Show Me The Door

“…That cold black cloud is comin’ down.
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.”
(1973) “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” Composed & Recorded By: Bob Dylan

Be honest. Give it a moment of thought. What do you first think of when you see a shut door? Like a photo of the sun kissing the horizon. Is it dawn, or dusk? Is the door an exit, or an entrance?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

July 4, 1987 was the official date when I had the honor to join the air staff at a brand new Christian music radio station in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. That July 4th was our debut. I had just turned 27. It was my very first radio job. We were building a 100,000 watt blowtorch of a pop/rock Christian station like no other. It was called, KOJO (Ko-Jo). people laughed as it reminded some of Stephen King’s novel and movie, “Cujo” from earlier in the decade. Ironically, although the name stuck very well to the ear, the call letters were changed in 1989 to KLTY, which it remains today. It didn’t take long before we were named the most listened to Christian station in the world. In just a few months we had accumulated over 400,000 listeners in the Metroplex, and that was just the beginning.

We were in full-court press with promotions, contests, and live remote broadcasts constantly. For several weekends in a row we poured the audience a huge opportunity for various winnings of some kind. After the announcement, the 9th caller would be the one who had their name added for a Monday morning drawing for the prize. We had a knack for making it fun and even silly. A good example was our “KOJO-94fm, Win A Wonderful Waco Weekend While You Can!” contest. We had to mention it every other time we spoke on mic. You can imagine how the tongue had to do gymnastics on the phrase. I had to practice at home. Yet, it was lots of fun for everybody. But now, back from my rabbit trail.

About two weeks prior to “Turning on the light”, which was our handle, we had our very first on-air staff meeting. We went around the table introducing ourselves, stuffing our faces with donuts and coffee. About 98% of us were hired from outside the area. I felt proud that I was one of the home-grown lads. The talent was amazing as each one gave a snapshot of a verbal resume. In fact, since I was the rookie among those radio vets, I felt extremely intimidated. However, the blessing of knowing how much I could learn from such a team was endless in my mind. One guy I hit it off with that summer was a transplant from Seattle, Washington. Meet the incredibly talented, J.J. Hemingway.

(Unfortunately for us, J.J. passed away in 2019. His voice has indeed been silenced, but his memory lives on for all who knew him, or listened to him over the airwaves.)

J.J. and I became friends right away. he was so easy to befriend. His humor, his fast-draw wit was quick as lightning, like a stand-up comic. His gruff, yet smooth voice, was highly unique, and very difficult to describe, to the point of exclusivity. His love for God was open and exceptional. He loved the treasure of God’s grace. He was so imperfect, like all of us, and he knew himself well. He knew where he would be if not for the grace of the Grace-Giver. Throughout his career, his sign-off line was, “And remember, no matter what the weather is like, you can always let the Son shine in your life.” He always meant it. J.J. had many a cloud hanging over him. We worked different parts of the day, so we didn’t see each other on a daily basis. However, on Saturdays, our schedules were deviated. So, I followed his show on Saturday evenings and that’s usually when we were able to catch up.

Every month we had a standing on-air staff meeting at a large well-known pizza place. Alongside business topics from our program director, we had a blast. It was always a casual time with lots of laughter and chit-chat. On one occasion, we decided to share personal funny stories of unforeseen happenings while on the air. Most chose hilarious stories from other stations from the past. One co-worker, Ernie Brown, originally from Houston, gave a whopper of a situation he experienced. In Houston, the station he worked for had a 1950’s converted (No pun intended.) gasoline service station as their broadcast studio. If you’re old enough you remember the type, usually they were small box-shaped buildings. As so many of them were back in the day, the restroom was only accessible from the outside toward the back of the building. He was on the air late one night when he chose to take a trip to the potty. He started Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” (8;02 in length) on his turntable. The outside door was a thick, heavy soundproof Teak wood door. Teak is very costly, but solid. For some odd reason, he left the key hanging on a hook in the control room. He propped it open slightly with a reel of recording tape. That was a bad mistake. Just as he was outside, walking toward the back of the building, he heard the door close behind him. The door was way too heavy for the reel of tape. His story went on about doing all he could to break down the door. Eventually, he rammed it with his car. Yep, he didn’t last long at that radio station.

After we collected ourselves from that tale of adventure, J.J. felt the urge to unload his story about what happened a couple of hours before I showed up to relieve him on a Saturday.

Photo: The late J.J. Hemingway.

