Thursday, July 29, 2021

A Return to the Land of the Living, Albeit by "Soulful Distancing"!

It's been a very long time since I've posted anything here, but a recent conversation about Sir Lattimore Brown got me thinking about this blog and the need to add some updated content.

I will start by saying that I am still collecting airchecks, and will try to get some more of the "Soul on the Air" features written and posted soon. In the meantime, however, I have been staying active with the Get on Down with the Stepfather of Soul! program on Rockin' Radio, and until March 2020, the Electro-Phonic Brian Phillips and I had been hosting "Rhythm & Booze" at El Myr Burrito Lounge in Atlanta. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and "Rhythm & Booze" entered into an ongoing hiatus.

Brian and I decided to take the show online, and after some fits and starts with Instagram and then Facebook, we found an online home for what we began calling "Soulful Distancing." Since October 2020, we have presented "Soulful Distancing" on Mixcloud on the night that "Rhythm & Booze" would normally take place (the third Saturday of each month). Feel free to stop by and check out the archived programs!

I will do my best to get a new aircheck here within the next few weeks, but in the mean time, keep enjoying all the good music that's out there!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Soul on the Air #25 ... Bob Allen and Joe Thomas, WAUG, 1967

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"Soul on the Air" returns to the blog with a wonderful treat. "Get on Down ..." reader and aircheck enthusiast Matt Laube contacted me today with news that he had a rare soul aircheck to share with all of us, one that he found on a tape that came along with some vintage equipment he'd acquired. The tape, which featured the featured aircheck and some Armed Forces Radio Network material, was in very bad shape and ended up ruined by the time he'd managed to play it in order to digitize it - thank goodness he was able to retrieve this aircheck, though, before the tape was destroyed!

WAUG was an Augusta, Georgia radio station that began in 1952 and aired on AM and FM frequencies until 1980 (the calls now belong to an urban talk station owned by St. Augustine's University in North Carolina). It appears that 'AUG had several formats, including a soul format in the '60s and a Top 40 format in the '70s. I speculate that the station's switch from soul to Top 40 came as the result of James Brown: in my research, I learned that when Brown bought Augusta radio station WRDW (one of three he would eventually own - WJBE in Knoxville and WEBB in Baltimore were the other two), 'AUG filed an objection with the FCC, alleging that Brown would prevent the station from playing his hits! I'm sure having a competing soul station in the relatively-small market (whether or not 'AUG could play James Brown records) was significant cause for the station to make the format switch, and the station thrived with it's new sound, proving to be a close competitor to Top 40 station WBBQ, which stayed on top of the ratings in Augusta for over 35 years.

I know absolutely nothing about Bob Allen, whose October 8, 1967 appearance on this station seems to be a one-off: near the end of the aircheck, WAUG DJ Joe Thomas begins his show and states that Allen was doing an on-air audition for a Sunday afternoon DJ slot, along with others who had sent in audition tapes. It appears that Allen did not get the job, and the aircheck reflects possibly why not: despite the fact that Allen seemed to enjoy the chance to entertain his listeners, his performance did suffer from a lack of clear diction, occasional mishaps on the board (including one where he botches an "instant replay" twin spin of Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"), and a tough time reading news copy. That being said, he wasn't awful, and he moved things along well during this portion of the two-hour audition. (If anyone knows what may have come of Mr. Allen, or Mr. Thomas, for that matter, please let me know.)

Fortunately, I know a lot more about the music and fun that fills the aircheck. There are a lot of good tunes played by Messrs. Allen and Thomas here, including the aforementioned Aretha Franklin record, "Dirty Man" by Laura Lee, "Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie" by Jay & The Techniques, "Tell Him" by Patti Drew, "Casanova" by Ruby Andrews, "Get Down" by Harvey Scales & The Seven Sounds, and "Little Ole Man (Uptight-Everything's Alright)" by Bill Cosby. As usual, there are some cool commercials, news breaks, and a three great station promos done by William Bell, Bettye Swann, and "The Soul Sisters," a local high school group(!), respectively.

