Pure Pop Radio’s Countdown to Record Store Day 2015: Friday. Tomorrow’s the Day.

record-store-day-2015-smallAll this week, I’ve been musing about the effect that vinyl records have had on me since childhood. I’ve written about some prized finds, my mission to complete my collection of the Warner Brothers Loss Leaders series, turntables I’ve known and loved and lost and gained, and now, the day before the big event that is Record Store Day 2015, I’ve saved the best for last.

everly-brothers-78At least, that’s how I see it. Come with me on a journey: My parents had lived through the 78 rpm album days; I remember discovering some discs, packaged as fat, heavy albums, on a shelf in the closet across from the laundry room in our house. I picked up one of the albums, thumbed through it, and decided it was too heavy to deal with! Later on, while working in radio in Delaware, my wife and I spent many weekends going to antique shops, where consoles incorporating radios and turntables could be had for relative cheap. I found an Everly Brothers 78 at a yard sale, I think, and paid around five dollars for it. It was all scratched up, but it was mine, a pretty nice collectible. You could hear the thick needle crash against the surface gashes as it played. But, still. Look what it was; it was the Everly Brothers trying to sing “Wake Up Little Susie” from the grooves of a disc that was succumbing to the weight of a strong tide of mishandling through the years. But, still.

At a junk shop or somewhere similar, we found a lovely turntable that played only 78s. It was housed in a beautifully-constructed all-wood case rising above four thick yet spindly legs, carved in a fluid pattern by a visionary craftsman who was clearly inspired to do good work, even great work. The legs reminded me of my father, who built a blonde wood television case with all sorts of patterned cuts and raised effects on the sliding doors. My father was very proud of his work; the cabinet had pride of place in our den for many years.

And so it was with the case that housed the 78 turntable. The person, or persons, who built the case clearly were taking their time and worked from inspiration, not perspiration. The artists whose voices and playing sprung from the discs had the same idea–their mission was to create their art and pass it on to the masses, a decent proportion of which might enjoy what they’d done.

records-bobby-darin-45When I was a boy, 78s had run their course; my generation would have nothing to do with them. For my friends and I and all of the other pint-sized, striped t-shirted boys and proper girls wearing cute dresses, for whom music and records were king, 45s, presenting a- and b-sides, around four-and-a-half minutes long total, and LPs by our favorite artists were our currency. We played them over and over and over again at home, brought them to parties with our portable turntables with tinny sound and brightly-decorated outsides, brought them to school to play our favorite songs during Show and Tell, and just generally annoyed our parents with music they didn’t understand because they didn’t want to–because that was how the gap between parents and their children stayed rigid and in force.

Our currency was vinyl and those of us for whom vinyl was a way of life–more important than school, church or state, or breakfast, lunch and dinner combined–made early determinations of how we would spend our allowances and birthday gifts–always gift certificates, thank you very much–and rearranged the furniture in our rooms, picked out by our mothers, so that there was room to store our growing collections. First there was one, then two, then 10, then more 45s and a couple of albums here and there, and then a flood of them when we joined the Columbia Record Club and quit the club and then joined it again, and then 10 or more used 45s picked up at a yard sale for a nickel or a dime apiece, and then, well, and then we were off to the races, us kids who were collectors and didn’t really know it. Yet.

records-the-beatles-lpThe seeds were planted. We talked about the latest records we got for birthday gifts or at holidays or just because when we accompanied our parents to the department store and, ooh, look there, it’s the new Beatles album! We had a lot of relatives–more than we knew we had, to be honest, and we trained all of them to buy us records for gifts–not shirts or socks or pants or hats or combs or shoes or shiny new pencils for school. “Can you get me the new Elton John album?” It was a lot of that–planting more seeds…making sure the relatives and the parents knew where we stood.

We lived through the 8-track years, a shaky period of music delivery for kids back in our day; my aunt bought me the Beatles’ Let It Be album for a holiday present and I hated everything about it, because it wasn’t a record. What was that thing? It made a loud noise–a kind of click! when it got to the end of a program, and sometimes a song was too long and had to be faded out and faded up after the click! brought you to the next program. Ruined the flow, man. Ruined the flow!

duane-readeThose of us who were well under vinyl’s spell spent every last penny we had on records that were from our favorite artists, from artists we heard about from friends, from cousins, from anywhere, really. I worked for my father at his law practice on lower Broadway in Manhattan when I was a kid and spent every penny he gave me at the end of each week on records in a long bin at the front of the Duane Reade drug store across the street from his office. “If you spend your money on records every week, you won’t have any left and you’ll have to wait until next week to get more.” More records? Yes, that was fine with me.

After a while, and after the seasons changed and winter became spring and spring became summer and other obsessions took root, like comic books and stamps and tropical fish and CB radio and picture taking with my Polaroid Swinger camera and then, later on, video games and video tapes and video discs and laser discs and on and on and on, records still ruled the roost. Records were still the number one obsession. Nothing could compete with the hunt. And the hunt only took on more prominence in my life when I got my drivers license and began to map out routes to used record stores, both prominent and underground in nature, which is when I got turned on to the Warner Brothers Loss Leaders series and vowed to never rest until every release in that series was procured.

records-hundredsWhen I started college, I had hundreds of albums, which I lugged to school and lugged home before vacations and holidays and then lugged them back to school again. After graduation, I had many hundreds more, which I lugged to Delaware. The many hundreds more became many hundreds more than that, and then there were thousands and it never stopped.

