I recall when, on foggy nights at KVFM, San Fernando, I was unable to give the current temperature because fog was too thick to see the time-n-temp sign on the bank across the street.
During rainstorms, staffers at KROY Sacramento had to press all the wastebaskets into service to catch leaks, notably over the board in the main studio. That was nothing, though, compared to the plight of jocks at cross-town KNDE (previously and now KXOA). When the station owner eliminated the studio-to-transmitter class A phone line to save money, the jocks had to run their shows from the transmitter site on the banks of the American river, only a half-mile away, but when the river rose during the rainy season, the only access to the transmitter site was via rowboat.
After leaving a national syndication gig in 1981, I landed at a start-up FM in Little Falls, MN as GM. A good friend of mine, Mike Stevens, did comparable duty at a station in East Lansing, MI. Mike and I would talk a lot and, soon, would goof off a lot...just to break the excitement of day-to-day radio station management.
I would continually call his station, looking for this and that, wanting to speak with Mike. Like all good managers, Mike was always out doing sales calls. I was too, mind you, I just would call from a client to pass the time if I was waiting, that's all...
After repeatedly being told for several weeks that we were playing "phone tag," the receptionist at Mike's station would start getting goofy and I'd get goofy back. So, I told her, "Look. He's avoiding me. I know it. He doesn't return my calls. Let's play a trick on him." Being one for tricks, she replied, "OK!"
"Tell him Al Martino called, and don't leave a phone number. Just say he called."
"Who's Al Martino?" She inquired. "Never mind. Mike knows who he is. Just keep doing that and see what happens."
After about four or five calls from "Al Martino," Mike was getting a little nervous. After all, he was at a lite-rock station, not a station that played Al Martino records.
He didn't even think that his old bud in Minnesota, however, WAS playing Al Martino records. It just never dawned on him.
"What the hell does Al Martino want with me?" Mike queried his receptionist...in a somewhat desperate tone of voice, I was told.
When we did talk, he never mentioned the Al Martino stuff. So, neither did I.
A few months later, Al Martino was arrested for allegedly shoplifting some shirts in a haberdashery in Connecticut. The story made all the papers. Even Mike's in East Lansing, MI.
The story started to click. So, he thought he'd get back at me...the prime suspect. Soon, I called Mike and he was, as usual, gone. I left the message. "Tell him Al Martino called."
I knew he was up to something, so I had to move fast. I called Capitol records in Hollywood and suggested that because of the recent negative headlines about Al, he might want to talk to some jocks about his career; just to take the heat off, since he was a very popular singer through two decades.
The PR rep at Capitol thought that it was a dandy idea. Of course, I mentioned Mike's lite-rock station in East Lansing that wouldn't play an Al Martino song if he presented it personally.
Days went by. A few weeks. One bright morning...I got a phone call. It was Mike Stevens calling from Michigan. He was a mite bit upset.
"You son-of-a-bitch!" he roared. "You asshole!" he roared again. "Well, hi, Mike, how's it goin'? Tough morning it sounds like."
What I didn't know is that Mike was filling in doing morning drive for someone on vacation. About 9am, the station got a call from a guy who said he was "Al Martino." The receptionist wasn't at her desk and didn't take the call. So, it was passed on to Mike.
On the air.
After a couple of minutes on hold, to allow Mike to set-up a "bit," Mike quickly told the story of what was going on to his audience and told them that it was "a friend of mine in Minnesota on the line, so, hang on for a minute, I'll surprise him."
Problem was, it wasn't me on the phone.
It was Al Martino. The Al Martino from Capitol Records.
(Puts call on air...) "Hey, Al, how you doing? Got any nice shirts you can send me? I need a couple in a 16 1/2 neck with a 32 sleeve. And...."
"Excuse me?" The caller interrupted. "This is Al Martino calling from New York. Is this Mike Stevens? I was told to give you a call since you play all my records."
For "...the longest damn minute in my life! I didn't know what to say! All Martino said was "Hello? Hello? I know you're there, I heard you talk about shirts."
Finally, Mike got out of it somewhat gracefully and Al was a good sport about it. Just thought the store had ripped him off in the past so, well, turnabout was fair play. Everything was settled and Al still wasn't recording anymore.
He did sent Mike a shirt, though. A nice peach colored one. With a picture, to prove it really came from him.
I got a phone call, too, from Al Martino. No shirt. No picture. Something about "don't EVER do that again! Click!"