Although the fidelity of this recording leaves a lot to be desired, and the middle portion is clearly running at a slower speed than the rest, this is truly a rare gem, and I thank Matt for graciously sharing it with "Get on Down With the Stepfather of Soul!" (Thanks also to Dave Hamel for editing the airchecks into a cleaner-sounding, single file.)

Monday, April 30, 2018

"Soul on the Air" BREAKING NEWS - 1971 WAOK Airchecks Discovered!

Many thanks to GET ON DOWN reader David Hamel, who informed me yesterday that 8 HOURS of airchecks from Atlanta radio station WAOK have been posted on The Campaign for Independent Broadcasting website in the UK! It turns out that the CIB - active from 1968 to 1974 - advocated for commercial radio in the UK (at that time, British radio was controlled by the BBC, which actively went after "pirate" offshore broadcasters). In 1971, the CIB solicited samples from US radio stations to demonstrate how it would work, and WAOK sent a reel-to-reel tape to help with their cause. Last year, the tape was digitized! The story of the WAOK tape, and the links to the airchecks, are on the CIB's commemorative website.

The rediscovery and digitizing of the WAOK tape is a big deal, as (1) to my knowledge, these are the only WAOK airchecks that exist from the station's tenure as Atlanta's top R&B radio station (the station still exists, but its format is urban talk radio); and (2) outside of the discovery of over 24 hours of WVON airchecks a few years ago, it's the closest to a "day in the life" presentation of R&B airchecks that I know of. This is a treasure, to put it mildly!

The CIB's page does a great job of telling the history of WAOK and its colorful owner, Zenas "Daddy" Sears (pictured here), so I won't repeat it here. Instead, I'll talk about the airchecks themselves, or at least to the extent I've heard them so far (I only received news of this last night, and have only listened to two full hours and samples of the rest). These airchecks are spread across the WAOK broadcast days of July 28-29, 1971, from the "Wake Up Atlanta" show to the late-night broadcasts by "The Dream Girl," Zilla Mayes (only the station's early-morning gospel show is omitted). Because of the limitations of the tape, described in some detail on the CIB page, the fidelity is not ideal, and there are some moments where bad tape makes for some rough-sounding music, but the limitations do not overcome the awesomeness of the airchecks.

Despite the limitations of the tape, it's clear from these airchecks that 1971 was certainly a banner year for good soul music: Al Green's "Tired of Being Alone" has returned Green to the hit parade for the first time since 1967 and has launched his super-stardom; "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Spanish Harlem" by Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, respectively, are the newest smashes by those artists; James Brown's "Hot Pants" is the Godfather's new one (and his last #1 for King Records before he moved on to Polydor and further hits in the '70s); The Honey Cone's "Stick Up" is following "Want Ads" to the top of the charts; Rufus Thomas and Wilson Pickett are keeping the dancers grooving with "The Breakdown" and "Get Me Back on Time, Engine Number Nine," respectively; The Undisputed Truth's "Smiling Faces Sometimes" tells the unadulterated truth over a sinister groove; and Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" is bringing a new, folky flavor to the R&B landscape. The minor hits and non-hits are great as well: Clarence Carter's "Slipped, Tripped, Fell in Love," Laura Lee's "Women's Love Rights" (which draws some snide comment from one of the DJs), Jerry Butler's "How Did We Lose It Baby," Simtec and Wylie's "Gotta Get Over the Hump," and many other cuts (including local 45s by Eula Cooper and Randolph Walker) fit in well with the better-known sides. The airchecks are unscoped, so in addition to the good music, there's the fabulous DJ patter that makes these classic R&B airchecks so much fun, along with local news and vintage commercials, including a James Brown ad for a health tonic, Coca-Cola spots featuring Aretha Franklin and her sister, Erma, ads for the movie "Shaft," and heavy promotion of the first-ever "Miss Black Teenage America" pageant, which was hosted in Atlanta on July 29. (Spoiler alert: June Kelly, of Irving, Texas, won the pageant.)

