The Only War

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(Pictured: Alice Cooper and friend on stage in Roanoke, Virginia, on March 10, 1973.)

While doing a bit of research the other day, I found myself poking around the edition of Billboard dated February 17, 1973, as one does. Here’ some of what’s inside:

—Willis “Bill” Wardlow has been named associate publisher of Billboard. Over the next several years, Wardlow would be responsible for occasionally jiggering the Billboard charts to reward or punish record labels, and to do favors for industry friends. As we learned a few years ago, his manipulations led to Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” spending only 12 hours at #1.

—A full-page ad plugs Alice Cooper’s upcoming American tour and the band’s new single, “Hello Hurray.” The tour opens in Rochester, New York, on March 5, and it will be grueling, with 52 shows in 90 days. Between April 25 and May 5, the band will play 10 shows across the South in 11 days. The last date is set for June 3 in New York City.

—A review of Bruce Springsteen’s recent show at Max’s Kansas City in New York suggests that while Springsteen is not yet Bob Dylan’s 70s heir, he “shows definite signs of acquiring the mantel.” Other reviews cover separate Las Vegas shows by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition and the Supremes, a triple-bill of Al Green, the Spinners, and the Sylvers at the Forum in Los Angeles, Lou Reed at Alice Tully Hall in New York, and the opening night of a weeklong stand at the Bitter End in New York by jazz/funk player Roy Ayers and his group Ubiquity. Ayers’ show is opened by “a promising black comedian, Jimmy (sic) Walker, a man with an undeniably racy sense of humor.” Is it the same Jimmie Walker who will be in the cast of the TV sitcom Good Times a year in the future? Probably.

—A full-page ad with the heading “Grand Opening” features a cartoon woman with blonde hair, pursed red lips, and high heels, wearing a nightgown through which her nipples are clearly visible. Her hands are at her waist, seemingly ready to untie the gown. Below the tie are the words “lift up.” There is no other text on the page. Whoever scanned the issue for World Radio History has also scanned what looks to be a lifted flap: underneath are the covers for two albums. One I cannot identify, since the title isn’t legible; the other is Under the Skunk by Laurie Kaye Cohen. A similar ad appears on another page with the “Grand Opening” headline reversed and the women seen from the back, with another flap that can be lifted. Under that flap is a shot of the woman’s underwear; appearing below are the words “pull down.” Whether anything is under that, I can’t tell; there’s no corresponding scan. Even by the standards of 1973, the whole thing is astoundingly offensive—but Billboard likely collected a fortune for it, considering how elaborate it was. The Cohen album was released on the Playboy label; if they’re the ones who placed the ad, it explains a lot.

—A full-page ad from Brunswick pushes a coin-operated air hockey table that’s about the same size as a standard pool table, calling it “the fastest profit maker you’ve ever seen.” This point is illustrated by a bikini-clad woman sitting on the table, hiding her seductive smile behind a fan of obviously fake paper money.

—On the Easy Listening chart, “Dueling Banjos,” billed only to Deliverance Soundtrack, is the new #1 song. “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend” by Lobo is at #2 after two weeks at #1. “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack is already at #6 in only its third week on the chart. On Hot Soul Singles, “Love Train” by the O’Jays is the new #1, replacing “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” by the Spinners. Also in the Top 10 are Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown. On the Hot 100, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John holds at #1. “Killing Me Softly” and “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver are new in the Top 10. The biggest move in the Top 40 is made by Dr. Hook’s “Cover of the Rolling Stone,” up 11 spots to #19, although “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Deodato debuts within the Top 40 at #25 from #50 the week before. The new #1 album is The World Is a Ghetto by War, dropping Carly Simon’s No Secrets to #2. A full-page ad celebrating War’s rise to the top contains the line, “Let Us Pray From Now On, We Are The Only War.”

The Story Was the Song

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(Pictured: John, December 6, 1980.)

Although the second week of December 1980 would eventually be dominated by one of the biggest stars in music history, it didn’t start off that way. Here’s what radio stations were playing the week John Lennon died, from the edition of Radio and Records dated December 5, 1980, the Friday before.

