Spain Rodriguez (1940-2012), from Cruisin’ with the Hound: The Shadow of Fred Tooté, p. 21, 1992; graphite, pen, and ink on paper, 14 x 8 ¾ inches; Courtesy of the Artist
The Hound and Other Wildlife by Al Wallack
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
“At the sound of the tone….”
I don’t know exactly when my fascination for radio first took hold. There were some of those old radio dramas and comedies still left on-the-air. But that wasn’t it. I did enjoy listening to them, however TV was starting to gather steam, so now I could actually see Boston Blackie (Enemy of those who make him an enemy, friend of those who have no friend), and Jack Benny (…….I’m thinking, I’m thinking!). So, I went traveling up & down the radio dial ‘till I found something interesting.
One of the first voices I remember clearly is that of Lucky Pierre. I was, maybe 7 or 8 at the time (early to mid-50s) so I’m not sure where on the dial I found him, but as you can imagine the sound of a French accent introducing the latest smasheroo from Patti Page or Roberta Sherwood or Eddie Fisher was too good to pass up. His silky smooth European sounding delivery and endless piles of records that must have been stacked around him stopped me in my tracks. He was only on radio so I couldn’t see him….until I closed my eyes, then I could see him vividly….goatee, cigarette holder and beret. All of it. His wasn’t the only voice that came out of my radio, but he far and away was the most unique.
At around that time I started to wonder about these people to whom I could listen in on at the turn of a dial. Who were they? And how was it that they were allowed to say whatever they wanted, and I could hear them wherever I went, on the nifty little transistor radio that I picked out at Olson’s or the crystal set shaped like a rocketship that clamped onto the radiator in my room. Some of the names were Bob Wells, Ed Tucholka, Norma Jane & Bernie Sandler. I heard Charlie Bailey talk about sports and Ralph Hubble carry on discussions with his friend “The Old Timer”. “Beuly” told us when we could stay home from school. This alone made him very popular with me and my peers.
At that time radio stations were programed much like TV stations are today. An hour of a daily “soap” from the network could be followed by a polka show with Stan Jasinski, followed by an Italian show with The Ricos. A breakfast program from a local department store with Helen Neville leading into, maybe, news of the day with John Corbett. (I know, I know. The radio mavens out there will be yelling that most of these people didn’t even work at the same radio station….what do you want, I’m only 8 years old.) I was merely setting the stage for another voice that I was soon to stumble upon. This guy was a grizzly, rumpled sounding hepcat who was even more interesting than the Frenchman who was on earlier in the day. There were howls in the night, and street lingo that would take some time for me to figure out. And the music was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Some fat guy was singing that big Pat Boone song Blueberry Hill; but it was even better, if you can believe that. And the women singers sounded nothing like Patti Page…..at all! We were told we could buy these songs, if only we would go to a place called Audrey & Dell’s, or see someone named Doris. I didn’t know who these people were…. I was afraid to even ask. And the voice that was coming out of my radio was unforgettable. We would take a long walk down a hall to the Blue Room (last door on the left), and we would visit a truly awesome place called The Club Zanzibar. My head would spin. He was The Hound Dog!
Truth be told, The Hound wasn’t the only one playing some version of the new music on the radio, but he was the one I found. Someone played it, sort of, on WXRA and on WINE. But it wasn’t the same. Let me point out, I’m not the consummate Hound Dog expert because, remember I was only 8 years old and had a radio curfew. By the time I turned 9, things started to change. The Hound disappeared and other voices began to appear on my radio. Now it was simply The Big KB and it was going KaBoom and Futuresonic, whatever that was. The big change seemed to be that the adult programs that populated the daily schedules were gone, and now it was all kids’ music all the time. In the morning someone named Perry something-or-other was on the radio, and he had wild animals in glass cages. Later in the day there was a guy who called himself “The Moose”. And instead of The Hound at night there was another guy who yelled all the time and said he was The Wild Eye-talian. I figured he came from Italy or something. As it turned out he wasn’t from Italy at all….he was just a little crazy. I guess what I’m trying to say is that these folks were very different than all the other voices on my radio. None of these people looked like Don Ameche when I closed my eyes. Even better… my parents HATED them. I jumped in with both feet. I did miss The Hound, but as far as The Big KB was concerned………I Was In!
