We recently found this hifi in a local thrift shop, and after a little cleanup it now sits in our living room.

It definitely has the Mad Men-era design, which we think is a pretty cool look.

Click here to read more about it at joesradiopage.com.

This is the Revere Eight 8mm movie camera my dad used since the 1950s to capture our family events. It’s because of this that all my childhood memories look like The Wonder Years.

He gave me this camera a few years ago, and I hope to one day get it working again.

Here’s an early Christmas present for all of you: a pair of archive files that each contain 90 minutes of somewhat innocuous holiday music.  The real bonus, though, is hidden in the recordings:  between the usual bits of Nat King Cole, Kenny G, and 101 Strings are little snippets of Chicago media history.

These are recordings of two Chicago radio stations’ nonstop Christmas music programming, recorded on Christmas Eves in 1984 and 1988.    In those days, some radio stations would put their normal programming on hold on December 24 and play holiday music through to the evening of the 25th.  This way you’d have a nice musical background to whatever festivities you had going on.  (This contrasts with the more recent approach of going all-holiday the week after Halloween.)

While digging around the house for holiday music, I found a cache of cassettes that contained all sorts of fun that I pulled from the air over the years.  The two 90-minute programs attached below are from WLOO (FM100) recorded in 1984, and WNUA in 1988.   

FM100 was the primary Beautiful Music station in Chicago (under its various ownerships) from the early 1950s through the late 1980s, and their format consisted of soft instrumental versions of pop songs with the occasional light vocal.  The attached recording is very typical of what FM100 sounded like– just replace the Christmas tunes with non-holiday songs by the same artists.  You’ll also hear a couple of weather forecasts, and learn how it was a very cold night that Christmas Eve.

WNUA was a Smooth Jazz station from the late 1980s through the late 2000s.  It’s not coincidental that FM100′s demise came around the time of WNUA’s rise: they both served the purpose of providing background music.  Beautiful Music formats were being dropped all over the country at that time, and WNUA’s brand of ”Smooth Rock, Smooth Jazz” was just a little more hip and rhythmic (and less sleep-inducing).   The recording presented here isn’t quite representative of the typical WNUA broadcast day: they went a lot softer here, plus they interspersed audio snippets by on- and off-air staff and their families.  They also included station jingles that sound like ringing bells, with a little “hourly chime” effect at the top of each hour. You still get Kenny G, though.

Just download each file, unzip, and load the resulting MP3s into your favorite music player.  There are two MP3s in each archive.

Click on the WNUA logo to download the archive of the 12/24/1988 Christmas recording:

Click on the FM100 logo to download the archive of the 12/24/1984 WLOO Christmas recording:

(FM100 image from the Radio Timeline at Zecom Communications.)

Download and enjoy– and maybe you’ll blow the mind of someone who actually remembers these stations.

Happy Holidays!

As Lisa and I were preparing to head to Frankfort, IN for her family’s annual Apple Butter Festival, I ran across my dad’s Kodak Retina IIa camera and a roll of expired (probably purchased in 2003) Fuji 400 ASA color film.   I tossed them in my bag, figuring if there were ever an event that merited using an antique camera, this was it.

The Retina IIa was made in Germany in the early 1950s.  My dad picked the camera up in Japan during his stint in the Korean war.   When I first started taking pictures, I used this camera– a lot– between 1976-1982, and then I came into a Pentax K1000, which was like the Space Shuttle compared to the IIa.  Here’s a nice piece about the Retina IIa from a blogger in Vermont.

Here are the results of my experiment; I did some minimal fixing (cropping, resizing, etc) using Photoshop but the sharpness and detail is purely the product of the IIa.  Most of the shots were taken at 1/500 or 1/250 at f/18.

This makes me want to see what I else I can accomplish with this camera.

