Still the One

Holiday weekends always arrive pregnant with possibility, but they slip away too fast, and before you know it you’re back at your desk with the daily routine. But we’re back at it today with some good memories of Memorial Day 2007.

Our fabled Bratfest took place over the weekend. Marty Balin from Jefferson Airplane headlined the music stage on Saturday night. We didn’t make it to that show, but those who were there were impressed, as Balin did a bunch of old Airplane tunes in addition to Starship songs and his solo stuff. We were there, however, when Orleans headlined on Sunday night. The group started as a foursome in 1973; two of the four, brothers Larry and Lance Hoppen, are still members. A third, John Hall, plays with the band when he’s able—his current day job is representing New York’s 19th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. (He wasn’t on stage Sunday night.) The band still sounds pretty good, and is recognizable as Orleans even without Hall’s vocals, as the Hoppens provide the same high harmonies from back in the day. The highlights of the show were what you’d expect—the hits, “Dance With Me,” “Love Takes Time,” “Still the One,” and their cover of King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight,” which was the title song of Orleans’ 2005 album. “Moonlight” was written by Sherman Kelly, brother of Wells Kelly, the fourth original member of Orleans, who died in 1984. (Wells Kelly had been a member of King Harvest, although I don’t know if he played on “Dancing in the Moonlight.”)

Yesterday, I spent several hours listening to the Big 89 Rewind on WLS, which brought back several personalities from the 70s and 80s for the day. Larry Lujack was on fire during the morning show. Fred Winston can still bring it, and was frequently hilarious while messing around with newsman Lyle Dean, who came out of retirement for the day. John Landecker’s evening show was as anarchic as ever, although it was pretty ragged, too, and the late-evening Boogie Check, which was Landecker’s signature feature back in the day, mostly fell flat. I didn’t hear either Jeff Davis or Tom Kent, and what I caught of Chris Shebel’s midday show didn’t impress me—it’s clearly been a while since he’s done that kind of radio, and he seemed to struggle with the pace of it.

But the music saved Shebel’s bacon, and everyone else’s. WLS played a fine cross-section of pop and rock hits from the 70s and early 80s yesterday. I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to hear music on AM radio. That sonic environment lends a punch to the music that’s missing on FM or CD. Records like “Lido Shuffle” and “Dancing Queen” are never going to sound hotter than they do on AM. Late last night, Landecker went from Sugarloaf’s “Don’t Call Us We’ll Call You” to the Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night” to “Heart and Soul” by Huey Lewis and the News, which is pure Top 40 bliss. I’m convinced that the AM environment is what made classic Top 40 possible in the first place. With better fidelity, the endless forward momentum of the typical Top 40 station, with its jock-talk and jingles, gets loud and tiring. The AM environment lends distance, and it makes the jock—and the station itself—seem larger than life. If it didn’t, WLS would have had no reason for the reunion in the first place.

WLS is reportedly going to post highlights of the reunion on its website. I’ll let you know when they’re up. Until then, Davewillieradio has posted the Lujack and Landecker shows from his perch in Arizona, where the Lujack show started at 4AM local time. Way to take one for the team, Willie.

9 thoughts on “Still the One

  1. I listened most of the day. Shebel and Kent were clearly second tier. What, no Turi Ryder?

    Jeff Davis was as smooth as ever. Listen for him when you go into Blockbuster. That’s Jeff’s voice you’re hearing. He’s made a great career out of being a voice-over professional, much the same as Kris Erik Stevens.

    Stop by http://www.wlshistory.com if you’re really into The Big 89.

  2. I would agree on the raggedness of Landecker’s show.

    Interesting debate between Landecker and Tom Kent after the Boogie Check about whether Landecker could do that today at his current gig. Landecker seemed bummed out about it all, insisting his listeners want to hear only the oldies and not the DJ. Kent insisted it still would work just fine, and that listeners would dig it.

    If you missed Kent, he opened his show with a great acknowledgement of how influential WLS was in the day.

    Oh, and for the record, your Bratfest may be fabled, but it is a piker, a poser, compared to the legendary Brat Days in the home of the brat — Sheboygan! Always copied, never duplicated.

  3. Tom Teuber

    I, too, spent an enjoyable day wallowing in The Big 89 Rewind after hangin’ at Bratfest (and BobFest) on Sunday. I missed Orleans; as far as I’m concerned, it’s not Orleans without John Hall. BTW, they actually started as a trio. I have many happy memories of late nights spent with them during my time in Rochester and Buffalo.

  4. hadyourphil

    The comment on AM vs. FM is absolutely right on. AM had that mystery about it, and the veil of nighttime fading, static and other bugaboos made it even more special. As an engineer these days, it is more of a challenge, with more satisfaction, to make an AM sound really good. The thrill of hearing a well-compressed, eq’ed (and reverbed) AM signal in one’s headphones whilst on the air is indescribable. I still enjoy hearing a good AM Stereo station, as the stereo sounds much more authentic.
    Oh well. It was fun, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

  5. backtwister ted kelly

    C’mon guys- give Landecker a break-he did not “fall flat”
    He hasn’t done the show for 28 years
    and YOU were not age 45 when you heard him with all your current “wisdom”
    Boogiecheck to entertain teenage kids maybe up to age 24. He was not really doing the show for 45 year olds, right? So why are you giving him a 45 year old’s harsh judgment?
    Landecker has great points at the end- people on his current show are not listening to be entertained-they are listening for background wallpaper- like all of today’s radio listeners talk or FM music. I listened to WLS to be entertained. I was entertained that day. And I cannot say that about ANY current format. I heard Landecker in the morning and the conversation format made me ill. Ooooh- for Harry Harrison again. You Chicago folks were not as lucky as New Yorkers- we had the format up to 2005 when WCBS-FM pulled the plug on it.
    Today its a different story.
    That format was sustained by the music and the excitement and anticipation of being 16 and hearing the next single that you would get the 45 rpm of and play it 50 times, within a particular context of songs, and with a person speaking with the confidence that we all wish we had. Today there is no such music, and the kids have so many entertainment choices. Also advertisers probably don’t want to target 8-14 year olds. Rick Dees and the national-type shows just don’t have it. Part of the format is that it is LOCAL. I grew up in Vermont and listened to WLS in Chicago at night. I was entertained much more than any local program- I would rather hear about Mayor Daly and Chicago heat waves than local news and boring formats. So if the format comes back- there must be enough people nationally for the same satellite channel as Cousin Brucie- it should be a LOCAL format with national ads and broadcast nationally- otherwise I won’t listen. I have to take Mark Simone WABC-AM Sat. nite oldies over Cousin Brucie on Serius, ONLY because Mark does a local format with ads and Bruce does national show with no ads. Even the ads on a personality format I find entertaining. (Brucie is in the best place now, though, because people need to hear him, and more can- on the bird, then on WABC.) Actually, he should do a local NYC show on WABC 770 and simulcast it on Serius and the internet – THAT WOULD BE HOT!!!! Then, if various other local top jocks like Landecker could also do one local personality show a week simulcast on Serius – you’d have one hot channel for those of us who want entertainment, not wallpaper. I can hear records myself, but I can’t hear a Landecker, Lujack, Brucie, Kent, Harrison, Ingram, George Michaels(WABC DJ), Chuck Leonard, etc. myself.

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