Archive for April, 2010

The Quiet Man

Saturday, April 24th, 2010


I really loved being on the radio. Those were the days, and nights, when I first ran into Big Louie, his own bad self, The Chief Mustard Cutter of the Louie-Louie Generation. His theme song, Louie-Louie was the star of most of the record hops in those days. Any time the party got dull…it was Louie to the rescue.

But there was another kind of music born in the sixties. It’s mommy was the blues, and it’s daddy was rock and roll, and the people in power said it was conceived in sin. It was music on fire. Hendrix, Morrison, Clapton. When I heard it for the first time it took me a week to get my eyes closed. Today, you’d call it Classic Rock. And there’s something most people don’t know about it and…you should. Most people don’t know about the man who got that music on the air. His name was Al Heacock. And he was a man in the best sense of the word. Here’s the story. I know it because I was privileged to work for Al…and he was my friend.

Once upon a time…all the way back in the sixties…AM radio was still king. Big 50,000 watt flame throwers like WBZ in Boston, WABC in New York, WLS in Chicago, and KFI in Los Angeles ruled. Almost all of them were built on tight top forty foundations. In fact, the play list at WABC was frequently more like the top twenty, with the emphasis on the top three. “All Hits All The Time.” Jingle, jangle, jingle. The FORMAT was the GOSPEL. Except at Boston’s WBZ. Now it can be told…this is something that most radio professionals won’t believe…but it’s true. WBZ never had a format. The guys on the air played whatever we wanted to play, including records from our own personal collections, and tapes from local artists. And in between every single record/tape, we had fun. Oh we had fun. And people loved it.

Today’s top radio stations pull around a ten rating in a major market. WBZ consistently pulled north of a twenty five. The mouths at WBZ belonged to Carl deSuze, Dave Maynard, Jay Dunn, Jeff Kaye (and later Ron Landry) Bob Kennedy Bruce Bradley and me. But the brains, and a lot of the heart of the station belonged to the Program Director, Al Heacock.

Al was smart. He was a quiet guy who made a lot of money in the stock market. But he really didn’t care about the stock market. Al cared about his radio station, WBZ. It was a station with “tude.” When we broadcast from our mobile studio, which was most of the time, we proudly wore our station blazers. It wasn’t unusual at all for one of us to drop in on somebody else’s show and kibitz for a while. When you walked down the beach, you didn’t need to bring your own radio, because everybody around you would have ‘BZ turned on and turned up to stun. If you stopped your car for a red light, you could always hear ‘BZ coming out of the speaker in the car stopped next to you.

For those of you who never heard the station, and for those of you who work in radio and are curious about the legend that was WBZ, here’s how Al programmed his music: Each month there was a staff meeting. At the meeting he would always remind us to play some of the top tunes he left in the rack in the studio each week. And then he’d say, “I don’t want to hear two records back to back. We pay you guys to entertain. Entertain.” What a joy it was, what an honor to be one of Al’s guys on WBZ.

Here’s what that means to you. If it weren’t for Al Heacock, a man who knew how to say no…and stick to his guns…Classic Rock might never have been born. The rest of that story coming up.

Dick’s Details Quiz – All answers are in the current podcast.

1-    What does a major league catcher do about 150 times during a game ?

2-    What kind of glue do Eskimos use ?

3-    We think best at 60 degrees. What do we do best at 90 degrees ?

Dick’s Details. They take your mind off your mind.

Al Heacock knew that there are times when you’d better say yes if you want to keep your job, but you’ve got to say no if you want to keep your self respect.

Boston has always had a strong Folk Music tradition. At WBZ we were consistently playing original tapes of unreleased songs like “Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel, and “The Urge for Going” by Tom Rush, all kinds of stuff by Dylan, and Baez, and Sweet Judy Blue Eyes Collins. I was doing a weekly MC gig at the Unicorn Coffee House, a major Folkie spot in town. And I noticed that some of the artists were beginning to go electric. I invited Al to attend one night, and he got it. Right away. The next day, he instigated ‘BZs only mandatory music rule: “One ‘Liquid Rock’ song per hour.” Al called the music Liquid Rock. Almost immediately the new music picked up a different name… “Underground Rock.” The name was the only thing Al got wrong.

