My (usually) annual visit back home to Michigan in the summer of 1978 was a bit unnerving for me, radio-wise. Yeah, my beloved WABX-FM/Detroit was still there, although it wasn't nearly as exciting as back in my favorite era, 1970-74. Part of the problem was that rock was becoming corporate and that promotion people were pushing a brand of consumer-style "rock" onto the airwaves. Creative commercial radio was fading; it now sounded like a radio industry. When I heard ABX playing the new version of Sgt. Pepper's, with the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton...well, wouldn't that make you ill? And it was in an airplay rotation.
I was there in August, so I had missed a big explosion on WABX in June. How about this coincidence? Today, in 2011, I wanted to read about the "fight," on live radio, between Ted Nugent and Patti Smith and turns out that it happened on this very day (June 16) in 1978. Evidently, Nugent was the guest on "Lunch With (Jerry) Lubin," and was supposed to be done by 1pm, so Lubin could bring on Smith.
This is from the "Democratic Underground" site (entry by "Former Air Ace," who had a tape rolling. I've had to make a couple of edits):
WABX-FM/Detroit, "Lunch with Lubin," June 16, 1978
On the turntable: Ted Nugent--"Snakeskin Cowboys" (music fades out)
(Laughter fades in)
Lubin: Is your name really Theodore?
Nugent: It's true, it's true.
Lubin: Theodore, Theodore, Theodore.
Nugent: And Theodore says hi to young Patricia, who just sleazed in the door out there. I see ya out there, Patti. Don't pretend you're not here. We smelled ya when ya crossed Woodward and Gratiot.
Lubin (as if not hearing the last comment): Listen, is it true that this tune (Nugent laughs) we just played...Ted, is it autobiographical?
Nugent: "Snakeskin Cowboys"? No, actually that's about (homophobic term, plural).
Nugent: No, it's not really autobiographical. No, that's a song...
Lubin: I thought that maybe you had ah...
Lubin: ...Offed some animal and, ah, made a jacket.
Nugent: Snakeskin? That, yeah...Stuff like that, yeah. I used to wear that kinda stuff. In fact, I still have some snakeskin boots lurking around some closet somewhere.
Nugent: Yeah, snakeskin cowboys, you know--who the hell you think you are?
Lubin: What we were talking about when listening to this...
Nugent (interrupting): Ah, the new band.
Lubin: The new band.
(Patti Smith enters)
Nugent: There she is! Have a seat. Patti's gonna make a statement.
Nugent: She's gonna make a statement.
Smith: It's One O'Clock.
Nugent: One O'Clock my rectum, honey. Gimme da mic!
Smith: It's One O'Clock.
Nugent: You're from New York, I'm from Detroit.
Smith: I ain't from New York.
(Scuffling and unintelligible words)
Lubin: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute, guys. (Smirky tone) We can't have
any fights here in the studio.
(Scuffling and unintelligible words)
Smith: Don't touch me! Don't touch me!
Nugent: I know you said that last time.
Smith: Get your #*&%in' hands off me!
(Note: Some sources say that Nugent groped Smith and she then punched Nugent
in the chest)
Nugent: Look at this--on the air.
Smith: Get your hands off me--and out.
Nugent: Arite, arite. We got it.
Turntable starts abruptly: Ted Nugent--"Cat Scratch Fever"
My great friend of more than twenty years, Vic Doucette--radio veteran, writer and editor--reminded me of the legal IDs that the fabled 99.5 was using when we were both
sharing a passion for this station, although we hadn' t met yet: "The station of your wildest dreams--WABX-FM/Detroit." And "WABX-FM/Detroit. Not responsible."
ABX Air Ace Mark Parenteau took that "not responsible" stuff seriously--he was
incarcerated until a few years ago (look it up). But from late 1970/early 1971 to 1974, he was my favorite DJ. Although every Air Ace was all over the musical map, Parenteau didn't get into that lazy hippie vibe, for the most part. His sets were often teeming with energy, moving from Little Richard to Roxy Music to Sparks ("Whippings and Apologies"). And there would be one song he was stuck on and played day after day, like Jack Kittel's macabre country cover of Leon Payne's "Psycho" or Billy Paul's uptempo, live version of "Thanks For Saving My Life." Much of what aired on Parenteau's program was music best described by its host: a "good, old fashioned Rock'n'Roll ass-shaker." He was from Boston and joined that city's legendary WBCN after his Detroit run.
