Tuesday

THE GREAT RADIO REUNION


BOBBIN' WITH THE ROBIN: Beloved former WKMH and WKNR Keener 13 air personality, Swingin' Time host, author and event guest of honor Robin Seymour was visibly moved during his lengthy discourse on radio when the hundreds in attendance sang Happy Birthday to him in honor of his 93rd birthday. The so-called Last Radio Reunion on the 14th of September in Novi, Michigan was masterminded by WXYZ veteran Lee Alan, and brought together giants of the industry from WKMH, WKNR, WXYZ, CKLW, WAAM, WWJ, WLS, KRTH-FM and other stations, as well as such renowned musicians as Gino Washington, the Reflections, Jack Scott, the Rationals' Scott Morgan and Frijif Pink drummer Rick Stevers. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell recalls the highlights of this extraordinary gathering below. Photo by Michael McDowell (Click on above image to enlarge).


WOW! WE HAVE A WINNER!!:
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE
(HOPEFULLY NOT) LAST
RADIO REUNION
By Michael McDowell

There has long been ongoing dialogue within Christian circles with regards to the presence of miracles in the modern era. To be certain, a solid case could be made in the affirmative for their continuation in light of the miraculous gathering of some of the radio industry's most influential pioneers on the afternoon of the fourteenth of September. 

The concept had been in the planning stages for months. The idea originated with long time WXYZ air personality and author Lee Alan, who billed the gathering as The Last Radio Reunion. But if the overwhelming consensus of the various participants factors into the equation, this landmark gathering will be anything but a finale. 

Signs that the event was destined to be a landmark of epic proportions were in evidence before the proceedings had even begun. Among the first to arrive at the Suburban Showplace Center in Novi, Michigan prior to the 1:00PM start time was Frijid Pink drummer and co-founder, Rick Stevers. The veteran rocker was on hand to lend his support to the various participants, as well as to generate enthusiasm for the band's forthcoming new album (which he did with at the onset Michigan Music History CEO Mike Jackson and Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell).

Thankfully, he did not have to wait long for any such additional opportunities.

Moments after Stevers' arrival, guest of honor Robin Seymour walked through the main entrance. A veteran of both the iconic WKNR Keener 13 and its predecessor, WKMH, Seymour (who in 1970 re-created a half hour segment of his WKMH show for the 1956 installment of the Cruisin' series of albums on the Increase label) was of course the long time host of the immeasurably influential Swingin' Time television series, which aired for several seasons on CKLW Channel 9 in neighboring Windsor, Ontario.

Stevers immediately walked over to Seymour and asked, "Do you remember me?"

"Frijid Pink!", Seymour responded matter of factly, as the two embraced like long lost brothers.

Moments later, the event doors were opened, as participant after participant checked in at the door and greeted one another in like manner.

Among the early arrivals were Seymour's CKLW colleagues, including Charlie O'Brien (who went on to a fruitful career at Windsor, Ontario's CKWW 580 AM and today oversees the Big8radio.com website), long time traffic reporter Jojo Shutty-MacGregor, and Big 8 air personality Johnny Williams (who as Tom D'Angelo produced the iconic Palmer Records vocal group, Tim Tam And The Turn-Ons). 

While O'Brien, Shutty-MacGregor and Williams have all been regular participants in a CKLW reunion held in the Detroit suburb of Saint Clair Shores each summer, this particular event also brought together a number of their one time colleagues who had not participated in such gatherings for quite some time. They included CKLW air veterans Jim Edwards and Max Kinkel, as well as station Program Director Bill Hennes. 

Sadly, unable to attend due to prior commitments were long time CKLW morning drive hero (and producer of the Rockin' Rebels and the Buena Vistas), Tom Shannon, and early 1970s overnight man, Ric Allen, who had been in the area earlier in the week for a high school reunion.

"Sorry, I had to get back early", said Allen, who currently resides in North Carolina.

As the CKLW veterans made their way throughout the crowd (which filled the convention center to capacity), those who brought various artifacts, merchandise and memorabilia with them quickly assembled their respective exhibits. They then directed their collective attention towards greeting a seemingly endless stream of colleagues and admirers. 

Among them were Mount Pleasant, New York native Art Cervi. Long a behind the scenes fixture at the much missed Impact Records (recording home of vocal group greats the Shades Of Blue, renowned vocalist and composer Sixto Rodriguez, Sincerely Yours, Mickey Denton and first generation garage rock legends the Human Beings), Cervi was in turn an ardent classic car enthusiast, who at one time was part of a related group that also included long time Blitz Magazine contributor Jerry Schollenberger. Cervi was on hand to showcase his autobiography, which also includes many fascinating behind the scenes accounts of his long time portrayal of television personality Bozo The Clown.

