Saturday, July 15, 2017

DJ Cat Olsen

A version of this story even appears in the Hank Harrison book The Dead. In their October 23, 1975 issu, Jet magazine published an article as well.  I have read three versions and the three are so different that they could be construed as separate events. So what was the truth about the Cat Olsen incident? What really happened at 1130 WNEW-AM in 1975? So let's start with the evidence.  In the archives at the Paley Center for Media is a 30-minute tape made in September 14th, 1975 at WNEW-AM. They list a summary that understates the unusual nature of this tape.

"This radio program features an on-air telephone conversation between disc jockey Scott Muni and a man named Cat Olson, who is in the process of holding up a bank. Olson called the radio station during Muni's regular program and demanded to talk to the disc jockey about the robbery and the hostages he is holding. Topics discussed include the following: the reason the bank alarms are not being turned off, despite Olson's request for peace and quiet; the reason he released some of the hostages; the number of people that are still being held inside the bank; Olson's other requests; the reason he has withdrawn from society and refuses to trust anyone; Olson's greetings to people via radio; whether the bank robber wants Muni to be a negotiator between the police and other officials at the scene; Olson's desire to speak with a woman named Mouse; Muni's decision to go down to the bank to meet Olson and try to talk him out of the hostage situation; Mouse's insistence that Olson give himself up; and Muni's departure from the radio station before the end of his shift so he can meet the bank robber face to face. The program concludes with a news, weather, traffic, and sports report. Includes a commercial."
All of the above is true but incomplete. A man named Ray "Cat" Olson (spelled Olsen in the Harrison version and NY times) took hostages at a bank and demanded airtime on WNEW with DJ Scott Muni. Jet magazine identifies the bank as Bankers Trust Bank in Greenwich Village, in New York City.

Hostage situations aren't covered in broadcasting school. And nothing in his resume at WAKR, WMCA, WORWABC or Radio Guam prepared him for this. But much to his credit, Muni kept his cool. In his 2004 New York Times obituary, they summarized the incident in one sentence. "In the early 1970's, a bank robber named Cat Olsen, who was holding hostages at a bank, demanded to speak to Mr. Muni and hear some Grateful Dead. He helped defuse the situation." The Grateful Dead?  Well yes. This reference largely corroborates the Harrison version of events. Published in 1980, some five years after the incident, Harrison wrote:
"Naturally, the police, when they finally arrived on the scene, asked this rather disheveled man wearing bright floral pattered shirt, sneakers, and an army jacket, what his demands might be. He replied, not money, not power, not any of the normal things a normal bank robber asks for; instead good old Cat wanted only to hear three consecutive house of Grateful Dead music played on the AM radio with an additional three minutes allocated to he, himself, for his message."
Against all odds, the demands were met. Olsen spoke at length with Scott Muni on air about the Grateful Dead, about Jerry Garcia, Patty Hearst, the Symbionese Liberation Army and also about the plight of blacks in America and about James Brown. The Harrison version skips this part but Jet was all over it. Olsen asked to speak with James Brown. Brown was contacted and he did offer to fly from Los Angeles to help the police. But before Muni, or Brown, or Jerry Garcia ever spoke with Olsen, the police fulfilled another demand.

Olsen swapped 10 hostages for a six-pack of beer. He drank it all, and took a nap and was then easily subdued by his captives. After 31 years on WNEW, Muni was fired in 1998 as part of a veteran DJ purge. Brown cancelled his New York flight and instead appeared on the Johnny Carson show that night as scheduled. Olsen went directly to Rikers.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Jazz Man Radio Show

I read the book Hot Jazz For Sale: Hollywood's Jazz Man Record Shop by Cary Ginell and by page 8, I found myself googling an arcane possibility. The founder of the Jazz Man record shop, Dave Stuart, had hosted a Los Angeles radio program featuring rare records from his private collection. His shop and subsequent record label were  actually named for his on-air name "The Jazz Man." Frustratingly, nowhere in the book does Ginell identify that radio station. I reached out to Mr. Ginell and he responded quickly "No, I could never find a listing for his program. Checked the radio listings in the LA Times, but nothing turned up."

