Tuesday, September 20, 2011

So Long Pat Bergin... Hello Dean Scott!

In many ways CKLW was the essence of what made 70's Top-40 Radio special.  In the past, individual personalities would create their own shows.  Guys like Alan Freed and Cousin Brucie would choose their own music and get paid handsomely to do so.  Hence the “Payola” scandal, which sent some Djs to jail and ruined the careers of others. This forced stations to tightly control their music lists, and cost the Djs enormous amounts of payoff money.  But the slick promoter always had a way to get a record played.  A promo man approached an old friend of mine years ago in the parking lot of an influential, Detroit station.  He had to catch up with my friend in the parking lot because he'd been banned from the station's lobby.  The conversation went something like this:

Promoter: “Geeze, ya' know I've got this record by 'Elmer and the Fudds' and I really need to get some airplay, how about giving it a spin or two on your show?”

Pal: “I dunno' man, sounds like a stiff to me!”

Promoter: “Well I just need a couple of spins so the company knows I tried.  Say my “niece” and her girlfriend are visiting this week, they wanted me to show them around but I'm busy.  Do you suppose you could drop by the hotel?  They're in room 810... here's the key.”

Pal: “Sure man, I'd be glad to.  Give me the record, I'll put it on the show just to see if it gets any response.”

Like I said, there was ALWAYS a way to get a title on the air!

CKLW eliminated all of that nonsense.  Promoters would visit Rosie on specific days only, and her decision was always final.  If she thought a song had merit, she'd play it.  If not... right into the round filing cabinet.

In the 50's and 60's Detroit radio was dominated by well known personalities like Lee “The Horn” Allen, Terry Knight, who upon announcing his departure from CKLW a few years before had caused girls all over Detroit to go into mourning, Robin Seymore and others who relied on a gift of patter and razzle-dazzle to get their shows across.  At CKLW we had a carefully designed, locally focused playlist, an enormous signal, and specific rules for talent to follow.  No long, rambling “bits” were allowed.  We were encouraged to say what we thought was relevant, but to do so as succinctly as possible: in essence, the definition of effective communication.  The station was all about maximum amounts of music.  When we “stopped down” we did so at “stop sets” carefully determined to cause as little interruption to the music flow as possible.  There would be no more than 2 1/2 minutes of commercials... two 60's and a thirty... maybe a promo and a jingle out into another “music sweep.”

Since there was already a Pat (Pat Holiday) on the air at CK' Alden insisted that I choose a different name.  This was the first time I'd used anything but my real name on the air, but I gave it some thought and came up with “Dean Scott.”  So it was Dean Scott who entered the cavernous main studio for his first shot at big time radio.  The main studio at CK' was a huge room with heavy curtains around the walls, it must have been used for live music shows in the past.  In the middle, on a raised platform sat the jock's desk.  There was a huge digital clock, a series of cue lights and a light bulb for the “bat phone”, which Alden could use to call into the studio, at the front right.   On the extreme right sat a stand which held the playlist under a piece of plexiglass.  We used grease pencils to mark off the songs when we played them.  In the front of the studio was a large glass window looking into the control room where the board operator sat.  We never touched a board there, the “op” played the songs, commercials, promos and jingles all of which were on tape carts.  Also to my right was the “hitline console”, with 20 lines continually blinking.  This was serious stuff!

 Sitting behind that desk, knowing you're being heard by hundreds of thousands of people, is an amazing rush. It's a little scary at first but, I had long ago learned to envision my audience as one person so I got over it quickly.  During the day they had a staff of hitline operators to handle the calls, but we were expected to answer the phones at night.  With 20 incoming lines that could be a full time job in itself.  I made sure I found out which area each caller was from, so I could keep track of who was listening and where.  I'd make sure to target requests, weather mentions etc accordingly.  On one occasion I got a call from someone who sounded like they were talking on a short wave radio.   In a manner of speaking they were.  It was a trawler engaged in research at the North pole.   Our 50,000 watt signal had bounced off the ionosphere, and “skipped” back to earth some 3290 miles away.  The sailors had managed to get through on a “phone patch” set up by amateur radio operators.   I may be the only DJ in the world able to say I played a Bob Seger record for people at the North Pole!

I got to work with some top flight pros at CKLW.  People like Bill Winters who did the morning show, Frank Brodie, the smoothest mid-day guy on the planet, Pat Holiday was on in the afternoon, Steve Hunter held down the early evenings, Jim Jackson was on the late night shift, and I did the overnight.  Steve Hunter in particular was especially helpful to me.   I traveled with him on occasions where he'd make appearances at dances in Windsor and Detroit.   We'd jump in his 240Z and go 90-100mph so he could show up, say “hi”, collect $200 and hit the road to the next one.  He'd easily rake in $600/night.   Jim Jackson was also a great friend to me.  He was a Canadian who came in from Edmonton, and introduced me to the Canuck way of life... in other words how to order beer by the tray full!!

I was having the time of my life there but was mildly curious one night when my board op, Neil Gallagher, told me “Do a good show tonight Dean I have to run tape.”  This was nothing new, Alden always had an aircheck running for quality control purposes, but Neil was admonishing me “bring it up a little, give me some more energy.”  I wondered what the hell was going on.  What I didn't know at the time was that J. Robert Wood, esteemed Program Director of CHUM/ Toronto had asked Don Reagan, a CKLW jock who'd given his notice and was on his way to CHUM, to bring up a tape of me.   Bob had been traveling through Detroit, heard my show, and decided he liked what he'd heard.

And now after hearing the tape, Bob Wood was dialing the phone.

1 comment:

  1. Pat (Scott), just found your blog. Great stories! Woody was chasing after me way back when - but I never worked for him. I was at a station where Bob was the consultant for a short time and got to work with him for about a cup of coffee.
    -Charlie O'Brien