We (KOJO) were sharing a two story broadcast building which housed KOJO, along with, a longstanding Spanish radio station. Their studio was on the second floor with us, with the sales department’s couple of dozen cubicles between us. We shared the lounge, the kitchen, conference rooms, and restrooms. Downstairs was a state of the art recording studio owned by another entity. Because of the hourly booking nature of a recording studio, it often was empty. The owner of the building was having the downstairs remodeled for more production studios, as well as, office space for commercial copy writers.

J.J. told the story of this particular Saturday night calamity. With the quick wit of a Robin Williams, he began to blurt out his experience.

J.J. was on the air when nature began to call. The 2nd floor restrooms were just a few feet down the hall from the studio, so we all had it timed in our heads how long the walk took from the control board to the facilities. (In those days, nothing was automated on-air.) J.J. put on a longer song from the artist, Carman, known for his lengthy tunes. J.J. gets to the restroom to find it full of people waiting in line. Apparently, the Spanish station was having some kind of on-air party with selected listeners. J.J. couldn’t wait. So, he runs downstairs to a small restroom not far from the recording studio. He slammed the door and proceeded with his business. After he was ready to go back to the studio upstairs, he couldn’t get the door opened. Apparently, it was a new door that had not yet been leveled with the door jam. When J.J. forced it shut, it was as if it had been locked from the outside. No matter what he did, he couldn’t open it. He was trapped while the Carman song played on toward its ending. He started to panic as he looked at his watch while fearing dead air upstairs. (Dead air is a no-no.) It being a Saturday night downstairs in a construction zone, he was haunted by the ominous echos of a U-Haul truck engine invading his thoughts. His only hope was to scream at the top of his lungs while kicking and beating on the jammed door until someone upstairs could hear him…maybe. After about five minutes or so, a lone sound engineer, working late in the recording studio, heard the clamor down the hallway. He followed his ears to J.J.’s temporary jail cell. The engineer tried desperately to open the restroom door from the hallway side, but it wouldn’t budge. J.J. asked the guy to go to the KOJO control room and start another song. The poor guy had never been upstairs, much less inside the KOJO studios. But, sensing J.J.’s distress, he went to do just that. Listeners hearing dead air suddenly heard an mysterious unfamiliar voice say, “And now, one of my favorite songs.” before another cut was played. After he returned, he realized the only escape plan at that point was to remove the hinges. After finding some tools, he was able to remove the hinges and free J.J. from his solitary confinement. And yes, there was dead air. Needless to say, we all were just rolling on the floor at the pizza place laughing our lungs out. However, the program director didn’t look amused. Still, J.J. kept his job.

Doors. We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them. So what do you see? Is it an entrance, or exit?

Most people see a blockage from whatever lies on the other side. It seems no matter how the door looks, it still holds us back from the other side, maybe from where we want to be. In many cases, we might not want to know what’s on the other side. Yet, if you arrive at a loved one’s home, you step on the porch, and you are faced with a door keeping you from your loved one. What a great thing when your loved one opens the door to reveal their wonderful, inviting smile.

You’ve seen this famous painting before.

Photo: Jesus At The Door – zazzle.com

It comes from a passage, in Revelation Ch3, where Jesus Himself is offering an opportunity to a handful of first century churches. He mentions that He is outside, rapping his knuckles against their tightly closed door. Apparently, at some point, the reel of recording tape they used to prop the door open had slipped out shutting tight the door. It clashes with the irony of how the door of the ark of Noah was shut and sealed as the rains began. At the same time, it’s wise to notice how the door Jesus knocks on has no outside door latch. It indicates He will not force His way in, but rather He must be invited.

Yet there’s another tightly shut door of note.

Prior to His death and resurrection, Jesus mentions an imagery to remember. He paints His self-portrait as being door for entrance. He had said before how He was the WAY, the ONLY WAY to the Father. By saying such, He literally is feeding us highly valuable information so many ignore. He was saying, “If you rely on some other one to give you access to the other side, the door will remain shut.” By teaching He was a door for access to the the other side, this door is unlocked, unjammed, and unlimited for those who accept the invitation. For anyone who feels trapped in life, trapped in abuses, trapped in sins, He opens Himself up for us to escape the solitary into His fellowship, His home, His freedom.

Photo by Skylar Kang on Pexels.com

No need to pound on a jammed door when drinking from fuel for the race.