At this time, I don't have really any info on the DJs featured here, except that Zilla Mayes was a singer-turned-DJ who was the first black female announcer in Georgia when she stated on WAOK as the sensuous-voiced "Mystery Lady" in 1954. (Her identity was revealed a few years later, after which she was referred to as "The Dream Girl.") She remained on WAOK for nearly 40 years, playing gospel in the later years. I have also learned that Larry Tinsley is still with WAOK and its FM sister WVEE, doing gospel music shows. I will be working on getting more information on the others as time goes on. In the meantime, though, make sure to go check these airchecks out!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Soul of the Air #24 - Bill "Doc" Lee, 1965

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This Easter weekend is also the 55th anniversary of legendary R&B-turned-talk radio station WVON, which has been featured on this blog on more than a few times. From its debut on April 1, 1963, it became the city's top R&B station and ran second only to WLS in overall popularity at its peak. Though changing times toppled the station in the later '70s, the wise move to change to a talk format has kept the station alive and still on the air, now at 1690 on the AM dial in Chicago and online. Because it is Easter weekend, the station's gospel music programming is the subject of this post.

Perhaps in part because the Chess family owned WVON and recorded gospel music and sermons, the station's format included religious material. Bill "Doc" Lee was hired as the station's Religious Director in 1963 and he stayed with the station for thirty years. Lee hosted "Highway to Heaven" from 4:00 to 6:00 AM every weekday morning during the station's glory days, and also co-hosted the "Sunday Gospel Open House" on Sundays from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. (By the way, according to the Chicago Tribune obituary of Lee from 1998, it is said that Lee picked up the "Doc" nickname because his on-air prayers were credited with healing sick people!) "Highway to Heaven" featured Lee playing gospel music and providing patter, reading commercials and delivering news and weather in the same manner as the other WVON jocks. "Sunday Gospel Open House" was a live show, in which local gospel acts appeared in various locales to perform before a capacity audience: according to the liner notes to the Checker tie-in album for the show, the show was open to the public "but you must come early in order to secure a seat of your choice."

Featured here is most of a "Highway to Heaven" episode from January 29, 1965, followed by a portion of a "Sunday Gospel Open House" show from the following Sunday. "Highway to Heaven" is full of great stuff for discerning gospel fans: after Lee thanks "Deacon Pervis Spann" for his preceding blues show, he gets to work, featuring Chicago's legendary "Singing" Sammy Lewis in song and in prayer and playing The Staple Singers' original "Hammer and Nails," which had more explicitly religious lyrics than the better-known version, The Southwest Michigan State Choir's "Write My Name Above," and The Salem Travelers' "Help Me to Hold Out," among other tunes. On "Sunday Gospel Open House," Lee is joined by his co-host, Margarite Turner, at the Southmoor Hotel - where, as is emphasized by Lee, a brand-new Hammond organ has been installed - to present local gospel groups (it goes without saying there was no shortage of gospel quartets and other groups in Chicago, many of which never made the big-time despite having lots of talent) and to announce various gospel concerts taking place throughout the city.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I apologize for not getting more good stuff on this blog - I've got lots of stuff I want to share, but haven't got around to it. I hope to get new material on here very soon! Thank you for your continued support despite my slow upload schedule!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Soul on the Air #23 - Herb Kent, 1965

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I was saddened by news over the past weekend that Radio Hall of Fame DJ Herb Kent passed away at age 88. Kent started his career in radio in the '40s and was on the air until the very end, having completed his regular Saturday morning show on Chicago's WVAZ before he passed away later that day. Kent's legend rests mostly on his tenure as one of the WVON "Good Guys" from the station's founding 1963 until 1980 or so. Fortunately for Kent, he managed to stay on the air in the Windy City, doing everything from a "Punk Out" show on WXFM (where he became perhaps one of the first black DJs in the country to play punk and new wave) to shows on WGCI and finally doing weekend shows for WVAZ (which is where I first heard him when I moved to Chicago in the '90s).

