Thursday, February 10, 2011

Waking up Alone

Excerpts from from "Deputy in Disguise"
available at

I still remember the first morning I woke up to find Wes Hopkins gone from WCOL.
I was lying in bed listening to the man who replaced him knowing that an era had ended, and knowing that the radio station I had grown up with would never again be as friendly in the morning.
J. Parker Antrim was a talented and funny radio personality and I found myself laughing between the songs as he introduced Columbus radio listeners to his style of morning radio but somehow I knew that I would miss my old friend "Mrs. Hopkins’ fat boy Wes" as he would say, and his silent and invisible sidekick "Keemosabe."
I had been listening to and enjoying Wes for a decade, as was every other Columbus radio listener who tuned into 1230 AM for their morning dose of Top-40 hits and corny jokes. And now he was gone.
At the time I was working as a DJ across town at WMNI playing country music but WCOL was still my station of choice because at twenty five years old I had not yet grown out of my preference for rock & roll and in spite of its FM challengers the station was a habit that was hard to break. Listening to Wes Hopkins was a habit impossible to break.
There was something about his smooth delivery and folksy manner that could calm the trauma of prying one’s eyes open in the morning to get ready for whatever the day would bring. From the days when I was a teenager getting up early to deliver the Columbus Citizen Journal to getting up for school and later in life for the workday. Wes was always there.
And as time went along and as WCOL would introduce other DJs in the morning slot I would wonder, whatever became of my friend. I could never have imagined that he would one day return to WCOL as an evening DJ or for that matter that I would leave WMNI and go to work there and be trained by him. But that is exactly what happened.
One night I was standing on the sidewalk on East Main Street beside the Great Southern Hotel getting ready to go inside to do my all-night show and I was talking to Eddie Powell, another WMNI DJ about getting burned out on the direction country music was beginning to take.
Our station was introducing more and more new artists who to me sounded like pop singers who couldn’t get a pop record contract so they mixed in a few steel guitars, faked an accent and were passing as “new country.”
A chick in tight jeans with a nice ass and a phony southern draw seemed more important than one who could actually sing. Same for the newer male singers that were bumping George Jones and those guys off the charts. I started hearing all of these dudes trying to sound like Haggard and thinking to myself, how about something original?
To me many of them sounded like Karaoke singers you might find in any bar near closing time who lucked into receiving recording contracts.
I was sharing these thoughts with Eddie when he told me that he had been hearing rumors that they were carting up rock & roll over at WCOL and were planning to drop their easy listening programming and switch to an oldies oriented rock format. He said they were going to taunt it as…“The good times are back on WCOL.” I think I said something like “See ya!”
The following day I hustled an audition tape over there .
When I went to work for them I was told to report to the station at 6:00 PM and hook up with Wes who would be showing me the ropes. Nothing Bob Mitchell, (WCOL's program director then) could have said could have made me more eager to get started. I adored Wes Hopkins.
What I did not know was that he was planning to leave the station again and that I was to become his replacement. I had heard rumors of plans to move him back to the morning show where he belonged but that was not to be, and not long after I signed on he signed off and moved to Florida.
But through the years I was able to stay in occasional contact with him by calling and speaking to him from his home down there, each time asking if we could ever again expect a return performance by him on WCOL, and each time he would chuckle and explain those days were over.
In 2008 my friend passed away at the age 81. I have written other essays of my admiration for this former Columbus broadcasting icon and how much of an influence he was to my own radio career, and knowing that he is gone changes the way I will listen to morning radio from now on.
Even though it has been more than thirty years since I woke up hearing him. Because even though he has not been on the air in decades there was comfort in just knowing that an idol was still around somewhere. As I get older they are becoming fewer and fewer.
Another important figure from my own youth gone and the world around me less friendly and a little lonelier.
Read more WCOL history on former WCOL DJ Mike Adams' website
My Ding-A-Ling
When sharing old radio stories it is not easy for me to leave out some of the best chapters. However I have not found a polite way to craft the words to write the "Best Of" series yet. Partly because some of the best stuff involves many people’s three favorite sins. But I will take a shot.
Some of the more graphic stories that could be written involve DJs having sex while on the air without screwing up their show and some who could not pull it off but tried anyway. I’ll leave those for a book yet to be written.
In one scenario a program director walked into the studio where a female jock was on the air and stripped off all of his clothing. He stood naked and attempted to make some sort of a deal with her. However it didn’t work out as he had hoped it would. Probably hoping he was arousing her- he instead repulsed her.
He should have gone to jail for the stunt but not only did he not get arrested he somehow managed to turn the tables and make himself look like the victim. He was never held accountable and the station management allowed the incident to just sort of pass.
The DJ victim left not only the company but the state of Ohio as well. Had she chosen to do so she could have brought about serious legal challenges, both civil and criminal to both the PD and the owners of the station. Another incident involves Jim Davis, a former WCOL jock but now working for WMNI.
One afternoon a stripper from the nightclub called 40 Carats which was located across the street from our Southern Hotel studios came to the station pretending to want to meet Jim, or so he was led to believe. Our program director, Steve Cantrell, our sales manager Jim Rapp and some other salesmen told her to go in and try to bother him, they said that Jim was on the air and that he was an old pro who could work through anything. As it turned out they were right.
They gave specific instructions that she would have to go in while the “On-Air” light was on and while Jim was busy reading sports. So when the light went on and as Jim went on the air for a three-minute sports report she entered the studio naked and sat on his lap.
