Showing posts with label WIBR. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WIBR. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The shack by the track

The shack by the track . . . from above (Google Maps)

I would have thought the "shack by the track" off of "beautiful Choctaw Trail" would have been long gone by now. After all, I've been long gone from Baton Rouge for more than 31 years.

But no. The shack -- a rather forlorn-looking Quonset hut even when it was still home to WIBR radio a half century ago -- still stands at what once was 600 Neosho St. in north Baton Rouge . . . at least according to the latest view available to Google Maps.

Google Maps street view
Back in the day -- my day -- it was hard to miss WIBR when you were driving down Choctaw, about a quarter mile off River Road on the north end of Capitol Lake. You can make quite the impact on a Quonset roof with enough black paint, a giant W, I, B and R's worth of black paint.

Time has worn away the giant WIBR on the roof, revealing the previous "1220 kilocycles" painted up there. To my generation, WIBR always was Radio 13, but when the brand-new station signed on in July 1948 -- Baton Rouge's seventh or eighth, counting all the FM stations its AM predecessors were opening before they closed them in just a few years -- it was WCLA, with 250 not-so-booming, daytime-only watts at 1220 on your radio dial.

In that Quonset hut, with a tower plopped down right in Capitol Lake. That right there had to have helped coverage, and with 250 watts, WCLA needed all the help it could get.

Morning Advocate, July 18, 1948

THAT Quonset hut, stuck between a contrived lake, a grimy industrial park and a "Choctaw Trail" that was beautiful only in the supreme irony of the WIBR announcers having dubbed it such, nevertheless was a tin-can incubator of Baton Rouge broadcasting royalty. Pappy Burge. Bob Earle. B.Z. (Bernard Zuccaro). "Ravin' Dave" Davison.  J.C. Politz.

That Quonset hut was the first radio station I'd ever been in -- the first time I got to glimpse what was on the other end of the radio waves energizing my transistor radio. It had to have been 1969, and I was an 8-year-old geek with mad telephone skillz -- mad enough to be quick enough on the rotary dial to score a MAJOR-LABEL LP from the then middle-of-the-road station.

OK, so the record album was Jimmy Roselli's Let Me Sing and I'm Happy and not the Beatles. Or even Bobby Sherman.

But it was a MAJOR AWARD . . . and it wasn't a leg lamp. ("The soft glow of electric sex" would have been lost on my prepubescent self.)

Yes, I still have that LP today.

When I encountered "the shack by the track" somewhere on the cusp of the '60s becoming the '70s, it was a weekend. I'd won this record album from a big-time radio station in a small-time structure in a city that sometimes confused big-time and small-potatoes, my parents had difficulty with the concept of "regular business hours," and so the old man steered the 1967 Mercury Park Lane off "beautiful Choctaw Trail," through the lovely meadow of Quonset, concrete and quiet despair, then up to the gravel parking in front of 600 Neosho St.

There were two cars there -- ours and the weekend disc jockey's.


A young man answered the door. Long hair, blue jeans, bare feet.

"My boy here won a record album."


The young man let us into the reception area, from which you could see EVERYTHING through the big studio window. They could launch Apollo 8 from that control room.

If you somehow didn't get electrocuted by all the technology in there, you might could get yourself to the damn moon. I did not say "damn", though "damn" was the least of the colorful language I learned from Ralphie's -- uh, my -- old man. Daddy would have whipped my ass; I would have learned a few new terms for future reference, no doubt.

WIBR handout, circa 1955

THE FAMOUS weekend DJ, Steve St. John, apologized for his casual attire and bare feet amid the musical merry-go-round of Andy Williams, Jerry Vale and whatnot. He explained that things were pretty cas on weekends at WIBR, and he was gracious about our lackadaisical attitude toward Monday-Friday, 9 to 5.

And I got my Jimmy Roselli album, which I expect to fully musically appreciate any year now.