He gave me two hours on Sunday evening for the first big time “Underground Rock” radio show. He called it, “Dick Summer’s Subway.” Then Dylan went electric, Eric Clapton formed “Cream” and Woodstock forged a new musical and political conscience for America…and it went roaring out on WBZ’s 50,000 watt clear channel signal from Massachusetts to Midway Island in the Pacific. (I have an air check.)

And the suits at Group W Radio in New York were aghast. It wasn’t top forty. It wasn’t anything they recognized. They didn’t like it. They wanted it stopped…right now. Al just very quietly said no. He stood up to the top brass, and said no. For a while, even the suits didn’t want to mess too much with Al’s 25 rating in Boston. Then Arlo Guthrie did a song called “Alice’s Restaurant,” featuring a line about the “mother rapers and the father rapers on the Group W bench.” The lawyers at Group W headquarters in New York freaked.

The President of the Group took a flight from New York to talk sense into this crazy program director Heacock. “Get it off the air now” was the order. Al very quietly said “no.” It was a classic Radio Guy vs. Big Suit. And Mr. Suit blinked. The order was changed to “well at least edit that line out” Al very quietly just said “no.” If you’re a radio professional, you’ll realize how far out of line that was. So Mr. Suit decided to drop in on me personally one Sunday night, “for a friendly visit.” The engineer saw what was going on, and called Al to alert him to the situation. Ten minutes later, Al was at the studio. He asked Mr. Suit to join him for a quick meeting…out of the studio. That’s the last I heard of the problem.

Shortly after, Al was transferred to WINS in New York. A few months later, Group W turned off the music at WINS, and started a highly successful all news format there. And just a few weeks after that, Al was found dead in his shower. They called it a coronary. But I think the suits just broke his heart.

A few months later, the great Tom Donahue climbed on “Underground” music on his FM station out in San Francisco, Classical Music WBCN went FM rock in Boston, WNEW-FM went rock in New York, and in a little while, FM killed the AM king. It probably would have happened anyway. But the point is that when you hear “Stairway To Heaven”, or “Light My Fire” you’re listening to one of the many echos of that quiet but firm “no” WBZ’s Al Heacock said all those years ago.

Dick, the P.P. Guy

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

 There are handprints on the carpet again here in front of my big, black leather, poppa chair in my living room. I’m back to doing pushups again, which has me feeling pretty good. I told you I had a nasty knee replacement operation a little while ago, and it left me a little weak. Pushups and I go back a long way. I used to do them with my dad when I was a little kid. I always wanted to be like my dad. They made me into a pretty solid kid…which was good…growing up in Brooklyn. The other kids on the block called me “Dick the P.P.”. I’ll give you a politically correct translation…it means Dick the pushup…person. The actual meaning of the second “p” rhymes with Dick. Remember, this was Brooklyn…a long time ago.

In those days, a hooker was a hooker…not a “horizontally accessible libido provider. Guys had beer bellies, not “overly developed liquid grain storage organs.” And idiots were idiots, not “victims of rectal cranial inversions.” I hate that stuff. I don’t see anything demeaning about being a female person who acts. We used to call them actresses. Now they’re actors. Am I supposed to call my grand-daughters “grand-persons?” 

Anyway, I was proud of my P.P. nick name, even though I couldn’t say it in front of my mother. In fact I used to sign my name, “Dick, P.P.” sometimes. Just like some guys put PhD, or M.D. after their names. Those initials kind of followed me into the radio business. While I was in college, I worked evenings at a little station in New Rochelle, and the show I did was called, “Platter Poppa.”

And now…I am Dick Summer, P.P. and the P.P stands for Puma Person. I am the proud president of the P.P.A. The Puma People of America. We are Louie-Louie Generation people who are determined to walk and pounce like pumas…again. Here’s the point: This knee replacement is a nasty operation…the details of which I will spare you because you don’t need nightmares. But just let me say you’re supposed to use a walker, or crutches, or a cane after it…which of course, I refuse to do.

I fully intend…in the very near future…to be ready to pounce like a puma when my Lady Wonder Wench wanders into the room wearing something she calls, “a little more comfortable.” If you’re not careful after an operation like that, the old rocking chair will get you. And that’s how you get old.