Owing to the passing years and shrinking storage space and the emergence of new formats and just the ides of March, May, July and October, and then some, the thousands became many hundreds and the many hundreds became a few hundreds and the number of 45s and LPs hit their new water level. But now, with the resurgence of vinyl and a newly-christened, growing interest in spinning vinyl more prominently again, and the emergence of Record Store Day as a way to celebrate the joy of listening to and collecting 45s and LPs, the future is once again so bright I may well have to wear…well, you know.

records-record-store-dayWhich brings us back to the tomorrow of it all–Record Store Day 2015 and all of the joy that it brings, from special releases to the camaraderie amongst music fans and vinyl collectors and music fans who are vinyl collectors, who all gather in their local, independent record stores and confab with each other, touting records by artists the other guy may not have heard, spouting the phrase “Did you hear–” at least a few times during a quick conversation that often leads to a pile of records in hand on its way to the register and a conversation with the shop’s owner that begins with “Did you have fun today?” and moves on to “Did you find everything you were looking for?” and moves on further to “I see you’ve got this great album by the Kinks; have you heard anything by–” and it’s back to the stacks for you, young man or young woman, for another round of musical discovery.

Mine is a life defined by music and vinyl records and sharing my good fortune with others–the good fortune that allows me to discover great music and write about it and play it on the radio in an effort to spread the word in the only way I know how–through the joy of the act of having my life changed by a single song or a single artist or an actual single, a 45 rpm record, or its long playing cousin, the album, and then turning to someone and saying “Oh man, your life is about to be changed by this thing.” It really is as easy as that. And it really is as important as that.

Daily Planet ace photographer Janet Haber and Pure Pop Radio's Alan Haber

Daily Planet ace photographer Janet Haber and Pure Pop Radio’s Alan Haber

Record Store Day is a day to celebrate our joy. It is a way to share our joy. It is a day to just jump into it all and swirl around in it, like jumping in a huge pile of leaves in the colder fall months as a bonfire lights the night sky a couple of feet away from you. It’s like the leaves shoot up in the air and fall down on top of you and all around you, and it’s a lot like how music does that–how music makes the air around you come alive and changes your life, and it’s easy, really as easy as that. When music makes you happy, you’re happy–just look at the two crazy kids to the right!

Tomorrow, on Record Store Day 2015, remember your journey to this point and go into that shop and shake lots of hands and talk to a lot of people and smile, smile, smile, and pick up some new records and some old ones and take them home and place them carefully on your turntable and let the music become you.

For us music hounds, the best is yet to come.

– Alan Haber

Trax on Wax, Your Vinyl Destination in Catonsville, MarylandTrax on Wax, in Catonsville, Maryland, is the official record store of Pure Pop Radio. When in the Baltimore area, we recommend that you make Trax on Wax your number one vinyl destination. Visit Trax on Wax’s website by clicking here.

peanuts-cruiserThe Peanuts Crosley Cruiser is the official turntable of Pure Pop Radio.

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The Radio Life. “Road, Ho!” (Part One)

radio-1by Alan Haber

He’d made it look so effortless and somehow magical, but there really wasn’t much magic to it; the index and middle fingers on his right hand rose through the stuffy air in the boxy booth, sailing delicately through the muck until they pointed at the engineer on the other side of the glass. Sheets of paper littered the floor around him. A half-smoked cigarette stubbed carelessly in the ashtray to his left still smoldered silently. The hardly-adequate light from the overhead bulbs made the room seem sinister and silent.

“And that’s how it’s done,” he said, rising from his rickety chair. “You have any questions?” The engineer had left his perch behind the small, simple sound board. Had he even been there? The whole scene seemed somehow like a broadcasting mirage. The newscaster, dressed casually in a sports shirt and jeans, slid his coat from the back of his chair to the sure grip of his right hand. “I mean, that’s why you came, right? What did you think?”

tomatoThe newscaster’s process seemed somehow less than the sum of its parts. He had just delivered the latest live news report to ABC Radio affiliates in his commanding, dramatic, professional radio news voice, but there was no building to a crescendo–there was only the introduction to the quick, down and dirty national newscast, and then short, snappy synopses of the latest happenings of note. Bullet points, really. A digest of sorts. A short commercial recorded on a bulky radio station cartridge, sent on its way by the engineer, followed. A final story preceded the newscaster’s wrap-up, a light and perhaps quirky short and sweet little thing that could have been ripped from the Paul Harvey playbook–something about some man or woman in the mid-west who grew a tomato the size of a barn or lived past the golden age of 100 and could play checkers like nobody’s business. The beep-beep-beep of the underlying outcue played as a quick “This is ABC News” stinger sputtered and some commercials played and then nothing you could dance to came next. Silence, and nothing more than that, filled the room.