I wanted to try it with Madonna, but she wouldn't return my calls. With her language, it would have been a hoot!
To the Door of the Sun,
Sonny "always on an upper"... is also a major animation and character voice for Hanna-Barbera and a stand up comedy performer on many Los Angeles stages, (The Comedy Club, The Hollywood Bowl, Balboa Bay Club, The Forum, Playboy Clubs, Greek Theatre etc.) He also is well known for his regular appearances on the Disney Network. Sonny has also been used as the commercial voice of Sears, Nissan, Taco Bell, CBS-TV, McDonalds, Bell Telephone, Disneyland etc.
Sonny created a children's version of We Are the World to benefit starving children in Africa and won a Grammy nomination.
In 1988 he was commended by President Reagan for his efforts in fighting the "War on Drugs".
Howard Miller's Finale at WIND
When I was growing up in Chicago Howard Miller was the emerging icon for popular music radio. From the late 40s to the mid 50s I, and most of my friends, would faithfully listen to Howard introduce and/or play the hits and future hits of the time. WIND was the place for music with Eddie Hubbard at 10pm to midnight and Howard from 6am to 9am. My clock radio woke me every morning to Howard's theme song, "Sunny Side of the Street."
I began college in 1956 and, therafter, law school. By the time I caught up with Howard again he was playing less music and doing more commentary. Howard's father had been a judge and Howard himself had attended law school for a short while. He was very savvy about local and national politics and never missed an opportunity to express his opinions or debate current issues.
In April of 1968, in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder, much of the country was in turmoil. Chicago was no different. During Howard's morning show, I believe it was April 14th or i6th, a caller phoned Howard on the air to report that "thousands" of African-Americans were marching from Chicago's west side to the National Guard Armory located on North Ave. near downtown for the purpose, the caller said, of seizing all the weapons and ammunition believed to be stored there and, thereafter, to go on an armed rampage. In response to this report Howard condemned that form of civil disobedience and went on to utter the words that would follow him the rest of his life. "If that report is true," he said, "then Mayor Daly should authorize the city's police to use any means necessary to stop the action including the authority to shoot to kill."
WIND'S switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree. Most of the calls were complaints that Howard's remarks were racist and revealed his, and the station's, racial bias. It did not matter that Howard didn't have a racist bone in his body. He was dedicated to the "rule of law" and the idea of armed insurrection in the streets of his beloved Chicago was unbearable. At the conclusion of that morning's show Howard was called into the station manager's office and told that the descision had been made to take him off the air "for a while". It turned out that "for a while" meant that the number-one radio personality in Chicago for almost three decades would never sit in front of a WIND microphone again.
At that time WIND was owned by Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, based in New York. In spite of his anxiety Howard could not get managment to tell him when he would be allowed to go back on the air. His contract contained what, in the entertainment industry, is known as a "pay or play" clause. According to Westinghouse, that meant that as long as they continued to pay him they had no obligation to utilize his services. Howard knew that he needed some legal advice.
At that time I was a 28 year old partner in a small law firm in Chicago. My senior partner had represented Howard in his divorce from singer June Valli so it was natural for Howard to seek his counsel. Although it was clear that somethung had to be done to shake up the status quo, my partner wasn't quite sure as to the best way to proceed. He asked me to review the matter and come up with a game plan. First, I had to control my excitement stemming from the fact that I was being asked to work on a matter for one of Chicago's biggest celebrities. Suspending disbelief, I analyzed the file and the history of the problem and arrived at the conclusion that Westinghouse never intended to return Howard to the air. Rather, they would continue to pay him, making it impossible for him to work for a competing station until his audience had dispersed and he was less of a competetive threat. At that point I believed they would terminate his contract in the hope that his desirability to another station and his ownership of the drive-time audience would be substantially impaired or even destroyed.
After explaining my conlusions to Howard, I showed him the draft of a complaint which charged Westinghouse with bad faith in trying to utilize the emloyment contract as a means to destroy Howard's career. He loved the concept of seizing the initiative and we filed the lawsuit. Shortly therafter the dispute was settled, Howard received a lump sum and his contract was terminated.
Within weeks, we negotiated a new contract with WCFL and Howard was back on the air with what was one of the most, if not the most, lucrative deals of that time in Chicago radio. The rest, as they say, is history.