Also on hand representing the unique juxtapositions of the worlds of sports, music and broadcasting was legendary Detroit Tigers pitcher Dennis Dale "Denny" McLain. Best known in the latter capacity for his unparalleled 31-6 regular season record in 1968 (the year in which the Tigers would go on to a come from behind upset victory in Game Seven over the Saint Louis Cardinals), McLain is also an accomplished organist, with two albums in that capacity for Capitol Records in 1968 - 1969 to his credit. McLain, who went on to a career in broadcasting, fielded a number of inquiries that afternoon about the possibility of his return to the recording studio.

"Not a chance!", he quipped. 

"It's been too long".

Thankfully, the same could not be said for the event's musical representatives, the Reflections. Led by their most capable co-founder and genial front man, Tony Micale, the Reflections were still rebounding from the recent retirement of fellow group founder and bass vocalist John Dean, due to health concerns. 

The Reflections' original line up (which, in addition to Micale and Dean also included Ray Steinberg, Phil Castrodale and the late Dan Bennie) recorded the landmark (Just Like) Romeo And Juliet album for Ed Wingate's Golden World label in 1964. Alongside such masterworks as the Demensions' 1963 My Foolish Heart album for Coral and the Belmonts' ambitious 1962 Carnival Of Hits LP for their own Sabina label, the Reflections' Golden World album is widely regarded as one of the era's definitive masterworks of vocal group harmony. 

The Reflections went on to record a wealth of great singles for Golden World in the ensuing months, including Like Columbus Did, Shabby Little Hut, June Bride, Deborah Ann and the utterly stupendous and anthemic March 1965 monster classic, Poor Man's Son. The Reflections influenced a number of fellow artists, with the Rockin' Berries covering Poor Man's Son for Reprise and the Vacels turning their You're My Baby (And Don't You Forget It) into a hallmark of first generation garage rock for Kama Sutra. Michael and the Messengers followed suit in 1967 (as did Ultimate Spinach in 1969) with their faithful interpretations of the title track from the Reflections' Golden World album.

But it was the current line up of the Reflections that provided a most inspiring musical interlude about halfway into the proceedings. Although Dean's distinctive bass is sorely missed, long time Reflections member Gary Banovetz (himself a veteran of the Larados, who recorded the classic Bad Bad Guitar Man single for George Braxton's Detroit-based Fox label in 1957) rallied to the cause sublimely, as evidenced in their spirited rendition of the Capris' Morse Code Of Love. Current Reflections Joey Finazzo and Sal Prado in turn more than reiterated their considerable capabilities via inspired readings of the Drifters' Save The Last Dance For Me and Jackie Wilson's To Be Loved, closing their set with a fresh as ever run through of their 1964 signature single.

"We really need to do a new album!", Tony Micale observed later that evening. The Reflections have roughly a dozen albums to their credit to date.

Musical interlude notwithstanding, the primary focus of the event was on the many iconic broadcasters in attendance, as well as those who sadly had passed on throughout the years. Following opening remarks by Lee Alan, the evening's Master of Ceremonies (and Alan's one-time WXYZ colleague) Joey Reynolds (whose WXYZ theme song was recorded by the Four Seasons and issued as a 45) called upon the audience for a moment of silence to honor their fallen friends. Many of their names recurred in the proceedings throughout the evening, from such early pioneers as Mickey Shorr and Toby David, to the legendary air staff of the much missed WJBK (whose ranks at various points in time included Clark Reid, Casey Kasem, Bob Edgington and future first generation garage rock visionary Terence "Terry Knight" Knapp), as well as WXYZ's Marc Avery, WKNR's Jim Jeffries, Ted Clark, Frank "Swingin' " Sweeney and Jim Tate, and CKLW's charismatic Bill Gable. 

However, throughout the five hour presentation, the mood was for the most part anything but somber. Ever the relentlessly upbeat tour de force he was while on the air, Reynolds peppered his remarks with good natured puns aimed at his one time competitors, and even engaged in an ad hoc moment of stand up comedy with CKLW's Jojo Shutty-MacGregor during the CKLW segment. 

Interestingly enough, it was during guest of honor Robin Seymour's turn at center stage that one of the afternoon's more amusing exchanges occurred. In attendance (although not performing) was the beloved and still very much active pioneering rocker, Jack Scott, whose utterly stupendous 1957 Two Timin' Woman single for ABC Paramount was hailed by Blitz Magazine as one of the Best Singles of the 20th Century.

