Those oldies but goodies deliver blast from past

July 29, 1999|By MICHAEL OLESKER

THE VOICES on the radio, huddled around their microphones the other night like some glad survivors gathered around a roaring campfire, sounded like old friends remembering a rambunctious way of life that seems to have slipped away.

Alan Christian: "I drove into town in the late '60s and heard two guys on the air yelling and screaming. You gotta remember, it was Vietnam, the anti-war movement. I'm thinking, 'My God, the station's been taken over.' Then I hear one of them say, 'Call that guy a cab.' It was Charley Eckman and Artie Donovan hollering at each other."

Jed Duvall: "Remember Al Herndon? Here's a guy who did the TV weather at night and worked as an attorney during the day. He did some community service work. He was assigned to represent a woman in court. She said to the judge, 'Your honor, I asked for a lawyer, but they gave me the weatherman.'"

Royal Parker: "I never got to live that commercial down. 'Hey, you kids, get offa that sofa.' I go to the grocery store today, there are still people who grab their little kids and say, 'You see that man? That's, "Hey, you kids, get offa that ...'"

Nobody around here who has reached a certain age needs an explanation. Parker did the "Hey, you kids" commercials for years during the old Buddy Deane TV show. Jed Duvall did local TV and then went network. Alan Christian was a radio talk-show guy for years.

They were among roughly 30 voices -- mostly yesteryear's, but some still working -- heard over the radio the other night on "Legends of Baltimore TV and Radio," a special three-hour broadcast put together by local broadcast personality Eddie Applefeld.

"The idea was to give a sense of history," says Applefeld, the host of the broadcast, "to take us back to a time that was less frantic, maybe safer, when the biggest problem you had was getting home in time from school to see Buddy Deane. And it was a chance for some camaraderie and nostalgia."

The show was a sheer delight, a moment to help WCBM radio celebrate its 75th year of broadcasting but also a chance for listeners to hear some familiar personalities remember a more breathless, seat-of-the-pants era, when radio and TV were young and finding their way, and the media marketplace was a far different venue.

Today, more than 70 stations fill the cable TV dial. In the old days, there were just the three network stations. Today, 35 radio stations fill the AM and FM dials. Years back, there were maybe five blockbuster AM stations, while the few FM stations that existed tended toward such scintillating fare as analyzing the Dewey Decimal System.

Johnny Dark: "I see people today and they say, 'I used to listen to you in 1962 on a yellow transistor radio that I got for my bar mitzvah.' Heck, when I was at WCAO back then, I had a 63.9 share."

Tom Davis: "We'll never see those kind of numbers again."

Royal Parker: "'Hey, you kids, get offa that dial.'"

There are so many stations along the dials now that listeners are quick with their trigger fingers. Yesterday, radio's quarterly ratings were released. The highest-rated station, WERQ (92.3 FM), had a 9.6 share. That's light years away from Johnny Dark's 63.9.

Is this a bad thing? No, because it means listeners have more choices than they once did. But the flip side is: It tends to intimidate programmers who play it safe, who stick to the same kind of music, or who fill the air with the talk show folks whose idea of reasonable discussion is the scream, the verbal sneer, the bullying of a caller nervous at being on the air.

On the "Legends of TV and Radio" special, the names alone evoked sweet memories: Galen Fromme and Bailey Goss, Paul "Fat Daddy" Johnson and long, lean Larry Dean, Jack Wells and Les Alexander and Johnny ("Hello, you good-lookin' people") Contino, Susan White and Jack Bowden, Larry "Old Dirty Shirt" Walton and the Flying Dutchman and Hot Rod Hulbert and Joe Knight, your knight of the spinning round table, and Louie and The Bear.

Eddie Applefeld (to Danny Sheelds): "What are you doing now?"

Sheelds: "I hire myself out as a political prisoner. ... Nah, people say, 'How come you're not on the radio?' I say, 'How come you don't own a station and hire me?'"

Applefeld (to Johnny Walker): "John, refresh us, the years you were at WFBR were ..."

Walker: "... the worst years of my life. Actually, I remember giving blood on the air one time and thinking, 'This is a metaphor for my whole career.'"

He's joking, of course. Walker was a wild man on the radio, an electric presence who helped make radio enormous fun. Hearing the old familiar voices the other night was a delight. Applefeld says there are "preliminary" talks about future shows with voices out of the past.

Pub Date: 07/29/99

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