the world. Jon and Peter knew everything and everyone associated with it. Though it’s tough to fathom how, by high school they had fairly regular access.
It’s difficult to quantify the extent of their obsession, except to say each made hundreds of hours of airchecks. These are recordings of the station where the music and commercials were deleted, just leaving what the disk jockey said. To give you an idea, here’s a 1975 WABC aircheck featuring Dan Ingram.
Even today, these tapes are collectors items, chronicling power blackouts, social trends and even the arrival of the Beatles.
After school, Peter went into radio. In fact, by the mid-70s, he was my boss as program director of WPEN in Philadelphia. Jon stayed with his obsession and found a job at PAMS, the jingle house in Dallas, TX.
WABC had hundreds of jingles, those little interstitial tunes played between song sand commercials. They were all produced at PAMS. For a variety of reasons, Dallas was the hub of jingle productions with a number of companies singing their way to stations across the country.
Over time Jon left PAMS, and with his wife Mary Lyn formed JAM Creative Productions, producing jingles in (of course) Dallas.
I think you’re all caught up now.
Because selling jingles often demands travel, and because it’s a ‘middle age crisis’ guy thing, Jon bought a beautiful Mooney airplane. That’s how he got to New Jersey to see Peter, how he would get to Long Island to finish selling his mother’s home, and how he’d get to Connecticut to see me.
He arrived in a break in the clouds Friday night. On TV at 11:00 PM I had traced a lone cluster of intense storms over Long Island’s North Fork. Jon had those out his right window as he flew from Farmingdale to New Haven.
New Haven’s a lovely place, but it’s not exactly cosmopolitan. The tower at the airport closes at 10:00 PM. The FBO, the folks who fuel and service the general aviation planes at the airport, close at 8:30 PM.
Jon landed in a quiet and lonely airport. He tied down his plane at Robinson Aviation and waited for me. I found him a hotel (earlier commitments had left us guest roomless) and dropped him off.
Saturday, I picked him up and drove him to Westport. Though I’d like to think the trip was for me, he wanted to see Dick Bartley.
I have been listening to Dick’s show for longer than he or I would like to admit. I never stopped to think it might be coming from anywhere but a radio station’s studio… certainly not a suite of offices over a cluster of stores in the center of Westport, Connecticut!
If you’ve listened to Dick on the radio, you know his style is easy going and thorough. When he tells you some minutiae about an artist or song, it’s always something you didn’t know and are surprised to hear.
As soon as I met him, I knew why. Dick is detail oriented. The studios (he has two) are immaculate with the equipment looking as if it were just delivered and polished.
At one point Jon and I got out of our chairs and with Dick walked to another room. As we were leaving, Dick moved the chairs exactly back into place! It was only an inch or two, but it was important to Dick.
It is that amazing devotion to detail that sets Dick apart on-the-air. The show exudes attention to detail. It’s very impressive to see that’s not an act.
The three of us talked radio for a while. I said I had been on-the-air, but radio people often take that line with a grain of salt. “On-the-air” often turns out to be Tuesdays from 2:15 to 4:00 on a college station, playing jazz. Sorry – that’s not what we mean when we say on-the-air.
I knew Dick was an expert, so I asked him about two incredibly trivial songs. The first was Chirpy, Chirpy, Cheep, Cheep by Mac and Katie Kissoon. I use that song as a cultural benchmark, though no one ever gets my point.
(Where’s your momma gone)
Little baby bird
(Little baby bird)
Where’s your momma gone
(Where’s your momma gone)
Far far away far far awayayay…
Dick knew about it. In fact, he knew little tidbits about this frightfully weird song I played at WQXT in 1971.
Then I asked about Duke Baxter’s “Everybody Knows Matilda.” My friend Bob Lacey, in his role as music director, had added this turkey of a record at WSAR in Fall River, MA – my first job.
Though the record company’s promo man gave Bob a little statue… a Golden Ear Award, Matilda went nowhere. The song peaked at number 56 in 1969.
Thought I’d get a bite to eat
I saw a girl that I’d like to meet
You know, she sure looked good
Told me that her heart was broken
Asked me what it was I’s smoking
All she had was an old bus token
Yes, I would
Dick not only knew the song – he had it on CD! Of course, he also knew where to find it within seconds.
OK – I’m fawning. It was fun to meet Dick and even more fun to see how much he knew. All this from a guy who hasn’t had a Saturday night off in over twenty years!
We left Dick, had dinner back with Helaine, and looked at the radar. It was possible but not advisable to leave. We invited Jon to spend the night.
This afternoon I took him to the airport.
With the weekend’s rain and thunder only a memory, Jon taxied out and headed to runway 32. I was already on the flight line, so I walked over toward the control tower and fire station and positioned myself near the runway to take one more shot as Jon left – on his way to Evansville, IN via Johnstown, PA.
Blogger’s addendum: A number of years ago, Jon put out an unusual demo for his company, singing the call letters of all his clients.