During his lengthy and captivating discourse, Seymour made reference to Scott, invoking his classic 1958 Carlton label ballad single, My True Love. On the flip side of that single was an original rockabilly raver, Leroy, which was a re-recording of an earlier track entitled Greaseball.

Pointing out that WKMH was initially not amenable to airing that decidedly rocking B-side, Seymour sought clarification from onlookers by asking, "What was the name of that B-side?"

"Leroy", responded Blitz Magazine's Michael McDowell. Scott's extensive catalog for the ABC Paramount, Carlton, Top Rank and Capitol labels have been long time staples of Blitz's recorded archives. 

"Leroy? No, I don't think that was it", said Seymour.

"Let's get Jack Scott up here. He'll know".

With that, Seymour summoned Scott to center stage from his vantage point at the back of the room. Scott quickly bounded up the aisle and joined Seymour in a matter of seconds. 

"What was the flip side of My True Love?", Seymour asked the artist.

"Leroy", Scott deadpanned, as the two went on to a lighthearted exchange that met with a considerable roar of approval from the audience. 

Seymour was concurrently joined for a time by Scott Morgan, co-founder and lead vocalist of the iconic first generation garage rock quartet, the Rationals, who were frequent Swingin' Time guests. The Rationals are widely regarded as having recorded the definitive cover of the late Otis Redding's Respect (which they did for both the A-Square and Cameo labels in 1966), and in fact received Redding's blessing as being his favorite among the many renditions recorded in the wake of his 1965 original. Throughout the evening, Seymour also autographed copies of his just released autobiography (written in tandem with Carolyn Rosenthal), The DJ That Launched 1000 Hits.

With Alan and Reynolds each navigating the transitions as needed, much of the afternoon's festivities were given to individual presentations that honored both the presenter and their respective subject matter. To that effect, WKNR, CKLW and WOMC veteran Dick Purtan (who succeeded the late Frank Sweeney in the 5:00 to 9:00 morning drive slot on WKNR in 1965) was honored for his extensive work on behalf of family issues. In turn, WKNR's beloved Jerry Goodwin (who, along with Sweeney, came on board in early 1964 upon the departures of James "Jim Sanders" Beasley and the mercurial and endlessly entertaining Mort Crowley, and remained in the 12:00 - 3:00PM slot at the station until 1968) was saluted for his tireless efforts at the time on behalf of the ALSAC charity and its research in the ongoing battle against Muscular Dystrophy. 

And while a representative from Motown Records also feted Robin Seymour for his extraordinary work on Swingin' Time (along with a brief salute to such groundbreaking stations as WCHB and WJLB), one of the most pleasant surprises of the evening was an ad hoc performance by broadcasting pioneer Chuck Daugherty, who enthralled the crowd with a reprisal of his storied work as a part of the cast of WXYZ's legendary radio drama, The Lone Ranger.

Lee Alan himself also provided one of the event's most memorable moments with tales of WXYZ's ongoing concert presentations at the Walled Lake Casino. His account of driving pioneering rocker Chuck Berry to one such show in his 1963 Corvette was brought full circle with the presentation of a Universal Music box set featuring Berry's most revered sides for Chess Records and a disc devoted to a full length 1963 concert by Berry at the Walled Lake facility to a surviving member of the casino owners' family. 

Most encouragingly, two of radio's most charismatic and respected personalities braved ongoing health concerns to join in the festivities. They included Kevin Sanderson (who for a brief season in the 1970s worked with Blitz Magazine Editor / Publisher Michael McDowell at WAAM AM 1600 in nearby Ann Arbor, Michigan), as well as CKLW alumnus Max Kinkel, a decorated Vietnam veteran who made an impassioned plea on behalf of his fellow service men and women to the crowd. The frequent responses from observers of "Thank you for your service" were of course intended for far more than just his time behind the microphone at Windsor, Ontario's Big 8.

But without a doubt, the absolute highlight of the gala was the gathering of the beloved alumni of the immeasurably influential WKNR Keener 13. From its debut on 31 October 1963 on the 1310 AM frequency (occupied up to that point by WKMH) until its own tragic demise in April 1972, WKNR Keener 13 implemented, developed, nurtured and cemented a legacy without parallel in all of radio. 

Based on the "intelligent flexibility" concept masterminded by Keener 13's principal visionary, Bob Green (a WKMH veteran who was with WKNR from its 1963 inception through 1968, and again for a brief season in the early 1970s), WKNR merged the (occasionally) seemingly incongruous attributes of entertainment and matters of a cerebral nature into a fast paced, challenging and unwaveringly enthralling format which steadfastly maintained that air personalities, advertisements, public service announcements and news segments were to be as captivating as the groundbreaking and richly diverse music that the station premiered weeks (and sometimes months) before it caught on with a national audience. 

