l always wanted to be a DJ!
10/21/2009 “I couldn’t even spell D-J, now I-R one!” (Old radio joke)
I always wanted to be a D.J.! As a kid, way before my voice actually changed, I would practice imitating the Disc Jockeys of the day at WJSO, the popular Johnson City Tennessee Top-40 station. I would play my 45’s on my little Hi-Fi record player, introduce them, announce the weather, and record it all on my little reel-to-reel tape recorder. Of course it didn’t help that I grew up within the shadow of the radio tower of WJSO. I use to hang out at the station a lot and got to know all the guys: Wayne Sparks, Al LeFevere, the late Steve Castle and Gary Nelson. The program director, Don Dale came in one day and told me that they were either going to run me off or put me to work. They put me to work… running the “God-Squad,” Sunday morning religious programs! That led to working Saturdays & Sundays, then eventually weekday afternoons. Yes, 7 days a week….and I was “part-time!” This was the early 70’s…I was a Junior in High School!
People often ask how I came up with my radio name. When I started at WJSO, they had “jock shouts” and jingles for all the announcer’s names. Wayne, Al, Don, Steve & Gary all had one. I wanted one too! As it turns out, the jingle package they had containing all these guy’s “shouts” had a few extra. The only two left that had not already been used were Bob Gordon and Bobby Holiday. I actually kicked around the Bobby Holiday name a while. I thought it was cool…and a great bogus radio name before settling on Bob Gordon. Weird that both were derivatives of my own “real” name. Anyway, the name stuck for all these years. In retrospect, I wish I had used my real name….it would have made my late father proud.
After leaving WJSO, I interviewed with the late Bill Cramer, then the bearded, long-haired program director at WQUT. He offered me a part-time job. Of course back then, QUT was the “Hippy, Laid-Back, AOR, College Radio, Play-anything-off-the-album-EXCEPT-THE-HIT station.” I was scared to death! All I had done was Top-40. That very same day, “Daddy-O-Don” Gibson called and offered me a job at WETB….the other Johnson City Top-40 station…..saved from the Hippies and evil FM!
From there I went to work for WKIN…the popular Top-40 station in Kingsport. After only a few months working part-time, Bill Hagy called and offered me a full-time job at WFHG, the popular Top-40 station in Bristol. (See a trend developing here?) I took the job at WFHG, but Bill made me use the air-name “Rocky King!” I hated it. It’s the only time in my radio career that I did not use the name Bob Gordon. I was only there a few months doing the 7-midnight shift when my old program director Reggie Jordan called and offered me a full-time day job back at WKIN. I stayed there this time for sixteen years, and helped put WZXY-FM on the air in 1981.
I was fortunate to work for all 3 of the Tri-Cities top AM stations in their heyday. Depending on which of the 3 cities you lived in: Johnson City, Kingsport or Bristol; WJSO, WKIN & WFHG were the stations of choice back in the day. Then came the time period when AM radio started its decline, and higher fidelity FM radio became more popular.
In 1991, I left the Tri-Cities for the only time in my life to work again for Reggie Jordan, then GM at the legendary KISS in San Antonio Texas. Reggie hired me as program director of KISS-AM, but I ending up acquiring responsibilities for KISS-FM too, as after a few months, there was a major house cleaning and Reggie left. They kept me, but there I was-this Tennessee boy stuck all the way in Texas… without a friend in the world for support. It was a guy named Ken Maness to the rescue! Ken was the General Manager and my (and Reggie’s) boss at WKIN when he left to run Bahakel Broadcasting’s stations in Chattanooga in the 70’s
Anyway, back in Texas, I knew the writing was on the wall….and was looking to somehow get back to Tennessee. By that time, Ken Maness was the GM at WQUT and WJCW in Gray. I called him to ask about a company in Chattanooga that I was applying with. Ken asked me if I really wanted to come back to Tennessee, and he told me what he had up his sleeve. WQUT and WJCW, a part of Bloomington Broadcasting at the time, was to be one of the first companies in the country to do a radio “LMA” (a local marketing agreement.) They were going to run WZXY & WKIN, my old stations in Kingsport! They moved both stations to the studios in Gray, and changed the call letters WZXY to WKOS. We always joked that it stood for “Ken’s Oldies Station!” I was programming “Oldies” at KISS, and Ken asked me if I would like to come work for his “new Oldies station,”…..I jumped at the chance! Thank you Ken Maness for bringing me back to good ol’ Tennessee! (I will add here that Ken has forgotten more about computers than I’ll ever know!)