“Do not be a dial twister……..”
Things seemed to be moving along in my radio listening life for the next few years. I met a few different voices from time to time. Mornings were especially active. Voices came and went. There were a couple of guys that stood out, both named Nelson. One was Gene. The other one was everyone’s favorite Nelson, mainly because he wound up on our TV sets. Jungle Jay was a pretty funny guy. He had red hair. I was really lucky because I found out that I lived just around the corner from “The Big KB”, so I could go over there and badger whoever came in or out of the place. Another one was a guy on in the afternoon who called himself Daffy Dan, he had all these friends he would talk to. Someone named Artie showed up all the time. And a hockey player who sounded like that French guy who must have left town or something.
I guess I was in about 6th grade when the earth moved, at least for me. I was in my room with the radio on full blast, trying to decide whether or not to ask the doorknob to dance. And then it happened. My favorite song by Dion (about some slutty girl named Sue) had ended, and a voice came on my radio that said…”Joey Reynolds is coming”. That was it. “Joey Reynolds is coming”. This went on for several weeks. “Joey Reynolds is coming, Joey Reynolds is coming”. I didn’t know who this Joey guy was, but I was losing sleep worrying about when he was going to show up. Then things started to heat up. “Joey Reynolds is coming…..in 2 weeks”. Oh My God, only 2 weeks to go. “Joey Reynolds is coming…..in 10 days”. Be still my heart.
Finally, Joey Reynolds arrived.
Not only did he arrive…he blew in like a hurricane. He welcomed me in as a member of The Royal Order Of The Night People. He issued membership cards and everything. I no longer have mine, but I’m the guy who lost a Mickey Mantle rookie card. He directed me to melt purple candle-wax on my radio’s dial so I couldn’t change the station. He came up with something that I had no idea about what it could have meant, but I loved it just the same…..”Burn Buffalo Burn”. AND he wasn’t all that crazy about the Beatles. Where did this guy come from that he had all these crazy ideas? (Oh…..he was from Buffalo!)
I especially liked it when Joey got there a little early and had fun talking with Daffy Dan before his show started. They made each other laugh. And I sat there laughing right along with them. Sometimes I would happen by the radio in the kitchen and heard what my parents had on. The belly- laughs were VERY limited on their radio.
I was a loyal member of The Royal Order, until Joey abruptly stopped being on my radio anymore. I never even heard his name mentioned on my radio after that. Later I heard he was fired. What could he have done to get him fired that was worse than wishing Buffalo would burn? I went into deep mourning, at least at night. I still listened to Daffy Dan all the time and even compared notes with others at the bus stop. All we had to say was, ”did you hear what Danny said yesterday”? No explanation needed.
By that time I was in high-school and there were other distractions grabbing my attention. Girls! They were always out there, but now they started to look way different than they used to.
But in the back of mind there lurked four towering figures who I blame for sidelining my future plans at the Presidency. The Hound Dog, That very loud guy named Biondi, “Daffy Dan Neaverth” & Joey Reynolds.
The rest is history! Well, maybe not History……..but it all changed my life. I kept my eye on the prize and never looked back. Actually, as you can see from the essay above I must have looked back plenty, but I did make a pest of myself to enough radio program directors that some finally allowed me on-the-air…..to varying degrees of success.
Al Wallack started his radio career while attending Buffalo State College and played a part in establishing the radio station on campus. While attending school, he landed a job at WKBW (1969) and has not held a job outside of broadcasting since. Wallack began his career at WEBR/Buffalo as all-night man in 1972. Al moved to mid-days and the position of production director shortly thereafter. When the station was sold to WNYPBA, Al stayed on to found JAZZ IN THE NIGHTTIME, a popular show which he hosted for the next 20 years. When the format of the station changed and jazz was discontinued, Al became Operations Director for WNED-AM and FM.Most recently serving as Program Director for WNED-AM for 12 years. For over 15 years he was heard as the on-air voice of WNED-TV/Buffalo and WNED Radio. Al also serves as board member of the Buffalo Broadcasters Association, a group of 200 broadcasters organized for the purpose of archiving Buffalo's rich broadcast history and recognizing broadcasters' achievements.