In the summer of 1979, a song called “Hey St Peter” climbed into the pop charts. It had a unique, new wave sound with lyrics spoken in a tinny voice, a driving beat, and a catchy hook. I remember thinking at the time this was what would happen if Dire Straits got together with The Cars, The Police, and The Buggles. “Hey St Peter” was the product of a pair of Australian minds who called their project Flash and the Pan.
Flash and the Pan seemed to come out of nowhere, but its principals, Harry Vanda and George Young, had been around the pop music scene since the early 1960s when they released the international hit “Friday On My Mind” with their earlier group, The Easybeats. Years later, they produced the early albums for AC/DC, which happened to include George’s younger brothers Angus and Malcolm. They also wrote and produced the international soft-rock hit “Love is in the Air” for John Paul Young (no relation to George) in 1978.
The first Flash and the Pan album (pictured above with its US and Australian covers) contained 10 songs, all done in the same synthesizer-heavy style with deadpan vocals. The songs range from poppy “Hey St Peter” and “Man in the Middle” to brooding and almost sinister with “First and Last” and “Walking in the Rain.”
A standout on the album is the song “Down Among The Dead Men,” which tells the story of the Titanic, complete with Morse Code being tapped out over the closing moments of the song. Lyrics are on the next page.
The 1980 followup album Lights in the Night continued in the style of the original, but didn’t spawn any top 10 hits. The LP cover is interesting, though: it appears to be mostly black until you look closely and see that the cover from the 1979 US issue of the first Flash and the Pan album lurks underneath the black ink, revealed through a “scratch” in the Lights cover art.
Not much else was heard from Flash and the Pan in the US after that, although they did score a hit in Europe in 1983 with the song “Waiting for a Train,” which has been described as sounding like “New York white guys did the backing track for Timmy Thomas’ ‘Why Can’t We Live Together?’”
If you want to explore a lesser-known piece of 80s musical culture, check out this band.

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Tonight, Lisa and I watched the 1978 movie FM on VH-1 Classic.
This is a time capsule of the late 1970s, complete with feathered hair on the guys, perms on the women, and a plotline about Sticking It To The Man, ‘Cause He Just Doesn’t Get It.
The movie centers around the operations at a Los Angeles radio station, QSKY. The station’s owners send a new salesman to LA to goose up their ad revenues, and QSKY’s management and air staff are resistant to their evil, capitalistic ways. After refusing to air some ads for the Army, station manager Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon) quits and there’s a fan-and-DJ revolt, resulting in the station going under siege.
If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because the TV series WKRP in Cincinnati was written around the same basic premise. Supposedly, the movie and TV show had nothing to do with each other– the WKRP pilot was shot before FM was released. Interesting coincidence, though. (The “station under siege” device was also used in the 1994 movie Airheads.)
Martin Mull was early in his career when he played a DJ in the cast of FM; his character is simply an extension of the “Barth Gimble” character he played on Fernwood/America 2-Night. Eileen Brennan plays “Mother,” a 40-something evening DJ, and Cleavon Little plays the overnight DJ, Venus Flytrap “The Prince of Darkness” (sorry, there’s that ‘KRP influence again).
The movie also features cameos by REO Speedwagon, Tom Petty, Jimmy Buffett (looking like he’s around age 20), and a soundtrack that you could program any soft-rock station by, although I put nearly every track here on the Songs-I’ll-Never-Need-To-Hear-Ever-Again-As-Long-As-I-Live list. I get the impression that many people are unaware that the Steely Dan song “FM” was actually written as the title track for this movie.
(As an aside, it’s worth pointing out the soundtrack’s album cover was designed by John Kosh, the guy responsible for drawing about 90% of the album covers released in the late 70s and early 80s.)
The movie itself is passable; I don’t recommend going out of your way to view it unless you want to see what life was like in 1978. That said…
Those of you who know me may recall that I had a bit of an infatuation with Linda Ronstadt around this time. FM features a concert performance by Ms. Ronstadt, which was enough to get me into the theatre and sit through this thing. She sings a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice” that pretty much makes up for everything we had to watch on the screen up to that point.
I saw the movie in the theatre when it opened in April of 1978. When I went back a week later, it had already closed. It would occasionally pop up on cable and eventually came out on DVD, but by then it was already terribly dated with one exception: the whole story line about turning radio into something focused entirely on profit turned out to be spot-on.
It’s quite a little time capsule, though.