The FCC eventually dropped the rule on how many stations a company could own in a single market. This did away with the LMA’s. Deregulation brought on the mega-companies. Bloomington actually bought those two stations outright, along with WGOC. We later changed WGOC to WXSM, call letters I came up with for…the “Xtreme Sports Monster!” Then, sadly, WKIN totally disappeared and became WGOC. Other stations changed formats….(you really need a score card!) Citadel Broadcasting bought Bloomington, along with a butt-load of other stations. In 2008, after being there 17 years… during this country’s worse recession and economic times since the great depression…..Citadel laid me off, and I was out of the radio business for the first time since High School. As the industry had gotten more computerized, so did I to keep up. Thank God I got into computers….it’s paying the bills….but I always wanted to be a D.J.!
My Best Radio Stories! 10/21/2009
Liquor by the Drink
In the early 70’s, Johnson City was in the middle of its second (or maybe third?) Liquor by the Drink referendum campaign. The populace had voted it down at least twice before. During this fierce campaign, I was working my regular Sunday morning shift at WJSO, running the usual fare of live and recorded religious programs. This one Sunday, one of the “live” preachers spent his entire program extolling on the evils of alcohol, and how the city should vote against the referendum. Well, about the time the preacher left the studio, my brother Bill stormed in. He had a liquor store at the time, and after realizing that he missed the preacher (I don’t know what he would have actually said to him,) he told me to get my boss on the phone. I did, and my brother proceeded to demand 30 minutes of political airtime charged to him at religious rates! A difference of hundreds of dollars at the time. I don’t know if he ever got it, but Johnson City finally voted in liquor by the drink and became Restaurant City.
Ace the Janitor
I’m not sure of the Janitor’s real name at WFHG, but we all called him “Ace.” Ace was Polish, and did not speak a word of English. He cleaned the building at night while I was on the air, and we always feuded on the level of my music in the studio, and him running the vacuum cleaner at the wrong times! We would have world class shouting matches, him cussing me (I guess) in Polish and me ranting in English. At the end of my shift at midnight, Ace would always be waiting for me next to my car. He couldn’t actually ask me…but I drove him home after work the entire time I worked there.
Elvis & the Hound Dog Puppies
I can’t remember if it was the first or second time Elvis Presley came to Freedom Hall in the mid 70’s. Both were some of the last concerts he did. Both times he came to Johnson City, they sold out of tickets quickly and scheduled a second show the next night. At WKIN, Bill Meade and I came up with the idea of acquiring some “mutt” dogs from the local animal shelter. Everyone was giving away Elvis tickets, but to win from us, you had to agree to take and adopt one of the “Hound Dog” puppies. We had the dogs corralled in the area of the station where the preachers came to do their live broadcasts on Sunday mornings. It was also just off our main broadcast studio. Needless to say, we had a lot of barking and howling on the air and the preachers noticed some strange smells in the air that Sunday…It was a blast! The Humane Society was thrilled. People got to see Elvis and got a free dog to boot!
