John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: May, 2023

The Top Banana

May, 2003: Edited May 2023

It is good to be The Top Banana. Someone else does your chores. Someone else runs your errands. The Top Banana does not know who the dry cleaner is, or where the store is located. He never goes to the post office, to buy stamps or mail packages.

The Top Banana has a staff that procures his favorite food and wine. He is chauffeured in black limousines. His airplane seats and hotel rooms are first class, his schedule; seamless, on time with VIP attention. His table and waiter await his arrival, his favorite cocktail, pre-offered and always perfect.

The Top Banana has important opinions. When he speaks, people listen. He is profound, provocative and erudite. He is surrounded by laughter whenever he tells a joke. His criticism is devastating. He is not to be challenged; He is the Top Banana.

It is good to be the Top Banana so long as he doesn’t over-ripen. Bit by bit, the accoutrements of his prestige and power begin to disappear. His jokes are not so funny, the women not so beautiful. He is not so charming. He is not that good looking, not that bright, not that interesting. He is soft, he is spotted; he is not fit for the bunch.    

Jim Brown

Jim Brown died when he was 87 on Thursday, May 18th after leading a long and remarkable life on and off the gridiron. This remembrance is about the three-years I witnessed his football greatness at Yankee Stadium, 1962, 63 and 64; particularly, 1963.

Writing his obituary for The New York Times, Richard Goldstein described Jim Brown’s style:  “In any game, he dragged defenders when he wasn’t running over them or flattening them with a stiff arm. He eluded them with his footwork when he wasn’t sweeping around ends and outrunning them. He never missed a game…in 118 consecutive regular-season games even though he played one year with a broken toe and another with a sprained wrist.”

When I am asked who was the greatest football player? I always reply, “Jim Brown was the greatest that I have ever seen.”

His greatness revealed itself on the playing field at Yankee Stadium on the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend, October 13, 1963 before 62,956 fans. The day featured Mara weather; a sunny coolish afternoon, perfect for football. The Cleveland Browns were 5 – 0 and the Giants were 4 – 1. When it was over, the Browns had won the match, 35-24 remaining undefeated while Big Blue dropped to 4 – 2.

The Giants held their own at the end of the first half, ahead 17 to 14 although Jim Brown did score a one yard rushing touchdown by leaping over the Giants massive tackle, John Lo Vetere and knocking him backwards into the end zone

Robert Riger, author and artist, wrote: “The turning point of the game was an outside run of 72 yards in the third quarter.”

Brown described to Riger how it developed. “Frank Ryan (the Browns QB) just dropped back, turned, and threw to me as I flared out 15 yards to my left. I took the pass at ¾ speed, then came inside a little. Two of our men took care of Scott (LB) on the outside. Huff (MLB) was ten yards deep and as he came up; I gave him  a slight fake inside and then veered to the outside and ran right by him. As I went down the sideline, Barnes dove and missed. Patton never saw me and, Winter, the linebacker chased me to the goal, but it was just a matter of outrunning him.”

Jim Brown finished the day with a 32-yard running play for his third touchdown (although he actually ran 62 yards on that play including 30 yards laterally across the field.) “I ran (from behind Ryan) and had three options: over center, off tackle, or outside. I went outside because that’s where it (my opening) was. Robustelli gave it a half inside move reacting to my start inside, then when I swung wide, the tackle got him. Green put a good block on the linebacker who closed in. When I saw the outside open, I knew it would go. Once you turn that end – Robestelli is the key – you know you have five yards. If your halfback gets the linebacker, you know you’ve got ten. I got both of them. Now, which way? I saw three of them coming across fast from my right. But behind them across the field I saw three of my own blockers. I knew if I dropped a shoulder and went straight, I would get the first down, but when I cut back because I wanted to break it all the way. I cut sharply and ran 30 yards across the field and I caught them all going the wrong way. I picked up my blockers and they just chopped the rest of that defense down as I opened up.”

John Mara, Giants president and co-owner remembered watching Jim Brown play when he was a kid. “He would carry multiple defenders for extra yardage before crashing to the turf. He stood-up slowly and painfully made his way to the huddle as if that run had taken everything out of him. Instead, if he received the ensuing handoff, he would hit the line of scrimmage with even more ferocity.”

Likewise, when the press interviewed him after the game, they would hear this: “That Giants defense busted us but good. I always want to do good in New York. Today I got over 200 yards, but that was the roughest, hardest game I have ever played in the six years I’ve been playing.”       

That was a good day for Jim Brown, but not that unusual. Once, when he had a similar game against the Baltimore Colts, Artie Donovan the Colts prized defensive end remarked when asked what Brown had done that day: “Take away, the one yard power TD, take away the 72 yard catch and run and take away the 32-yard run and he didn’t do nothing!”

Sam Huff, the Giants Hall of Fame Middle Linebackers once said: “You don’t tackle Jim Brown, you grab onto his legs and wait for the calvary to arrive.”

