Meeting An Old Friend For The First Time

bob hardt and geoff fox at lunch

I had lunch with Bob Hardt today. Bob and I have so many friends in common it’s amazing we hadn’t met until today.

It’s funny how age difference shrinks as you get older. Back when I was finishing high school, Bob came to New York City where he anchored news on WABC Radio and later the ABC Contemporary Network.

I’m not sure he knew it at the time, but he came to what was America’s most influential radio station. WABC was a blowtorch. There will never be another station like it.

He sounds exactly the same. Based on the on-air kidding he used to get about being thin, his shape hasn’t changed either.

We swapped stories and commiserated about radio’s death at the hand of corporations. That part’s sad. We both love what radio was. It was a huge part of our lives.

Mostly it was a good time… a chance to connect with someone I should have known for years. And, I now have a new friend in Palm Springs.

Helaine and the Cult People

I kid Helaine, saying she’s in a cult. It sometimes seems that way. This is all because she’s a huge fan of Rick Springfield, and has been for over 30 years.

Rick Springfield had some big hits: Jessie’s Girl, Don’t Talk to Strangers. He’s got enough for a decent ‘hit medley’ in concert. Still, it’s been a long time since he had concentrated airplay.

Over the years, Helaine took me to see his early 80’s movie, “Hard to Hold” and later to see him in concert. After a while he became the ‘house act’ act the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, starring in EFX.

He is talented and charismatic on stage. He’s my age, but in much better shape (damn you Rick Springfield). A few years ago, in Las Vegas, Helaine convinced Steffie to go to see Rick in EFX and now she’s hooked too. After the show she told Helaine, “You never said he was hot.” Since then, Steffie has taken loads of photos at his concerts (here and here) and was even published in his Tour Book and 2004 Calendar.

With the Internet, acts like Springfield have been better able to sustain their careers and maintain a sizable fan base without continuous radio airplay. Helaine subscribes to a Rick Springfield group on Yahoo and receives dozens (sometimes hundreds) of emails daily. Some of these women analyze the nuances of his stage act with the detail of a color commentator going over a touchdown pass on the fifth replay.

Helaine has mostly lurked in the shadows, reading and not writing. She has made some friends through the group and kept current on what Rick’s doing. All that changed a few months ago.

Rick was in the process of finishing a new album and would be promoting it by appearing at concerts, doing interviews and making personal appearances. The fan club members decided they would help. They organized ‘street teams’ in defined geographic areas and set out to spread the word.

Helaine got to be manager for the New York region, though we live about 100 miles from New York City. For the past month or more, I’ve been watching her, amazingly organized, on the laptop, piles of paper at her side, planning strategies. Day-by-day she consulted and cajoled the members of her team.

I was a skeptic. I was wrong.

A few days ago, Rick appeared on WPLJ radio in New York. At street level, unseen by the radio crew, dozens of street team members congregated with signs and pamphlets and a whole lot of genuine spirit. Somehow, word got up to the studio and down came someone with a microphone and recorder.

Today, Rick was on “Fox and Friends” on Fox News Channel (click to watch the interview – high speed access only). Again, the fan club was outside. As I watched the broadcast, it was obvious the hosts were impressed by this show of strength. You could see posters and people through the window behind the interview set. Their presence gave Rick Springfield ‘street cred’ in the present tense.

As it turns out, one of our former technical directors is now a TD at Fox. With a few emails, I was able to get Helaine and Stefanie inside, where they watched the interview and schmoozed a little with Rick, his road manager and personal manager. I’m sure some of the other fans were jealous, but this was my doing – not Helaine’s.

Speaking of jealousy, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little jealous of Rick’s fans and their ‘street team’ mentality. How wonderful to have a fan base that is so dedicated that they’ll come and stand outside in the bitter cold or do whatever else is necessary to continue your success. Actually, that in and of itself might be more meaningful success than CD sales figures alone could ever show.

Helaine and Steffie are back on the road tomorrow, seeing Rick in concert in Toms River, NJ. All the other girls in the cult are going too.