Friday, March 27, 2009

Curly's Corral

Trips to Colorado to visit our son in Wheat Ridge often conjure up memories of Colorado broadcasters who helped lay the groundwork for KCSR in Chadron.

The other day we wrote about a recent visit with ex-KCSR managers Jack Miller and Don Grant, who both live in Fort Collins. That delightful interlude caused me to remember Bill "Curly" Finch, a co-owner of KCSR when it went on the air in 1954. Among other places, I'm sure, Finch was once at KRAI in Craig, Colorado, before teaming up with Bob Fouse to establish the new radio station in Chadron.

While Finch was later known worldwide for playing big band music as host of Finch's Bandwagon on the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, he also had a bit of country in him. Well, I'm not absolutely sure about that, but I do believe he understood the importance of country music to folks in western Nebraska, so he launched Curly's Corral on KCSR. It was a showcase for local talent, including long-time radio host Ellis "Peabody" Hale and another well-known musician, Russ Garner. They're among the musicians in the photo below.

Included in this scene are (L-R): Bob Rinker, Ellis "Peabody" Hale, Russ Garner, Unknown, Neville Sits Poor, Bill "Curly" Finch, Joe Crossdog, Harry Hanson, Howard Parker, Dave Parker, and Gordon Benson.

Live broadcasts of Curly's Corral were staged on Saturday afternoons in the small KCSR studio at 212 Bordeaux in Chadron; I don't recall other venues, but I'm sure their were remote broadcasts from other locations; I was a teenager and more inclined at that time toward Pat Boone and Elvis Presley. According to the website featuring Russ Garner, the above photo was taken at the Pace Theatre in Chadron.

Finch would often engage in some spontaneous tomfoolery. Big band music really was his "schtick," and I recall one weekday afternoon when he played "One O'clock Jump" by Count Basie, then proceeded to play every other version of the tune that we had in the library. I was amazed at how long it took to accomplish the task -- and wonder how many listeners actually stayed with it!

While Finch was a shameless promoter, he had a real knack for understanding what an audience wanted. He remained in the wings while a creative Bob Fouse and witty Cliff Pike took the limelight with their popular morning show Breakfast with the Boys. I don't know whether Curly's Corral was his brainchild -- or Ellis Hale's -- but it certainly couldn't have succeeded without Finch's support and involvement. I don't recall Finch ever playing an instrument or singing, but he certainly was the host of the program that carried his moniker.

Good radio is still alive and well

Good friend and retired public broadcaster “Biker Bill” Campbell was moved to e-mail us the other day about a radio station he found in Minnesota while motoring from California to Chicago. Not just any station, but a real radio station – with live local announcers and some great music from the 1940s and ‘50s. It’s KNXR, 97.5 FM in Rochester, Minnesota. Bill said he enjoyed the station until the he lost the signal when I-90 dropped off the plains into the Mississippi River valley.

There was a time when getting excited about good radio stations was almost a non-event. Back when local stations strived to provide local services. These days, that’s an exceptional station! Of course, we old retired broadcasters like to think that we’re more discerning (wink).

Another such station – and one I’ve been intending to write about – is “Studio 1430,” KEZW in Denver.

For the past few years as we’ve made frequent treks to Denver from our Black Hills home, I’ve always looked forward to tuning the car radio to AM 1430 when we reach the Denver metro area. For quite some time, I thought it was “my little secret,” until I returned to Spearfish and learned that ham radio friend Bob Weaver had been listening to Studio 1430 on-line for quite some time. I must confess that KEZW Studio 1430 has been a bit of a surprise, since it is not a locally-owned station (few are, these days!) It's just one of more than 100 stations owned by media giant Entercom, which made an unsuccessful bid a few years ago to buy up ABC O & O stations. Nonetheless, they seem to be doing it right with this Denver outlet.

While at our son's home in Wheat Ridge, the radio remains on 1430. Great music selections, local weather, good local news, traffic reports, gardening shows, restaurant conversations – all typical fare of good local stations like Studio 1430, where Rick Crandall’s Breakfast Club is one of my favorites. Almost like Breakfast with the Boys on KCSR in Chadron back in the ‘50s. Truth of the matter is, it’s likely better, simply because of the excellent resources they dedicate towards making the station top notch.

It’s like being transported back to an era when radio was……good! Perhaps you have a favorite, too?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Beef Empire" memories

It was fun visiting this week (3/24/09) with two friends from the early days of KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska.

While taking refuge in Denver from a massive snowstorm across the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Minnesota, we took a side trip to Fort Collins. That’s home now for both Jack Miller and Don Grant, broadcast veterans who at one time worked – as did I – for the “Beef Empire Stations” owned by the Huse Publishing Company, publisher of the Norfolk (Nebr) Daily News.

That’s Don Grant (left) with Jack Miller in Jack’s Fort Collins driveway.

Jack Miller was named Manager of KCSR in August 1959, when the station was bought by the Norfolk group. A native of Norfolk and a Navy veteran who served aboard ship during the Korean War, Jack cut his broadcast teeth announcing and selling for WJAG beginning in 1956. Don, who hailed from LeMars, Iowa, was an Army veteran and attended the University of South Dakota after he left the service. He also worked at WJAG and did a stint at the Chadron station.

The “Beef Empire Stations” included flagship station WJAG in Norfolk, KVSH in Valentine, and KCSR in Chadron. The group later expanded to include KCOL in Fort Collins, Colorado. In 1971, Jack took the helm of KCOL, bringing along several of the KCSR staff – including Don Grant (Sales), John DeHaes (News), and Wil Huett (Programming).