In that week, Lennon’s album Double Fantasy and single “(Just Like) Starting Over” were big, but the week’s biggest star was Kenny Rogers. “Lady” had been #1 on the magazine’s main chart, the National Airplay 30, for six straight weeks; “More Than I Can Say” by Leo Sayer had been at #2 for five straight. “Starting Over” was #6, also trailing Neil Diamond’s “Love on the Rocks,” “Never Be the Same” by Christopher Cross, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” One song was new in the Top 10: “The Tide Is High” by Blondie, at #9 in only its third week on the chart. The biggest mover on the chart was “I Made It Through the Rain” by Barry Manilow, which was up eight spots to #19. Only one song was new: “I Love a Rainy Night” by Eddie Rabbitt at #30.

Rogers, Cross, Diamond, and Sayer topped the AC chart, which included two Barbra Streisand records among the top 11, and “I Made It Through the Rain” blazing up to #12. (“Starting Over” moved from #25 to #19 in this week.) “The Tide Is High” and “Tell It Like It Is”  by Heart debuted on the AC chart; so did Boz Scaggs’ “Miss Sun” and “Hungry Heart.”

(Considering that “I Made It Through the Rain” is about the most middle-of-the-road thing Barry Manilow ever did, its airplay numbers tell you a lot about the historical direction pop radio was taking in late 1980 and would continue to take in 1981, which we’ve discussed here before.)

On the Album Airplay 40, Bruce Springsteen’s The River was #1 and dominant, although Rod Stewart’s Foolish Behaviour made a big leap from #11 to #2. Double Fantasy sat at #4; album stations were playing “Starting Over,” “I’m Losing You,” and “Watching the Wheels.” Steely Dan’s Gaucho was #5: top tracks were “Hey Nineteen,” “Time Out of Mind,” “Glamour Profession,” and the title track. The highest debut on the album chart was REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity; the top track was “Keep on Lovin’ You.” Album stations did not shy away from power ballads in those days, or from music that we wouldn’t even consider to be rock today: for example, Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” was getting airplay on a few stations. So was Stevie Wonder’s album Hotter Than July. Live albums got a lot of radio traction in that bygone day, which accounts for the success of Eagles Live and Supertramp’s Paris, both of which made the Top 10 of the airplay chart. College radio favorites also charting: Dire Straits’ Making Movies, AC/DC’s Back in Black, and the Jim Carroll Band’s Catholic Boy, featuring “People Who Died,” which you should hear if you haven’t.

I don’t remember a lot of the songs on the Country Airplay 40. “Lady” fell to #11 in this week, but another pop crossover, “Smokey Mountain Rain” by Ronnie Milsap, was in its third week at #1. “I Love a Rainy Night” was #12. I wasn’t working much at KDTH in the fall and early winter of 1980; I’d given up my part-time gig to work at the album-rock station all summer with the understanding that KDTH would take me back in the fall, provided I went to the bottom of the seniority pole.

When these charts were compiled, we didn’t know John Lennon was going to die suddenly that week. We didn’t know anything else, either. Not the big stuff, certainly: about how and where the currents of history were going to carry us, or about what would endure and what would not. That’s nobody’s fault. It was life as it was and ever shall be.

At the risk of straining a metaphor (too late, maybe?), in that moment, we twentysomething college kids were the rollergirl in Dire Straits’ “Skateaway,” the most-played track from Making Movies. We ordered our lives in ways that made sense to us and waited to see what would happen next, all the while hoping things would work out—and all the while with music in our heads.

She gets rock and roll
And a rock and roll station
And a rock and roll dream
She’s making movies on location
She don’t know what it means
But the music make her want to be the story
And the story was whatever was the song what it was
Rollergirl, don’t worry
DJ plays the movies all night long
All night long

The Song Is Too Long

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(Pictured: the Jackson Five.)

Not long ago, I paged through Billboard magazine from the week of November 7, 1970, as one does.

