Saturday, June 4, 2016

THE GREATEST


Excerpt from the book:
"Other Days"  (Published soon)
by Lee Alan
First Book "Turn Your Radio On"
Audio Book available
www.leealancreative.com/ab4 



In the 60s Joel Sebastian and I were on television with our own version of a dance party show. Music, stars, dancers and fun. Joel was the picture of cool. Well dressed, smiling, deep voice, handsome and just plain suave. I was the opposite.

Our Halloween show on Club 1270, ABC-TV in 1963 had Marvin Gaye, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and Cassius Clay (Before he became Muhammad Ali).

Playing the idiot fool as usual I came out dressed as a Ghost. Cassius had just released an album called “I Am the Greatest”. It was hilarious. Most of it was all about Sonny Liston, how he was going to “whup the big ugly bear”, and the entire cast and crew of the show were doubled up laughing as he floated like a butterfly roaming all over the set reciting his “greatest” material.

“Clay comes out to meet Liston and Liston starts to retreat,
if Liston goes back an inch farther he'll be in ringside seat.

Clay swings with a left, Clay swings with a right, just
look at young Cassius carry the fight.

Liston keeps backing but there's not enough room,
it's a matter of time until Clay lowers the boom.

Then Clay lands with a right, what a beautiful swing,
and the punch raised the bear clear out of the ring.

Liston still rising and the ref wears a frown, but he can't
start counting until Sonny comes down.

Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic
and our radaring stations see him over the Atlantic.

Who on Earth thought, when they came to the fight,
that they would witness the launching of a human satellite.

So the crowd did not dream, when they laid down their money,
that they would see a total eclipse of Sonny.”

All the time he was moving and dancing I was behind him in my Ghost outfit, blowing "The Lee Alan Fine Toned Horn", mimicking him and dancing like his shadow. Now and then he would suddenly turn around and shoot some left jabs and combinations my way just barely missing.

He played to the audience, for a few seconds, ran up the studio stairs to the master control room over looking the set, then down again. All the time I was close behind waving my arms like I was scaring him…or somebody!

That night he was on my radio show reciting the same “Greatest” material.
A few months later on February 25, 1964 not only was Sonny Liston totally psyched out; but couldn’t come out for the seventh round. Cassius Marcellus Clay “whupped that big ugly bear”, became the heavyweight champion of the world, soon after joined the Muslim Religion, and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

Some weeks after his appearance on Club 12-7-0 a friend wanted to know how I survived and kept my job. You still working there? What ?

He pointed out to me what that Halloween appearance looked like to some people. Think of it. Cassius Clay, a black Olympic Gold Medalist from the south dancing around a TV studio followed ever so closely by someone blowing a Horn covered with a white sheet and a hood with holes for eyes and mouth.

I was stunned!

A black man being chased by a white shadow in a sheet! Now what’s wrong with that picture? I’m sure he realized what it looked like. While it was happening it never crossed my mind. But he was gracious, funny, fun loving, and a master psychologist.

From Bob Hardt.  A great radio news journalist who was there:
"Lee, I remember the night he was on the radio with you. I was working in the newsroom when he sailed through on his way to your studio. We met again years later when I was at WABC in New York and did a one-on-one interview with Ali in his hotel room. The change in his demeanor from the brassy Cassius I met at WXYZ to the matured and mellowed Ali was amazing."

The “Greatest” was the Heavyweight Champion of the World and I still had a job.
To me he was then, is, and always will be…THE GREATEST!

UPDATE June 5, 2016
Worldwide headlines:     "Muhammad Ali Dead at 74".   
Another part of us is gone.
Brother Joel Sebastian passed at age 53 in January 1986
There was a tear this morning from me.  For them.  For all of us.
Our "Other Days" are fading more quickly now.  More quickly......     
Lee Alan

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

At The Hop





In the late 50s and early 60s the big thing to do on the weekends was going to record hops.  Today they remember them as “Sock Hops”.   Back then I never even heard the term.  They were called record hops.  And they were everywhere every weekend.  Grade schools, high schools, dance clubs, special dances.   It’s got to sound bizarre now for today’s generation right?  “Hops”.  What pictures does that conjure up?  People hopping around.  Bouncing up and down.  What kind of brainless fun would that be? 

