Thursday, February 4, 2016

On radios, rock & roll, and my birthday

I started thinking the other day—probably because of the number of musicians who have died recently—about when and why I began paying attention to pop music.  The “when” is easy, and I suppose the “why” is as well.  For my tenth birthday, in 1958, my parents gave me a radio.  AM only, of course, and I suspect it was a Philco (my mother’s cousin ran a tire and appliance store, and I think they bought it from him).  So I started listening, mostly in the morning as I was getting ready for school and in the evening before lights out (and, as I recall, after).

I grew up in Indianapolis, and so I almost automatically listened mostly to WIBC (1070 on the AM dial); the other stations were country (WIRE; which I cared not for even then) or “old” music (WXLW)—Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page, Tony Bennett (when my parents listened to the radio, that’s what they listened to).  The two DJs on WIBC whose programs I heard most often were Jim Shelton (mornings) and Dick Summer (evenings).  Shelton in my memory must have been older; he sort of sounded like everyone’s impression of your father’s older brother.  Dick Summer, on the other hand, was young and played the newest stuff; his program was broadcast from a drive-in restaurant on 38th Street, near the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Merrill’s Hi-Decker.  The popular feature on his program was “Make It of Break It,” during which he would play a newly-released song, and everyone in the parking lot at Merrill’s would flash their lights and honk their horns when he asked whether the song “made it,” and should continue to be played, or whether he should “break it,” and never play it again.  (By 1964, Summer was at WBZ in Boston.)
(Merrill's Hi-Decker, with the
WIBC broadcast booth on top.)

WIBC was not a particularly adventurous station, programmatically.  I think the rule was that the #1 song that week, and maybe the entire top 10, had to be played during every DJ’s shift.  (In fact, given the song lengths at the time, a DJ could easily play the entire top 40 during a 4-hour show.)  So we heard the same songs with great frequency.  

When I first got the radio, the top songs almost certainly included (I can’t find a list; the Billboard Ho1 100 lists date back only to August 1958):

Tequila,” The Champs
All I Have To Do Is Dream,”The Everly Brothers
Who’s Sorry Now,” by Connie Francis
“Twilight Time,” The Platters
“Sail Along Silvery Moon,” Billy Vaughn
Catch a Falling Star,” Perry Como
Get A Job,” The Silhouettes
Magic Moments,”: Perry Como
“He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” Laurie London
“Wear My Ring,” Elvis Presley
“Stood Up,” Ricky Nelson

I actually remember maybe half of those (I’ve italicized the ones I remember; the version of “He’s Got the Whole World…” that I was familiar with was later).  In early August, the top 10 on the Billboard charts (in order) were

“Poor Little Fool,” Ricky Nelson
“Patricia,” Perez Prado and His Orchestra
“Splish Splash,” Bobby Darin
“Hard-Headed Woman,” Elvis Presley
“When,” The Kalin Twins
“Rebel-Rouser,” Duane Eddy and His Twangy Guitar (and the Rebels)
“Yakety-Yak,” The Coasters
“My True Love,” Jack Scott
“Willie and the Hand Jive,” The Johnny Otis Show
“Fever,” Peggy Lee

In six months, things got a lot more interesting, in my opinion.  I remember being stunned by “Rebel-Rouser," all 2:21 of it, and thought "Yakety-Yak” (2:30) was pretty amazing.  Willie and the Hand Jive” (2:20) might have been the first song that I was aware of being by a black group…also, I had no idea what “hand jive” meant.  I suspect a lot of people were unclear on the concept.  And “Fever” (3:16), although not rock, was pretty confusing to a 10-year old.  Exciting, but confusing.

And, one year to the day after I got my radio, I turned it on in the morning to the news that Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper had died in an airplane crash.

1 comment:

  1. Being older than you, I remember all those songs and love every one of them.