“I am now standing at the door and am knocking. If any one listens to My voice and opens the door, I will go in to be with him and will feast with him, and he shall feast with Me.” – Revelation 3:20 – (Weymouth New Testament)

Up On The Roof

“When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stars
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me…”                                                                   
(1962)  “Up On The Roof” – Originally recorded by:  The Drifters  (Multiple artists have covered this song.)  Composers:  Gerry Goffin & Carole King
In “Your Song” (1970) from Elton John, we get a hint of where his songwriting lyricist partner, Bernie Taupin liked to construct his lyrics.
“I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss.  Well, a few of the verses got me quite cross…”
Lots of creativity can happen up on the roof.
It was July 4th, 2003 when I moved from Dallas, Tx to Buffalo, NY.  It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  I left my wife and three daughters to take an afternoon-drive radio show at a long-standing Buffalo radio station.  It was a promising, career-healthy move which was almost impossible to refuse.  I had a lengthy radio resume in Dallas and I was at a place in life where a next step was essential.  The idea was to live a lean solo life while hunting for a house to purchase.  After the papers for the mortgage were to be signed, then I would move the family of five to our new home, along with our Yorkie, Great Dane, a hamster, a mouse, and a gerbil, all in an Isuzu Trooper.
Roof Elmwood
Photo:  Google
After my feet hit Buffalo pavement, the first couple of weeks were spent in a motel room while searching for an apartment near the radio station in the downtown area.  All I had with me was a stuffed suitcase, duffel bag, and a briefcase.  Within walking distance of the radio station, I landed a tiny little furnished efficiency in an old brownstone right in the artsy district.  It was near perfect for my needs at the time.
Never living in a city-life efficiency before, there was a learning curve to it.  No elevators.  I was on the top floor, the 4th floor.  The basement (five flights down) housed the laundry area for the building.  I was in good physical shape at that time, but it still challenged me each trip to wash my clothes.  There was no air conditioning, of course, being Western New York.  For this Texas lad, I wasn’t sure I could do without an air conditioner.  However, the only silver lining, to the warm humid days, was the welcomed cool constant winds coming off Lake Erie.
As you can see in the photo, my two windows gave me a view of the apartment windows of the next building just a narrow driveway’s width away.  Nobody kept their blinds shut when the windows needed to be open on warm summer days.  You guessed it, very little privacy.  Jimmy Stewart, in “Rear Window”, never would’ve needed binoculars in my apartment.  In clear view of my neighbors, from the next building, was my bed.  It was vertical inside a wall of my living room, just an arm’s-length away from my kitchen mini-fridge.  When bedtime hit the clock, I just opened the door, pulled down the bed to the living room floor.  The springs squeaked as my body stretched out on the thin musky mattress.  Yep, there was a lot of adjusting for this suburbanite boy.
It took over three months to buy a house for my family, and moved in toward mid November.  So, I had plenty of time to adjust to my new temporary home in the city.  The streets were loud and busy.  With the windows opened throughout the summer, the sounds of yelling, sirens, and the occasional car crash bounced off the walls of our buildings on the block.  It always sounded as if everything was happening right outside my window.  It proved to be a struggle keeping my focus when writing letters to my family, or trying to get some shuteye.  Sometimes the noise was so overbearing, it pushed me out the door for a jog down by the Niagara break wall.  At dusk it was a sight to watch the Canadian side of the river light up their street lamps.
Peace Bridge Break Wall
On my trips up and down the hallways, I would pass a stairwell just off the 4th floor.  Knowing there wasn’t a 5th floor, I would shrug my shoulders and move on.  One day, after curiosity got the best of me, I followed the stairs to a set of old partially rusted Bilco doors.

staircase with black metal handrail
Photo by Octoptimist on Pexels.com

As I reached the top of the stairs I saw the double doors were latched by a bolt from the inside.  When I slid the bolt back it made a loud metallic clang that echoed down the stairwell.  When I pushed open the heavy metal doors, the cool Erie winds hit my face.  I had just discovered a large tar-sheeted flat roof of the building.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Whoever the property owners were they evidently didn’t see the value of constructing a patio-style wet-bar area with outdoor furniture, complete with table umbrellas.  Instead, a large wasted space.  But not for me.  Immediately I found the sounds of the city were faded while displaying a view filled with the downtown slope which met the harbor and the mouth of Lake Erie.  I personally enjoyed seeing the rooftops of the neighborhood showcasing old world architecture from the day when horse-drawn carriages, top-hats, and bonnets were the norm.