25 years ago this Friday night, I programmed my parents’ VCR to record the first hour of a television show that ran overnight on WFLD-TV channel 32.
It wasn’t so much a “show” as it was a “service.” Nite-Owl was the in-the-clear broadcast of a videotext service called Keyfax. I wrote about Keyfax/Nite-Owl in a blog posting in September of 2004.
Sometime in the early 1990s, I made a copy of this tape for someone on the Usenet newsgroups, and about two years ago I heard from a guy who saw that last blog posting and wanted to know if I was, in fact, the originator of a tape of which he’d received a copy. I was.
The person who emailed me was a guy named Rick who runs a page on YouTube called Fuzzy Memories. I sent him a clean DVD transcription of the Nite-Owl tape and he digitized it for the YouTube Generation. You can check out the real thing by clicking here. The videos have been viewed thousands of times and based on the comments on the site, many people remember the show, too.
I never could have imagined on that Tuesday night 25 years ago that what I recorded just for grins would be out there being viewed by thousands all over the world.

Aug 072007

This past weekend, Lisa and I stopped at a nearby garage sale. These people had a ton of stuff, including one of those Coleman screened-in things– you know, the ones that look like a tent only it’s all screen. (It was a steal at $45, but we passed anyway.)
At one point, Lisa looked down and saw a dirty, cat-hair coated broken Project/One speaker grille with a bunch of buttons on it. “This looks like your generation right here,” she said.
She was right. There were about two dozen buttons pinned to the grille, mostly from bands from the early 1980s. The photo above shows about half of them.
I tossed the grille and now I’m in the middle of cleaning up the buttons, but here’s what’s on the buttons shown in the photo above:
- A Two-Tone guy playing a trombone
- John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Uh-Huh”
- “I ♥ California” and ‘I ♥ McDonald’s”
- An original “Loop” button from the Chicago classic rock station
- Billy Idol
- B-52s “Rock Lobster”
- a Rolling Stones “She’s So Cold” button
- Elvis
- Joe Jackson, from his Night and Day album
- Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (representing solid family values)
- Bow Wow Wow cassette logo
- Pretenders
- Talking Heads’ Remain in Light
- Mick Jagger
- David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane
- Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ Damn The Torpedoes
- The Three Stooges
My thought was that maybe the original owner of these buttons worked at Bennigan’s and this was part of his/her “flair.”
Maybe I should put these up on eBay, or perhaps I should dig out my own collection and combine these with my Sugarcubes, XTC, and Stiff Records buttons.
Ah, those were the days.

Jul 192007

I admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for pop music– good pop music. It probably stems from growing up listening to my older siblings’ Beatles records as well as the stuff we used to hear on WLS and WCFL.

In the summer of 1979, there was a two-page ad in Billboard magazine for a UK-based music label which had finally struck a major distribution deal with a huge American company. (2/9/2012 update: through the miracle of Google Books, here’s the actual ad.) The ad talked about the history of the label, and how its sole reason for existence was for its owner to spend his huge inheritance as quickly as possible. The ad also had descriptions of the label’s four six initial releases under the new joint venture.

The label was Virgin Records. One of the releases was a self-titled album called The Records. The description in the ad described a guitar-based pop band who were destined for great things.

Okay, it was an ad. They’re allowed to say that kind of thing.

I picked up a copy of The Records based solely on the description of the ad and the sale price of $4.99 at my local Laury’s Records store in Des Plaines, Illinois. It was, and still is, one of the best $5 purchases I’ve ever made. The album contained some of the most catchy, hook-laden, and jangly (pre-dating even REM) power pop tunes I’d ever heard. For weeks, this was what you’d hear coming from my bedroom or ’74 VW Super Beetle.