In response Brown retorted: “Sam Huff made it to the Hall of Fame by grabbing onto my legs often,”

Jim Brown also excelled in the sport of lacrosse and he could have been the greatest professional Lacrosse ever, had there been such a thing as professional lacrosse. He was once asked what would be the perfect week for him and replied: “Play lacrosse six days a week and play football on Sunday.”  

RIP Jim Brown                    

The Golden Age of AM Radio

By 1960, rock & roll had completely established itself as a new entity. The music was no longer an extension of Rhythm and Blues (R&B), nor was it a part of Country and Western scene. Stars like Bill Haley and His Comets, Elvis Presly and Jerry Lee Lewis revolutionized the kind of music available to mainstream listening, white audiences. However, this acceptance of rock and roll by mainstream stations, also opened these broadcasting venues to include young and old black musicians previously relegated small R&B outlets. The Platters, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon, Jackie Wilson, the Cadillacs and the Coasters could be heard on big-time AM radio. Even Little Richard, albeit, his lyrics significantly watered down, found outlets for his outrageousness on mainstream rock.

The coming of age of the enormous wave of post-World War II baby boomers forced many stations to change their programming from traditional pop music formats. Artists like Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme gave way to the likes of these rock and roll singers. The development in the late 50’s and the early 60’s, of the pocket transistor AM radio and the explosion of teenage drivers help to hasten this transition. The transistor allowed teens to take their radios practically anywhere and the explosion of young drivers and Interstate Highways gave them the means to get there.  

WINS (1010), was the first 50,000-watt signal to begin featuring rock programing under the star power of Alan Freed in 1954. When Freed departed to WABC (770), Murray (the K) Kaufman became the host WINS all-night show that he deemed the Swingin Soiree that he opened with the line: “This meeting of the Swingin Soiree is now in session.” 

I became hooked on Murray the K’s “Submarine Race-watchers Fan Club” to the point that I actually became a card-carrying member. I attended his show at Palisades Amusement Park as well as his two rock & roll shows at the Fox Theater in Downtown Brooklyn in the mid-1960s. I don’t remember all of the acts, but my hero, Jackie Wilson headlined one show and at the other, the Isley Brothers brought the house down with their hit song, “Shout.”

The greatest part of Murray the K’s legacy may have been his switch to FM when he discovered that WINS was about to go to an all-news format in 1965. A year later, the FCC ruled that AM and FM radio stations could no longer simultaneously broadcast the same content. Murray became the program director and primetime DJ on WOR-FM (98.7) along with Rosko and Scott Muni who were free to do their own things absent AM’s restrictions.

Little did we realize that this new station and its successors would eventually bring down AM Radio before imploding on itself.

But I digress. When WINS converted from broadcasting rock & roll in 1965 going to all news, they adopted several slogans including “All news, all the time” –  “The news watch never stops.” and “You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world.”

That left WMGM (1050), WMCA (570) and WABC (770). WMGM stopped broadcasting rock 7 roll in 1962. They re-branded their call letters to WHN and changed their format to beautiful music, also known as elevator music.

WMCA began the Good Guys era in 1960. Joe O’Brien kicked off the 6 am to 10 am morning show. Harry Harrison handled the 10 to 1 pm mid-day show aimed at housewives. Jack Spector, whose closing line was “Look out street here I come,” had the 1pm to 4pm slot and Dandy Dan Daniels ran the 4 pm to 7 pm afternoon drive time show.

On December 26, 1963, Jack Spector earned the distinction of making WMCA the first station in New York City to play a Beatles song, live. The song was “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and despite its modest 5,000-watts of power, WMCA out drew its more powerful competitors soaring to the top of New York’s Arbitron ratings that convinced John Lennon and Ringo Starr to record several spots for WMCA.

Still, it was a losing battle and it was only a question of time before WABC took back the  Number One Arbitron rating. This was also the era of DJ mobility as both rock stations and their personalities sought better ratings. From 1960 to 1979, WABC featured both Herb Oscar Anderson and Harry Harrison hosting the morning show. Ron Lundy handled the mid-day from 1965 to 1982. Dan Ingram ran the afternoon slot for over twenty years from 1961 until 1982.

The evenings at WABC featured two super star DJ’s, Scott (Scottso) Muni and Bruce (Cousin Brucie) Morrow. We lost Scottso in 2004, but Cousin Brucie, who left WABC in 1974, has done it all and currently hosts a retrospective show on rock and radio on Saturday nights from the latest incarnation of WABC, now a conservative talk- show station.

AM rock radio lost its draw as Boomers grew older. Tastes shifted toward more serious sounds, as FM radio emerged as the new rock leader with better contemporary content while the quality of its sound outstripped AM’s. The FM tide did not last long as, first, satellite radio and then internet radio and podcasts further divided the marketplace. 

Many AM stations gave up their music formats and turned to talk radio. This included the two so called “Shock Jocks” Don Imus and Howard Stern.

For those of us who suffered through the rock and roll rebellion, there remained a single AM station that had not wavered. One place where we could find talented personalities who were not rock oriented and who were dedicated to  ”The Great American Songbook.”