Throughout my time there, I visited the old quietened rooftop many times.  I remember signing off the air at the studio, looking forward to climbing up the stairs to my new favorite place.  It’s was a get-away where I would meet with the Creator, watch the sunset over the horizon, and sit on the half-wall at the edge of the roof thinking of how our new lives would be in Western New York.  One weekend, in the fall, I remember seeing The Northern Lights for the very first time.   God truly knows how to put on a light show.  It was a place of comfort from the days of hardship, the rowdy sounds of the streets, and the worries of relocating across the country.  When I see the photo from Google, my eyes first look up toward the rooftop.
Peace, enlightenment, and healing found on rooftops shouldn’t surprise anyone.  In scripture, I am reminded of how a handicapped man was carried by four of his friends to the flat rooftop of a home where Jesus was meeting with a crowd who packed a house.  The entryway was not negotiable.  The Miracle Worker was healing gobs of people in need all throughout the region.  In a desperate move by these men, they reached the roof above where Jesus was teaching, punched a hole in the roof to lower their lame friend to Him on a mat.  Up on the roof love and faith was accessed that day.  In Acts 10, the Apostle Peter was praying up on the roof of a friend’s house when God got his attention concerning the issue of grace vs law, love vs religious racism.  Peter found access to the truth up on the roof that day.  In the book of Joshua, a woman hid two spies of Israel in Jericho from their enemies up on her housetop.  For them, there was access to security up on the roof.  After Solomon felt weary of domestic feuds in the home, twice in Proverbs he mentions it’s better to live in the corner of a roof than with a person (woman) of contention.  (I’m trying to be kind on this one. Apparently he must’ve lost a few battles with some of his wives. LOL)
Roof French
Maybe your place of solitude isn’t up on the roof.  It could be your roof isn’t easily accessible, or physically safe.  For you it might be in your car with the radio turned off.  Possibly it’s on your bike on an open road.  Maybe it’s a place in your garage, or your barn.  I have an old friend who found his access under the roof of his lawn shed.  For many, it’s out on a lake in a boat, a coastline of a lake, a boulder sitting by a creek.  I have a cousin who finds her place of solitude up in the saddle of her horse.  Scripture reads the closet is a good place.
One thing is certain, there is a way of escape.  There is a stairwell to a place to be solo.  You might need to “kick off the moss” first.  In these times of violence, disturbance, pandemic, and masked faces, meeting with the Spirit of God can happen anywhere.  When you find it, that is a place you will always be fond of.
Getting away from the news, social media, and the crashing noise of profanity, there’s always room for two up on the roof with a ample supply of fuel for the race.
“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” – Jesus –  Matthew 10:27 (NAS)

Slippery Slopes

“…She was going way too fast.  Before she knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass.  She saw both their lives flash before her eyes.  She didn’t have time to cry.  She was so scared.  She threw her hands up in the air.  Jesus, take the wheel.  Take it from my hands. ‘Cause I can’t do this on my own.  I’m letting go…”  – Jesus, Take The Wheel, (2005)  Recorded by:  Carrie Underwood.  Composers:  Brett James, Gordon Sampson, Hillary Lindsey.

14 years ago, an old friend of mine, Jaylene Johnson, miraculously survived a severe crash.  (See her car above.)

She is a successful singer/songwriter/recording artist, Juno Award nominee and Covenant Award winner from Winnipeg, Canada.  To say she was exhausted at the end of a cross-Canada solo tour, would be an understatement.  With her heater blowing full throttle, as she was driving home after a heavy snowfall in North Western Ontario, she was eager to see her hometown.  Jaylene was negotiating the roads as well as could be expected.  There was a moment in time she thought maybe it was best to grab a hotel before they closed the highways, but that had yet to happen.  Her car was packed to the roof with her guitars, keyboard, sound equipment, promotional products, and luggage.  The only thing on her mind was the weather conditions bearing down on the route.  She is a cautious driver, well versed in winter driving, but the semis nipping at her bumper were not so careful.  The rear-view mirror became her friend.

jaylene johnson performing

Jaylene on-tour.  Photo:  Tim Hellsten

The last thing she recalls is the map.  She had made it just outside of Upsala, Ontario, in the Thunder Bay District, when all went dark.  (Some of the following details came from eyewitnesses, EMT’s & police reports, along with her own post-accident inquiry.)

Travelling westbound, she had reached the top of a ridge overlooking a valley below.  As she began to descend into the valley, she slipped on some unexpected black ice covering the highway, and lost control.  As her little vehicle slid across the highway, she hit a transport coming eastbound head-on.  When she came to in the wreckage, a stranger on the scene, named “Willie”, pulled her through a shattered window, held her hand, and covered her with his coat before the EMT’s arrived.  As she sobbed, he comforted her while stroking her hair as she laid there in shock.  Fast-forward, she spent the rest of the day on a back brace in a Thunder Bay hospital.  Her body was riddled with pieces of broken glass.

