Sunday, August 21, 2011

The 1210 Music Men

Dick Fabian, one of the best morning men to ever crack a mike!
Hear Pat read this entry 

 The Fall of 1967 found me packing up family, belongings and pride and heading to Yankton, SD, I'd managed to find a job at KYNT.  I arrived on Thanksgiving, and was put to work immediately tracking beautiful music albums and running religious programs, about as far as one could ever get from where I wanted to be in radio.  It didn't get any better either, my shift consisted of playing some records, running the board during an afternoon talk show, reading the occasional news cast and... most importantly... the Daily Rosary.  If I had been Catholic, I'd have put in an extra prayer for the good Lord to get me out of there!  It didn't take long for that job to go south.

So I decided to return to Michigan, at least there I'd be able to take a job at G.M. and make enough money to live on.  Maybe this radio thing wasn't really worthwhile after all.  When we arrived I stashed Judy and the girls back at her parents place... boy were they happy about THAT... and accompanied my dad to the A.C. spark plug division of G.M., where he was sure I could get a job immediately.  Who knows, in 10 years I might even make foreman. 


Much to our surprise, however, there were no jobs available at the moment.   The kindly interviewer assured me that he could get me in fairly soon, as they were always looking for veterans to fill the assembly line ranks.  I can't say I was disappointed, the last thing on earth I ever wanted to do was to work at G.M.  Just for the hell of it, I stopped by WTRX in Flint and inquired about a job.  Nothing there, but the P.D. Knew of an opening in Midland, about 20 miles up the road.  I spoke to the manager of WMDN, and he hired me right away.  After assuring my dad that I'd grab a G.M. Job as soon as possible, and hearing him tell me for the 1000th time, “radio is a low paying field, there's no future in it” I lit out for Midland.

Midland was the home of Dow chemical, and back in the late 60's was the closest thing to Hell on the planet.  There was an omnipresent cloud of toxic, chemical gases which made the whole place stink to high Heaven.   The station was a tiny, 1000 watter which featured a mix of programming based on daypart.  I signed the station on in the morning and ran transcriptions of the Grand Old Opry for an hour, then did a morning newscast followed by some light, pop music and a talk show from 9-10.  Not a Rush Limbaugh style talk show, mind you, but one in which I was to remain completely neutral so as not to offend anyone, such as the John Birch Society loony that called every day ranting about the creeping socialism that was destroying our country.   I was actually hoping that G.M. would have an opening after all.  

Fortunately, the end came quickly.

On June 5, 1968 I signed the station on as usual and started tracking The Grand Old Opry.   While the show was running, I went to the newsroom to clear the wire.  In those days we used A.P. And U.P.I teletype machines.  The paper was a cheap, porous kind of newsprint which had a tendency to jam, when that happened all you could do is clear the mess and wait for the next feed.  It was jammed big time that morning.  I had about 5 minutes left in the Opry so I hastily searched the garbled up mess of paper, about 20 feet of it, and cobbled together enough copy for a news cast.  OK so it was from 5 hours ago, who's going to notice right?  In my most stentorian news voice I confidently read that Robert Kennedy had delivered his victory speech for the Democratic presidential nomination and signed off.  Within seconds the station manager was on the phone... “He was shot. What's wrong with you, didn't you read the copy?”   I tried to explain that the wire was jammed, but he was hearing none of it.  One more radio job down the tubes.

I should probably say that I was sorry, but I wasn't.  I was seriously ready to kiss the whole radio thing goodbye and do my time as a shop rat.  Just before I set out for Flint to check on an opening at the A.C., however, I decided to call Dave Kushler at WKNX.   WKNX was a 10,000 watt monster located in Saginaw.  I loved the station and listened to it constantly.  They had Dick Fabian, a brilliant morning man who was funny, informative and irreverent. They had Bob Dyer, a tri-cities institution for years and Jim Bauer, one of the most knowledgeable air talents around.  Although the station was licensed to broadcast in the daytime only, during those hours it boasted 35 share ratings in the tri-cities (Saginaw, Bay City and Midland) and could be heard from Detroit all the way to the Straits of Mackinac, nearly 300 miles.  When Kushler told me they had an opening and to hurry down with a tape, you couldn't have caught me with an F-106!

I was hired on the spot and became one of the 1210 Music Men.  I took over the highly coveted afternoon shift... easily the best job on the planet, at least from MY point of view.  It meant that in addition to my salary from the station I'd be able to promote dances and appearances from which I'd make far more than my radio salary. That's the way it worked back then, the radio salary was secondary to the money one could make from dances and appearances.   I could pick up an easy $400 on a weekend without blinking an eye.

We were all expected to attend the station's functions such as the weekly dances at the Bay State Park Roller Rink, an outdoor roller skating facility which became a huge teen dance on Friday nights.  At the time, Michigan was the epicenter of a rock-n-roll revolution.  There was a local music scene second to none,  I daresay even L.A. Or San Francisco.  Just consider the level of rock royalty that we could book into our dances; Alice Cooper (at that time there was no Alice character, just a lead singer named Vince Furnier), The Bob Seger System (Bob could put 20,000 people into Cobo hall, and no one outside of MI and OH ever heard of him), The Fabulous Pack (later Grand Funk), The Amboy Dukes (featuring a lead guitar player named Ted Nugent), The Popcorn Blizzard (with a lead singer they called Meat Loaf), The Psychedelic Stooges (featuring a weird cat named Iggy Pop), the list goes on and on.

I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven, but it got better... Deb wanted to join me.


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  2. I really enjoyed your story about WMDN in Midland. I grew up around the corner from there (On Virginia Street)

    And yes, Midland's air at the time was certainly an acquired taste. (So to speak) To this day the smell of burning plastic takes me back home.

    Thanks for the story---now I will continue reading.

    PS- I am in the Radio Biz, and yep, its a job you have to love.

  3. Dave Kushler was my grandfather. It's so nice to see his name come up here- I know he loved working for stations!