Dennis Frawley was doing the "Kokaine Karma" show with Bob Rudnick on East Orange/NJ's WFMU, which is free form to this day and still one of the most exciting stations in the nation (not to mention well-supported financially). When he came to WABX, I remember Frawley hipping me to the L.A. band Love (although I knew "Little Red Book" from AM in Detroit), and he blended all sorts of great stuff from the Byrds to Motown to John Lee Hooker to Motor City hard rockin' havoc. Sometime in 1974, excited by current R&B, Frawley did several months of shows of nothing but.
Paul Greiner had a really easy-going air presence and I liked his work a lot. If anyone played more Roy Wood & Wizzard or the Move on ABX than Greiner, I'd like to know about it. If he got in an early to mid-period Beatles mode, look out! You'd be hearing it awhile.
I suppose WABX had a hippie vibe if you were experienced (not neccessarily stoned but beautiful, indeed), but since I wasn't looking for one, that's not what I took from them.
Their music choices were largely unconventional but hardly laid back to the point of being dull. There were no jingles with someone singing the station call letters. If they had any national sponsors, WABX would do the ads themselves--no stupid, national announcers who couldn't pronounce "Hamtramck." When they did a spot for the then red-hot Alice Cooper's Detroit gig, Dave Dixon interjected, "Don't forget the snake, Alice."
Parenteau (and maybe everyone) had the nine minute jam version of Buffalo Springfield's "Bluebird"--it was a rare and scintillating treat when that hit the airwaves. It could've been ABX bootleg play that forced Atlantic Records to finally release the whole version on an 1973 anthology for the first and only time. Vinyl, of course. WABX played the rough mixes of (Iggy &) the Stooges' Raw Power
long before it was issued.
I must have been nuts to not have a tape rolling for that storied radio discussion I mentioned in Pt. 2 of this post. Same for when Bob Seger was a guest DJ. I expected some classic blues and R&B from Bob, and maybe a few of his own songs, when he hosted. What I recall is tons of Phil Spector classics and Seger's insightful chat on record production.
Of course, live broadcasts also brought WABX its renown, and in late 1971, there was the live benefit to help spring John Sinclair from his "Ten for two" (as in joints) imprisonment. John & Yoko were kind of anticlimactic, appearing live at that Crisler Arena gig in Ann Arbor at 3am, but it was a noteworthy radio event. Seger and Stevie Wonder were also on the bill.
You might have an idea that I'm big on free form radio and don't want it to vanish.
My last pledge pitch for now: Please contribute to radio still doing free form--it's up to you what station. I'm on from 10am to noon this Saturday (Pacific Time/U.S) with the KAOS pledge drive. Or contribute anytime online: www.kaosradio.org
And now, the full WABX/Detroit motto/disclaimer, which they must have adopted from the Firesign Theatre: "The opinions expressed on the following are those of
no one in particular, and this station refuses to accept responsibility for anything.
Thanks to all who have mentioned through Weebly and other types of email that they enjoyed my WABX-FM anecdote; here's more.I actually discovered good old 99.5 out of curiosity--by turning the knob and scanning the FM dial. I wanted to find out what was on it, because nobody in our house listened to anything but AM radio. So on a spring day in 1968, I caught the Doors' "When the Music's Over" in progress. An eleven minute song on the radio! And I believe it was ABX Air Ace Dave Dixon who spoke afterward and ran down everything he'd played. He started talking about FM, saying it was "the future" of radio. I didn't believe that;
look how wrong ya can be.
A few more unusual WABX items ('til the next post):
If you heard Martha Jean "The Queen" Steinberg on WDIA/Memphis in the 1950s or on WCHB/Detroit in the '60s, then you were used to hearing a female disc jockey. But in Detroit rock radio (whether on AM or FM), it wasn't happening. Until Ann Christ (pronounced like "crisp"), that is. She sounded fantastic, and WABX had her for a couple of years before she returned to her home state, Wisconsin. Talk about breaking down barriers.