To that effect, on a trip to Italy in 1966, Green acquired a sizeable cross section of current 45s which had not seen release in the United States. True to form, he aired them on WKNR upon his return, thereby providing the only known radio exposure on the North American continent to such bonafide first generation garage rock classics as the Motowns' Prendi La Chitarra E Vai (issued on RCA Italiana) and I Giganti's utterly stupendous and anthemic Rifi label single, La Bomba Atomica

"I still have them", said Green, whose archives of all things WKNR absolutely staggers the imagination.

Aside from their prerequisite backgrounds in an executive capacity in radio prior to their respective affiliations with WKNR, the Keener Key Men Of Music (as they were then known) each contributed specific areas of expertise to the collective mission statement, just as members of a band combine their various talents and personality traits to the recording studio and stage experience. And while it is most assuredly within reason to assert that, within that context, Bob Green has been to radio what Brian Wilson is to music, in turn, fellow WKNR great Paul Cannon was ideally suited for his own respective role at the station.

While initially on the air primarily in a weekend and occasional evening capacity, Cannon's primarily responsibility at the onset was the production of the weekly and immeasurably influential WKNR Music Guide. Having succeeded Frank "Swingin' " Sweeney in that capacity upon the latter's departure from the station in early 1965, Cannon had the daunting task (which was heavily monitored among the station's countless followers) of sorting through the astounding 300 to 600 new single releases that arrived at the station each week during that most productive of musical eras, generating consensus among his colleagues as to which few of the lot would be suitable for debut on the next week's edition of the WKNR Music Guide (which listed a top 31 singles, as well as a Key Song Of The Week) and then determining each release's position on that chart via a combination of record sales, listener feedback and input from of key area retailers and rack jobbers. 

Whether or not his formidable skills in that respect were developed during his earlier career in police work is not certain. Nonetheless, Cannon's every move in terms of record placement on those weekly WKNR charts (which were readily available at such area record outlets as Dearborn Music, Fox Hole Records and Ross Music, as well as such record friendly department store outlets as Arlans, E.J. Korvette's, Shoppers Fair, Crowley's, Topps and J.L. Hudson's) was the subject of no small amount of dialogue and contention among observers. 

Contention in that, while statistics reflecting performance are one issue, music appreciation is almost invariably subjective and as such frequently at odds with those stats. Hardly a week went by at WKNR when Cannon did not have to field either telephone or written inquiries from listeners with regards to the current week's WKNR Music Guide and the performance therein of their record of choice. To his considerable credit, Cannon responded to each inquiry with supreme diplomacy, augmented by an often beyond the call of duty explanation of circumstances.

It is a testimony to his formidable acumen in that respect that, early in the afternoon's festivities in Novi that Cannon fielded one such test scenario from Blitz Magazine. Not surprisingly, his reaction to the query was one that suggested he had addressed this specific inquiry on more than one occasion. 

At each year's end, Keener 13 published a special edition of the WKNR Music Guide that reflected the most successful records of that particular year. In due course, those year end listings were supplemented by a brief statement which asserted that a given record's position within that listing was based upon its various chart positions and the length of its run throughout the calendar year.

But with respect to the 1965 edition, a pair of glaring omissions called the entire process into question. 

At the top of that list was the Four Tops' I Can't Help Myself, which spent two weeks in the number one position at WKNR in the Spring of that year. The Four Tops' single was followed by Red Roses For A Blue Lady (both the instrumental version by Bert Kaempfert and the vocal rendition by Vic Dana), the Rolling Stones' anthemic (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, the Vogues' harmony rich interpretation of Petula Clark's You're The One and Sounds Orchestral's definitive instrumental rendition of Vince Guaraldi's Cast Your Fate To The Wind.

Interestingly enough, each of those singles enjoyed a greater run at number one throughout the year than did the Four Tops' single, although I Can't Help Myself outlasted each by a week in overall chart duration. All well and good.

However, one single (which spent an impressive three weeks atop the WKNR charts in the Spring of 1965) outpaced them all, yet was nowhere to be found on that year end chronicle. That single was Herman's Hermits' MGM label masterpiece, Can't You Hear My Heartbeat. Ironically, the band's lone appearance on that year end listing was their Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter single, which lasted a mere six weeks during its run and only topped WKNR's listings for one week.

