A Super Star

(Pictured: Gary Owens in 2008.)

As a tribute to the late Gary Owens, Premiere Radio Networks recently offered its American Top 40 affiliates a show Owens guest-hosted, his only time filling in for Casey Kasem, on the weekend of September 12, 1981. We started live-blogging it in the previous installment—part 2 is on the flip.

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Gary Owens on AT40

(Pictured: Gary Owens at KPRZ in Los Angeles, 1983.)

When Gary Owens died three weeks ago, I was on the road and unable to cobble together a tribute to one of America’s most famous radio DJs. Fortunately, Premiere Radio Networks, the company that syndicates American Top 40, helped out last weekend by offering affiliates the show from September 12, 1981, which was guest-hosted by Owens. It was the third option for AT40 80s affiliates on that weekend, so I doubt many of them aired it, but I got me a copy of it, because of course I did. The first part of a two-part live blog is on the flip. We’ll do part 2 on Monday.

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The Zoo

It’s Off-Topic Tuesday again. Here’s a piece, re-edited, from an archive of columns I wrote for the newspaper at the University of Iowa in 1996, when I was a returning student there. More than any single piece I’ve ever written in my life, this one breaks my heart.

When I was a kid, I used to love going to the zoo. I grew up around cows, pigs, cats, and dogs, but elephants and zebras and emus and big whompin’ lizards were another thing altogether. Where I grew up, I had access to several good zoos, in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago, and I went to all of ‘em. Last weekend I went to Niabi Zoo, outside of Moline. . . . Niabi Zoo is one of the Quad Cities’ crown jewels, with a big renovation project underway garnering ample corporate and community support. So why did I get so depressed walking around this pleasant rural spot on a sunny weekend afternoon?

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One Day in Your Life: February 28, 1977

(Pictured: the Electric Light Orchestra takes a bow in February 1977.)

February 28, 1977, is a Monday. President Jimmy Carter is in the Oval Office by 7AM today; his agenda includes afternoon meetings with five Democratic governors in town for the National Governors’ Conference, and with Mr. and Mrs. John Denver. At a press briefing, Carter’s deputy press secretary Walter Wurfel is asked about Carter’s statement during his presidential campaign that he would make available “every piece of information this country has” about UFO sightings. Wurfel says Carter was referring only to information that wasn’t “defense sensitive.” Any sensitive information would remain secret. Carter has family time in the evening, including about an hour in the White House bowling alley with the First Lady, his son Jeff, and other guests. Future country star Jason Aldean is born; Jack Benny’s sidekick Eddie “Rochester” Anderson dies at age 71. Linda Ronstadt is on the cover of Time; the cover story about her has a distinctly sexist edge. Ralph Nader is on the cover of People. In today’s Peanuts strip, Snoopy and Woodstock converse.

Jack Albertson of Chico and the Man gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On Dinah!, Dinah Shore welcomes author Alex Haley and several members of the cast of Roots, which aired last month and became a cultural phenomenon. Merv Griffin welcomes country singer Mel Tillis, actor David Soul, and Ed McMahon. On CBS tonight, long-running hits The Jeffersons and Maude are sandwiched around two newer sitcoms, Busting Loose, starring Adam Arkin as a young man who’s just moved out of his parents’ house, and All’s Fair, starring Richard Crenna and Bernadette Peters as a conservative newspaper columnist and liberal photographer who fall in love despite their political and age differences.

Ray Charles plays the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles; during the show, a fan jumps on stage with a rope and tries to strangle him. Concert security subdues the man before Charles is injured. The concert continues without further incident and no police report is ever filed. In Toronto, Keith Richards is arrested for possession of heroin, cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band play St. Louis. Genesis plays Buffalo, New York. The Electric Light Orchestra concludes a three-night stand at the Uptown Theater in Chicago. At WABC in New York City, George Michael is on the evening shift. On the station’s new Musicradio survey, officially out tomorrow, “Torn Between Two Lovers” by Mary Macgregor holds at #1 for a fourth week; “New Kid in Town” by the Eagles, which tops the Billboard Hot 100, holds at #2. The hottest song on the survey is Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” moving to #7 from #17. Also new in the Top 10: “Year of the Cat” by Al Stewart at #8. The survey lists the Top 10 albums but doesn’t number them; first on the list is the soundtrack from A Star Is Born. Also listed: Hotel California, Pink Floyd’s Animals, Songs in the Key of Life, Boston, Rumours, Year of the Cat, Night Moves, Wings Over America, and Jethro Tull’s Songs From the Wood.

Perspective From the Present: The album charts from the winter of 1977 remain astounding after all this time. One album not listed is one I wanted for quite a while and received for my birthday, probably during the weekend before: Olé ELO, a compilation by the Electric Light Orchestra. My girlfriend gave it to me under protest, saying that an album didn’t seem like a personal-enough gift. Although I don’t recall the details after all this time, she probably gave me other, more personal gifts that weekend as well.

The Practical Work

I wrote back in January about how I re-enrolled in college 20 years ago this winter, and about my master plan to abandon radio and become a high-school social studies teacher. Obviously that didn’t happen the way I planned it. The rest of the story is on the flip. Since it’s got nothing to do with the ostensible subject of this blog, you’re under no obligation to read it.

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Where Are You Now?

(Pictured: Paula Abdul; also pictured: a whole lot of the 80s.)

Because some amongst the readership are not as elderly as I, here’s a record chart that’s not quite as elderly as our charts usually are, from WKTI in Milwaukee, dated February 17, 1989.

In February 1989, I was still doing afternoons on the elevator music station in the Quad Cities. At some point within the previous year, I had half-heartedly pursued the overnight gig at the big Top 40 station in town, which I didn’t get. The program director—who may have been trying to soften the blow—told me that he figured I probably wouldn’t want to go from afternoon drive to overnights, and being the idiot I was, I agreed with him. But the guy who got the job was moved up to afternoons himself within six months—and he wasn’t nearly as good on the air as I was.

So anyway: the songs on WKTI during that February week did not make it on my station, even though we were tweaking the format to make it slightly hipper. We thought hard about adding “The Living Years,” and “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles and Sheriff’s “When I’m With You” could have been made to fit. We would eventually play other hits by New Kids on the Block (“I’ll Be Loving You Forever”) and Breathe (“How Can I Fall”). I was still listening to Top 40 in the car sometimes, so I would have heard many of the hits of the day, and in the early 90s, at another station, I would play a lot of them. Read about a few of them on the flip.

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