The Great Big-K Pumpkin
Big-K was a department store located where Big Lots is now in Kingsport. In the 70’s, we did live broadcasts….pretty much every week there on WKIN….it was our biggest account! (Another Ken Maness deal/closed on the golf course!) They would often call and want to “buy ALL our unsold commercial time.” We would jokingly announce the time as “15 Big-K’s after 3 O’Clock! Anyway, one year they thought it would be fun to construct a large plywood Halloween pumpkin on the roof of the store and have us broadcast from it! We were up there for a straight week. Reggie Jordan, Bill Meade, George “John-Boy” Carter, Oscar Harris and myself….looking through the jagged smile of this big-ass Jack-o-lantern. There were always at least 2-3 guys in the pumpkin at a time. The premise was….a great eye-catching gimmick where we would throw candy down to the kids…etc. The reality was the coldest, rain-mixed-with-everything imaginable-most miserable weather we could possibly have. We sat there, day after day….freezing to death, trying to talk on the radio through chattering teeth! I don’t know who actually brought the “anti-freeze,” but toward the end of the pumpkin fiasco, we could all care less about the cold, the pumpkin, the kids, Ken Maness or his golf course! I don’t think there are tapes or pictures surviving the event (thank God,) but I’ve been told it was some of the funniest, best radio ever broadcast in the Tri-Cities!
Which reminds me of some classic broadcast mistakes & Bloopers
Oscar Harris, broadcasting live from a beauty salon, meant to say, “Shampoo and Blow-dry for 5 bucks.” What came out was “Shampoo & ****- JOB, 5 bucks. They were lining up at the door! · Chip Kessler doing football play-by-play was trying to describe the “45 yard punt” that just took place. Substitute a “C” for the “P” in the word punt, and yes a tape of that still exists! · Not to leave myself out of the embarrassment; during a football broadcast with Bill Meade, a fight broke out between some team members. I was trying to say, “A fracas has broken out on the field.” What came out was a “F**KUS!” Bill looked at me in horror and covers with, “yes Bob, a fracas has indeed broken out on the field!”
For the first 20 years or so of Kingsport’s Funfest celebration, I remember being on stage, introducing bands. In the early years, the “stage” was nothing more than a flatbed trailer. I introduced Knoxville’s Con Hunley as the featured act on one of those first concerts. They’ve come a long way, and I met some great artists over the years since the festival’s beginning in 1980. One of the more memorable performers was Willie Nelson. One of the most “down home” superstars I have ever met, Willie put on a great concert. Too good in fact. At the time (and probably even now) Kingsport had a 10PM noise curfew ordinance. Willie was still going strong at 10:30 when a city official came up to me and said I needed to get him to stop. My reaction? Like I was going to go tell Willie Nelson to shut up, shut down and wrap up his show! When Willie plays, he plays till he wants to quit…he played three hours that night, till about 11PM! Another year, the stations sponsored Bachman Turner Overdrive. Randy Bachman was not with them, but Robbie Bachman was. Steve Mann was with me on stage, representing WQUT, as I represented WKOS. At the end of all these shows, the MC’s would go up afterward and thank everyone for coming, and thank the sponsors. Well, at the end of the BTO show, Steve & I headed to the front microphones. I reached out to shake Robbie Bachman’s hand…and tell him it was a good show. He grabbed my arm, hard….got in my ear and said “get the #*!% off my stage!” I was so taken aback that all I could say was “what?” and he repeated his demand. I guess he did not appreciate sharing “his stage” with lowly local radio guys. I kind of moved toward the back of the stage, when just then Steve, who knew nothing about what had transpired did a quick end-around, made it to the microphone, and thanked the crowd and sponsors! Thanks for backing me up buddy, and “back to you Steve!”
Have you ever seen Don Raines?