I recall Roger McGuinn doing some live songs and an interview on the X--he was promoting his Roger McGuinn solo album in 1973. He was asked if he knew Paul Simon, since both were on the same record label. McGuinn said that when he first met Simon,
Paul was annoyed about something. "You're stepping on my cape!" he told McGuinn.
Hearing new music on ABX was often exciting, and so were those bits of Rock'n'Soul history I may have read about but didn't know first hand. Like hearing Them's "Mystic Eyes" on an overnight show; the same with Sam Cooke's original "Twistin' the Night Away." Or Captain Beefheart. Or Traffic. LaVern Baker or Leon Thomas, anyone?
Not sure who the DJ was, but he quickly got to the mic and apologized to listeners and said he thought he had the original song, but the record was actually a re-recording of the classic doo wop song he wanted to play. "That will never happen again," he said, and yes, you could hear the sound of a 45rpm record being smashed.
Then there was that incredible night in 1972 when a "rap" between two DJs on a weeknight changeover (when one would be exiting and one would be taking over the controls) turned into a full scale, heavy discussion about commercial vs. free form radio. What's more important, art or having a paycheck? Jim Dulzo and Larry Monroe quit right then and there (on the air), while others made their way to the station to join the argument, which escalated from interesting to boiling. I remember that exchange becoming so intense that they put on a side of Dylan's Blonde on Blonde for listeners and kept their discussion off the air.
I've mentioned some music that might be deemed "commercial," but it qualifies as free form because the WABX Air Aces were playing what they felt like playing. I wish I could have been a part of that kind of groundbreaking Detroit radio from 1968-74, but at least I've been allowed to make my own programming decisions on KAOS-FM in Olympia, WA since 1994. Nobody tells us what to play (or say, or not say), and the freedom is exhilarating.
Our station membership drive starts this Saturday (see www.kaosradio.org), and I encourage you to support whatever station is in your area, whatever station floats your boat. Don't give up the ship.
For a few days at least, I'm going to do some reminiscing of what I heard on Detroit's free form WABX-FM--it turned out to be a glorious extended encounter with radio that I probably took for granted. I first heard them in 1968, was really into what they were doing by 1970, and was still diggin' it in 1974. But by 1974, it was starting to unravel.
In August 1974, ABX was airing the quickly-released June 1, 1974 (Island),
(from the live in London concert with John Cale, Kevin Ayers, [Brian] Eno and Nico) as I was packing my bags to return to college (my sophomore year) in Texas. That autumn, my friend Dave Grenville told me they'd gone Easy Listening! They changed back to the "Old ABX" but when I heard them again (1976), they were far less exciting. WABX became a typical station, afraid of the oncoming and much-needed Punk rebellion.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but after I first heard the Ramones in 1976 on a Texas station,
I was discovering that Detroit radio did not play much Ramones. Not even in 1977, when Punk was breaking from London to the U.S.--or the other way around. WABX should have been ready for this, as they aired proto-Punk from the MC5 and the New York Dolls quite a bit, earlier in the decade. That was when listening to radio was the biggest thing in my life. As I've said before, if you were really intrigued by something The X played, you'd better go find the vinyl, because it probably wouldn't be on again, at least during your listening time.
I believe that good radio programming means establishing a core sound and then moving away from it, coming back, moving away from it, and coming back. That's what I heard, especially from 1970-74. Later on, ABX sounded more corporate by comparison.
Because in WABX's glory days, besides Motor City Rock and Soul, they'd play anything, and it didn't have to be rock---it could be John Coltrane's blazing A Love Supreme.
Or that Sunday night when a jock put on a reissue of the ancient (we're talking January 1938) but still-thrilling Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall gig before a Faces BBC concert that WABX carried.
I bring this up because free form is fading fast. From what I can tell, satellite radio pulls listeners in, yet they eventually discover that there's a formula. So I'm asking everyone this week to consider supporting (yes, with money, if you have it) wherever you get your most adventurous radio programming. And I'm contributing to KAOS-FM/Olympia on the day of my membership drive show (Saturday, April 10).
More WABX stuff next time, with a pledge drive pitch at the very end.