A headline story on page 1 says that in response to the recent drug-related deaths of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Al “Blind Owl” Wilson of Canned Heat, MGM Records president Mike Curb has terminated the contracts of 18 MGM artists he accuses of promoting hard drugs. The artists are not listed by name, although Curb claims that some of them are top sellers. History would show that most of them were marginal at best.

Elsewhere, jukebox operators are concerned about the increasing length of records and its impact on their revenue. More than half of the songs on the current Hot 100 run more than three minutes, and the average song runs 3:32. “Green Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf runs 5:58, and both “Closer to Home” by Grand Funk Railroad and “Fresh Air” by Quicksilver Messenger Service run in excess of five minutes. (Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” is the shortest, at 2:08.) Some operators have refused to program the longest popular singles, but most admit that if a record gets big enough, they have no choice. The long-song trend is not expected to reverse. Bill Prutting of jukebox manufacturer Seeburg says, “You can write about long singles until doomsday, but labels cannot tell their artists how long their singles should be.”

The magazine reviews a number of new albums, including Bob Dylan’s New Morning, Greatest Hits by Sly and the Family Stone, and I (Who Have Nothing) by Tom Jones. Several new Christmas albums are reviewed, by the Williams Brothers (Andy and his siblings), Ed Ames, Buck Owens, Charley Pride, and Jose Feliciano. The review of Feliciano’s album says he “adds interesting new dimensions to old Christmas favorites,” but doesn’t mention a new song from the album that will remain on the air for the next half-century: “Feliz Navidad.”

Charley Pride is #1 on the Hot Country Singles chart with “I Can’t Believe That You’ve Stopped Loving Me.” Among the other songs in the Top 10 are “Sunday Morning Coming Down” by Johnny Cash and “It’s Only Make Believe” by Glen Campbell, which have crossed over to pop. Other pop crossovers include “Snowbird,” “For the Good Times” by Ray Price, “Amos Moses” by Jerry Reed, and Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden.” The hottest record on the chart, up 30 spots to #37 in its second week on, is “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn. Merle Haggard’s Fightin’ Side of Me is #1 on Hot Country LPs.

Billboard‘s Top Soul LPs chart is dominated by Motown: Third Album by the Jackson Five, Temptations’ Greatest Hits Volume 2, and Still Waters Run Deep by the Four Tops are in the top three positions. Also riding high: Signed Sealed Delivered by Stevie Wonder, the self-titled solo debut by Diana Ross, and Ecology by Rare Earth.

Rare Earth, signed to a Motown subsidiary, is not the only rock act on the Soul LPs chart. Santana is at #6 with Abraxas, Cosmo’s Factory by CCR is #13, Band of Gypsys by Jimi Hendrix is at #16, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen is at #24, and Led Zeppelin III debuts at #44. (Led Zeppelin III and Abraxas are #1 and #2 on the Top LPs chart; the Jackson Five and Creedence Clearwater albums are in the Top 10.)

On Easy Listening, “We’ve Only Just Begun” by the Carpenters continues to dominate, in its fifth week at #1. Also in the Top 10: “It Don’t Matter to Me” by Bread, James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” and the hottest record on the Easy Listening chart, “Stoney End” by Barbra Streisand, up 14 spots to #8.

The #1 song in Britain is the Matthews’ Southern Comfort cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” In Canada, it’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond. In Singapore, “Candida” by Dawn is #1, and in Spain it’s “El Condor Pasa” by Simon and Garfunkel. In the United States, “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson Five is #1 for a fourth week; “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Fire and Rain” hold at #2 and #3. One song is new in the Top 10: “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family, up from #17 last week.

The magazine’s radio column, Vox Jox, runs down the on-air lineup at WLS in Chicago: Larry Lujack, Joel Sebastian, Chuck Buell, Scotty Brink, Kris Stevens, Jerry Kaye, new arrival Steve Lundy, and weekender Bernie Allen. On the other end of the wave in his Wisconsin bedroom, a 10-year-old kid listens to them, and it won’t be long until he wants to be like them.

