The Story of "Album Review"
At this time in radio history, a dividing line had formed in broadcasting, reflected by America's taste in music. Hit singles were still very much alive, but not dominating all the markets. Radio stations were playing album cuts of the current trends in music and rock music splintered into many sub-categories. For that reason, record companies were paying more attention to American FM radio. All of a sudden I found myself in the enviable position of being on the receiving line of an almost endless supply of record albums. The consultants that supplied broadcasters with music statistics had discovered that our station was simulcasting a signal over both a 5,000 watt AM monster who directed our signal from four towers into the heart of Texas after dark, but also a 100,000 watt stereo FM broadcaster whose antenna was sitting on the highest peak in Arkansas. I found myself in high demand from record distributors needing to find markets for the current popular trend of heavy English rock albums.
At this time I was also currently doing a 3 to Midnight board shift at the station. I got permission to try a format of strictly album material during my last hour of broadcast. I called it "Album Review" (what an original name!) and I kept people listening right up to 11 PM by turning my 10:15 PM to 11 PM slot into a "Top Ten Countdown" segment. I knew the Top 10 Segment would attract more listeners (and advertisers), and I tried to tap into any market I could to help support this new type of music format - not to mention the new type of music I was about to unleash on an unsuspecting world: Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Free, Spooky Tooth, Groundhogs, Traffic, The Who, Humble Pie, Trapeze, ELP, Yes, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix. LOTS of Jimi Hendrix!
I knew I had to have a music theme, so I searched my library until I found "The Iron Butterfly Theme" by Iron Butterfly (who else?). It was on the flip side of their hit "Inna-gadda-da-vida". But to give it a bit more spice I flanged it to make it sound more spacey by running two records simultaneously on turntables, then slowing one or the other down to create a flanged effect while recording the result to a reel-to-reel tape recorder. It was also sort of a tribute to my friend Clyde Clifford's "Beaker Street" Program on 50,000-Watt KAAY. I would let the theme start up and run for at least two full minutes before I started to key my voice over the track. We had these old Western Electric ribbon microphones (see pictures) which sounded so beefy when you drove it hard to the console, which in turn drove the station's compressors really hard and make them "pump", sucking in all this background noise from the control room, and adding a texture to the on-air sound. Clyde had this ethereal noise always going in the background, created by the fact that he actually broadcast from the transmitter site with all it's inherent noise, and I didn't want to be so obvious copping his idea, so I created a format of talking over the previous track's ending and the next track's beginning (like the old Top 40 format) if I had to say anything at all. Also, I plugged the microphone in a reverb unit I brought in every day from my house. Just a touch of that was enough to create a distinct difference between the previous Top 40 Hit Single Segment to the "Heavy Duty Album Rock Segment".
From 1971 to 1975, I hosted "Album Review" every weeknight at 11PM, and for those four years the station got a lot of weird mail. I'd get fan mail addressed with sticky glue and colorful sparkles on it, fan mail composed with letters cut out of newspaper print, fan mail reeking of patchouli oil or musk, even fan mail containing joints arrived innocently at the station. Fans would arrive at the station to find the front door locked and go across the street to the bus station and call me to get me to open up for them. Most of the time I resisted the temptation, but occasionally I would allow a fan (usually a female fan) up to watch me work on the air for a while. One night I allowed a girl upstairs who met me at the door wearing a trench coat. I didn't think much about it until about ten minutes later when she revealed to me (pun intended) that she was working as a stripper. The station engineer, Rance, was making one of his periodic transmitter microwave equipment checks and when he came up the stairs and spotted a naked girl dancing on top of the table in the control room his always-present smoking pipe fell right out of his mouth and dumped hot ashes on the front of his shirt! Another amusing memory was of interviewing one of the members of The Guess Who (I won't name names) by phone while he was being "entertained" by none other than "Sweet, Sweet Connie of Little Rock" (remember "American Band" by GFR?). It was one of the most incoherent but hilarious radio interviews I had ever conducted. I also met and chatted with the "Plaster Caster" girls when they drove through Ft. Smith late one evening and stopped by the studio.
Since I was also working as a concert promoter in the Ft. Smith area at that time, I always tied in my concerts with a healthy supply of the artist's music a week or so before the event, to spur ticket sales as well as their album sales. In addition, I always requested and got interviews with these artists, which I would then edit down and feature on Album Review after the concert. Sometimes I would get them to do an advance phone plug for the concert and play it the week before the concert during the regular hours of my Top 40 show earlier in the evening. Many times I could even talk the group into coming down to the station and granting a live on-the-air interview and arranged it so my listeners could actually call in and ask questions of their favorite groups and players. Back in those days we didn't have a delay on the phone line, so what you heard was what you got. I believe station management always "turned their heads" whenever they heard a group was going to come up and be on the air. No one from the station ever showed up during these times, probably out of fear they might see something they didn't need to see, and since my show always brought in the highest Arbitron Ratings in the market, they didn't want to be forced to get rid of their cash cow. It was a good thing because there was no way I could have controlled most of those rockers. They had major contracts with major labels and could do just about what they wanted. As far as they were concerned (rightfully so), the Arkansas market was pretty small potatoes. But they couldn't ignore the coverage they got on our simulcasted stations so they always were receptive when asked to participate. Looking back I now realize that they were probably on their best behavior, on advice from their managers.
It was a wild ride. I interviewed artists like Trapeze, Deep Purple, Bloodrock, Jukin' Bone, The Grass Roots, Black Oak Arkansas, Yes, Sugarloaf, The Box Tops, Grand Funk Railroad, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beach Boys, The Flaming Ember, Leon Russell, The Association, The Gentry's, Styx, The Ides of March, Mitch Ryder & Detroit, Bill Chase, The Guess Who, and many others. Although I still have copies of some of those rare interviews, most of my library was unfortunately destroyed in a flood in the studio back in the 80's. The master tapes were so saturated with water and mud they could not be restored. What remains is a small handful of interviews I had previously copied to cassettes, but they recall what a great time we used to have on the air, cracking jokes and doing some pretty strange things for the entire world to hear.
HEAR A REALAUDIO CLIP FROM A TRAPEZE INTERVIEW HERE.
HEAR A REALAUDIO CLIP FROM A SUGARLOAF INTERVIEW HERE.
HEAR A REALAUDIO CLIP FROM A BLOODROCK INTERVIEW HERE.
HEAR A REALAUDIO CLIP FROM A BLACK OAK INTERVIEW HERE.
It all came to abrupt end on May 3rd, 1975, when I was in Tulsa where my band "Whizz" had been contracted to play a fraternity rush party at the Hilton Inn. There I was accidentally shot by an idiot security guard who had no business carrying a gun (but that's another entirely different story). Those two months in recovery gave me time to reflect on my life up to that point and I decided I would make some changes. I stayed around Ft. Smith for about 8 months, wrapping up my radio career and learning as much as I could about recording and engineering. Then in March of 1976 I moved back to my hometown of Mountain Home and began my career as a studio owner and audio engineer.
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