The album featured the band’s biggest hit, “Starry Eyes,” which made the Billboard Hot 100 (lyrics on the next page). The better retro-80s radio shows usually play this song, so you may have heard it. Their second, less-big hit from the album was a song called “Teenarama.”

The Records was a “US-ified” version of the band’s original UK album, Shades in Bed. (US Record companies used to do this: they’d take a UK release and re-order the songs and change versions for release in the US market.) A few months after buying The Records a local shop (Record City in Skokie, where I spent many many hours and a lot of money) had an import of Shades in Bed, so I got to hear the album in its original form.

The Records also released a few EPs, including am infectious cover of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Letter.” In fact, they recorded that song twice, with two different producers– one being Mutt Lange (that’s “Mr. Shania Twain” to you).

In the summer of 1980, the band released its followup, Crashes (shown above). There had been a couple of personnel changes and the band didn’t repeat the chart success of their first time out, but the new album retained its power-pop sound. They even toured the US that year, and I got to see them at Chicagofest in August of 1980.

Band founder John Wicks still performs and records with a new version of The Records, and his web site is here. You can also check out the band’s Wikipedia page here. Cofounder/drummer Will Birch has a web site at this link and has written a book about the 1970s Pub Rock scene called No Sleep Till Canvey Island which is currently on my wish list.

On the next page, you’ll find the lyrics to two of my favorite Records tracks: “Hearts in Her Eyes” from Crash, and “Starry Eyes.”

(Side note: One of the other albums in the ad was XTC’s Drums and Wires. Updated 2/8/2012: my memory failed me when I originally wrote this: no XTC in the ad.)

(Another side note: I started writing this posting on June 17, 2005. It’s about time I got around to finishing it. :-)

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Last week, I hooked up my cassette deck and ripped MP3s from some of my old tapes that have been tucked away for a while. You can see the results if you click on “What’s Playing on jtl’s iPod?” in the column on the right. I didn’t realize I had a lot of this stuff…
Probably the best find I’ve had so far is under the playlist called “12 Tracks From 525 Lines.” This was a tape I started once I got my first HiFi VCR (a Mitsubishi HS-U50, for you video geeks in the crowd), where I would record musical acts on TV and transfer them to audio cassette with pretty sweet results.
Many of the songs were recorded from the late, lamented NBC’s Sunday Night, hosted by Jools Holland and David Sanborn, which begat Night Music, hosted only by Sanborn. These shows ran from 1988 to 1990. This show was awesome: it featured many different acts, from Dr. John to Branford Marsalis to Leonard Cohen, all playing with the house band, led by the host(s) of the show. This was the first place I heard Debbie Harry’s version of “Calmarie,” a haunting Brazilian number written by Nana Vasconselos. They also gave airtime to one of the most underrated bands of all time, the latin/jazz/funk/art rock/you-figure-it-out fusion band Ambitious Lovers. Hearing their performances of “Copy Me” and “Admit It” drove me to the record store the next day to buy the LP. (I managed to get a copy of the CD from someone on eBay last year.)
Technically, the process went okay. I used my desktop PC with Cool Edit 2000 (which later became the bloated Adobe Audition) to bring the tracks over, and it worked okay despite some problems with the audio inputs on my computer, primarily with levels.
I decided during the week to pick up a Griffin iMic which connects through the USB port. I hooked it up to my PC and did some more transfers this weekend, and at first pass it seems to work pretty well. I’ve not been able to get it to work with my iBook, though, so there’s a little more work in store.
One track that I’ve wanted for a long time on MP3 is Third World’s “Try Jah Love,” which they performed on SCTV in 1982. This version is a little livelier than the version that was officially released that year. I also ripped the entire “Great White North” album, which is still funny in its own way after all these years. So take off, eh?
More transfers to follow.. if anything else of interest comes up, you’ll hear about it here.

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