Many of my former co-workers have become close friends over the years. When Ken Maness was elevated to the position of President of Bloomington Broadcasting, sales manager Don Raines was promoted to general manager. I was wary of this move, as I had complete trust in Ken, but I gave Don the benefit of the doubt. As it turned out, Don Raines did more to support me there than anyone ever did. I owe him a debt of gratitude as he bestowed more responsibility and trust in me than anyone I ever worked for. Back before “corporate broadcasting” took over, when we were just Tri-Cities Radio Group, we used to take all the managers and department heads on annual company retreats. This started under Ken, and continued with Don…until such things were discontinued by the current corporation. Most of the yearly retreats took place at beautiful Lake Lure North Carolina. This is where the late Patrick Swayze filmed “Dirty Dancing” and Daniel Day Lewis filmed “Last of the Mohicans.” The retreats were successful in getting us away from the normal business environment, and gave us the chance to brainstorm plans for the up-coming year. At the end of each day, we would “retreat” to the local bar. I don’t know who came up with the concept of Karaoke, but it must mean “bad singing” in some language. At these gatherings, (and subsequent yearly Christmas parties,) everyone thought they were great singers! One of our favorites was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have you ever seen the rain?” We would substitute the words and sing “Have you ever seen Don Raines?” (Sing it in your head…but keep in mind it must be really lousy…..it’s Karaoke!) Most of the time, we would “see” and “hear” Don Raines attempting to sing Jimmy Buffet, as he is the world’s biggest Parrot Head! Don is semi-retired now, (from radio, not singing) but is and always will be a great friend!
Bristol Motor Speedway
How cool is it to have “The World’s Fastest Half Mile” NASCAR race track right here in Bristol? Before Bruton Smith and 160,000 seats, I remember going to Sunday races in the 70’s. It was Bill Meade & I, his late father Art, a couple of coolers and a bucket of chicken. We bought tickets at the gate (which at one time got to be impossible?) We pretty much had the whole bleacher row to ourselves. Cale Yarborough seemed to win every race back then.Fast-forward to the 80’s, with a few more thousand seats, but still before the luxury suites. In fact the only “suites” back then were the ones for the sponsors. I remember one race that WQUT program director John Patrick & I attended. We talked our way into “The Budweiser Suite,” provided by our buddies at Holston Distributing Co. (Radio people always know how to find the “perks.”) Our main purpose that night was rooting against Dale Earnhardt, (he was never one of our “favorites”) and trying to find a full keg after the one we were hovering over was exhausted. After several such “searches,” we realized that we had company with us on our trek for liquid refreshment. It was (former Tennessee) Senator Jim Sasser! He stayed right with us….keg for keg. We had some great conversations that night, and I must say that for a politician, he was pretty cool. Anyway, of course Earnhardt won the race. We drove home that night (on the back roads, for obvious reasons) in John’s open top Spitfire. John ended up with a terminal case of the hiccups, and we drove the entire route home behind some really obnoxious Dale Earnhardt fans.
Have Disco, Will Travel
I actually survived the “Disco era” in the late 70’s & early 80’s. I did the polyester leisure suits, The Hustle, The Bump and lived through the “Saturday Night Fever” years. Bill Meade & I had a mobile sound & light system, and cashed in on the craze. We had some great gigs, including some memorable Christmas parties at the old Ramada Inn in Kingsport. I’m pretty sure we actually invented the “YMCA” audience participation dance! Or at least we ripped it off pretty early. One party I booked was for the National Association of the Deaf, out of Knoxville. We were going to play music for a bunch of deaf people? Seemed strange to both of us until the party started. We made sure our lights were more synchronized, and the base turned up more than usual, and they danced the night away….mostly to the vibrations from the speakers. It was a wonderful and uplifting experience, but Bill had the quote of the night. At one point, one of the attendees tripped over one of our cables. After making sure they were OK, Bill uttered to me, “What are they, blind?”