Llamas for Sale

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(New rule: just as we don’t really need a reason to post pictures of Linda Ronstadt, it is now decreed that we don’t really need a reason to post pictures of llamas, either.)

On a slow afternoon recently, I wandered through the edition of The Billboard (as it was known) for the week of October 10, 1960.

Item: WLEU in Erie, Pennsylvania, described as “one of the most outspoken anti-rock stations,” recently presented a public funeral march to a dock on Lake Erie, where 7,000 “so-called rock and roll disks were dumped into the drink.” The station even rounded up a celebrity guest, “gospel thrush” Mahalia Jackson. The story says, “Miss Jackson, holding up some of the ‘drowned’ records retrieved by skin divers, commented that: ‘They’re all warped, just like rock and roll.'”

Comment: Mahalia Jackson, whose voice could bring down walls, was hardly a mere thrush. She died in 1972, and she would been surprised at her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence.

Item: The magazine has over a dozen pages of news and advertising about fairs, festivals, rodeos, and carnivals. The ads are fascinating: fairs seeking carnivals and carnivals seeking fairs, as well as ads for carnival jobs, rides, games, concession supplies, and anything else an operator might buy or sell. A classified ad offers two Bengal tigers ($3,000 for the pair), two male llamas, a kangaroo, and a dromedary camel (“7 years old, docile”). Another classified reads, “Attention Dolores Prest—phone your attorney, Rex Chatterton, Groton 54, reverse charges, very urgent.”

Comment: My guess is that Dolores was among the traveling carnival folk, and putting an ad in the carnival section of The Billboard seemed like a good way to find her.

Item: A small display ad for Tamla/Motown Records, 2648 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit 8, Mich., phone TRinity 1-3340, plugs Tamla releases by Barrett Strong and Mabel John (“Willie’s Little Sister”), with their catalog numbers. Also mentioned are Motown 1002 and Motown 1003, “Custer’s Last Man” by Popcorn and the Mohawks (“A Real Smash!”) and “Bye Bye Baby” by Marv Wells.

Comment: It’s weird that the ad doesn’t mention the Miracles’ “Shop Around,” newly out on Tamla, although Barrett Strong was just coming off the label’s first national hit, “Money (That’s What I Want).” “Marv Wells” was a typo; “Bye Bye Baby” was the first single by Mary Wells. Richard “Popcorn” Wylie and the Mohawks included future Funk Brothers James Jamerson and Eddie Willis and future Motown writer/producers Lamont Dozier and Norman Whitfield. “Custer’s Last Man” was a parody of Larry Verne’s current hit “Mr. Custer,” about which there’s more below.

Also: kids, ask an elderly person to explain the “8” in Motown’s street address and the phone number that looks like a typo.

Item: An ad calls the Kingston Trio “America’s #1 album artists,” and they are. String Along tops the both the mono and stereo album charts, and Sold Out is in the Top 10 of each. On the mono chart, comedy albums are thick: The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart is #2, The Edge of Shelley Berman is #8, and the Top 10 includes two albums by Brother Dave Gardner, Kick Thy Own Self and Rejoice Dear Hearts. Also charting: two albums each by Woody Woodbury and Jonathan Winters, plus one by Bill Dana as Jose Jimenez.

Comment: Brother Dave Gardner’s biography, written by Cub Koda (which is fabulously entertaining and worth your time), calls Gardner “a Southern Lenny Bruce” and “Billy Graham with a sense of humor.” Gardner was a native of Tennessee, discovered by RCA Records mogul Chet Atkins cracking wise from the stage while working as a drummer. His most famous bit was “The Motorcycle Story,” which he recorded a couple of times, and which has lost something in translation since 1960.

Item: “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne has taken over the top of the Hot 100 from “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” by Connie Francis, which is now #3. “Chain Gang” by Sam Cooke holds at #2. Lining up behind them are “Save the Last Dance for Me” by the Drifters, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, and “Devil or Angel” by Bobby Vee. Slipping out of the Top 10 this week are “It’s Now or Never” by Elvis and “Walk Don’t Run” by the Ventures.