Old age sneaks up on you like a car’s windshield sneaks up on a bug. I’m not going there. Actually…my kids are now older than I feel like I should be. One way I’m going to maintain my membership in the Puma People of America is by avoiding hobble-hood. Which means…no more operations. If I develop a constant ringing in my ear, I’ll just get an un-listed ear. If my teeth turn yellow, I’ll just wear a brown shirt. If my other knee gives out, I’ll get a pogo stick.

Dick’s Details Quiz – All answers are in the current podcast.

1-    What should we call the first four Pilgrims who jumped off the Mayflower ?

2-    There are about 13,00 parts in a new car these days, except for _ _ _ _ _ _ s.

3-     Why do salmon die with smiles on their faces ?

Dick’s Details. They take your mind off your mind.

Everybody deals with getting older differently. There’s a story about that in the Night Connections personal audio CD. It’s called The Aging Wild Child.  I’ll bet the smile on her face when she heard his key in the door was matched only by the smile on his face when he walked in.

The Aging Wild Child is from the Night Connections personal audio CD. If you like it you can just keep the podcast.  Or if you want a fresh copy, just go back to the home page, and download it from the night Connections icon.

Those of us who are members of the Louie-Louie Generation have to adjust to different times. You can see it in bars. In our day, a woman would walk in, pull out a cigarette, and pretend she needed a match, and 6 guys would pounce on her with cigarette lighters. But times have changed. Now, smoking in a bar is looked on very much like picking your nose in a bar was in the our days. So we need a new ritual. My Lady Wonder Wench always lets me open the apple sauce jar for her. She could do it, but she knows it makes me feel like the pushup…person from long ago.

So how about a girl brings a jar of apple sauce with her to the bar. Then guys could start a conversation by asking if they could open it for her. Hmmm…I see you like apple sauce. I do too. Especially the lumpy kind. I am a member of the Puma People of America my dear. Would you like to drop in to my place to see my collection of handprints on the floor ?

Never Trust Anybody Over 30

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

I’m so comfortable sitting here in my big, black leather pappa chair in my living room, that it feels like I’ve always had a big, comfortable pappa chair. Which of course is not true. I grew up when one of the big slogans was, “Never trust anybody over the age of 30.” Now I hardly know anybody under the age of 30.

 Have you ever noticed that the older you get, the older “old” is ? I figure, the bad news is that your life just…flies by. The good news is that you can be the pilot. You learn stuff as you go along. Like the best things in life aren’t things. And everything you do that’s wonderful, you’ll catch hell for. And cookies you eat over the sink have no calories. And putting a red bulb in your bedroom light makes your wrinkles disappear.

 I mostly like being a member of the Louie-Louie generation. That’s because I still have some twinkles in my wrinkles. Wrinkled was not one of the things I wanted to become when I grew up. But it’s ok, because I still have several moving parts, which my Lady Wonder Wench helps me exercise on a reasonably regular basis.

 Louie-Louie Generation guys and girls have a big advantage in figuring things out…it’s called been there, done that. We know, for example, that one size doesn’t fit…ANY. A distant relative has not died and left us a fortune and all we have to do to get it is send our social security number to an internet guy in Nigeria, and tears get you sympathy, but sweat gets you results.

 But Big Louie, his own bad self, the Chief Mustard Cutter of the Louie-Louie Generation wants us to keep things in perspective. He always says, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know…very much.” And he’s right. I don’t know the answers to many important questions. How big is the universe. Where did my six pack of abs go. What is the absolute limit of how horny I can get.

 But you will be proud of me, because I am beginning to understand a little bit about computers. For example, it is never a good idea to let a computer know you’re in a hurry. You get a little screen that says, “We are downloading 65 absolutely vital updates. Do not turn off your computer…or else.” And I figured out how a computer can answer in a few seconds, mathematical questions that would take you millions of years to work out. You know how they do that? They make the answers up. That’s how. They know you’re not going to take a million years to check them out.

 Dick’s Details Quiz. All answers are in this week’s podcast.

1-    What makes American Airlines spend about $10,000 on certain women ?

2-    What happened to American women’s underwear in 1851 ?