Play by Play
My first experience doing sports play-by-play was in the 70’s as color commentator with Bill Meade broadcasting Gate City football & basketball games on WGAT-FM. Man did we do some driving along the back roads to such Southwest Virginia towns as Tazewell , Lebanon , Appalachia, Bluefield , Richlands & Grundy. I remember seeing a lot of Cadillacs…covered in coal dust! I will say that it prepared me well for the job I did earlier this year for Northrop Grumman/VITA, based out of the DMME building in Big Stone Gap. I had to visit some of these SW VA towns supporting state agency computer systems. Anyway, I really enjoyed doing those game broadcasts. Both coach Vickers of the basketball team and Harry Fry with football always produced great teams…and we got to be a part of some great games. One trip we really did enjoy was going to Blacksburg when Gate City made it to the state basketball championship tournament that year. They played at Virginia Tech, and we were impressed. Current WGAT-AM station owner Alan Giles was with us on this trip. (Alan was an original partner with Bill & I in the mobile Disco business.) Our broadcast location was in the press box high up in the rafters of Cassell Coliseum. We finally got all our equipment set up when we realized we hadn’t hung the station banner. There really wasn’t a good place to hang the banner, but I thought I’d give it a whirl and climb out on the catwalk, precariously over our already high perch. I’ve never been good with heights, but I was determined to hang that sucker! At one point Bill & Alan had to grab me, and if it weren’t for them, I would have been a greasy spot on the floor of the Hokie House! Bill Meade & I went on to do Dobyns Bennett football & basketball games together on WKIN. Bill wound up in Bristol doing Tennessee High games and I ended up doing play-by-play of the Dobyns Bennett games (eventually taken over by John Patrick.) We all then found ourselves together again at the stations in Gray. Later, WJCW sent Bill & I to Anchorage with Science Hill’s basketball team to cover the high school version of the Great Alaskan Shootout.
Welcome to the Country
At one time, I had a real aversion to country music. When WJCW went from Rock to Country, (late 60’s or early 70’s I think,) I had a fit! No more Cramer Outrage or Ard the Wonder Toad. (You had to be there!) Well, I pretty much had the same reaction when the powers that be announced that WKIN was going Country in the 80’s. I went into it kicking and screaming. As time passed, I really started to get into it….and now I have a great appreciation for the genre. I had the chance to meet some great Country artists. I mentioned Willie Nelson. I got to meet Roy Acuff & Porter Wagner back stage at the Grand Ole Opry. I saw Charlie Pride at Billy-Bob’s in Ft. Worth Texas , and shot the breeze with the group Alabama several times over the years as they would always hold a media press conference before their concerts.I mentioned that I survived the bad fashion statement known as Disco. Well I was certainly into the country duds! My collection of leisure suits was replaced with western shirts, about 10 pair of cowboy boots, some big time belt buckles and yes, I had a few cowboy hats! As you may be able to tell, I lean more toward “Classic Country” music as opposed to the “New Country” out now. Hey, I’m an Oldie but Goodie myself. I feel the same way about Classic Rock and Oldies versus new rock. I love good old “crying in your beer” country songs. “God is Great, Beer is Good, and people are crazy”……”Beer for my Horses”……OK so a few of the new guys and songs are OK. I spent a lot of time during that era at local country bars and haunts. We used to sponsor all the shows at the “Split Rail” club, which was located briefly where the Olde West Dinner Theatre used to be. I also used to frequent the “Hitchin’ Post” in Bristol. If you’re going to play the music on the radio for a living, you have to research the lifestyle, right? Country artists love to party, as exemplified by the many times we were invited on board tour buses after the shows.My favorite story from back then pertains to Sue Powell. Sue used to sing with Dave Rowland as half the “sugar” in “Dave and Sugar.” Sue performed one night at the Split Rail Club. As it turns out, the current rendition of “Dave & Sugar” was performing that same night up the road at the Hitchin’ Post. When I informed Sue of this, she asked if I could take her there after her show to see him. Sure I thought, Sue Powell in my car! I called ahead and informed Scotty, the manager of the Hitchin’ Post of the situation. Well after the show my buddy Dave Stapleton and I waited at the back stage door for Sue Powell….she was going with us! Out she came…with her husband (DAD GUM!) That’s OK, it’s all good. We took the back road from Blountville to Bristol, and wouldn’t you know it, about halfway there…nature called…..loudly….to my buddy Dave & I! It was about 2 in the morning, and nothing was open……so we did what any good ol’ redneck country boys would do in that situation; we stopped on the side of the road! When we got there, they ushered us straight to the stage….and Sue Powell and Dave Rowland had a wonderful reunion.But to this day, my buddy Dave’s main claim to fame is that he peed in front of Sue Powel!