Another one of those posts where a mildly chilly evening walk and an old AM radio clip on the iPod get my imagination going.
For the next seventeen hundred words or so, it is Thursday, October 25, 1973, and our ears are somewhere in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area, listening to morning jock Bill Gardner on KDWB-AM. (If you want to listen along, the roughly 23-minute clip can be found here.)
– After announcer Michael J. Douglas runs down the news of the morning, Brookdale Pontiac takes over to assure listeners it is “scurrying to make room for those elegant and sought-after ’74 Pontiacs.” The ad touts “Pontiac’s revolutionary aerodynamic design;” I can only assume they had something like this in mind.
– In a tres ’70s touch, Gardner teases the weather forecast not with “Twin Cities weather,” but “Twin Cities environment.”
It seems rather warm for late October in Minnesota, up into the high 50s, but Gardner sounds distracted by the potential for showers. He mentions the weather — excuse me, the environment — with audible concern several times during the broadcast.
– Gardner outcues “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by declaring, “That’s the kind of a song that, if your house or your apartment doesn’t have a fireplace, your mind builds one of its own.”
I have no idea what he’s on about … but the scraps of music on this telescoped aircheck have that reverberant AM-radio glow, and my mind starts constructing fantasies of comfort around nearly all of them.
– Terry Bradshaw shows up in an Eveready battery commercial touting a Super Bowl sweepstakes.
After his closing “See you at the Super Bowl!,” Gardner retorts: “Wrong, Terry! You’re gonna be holding Franco Harris’ hand, saying, ‘I’m sorry, buddy!’ on New Year’s Day.”
It’s a dopey thing to say. But it also summons faded NFL Films memories of Bud Grant, and Fran Tarkenton, and the Purple People Eaters, and stone-cold Sunday afternoons at Metropolitan Stadium, and those distant days when the Vikings were a force and men were men and concussions were nothing at all.
– A commercial touts “All The Way, Boys,” which sounds like a toothless farce of the sort they don’t make any more. The Wiki entry tells me it was an Italian film; I rather wonder how much of an audience these ads drummed up for it.
– Another ad brings back memories of S&H Green Stamps. Whatever happened to those?
– Mrs. Leroy Norby of Minneapolis wins $6,300 by correctly naming the previous song played, and promptly lets out one of those screeches that pushes the VU meter all the way into the red. (I have never heard anyone make that noise except when they win something on the radio.)
– An ad for Brellantine Dodge (I’m punting on the spelling) mentions an address in Hopkins. I am amused to know there was something else in Hopkins besides Mystery Science Theater 3000, and equally amused to think a young Joel Hodgson might have caught this broadcast when it originally aired.
– Gardner outcues Chicago’s “Questions 67 and 68” by noting, “The answer to one is ‘Yes and no’ and the other one is ‘not necessarily.’ ” Clearly, Hodgson did not develop his sense of humor by listening to the radio — unless he was riffing off that too.
The DJ continues: “If this were, let’s say, about 18 or 19 degrees, I would be fearful … that’s a rough-looking sky out there today. This is as good a time as any to remind you that all school closings that you’ll need to know in 1973 and 1974 are gonna be right here on KDWB.”
This is one of several scraps of the broadcast that makes me contemplate what KDWB’s morning audience was. The teens were in school at 8 a.m. on a Thursday, so the station is clearly aiming at grown-ups, particularly younger ones. That impression is only redoubled by the next ad …
– … for Cherokee Village Apartments, starting at $160 for a one-bedroom and $205 for a two-bedroom.
The ad mentions the apartments’ luxury appointments, including “shag carpeting.”
And suddenly I am inhabiting the mind of a young, single man — a teacher, maybe, or an engineer fresh out of some provincial state school — unpacking the boxes at his Cherokee Village one-bedroom, thinking idly to himself about how some mythical, yet-unmet Twin Cities lady is going to just swoon when she comes by his place and gets an eyeful of his shag carpeting.
– A cannonade of John Bonham drum-fire announces the next song, and Gardner quips: “You’re with a lady. Things are looking good. The question comes up: Do you make her? Is the Pope a Catholic?”
It seems in rather poor taste. Then Gardner outcues the record by saying again, with a straight face, “Led Zeppelin, ‘Do Ya Make Her?”
And I am left wondering how many DJs in the hinterlands never quite got one of Zeppelin’s most idiosyncratic song titles.
(I confess: I always thought it was pronounced “Dire Maker.”)
– A parody commercial starring a Johnny Cash imitator touts yet another “luxury” apartment complex, the Grand Prix West Apartments in St. Paul. No shag carpeting mentioned here — just a car wash and underground parking.
– Given a good 30 seconds of lead time to promote the next cash giveaway, Gardner still manages to step on Karen Carpenter’s arrival in “Top of the World.”
– The cash giveaway is the next song, “My Sweet Lord,” whose strummed guitars sound gorgeous and magisterial.