“So what did you think?” It was kind of a let down, I thought, overdressed in a suit and tie and spit-polished shoes, every hair on my head combed perfect and still. “It’s like a dream come true,” I heard myself say, but probably I was, in reality, less celebratory than that. “I thought it was fantastic. It’s very different hearing a newscast at home.” We walked toward the elevator bank, every step deliberate. “I’ll make a call for you and we’ll see what happens from there.” He shook my hand. “I’ll give your mother a jingle as soon as I know something.” He smiled. “Thanks for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.”

This was the big time and I knew it. I probably was just scared. The newscaster was married to a distant relative. My mother, knowing I wanted to be a big-time disc jockey who could spin the platters that matter, made a phone call. The distant relative, surprised to hear from someone in her extended family who never called, said she’d ask her husband if it was okay if I came to ABC Network’s studios in Manhattan and watched him do his thing. The husband said sure. With the shadow of Lincoln Center behind me, I walked a short distance to see how it was done. How the magic happened. I was relieved to discover that you didn’t have to wear a tie to be a magician.

*****

radio-towerThe newscaster had worked, at the beginning of his career, at a tiny radio station in Dover, Delaware, the state that was once characterized on Saturday Night Live as the length of road you passed through on your way to Florida. WKEN-AM had once been a thriving, local top-40 outlet, but changed to a strange amalgam of tired middle-of-the-road vocal and instrumental sides and gospel cuts. All of the records in the music library, such as it was, were scratched and sounded horrible on the air. Even in this pre-CD era, it was hard to imagine a collection of music that had been kept in such poor shape.

The building in which the station operated couldn’t have been a less inviting structure, but it was what it was and it was radio of a sort and it was all very exciting. The newscaster from ABC News arranged for me to go to WKEN and meet with Stu Wayne, the station’s president and head of everything that was holy. I remember my mother trying to set up a flight for me so I could see what kind of prospects WKEN held in its hip pocket, but there were no flights. There was no airport to fly into–at least no commercial airport. So I drove from Long Island to Dover, past so many empty fields and scenery that seemed to blend into one hazy vision, on my way to become a big-time radio disc jockey. I might have to deliver the news, but my main thing would be spinning happening tunes.

deliI had wanted to be on the radio in the worst way, but I was willing to settle for a life on Long Island, where my life’s progress was suffocating and draining. If I had to. But first, there were some soul-sucking detours. Right out of college, I worked in the deli department at the local Waldbaum’s supermarket which was located a couple of blocks away from where I lived. The deli manager, a wide and irritable man with an eternal stain on his weathered, white smock, taught his employees to cut meat that was past its shelf date–meat that had the smell of death about it–and place it under a few slices of fresher product, hoping that shoppers wouldn’t notice. But they always did. The manager let the kids working for him in his department take the heat, ensuring that he would never get in trouble. And, in fact, he didn’t–he was one of the top-grossing deli managers in the Waldbaum’s chain.

From Waldbaums, I went to work at a rather shady company that sold chemical products to police chiefs, fire chiefs, golf pros and various other people in charge. I used a fake name and delivered prepared pitches to people who didn’t want to hear them. Ostensibly, one hour was for selling and the next for writing up orders. But we never got many orders because the products we sold didn’t really work and we never sounded all that convincing. “Need to get rid of graffiti on stop signs in your town? We’ve got the spray for that!” Because we never had many sales, we used our alternate hours to make prank phone calls to information operators all over the country. We’d ask the operators to look up numbers for people with last names you couldn’t spell if your life depended on it. “May I have the number for Herman Meccccchhhhhellllllll?” We used fake accents and were highly amused at our inventiveness working in a highly, mentally toxic environment. It was a horrible job. I got fired for being a poor employee. I was relieved.

car-and-roadAnd then WKEN came into my life. I took, and passed by the skin of my filling-filled teeth, the Federal Communications Commission’s third class license test at their office in downtown Manhattan, went home, packed a bag or two, and headed off toward Dover, Delaware. I was secure in knowing that, should I not get a job at the station, I already had one at a specialty publishing company on Long Island. I had interviewed a few days earlier and they hired me to be a first reader on the morning of the first day of the rest of my life. The drive to Dover was long and tiring (I wasn’t then, and I’m not now, fond of driving long distances, especially by myself). When I finally made it to Delaware’s state capitol, I was amazed to find that it didn’t much look like a seat of power. It looked more like the town of Mayberry, with even fewer cars and no Barney Fife.

I rolled into town hungry and just about out of gas. The first stop I made, before going to my motel, was at the local Arby’s. I parked my white AMC Gremlin in the parking lot and went in. A nice roast beef sandwich will do me good, I thought. I was greeted by a pretty young girl with a smile on her face.

arbys“Welcome to Arby’s,” she said. I gave her my order. She collected my sandwich and side and drink. “So you’re from New York, huh?” I laughed. “How did you know?” The girl had one of those looks that said it all, a look that frankly set the stage for the adventure that was about to change my life, for better or worse.

“Saw your license plate.”

(To be continued…)

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Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes