Friday, November 21, 2014


Two Morton Downey Jr. promo clips to send you into the weekend, screaming and clawing to get away from the poisonous memories of WWOR from Secaucus and its favorite son. I'd forgotten the tagline: "I'll insult everything but your intelligence." Yeah, right. The second clip is a longer, more elaborate thing called "The World According to Morton." Funny as a crutch which, somehow, really does make it funny.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014


My previous explorations of the cheerfully cheesy WOR, Channel 9 from New Jersey aesthetic have yielded some real crap TV--Morton Downey Jr was the King of the station, after all. But here's a clip from Howard Stern's show circa 1991 that manages to encapsulate the Channel 9 experience in a way that outskeevs anything Downey Jr. did.  It's a sketch called "The Hookers Price Is Right." In it, Stern plays the host, Bob Porker, and one of the contestants is Fred "Rerun" Berry, from "What's Happening" (pathetically it really is him). The prostitutes are real and they're awfully sad. Far worse though are the audience members, a motley collection of Jersey-bred suburban low-rent thugs with late 80s haircuts who are seen clapping and urging the revolting proceedings along. Among the prizes are porno videos, KY jelly and lunch in the WOR cafeteria with one of the hookers. (The stenchy cafeteria is briefly pictured and is exactly what you'd expect). The sketch is like a Downey Jr. show in that it provokes an intense need for a lengthy, soapy shower in its wake. The best line belongs to Robin Quivers who, after one of the girls says she started hooking at age thirteen, exclaims "Most kids don't know what they want to do when they're thirteen. That's impressive!"

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014


As of yesterday morning (when I discovered and posted the 'Mr. Broadway' clip) I am officially obsessed with Dave Brubeck's theme song for this long forgotten show, to the point of spending ninety-nine cents for the sheet music on-line. (I've been experimenting with different takes on it and find that it works quite well as a lilting jazz/blues waltz). Here are two version that each kill--albeit in different ways. Oliver Nelson's magnificent big-band take, and a Brubeck family album's hyper-tense 70's take. Digacious:

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Album Art: Brubeck Quarter, Jazz Impressions of New YorkLet's take a refreshing pause from our acrid talk-TV-radio-screamathon and look at the opening teaser, credit sequence and first few scenes of an episode from the short-lived 1964 TV drama, "Mr. Broadway". Created, written and directed by Garson Kanin (chiefly remembered now as the author of "Born Yesterday" and for being Ruth Gordon's husband), the show is notable for having been scored by the then red-hot Dave Brubeck, whose fabulous theme music you will hear after the opening two minute tease. Dig Tuesday Weld appearing in the "El Morocco" scene, young, saucy and clearly already nuts. The Brubeck score for the show can be found on a terrific album called "Jazz Impressions Of New York", the wicked-cool cover of which is clearly visible about three lines above what your currently reading. This is what the hep world looked like in 1964...which happens to be the year I was born...

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Monday, November 17, 2014


Wor 2What do Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers have in common with Morton Downey Jr. and Stuttering John Melendez? The answer is deceptively simple: R-K-O. The iconic call letters of the iconic studio--letters that are practically synonomous with art deco sets of cruise ships, Irving Berlin music and Hermes Pan dances--are the same call letters of the company that acquired WWOR, channel 9 in Secacus, New Jersey, in the 1980s. Upon its acquisition, RKO (which once upon a time stood for "Radio Keith-Orpheum"--a merging of the short-lived Radio Pictures with the one-time vaudeville theater chain Keith-Orpheum, which allowed Radio Pictures to have their own theater chain to show their movies, a very lucrative business model which was aborted in a 1948 anti-trust lawsuit which decimated the Hollywood Studio Machine and essentially led to movies and moviemaking being in the disastrous state they are today--STOP ME!!!!) ---anyway, what was left of RKO purchased a floundering independent TV station which became an early semi-workshop for outrageous, public-access inspired television. Thus Morton Downey Jr.s show (see previous post) and Howard Stern's cheesy early 90's TV show, prior to his becoming a billionaire. Here is a clip from Stern's WWOR show in which Morton Downey Jr. physically assaults Stern lackey Stuttering John Melendez.

Now do you see what Astaire and Rogers and Stern and Downey and the rest of them share? Three letters. That's all, brother. Three fucking letters.

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Friday, November 14, 2014


Here's a ridiculous event, hosted by the late Morton Downey Jr. on his crappy but fun WOR show from the 1980s. It's a gathering of angry talk show hosts, all trying to out-nasty and one-up the others. Downey Jr. wins as most repulsive, Bob Grant comes off as wittiest, Tom Leykis--new to LA radio at that time--seems out of his depth and Lester Kinsolving (yes, he of the White House fracasses) is certainly the most smug and intellectually obnoxious (though he goes physical at one point, trying to tackle Downey Jr. who takes his script away--somewhat reminiscent of the Joe Pyne assault I posted the other day).