That station was WNEW, (1130). Part Three will explore my relationship with what was then my best friend on radio.                                     

AM Radio is Slip-sliding Away

John Delach

May 2023

Part One

Like losing contact with an old friend, AM radio seems to be disappearing from its familiar frequencies. Not just from headlines, but from relevance itself. AM Radio is slip-sliding away.

 Sadly, the internet and social media have become the main sources for the American public to discover and understand current events. Television weakly occupies third place with radio, in particular AM radio, and newspapers essentially invisible to the average American under sixty.

Once upon a time, but not that long ago, by 7:00 AM every morning about 40% of the driveways in our neighborhood would be occupied by one two or even three morning newspapers delivered by different drivers. Today a single driver delivers newspapers to fewer than 10% of these houses. Granted, many former print customers seem to now read the E-edition of these papers, but at most, the total readership of both print and e-editions is less than 25% of traditional subscribers. The absence of printed newspapers is all too apparent, but the loss of listeners to the AM Band radio stations is far more subtle.

The New York airwaves remain filled with the sound of major stations like WMCA, WFAN, WOR, WABC, WCBS and WINS, but they no longer rely on listeners to tune into to their broadcasts on traditional AM frequencies. They broadcast simultaneously on FM outlets, and Internet radio. A casual listener probably could not identify the original source.

Recently, I discovered that station on-air identification has changed to lessen the identity of their AM frequency, or eliminate it altogether. WFAN identifies it’s call letters as “WFAN 101.9 FM” eliminating 660 AM. The all-news 1010 WINS now tells us we are listening to “1010 WINS all news 92.3 FM” and its sister station, all news, WCBS identifies itself as “WCBS News

radio 880, 101.1 MHZ.

Peter Funk recently reminisced in The Wall Street Journal: “When I lived in Denver in the early 1970s, Sunday nights included an audio excursion of my hometown of New York, a trip only AM radio could provide. At 770 on the dial, I listened to WABC, with its distinctive disc jockeys, rock music and ‘news at :25 and :55’ via a signal traveling more than 1,600 miles.”

After, World War II, the major AM stations, by then, long established, continued to broadcast personality shows like Martin Block’s Make-Believe Ballroom (WNEW) and live studio broadcasts featuring prominent performers. Almost all of the major stations kept their music mainstream, safe, and middle of the road.

Enter Alan Freed, who, I believe is the prime mover who influenced Rock and Roll’s take-over of AM radio content. If you question my belief, I recommend you visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. When you enter the hall’s tribute to rock and roll radio and who set it free, you will be attracted to a silver box set on a pedestal in the center of the room bathed by a spotlight that highlights the room. Alone, under that bright light, the silver box contains Alan Freed’s ashes.

Alan Freed’s career began in in June of 1945 at WAKR in Akron, Ohio. Freed was the bad boy of his era and faced several fines and suspensions from management including a five-year fight to leave WAKR that he lost in court. In 1950. Freed joined WJW (850 AM)) in Cleveland to host their midnight program. Prior to his arrival at WJW, he met Leo Mintz, owner of Record Rendezvous, one of Cleveland’s largest record stores. Mintz told Freed that he had begun selling black music, then called soul or rhythm and blues (R&B), and that he noticed increased interest in these records in his store by white customers.

Freed peppered his on-air speech with hipster language and on July 11, 1951, began playing R&B records on a main-stream radio station. He began calling his show “The Moondog House” and described himself as the “King of the Moondoggers.”

“He addressed his listeners as if they were all a part of a mythical kingdom of hipsters united in their love for black music. He also began popularizing the phrase, ‘rock and roll’ to describe the music he played.”

The following spring, Freed was one of the organizers who created, “The Moondog Coronation Ball”, a five-act show that exceeded the capacity of the Cleveland Arena, an event that now is considered the first rock and roll concert. Over-crowding almost led to a riot and Freed’s popularity soared.

In July 1954, Freed followed his success to New York City and WINS (1010 AM.)

In 1956, he produced a major rock and roll show at New York’s Paramount Theatre, but once again overcrowding again led to a near riot. Unfortunately, badly behaved American youth, rioted at the same time Hungarian youth were dying in an unsuccessful fight to free themselves from the USSR. Life Magazine produced side-by-side pictures of our youngsters battling NYC policemen while Hungarian youngsters shed their blood under Russian soldiers AK-47s.

Freed went on to WABC 770 (AM) another of New York’s powerhouse rock and roll station.

He became embroiled in the federal government’s investigation of payola by disc jockeys. Payola scandals appear from time to time. Payola in broadcasting is defined as an induvial or an FCC licensed radio station accepting money to play a specific song, or anything else. Payola is always with us.   In 2006, the latest settlement, four major radio monopolies, CBS Radio, Citadel, Clear Channel and Entercom paid Uncle $12.5 million to settle payola charges.

Alan Freed refused to testify or to plead so WABC fired him on November 21, 1959.

He died a year later, but his legacy had already been established. Part Two will explore that legacy.