Unfortunately, when Gardner cold-calls the Berg residence, M(r)s. Berg is unable to name the song that’s just been played, missing her chance at $6,300. Gardner is concise and classy in response, while M(r)s. Berg presumably hangs up and is gripped for weeks afterward by dismay and regret.
– Any ad that starts, “Meat-eaters, hear this!” is bound to draw one’s attention.
And so one is drawn in to the tale of Vivian Wojsica of Saint Paul (did I mention I’m punting on some of these spellings?), who won $10 worth of Schweigert meat products by submitting a cash-stretching recipe for Schweigert Boiled Dinner.
Her recipe, for you foodies: Cook carrots and a small rutabaga, cut in fourths, in a large kettle of water. When the rutabaga is tender, add onions, potatoes, a head of cabbage cut into fourths, and a Schweigert-brand ring bologna. Simmer ’til the potatoes are done, and enjoy.
This is as much a time capsule as the $160 big-city apartment. The rising price of meat was a significant concern to Americans in 1973-74. I can believe that more than one Twin Cities housewife committed the basics of Schweigert Boiled Dinner to memory while listening to the KDWB morning show.
– Bobby Goldsboro’s “The First Time” and some more weather-related blather lead into a commercial for Lafayette Radio, a local sound-equipment store. (Remember locally owned sound equipment stores that still had the word “radio” in their names?)
Another time capsule: Lafayette’s goods include “a $60 set of Koss stereo headphones” and “an $8 TV antenna.”
The ad ends with one of those random synth-twizzles that sounded so techie back in the ’70s … which bleeds right into the mighty semi-gospel intro to Helen Reddy’s “Delta Dawn.”
It’s a curious but charming juxtaposition, like leaping directly from a lab full of scientists to a Baptist church.
(And then my mind leaps to 2000, to the newsroom of a daily paper in Massachusetts, where a wise-ass copy editor colleague greets every mention of a dotty old female state senator with a chorus of, “Delta Dawn, Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on?” Those were days, those were.)
– Gardner returns, explaining that he’s having trouble figuring out exactly where a station-sponsored haunted house is. He knows the address — 9235 Medicine Lake Road, Minneapolis — but no one he talks to knows exactly how to get there.
It makes me think of the million different intersections in a city, and the countless different places, and the way a building can have a defined address and yet be totally beyond recollection in the minds of people who have passed it all their lives.
– From there, a background of jangling bells leads into a commercial for Akavan Imports, which offers imported clothing, rugs, tapestries and handcrafted wood and ivory items. (“Beautiful items for apartments and townhomes, costing very little” — was KDWB consciously selling to a less affluent but hopeful audience?)
The whole thing rings very ’70s to me: I can remember a time when such stores were alluring, but I do not think that time remains.
The ad pitches the grand opening of Akavan’s latest store, in “the New Old Town at Southtown Shopping Center,” which strikes me as an exquisitely jumbled confection of retail nomenclature.
– The chiming intro to “Maggie May” begins — and damn, doesn’t that sound autumnal? — but Gardner is entertaining a young female caller who has a joke to share:
“Did you hear about that new group called the Watergaters? You can buy their records, but you can’t buy their tapes.”
Gardner, apparently jangled to distraction by the beauty of Rod Stewart’s finest record, outcues it with all apparent seriousness as ” ‘Maggie May,’ done by the Rolling Stones.”
Yup, the Rolling Stones.
– A long and poorly done commercial for the KDWB haunted houses follows. It features a Dracula voiceover that segues, instantly and bafflingly, into a normal pitchman’s voice declaring, “If you rent an apartment or house, you’re grinding up money in the garbage disposal!”
I have to listen to it again (a luxury 1973 listeners didn’t have) to sort out the chaos. As it turns out, the thunder sound effect that closes the haunted-house ad blends remarkably with the grinding noise that opens the next one. It sounds like one continuous ad; you never hear Drac leaving or the new guy coming.
The grinding ad turns out to be for Patty Mobile Homes, which is offering one year of free lot-space or a free 1973 snowmobile to new buyers.
While its ad begins with a family pitch — “Build your happy family in a Patty home today! Fill it with happy children!” — it moves on to a different kind of sell: “You bachelors should see Patty’s super bachelor pad with deluxe features throughout! For swingers only!”
Which makes me think of someone more downmarket — a young factory worker, perhaps — sizing up the inside of his new swinger’s special from Patty’s and wondering how long it will take him to charm the miniskirt off some comely visitor.
– On that note, our 23:31 in telescoped time and one hour in real time with KDWB is over.
Gardner cues “the Number One record” — “I Got A Name,” by the recently deceased Jim Croce — and the tape fades out. (“I Got A Name” did not reach Number One on the national charts, so Gardner is presumably referring to the station’s own play chart.)
And I realize how dark it is in 2014 Pennsylvania, and that the kids aren’t going to put themselves to bed while I gas about some faded-around-the-edges sound snatched from the distant ether.