Back in 2004, I was doing a radio show in Buffalo, NY while she had just released her first major album.  At the time, it was rare for Canadian artists to get radio airplay on the USA side of the border, especially independent bands.  I wanted to change that trend in the corner where I was.  The station I worked for was operating with 110,000 watts, reaching well north of Toronto, generally all of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).  The signal stretched over the entire Western New York area, northwestern Pennsylvania, and some portions of Ohio.  There was too many stellar Canadian artists putting out top-shelf cuts, not being heard on the U.S. side.  My number one focus was quality writing, production, along with terrific vocals to debut south of the Canadian border.  However, it was under a global relief, development and advocacy banner where our roads converged.

World Vision International had approached the two of us to join their work in El Salvador, as part of an ad campaign for support.  We worked together there, alongside other Canadian artists, for a week or so.  I was doing live reports back to the radio station as I interviewed World Vision workers, as well as benefactors.  It was there Jaylene and I became friends in a much warmer climate.

me in el salvador with world vision 2004

Jaylene took this photo of an interview I was doing with a World Vision recipient through a World Vision interpreter.

After our trip, we kept in touch.  Jaylene graced my show, in studio, a couple of times when she was performing in the GTA or WNY.  Through the years I kept track of her tours and television appearances.

After hearing from her on the details of the accident, I grew concerned about her health in the wake of such trauma.  In the end, there was no need for concern on my part.  God took the wheel, indeed.

I’ve had my own experiences with icy paths.  When you believe you can negotiate the roads in that condition, caution and prep would be top priority.

Come to think of it, no matter what climate you travel through, icy roads can derail your life.  Do you know what I mean?  We can be living life as a smooth operator, no issues in sight.  Then suddenly, without warning, our feet come right out from under us.  Zero traction takes us by surprise.  We’re never really prepared for it.  Just when we think we are, “BOOM”, on our tailbone we go.  (And it’s always the tailbone, right?)  For some, it might be losing traction on funds and finances.  We might experience losing traction on world peace.  Maybe a loss in traction with our child, our health, our marriage, or our nation.  It happens.  Before you know it, we slide hard into a nearby ditch, off the trek we were to be on. Just like Jaylene’s shellacked pavement, the ice doesn’t have to be thick to cause a head-on collision.  We can find slippage on the invisible, and/or what we deem as non-threatening.  It’s a tragic mistake.  Some find slippery slopes that lead to life-ending results.  There are non-negotiables out there which can transport you to where you don’t want to be.

“…stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand….and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace…” – St. Paul, Ephesians 6. 

In Paul’s time, Roman soldiers were fitted into special sandals with studs on the soles, like cleats.  For me, my preference are my insulated snow-boots with cleats on the rubber soles.  Better yet, Paul indicates a true gripping.  It’s more like the spikes on a mountain climber’s boot.  Anyone who has ever fallen hard on the ice, or slid down a slippery slope in the winter, or did so in a social, political, or economic climate, would recommend cleats in decision making.  Just ask the citizens of Venezuela.  Unlike Jaylene, when driving in the ice on bald tires, your future is certain.

Prep all you want.  There’s always the God-factor outside of your own abilities and strength.  Have you been there?  Maybe you have and you didn’t truly take the time to consider it.

As for Jaylene’s ordeal, a couple of mysteries still hover.  One unsolved oddity surrounds “Willie”.  As she was being placed in the ambulance, she looked back for him.  He, and his coat, were gone.  No person at the scene could tell her who he was, where he came from , or where he went.  Plus, according to the reports, the shear impact from the head-on collision with the transport, and her small vehicle, was of tremendous force.  Yet, she walked out of the hospital, on her own power later the SAME DAY!  Just shocking.

Also, one of the EMT’s was familiar with her music from Canadian radio.  He went the extra mile after taking her to the hospital.  He went back to the scene and helped to retrieve her property from the wreckage, all on his own time.

Lasting effects remain with her, mostly psychological in nature.  To this day, Jaylene will tell you, she can’t seem to fully relax anymore.  Yet, she does see God’s hand in the incident on several levels.  So do I.

jaylene johnson promo Jaylenejohnson.COM

I’m proud to say she continues to write, record, and perform.  She’s now married and raising a family.

When in slippery, tight places, it goes better when fitted with the cleats of fuel for the race.

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways.  They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone.”  -Psalm 91:11-12 (NAS)

 

The Fading Fad of Fades

“La-Da-Daa-da-da-daa, Da-Da-Da-Daa, hey Jude.  (fade)  La-Da-Daa-da-da-da-daa, Da-da-da-daa, hey Jude.  (fade)  La-Da-Daa-da-Da-Da-Daa, Da-da-da-daa, hey Jude. (fade)……………”  From 1968, “Hey Jude”, By: The Beatles.  Composers:  Paul McCartney & John Lennon.

