On The Passing Of Steve Fredericks

He told a story of being pleasured by a woman under the desk while he was on the air

Steve Fredericks died this weekend. Pancreatic cancer. That is not the way I want to go.

Steve Fredericks played a large part in my life, which makes it strange this is the first time I’m mentioning him in the blog.

Back in 1969 I was officially a student, but really just living in a dorm and enjoying Boston. Steve was a liberal talk show host on WMEX.

Imagine WKRP brought to life. That was WMEX!

The station was owned and run by Mac Richmond, possibly the oddest man to ever own a station. He knew the price of everything and watched every penny. Really, every penny!

The station facility reflected Mac’s thriftiness. 111 Broadway was the Mac of buildings! It was foolishly designed by California architects who forgot Boston had winter. During one January you could see your breath.

There was a non-working water fountain in the talk studio. Rather than repair it Mac had a sign made proclaiming its inoperability!

At 1510 kHz WMEX was high up on the AM dial with a poor signal that covered little of the market. After dark you would often hear out-of-town stations overriding WMEX on monitors inside the building! Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

Fredericks worked in a studio designed for talk with its own entrance to Broadway in Boston’s “Combat Zone.” On the door was lettered “Steve Fredericks and,” then an obviously skipped line followed by, “Auditorium.” There was originally another host who shared the room. When he left Mac decided to save money and kept “and” for the next guy.

There never was a next guy.

Fredericks was in his late 20s or early 30s when I met him. He had curly hair, a bushy porn mustache and what I now realize was a Philadelphia accent.

He had a beautiful young girlfriend, Brenda, who later became one in a string of wives. Back then I had the hots for Brenda.

It was the late 60s. America was sharply divided between hawks and doves. There was always someone to battle on-air and Fredericks was a good battler.

At the time I thought he was great. Actually, I idolized him.

Along with my friend Howard Lapides (whose son was bar mitzvahed last weekend in Los Angeles) and my secret friend in the San Fernando Valley I was a “producer.” For $1.60 an hour we screened calls and escorted visitors in and out of the studio.

It was my first paying job in the business and I relished it.

Fredericks sometimes told the story of being pleasured by a woman, under the desk, while he was on the air. As the story went Steve was telling a caller the war in Vietnam was “immoral” as he reached bliss. He would stretch out the word “i-m-m-o-r-a-l” for effect.

Was it true? Who knows. Back then I believed it. That’s when it counted.

Steve’s real name was Steven Frederick Oxman. The three of us knew that. It was our secret which we quickly spread to anyone who’d listen. It was our radio bona fides.

$1.60 an hour jobs were meant to be short term. It wasn’t long before I moved away and lost touch with Steve. I caught up again a decade later when he was arrested.

Steve was now a sports talk show host back home in Philly at WIP. He was arrested in North Philadelphia after buying $5 of heroin!

I called him. As I remember my side of the conversation went…

“Steve, I understand some people get in strange places with drugs and I feel bad for you, but $5 worth? Really? You were busted for $5 worth?”

He told me the story. The details have faded, but it wasn’t like a cop writing you up for 65 when you were doing 80. Steve was really busted for $5 worth of smack.

As far as I know he got straight and drugs were now a distant memory.

It’s because of my work for Steve Fredericks that I got to hang out at a radio station. It’s where I really wanted to be. Thank you, Steve.

He was a smart guy. He was a good radio guy.

He had more talent than career. That’s a shame.

When Steve smiled and tugged a little on his ‘stache you could believe the under the desk story. Every word.

The WMEX/Westclox Timecheck Jingle Story

That would be a good radio story since these timecheck jingles were quite rare (I haven’t heard them since I worked at WMEX and seriously doubt a copy still exists). There’s more.

I got an email from John Harper this morning. An aircheck of mine has been placed on the Northeast Airchecks site&#185. I went to take a look and give a quick listen. The aircheck is well over 30 years old.

Geoff Fox WPEN Phildelphia 1978. (12:40) For the last 25+ years, Fox has been meteorologist at WTNH-TV New Haven, but back in the late 70’s, he was jocking at WPEN in Philadelphia. WPEN was a significant force in those days, known as great sounding adult contemporary station. Fox doesn’t disappoint as a jock (and for that matter as a meteorologist either!) Aircheck was contributed by Steve West.

I suppose I wouldn’t have included the quote had it been less flattering. Thanks Northeast Airchecks.

As I was looking down the list or recordings I saw: Bud Ballou WMEX. That’s Bud on the left.

I knew Bud when I was in college and worked at WMEX Boston (making $1.60 per hour!) where he was a jock. I think it was Bud who told me to have a different autograph and signature–strange and probably worthless advice I still slavishly follow.

Geez — long way to go for this story about WMEX.

Back in engineering sat two tape cartridge machines connected to a electromechanical clock device. Every minute one became ‘hot’ while the other silently advanced to the next cut. When the on-air disk jockey hit a button the ‘hot’ machine fired and played a jingle sung WITH THE TIME! There were 720 (12×60) separate jingles each sung for a single minute of the day.

“The time in rhyme is six twenty three on the new W-M-E-X.”

Expensive? Very!