I continued to represent Howard until his untimely death (in 1994). More important we forged a friendship that spanned 28 years. We often got together for dinner where we would spend hours in animated discussions about local and national politics. In 1970 Howard returned to TV on ABC'S WBKB, with a live celebrity talk show following Monday night football. We would regularly meet for dinner at Fritzels' restaurant which was then across the street from the ABC studio and, after dinner, walk across the street where I would watch the show from the control booth. It was always an exiting experience for me.
I last spoke to Howard the week before he passed away. In spite of his weakened condition he still made some humorous remarks about Bill Clinton. When Fay called me to tell me of his passing, I knew that I had lost a unique and much loved friend and the world had lost a unique and much loved talent.
Gart David Friedman
Lake Geneva WI (11/02/03)
More Howard Miller Memories
Dear Mr. Friedman
I just finished reading your short article about Howard Miller and his history in Chicago radio. I first remember listening to his morning show in my Dad's 1953 Buick when we was inclined to drop me off at Lane Tech High School on his way to work on the near west side near Jackson and Halsted. I also remember one year when Howard quite strongly stated that he would be playing absolutely no Christmas/Holiday music until the Monday after Thanksgiving. This was in answer to numerous audience requests.
By the time Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered I was also working on the near west side at Jackson and Green Street. The police came by and warned us to leave the area because a huge mob of angry blacks was headed our way. The panic of the moment and the uncertainty of the situation caused many public officials and media types to say things that were later regretted but it was a scary situation as it unfolded.
My wife and I now live in San Diego and we can only dream of relaxing on the sofa with the lights down low while listening to Eddie Hubbard or Franklyn MacCormack. What wonderful hometown television and radio we had the 1950s and 1960s.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and thoughts.
Kent and Darlene Koopman
Former residents of Rogers Park and Lakeview now living in San Diego (10/27/09)
Howard Miller's Major Retirement Events
You had in your listings, that Howard Miller had died in the 70s. That is not the case. Mr. Miller, after making a career on the air in the 50s and 60s in Chicago, took the money he made, and bought several broadcast properties in the 70s and 80s. The last of those was WKEI-WJRE in Kewanee, Illinois, which he purchased from Glen Olson of Iowa in 1987. Mr. Miller continued to own several radio stations in the Midwest in the 1970s and 80s, and retired to Tampa, Florida. He married his wife Fayrene in the 80s as well.
There were 2 major events in Mr. Miller's retirement: the first was a terrible car crash in Florida with some of his golfing buddies. The crash killed a couple of his golfing friends, and critically injured him. It was well over a year before he came out of that. It banged him up pretty good.
The second was in 1994, which is the year I got to know him. The Kewanee, Illinois stations were the last in his group, which I'm told was at a high of 15 stations when he was in the midst of station ownership. Mr. Miller had hired station broker Howard Stasen of Chicago, to sell WKEI-WJRE Kewanee for him. Mr. Miller had learned earlier in 1994, that he had terminal cancer.
The stations were offered to us in April 1994, we drove to Kewanee and looked at them and the town in June 1994, and it took from June 1994 until December 1994, to consumate the deal. We purchased the stations from Mr. Miller for $400,000, and we got FCC approval for the purchase on the day he died, November 8, 1994. Howard Miller passed away on that date, from terminal cancer, at the age of 81.
We closed the Kewanee, IL purchase December 30, 1994, with his wife and her probate attorney sitting in Florida, and I had 2 sets of attorneys here in Illinois. It took over 4 hours of faxing and phone calls before we got the deal done.
Howard Miller, I understand, left quite a legacy in radio broadcasting in Chicago, and at the time he died, still had a mansion for a residence in Chicago, plus homes in Tampa, Florida,and North Carolina. Broadcasting--whether on the air or in ownership--was very good to Howard Miller.
Randal J. Miller (no relation), Owner, WKEI-WJRE, Kewanee, Illinois, 3/21/96
Magnificent Montague (Monty)
Just went thru your listing and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Montague the Magnificent listed. I'd been searching for his whereabouts back in the early 70's without success; went to Playboy and record companies but files were hard to locate, unlike today I guess with computers and the net. What I have always wanted was to get a copy of Montague the Magnificent's radio intro theme song. I can only remember it was a slow cooker with background girls mentioning a radio station name repeatedly; something like W W R something. It would be a God-send if somehow you could set me in the right direction. Many thanks,
Magnificent Montague's Theme Song
Re Montague Theme Song, it was called "Montague The Magnificent (The Man of Soul)". He recorded the original one in NY and it was so popular a record label (Atlantic, I think) put it out as a single there.