I never had the chance to meet "The Cool Gent" in person, but I credit him for introducing me to tons of great music and, more close to my heart, for declaring on his Facebook page in 2014 that this blog was a great "back in the day resource." That quiet endorsement meant the world to me, especially because I started the "Soul on the Air" series with one of his airchecks!

Enough of my eulogizing. Because I cannot be in the Chicago area this weekend for the planned memorials for Herb, I thought the least thing I could do would be to share a great Herb Kent aircheck. Presented in its entirety is Herb's Saturday night "Dusty Record Time" edition of his WVON show from February 26, 1965. (Herb coined the term "dusties" for R&B oldies, referring to the dust that gathered in the grooves of old records, and he - along with Richard Pegue - made that term a household word among Chicago radio listeners.) Among other highlights are Herb's playing of Cecil Gant's 1944 hit "I Wonder" alongside more recent and "dusty" material and Herb soliciting support from listeners in the staton's PET Milk contest. As usual, Kent closes out his show with The Gospel Clef's "Open Our Eyes," which I understand Gene Chandler performed at Herb's funeral.

Rest in peace, Herb Kent, "The Mayor of Bronzeville." Your contributions to the world of music are legendary and you truly brightened the lives of thousands - if not millions - of people who listened to you over your 70-plus-year career. Your reward is well-earned.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

We're BACK! Soul on the Air #22 - Buddy Lowe, 1965

I am so glad to announce that all of the "Soul on the Air" posts on this blog are now back in working order! The player from Yourlisten works very well, and I look forward to picking up the slack and getting lots more good airchecks on here! With that in mind, here's the new entry...

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This installment of "Soul on the Air" come>s from Boston's WILD, which operated as a brokered-time station with multi-ethnic programming until 1967, when the station (owned by the same company as sister station WAMO in Pittsburgh and WUFO in Buffalo) went R&B full time under the programming guidance of WAMO's Hal Brown, who was the subject of the last "Soul on the Air" feature. I don't know anything about Buddy Lowe, but what I do know is that over the course of twenty minutes, he lays down serious soul, ranging from the throwback "Finger Poppin' Time" by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, to "The Real Thing" by Tina Britt and "Stop and Get a Hold of Myself" by Gladys Knight & The Pips, interspersed with great commercials, including one for the legendary Skippy White's record store. Great music, great commercials, and great fidelity reign here! Enjoy!

Thanks to a fan for correcting the DJ's name here - it's Walter "Buddy" Lowe you hear here!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

"Soul on the Air" #21 - Hal Brown, 1969

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Today's short feature is of disc jockey and radio program director Hal Brown from Pittsburgh's legendary R&B station WAMO. During Brown's tenure at WAMO, he also acted as program director for sister stations WILD in Boston (an aircheck from that station will follow later in this series) and Buffalo's WUFO. After Brown retired from radio, he moved to Florida, where he lived until his death in 2011.

Now on to the aircheck. As "Not on the Outside" by The Moments fades out, Brown wastes no time setting up Gloria Walker's "Talking About My Baby," a reworking of "I'd Rather Go Blind" that hit for the Georgia singer on the Flaming Arrow label in 1969 (the 45 is a must-have for soul and funk fans, because the flip side is the funky instrumental "The Gallop" by The Chevelles), followed by the funky and funny "Don't Pat Me on the Back and Call Me Brother" by John KaSandra. It's short and sweet, but a nice little "stocking stuffer" for you, my patient and awesome fans, this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Technical Difficulties ...

This post formerly explained why none of the "Soul on the Air" features were working. But now they are, so disregard everything about this post except the fun video below!

