Category Archives: radio

Blast from the past: Level 42 ‘Something about You’

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I was a child of the 60s but i became a young adult in the 1970s and 1980s and those were the most influential periods of my life as far as music goes. And being a visual person, I especially loved that weird bastardization of music and visuals, the music video.

One of my favorites was the video for British band Level 42’s “Something about You.”

So many videos are awful and so many are ridiculous in their efforts to mash up the song with some kind of story, particularly romantic vignettes starring the the artist or lead singer of the band.

What I like about director Stuart Orme’s 1985 video for “Something about You” is that it’s all about the most weird and awful romance.

level42somethingaboutyou

Members of the band play characters riding in a train car. The oddest of the group, played by band leader and writer Mark King, imagines – envisions? – each of his fellow passengers with the same woman, usually in some sort of troubled moment in their relationships.

Overlooking each quick vision is King as a creepy, heavily-made-up man in a plaid suit, laughing heartily at each couple’s troubles. Near the end of the video, King’s suit-wearing character is either lurking or confronting each couple in some dark field or winding staircase. Creepy!

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At the end of the video, King’s character gets off the train and spots the woman (played by beautiful Cherie Lunghi, remembered as Guinevere in “Excalibur”) waiting in the station. But who is she waiting for?

I remember hearing at the time that King’s character was based on the character Lawrence Olivier played in the 1960 movie “The Entertainer.”

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Looks right to me.

 

 

Classic Thanksgiving: ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without some acknowledgement of the most awesome Thanksgiving TV episode ever.

Yes, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Cheers” had some pretty doggone good Turkey Day episodes. But none could top the 1978 Thanksgiving episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati.”

If you’ve read this far, I don’t have to tell you that “WKRP” was a short-lived but wonderfully silly TV show about a Cincinnati radio station. The show – very similar in characters and execution to the movie “FM” – is a classic of quirky comedy.

The Thanksgiving episode finds station owner Mr. Carlson (Gordon Jump) feeling a bit out of date with the new, young, trendy rock-and-roll tone and staff of the station.

So Carlson and ad sales guy Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) arrange a turkey giveaway. Of course, this isn’t a giveaway of frozen turkeys. They’re fresh turkeys. Really fresh.

As newsman Les Nessman looks on and delivers increasingly horrified narration, turkeys are tossed out of a helicopter.

Not surprisingly, they fall like “sacks of wet cement” to the parking lot below.

“As god is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly,” Carlson tells the station staff.

And a TV classic was born.

Classic heroes: The Green Hornet

I became aware of the Green Hornet, masked crimefighter with a cool car and an even cooler sidekick, at the time of the 1966 TV series featuring Van Williams and Bruce Lee. The show ran only a season but the two also appeared in a high-profile, two-part guest-starring shot on ABC’s campy hit “Batman” series.

While they’re enjoyable to watch to this day, the two “Batman” episodes featuring the Green Hornet and Kato squaring off against and pairing up with Batman and Robin (Adam West and Burt Ward, of course) seem like an odd fit. “Batman” was goofy but the “Green Hornet” series was played absolutely straight.

That’s because the series, with Williams playing crime-busting newspaper publisher Britt Reid and Lee as his valet/sidekick Kato, followed the custom of the radio show that introduced the character in 1936.

Reid and Kato, while conducting normal, upstanding lives during the daylight hours, put on masks, arm themselves with Hornet “stings” and other non-lethal weapons and cruise through big-city back alleys at night, fighting crime and righting wrongs.

Not unlike some versions of Batman, the Green Hornet and Kato are considered criminals themselves. Their status as lawbreakers lets them fit right into the criminal underworld in their efforts to destroy it.

The 1960s “Green Hornet” series was played for drama and some ironic humor, particularly when Reid’s newspaper staff vowed to expose the Hornet’s crimes. But unlike the “Batman” series, the “Green Hornet” series featured gritty settings, straightforward stories and criminals who were less flamboyant and more murderous.

I didn’t see the Seth Rogen “Green Hornet” movie and I’m not sure I will. The reviews were pretty awful and I don’t think there was much to gain by turning “The Green Hornet” into a comedy at this point in the character’s history.

Fun fact: The Green Hornet is related to another great radio/serial/TV/comic book hero, the Lone Ranger. The producers of the radio show also produced the popular “Lone Ranger” series and noted that Britt Reid was the great-nephew of John Reid, the Texas Ranger who became the Lone Ranger after the rest of his posse were ambushed by outlaws.

Happy birthday ‘The Shadow’

It’s the birthday of our favorite sinister, scary pulp magazine hero. This week in 1930, the character of “The Shadow” was created to serve as narrator of the “Detective Story Magazine” radio show.

On July 31, 1930, “The Shadow” made his debut on the air. The character caught on and publishing house Street and Smith hired Walter Gibson to write a series of pulp magazine stories that debuted in April 1931. He wrote under the name Maxwell Grant.

The character had a fabulously complicated story and history – even multiple secret identities – and enjoyed decades in the pulps and on the radio.

The character has been brought back periodically for comic books, which is appropriate since much about him – his fearsome reputation among crooks, his long cape-like cloak – influenced other famous characters like Batman, not unlike Doc Savage influenced Superman.

Besides a series of movies in the 40s, the character got a big-screen treatment in 1994 in a movie starring Alec Baldwin. It wasn’t bad but was far from a hit.

I’ve noted before my admiration for “The Shadow.” While the pulp stories are fairly typical of their time – and maybe not as good as the best of “Doc Savage” or “The Avenger” – the images of the character are undoubtedly iconic.

So happy birthday Shadow!

 

The romance of radio

The radio was my best friend growing up.

That’s only a mild exaggeration. As a kid growing up on a farm, I didn’t have neighbor kids my age close by. So I spent a lot of time exploring the fringes of my family’s 20-acre farm, the nooks and crannies of our hundred-year-old barn, the nuances of 1960s comic books and the inside of my head.

And the wonderful words and music that came pouring out of my radio.

The other day I was explaining to someone how world-changing a shift the change from AM to FM radio was. I had grown up listening to a local AM radio station, WERK, that featured such personalities as Bill Shirk, David Letterman, Bruce Munson, Tom Cochrun and Gary Demaree. The WERK station and transmitter were not far from where I grew up — along the banks of Buck Creek in southern Delaware County — so it felt like my radio station in a way.

WERK was on the radio on the school bus, if we were lucky and the driver was in a good mood. I still remember one morning when a group of us on the bus were terrified and tantalized when a WERK announcer reported, in mock seriousness, that a Loch Ness-style sea serpent had been spotted in Buck Creek.

Not that I didn’t love the allure, the romance, of far-away stations.

As I drifted off to sleep each night, Chicago’s WLS was my lullaby. I loved imagining the studio of the big-city station, where giants like Larry Lujack worked. I thrilled to imagine the booth where records were spun and the spot where the jocks broadcast and announcers recorded commercials.

Magic.

I’m not alone in being fascinated with the allure — mysterious and personal at the same time — of radio. Remember that scene in the 1973 George Lucas movie “American Graffiti” when a character seeks out real-life DJ Wolfman Jack, finding him holed up in a little building in the California desert, sending his voice out into the night?

There’s not as much magic in radio these days. Maybe it’s because I know how radio, like other businesses, works now. It’s a little like learning how movies are made, or how small TV studios are.

And nothing could hope to equal the memory of lying in bed, small radio on the bedside table, listening to the hypnotic words of a DJ. The guy spinning records was hundreds of miles away — or maybe just a little further south along the banks of Buck Creek — and thousands of people were hearing his voice.

But he was talking to me.