 Understand that even though the public thought all of us on the air were millionaires, the fact is there were only a very few making enough to survive.  The rest had to have another way to earn more money.  That was the reason so many got caught in the payola purge.  Stations not paying anything.  Using the glamor of being on the air and the local celebrity it brought as their excuse not to pay enough.  DJs just found other ways.  One of them was the Record Hop.

If a school was going to have a Hop, someone would call the station and book a DJ to appear and run it for them.  The DJs had all the latest records, would line up a local band to play, and would actually come to the school and MC the whole thing.   And here’s where the music business came in. 

Recording artists were always on promotional tours to promote their records.  Those hard working music  Promo Guys in town needed to get airplay so those artists, big and small were brought around to all the Record Hops at no charge to anyone!  And they all came.  Think of it.  A small school dance might have The Supremes, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Rolling Stones,  and others appearing at their “Hop”.  No charge.  The acts were brought to dance and most times would “lip Synch” their records.  You know what that means right?  The DJ would play the record and the artist would just mouth the words.  If the sound system was good it looked and sounded great.


I never did many "Record Hops".  Couldn’t.  I was on the air at night.  But there were opportunities.

Once in late 1960 I was approached by three policemen from Redford Township, Michigan.  They had been holding Record Hops at the local UAW 182 Union Hall.  They were planning something bigger and wanted me to promote it on the air and MC the event.   I said no.  They kept after me.  I decided to give them a price they would have to refuse.  “Six hundred dollars”, I said.  They agreed.  “Six Hundred it is”.

 The dance was to be held at the Riverside Roller Arena in Plymouth Michigan in a few weeks and they wanted to know could I get a night off from the station and do it?  I needed the six hundred and besides I had never done this before.  I agreed.  Instead of paying me more money the station had already agreed to allow me a little slack now and then.  I did the dance.

Riverside Arena could hold about two thousand people for a dance.  I promoted it for about three weeks.  I said it was a big dance, there would be bands etc., and of course I would be there in person.  Understand now that I had never appeared at any of these things. 

Never.

I mean I had been on the air at WJBK and now WKMH for a couple of years, but I was not a household name.   I was a crazy man on the air to be sure.  Blowing horns, throwing things at the studio walls, breaking records on the air.  Turning the turntables off, letting them freewheel and slowly run down until they sounded like a low growl o the air.  Pulling needles across records.  All wild and nuts!  The ratings were showing that I was beating WXYZ Radio that was the big station, but I thought sure that was a fluke. 

The dance started at 7PM on a Saturday night.  There were no special big name acts in town so it was going to be some local bands, records, and me.  That’s it.  I convinced the three police to hire another guy to actually spin the records so I could to my act without having to stand there and physically play the music.  The record spinner was a friend of mine who also worked at the station.  He started at 7PM when the place opened. I arrived at 7:30 and couldn’t believe my eyes.

First off, I couldn’t get any closer to Riverside than about two blocks.  Traffic was backed up everywhere.  Stopped.  The people knew they weren’t going anywhere so they were all standing outside their cars in the middle of the streets laughing,  talking, and waiting for a miracle to clear the way.   I parked where I could and schlepped my way to the dance.  People were lined up 8 deep trying to get in.  Inside the first thing I saw was a total mob.  A sea of people trying to dance but when one moved they all had to move the same way.  They were stacked next to each other like dominoes.  If one falls they all go.   Standing next to the door was a man in uniform.  His shirt said: “Fire Marshall”.  I wanted nothing to do with that so I worked my way around the edge of the floor to the stage.  The music was loud and despite the crush everyone was having a ball.  Literally! 

Pretty soon I was recognized by one and then all.  There were loud screams and applause.  As I got up on the makeshift stage people were yelling;  “LEE – LEE – LEE – LEE”.  “Hey Lee, where’s your Horn.  Hey Lee”.  You couldn’t hear the music anymore, just the people.  I soon realized that all this commotion was for me.  And that was the first time I ever looked into their eyes.  My listener’s eyes.