As some of you know, I occasionally get the chance to DJ among rare soul fans and friends, and recently my friend and brother from another mother, Brian Philips, were invited to do a 30-minute set at Hip Drop, the annual Ponderosa Stomp pre-party in New Orleans. Here are excerpt from our set, in which the two of us got our groove on while slinging those soul and funk platters! Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Soul on the Air #20 - Rudy Runnels, 1966

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As promised, here's a second installment of "Soul on the Air" for the month of January 2015. After a trio of Chicago airchecks, I'll move on to Washington, D.C. and the "Tall Tan Texan," Rudy Runnels, doing his thing on WOL in August 1966.

WOL, along with WOOK and WUST, was part of D.C.'s soul radio scene. Runnels - who was also the music director of the station - had been on KKSN in Dallas before moving to D.C., where he shared the WOL frequency with Bob "Nighthawk" Terry and black talk radio legend Petey Greene. He eventually moved on to WOOK and then became general manager of WHIH in Norfolk. I'm not sure what followed, though some research suggests that he was involved in Atlanta radio at some point (on WAOK; information is welcomed).

On this 23-minute aircheck, Runnels throws down some serious soul music from artists including Little Milton, Alvin Cash and even the Righteous Brothers, replete with great patter (dig the setup for Little Milton's "Man Loves Two" and Alvin Cash's "Philly Freeze"). Of course, there's the usual fun commercials and jingles as well. The fidelity of this aircheck is stunning, which adds to the greatness of the aircheck, and I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Soul on the Air #19 - Bill "Butterball" Crane, 1968

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As promised in December, "Soul on the Air" is back on "Get on Down"!

WVON's Bill "Butterball" Crane has been featured on this blog before, and I will refer you to that post about information about Mr. Crane. As the comments to that post attest, the Butterball aircheck was one of the most popular ones posted here, and I'm glad to bring you more of Crane on WVON, this time from December 15, 1968. In addition to Crane's great patter, there's lots of good stuff here, including records by Jerry Butler, Ike & Tina Turner (who open the aircheck), Otis Redding, Clarence Carter and the Dells, along with a news break announced by WVON newscaster Clair Nelson.

Keep an eye on this page, because another aircheck will be featured this month. Here's a hint: it's from Washington, D.C.!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

An Honor and an Explanation

This morning your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul was honored to find that none less than Radio Hall of Fame member Herb Kent had shared my initial "Soul on the Air!" feature on his Facebook page, referring to it as a "great back in the day resource." To get praise from a broadcasting legend set my little heart ablaze, but it also reminded me that I needed to do something here that I've been putting off for a loooooooooooong time: explaining what is going on with this blog.

It's probably no surprise that I haven't done much on this blog in a mighty long time. After doing hundreds of posts on a near-daily basis for a couple of years, "real life" (work, family, etc.) started to get in the way, and to write like that became very tiring. Further, as YouTube and Facebook began to grow, it provided alternative ways for the sharing of this great music. Finally, I was offered the opportunity to do a new "Get on Down with the Stepfather of Soul!" online radio show for Rockin' Radio. In light of all of those things, I decided that I would stop writing the blog in 2013.

When I made that decision, however, I found myself in an interesting position: I realized that the blog actually has two different, and not always overlapping, audiences. Rare soul fans were digging the features on individual records and the podcast, but "Soul on the Air" brought in a new audience: radio aircheck fans were interested, for sure, but more numerous were those who, in reminiscing about the radio stations they enjoyed in their youth, found the blog while doing Google searches on certain DJs and the like. I realized that this blog was a great resource for them, and so I did not pull the plug on the site itself.

Having said all that, I've decided that in 2015 I will focus almost exclusively on the "Soul on the Air" content. I've got many more airchecks to share, and this site will serve more as a repository for the airchecks than it will as a soul music site.