Later, I figured out that Steve St. John (who by this time had advanced well beyond "weekend guy" in the WIBR and Baton Rouge-radio pecking order) was Steven Robert Earle, son of Bob Earle, who ran the joint.

Yours truly, a former "overnight guy" himself, also figured out that radio was one of the coolest things ever, in the sense that one "figures out" what one knew all along. Quonset-hut studios, as it turns out, only add to the mystique.

And they're apparently damned durable -- more durable than the major station that gave out major awards to majorly geeky little kids. WIBR, decades past its MOR and Top-40 heyday, is (at best) an afterthought today, something a major radio chain doesn't quite know what to do with. In recent years, it's been off the air a lot more that it's been on the air.

Now, it rebroadcasts KQXL, the big urban station in Baton Rouge. In my mind's eye, WXOK is the big urban station in Baton Rouge, but that's another memory of faded glory . . . in my hometown.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Music in the ruins

Long ago and far away -- when I wasn't yet who I would become but sure that I was what I'd always be -- the soundtrack of my and my friends' lives was a three-track tape.




Two of these things were much like each other on the AM radio dial around Baton Rouge, La. --
WLCS and WIBR. They were the stations of our Top-40 selves. They played the hits; we tuned in; they fought like dogs to attract the bigger share of us.

WFMF was for our hippie selves. Sometimes, you feel like a freak . . . sometimes, you don't.

But it was
WLCS and WIBR which ruled the airwaves. On AM. One ruling from 910, high over downtown Baton Rouge; the other counterattacking at 1300, nestled amid the sugarcane fields of Port Allen, just across the Mississippi River.

It was kind of like the Cold War, only in a sleepy Southern capital and with burgeoning arsenals of records, T-shirts and bumper stickers instead of hydrogen bombs.

"We will bury you!" thundered Joe London and B.Z. "You'll never make it past the Prize Patrol," smirked Chucker and Scotty Drake.

AND THE YOUTH of Red Stick lined up behind their leaders, pledging allegiance to one radio ideology or another -- that of the Big Win 910 or its mortal enemy, Radio 13.

Some non-aligned parties looked on from afar, ganging a bong . . . er,
banging a gong over at 'FMF -- Loose Radio -- but they still had their Top-40 leanings, left and right side of the dial.

Mutually Assured Top-40 Destruction brought a certain stability to teen-age society. Had for decades. We thought it would last forever, and the biggest worry in the world would continue to be that your future children of the groove might someday defect to Them, whichever station was Them to your Us.

WE WERE wrong. Just like we were about being forever young, eternally slim and always having a full head of hair.

Today in Baton Rouge, the only thing to be heard at
AM 91 or Radio 13 is . . . nothing. Maybe some static. Maybe -- after the sun goes down and the tree frogs begin their bayou serenade -- you'll hear a station from far away riding in on the Ionosphere Trail.

High above downtown, somebody else inhabits Suite 2420 of One American Place, if that's still what they call that particular high-rise that once was the home of

Over in the Port Allen canefield, a ways down Lafton Lane, the old WIBR is a ghost studio with a busted satellite dish and dead towers. A vine runs across the peeling paint of a fading sign.

IT REMINDS me of a Walker Percy novel. Specifically, Love in the Ruins, the tale of a time near the end of the world. Well . . . at least our particular one.
At first glance all seems normal hereabouts. But a sharp eye might notice one or two things amiss. For one thing, the inner lanes of the interstate, the ones ordinarily used for passing, are in disrepair. The tar strips are broken. A lichen grows in the oil stain. Young mimosas sprout on the shoulders.

For another thing, there is something wrong with the motel. The roof tiles are broken. The swimming pool is an opaque jade green, a bad color for pools. A large turtle suns himself on the diving board, which is broken and slanted into the water. Two cars are parked in the near lot, a rusty Cadillac and an Impala convertible with vines sprouting through its rotting top.