I had never seen more than one or two of them at a time.  In a store, on the street somewhere.  Never like this.  They weren’t just yelling.  There was love in that room.   I could feel it and I could see it.  They hugged me, shook my hand, wanted me to say some of the things that I’d been saying on the air.  They hung on every word.  Where did all these people come from and why were they so excited about seeing me?  That night I realized the power of radio and what happens when you love your audience and they know it.  And I did love them, then and now.

The night was a blur.  First thing I knew the dance was over.  I played the last song, a slow dance so they could all hold each other and let it end.  Before they left I was mobbed.  Nicely mobbed.  Hugged, patted on the back, touched.  It was new and thrilling to me.


I went to the office where the police promoters were counting money and talking.  When I entered the little room there were about 12 people there.  “Hey Lee, how’d  it go?”,  said a burly guy seated at the only desk in the room.  The others were sitting on kitchen type chairs just laughing and talking.  It was obvious to me that everyone was happy with the turnout.  “Fantastic Lee, we had a full house.  Great show Lee”. 

 I didn’t know a soul in the room except for the policeman with the money and no one was talking to me, not even acknowledging my presence.  I guessed that the others were police too.  There was something strange going on here.  For the last three hours hundreds of people were lined up just to talk with me.  In this room, except for the big guy behind the desk I could have been invisible.  Next to the big guy were neat stacks of money from the night’s box office and a large gun.

I thought the gun was because of all the money.   I said, ‘OK. Everything was good and thank you very much.”  And he gave me $100.  “A hundred dollars?  Our deal was $600.  What’s going on here.” I said.   He put his hand on that gun and said, “You better take the hundred and leave.  These guys here will help you to your car.  Wouldn’t want anyone to take it away from you.”  And he put his hand on the gun and just let it move toward him a little.  I decided that I had no friends in this room and left.  Fast.

That dance and those hoodlums disguised as legitimate police would come back to haunt me almost preventing me from ever working at WXYZ.....  And that's another story....
Regards - Lee Alan

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friends

When I was in Las Vegas for a couple of years and more recently in Los Angeles I learned something about radio and television.  In Vegas and LA the radio is on, programs are running, talk is talking, music is playing, but no one seems to care.  In general the people on the air are very good.  Professional.  Under the ratings gun.  Formatics are tight.  Playlists are strict.  Everyone reaching for listeners.  Television personalities in those cities are the same. Moving fast, looking cool, and after the ratings.

Detroit has always been different.  Oh the ratings battle is the same, formats are strict and have been over the years; but there is something different about the people.  I don't mean people on the air.  I mean people who listen and watch.  In the Detroit market, in the past and to some extent now we hold those on the air to a different standard.  A standard generally held for people who are our friends.

I have been around long enough to appreciate this difference.  Many of the people we hear and see every day are our friends.  We may never have met them face to face, but they are more than voices and faces. They are there in our ears, radios, TVs.  They ride with us to and from school and work.  They are not strangers.

The list of examples I can think of would take most of Google's space, but I'd like to mention a few.  JP McCarthy wasn't just some roving air personality reading the cue cards.  He was our friend.  What he said and what he did made a difference to us.  We could depend on him to be there every morning.  "Good Morning World".  JP (Joe) was a personal friend of mine but his "on the air" friends were legion.  People cared about him.  The day he passed the city basically shut down.  We all mourned.  It was a personal loss to thousands who had never met him face to face. 

All the years that Bill Bonds was on the air.  Controversial, outspoken, unafraid to tackle the tough subjects he was Detroit.  He was our friend.  A personal friend.

Erik Smith has been a friend of hundreds of thousands of Michigan people ever since I can remember when he and I worked together so many years ago.  Then one morning for his friends - no Erik Smith. His choice to not go along with unreasonable management  edicts.  Where is my friend ?