You’ve wondered, right?  Maybe you’re too young to have experienced it.  Maybe there have been times you were watching an old TV show where an artist like, The Monkees, Partridge Family or Elvis, were performing one of their radio hits, only to watch them try to look normal as the audio of their performance began to fade out into nothing.  Correct me here if I’m not accurate.  Two things always happened.  Number one:  The performer is left to look uncomfortable and awkward as they try to keep up with the lip syncing until the sound goes to black.  Number Two:  You, the audience member, are left feeling oddly unsettled watching them squirm on camera as the song fades.  You know what I mean.  Oddly enough, as a concert-goer, you never saw that occur on stage.  If you did, the audience would be in revolt.  It’s like, if they can’t perform live, why am I here?

I’m an old radio personality who has seen this scenario change slowly firsthand.  There’s nothing new under the sun. (Thanks King Solomon.)

Here’s what happened.  YOU, as a music lover, were manipulated by radio and record labels.  How does that make you feel?  Don’t be mad, we’ve ALL been like musical sheep following the sheep ahead of us, who followed a marching drum major from the razzle-dazzle boardroom on the 18th floor.  YOU were the Guinea Pig that proved the experiment worked.

The fade-to-black music ending of pop songs on the radio slowly emerged in the 1950’s, ruling over us for over three decades.  A good example, within the top 10 charts in 1985, there is not one produced song with, what is known as, a “cold ending”.  In the 1990’s, the fade-fad began to…well…fade away from the offerings coming out of the record industry.  Pushing the fast-forward button, the top 10 year-end pop list for 2011, 2012 and 2013 gave radio only ONE fade-out song.  Why did the musical-manipulation-melee-madness begin?

Radio Theater Trophies

During the 1940’s, and before, much of the music heard on radio was live, in-studio performances, like the big bands and torch singers.  After World War II, they began to play more of the recorded cuts, much of which were recorded live as well.  It was very difficult, if not nearly impossible, to fade-out the endings of songs.  Any band conductor, or composer, would’ve shouted out in frustration, “WHAT’S THE PURPOSE?”  Plus, what hard-line composer would invite such a thing to his/her music masterpiece?  After all, the natural sustained ending, or a cold “stinger” ending of a song, was and is well-thought-out and pampered from the chicken-scratches of a songwriter to the artwork of a mechanical/electrical recording studio.

Piano Keys Ebony and Ivory

The early idea was more psychological than for any other reason.  Some artist, composer or producer somewhere came up with the thought that the ebbing away of the power of the “hook” of the chorus could induce a feeling of the slow passing away of lyrical thought and musical dynamics.  It was to leave the listener soaking-in the song as it stamps more of its identity while lingering with repetitive bars ushering us to audio silence.  (As a side note, in radio there was a rule of thumb used to know when to manually fade out a produced song live in the studio.  In the 1980s, we were told, by those in the know, like consultants and record reps, to fade out after 2.5 repeats of the rotating chorus.  Some productions placed their fades in that spot, if not, we would.)  As for us on-air guys and gals, it allowed us the artistry of segueing and mixing the wrap of a cut with the intro of the next tune hovering over it.  If not done, it was considered bad, or lazy radio.

Not to be outdone by those in the industry who decreed such a tactic, was another school of thought.  Some felt the effect of faded endings also gave the feeling of the music, the hooks and the lyrics could mentally continue after a three-minute song finished.  “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…(repeat & fade, repeat & fade)”  You get the idea.  Interesting thought, considering the entire idea of pop music is that the song must stand up as a “Velcro” tune sticking to the ears long after turning off the radio.  As you read the chorus of “Hey Jude” at the top of this article, you heard the song in your head, right?  Yep, it’s all about SALES!  It’s why some of the most talented songwriters are, or were, jingle writers for ads, like Barry Manilow, as well as “scores” of others.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)  You can sing them now, I’m sure.  “You deserve a break today, so get up and…..”  Or, “Like a good neighbor….”  Or, “Plop-plop, fiz-fiz, oh what a….”

