Sunday, June 22, 2008

What to hear in Chicago

Hello from the Hog Butcher to the World. Annie's graduation from Northwestern was lovely. She plans on returning to Los Angeles to seek her fortune writing snarky award show reviews. It’s a wide-open burgeoning field.

But as I enjoy the sights of Chicago, I’m reminded of the first time I ever came here.

I was 21 on a weekend pass from the army (I was stationed at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana). I was quite excited. I has read about Chicago, seen it countless times in movies and on television. So much history. So many sights. Wrigley Field, the museums, Sears Tower, etc. But there was one attraction I had to see first. It’s the thing I’d be waiting to see for ten years.

A Karell’s Red Hanger store!

Karell’s Red Hanger was a men’s clothier. And they sponsored Art Roberts’ Sunday night show on Chicago’s WLS radio. I used to listen to that show every week.

In Los Angeles.

At night the ionosphere rises and AM signals reach farther. That’s why you can sometimes pull in an out-of-town ballgame or station from a nearby town. But in the 60s there were a few powerful clear channel stations (not to be confused with Clear Channel, the evil empire) with no other stations sharing their frequencies. So at night they could be heard from great distances. WLS’s nighttime signal practically blanketed the country. The original idea for this was so farmers and people living in outlying areas could always get at least one radio station at night and be able to receive instructions in case there was a national emergency (y’know, like a nuclear attack or Karell’s Red Hanger Father’s Day Sale ends midnight Friday.)

Today we can stream any station we want from around the globe on our computers but back then it was sheer magic. Some guy could talk into an inverted tomato soup can 2,000 miles away and I could hear him in my little room in Los Angeles. Whoaa! How do they do that?

Karell’s Red Hanger’s prices weren’t that great the day I finally saw one so I didn’t buy anything. But I was able to strike it off my list of the “1000 things to see before I die”. I still had 999 left but I was making a dent.

The lure of radio, being introduced to different worlds through the crackle and hum of the atmosphere still has a hold on me to this day.

So when I arrived in Chicago the first thing I did was turn on WLS. Unfortunately, instead of hearing Art Roberts, the latest Buckinghams’ smash, and Carol’s Red Hanger spots I got some right wing wacko talk show host and turned it right off.

Oh well. At least Wrigley is still here.


Unknown said...

right wing whacko, isn't that redundant?

Anonymous said...

Many good memories here:

Anonymous said...

As we say in Texas on such an occasion, "Mazeltov."

Mike Bauman said...

Unfortunately, WLS is now the Limbaugh/Hannity/Savage channel.

If you want good music here in Chicago, put on a record.

Anonymous said...

In high school, WLS was our local station at night in western Tennessee even though we were a good five hundred miles away. Dick Biondi from 9 to midnight was the hot ticket. For good music it was "Patterns in Music" on WBBM.

I was stationed at Ft. Ben in '68 and never took the opportunity to visit the Windy City. [head slap]

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Small World time for me, without the annoying Disney singers:

1. Stationed at Ft. Harrison, DINFOS, 1970. I think I saw you. Weren't you the guy wearing green?

2. Lived in Chicago 1972-74, as a navy guy. What the navy was doing spending American taxpayer dollars keeping me in Chicago, I have no idea. It was, however, as far away from Viet Nam as I could get.

3. Met Art Roberts in the early '70's when he was on a Chicago suburban FM. Nice guy.

4. Worked with Chuck Buell (WLS 1968-72) in San Diego in the 90's.

5. Talked to Chuck last week who said that the current PD of WLS (Kipper McGee, who was our PD in San Diego) told him that WLS-FM is repackaging. Dick Biondi doing nights and Brant Miller on in mornings. Chuck, maybe, too.

6. Never been to a Carol's Red Hanger, though.

(...and here's a Chuck Buell/Art Roberts link to WLS audio on that fine Web site, ReelRadio.)

Anonymous said...

Billy...DINFOS BMJ 68-4 here. No green after 1630 and no KP. Heaven.

One of the instructors at DINFOS was fulltime Navy and parttime WIBC at night.

Anonymous said...

Although it's fashionable to get all misty about Wrigley Field nowadays, back in the 60s and early 70s, no one was thinking about the park as some sort of revered baseball cathedral. It was just a crappy little ballpark, inferior to Comiskey Park because it didn't have lights. Soon the Cubs learned to market that as a the lack of lights and electronic scoreboard and decent concessions as a positive--throwback charm--instead of what it had been--a tangible representation of the cheapness of the Wrigleys. So the cult of Wrigley began (to the detriment of the team because it had nothing to do with the quality of baseball being played), and with the help of Tribune Co. and Harry Caray, it became institutionalized in the 80s.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

jon j.

I was DINFOS 70-12...lived off base and worked weekends floggin' the hits at night on WGEE AM/FM on Raymond Street in Indy. Made almost enough to pay for my rental car and date a lovely woman Marine who taught me the magic of military drill. But, I digress...

Anonymous said...

