Dead Air


(Pictured: a 1971 7up ad by artist Bill Bosworth, snagged from

The death of former CBS newsman Richard C. Hottelet this week at the age of 97 closes an era in American broadcasting. He was the last of the correspondents hired to cover World War II by legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow. For many years, long after World War II, Hottelet anchored the hourly CBS Radio newscast at noon Eastern time. I happened to be listening one day when the attention-getting news sounder played and was followed by . . . dead air. Hottelet was only about 10 seconds late getting started, but it seemed like an eternity. (A friend running the board at a station carrying the newscast told me that while his instinct was cover up the dead air somehow, he wanted to see what would happen if he didn’t.)

A few years later, I worked at a station that carried UPI Radio News. We’d start a tape a few minutes before the top of the hour, record the newscast, copy it to a cart, and stick it into the automation to play at a later time. I was going through this routine one night when I noticed that the newscast, which was supposed to run two minutes, came up about 40 seconds short—so I went back and listened to the whole tape. UPI sent a little beep tone to signal the precise top of the hour and the newscast was supposed to begin a couple of seconds later, but on this night, it didn’t. Silence, silence, silence. Then came the faint sound of a door opening and the voice of veteran broadcaster Jim Lounsbury saying something off-mike to people outside the studio, who could also be heard. A creaking chair, a shuffling of papers, and then “UPI Radio News, I’m Jim Lounsbury,” as if nothing unusual had happened.

On the flip, a few worthwhile links that have passed through my Twitter feed recently, which you may have missed.

In 1970, a New York advertising man hit upon the idea of NFL-themed Christmas records, one for each of the 26 teams then in existence. His son told Deadspin the story of how they got made. Also on the subject of Christmas, the Andy Williams hit “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” contains that perplexing line about “scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago.” If you’ve always wondered about that ghost stories reference, here’s what’s behind it. If you’ve already heard Andy sing that song 50 times this month, you can probably guess what Five Thirty Eight found when they crunched the numbers on radio Christmas music and put it under the best headline ever: “Of Course You Hear What I Hear.” A song you should hear more often is Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December.” David Cantwell wrote about it in his Haggard biography, and recently posted an excerpt that goes broader on Christmas music: “how it works, how people use it,” in Cantwell’s words. Read it.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a new book called Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music by Eric Weisbard. It’s the history of pop music through the prism of radio formats, which allows the author to draw conclusions about race, class, gender, and other big themes in recent American history. I can’t wait to read it. Salon recently published an excerpt.

If you are a record chart fanatic, go to Bullfrogspond for an exhaustive chart archive, including mind-blowing spreadsheets containing Billboard chart information for pop and country going back to the dawn of those charts. They’re almost too big to get one’s brain around, let alone use, but I’m trying to find a way. On the subject of mind-blowing spreadsheets, here’s one with every song featured on WKRP in Cincinnati. Keep it handy while you’re watching the DVDs.

If you are old, you might remember 7up’s psychedelic print and TV ads from the early 70s. Many of them are awesome. If you are old enough to remember that, you might also remember the Warner Brothers Loss Leaders series of two-disc, two-dollar promotional sets released throughout the 70s to help Warners sell albums by its big stars and its unknowns. Forty years later, they contain some fascinating lost musical history. Willard’s Wormholes has digitized them, so get the ones you want while you still can.

There’s a guy over at YouTube who reimagines classic rock songs as if they were performed by the Peanuts Gang. “25 or 6 to 4” is great, but “Come Sail Away” might be better.

Coming next week: a whole crock of Christmas.

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