Comment: In a bracket of the worst Billboard #1 hits of all time, “Mr. Custer” would be a top seed, and I am no fan of Connie Francis either. But the top of the chart is more than redeemed by Sam Cooke, the Drifters, and even “The Twist,” and “Walk Don’t Run” might be the best of them all.

Sex and God

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(Pictured: Whitney Houston at her mother’s house in the summer of 1985.)

Let’s go inside the edition of Radio and Records dated August 23, 1985. This one would certainly have ended up on my famously messy desk at the Top 40 station in Illinois 35 years ago this week.

Item: Citing the First Amendment, the FCC has reaffirmed that a radio station in Dodge City, Kansas, should not be punished for broadcasts encouraging violence agains Jews, blacks, and other minority groups. The commission will hold a hearing on whether the station’s license should be renewed, however, but that hearing will not consider the racist broadcasts, only the legal difficulties of the license holders, Charles and Nellie Babbs, including suits against them for copyright infringement and defamation, and garnishments for failure to pay state taxes. Civil rights groups are outraged. One attorney says that the facts of the hearing order alone are enough to revoke the station’s license.

Comment: A competing company persuaded Charles Babbs to drop the station’s renewal bid in exchange for $10,000, and the station went dark.

Item: WZKS in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has been fined $10,000 by the FCC for failure to maintain a main studio in Murfreesboro. The “main studio rule” is, according to the Commission, “one means of assurance that the needs and interests of the community are met and that the station serves as an outlet for local self-expression.” WZKS had a waiver that allowed it to program mostly from Nashville, 30 miles away, but it was required to maintain a full-time management-level employee in Murfreesboro and originate news and public affairs programming from there. The FCC charged that the station had been violating the main studio rule for a year before the waiver was issued, and that afterward, it stuck to the conditions of the waiver for only about a month.

Comment: The FCC eliminated the main studio rule in 2017 because of course it did.

Item: A column titled “Employee Turnover—Who’s at Fault?” discusses some of the problems radio stations face in hiring and retaining good talent, on the air and off. Columnist Charles Warner suggests “strong leadership, clear lines of authority, and exact directions” are better than “do as I say, not as I do” management. He says says managers should be more realistic with potential employees about what each job entails: “Too often managers sell their dream, not the job’s reality.” Stressing experience over raw talent in hiring can “perpetuate other people’s mistakes.” He lists a number of areas in which managers could be more sensitive to the needs of their employees: work environment, social dynamics, recognition, job expectations, and even self-actualization.

Comment: At no point in Warner’s 1200-word piece does he say “Pay them more damn money.”

Item: Owners of KFRZ-FM in Brigham City, Utah, have decided not to change call letters to KSEX-FM. Meanwhile, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, WIBS has tweaked its format to play 75 percent Christian music, and has changed its call letters to WGOD.

Comment: There is no KSEX, although a station in suburban Chicago used WSEX through much of the 80s, and there was a WSEX in Puerto Rico as recently as 2016. WGOD is still on the air in the Virgin Islands.

Item: The #1 adult-contemporary song this week is “Cherish” by Kool and the Gang; #1 urban is “I Want My Girl” by Jesse Johnson’s Revue, nosing out “Saving All My Love for You” by Whitney Houston, which has been #2 for four weeks. “Lonely Ol’ Night” by John Cougar Mellencamp is the #1 AOR track. On the AOR albums chart, Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits, Dream of the Blue Turtles by Sting, and the Back to the Future soundtrack have been 1-2-3 on the chart for the last four weeks, the latter on the strength of two Huey Lewis cuts, “Back in Time” and “The Power of Love.” “The Power of Love” is #1 on the Contemporary Hit Radio chart for a second week; the rest of the Top Five are also holding: “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” by John Parr, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” by Tina Turner, “Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams, and Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.”