3-    What can the smart guys in white coats tell us about nasty suckers ?

Dick’s details. They take your mind off your mind.

You’re simply not allowed to sit in a big, comfortable black leather pappa chair in your living room, until you can do a reasonably good imitation of being a grown up. But you’ve got to be careful of that. There’s a story in the lovin touch personal audio cd about the dangers of growing up. It’s called Growing Up.

 Women have to grow up. Because they take care of us. But the best women keep a little girl safely tucked away somewhere inside, and they let her out to play with us sometimes. If you like “Growing Up.” you can just keep the podcast. Or if you want a fresh copy, just go back to the home page ( ) and download if from the Bedtime Stories icon.

 Things are kinda loosey goosie when you’re a kid playing street stickball. You can get away with making lots of stuff up as you go along. But if you grow up, and make it to the major leagues, there are umpires who make you play it strictly according to the rules. But you’ve learned that one of the rules, is there are times when you have to have the guts to break the rules.

 It’s not all cut and dried. There are some things about being a Louie-Louie Generation guy that cut two ways. Pretty women will flirt with you. And that’s nice. But the reason they’ll flirt with you is that they feel safe doing it. I’d like them to think there’s at least a little danger still lurking in the beast. I sometimes find myself standing in the middle of a room asking myself why I walked in here. Forgetting most things is annoying. But there are some things in my life that I don’t mind forgetting. When I was a kid, my hair was blonde. Most of the kids I knew had blonde hair a long time ago. Then my hair turned brown. Now it’s almost all gray. And sometimes I remember a couple of kids I knew when our hair was blonde, who put on uniforms…and never made it past their brown hair days. So I’m not complaining.

 I carry a picture of my Lady Wonder Wench and me that was taken at a beach a long time ago. That doesn’t make me feel old. It makes me feel lucky. The thing I hate is that I have to put on my glasses to see it clearly.

 All in all…I’m really happy and comfortable talking to you as I’m sitting here in my big comfortable black leather pappa chair. I hope you’re happy and comfortable too.

Our Most Powerful Secret Weapon

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Things go bump in the night…you get scared when the floor creeks, or some dog starts barking down the street, and your aches and pains, both physical and emotional always hurt the most at night. I always liked being on the air at night, because I like being a voice that can tell you a story, make you smile a little, help you feel safe at night. It’s like guys on a team pick eachother up.

I just finished talking to an old friend. He’s scared tonight. And angry. Those two things go together. He’s scared and angry because he’s buying the message of the Fearful Fringe. He is fully expecting Armageddon, The Collapse of the American Way, and a sky full of Black Helicopters by next Thursday at the latest. The Fearful Fringe see boogie men everywhere. And the all news channels just love them, because rule number one of the news business is, “If it bleeds, it leads.” And the Fearful Fringe bleed in buckets. I call them the Fearful Fringe, because they’re scared, and I think they live just around the edges of the America I live in. You see, I think we have a secret weapon. Let me explain.

I’m from Brooklyn, and my Lady Wonder Wench is from Boston. We both love baseball. We were at a ball game in a minor league park a while ago, when the P.A. Announcer asked everyone to “Stand and honor America as 8 year old Raquel (Somebody) sings our national anthem.” I don’t remember her last name. I wish I did. She walked out behind home plate and stood in front of 6,000 people in all her 4 foot something, maybe 90 pounds worth of little girl splendor. She was probably the only person in the stadium wearing a dress. Pink, I think, with a little bow on top.

Lady Wonder Wench and I stood up, put our hot dogs on our seats, and our hands over our hearts. Little Raquel took a deep breath, and started to sing…

“Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,” It was a little girl’s voice…but with just a hint that in a few years, it might sound a bit like Whitney Houston…but not yet.

“What so proudly we hail, at the twilight’s last gleaming.” I started thinking about how proud my Lady Wonder Wench and I are of our two little girls…grown up women now…with their own kids.

“Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, were so gallantly streaming”… The old guy in the row in front of me had one arm around his wife, and his other hand was holding a very ancient baseball cap over his heart. “U.S. ARMY” it said on the cap…probably circa World War 2. He stood as straight and tall and proud as my dad used to stand.