Jack’s leadership at KCOL continued well into the 1980s before the station was sold. He twice served on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Broadcasters Association and was named “Broadcaster of the Year” in 1981. Not surprisingly, KCOL was strong on local service during those years, and instituted local editorials – not something lots of local broadcasters were always willing to undertake. Appropriately, Jack was named to the Colorado Broadcasters “Hall of Fame” in 2007.

Seeing Don Grant was a real bonus. Since we had worked together for only about a year (and I was a part-timer still going to school), I’m surprised he remembered me at all. Jack waxed eloquent about Don’s superb sales skills – of which I have no doubt. Don remains as I remembered him from 50 years ago – a warm and personable guy. Beyond our common friends and co-workers at KCSR, it was a further surprise when he revealed that he had spent time in Vermillion, South Dakota. We also lived in Vermillion and worked on the USD campus, albeit some 30 years after Don had been there. Still, we both remembered “Monk” Johnson and Martin Busch, both well-known broadcasters across South Dakota in those years. Don and I also spent time working in the Sioux City market.

I believe Don Grant said that another veteran broadcaster, Kent Slocum, was from his hometown of LeMars. I remember Kent from his years at KOTA in Rapid City. Wonder where he is these days?

After many years at KCOL, Don later returned for an encore at WJAG in Norfolk.

During our morning discussion, which was continued over lunch at Red Lobster, we tossed out names of one-time colleagues, and occasionally we all three would remember someone – or a memorable incident that would bring a chuckle. Like the case of the “sleeping announcer.”

But that’s another story……for another time

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chasing power

Seems we all chase success in our careers…..until it catches us.

It’s easy to get caught up with success and sometimes do some really stupid things – some of them even illegal.

An old Oklahoma boss of mine used to tell his managers: “It’s not IF someone will come looking to catch you screwing up……it’s WHEN they come. So be prepared.” The not-so-subliminal message was: walk the straight and narrow.

The fear of retribution – while still ignored by a few – has taken on increased importance in an age when faith, integrity, and ethics seem to be in short supply. And while it is perhaps not the most desirable tool to help keep over-achievers from running afoul of their responsibilities, it may be the most effective.

Still, folks succumb.

I opened a Wall Street Journal this week to see a photograph of a lady with whom I’ve worked in the past; someone for whom I had great respect and some admiration. Alas, she had basked in the glow of Washington success too long and made some serious mistakes.

Ann Marie Copland was a long-time legislative aide and executive assistant to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran for nearly 30 years. Last week (3/10) she pleaded guilty to violating federal conflict-of-interest laws by accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts in exchange for helping clients of the infamous Jack Abramoff. She reportedly had received more than $25,000 in food and entertainment tickets between 2002 through 2004. Her actions are disturbing and disappointing to say the least. That’s not the Ann Copland I thought I knew through most of the 1990s.

I worked with Ann often during the eight years I was with the Mississippi Educational Television (ETV) network. Thad’s dad was a one-time chairman of our ETV Board of Directors, and his mother had been a schoolteacher. It gave Senator Cochran reason to take increased interest in public broadcasting, and he has been a strong supporter of Mississippi ETV and public broadcasting. My principal liaison with Senator Cochran’s office was Ann Copland.

Highly regarded throughout most of the public broadcasting community, Ann was given the “Champion of Public Broadcasting” award by the Association of Public Television Stations(APTS). And I was not entirely surprised when she returned to Mississippi to become Deputy Director of the public broadcasting network last year, a post from which she has since resigned.

It’s sad when you see a talented and capable person stumble and fall victim to the ways of Washington… fall victim to abusing power.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Paul Harvey (1918-2009)

Having spent a decade in Oklahoma managing public broadcasting stations and teaching, I had the good fortune of meeting several Oklahomans who’ve left a big footprint in the media business.

From Jim Hartz and Betty Boyd to Harry Heath and Bob Allen. Of course, there are many other media folk, including the Gaylord family, who’ve left their mark on the Oklahoma plains and hills.

None, however, enjoyed the recognition, popularity, and notoriety of the late Tulsa native Paul Harvey Aurandt. Known to millions across America and the world simply as Paul Harvey, his daily broadcasts on ABC began 1951 and continued into the 21st century, although he’d stepped aside from the daily chores in 2008. Harvey died February 28th in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 90 years old.

I never considered Paul Harvey a newsman. There was a time I even had a certain disdain for his daily newscasts on ABC Radio. I felt he was a good actor (having done some film work) with a great radio delivery.

After my first couple of decades in broadcasting, including teaching broadcast journalism at Oklahoma State University, I began to at least appreciate the fact that Paul Harvey labeled his broadcast as “News and Comment.” If only we could persuade many new-generation newscasters to do the same.

By the 1990s, I was more comfortable with Paul Harvey as I gained an appreciation for his adherence to what I suppose we today call “traditional values.” Marriages that last. People who work hard. Respect for our elders. Admiration for those who sacrifice their lives for others. What once seemed a bit hokey to me began to make more sense.

Like his musical contemporary from the Dakotas – Lawrence Welk – Harvey was a target of some condescending ridicule for “down home” mannerisms. Both Welk and Harvey, however, parlayed their talents into highly successful careers that have touched millions of lives.

Read an excellent piece about the life of Paul Harvey in this
Time story. Below is a short WGN-Chicago tribute to Paul Harvey.