Radio Days

Bad news travels fast. A friend of mine, from my radio days, has been fired from a job he’s held a dozen years. That is, unfortunately, the way of radio (TV too). Few jobs have permanence. Everyone is expendable.

It’s a shame because he’s a great guy – as nice as they come. And, from the articles I’ve read, he’s taken the high road. I’m not so sure I’d be that nice.

All this got me thinking back to this special radio station where we met. It was one of the last stations to try and make a go of music on AM. We were not successful.

I started at WPEN in 1975. We were on Walnut Street between 22nd and 23rd in Center City Philadelphia. It was an old building, full of history and a few mice.

The studios were nondescript, but I do remember the fire escape. It was ostensibly used to catch a smoke and some fresh air. That it overlooked the girl’s dorm for an art college was incidental.

We played oldies. So did another station, on FM. They were the station most oldies fans listened to. It had little to do with the quality of programming and everything to do with the very real difference between AM and FM.

The reason this station holds such as soft spot in my heart is because of how well defined it was. We made no bones about it. There was nothing hip about this place. We were a rock ‘n roll oldies station – very stylized.

The most original part of our sound wasn’t our music or jocks, but our news department. Yes, we presented the news, but with verve!

Each newsman had three names on-the-air – whether they did in real life or not. Brandon Barrett Brooks, Bruce Erik Smallwood, Rod Allen Fritz and William Wellington Cole&#185 (among others) graced our air.

There was a joke that Walter Cronkite had applied for a job, but was turned down. No middle name!

Smallwood was the leader of the band. When he said “Thunderstorms,” your radio shook. He is best known for what he said when Philadelphia Electric was going to raise its rates.

“Ready Kilowatt says his costs are up, so he’s going to (pause for effect) up yours!

I loved that station. It helped define my radio career. It was a fun place to work. Those days are not coming back anytime soon.

&#185 – William Wellington Cole was actually Mumia Abu Jamal. He is my only close encounter with someone who became a convicted murderer.

Woody Allen

Now that I’ve had a DVR for a while, I can safely say I do use it. The ease, relative to a VCR, is certainly incentive to use it. There are some shows I tape every time they air – John Stewart, Boston Legal, Nova and 60 Minutes&#185. Other times I’ll see something that catches my eye and quickly hit the button to schedule a recording.

That’s how I got the Woody Allen documentary “A Life in Film” on Turner Classic Movies that I recorded this weekend and watched last night. The interview was conducted by Richard Schickel, film critic and historian.

The documentary is very simple with Allen sitting throughout. No other voices, no off camera questions, are heard. Clips from his films were used throughout to illustrate Woody’s points.

I have been a big Allen fan for… can this possibly be… over thirty years. I knew his work, but he was under my radar in the sixties. The same goes for What’s Up Tiger Lily and Casino Royale. I knew they were there but didn’t see them until much later.

It was Bananas that first attracted me and Sleeper which cinched the deal. From then on, I couldn’t get enough.

I remember going to see Love and Death in 1975. I went on opening night in Center City Philadelphia with my friend Harvey Holiday. Neither of us liked the movie, but we went back the next night to make sure. It was better the second night. The problem wasn’t Allen as much as it was me!

In last night’s documentary, Allen gave credit to Bob Hope for much of his physical persona in the earlier movies. The clips bore that out. But, though Woody Allen said he paled in comparison to Bob Hope, I’m not so sure.

What most interested me was the ability to hear Allen talk about his work… his art… in terms of an occupation. It was fascinating, because I think he analyzes and tears about everything he does, before, during and after.

Obviously, there has been controversy in Allen’s recent adult life. He is married to the adopted daughter of his former wife (see note below). It’s tough not to see characters like Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan and wonder if life imitates art.

There is just not enough of this type of show on television. I was glad I taped it and didn’t have to stay up through the middle of the night to see it air ‘live.’

&#185 – Recording 60 Minutes is a royal pain. Because the show follows football its start time is fluid, to say the least. I wish my DVR would be able to follow schedule changes and adjust accordingly. As long as they’re at it, I’d like to program it over the Internet as well.