What if someone in your family just suddenly disappeared ? Gone.  How would you feel.  What would you think ?   For most of our radio and television who disappear why do stations even allow them to depart without saying goodbye or celebrating with listeners/viewers the times they had together?  It  used to be that management was skittish about what they might say or do before the curtain finally came down  So they were not even mentioned again.  Just gone.   In my early days in radio during the payola s purge I received many calls from management at WJBK Radio saying, "Come in to the station  and do Tom Clay's ( or Don McLeod's and other's) program/show and DON'T MENTION THEIR NAME (S).  So the listeners react.  "What ?  Where is my friend?'

The problem is that when the national conglomerates that own today's stations send in managers from out of town they do not understand "FRIENDS".  They make what their experience tells them is good strategic shuffling of people without a clue that in Detroit on air talent is only part of the reason we watch and listen.  The rest of the reason is that those people on the air were with us growing up, falling in love, raising a family, part of us.  They are our friends.  The out of town radio and TV managers, controlled by the corporate conglomerates, come from areas where none of that exists---just like I experienced in Vegas and LA.  And even worse the "consultants" sit with them in conference rooms and for fear of losing the account agree with them.  And dictating from the conglomerates are usually bean counters, lawyers, or people who have no clue.  Listeners lose and leave.....

Think of it, who could forget Ernie.  No need to even write the last name.  He was not the machine gun sports guy giving "brought to you bys" every minute.  He was right there with us on a warm summer day.  He was everywhere.  In our back yards, cars, work place.  No need to worry about missing anything when you went shopping.  There Ernie was in every store.  Even if it wasn't loud enough to understand what he was saying, the voice was there.  The unmistakable voice  a warm and close trusted friend.  And guess what ?  Even Ernie Harwell was fired from radio by a football coach.  What?  And WJR, for fear of losing the Detroit Tiger broadcasts now only went along with it, but never mentioned it on the air.  Shush !  Every other medium did though and listeners forced them to bring Ernie back. 

There are scores of others.  It depends on your age and era if you remember them.  But if you do each name brings back a memory.  A mental picture.  Robin Seymour, Don McLeod, Clark Reid, Paul Winter, Fred Wolf, Dave Diles, Dave Shafer, Dave Prince, Dick Purtan, Bob Green, Erik Smith, Ralph Binge and Joe Gentile, Marc Avery, Joel Sebastian, Dick Osgood, John Kelly & Marilyn Turner, Soupy, Bud Guest, Lou Gordon, Bill Kennedy, Sonny Eliot, Don Zee, Jim Davis,  Arthur Pennhallow, Jim Harper, Mickey Shorr, Ed McKenzie, Deano Day, Jac Legoff, Jerry Goodwin, Byron MacGregor, Jim Hampton, Tom McIntyre, Jim Rockwell, Ross Mullholand, Bob Maxwell, Tom Clay, Barney Stutesman, Rita Bell, Johnny Ginger, Charley Park, Deano Day, and the list goes on.  I know I have missed a few hundred.   All friends who were,  or are part of our lives and who made personal impact with us.  There are some exceptions.  WOMC did a nice job saluting Dick Purtan when he "retired".  WXYZ also gave a huge celebratory sendoff to Fred Wolf after all his number one years.  I was there and actually have a tape recording of his one the air party. 

Not so in other cities.  Most have names that are quickly forgotten. I honestly do not remember the names of more than one or two in Las Vegas and that's only because I worked with them while producing The Frank Sinatra Story on the radio there.

Things are rapidly changing for radio and television these days, but its always been that way.  The stations have always had formats, rules, operational procedures for everyone to follow.  However those people we remember and became friends had the unique ability to follow all the rules, stay within the format, and somehow still reach out through the speaker or tube and invade our souls.

Other cities and states have a marvelous Hall of Fame for radio and television people who have made their special lasting mark.  Not as personal as our "Detroit Friends" but they have a Hall of Fame that recognizes their talent and work. 

Not so in Detroit.  Oh the Michigan Association of Broadcasters has its Hall, but they are mostly managers, sales people, owners, VPs, etc..  Those are the ones who benefited from all the on The Air people who disappeared without mention.  Why don't those people recognize the on air talent that made it all happen and made their election to the Hall possible ? 

So sad there is  no Hall of Fame for them  -  however unlike any other city - they were/are our  Friends
See This Site:  www.leealancreative.com/friends
Thanks for "Listening"
Lee Alan









Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thomas L. Washington - American

There is much talk and great debate these days concerning the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution.  Almost no one knows the reason it is there and shall remain. 