That makes this all quite strange since WMEX was run as cheaply as humanly possible. Spending this kind of cash didn’t fit the station’s story. Max Richmond, the owner, managed the place and he watched every penny–every one. Wikipedia says:

“Max Richmond was reportedly a challenge to work for, with his alleged micro-managing and abrasive personality…”

The station cut a deal. A few minutes of each hour the jingle sang,

“The Westclox time is five oh nine on the new W-M-E-X (or the appropriate minute).”

WMEX saved a ton of money while having these custom jingles because Westclox footed the bill. That would be a good radio story since these timecheck jingles were quite rare (I haven’t heard them since I worked at WMEX and seriously doubt a copy still exists). There’s more.

In the studio on the audio console sat the button to make it all work. Next to the button was a note. “Do not play between :10 and :20”

They got the jingles. They never played the ones with the Westclox commercials!

&#185 – An aircheck is how disk jockeys show off their work. It’s a recording of a radio show that only includes the parts when the mic is on. No commercials (except live reads) and no songs save the first and last few seconds.

Another Reason Not To Smoke

I saw this just a moment ago on wired.com:

A San Francisco man learned the hard way that littering — especially burning objects — is not a good idea. Jonathan Fish was driving across the Bay Bridge on Thursday when he tossed his cigarette out the window. But the cigarette blew back into his $30,000 Ford Expedition, igniting the back seat and filling the SUV with smoke. Fish pulled over and leaped from the flaming vehicle, which kept rolling and crashed into a guardrail. “It was in flames by the time he got out,” said CHP Officer Shawn Chase. “He had some of his hair singed on the back of his head. (The car) burned down to the frame.” Fish likely faces a misdemeanor charge for littering, which carries a fine of up to $1,000.

It’s a sort of funny, ironic story. Except for me, now over 20 years a non-smoker, it hits home.

It had to be 1969, wintertime, and a Saturday night. I was living in Boston, making believe I was attending Emerson College and working as a talk show producer on the Steve Fredericks Show at WMEX.

Being a talk show producer sounds more glamorous than it really was. WMEX was a second rate station with an awful signal. It was owned by Max Richmond, a larger than life caricature of himself. Everything he did was done with an eye to cost. That’s fine, but reward should be factored in as well.

We were in a building originally designed by a movie studio for their Boston operation. That’s probably the reason it was built of cinder block with no insulation.

I answered calls and watched the door to the outside. I didn’t even screen all the phone lines. Some came to my little booth – others didn’t.

The show ended at (I think) 2:00 AM. I found my car, a faded green 1960 Volkswagen Beetle&#185 and headed toward the Mass Pike. I was going to Albany, NY to see my friend Larry Lubetsky, a student a SUNY Albany.

Back then I was a smoker. My cigarette of choice was Tareyton. That was the brand which showed smokers with black eyes and the caption, “I’d rather fight than switch.”

This was the time when a pack of cigarettes in a machine cost 40&#162. I remember going to WHDH-TV (then Channel 5) for a conference and seeing cigarettes in a hallway machine for 35&#162!

I’m sorry. This story isn’t going in a straight line. Back to what I’m writing about.

As I drove, I smoked. And, as the cigarette would burn down toward the filter, I’d roll down the window and flick it outside. Looking back, that was wrong and I apologize to society in general for my selfish attitude.

Somewhere between Worcester and Springfield the car seemed a little smoky. Of course I had been smoking. So, I rolled down the window, let in some fresh wintry air, and then rolled it back up.

You didn’t want to keep the window down long in a 1960 VW. The heating system was vigorous enough to keep you warm through early September. After that it was a losing battle against the elements.

I continued driving, though the toll booth at the eastern end of the turnpike and through the Berkshires into New York State. The smoky conditions were getting worse. The window was going down more frequently.

It is only in retrospect that I realize I should have stopped and looked.

I merged off the Berkshire Extension of the New York State Thruway onto the main line. Even at this late hour there was truck traffic and my VW’s lack of power (the car topped out at around 60 mph… and took around a minute to get there) made me check my mirrors constantly. It was then I spotted the red glow from behind the back seat.

The 1960 Volkswagen had bucket seats in the front and a bench seat in the back. Behind the bench was a rectangular, deep pocket where you could store things. When I bought the car, there had been covers on the front seats. These fabric covers were in that pocket and they were on fire. One of my flicked cigarettes must have been blown back into the car.

I pulled to the side and jumped out. I didn’t think about safety at the time as I reached back in, flipped the front seat forward, pulled the slipcovers out and began stomping on them on the shoulder of the New York State Thruway.

I left them there, on the side of the road where they could commiserate with lost shoes and socks and the other things you find at the highway’s edge. I was shaking, now realizing what had… and what could have happened.

Still, I had to make it to Larry’s apartment before dawn. I hopped back in the car, lit another cigarette and started to drive.

Some people never learn.

Blogger’s note – I have been smoke free since the winter of 1984-85. This event had nothing to do with quitting. Of all the things in my life that were smart, quitting smoking was one of the smartest.

&#185 – I couldn’t find an actual photo of a green 1960 VW Beetle. I did find a yellow one and with Photoshop, made it green. Helaine took a look and said the color was unnatural. Actually, the color is pretty close. Though this was glossy paint when it left Germany, it was a very dull green during my ownership.