For those of you who enjoyed this site as a soul music site, please note the following (and for the "Soul on the Air" fans, feel free to check these things out as well):

1. I am on Facebook, and I regularly post music there. Feel free to friend me if you haven't already.

2. Since October 2012, I have hosted the "Get on Down with the Stepfather of Soul!" show on Rockin' Radio, where I join the rest of the crew there playing the "best oldies you've never heard" and sharing information about the tunes. A new show is uploaded every month on the "Now Playing" page. Make sure to check out the show, as well as those of my compatriots, Rockin' Randy Tivens, Brian Phillips (who is no stranger to this site), and Jim E. Night!

3. All soul content on this site will remain, but I will not renew dead links. If any features catch your attention, please e-mail me ( and I can share with you any music that may be of interest.

4. Finally, though many of my colleagues in soul blogging have also retired their sites, some for the same reasons I have, there are still many who are still doing their thing. Check out the links section and you'll find that many of the sites listed are still around, especially those sites belonging to my friend Red Kelly, the "Soul Detective." Enjoy those, and forgive me for not getting around to removing dead links.

It has been a pleasure and honor to do the blog for the last nine years, and I look forward to the next chapter in its existence. Let's keep on getting on down!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Soul on the Air #18: Pervis Spann, 1965

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This "Soul on the Air" post features, in four parts, Pervis Spann, "The Blues Man," whose career at the station covers its past, present and future. Spann was one of the first DJs hired by Leonard Chess when he turned the brokered-time WHFC into "The Voice of the Negro"; when WVON's frequency was moved to 1390 AM by latter owners Globetrotter Communications and the "Good Guys" format was unceremoniously dumped, Spann set up blues station WXOL at the old 1450 frequency; when WVON's calls were changed to WGCI, he snapped them up; and he continues to own the station to the present day, with his daughter, Melody Spann-Cooper, at the helm.

I won't try to tell his multifaceted story here: it will be much better to refer you to this Chicago Reader profile of the legendary DJ/club owner/promoter/TV host/(alleged) huckster, and, if you can find a copy, Spann's book, The 40-Year Spann of WVON, of which I have an autographed copy (I met Spann at a book signing and had a short, but pleasant conversation with him - when he learned I was going to law school part time while working full time, he said "I like you a lot" and proceeded to tell me about one of his hard-working daughters, who was an attorney). Further, if you would like to see the tomfoolery that Spann presided over with comedian/actor Carl Wright for many years on Chicago cable access TV, "Blues and More," look it up on YouTube. It's something else!

On to the aircheck. I have begun acquiring what may be the largest treasure trove of WVON material (and, by extension, R&B airchecks) out there, namely, over 24 hours of WVON broadcasts from Friday, January 29, 1965 through to the following Monday, February 1. This material includes more great stuff by Herb Kent, Ed Cook, Lucky Cordell and E. Rodney Jones, but also material from Spann and other "Good Guys" for whom airchecks were previously not available, such as gospel jock Bill "Doc" Lee, early WVON personality Franklin McCarthy, and talk show host Wesley South.

This aircheck finds Spann laying down soul, blues (of course) and countrified patter for nearly four hours. There are lots of highlights here: "Killing Floor," the then-new Howlin' Wolf single, gets played (it must've been atop the station's hit list at the time, as every other aircheck I've heard so far from this time period includes it), as does "My Girl," then the new Temptations hit; Spann plays the original "Don't Answer the Door" by Jimmy Johnson (later covered by B.B. King; this Jimmy Johnson is not to be confused with Syl's brother, also a fine blues artist), asserting that it's a warning to his fellow "Good Guys";Spann does a sing-along to the Artistics' "Got to Get My Hands on Some Loving"; and he mangles - I mean, reports - the news (interestingly, during his shift, news reports of the funeral of Winston Churchill are not included; those come later in the day). And, of course, there's lots of other good music and commercials to enjoy.