“And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air”… The old guy began singing along with Raquel…very quietly and a little off key…but singing. And Wonder Wench started singing along with him…singing and crying…and I knew she was thinking about her brother Bob. His simple white cross stands in the sand behind Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod.

“Gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there”…More and more of the people around us started singing…very quietly and a little off key…but singing…together.

“Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave”… All of us were singing now. Very quietly and a little off key…but singing. All of us. All around the field.

“O’er the land of the free”…Even I was singing. Quietly. Off key, I guess. But singing…and thinking about my Uncle Joe the World War 2 B-17 navigator, and my brother Geoff who did a second US Army tour in Vietnam because he knew the experience he got the first time around would save a couple of buddies. He was right. It cost him a chunk of his leg…but he never talks about his Purple Heart and his Bronze Star.

“And the home of the brave.” We all sang it together…quietly…a little off key…. Little Raquel, my Lady Wonder Wench, me with my jacket that says BROOKLYN across the front, and about 6,000 other people who just came to enjoy a baseball game together.

It wasn’t a huge majestic sound. It was really kind of quiet…and a little off key. But it was…all of us…together. I don’t think any of us expected that.

There was an almost embarrassed moment of stunned silence. Then someone in the bleachers cut loose with one of those long, loud, two fingers between the teeth whistles, and the place exploded with applause, and laughs… more than a few tears…and so much pride. So much pride we felt at that moment…together. It was exactly what it says on the money. E Pluribus Unum. Out of many…one.  Teamwork. That’s our secret weapon.

That’s more than just a slogan on our money. Out of many, one. Teamwork. That’s what makes us unique. That’s what makes us so powerful. That’s what makes us able to do things no other nation could possibly accomplish. Listen !

No nation has ever done what we do…on the scale that we’re doing it. No country anywhere near our size, with our power, our wealth, our thrust…has ever been governed by its own people. There have been kings, and dictators, who have successfully ruled over their people. But here…we are our own rulers. We are an experiment in progress. And I think the Fearful Fringe has no idea of how powerful our possibilities are. The only thing that can stop us…the only thing that can steal our unique power is…fear. And those of us who are fearful are making lots of noise, but they’re living on the fringe. And there was proof of that at the same ball game.  

 A little guy by the name of Tyler threw out the first pitch. Tyler looked like about six years old. He had a little league uniform, a fiercely determined look on his face, and he threw from a full wind up. And he threw a strike. And the crowd gave him a big cheer. Then the announcer mentioned that Tyler was a representative of the Make A Wish Foundation. And the crowd was quiet for a moment, and then they went nuts. You see, The Make A Wish Foundation is devoted to helping to make at least one wish come true for kids…like little Tyler…who are probably going to die. Soon. But little Tyler had only one thing on his mind.  He went out there, and threw his strike. He didn’t let the fact that he wasn’t going to throw many more of them stop him. He just rared back and fired his pitch. That’s what made America. That’s what we’re made of. That…and our secret weapon…team work… E Pluribus Unum.

Things go bump in the night…you get scared when the floor creeks, or some dog starts barking down the street, and your aches and pains, both physical and emotional always hurt the most at night. I always liked being on the air at night, because I like being a voice that can tell you a story, make you smile a little, help you feel safe at night. You’re not alone.

That song we sang together just before the baseball game…the one about the bright stars and the broad stripes, and the perilous night ends with a question to which I think Francis Scott Key really wished he knew the answer all those years ago. “Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”

The answer is yes. Oh yes. I guess it’s hard to see from the fearful fringes. But for the rest of us in the ball park that night, singing together, and watching little Tyler throw his strike, those stars will always shine their light…and those broad stripes will wave with pride and power…in every dawn’s early light.

That’s who we are. All of us. Together. The most powerful force on the face of the earth. We can do whatever we set our minds and our hearts on doing. So…maybe we’re looking at doing things that other nations haven’t been able to do. So what ? We have our unique secret source of power. Our own secret weapon. 

No other nation has what we have. None. There are other nations with courage. But we can, and will, do the things they tried, and failed to do…as long as we don’t let the Fearful Fringe split us up…make us forget our secret weapon…our teamwork. Our E Pluribus Unum,