Radio Car Vintage 1966

Early on, songs for airplay were too long.  Before you knew it, radio engineers were manually fading out the music on their own.  As it turned out, in the 50’s, radio fades on pop tunes became more of the norm as radio programmers, sound board operators and the sales department were looking to find ways to eat the clock for more ad space in programming.  After all, the sponsors pay for air-time.  Songs were the glue to hold the listener to the speakers until the next commercial break.  Fading out tunes was a perfect way to shorten the cuts played, making more room for the dreaded commercial breaks.  That’s why in the 90’s it became a big-deal for a radio station to promote the 30 minute music sweep.  Yeah, we all did it.  Most still try.  I know you’ve heard it, with a bouncy, happy music bed underneath…. “Hey, we love you so much.  So, we’ll treat you to more music per hour, (before the hated 10 minute commercial block.).  Come join us?  Your 30-minute music sweep starts right now.”

As for “Hey Jude” when the Beatles made the decision in 1966 to stop touring, cocooning themselves in the Abby Road Studio, they were not bothered by coming up with two or three different versions for tracks recorded.  Knowing they were not going to perform them live any longer, they allowed the fade-fad to be a signature for the fab-four.  Thus, “Hey Jude”.

So, that’s your radio hit parade of pop music history lessons for today.  However, in the end, I don’t want my life to mirror a radio hit.  If you’re like me, you probably don’t want to fade-out toward the ending of this life.  Sure, some with certain medical challenges have no choice.  Even so, the will is there to finish well, to end your musical adventures with a natural sustained chord, or possibly a cold stinger of an ending, that rings out in classic 1970’s reverb, “I WAS HERE AND MADE A DIFFERENCE!”  The Giver of life will never mind-bend, manipulating your life-song.  He certainly never has been in favor of fade-outs, but He does perform segues.

Nothing is impossible when filled with fuel for for the race.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (you) may have life, and have it to the full.” – Jesus, from John 10:10 (NIV)

 

 

Radio – Theater of The Mind

“Let’s dance.  Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.  Let’s dance, to the song they’re playin’ on the radio…” –  Let’s Dance, by David Bowie (1983).  Composers:  Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman.

With his smooth and cool, Dick Clark-style radio voice, the great Chuck Conway of KRRV/Sherman, Texas said, “Be the 9th caller now for your chance at a large, chilled bottle of Coca-Cola, compliments of KRRV-Sherman.”  A wide-eyed, curly-headed kid had been waiting all day for the invitation.  One needed to be quick on the draw with the old rotary dial phones.  Phone contests for promotions at the medium market station couldn’t afford $1,000 give-aways, or a new car, but offers of Coca-Cola’s new large bottles was a thrill!  It was the summer of 1972.

Radio Kitchen

Photo:  pinterest.com.au

The music-loving kid was always glued to the little shoe-box sized, mono radio sitting on top of the fridge in the kitchen.  His single mom worked a third-shift, leaving him dipped in the ways of radio formats.  The lad often stayed up to watch Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, then off to his bedroom alarm clock radio.  It just fit nicely on the shelf of the bedstead where the boy would fall asleep listening to top 40 hits, or a local late-night talk show out of Dallas.  (Yes, a talk-show.  What does that tell you about this 11-12 year old kid?)  He had his keen ear plastered up against the speakers.  Bouncing off his face was the soft amber glow of the tiny bulb behind the frequency dial.

Radio Alarm Zenith_C520W

Photo:  web.eecs.umich.edu

During the summer days, he did house chores while listening to the tunes on the charts.  Floating through the air from the AM radio was, “Run To Me” – Bee Gees, “I Can See Clearly Now” – Johnny Nash, “My Guy” – Mary Wells and “Betcha By Golly Wow” – Stylistics, just to name a few.  Lost in the music, he would dance and sing to the top of his lungs, unless his mom was sleeping during the day.  However, it slowed the boy down on the list of chores that needed to be completed by the end of the afternoon.  Trouble always followed.  Yet, he knew every lyric, the artists, as well as the 3-1/2 hour rotations for each song from the top 10 list.  This kid was studying radio without even realizing it.  Let’s face it, he was hooked!

Radio 1930

Photo:  census.gov

The love of radio must have been in his genes.  His grandmother used to talk about her days as a child sitting in the living room at night, with the lights off, in front of their RCA floor cabinet-radio.  She would talk about dramas, comedies, big bands, preachers and the like.  The one person she recalled, that pierced her mind, was hearing FDR’s speeches.  She said there was just something about the president’s voice coming through the fabric cover of the speaker.  She must have passed the intrigue down to this little guy.

It wasn’t too long when the lad began to spin 45s on his little mono turntable in his bedroom while tape recording himself.  He went all-out playing the role of the radio personality while back-announcing and pre-selling the cuts played.  Of course, one had to include doing public service announcements , weather, traffic, etc.  I am sure he wishes he could find those old mock-radio shows recorded on cassette…I doubt it!  At that young age he understood the ability of radio which could take a bored pre-teen, with a huge imagination, and put him in a different place altogether.  Theater of the mind can and will take you to a variety of levels on the canvas of the brain.  He figured it out right away.