Without breaking his flow he delivered his report flawlessly. When he finished she asked him (on the air) if there was anything on his mind. Jim replied… "Yes, now that you've brought it up... I just remembered, my wife asked me to bring home a quart of milk."
There was a pain in the ass who used to call Jim every night and ask for a certain record she wanted played. She also wanted to come to the station to meet him but he was leery and always made excuses to avoid any such encounters. One day she showed up anyway and she was a mess.
She looked like she had slept under a bridge. She was dirty; she filled the room with stench and was one of the homeliest women I had ever seen. When she told me who she was I told her that Jim was dying to meet her.
So I waited for the on-air light to come on and told her to just go into the studio and meet him. He was talking on the air and you could hear her making background noises and talking loudly, shouting actually…“Hi Jim whatcha doin?”
Jim was hearing the chaos behind him but he kept his composure and when he finished his bit he turned around, took one look at her and ran out of the studio where I was and asked…“What the Hell is that?"
I told him who she was and he walked toward the restroom and said…“Get her the Hell out of here!” He was laughing so hard I could tell he enjoyed it as much as I did.
When he did return to the studio he was still laughing and he was carrying a can of air freshener and after emptying it he looked at me and said…“You son of a bitch, I thought someone had brought me a fish sandwich!”
That night he must have called me a son of a bitch a dozen more times, and each time he said it- it sounded funnier than the time before. Between practical jokes, slips of the tongue and just plain bad behavior a lot of us paid some hefty dues along the way.
More from "Deputy in Disguise"
Walk on the Wild Side- Spook Beckman, like Wes Hopkins was in a league by himself. Wes was best known by the teens and young adults of the 1960s and 70s while Spooky was known by generations of radio listeners.
I first got the opportunity to work with him in the mid '70s when he was in the middle of his radio comeback after being away from the business for a while. Spook was given free reign at WRFD to play what he wanted, mostly standards and Big Band music.
Disco music was growing in popularity at a few other stations but Spook had his own ideas about doing a "disco" show with a live audience. He had worked out a deal with a Grove City bar inside what was then Howard Johnson’s called "The Post Time Lounge" to appear on Friday and Saturday nights with what he billed as "Spook Beckman's Disco Daddy Show."
He had a specially made pajama-type outfit that spelled that out across the back and for me his music guy... a t-shirt with the same logo. My job was to play the records while Spook mingled with the crowd, telling nightclub jokes and sharing drinks with them.
People coming to the bar hoping to hear disco tunes were serenaded by Al Martino, Buddy Rich and Patti Page records. Spook hated disco music and his loyal fans never complained, the same ones who listened to him on the radio showed up every week at the club. They would have come if there wasn't any music. He was a pretty fair stand-up comedian, and with or without a soundtrack he alone was worth the price of admission.
There was this one "gal" named Ginger who used to call Spook several times a day at the station and pester him and she had a sultry voice that had us all fooled. You know where this is going right?
Bill Stewart, a fellow WRFD and one of the funniest radio personalities I have ever worked with seemed to know more about this caller than the rest of us and would often act bewildered at Spook’s reluctance to meet her. Saying things like…“She sounds hot” or asking…“Why don’t I ever get that kind of attention?”
One night Ginger made good on a promise to show up at the club to meet the Spook, saying that she would toss him around the dance floor and plant kisses all over him.
Spook was a big man but Ginger was bigger and could have done that. Hair like Dolly Parton that did not look like her own, a chest bigger than Dolly's and make-up that would make Tammy Faye envious, caked on her face... in layers. She was a train wreck. Giant eye-lashes, gaudy lip-stick and perfume that would gag maggots.
Someone had passed me a note up on stage that she was sitting alone at a corner table and drinking entirely too many cocktails. Spook, who could also consume more alcohol at these shows than most men half his age had no idea she was there. It was a feature of the program that audience members would request something special and he would do his best to dance with them.
When I read Gingers note I announced that we had a special request from the lady in the corner and when Spook looked over at her he whispered to me…"There is no way in hell." He looked again and whispered…“I ain't that damn drunk."
When I told him that it was Ginger he nearly fell off the stage laughing. And being the showman he was he met her on the dance floor and did one of those no-touching dances.
It was like the Twist meets the Conga.
At the end of the night Spook kept me going in and out to the parking lot to make sure she was not out there waiting for him. He was afraid to leave. He had had more than a few drinks that night and he kept asking…"That was a man wasn't it? No one knew for sure, except maybe Bill Stewart. I always believed that he was behind this entire episode but he never tipped his cards either way.
After a few months of doing his “Disco Daddy” routine at the club he hatched an idea to parody a popular night time game show called “The Gong Show.”
The theme of it and the rules were the same where contestants would show up and perform whatever talent they thought they had and a panel of three judges would decide if they would be allowed to continue, or if they were so awful then one of them would stand up and strike a large cymbal. (Gong them) and send them away.
Spook was the emcee and I was one of the celebrity judges. It was an opportunity mostly for people to get what Spook called fifteen seconds of fame, even though they had only one minute to perform. We had jugglers show up, singers, magicians and others who tried to win the fifty-dollar prize each night... and we had Ginger.
She would always get there early and grab a seat as close to Spook’s podium as possible. And each time she did Spook would walk over to the judges table and whisper “We need to move those chairs further back, that guy’s perfume smells like a French Whore House.”
It became so bad that we began noticing empty seats anywhere near where Ginger was sitting. Then week by week the crowds diminished more and more and Spook was certain that she/he was driving them away.
That show was canceled eventually and I told Spook “Look at the bright side, at least you won’t have to smell Ginger anymore.” He replied “ And I won’t have to wake up the next morning with a hangover, I never had them until your friend started following me around.”

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