Sunday, February 13, 2011

Color Me?

Soulful Strut -This is about my soulful brothers in Columbus radio beginning with my first radio mentor Beemon J. Black . When he began his radio career he was Columbus' youngest DJ. He was a fifteen year old Brookhaven High School kid when he worked for WVKO.
And by the time I met him he was a 19-year-old overnight jock at WCOL. Hanging out with BJ as he was known to his posse was a cool thing to do. He knew everyone in every community, white or black, or as he used to say to me-“brown people.” Asking anytime I or anyone else referred to him as a black guy “Do I really look black to you?”
Or anytime someone would refer to African American’s as “colored people” he would quickly correct them by saying “No one colored me.” Even as a white dude I could go in and out of any brown circle I wanted as long as I was with him.
Back then doing such a thing was not as normal as it is today, the color lines were more prevalent and often enforced then. He would tell people that I was a negro who happened to have very light skin and that I was born with naturally straight hair.
After disappearing from Columbus radio for a few years I received a phone call from him one afternoon. I was sitting in my apartment when the phone rang. It was Beemon and I was excited to hear his voice. We hadn’t spoke since he left Columbus to go chasing radio jobs around the country so the call was a pleasant surprise.
He told me that there was a new jock on WNCI that was probably the greatest announcer anyone had ever heard anywhere in the country and he wanted me to thread a reel of tape and record the guy and mail it to him.
He gave me a post office box number somewhere in Georgia and that evening at 7:00 I turned on the station to tape record this guy for him. It was Beemon. He had failed to tell me earlier that the greatest jock in the country I would be hearing was him.
The mailing address he had given me was for a radio station in Georgia. About 7:30 he called me again to ask how I liked the new guy and then invited me to visit him at the WNCI studios after I was finished recording the first hour of his show. He wanted me to see the amazing confines he had landed in. At that time WNCI had the most sophisticated studios either of us had ever seen.
When I got there that night I was blown away. Beemon could tell so he encouraged me to send an audition tape to the station because he said there was at least one more opening there and probably more to come very soon. He didn’t need to ask twice if I wanted to make one in one of their elaborate production studios. I left the tape with him to give to the station’s program director and within a week or so I was hired.
However, years before I went to work for WNCI he also tried to encourage me to try to hook up with WVKO. His advice was to approach the station owner, Bert Charles and tell him that I wanted to revolutionize black radio in Columbus by being the only white dude on their air at an otherwise all black station. He suggested I cut an audition tape calling myself Butterball.
I never cut that tape but I did get an interview with Mr. Charles and after laughing at the idea he politely sent me away. I told this story several years later to another friend, former WVKO legend Bill Moss who thought Charles had missed a wonderful opportunity.
He thought it would have been innovative radio to have a white guy known as Butterball playing only black music. Saying “We could have had some fun taking you around to some dances.”
Those who remember Moss know that he was one of Columbus' most controversial personalities on and off the air. Especially after he left radio and entered politics. Those he served with on the Columbus School Board feared him.
Moss challenged those people so many times that he once felt it necessary to show up for a board meeting dressed in military fatigues, saying he was ready for war. So yes, a white DJ calling Butterball on a black station appealed to him.
Along with his other numerous accomplishments Bill was a recording artist and a very good singer. I still blow the dust off of his local hit record called "One" and drop a needle on it once in awhile. The song was released back in 1969 and even though it was ignored by WCOL it was played heavily on WVKO.
Other personalities there included Kirk Bishop (KB) who later showed up at WCOL and Les Brown who became an author and nationally known motivational speaker. And another elder statesman I miss from their era is Eddie Saunders, he was probably one of the biggest names in Columbus radio history. Eddie hung in there behind a microphone well into his 70s.
Music and playing it on the radio created a huge fraternity of local celebs who shared common interests regardless of where they worked. Like those in the television industry we all seemed to know one another.
As Beemon would say at the close of all of his programs…"Remember they can't take away our music so keep on truckin'." Many of us did, in spite of job insecurity and low pay we all had fun and we trucked on through a pretty exciting era.

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