He and his mom were poor.  In those days, he didn’t know what FM was.  His mom’s car only had AM, just like the two radios at home.  Years later, for the first time in his life, when finally he heard FM in his uncle’s car, it was shocking.  By today’s standard, it would be like going from a tin-can with a string to an HD theater system.

Radio Car Vintage 1966

Photo:  vintagecarradio.com

That was many moons ago.  The times are mysteriously foreign to what they are today.  We all have to grow up….or do we?  Could fantasy turn into reality, even for a poor fatherless kid?

Part of me wants to say I planned my career during those bonding times with the magic of radio, but I can’t be certain.  Nevertheless, in my mid 20’s, I made the career change to dive into live radio for a living.  Honestly, it was so comfortable, like an old favorite denim shirt.  The radio bug still remains after all these decades.  Radio continues to be my friend.

Radio Theater Trophies

After 11 years into my radio career, while at my fourth radio station, I launched a radio theater department at a non-commercial station in Dallas/Ft Worth.  I was a playwright, actor and director prior to radio.  The idea was pitched to the general manager and off we went like a bottle-rocket.  We named it, Criswell Communications Radio Ampitheater.  Overall, at last count, I have produced seven audio movies (One produced in Buffalo, NY.), three of which won national and international awards, along with multiple :60 second dramatic scenes for a radio feature series.  Now THAT is theater of the mind at its zenith.  My grandmother was so proud.

Me at KCBI 2012Speaking of theater of the mind, lots of radio listeners imagine the air talent they follow, tends to look a certain way.  With the visual gone, radio forces you to paint your own painting.  It’s often funny.  Right after they meet me, most listeners usually say they thought I sounded blonde, clean shaven, tall and skinny.  (Question:  How does a blonde, clean shaven, tall and skinny guy sound?)  It seems I’ve burst a few bubbles in my time.  They also imagine their favorite radio personality listens to what he/she plays on the air at home or in the car.  It may come as a surprise to you, most of us don’t.  If you ever flipped burgers for a living, you usually don’t want a burger for dinner.  An old friend of mine was a well-known, on-air classic rock personality.  At home he listened to Braums, Beethoven and Mozart.  Because I was raised to be highly eclectic musically, I have always listened to other formats after I got off the air.

“…FM – no static at all…FM – no static at all…” – FM by:  Steely Dan (1978)  Composers:  Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

Me@WDCX board

Does this happen to you?  In recent years I have been playing CDs in my car, as well as in our studio/office at home.  I find it clears my head when all the chatter is missing.  Sometimes you just have to shut down all the quacking that comes over the speakers.  So, for years now I have had my radio off in my down times.

CDs in Study

In my last posting, I mentioned the excessive heat our July dished out.  Some parked cars registered 127-140 degrees inside.  It certainly did some damage to my dashboard CD player.  It has malfunctioned and refuses to spit out the CD when I push the eject button.  Yet, a great love came to visit when I was forced to power down the CD player.  My radio mode was waiting for me, set on a retro AM station I had forgotten about.  They were playing power-gold hits from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.  Everything was there, Paul McCartney and Wings, Dobie Gray, Three Dog Night and Carly Simon.  I felt the splash of sonic fresh waves weaving through the monitors in my car, filling my ears with some precious jewels from dear old friends.  I found I missed radio, even with the slightly muffled crackling of AM frequency.  LOVE IT!  I’m singing at the top of my voice again, dancing the best I can while driving.  Who knows, I may buy myself a little hand-held transistor radio for old-time sake.

Isn’t it strange how you can leave something you love so dearly without even realizing the drift that takes you away?  It happens in education, relationships, values and your core beliefs.  I find it serves me well just to put a keen ear to the ground while listening for the familiar distant sweet spot.  Sometimes, just a quick revisit is all it takes to see the scope of lacking.  But beware, it takes courage.

By the way, just in case you were wondering…I was Chuck Conway’s 9th caller.  It was my first time on the air, and my first, and last time, to ever win anything!  My mom drove me about three miles to the tiny studios of KRRV where Mr. Conway sent his studio engineer to the lobby with my bottle of Coke.  There are things you just never seem to get over.  I had hoped to meet, the blonde, clean-shaven, tall, slim Chuck Conway.  But alas, it didn’t happen.  He was probably a 300 pound red-head with a beard down to his chest.

So, turn your radio on, using filters that spring up from the pools of fuel for the race.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  – Jesus –  Matthew 11:15 (NAS)