Morton Downey Jr. was the son of Morton Downey (duh), a singing star of the 1930s, and Barbara Bennett, an actress and sister of two more famous Bennett actresses, Constance and Joan. He grew up in rarefied circumstances, playing with Kennedy children (they lived next door supposedly) and, being the scion of Hollywood royalty, he went directly into his fathers line of work. But his singing career didn't catch and he stumbled into radio at some point in the sixties, not accomplishing much of anything. Well into his fifties, he somehow decided to move into the 'shock talk' world, with a show on WWOR from Seacaucus New Jersey, which was experimenting at the time with 'rebranding' itself as a more controversial station. (Howard Stern had a quite hilarious, quite cheesy show on the network in the early 90s, before his radio show went national). Downey Jr. chain-smoked, blew smoke in guests faces, encouraged on-air assaults, screamed abrasive insults at guests and in general created an atmosphere so stenchy that one felt like showering after watching the show. So why did I enjoy it so much? Because--and this is the theme I keep coming back to with these broadcasters--I couldn't wait to hear what he was going to say next, which is the sine qua non of the broadcasters craft.

Downey Jr. gained fame quickly and lost fame quickly. It's hard to reconcile his classy upbringing with his quite repulsive persona, though who knows? So many of these guys were just putting on an act--Grant was always portrayed as being gracious and quiet off-mic as has Stern. But there was a strange reaction against Downey Jr. that others didn't suffer. Somehow he wore out his welcome in a way that the others didn't and he was flushed down the celebrity toilet by the mid-nineties. Cigarettes and cancer did the rest, with Stern giving him airtime late in his life. He used it to expound on the dangers of smoking, finally finding something positive to promote.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014


PODCAST – Alastair Norcross on Animal Ethics | International ...

Here's an interesting compilation of tributes that were paid to Bob Grant upon his death by a number of radio talkers who he'd influenced in various ways. Among them are Limbaugh, Stern, Hannity, Michael Savage and Opie and Anthony. It's strangely fascinating to consider that a profession that consists of rambling monologues mixed with phone calls that are typically handled in a jocularly abusive manner actually has mentors and protege's. As Grant influenced all of these guys, so did Joe Pyne (see yesterdays post) influence Grant. Who influenced Pyne, though? That to be answered tomorrow...

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014




Below are two very different Joe Pyne moments. The first is with activist, anti-war hero, Yippie leader and later inventor of the energy drink WOW! Jerry Rubin. Pyne, predictably, hates Rubin who is nervous, inarticulate and cowed by Pyne's contempt. He walks off the show while on air which maybe a commonplace daytime talk-show event to us now, but back then was exciting and unusual television. Next, you see a much more charming and genial Pyne interviewing comedian/actor Godfrey Cambridge. Strangely all three men died premature and idiotic deaths; Pyne at age 45 from smoking too much, Rubin at fifty-something from jaywalking across Wilshire Blvd. and getting hit by a car, and Cambridge at 43 from a heart attack while filming a movie in which he was playing Idi Amin. Upon hearing of Cambridge's death, Amin issued a statement saying that it was "punishment from God."

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Below I've posted quite a quite brilliant bit from Shep (as of course he was known) in 1965. Start listening and you'll find you really don't want to stop. As I mentioned before with both Bob Grant and Howard Stern in mind, this is truly the essence of what a great broadcaster does; make you not want to turn the dial.

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Monday, November 10, 2014


Jean Shepherd was a master monologist who had an all night (midnight to five-thirty AM) talk show on WOR in New York. I would try to fill you in on his extensive and fascinating life, but I'm incredibly late with a piece of writing I'm actually being paid for so click here instead. The clip posted above concerns a famous hoax of Shepherds--he and his listeners made up a fictitious book called "I, Libertine"which he then instructed his listeners to go into local bookstores and ask for. Of course the book became a hit, without even existing, proving Shepherd's very forward-seeing point that anything can be marketed into existence, including thin air. The non-existent book was well reviewed in a number of publications and even appeared on a couple of best-seller lists. Seriously. Dig Shepherd's charming late-night talkathon manner--listening to him is really like talking with a very amusing guy at a bar over the third cocktail.

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Thursday, November 6, 2014


Above I've posted more early Howard, this time from the very beginning of his WNBC stint (literally--it's his first day). Dig the nasal delivery. Was that a put-on? Or is his current too-hip-for-blip, too-cool-for-school twang the norm? This is the Howard who I heard in 1984, while driving from New York City to Rhinebeck, NY (where I went to college) discussing the difference between Jewish men's penises and Chinese men's penises. I had never heard anything like this on the radio and neither had anyone else. My friend and I had to pull over to the side of the road to hear the rest of it and recover from our laughter. Context is everything. That was then, this is now and pretty much everyone does that boogie. But there was much more to his shtick than that, as true followers know. Whatever. I cherish the memory and the breakthrough and its shocking, delightful effect that it had upon so many of us.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Long before he was worth a billion dollars and primarily known as a very good interviewer, Howard Stern was an exceedingly funny (and often misunderstood) local New York radio host. He was local in NY until the late 80s when he began picking up syndicated markets--Phildellphia, Cleveland, finally Los Angeles. Every city always reacted with outrage at his arrival and dire predictions of what would happen to the youthful listeners etc. etc. Ultimately, most people eventually figured out that the real humor in his show wasn't about the lesbian strippers. It was the story of the show--the show which was about nothing but the people in the studio doing a show. A bit like Jack Benny in that way, I always thought. The cast of characters simply were there, talking. There was no there there. Do you see what I mean? Or do I need to have another cup of coffee? Above I've posted Sterns last day on WNBC, who had unceremoniously fired him despite his having the highest ratings on the station.

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