Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio is the premier website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and new-to-you releases. Pure Pop Radio plays the greatest melodic pop in the universe 24 hours a day.
With just two days to go before Record Store Day 2015 commences at your local, independent record store, it’s time to get down to it and, well, confess: Turntables? I’ve had a few.
This week, I’ve been looking back to some of the reasons why I fell in love with records, and how that love has fueled my ongoing obsession with the 12-inch vinyl wonders of the world. Today, I find myself waxing nostalgic about some of the turntables I’ve had in my life. Turntables that have been pushed to their limits. Turntables that were able to play records at 78 rpm, which came in handy when listening to Moby Grape’s “Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot,” a track on the group’s 1968 Wow album that played at 78 rpm. Turntables on which you could set the speed between the actual speed settings so you would be able to rock Beatles records back and forth to uncover clues to Paul McCartney’s death. Turntables like that.
The Garrard 40B
The Garrard 40B was an entry level, three-speed turntable that seemed, for a time, at least, to be the go-to model for kids in my Long Island neighborhood. It seemed as though every kid had one. We played our 45s and our LPs on this gateway to the world of music that we were constantly discovering. It took a licking and kept on ticking. It was a reliable performer that did the trick time and again. It was what we had for a time, and we loved it.
Not the Symphonic model described below
Then there was an all-in-one model by Symphonic (not the one depicted above, but sort-of similar) that had built-in speakers on either side of the turntable, which folded out to the front. Maneuvering the speed lever between settings, you could rock a record back and forth, slowly but surely, when trying to discover the various audio clues that proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Paul McCartney was dead. This was a handy (not official) feature, allowing my friends and I to go deep inside The Beatles, aka the White Album. Backwards clues? No problem. Not surprisingly, I fried one of these units doing the rocking thing. Thankfully, my father was tolerant and understanding when it came to me asking–begging–him to buy me another one. Good times.
The Stanton STR8-20
The ION ITTUSB
Today, I can use any of three turntables to play my records. The Stanton STR8-20 is the top model in my main rack; the ION ITTUSB allows me to record needle drops on my main computer. But the Peanuts Crosley Cruiser, purchased on Record Store Day 2014, is the official turntable of Pure Pop Radio. I mean, just look at it:
The Peanuts Crosley Cruiser
Today, as was the case yesterday and the yesterday before, there is no activity finer than bringing the needle down on a great record, getting the volume just right (pumping for the driving stuff and not-so-pumping for softer sounds), and plopping down on the couch–comfort is key–for an immersive listening experience. Holding the cover–taking in the majesty of the art, reading the credits (“Oh look, it’s Robben Ford on guitar!”), and checking out the inner sleeve–is beyond important. And singing along? Well, naturally.
Tomorrow, I bring this week of vinyl memories to a soft landing, just in time for Record Store Day 2015 to greet your Saturday. What joy!
– Alan Haber
Trax 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.
The Peanuts Crosley Cruiser is the official turntable of Pure Pop Radio.
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?”
The 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.
The 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.
I 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.
And 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.
“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.