Tom Washington was a true friend of everyone in Michigan. For decades he was the reason that the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) even existed. He was a lifetime advocate of the wise use of our natural resources and in his capacity as  Executive Director of MUCC Tom almost single handedly was responsible for initiating and getting  "The Bottle Bill"  issue on the Michigan ballot in the 1976 election.  It passed and as a result vacuumed the state of throwaway carbonated beverage container trash..

I was proud to work with Tom and the team that helped to win the vote and pass the issue. Tom was personally responsible for much of what Michigan Outdoors is today. We worked together on many other issues.  I  MCd MUCC's Outdorrama Show and handled the advertising and marketing for him nearly 15 years.  He was the definition of an outdoors man and a Constitutional scholar. I once asked Tom what was the purpose of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution.

He answered: "Simple Lee,  the purpose is to protect us from the Federal Government".

In a pamphlet urging ratification of the Constitution and of the 2nd amendment Noah Webster said:

"Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe."

In a widely reprinted article by Tench Coxe, an ally and correspondent of James Madison, he described the Second Amendment's overriding goal:

"as a check upon the national government's standing army: As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the next article in their right to keep and bear their private arms."

For many years as a conservation leader Tom Washington was a member of the NRA.. There came a time in the mid 1990s  when he actually became the President of the NRA. He was a moderating, level headed voice and influence in the organization.

In May of 1995 it was Tom who received the letter from former President George Herbert Walker Bush resigning from the NRA. In the letter President Bush said in part:

"I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as "jack-booted thugs. To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms and wanting to attack law abiding citizens is a vicious slander on good people."

Although the letter was written in the first week of May it was published in the newspapers on May 11, 1995.  Read the entire letter  Here

Tom Washington, whose unpaid N.R.A. position was largely honorary, was not always as outspoken as some N.R.A. members would have liked.  Some would say he was a moderating voice.  Still, he did his duty. As President of the NRA it was Tom's  task to answer the former President and point out  the reasons for the NRA rhetoric and government's vicious intrusion time and time again on innocent people. Thus demonstrating the purpose and reasons behind the framers of the 2nd amendment.

Thomas L. Washington will forever be known for his eloquent, pointed, yet respectful answer to former President Bush.

This was his letter:   The Letter

P.S.  Tom Washington lived in Lansing, 70 miles from Southfield, Michigan. He had never met my mother or father. During the memorial service for my Dad when I lost him in March of 1985 I turned around to look at those attending.  There,  at the back of the church all by himself was Tom.  Six weeks later when my mother passed there was a memorial at the same church.  There,  in the same seat in the back was Tom. 

Six months after his reply to the former president while hunting with his son in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan my friend suffered a heart attack that a few weeks later took his life. He was 58 years old. I spoke through tears at his funeral in Lansing, Michigan.  May God Bless him in Heaven.









Sunday, December 4, 2011

SEEING RED



Excerpt from the book:
"Other Days" (Published soon)
by Lee Alan

First Book "Turn Your Radio On"

Sometime in 1963 I was able to take my first vacation in memory. I was working at WXYZ radio in Detroit and had two weeks, so my wife and I took off and drove to Las Vegas. That’s right, we drove!
No freeways then right?
So there we were driving on what now is the fabled Route 66.

How did the words go?
“If you ever plan to motor west take the highway take the byway that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66”.

Well, the kicks were long but we made it in one piece and checked in at the also fabled Sands Hotel. I don’t remember much about the days we spent there except for one afternoon when I stood in the casino playing the quarter slot machine.

In those days the slot machine took real coins, in this case quarters and when anyone won even a few coins they made a loud crashing noise as the machine dumped them into the metal tray that caught them. You could hear that sound all over the casino and you could tell if someone was a big winner by how long the crashing lasted.

Also in the 60s the slot machines or one-armed bandits were not electronic like they are today. They actually get their name because of the handle on the right side of the machine that you had to pull to spin the wheels, One handle, one arm, one pull, one spin. All mechanical. One thing hasn’t changed. Electronic or mechanical you seldom win, thus the One Armed Bandit.