Also missing from that year end commemorative listing was the Chiffons' psych rock masterpiece, Nobody Knows What's Goin' On (In My Mind But Me), which had the unique distinction of derailing (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction off of the number one spot in July of that year. Yet the bottom rungs of that year end Top 31 featured such not as well performing (but no less iconic) offerings by the Moody Blues, Len Barry, the Supremes and Billy Joe Royal, none of which had spent any time in the top slot throughout the year. 

While seemingly a matter for only the most devout of statisticians, all of that is brought up here only to underscore the both the tremendous acumen and sense of modesty that Cannon maintains to the present day with respect to his accomplishments at WKNR. He was at once readily familiar with the scenario at hand, and resolved the seeming impasse most matter of factly.

"It wasn't intentional", he said.

"There was no slight whatsoever intended to the artists. It was an oversight. It happened occasionally. After all, we were only human!"

Only human, perhaps. But the response that WKNR's beloved alumni received upon taking center stage that afternoon was the kind reserved for only the most treasured of recipients. Obviously moved by the enormity of the ovation, Bob Green, Paul Cannon, Jerry Goodwin, one time WKNR Contact News anchor Erik Smith and latter day WKNR great Pat St. John quickly regrouped to deliver what could only be described as a doctorate level crash course in radio. 

Among the highlights were Paul Cannon's tongue in cheek recollection of the highlights of one of WKNR's few missteps, the Vote For Your Favorite Principal contest of 1967. The idea was to have students of the area schools submit index cards listing the name of their school and its respective principal, with the winners receiving prizes that would benefit both administration and student. 

Not surprisingly, given the enormous influence that the station wielded over the community (best typified by Bob Green's casual reference to pizza on air in 1964, which in short order caused a traffic jam in both directions on Michigan Avenue, as literally hundreds of pizzas made their way to the station minutes later), the area schools responded in short order. 

However, due to the sheer enormity of submissions, it readily became apparent that the results could not be determined by physical tally. As such, the results were ultimately calculated by weighing the boxes in which the index cards were brought to the station.

It was eventually determined by that methodology that the winner of the contest was Divine Child High School in Dearborn, Michigan. However, that determination did not sit well with the student body of Crestwood High School in neighboring Dearborn Heights. Upon further investigation, it was learned that some of the submissions were weighted down with telephone directories at the bottom of the box, thereby calling the entire process into question. 

From the station's perspective, the winner had already been announced, and the matter was considered closed. Nonetheless, the student bodies of the two high schools found themselves at odds with one another as a result. Thankfully, timely and astute intervention from each school's respective faculty averted what appeared to be a rapidly escalating situation. 

Nonetheless, as a fitting testimony to WKNR's ongoing pervasive impact on the industry as a whole, also on hand were several who in their respective ways are celebrating that legacy. They include Motor City Radio Flashback's Jim Feliciano (whose web site includes copious amounts of airchecks from WKNR, WXYZ, CKLW, WJBK and other stations), as well as radio historian Art Vuolo, documentary film maker Kevin Willett, and keener13.com website curator Scott Westerman, whose highly anticipated new book on the station will include all eight and a half years' worth of the weekly WKNR Music Guides, as well as commentary from station vets.

Aforementioned infallibilities aside, observers at large found such frank admissions by the Keener Key Men Of Music all the more endearing. As such, the afternoon's ceremonies concluded on a most high note, preceeded by a benediction from WLS / Chicago vet John "Records" Landecker, as well as a cameo appearance in the audience by pioneering Northern Soul giant Gino Washington (whose numerous outings for the Ric-Tic, Son Bert, Wand and Atac labels represent the upper echelons of the genre), along with words of encouragement from Alan and Reynolds to those involved in the burgeoning satellite radio industry. 

Later that evening, a number of the key participants participated in an afterglow party at a lakeside restaurant in neighboring Walled Lake. The festivities there continued unabated, highlighted by an animated discourse on radio by Shotgun Tom Kelly (who had succeeded the much missed Real Don Steele on Los Angeles' KRTH-FM upon the latter's passing in August 1997), plus an impassioned dialogue from Keener's Jerry Goodwin on the importance of thinking outside of the box (and to that effect, Goodwin in recent years has taught Shakespearean drama on a college level, and most recently has co-starred in a number of acclaimed theatre and film productions). 

"This is an event that is going to remain front and center in the conversations of a lot of people for some time to come", said Michigan Music History's Mike Jackson at evening's end. 

To be certain, if anyone had been seeking an example of answered prayer, the Radio Reunion fit the bill as succinctly as could be hoped. And if there is indeed any ongoing prayer in its wake, it is that this extraordinary event is not the last one.