The cars and the shopping center were burnt out during the Christmas riot five years ago. The motel, though not burned, was abandoned and its room inhabited first by lovers, then by bums, and finally by the native denizens of the swamp, dirt daubers, moccasins, screech owls, and raccoons.

n recent months the vines have begun to sprout in earnest. Possum grape festoons Rexall Drugs yonder in the plaza. Scuppernong all but conceals the A & P supermarket. Poison ivy has captured the speaker posts in the drive-in movie, making a perfect geometrical forest of short cylindrical trees.

Beyond the glass wall of the motel dining room still hangs the Rotary banner:
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

But the banner is rent, top to bottom, like the temple veil.

The vines began to sprout in earnest a couple of months ago. People do not like to talk about it. For some reason they’d much rather talk about the atrocities that have been occurring ever more often: entire fam
ilies murdered in their beds for no good reason. “The work of a madman!” people exclaim.
PRETTY MUCH, that's radio today. Any kind of common culture today . . . ruins. Covered in vines, surrounded by weeds.

How did it get this way?

The work of a madman!

Madmen, actually. Perfectly sensible-looking, upper-crust ladies and gentlemen in board rooms across the land -- cultured folk prone to fits of business-school jargon about reimbursement packages, shareholder value, efficiencies of scale and "right-sizing." All of them bat-s*** crazy. All of them weapons of mass unemployment.

They are veritable neutron bombs that eliminate the heart and soul and local voices of broadcasting while leaving bricks and mortar relatively intact, ruins to be consumed by flora as tempis fugits and young people grow into old ones.

My memories remain young. Sometimes, 30-something years ago seems like 30-something minutes ago.

I drive north on La. 1. I turn left at a red light. I drive down the road, between the sweet fields of south Louisiana, thinking sweet thoughts about lost youth. I hang another left, a
sharp left, into the gravel parking lot.

And step into the ruins of Radio 13.

Of me.

Of us.

I step into silence where once there was music, and I cannot go home anymore.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Needle Drop Top-40 Record Shop

No, there's no real point to this.

It's just a photo essay, born of fooling around yesterday afternoon and reflecting on my misspent youth. Which, alas, went out about the time turntables did.

Turntables are making a small comeback, though. I suspect radio has a better chance of following in vinyl records' -- and record players' -- footsteps than my lost youth does. And radio's chances lie somewhere between slim and none.

Still, it's nice to remember old friends and good times.

And remember, boys and girls, the only two numbers that matter in life are 33 1/3 and 45.

For true.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Simply '70s: Stick it and win

If you grew up in Baton Rouge, La., in the 1970s, you just got goose bumps.

And, irrationally, you're hoping the guy from the radio station will see the bumper stickers on your computer screen, stop you and give you a prize.

WIBR (Radio 13), WFMF (Why, oh, why didn't they stick with progressive rock?) and WLCS (the
Big Win 910) . . . we got 'em all covered. For we of a certain age, these stations -- with able assists from WAIL and WBRH (starting in '77) -- provided the soundtrack of our youth.

It was a time when school shootings were unheard of and teenagers did not live by the calendar on their smart phones, which blessedly did not yet exist. I miss those days, and I miss these radio stations.

Even the post-Loose Radio incarnation of 'FMF. But don't tell my friends; that would be so not cool.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Four Songs: Yesterday Once More

This week on Four Songs: five songs. It was necessary -- one of the songs is by John Denver, and a "make good" was in order.

IN MY DEFENSE, I didn't pick the music. That was done according to what was hot with the record-buying public . . . in April 1975. Unfortunately, John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" was big back then.

Unsurprisingly, I would have picked differently. But they don't let 14-year-old kids program Top-40 radio stations, and that's how old I was when this episode of Four Songs was done. Live. Through the facilities of the Big 91, WLCS radio in Baton Rouge, La.

In all its amplitude-modulated glory.

And glorious it was. So glorious that I was sitting at the kitchen table, early the morning of April 17, 1975, with my portable reel-to-reel tape recorder patched into the earphone jack of my clock radio to preserve a piece of WLCS forever.

