Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The RADEX Call-o-Gram

In the 1930s Radio Index began a bi-monthly series of radio-themed crossword puzzles they branded a "Call-o-Gram."  Instead of the NY Times full array of topics and categories, they focused on call letters (of course) but also technical minutia, past and present station lore, across both the AM and Shortwave bands. Radio Index published puzzles of various kinds in different issues but the Call-o-Gram only lasted for a few issued in 1937 and 1938. I am assuming the series was discontinued because the questions were more arcane than this blog.

ISSUE  DATE AUTHOR
106 FEB 1937  Eldon Covert
107   MAR 1937  (Solution)
108 APR 1937 -none- 
109 MAY 1937     Raymond C. Corbett
110  JUN 1937 (Solution)
111  SEP 1937 -none-
112  OCT 1937 Lloyd J. French
113  NOV 1937 (Solution)
114  DEC 1937 Edward Ayvazian
115  JAN 1938 (solution) 

I recognize none of the names, but some of them became life-long radio men. Edward Ayvazian (WF314) was the editor of a zine in 1938 called The Radio Listener. [SOURCE] The Radio Listener was basically a list of foreign Long wave and Medium wave stations. He "published" it in 1938 and 1939. He also reported QSL data to All Wave Radio Magazine the same year. 

Raymond C. Corbett was based on Sacramento, CA. He wrote in to Radio Index as early as March of 1935 to report his DX. He was receiving stations up to 2,00 miles away, even some from Australia and Japan. 

Lloyd J. French is probably the same fellow in West Hartford, CT who was a member of The Pioneer Days, a radio club who published a zine. from 1966 through 1982. [SOURCE] He also wrote in to the same DX section of Radio Index as early as November of 1934. He described, among other things, his reception of pre-WWII French radio broadcasts. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

DeHaan's Radio Bible Class

I have a soft spot for the old medicine-show quack radio preachers and Dr. Martin Ralph DeHaan was one old fashioned, hard-drinking, radio preacher. After graduating from seminary in 1925, DeHaan took his first pastorate at Calvary Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, where he attracted large audiences both at the church and on radio. He broadcast live for the first time on 1310 WEXL-AM on September 4th 1938. Even at 50 watts, it reached from the suburb of Royal Oak into the city proper of Detroit.

Dr. DeHaan was not a healthy specimen. Born in 1891, he became a doctor after graduating from the University of Illinois in Chicago. In 1921 he had a severe allergic reaction to some medication (probably morphine) which set off his religious conversion and he became an evangelical. He then attended Western Theological Seminary. He earned his doctorate, but the stress set off two heart attacks. Yes, two, and there were more to follow.
He suffered his first heart attack at the age of 45 in 1936 and another in 1938. It was only after his recovery that he began teaching bible classes. He also began broadcasting a half-hour program on the radio. This is where his biographies get hazy. Some lazily describe it as a Detroit radio station. This is clearly WEXL in Royal Oak. But many claim he moved to another "Radio Bible College" by 1941, in Grand Rapids. This appears to have been the physical location of his "school", and not a radio station. Though it may have had a recording studio.

DeHaan's "Detroit Bible Class" broadcasts originated at WEXL, which in 1938 was on 1310 (Today on 1340 as WCHB). At the time it shared the frequency with WBEO in Marquette, and WFDF in Flint. WEXL was founded either in 1924 or 1926 depending on sources as WAGM. It operated out of the A.G. Miller Furniture and Radio Shop.  In 1929 they sold the station to Rev. Jacob B. Spark who changed the callsign to WEXL in 1931. (It later became a country music station of note in the 1960s.)  But more important to DeHaan, Mutual Broadcasting picked up and renamed it as the "Radio Bible Class" program in 1941, and ABC networks followed. The program later originated at CKLW in Windsor. His half hour program was carried on 500 stations at it's peak.

DeHaan's sermons were out there. As a premillennialist, he believed that Jesus was coming back imminently (i.e. before the year 2000) and kicking off the end of days. He also spent a fair time ranting about the Russians and nuclear weapons visa-vi the book of revelations. Perhaps that fixation was also stressful for him. In 1946 he had a heart attack on air. It was around that time that his son Dr. Richard DeHaan took on more responsibilities running the program. M.R died in 1965. Nonetheless the elder DeHaan wrote some 25 books in his lifetime. His grandson Mart DeHaan took over in 1985, and runs the organization today.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Radio Hauraki


Radio Hauraki is named for the Hauraki Gulf, a bay protected by a 50-mile long peninsula in New Zealand.  As a pirate radio station, Radio Hauraki broadcast on 1480 in that bay from aboard the Tiri. The boat was built in 1931 by G.T. Nicol of Auckland, NZ. It was 101 feet long and weighed 169 tons and was probably not still seaworthy when they first broadcast in 1965. Nonetheless they were the first pirate radio station to broadcast from a ship in the whole southern hemisphere. More here and here.