Also, the slot machines were only about chest high and they were back to back. You could stand at your machine and look directly at the person playing the machine in the next isle facing you.

So there I was pulling the handle with not much happening when this tall red headed smiling man stopped at the machine in the next isle facing me.

It was the great comedian Red Skeleton himself. He was the headliner that week in the Copa Room, the main showroom at the Sands. I pretended not to recognize him and just kept on playing my quarters. He was doing the same thing. Both of us pulling the handle and both spinning the wheels. There was one big difference.

When I pulled the handle it was disaster. Nothing! But it seemed that each time Red Skelton pulled the handle he’d win. Crash, clink, clink, clink I could hear his winnings dropping into the metal tray.

Soon people started recognizing who was playing and a fairly large crowd gathered to watch this marvelous red headed clown play the slot machine. And soon they started to laugh. I’d pull and nothing! He’d pull and Crash, clink, clink, clink quarters in the tray. The more I’d lose, the more he’d win, and the louder the crowd would laugh.

I mean every time Red Skelton pulled that handle, clink and crash, clank he’s a winner! It was really starting to get to me. I was about to quit, but when I looked up again Red was gone and the crowd was dispersing. I turned to go myself when I saw this wonderful and famous clown walking toward me in my isle.

“Sir”, he said with a smile so huge it would break anyone else’s face. “My name is Red Skelton”. As if everyone in the world back then didn’t know it. I mumbled something and he went on: “Sir I came to apologize. You see Sir, he said, I was having a little fun with you and I hope I didn’t embarrass you too much.”

By this time I was totally confused. He went on: “You see when we were playing the slot machines, every time you pulled the handle and lost, I lost too. The difference was that when I pulled the handle I had a handful of quarters. When the wheels stopped I threw them as hard as I could into the metal tray so they would make a noise loud enough for you to hear.

Unbelievable!
Red explained further: “The crowd wasn’t laughing at me at all. They were laughing at the frustrated look on your face when I won every time and you lost every time”.

“So Sir”, he said, “please be my guest for dinner and tonight’s show. I will have a front table waiting for you”. And with that, Red Skelton like his Clem Kadiddlehopper character, known to the world as the sentimental clown, looked at me, eyes sparkling, smiling, shook my hand, turned and left.

WXYZ Radio and Channel 7 television was located in a marvelous building known as Broadcast House in Southfield, Michigan. It had everything one could imagine including its own cafeteria in a separate small house on grounds.

One day, 5 years after the incident in Las Vegas I wanted lunch but didn’t want the hassle and same old conversation in the station cafeteria so I jumped in the car and went to a nearby Howard Johnson’s. It was mid afternoon and there was no one in the place except for me and another man sitting in a booth way at the back.

Right! It was Red Skelton. All by himself just having lunch. By this time in my career I had met almost everyone from the Beatles to Elvis. But I found myself approaching that table like a star struck fan to try and get his autograph in my notebook, and at the same time asking what he was doing here in this empty old restaurant. ?

Red Skelton was one of the greatest painters of clowns who ever lived. I didn't bother reminding him of our encounter years earlier in Vegas. How could he possibly remember anyway I thought. He said he was here to show some of his collection on a television show across the street at Broadcast House "With someone by the name of Marilyn Turner. Sure I’ll sign your book”. And he did. We exchanged some small talk, I thanked him and said goodbye.

I went back to the station and watched as Marilyn Turner, my friend and co host of Kelly & Company on Channel 7 in Detroit interviewed Red and showed his wonderful paintings.
I didn’t look at that autograph for a few days. When I finally opened the notebook I read what he wrote.

“Thanks, Best Wishes. . . . and May God Bless "
Signed: RED SKELTON
PS:
"Lee. if you ever go back to Las Vegas ....stay away from those quarter machines”.
He remembered the time in Vegas…………

The world lost this wonderful clown in 1997.
I never again met him in person
But through a strange set of ciscumstances our paths are about to cross once more.
Film at eleven.... and May God Bless.

Lee Alan