FYI: WLS-am went the way of yap well over a decade ago, so there have been several generations of Midwesterners who wouldn't know that the once-mighty 890 actually played music in days gone by. As we get older, memories get more important, if only to prove to ourselves that it all relly happened. Oh, not that it matters, but that was Karoll's Red-Hanger Store (as mem serves, that was the owner's last name).

growingupartists said...

Oh, WLS, my favorite! We once had a block party and they brought a truck and provided us with their tee-shirts. I have some of the cutest pictures of white-blond kids wearing adult-sized red shirts, down to our ankles. Thanks for the memory!

Speaking of radio, I fell asleep many a night listening to Sally Jessie Raphael giving sound advice to some pretty messed up people.

VP81955 said...

Something few, if any, people are aware of was that WLS was among the first American stations to play the Beatles...which, in retrospect, shouldn't be all that surprising because the Chicago-based Vee Jau label obtained the rights to Beatles singles from Parlophone when Capitol (like Parlophone, part of the EMI group) initially declined. They weren't big hits in Chicago -- in fact, the band's name was initially misspelled "Beattles" on the label and thus the survey -- but if you were listening to WLS in late February or early March of 1963, about the same time Loyola University's Ramblers were on their way to an unlikely NCAA basketball championship -- Dick Biondi and WLS were playing Beatle music. The survey:

At the top of the chart was Skeeter Davis' "The End Of The World," knocking off the Four Seasons' "Walk Like A Man" (the other Vee Jay record on the survey).

Another station where the Beatles made the lower reaches of the charts that year was KFXM in San Bernardino; on May 4, "Please Please Me" was #40 there, too:

Incidentally, on the KFXM survey, Dick Dale's "King Of The Surf Guitars"/"Hava Nagila" had just displaced the Beach Boys' "Surfin USA/Shut Down" at #1.

Anonymous said...

Ken, next time you need to go to Chicago on Memorial Day weekend, since that's when WLS does its "Rewound" show featuring many of its former DJs and unscoped historic audio checks. It's a cross between the old "WCBS Reunion Weekend" and the "WABC Rewound" its sister station has been doing on Memorial Day for the past decade.

estiv said...

...a few powerful clear channel stations (not to be confused with Clear Channel, the evil empire) with no other stations sharing their frequencies.

The evil empire got its name for that reason, though. Like a pituitary gland gone malignant, Clear Channel was once a small and innocent company. It owned WOAI, a clear channel station, in San Antonio. Alas, it then metastasized throughout the American body. Since you're a radio freak, Ken, you might be interested to know that not only is WOAI one of the clear channel stations (my great-uncle used to listen to it in Tennessee), but it's so old that it's one of the few radio stations west of the Mississippi with call letters that start with W.

Cap'n Bob said...

On Sunday nights, when I was a teen, I could only get WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia, on Sunday after midnight. I lived in upstate New York.

Anonymous said...

I remember getting excited about hearing KHJ at sundown every evening, and they were just over the hill in LA.

And you could sit in the parking lot of the old KERN out on Fraiser Road and get TEN-Q when they switched the transmitter pattern every night.

VP81955 said...

On Sunday nights, when I was a teen, I could only get WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia, on Sunday after midnight. I lived in upstate New York.

WWVA is at 1170 AM, and WHAM in Rochester (a 50,000-watter) is 1180. I'm guessing this occurred when WHAM shut down its transmitter for a few hours, as many AM stations then were wont to do Sundays at midnight.

Cap'n Bob said...

Probably correct, v. It seems all the local stations shut down at midnight on Sunday and I had to try to get some distant signal. I got Hawaii one in a while when I was in Nam, but we had a pretty big radio setup.

Anonymous said...

Wow, DINFOS alums! I was in the BMJ class from August-October 1967. Yes, no KP -- What a great post Fort Ben Harrison was! A classmate was Tony Dow, who had played Wally Cleaver on "Leave It to Beaver," and we would watch reruns with him and rib him. Having grown up in the Chicago area, I have fond memories of WLS beginning with the National Barn Dance, and I think Dik Biondi's sister went to my high school.

Bob Mayben said...

I too was at DINFOS, I made it there in 1967. Loved Lucky 13, WIFE, and visited there every weekend. Nice people, let me come in from the January-February cold and watch once I told them I was an ex radio employee who got drafted.

Anonymous said...

Just like countless other boomers, I grew up with WLS, from 300 miles away in St. Louis. Daytime signal in those days was pretty good. I even went to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin with Asher Karoll, one of the owner's sons.

Many of their old locations are long gone malls that can be found at, including Dixie Square in Harvey and Lakehurst in Waukegan:

State and Washington
63rd and Kedzie
Golf Mill
Dixie Square
Evergreen Plaza
(and later Twin Oaks)

Quite a portfolio--now gone with
the wind, along with other famous haberdasheries such as The Fell Company, which operated locations on the North Shore in Glencoe, Winnetka and Highland Park. Somewhere I think I still have a few Gant shirts from the Glencoe location!