That seaworthiness thing was a sticking point. We will get back to that. In 1965, David Gapes, a journalist writing for the NZ Truth. In that era, New Zealand only had government -owned broadcasters. But Gapes had lived in Australia, which had both private and public radio. Inspired by what he heard, he wanted nothing short of an end to the monopoly of the BCNZ (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation). He and fellow journalist Bruce Baskett quit their jobs to start Radio Hauraki. They recruited Denis O'Callahan as a radio engineer then struck lucky and encountered BCNZ announcer Chris Parkinson, and BCNZ stffer Derek Lowe who were also planning an offshore pirate radio project. More here. (Another pirate, Radio Maverick aka Radio Ventura may have test broadcast around this time)

In 1966 things got moving. They selected 1480-AM because it was isolated on the dial; far from most NZBC frequencies and the receivable Australian broadcasters.The plan was to start broadcasting at 11:00 AM October 1st, 1966. On September 16th the Tiri MV set sail. The boat was detained within a day. So began the battle of the Tiri.

On October 23rd the Hauraki crew decided to set sail anyway. Jim Frankham, the head of the freight company A.J. Frankham arranged for them to buy a 35 year old, neglected, wooden boat with structural problems, named the Tiri. It was a bargain at $6,000 on a 5-year plan. If they could make it to international waters, they would be free to operate outside the reach of NZ law. With advice from more experienced mariners, they would head for an anchorage between Great and Little Barrier Islands and the Coromandel Peninsula. But the NZ marine department declared the ship unsafe to proceed to sea without serious danger to human life. The crew decided to sneak out to sea on September 22nd.  More here.

The authorities closed the drawbridge in an attempt to trap the Tiri . David Gapes and Peter Telling went ashore and sat under the giant jaws of the bridge mechanism to force them to keep it open.A crowd had gathered and they roared in approval.  But the Tiri was stuck in the mud of the western viaduct by the bridge. A line was passed to the crowd and some 200 supporters pulled. The Tiri was set free and began to sail but was being trailed by a police boat.  The police boarded the boat, and stopped the Tiri again by pulling the fuel line.  The Hauraki crew were subsequently arrested. They were variously charged with obstructing Marine Department inspectors, and defying the detention order, disorderly behavior and obscene language. More here.

The crew was bailed out of jail. Their hearing was scheduled for October 26th. Over 2,000 Radio Hauraki supporters jammed the Auckland Town Hall. In a surprising move, the judge found that the Tiri had been detained improperly for it's intent to broadcast illegally, not because the ship was unsafe. The crew was free to go. The Hauraki cast off again and on Monday, November 21st, 1966 Radio Hauraki’s first weak transmissions reached rock n' roll fans on shore.  They survived on generous donations from fans while they struggled to keep their equipment working. But struggle they did. More here. It took years, but in 1970 the NZ government relented and began allowing private broadcasters to obtain licences. By June Radio Hauraki was broadcasting from on land, as they continue to do today.

For the full story of the pirate beginnings of Radio Hauraki, I recommend Adrian Blackburn's book The Shoestring Pirates

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Wizard of Odds

The Stranger [SOURCE] called him the "worst pulp novelist ever" but they also called him "the greatest hack ever." Leo Guild wrote a river of schlock: kids joke books,  fawning, gossipy puff books on Bob Hope, Hedy Lamarr, Jayne Mansfield, and Liberace. He later switched to schlock horror books like his 1972 novel The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman and for a change of pace penned utterly disposable, trashy sexploitation novels like his 1976 book, Street of Ho's. He was the Ed Wood of pulp novels. In 1967, the Los Angeles Time published an an article by Guild titled "Confessions of a Celebrity Ghost Writer" It was a self-serving autobiographical piece but gives you an idea of how highly he thought of his trade. Later in life he made some big money on lawsuits.
In 1973 he filed a $2 million lawsuit against NBC. They had started a game show named Wizard of Odds hosted by Alex Trebek. But he had used it as a newspaper column during the late 1940s, the same column that led to that book above What Are The Odds?  In 1992 he sued the Carsey-Werner Co. and Bill Cosby for 11 million dollars. He claimed he owned the copyright to the title “You Bet Your Life.”  He kinda did. In 1948, journalist Leo Guild named his newspaper column and a book “You Bet Your Life” and copyrighted that title. NBC settled.
Leo did dip his toe into radio, it wasn't all as a plaintiff. He was a radio and TV columnist for the Hollywood reporter in the 1940s, which is what probably led to his 1954 KFWB program Amateur Record Hour. It was produced by Merrilyn Hammond of Capitol Records. Previously he had hosted "Hollywood's Best" on KRCA-TV. Station KFWB also aired his short-lived program The Wizard of Odds, and it's later version, The Wizard Vs. Criswell. It started in KFI then quickly moved to KFWB. It had at least a 14 week initial run sponsored by Wax Seal in 1947. Teevee Film Company (TFC) licensed it in 1950 for a half-hour TV show. His co-host, Criswell (aka Jeron Criswell Konig) later became "The Amazing Criswell", a psychic and radio-personality. In Criswell's career highs and lows he appeared on the Jack Paar Show and also appeared in Ed Wood films. Criswell himself claimed that he had once worked as a radio announcer, this was also probably at KFWB.
But back to that book What Are The Odds?. My copy is falling apart and is missing the first dozen pages. But the Entertainment section is intact and had a few radio gems of dubious import. I"m paraphrasing but... TV commercials are less disruptive than radio ads, Only 1 in 15 radio actually works, landing a radio writer job is an 8,000 to 1 long shot, 99% of daytime radio listeners are women, Odds are 190 to 1 of landing a radio gig via audition... etc. The stats are ostensibly based on 1940s data, but I think that more than 50% of his stats are just made up.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Legend of Chickenman