Comment: A number of records from 35 years ago this week have never been off the air since then, and not just “The Power of Love,” “Summer of ’69,” and “Freeway of Love,” but “Money for Nothing,” “Cherish,” “Who’s Holding Donna Now,” “Take on Me,” and others. They’re heard so much today that they’ve lost their ability to evoke that bygone summer, but that’s OK. Other songs still do.

Don’t Say No

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(Pictured: Billy Squier on stage in the summer of 1981.)

As I might have done with a hard copy back then, let’s digitally page through the edition of Radio and Records dated July 3, 1981, to see what we can see.

Item: Congress is considering the expansion of Daylight Saving Time, which currently runs from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October. The Federal Communications Commission is concerned about the impact on daytime-only radio stations. Those not authorized for pre-sunrise operation would see up to two additional months in which they would lose an hour of profitable morning drive-time.

Comment: DST was expanded in 1986 so it started on the first Sunday in April instead of the last. In 2007, DST changed to its current schedule, from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.

Item: TV ratings for the week ending June 28 show M*A*S*H at #1, followed by the M*A*S*H spinoff Trapper John M.D. at #2. The sitcom featuring former M*A*S*H star Wayne Rogers, House Calls, finished at #3 for the week.

Comment: Few successful TV series have gone further down the memory hole than House Calls, which finished in the Top 25 during all three of its seasons but isn’t streaming or seen on vintage TV diginets. Co-star Lynn Redgrave was fired midway through the 1981-82 season for wanting to breast-feed her newborn daughter at work, which the studio would not abide. After Redgrave was suddenly replaced by Sharon Gless, ratings plummeted, the show was canceled, and lawsuits followed.

Item: WZZQ in Jackson, Mississippi, one of the first album-rock stations in the South, has switched to a country format after 13 years. The station’s general manager believes the AOR format attracts too young an audience, and that country will help the station capture more national advertising dollars aimed at 25-to-49 year-olds. As the only AOR station in Jackson, WZZQ ranked second overall in the most recent Birch Report ratings. It becomes the fourth country station in the market.

Comment: WZZQ would not have been the first or last station to trade a bird in the hand for two that it thought were in the bush. Nevertheless, it seems deeply weird for a heritage album-rock station with strong ratings and market exclusivity to enter a four-way battle and expect to do better. This feels like a change that’s officially about one thing but actually about something else. For example, stations have been known to change format because of the owner’s personal taste, profits notwithstanding. I’m not saying that’s what happened here, but it could have.

Item: KWRM, a 5,000-watt adult-contemporary station in Corona, California, outside of Los Angeles, has gone all-in on contesting. The station runs five or six contests an hour, 17 hours a day. The jocks don’t back-announce songs; they give prizes to listeners who can name titles, artists and chart positions. The station carries Dodgers and Lakers play-by-play, and the scores are used for quiz questions. Prizes are mostly items already being advertised on the station. General manager Pat Michaels insists that the station isn’t trading advertising time for prizes, but advertisers who provide large prizes get promos and mentions equivalent to the value of the product.

Comment: If you weren’t interested in playing contests (and the vast majority of listeners are not), KWRM must have been positively exhausting to listen to. As a jock, I’d have been exhausted by it, too.

Item: The National Airplay 40 for album-rock radio shows the Joe Walsh album There Goes the Neighborhood as the week’s most played nationwide, nosing out the Moody Blues’ Long Distance Voyager. Other hot albums of the moment include Tom Petty’s Hard Promises, Don’t Say No by Billy Squier, Fair Warning by Van Halen, Face Value by Phil Collins, and Santana’s Zebop! Jazz albums getting play on album-rock stations include As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, Unsung Heroes by the Dixie Dregs, Lee Ritenour’s Rit, and The Clarke/Duke Project by Stanley Clarke and George Duke.

Comment: The Top 40 in this summer wasn’t great, but album-rock radio was loaded with new releases by superstar acts. And if there has been a cooler album title than As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, I’m not sure what it is. Many album-rock stations were playing the track “Ozark,” which could easily have been made to fit alongside Tom Petty, the Moody Blues, and Joe Walsh.

Coming in the next installment: a single day from the summer of 1981.