DJs rock with not-so-golden oldies

December 05, 1993|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Staff Writer

The secret life of Dr. Doo-Wop began at 5:30 a.m. yesterday, taking thousands of drowsy Baltimore-area listeners on a waxy trip back to the days of nickel Cokes and poodle skirts.

Forget that the kids need braces, and the new roof leaks. On the radio, the Paragons are singing "Hey, Little School Girl," and it's 1957 again, when a crisis meant going stag to a sock hop.

Dr. Doo-Wop is really Anthony Ferrell, a 47-year-old telephone marketing representative and record collector who's trying hard to resuscitate the sound of vintage rock 'n' roll, mostly from the 1950s.

When Dr. Doo-Wop cranks up the turntable for his 4 1/2 -hour show, "Turning Back The Hands Of Time," at WEAA-FM (88.9) at Morgan State University, you don't hear the same classics that other stations play.

At 3 a.m. yesterday, Dr. Doo-Wop was bustling around his Columbia townhouse, studying his play list and cleaning a stack of rare old 45-rpm records with a gym sock dipped in alcohol. Then he gathered them in a camera case and drove to the station, where he does the show, gratis, on the first Saturday of each month -- with a bonus each time a month has five Saturdays.

It's a mission he loves.

"My purpose is to tell people that before En Vogue, there were the Chantels, and before Boyz II Men, there were the Teen-agers," he said. "The new groups all revert to the harmonies of the classics."

Another part-time disc jockey who is trying to revive the rare oldies is Ken Schreiber, a mild-mannered government employee and host of a three-hour doo-wop show, "Echoes Of The Past," at noon each Saturday on WTMD-FM (89.7).

Mr. Schreiber, 51, doesn't have a name like Dr. Doo-Wop, but his secret life is just as important to him. Yesterday's show found him hunched over a turntable, tapping his feet and unleashing an occasional "woo woo." Off the air, of course.

"This is my ultimate love," Mr. Schreiber said of his weekend indulgence. "I feel like a kid in a candy store."

Both men agree that mainstream radio stations play merely a fraction of classic rock tunes.

"You can help people reclaim their youth without playing run-of-the-mill oldies," Dr. Doo-Wop said.

He wants his audience to wake up on Saturday feeling 16 again, without his spinning the typical fare. So "My Prayer" by the Platters is out, and "My Heart's Desire" by the Wheels is in.

"My Heart's . . ." what?

Exactly.

At the radio station yesterday, Dr. Doo-Wop opened his camera case, and out tumbled the Videos, Castelles and Vibrations, all but forgotten doo-wop groups from the dawn of rock.

Dr. Doo-Wop couldn't wait to share the records with an aging audience hungry for a change from recycled oldies. Some loyal listeners awaken before sunrise to hear every tune, however obscure.

Yesterday's show had a Christmas theme. But instead of the Chipmunks and Bobby Helms, Dr. Doo-Wop, dressed appropriately in a red sweat suit, served up holiday platters by the Penguins ("Jingle Jangle") and Eartha Kitt ("Santa Baby").

There's method to his madness, he said:

"I don't want people mopping floors or washing dishes during the show. I want them sitting down, watching the radio and saying, 'I remember that song -- but who sang it?' "

Mr. Schreiber's records are rarer still: Songs by groups such as Ferris and the Wheels, and Big Bo and the Arrows, surface regularly on "Echoes of the Past," which celebrates its third anniversary next week at WTMD, the campus station at Towson State University.

Mr. Schreiber's ground rule is simple: "I won't play any song so familiar that you can imagine it in your head, from start to finish," he says.

Hence yesterday's lineup, which featured three singles by the Marcels -- none of them "Blue Moon" -- and one by The Gleems, a group named for a toothpaste; the first record ever made by pop star Paul Anka, an obscure song entitled "I Confess" from 1956; and an up-tempo rocker by Johnny Mathis' little-known brother Ralph.

Mr. Schreiber closed the show with "The Eight Days of Hanukkah" by the Belmonts, reportedly the only doo-wop Hanukkah song ever made.

"Commercial stations would never play that song," Mr. Schreiber says. "You'd think they'd find it interesting."

Listeners seemed impressed. Mr. Schreiber fields all his own phone calls. Several months ago, while playing one rare single, he received a call from the artist himself.

"Where did you get that record?" Lou Christie asked. Mr. Christie, a popular 1960s rock star, said he was driving to Virginia to perform in an oldies concert when he heard the tune.

"The hair stood up on the back of my neck that day," Mr. Schreiber recalled.

Drawing from his library of 20,000 rock 'n' roll records, Mr. Schreiber says he seldom repeat a song. He ferries the records from his Randallstown home in a cardboard box marked "Heavenly Hams."

Sometimes he slips in a recent single by a current group struggling to keep the 1950s sound alive.

"I don't want their efforts to be in vain," said Mr. Schreiber. "If I don't play that sound, who will? 98 Rock?"

The studio where he spends each Saturday is cramped and stuffy, and the pace of the show is frenetic. Yet it's heaven for a doo-wop devotee, said Mr. Schreiber.

"In my day, every kid played DJ in his room with his friends. But my wife won't let me do that anymore.

"And this?" he said, cuing up a song by the Fascinators on the turntable. "This is a fantasy come true."

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