Chickenman was an American radio series created by Dick Orkin. It spoofed adventure books and comic book heroes. The series was created in 1966 and originally aired on 1000 WCFL-AM, in Chicago, IL. It began as part of the Jim Runyon Show.  The show's protagonist, Benton Harbor, (presumably named for the Michigan town) was a shoe salesman who spent his weekends fighting crime. He also he hangs around the Police Commissioner Benjamin Norton's office and annoyed the Commissioner's secretary, Miss Helfinger.

CHARACTERS:

  • Benjamin Norton, Police Comissioner, -  Dick Orkin
  • Miss Helfinger, Comissioners assistant  - Jane Roberts
  • Chickenman, Benton Harbor - Dick Orkin
  • Chickeman's mother, Mildred Harbor - Jane Roberts
  • Trooper 36-24-36 - Jane Roberts
  • Narrator - Jim Runyon

Each episode began with a four-note trumpet sound from the song Thunderball and Chickenman's Buck-buck-buck-buuuuuck" chicken call. Orkin expected to run with the gag for two weeks. The original series eventually lasted over 5 years! That original 1966 series was released in 2003 as The Original, Complete & Unexpurgated Story of Chickenman, all 273, 2.5 minute episodes in a 14-CD set. Yes it is that popular. This was presaged by the 1966 LP The Best of Chickenman, released first on Spot records then ATCO. More here. Many LPs and posters read "exclusively on..." then a set of local call letters. There was nothing exclusive about Chickenman. By some reports, at it's peak the program was syndicated on 1,500 radio stations.

While the series was the brain-child of Dick Orkin he needed people to voice the parts.  Jane Roberts, a Chicago theater actress who worked at WCFL as the traffic reporter voices almost all the female parts in the series. Dick handled most of the men, Jim Runyon was the narrator. Jane's background was mostly in theater: Kraft Suspense Theatre, and a stretch at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Runyon has already been a DJ on WBHT, WHTN, WLW, WLWT, WTVN, WLWD, and KYW before he made it to WCFL.

Orkin began his radio career on WKOK in Sunbury, PA as a teenager. He worked part-time at WGAL while attending Franklin & Marshall college  He graduated in 1956 with a BA in speech and theater and headed for the Yale School of Drama to earn an MFA. He returned to Lancaster in 1959 to be the news director at WLAN. [SOURCE]  He headed off to KYW (back when it was in Cleveland) in 1963. He remained there until In 1967 when he moved to Chicago to work on WCFL. Runyon had already been there for 2 years. Runyon went back to KYW (then WKYC) in 1969. The two had worked at both stations together.

In 1973, Orkin began producing 52 special weekend episodes called Chickenman vs. the Earth Polluters. In 1976, a special LP was created by Orkin and ad man Bert Berdis: Chickenman Returns. This was followed by 65 episodes of an updated radio show in 1977, Chickenman Returns for the Last Time Again. In 1995, for the 30th anniversary of the series, Orkin brought Chickenman out of retirement for a tribute episode on This American Life. This was all in addition to the original 195 episodes. The man was nothing if not prolific.

Weirdly Chickenman never really went away. It is still played on a number of stations regularly AFRTS, 99.3 KPCH in Ruston, LA; 103.3 WFJV in Crystal River, FL, 101.1 WVRE in Dubuque, IA; 1430 WION-AM, Ionia, MI... a couple Canadian stations, and inexplicably several stations in Australia. For these feats and others, Dick Orkin was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2014.