It was a Thursday. Gary King was the morning man.

WLCS was one of Baton Rouge's two Top-40 blowtorches. Radio 13 -- WIBR -- was the other. 'IBR had some great jocks, and a friend of mine even was a part-timer there when I was in high school . . . but I was an 'LCS man.

No offense to WIBR.

Of course, by 1976, I was firmly in the camp of Loose Radio (WFMF during its album-oriented rock salad days). But I'll always love Double-U ELLLLLLL CEE Ess . . . even though it died in 1983, a few months 1984, a year after I married a KOIL woman from Omaha.

And if you're under, say, 30, you're not getting this conversation at all, are you?

LET ME EXPLAIN. Once upon a time, there was this thing called radio -- AM radio -- and we listened to it on "transistors," which were like iPods, only affordable. And better.

An iPod only can bring you the few hundred songs you load into it after illegally downloading them off the Internet or legally buying them on iTunes. But a transistor radio, that could bring you the world, baby.

All for free. And without the threat of a lawsuit by the music cops.

The world first came to my bedroom on a transistor radio tuned to WLCS. I also could tune in the whole wide world on WIBR, or maybe WTIX in New Orleans -- and sometimes KAAY through the ether from Little Rock at night -- but I mostly dug those rhythm and blues . . . and rock 'n' roll . . . and countrypolitan . . . and a bit of ring-a-ding-ding, too, on the Big 91.

What it was, was the breadth of American popular culture at my fingertips. And British Invasion, too.

Never was education so fun. I turned on the radio just to listen to some tunes, and I found myself under the spell of a thousand different tutors -- friendly voices from morning to overnight -- playing for me the breadth of musical expression . . . or at least the musical expression that charted well. It is because of 'LCS, 'IBR, 'TIX (and later, 'FMF) that this Catholic Boy has catholic tastes.

Your iPod is cool and all, but it can't do that.

SEE, THE DEAL IS that I can't repay the debt I owe to WLCS, for one. I can't repay the debt I owe to Gary King, that friendly morning voice on this episode of Four Songs.

For a spell there, King's was the voice I woke up to, got ready for school to and ate breakfast to. He played the hits and told me what the weather was outside, and Gene Perry gave the news at the top and bottom of the hour.

Back in the day, radio was a well-rounded affair.

King's also was the friendly voice that answered the studio line when an awkward teen-ager in junior-high hell would call to request a song. And his was the friendly voice that would take time to chat for a bit when that kid -- or his mother -- sometimes thought he had nothing better to do . . . like put on a morning show.

I didn't know it then, and Gary King (real name: Gary Cox) probably didn't know it, either, but what he was doing was being Christ, in a sense, to a lonely kid and his -- come to think of it -- lonely mother. I shudder to think what one of today's "morning zoo" shows would do with rich material like me and Mama.

That is, if the zoo crew answered the studio line at all.

Via the AM airwaves, I made a human connection with WLCS and Gary King. I needed that. We all need that. And you can't get that from your iPod, though some of us will try to give it, because you have to work with what you have.

BEFORE APRIL 1975 was done, Gary King was gone. He originally was from Kentucky, and one day the call came from WAKY, the Top-40 powerhouse in Louisville that Gary grew up listening to.

On his last show, Gary's ending bit was "convincing" Gene Perry that he could catch a bullet in his teeth if the newsman would just help him out on the gun end. It didn't work as planned . . . which means it worked perfectly in radio's "theater of the mind."

I think I shed a tear or two.

And a couple of years later, I was learning the ropes at WBRH, Baton Rouge High's student-run FM station. And 33 years later -- after various pit stops on the air and hot off the press -- here we are at Revolution 21, trying to figure out what "radio" will be in this new millennium . . . right here on the Internet.

Thanks, Gary. I can't repay you in full, but maybe this will make a nice down payment.