The store was founded in 1939 and it's first address was 8960 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069, and the book tells me that at that time he lived in nearby Glendale, CA. The Jazz Information newsletter referred to his "daily broadcast" and also let the world know when the shop relocated to 1221 N. Vine street in 1940.  Then in 1941 it moved to 6331 Santa Monica Blvd. Regardless of the moves, Stuart was rooted in LA. So the question becomes... how many radio stations might have been airing jazz daily in and around Hollywood in 1939?

The answer is more than a few. But as you turn the clock back to cusp of 1940, the options thin out.  Dave Stuart recorded some area jazz bands and their discographies bear a lot of call letters. 1940 the Dawn Club (operated by the Yerba Buena Jazz Band) opened near Union Square in San Francisco, at 20 Annie Street. Friday night broadcasts begin on radio KYA hosted by Hal MacIntyre.  In 1942, the same band records five sides at at the studios of KFRC. Disc two of the complete Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band Good Times Recordings are all recorded at KYA in August 1942... but those are all San Francisco call letters. They cannot be the home of the Jazz Man radio show.

So who was airing jazz in LA?  The DJ Alex 'Sleepy' Stein, worked at 1250 KFOX in LA, then he started 97.9 KNOB, reputedly the first all-jazz radio station in the world. But KLON didn't debut until 1950, and KNOB not until 1957. Options in 1940 included: 780 KECA-AM, 1360 KGER-AM, 1300 KFAC-AM, 1120 KFSG-AM, 1000 KFVD-AM, 640 KFI-AM, 950 KFWB-AM, 1200 KGFJ-AM, 570 KMTR-AM, 900 KHJ-AM, 1050 KNX-AM, and in nearby Beverly Hills 710 KMPC-AM. But we can whittle that down. KFSG was all religious talk and the big outlets like KFI, KNX and etc. weren't big on leasing time. Then I found a solid reference. [SOURCE] The San Bernadino County Sun lists the program on KMTR in issues from roughly December 22nd, 1939 through February 28th, 1940.
  • KMTR-Jazz Man, San Bernardino County Sun Dec 22 1939
  • KMTR-Jazz Man, San Bernardino County Sun Jan 6, 1940
  • KMTR-Jazz Man, San Bernardino County Sun Jan 12, 1940
  • KMTR-Jazz Man, San Bernardino County Sun Feb 8, 1940
  • KMTR-Jazz Man, San Bernardino County Sun Feb 27, 1940
Once I found a reference, I found it everywhere. The program even appears in Volume 11, issue number 33 of the Movie Radio Guide, published for the week of May 23-29 1942. But there is a problem, it's also on a different station... this time in San Francisco.
  • KSFO-Jazz Man, Oakland Tribune May 12, 1942 
  • KSFO Jazz Man, Santa Cruz Sentinel May 19, 1942
  • KSFO-Jazz Man, Oakland Tribune June 1, 1942
In 1940 the transmitter and Blaw-Knox tower for 560 KSFO-AM was located on an 11-acre complex at Islais Creek on the Bay Shore. (This was also the site of the KWID shortwave transmitter in WWII) The station's studios were in the Palace Hotel at 2 New Montgomery St. in downtown San Francisco. Clearly this must be an unrelated program. But here's the weird thing, it aired at the same time of day as the KMTR program. That mystery, I have not solved.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Waterhole Radio

The word waterhole evokes a National Geographic image of ungulates gathering around a muddy depression in the savanna to drink and to drink quickly to avoid irritable hippos and hungry crocodiles. Or perhaps a deep depression in the woos, an oxbow off a larger stream with a Norman Rockwellesque  tire swing hung above it. As it turns out this is actually the idiom from which waterhole radio takes it's name.

The more technical term "waterhole radio" describes the electromagnetic spectrum between 1,420 and 1,666 megahertz. This corresponding to wavelengths of 21 and 18 centimeters respectively. This "hole" is a notch in the radio band that is low in noise. With few exceptions, from Earth, the whole of the electromagnetic spectrum is very noisy. So when we point out dishes skyward in attempts to listen to the cosmos, we often focus on those low-noise segments. It was Bernard M. Oliver in 1971, who dubbed the spectral region a Cosmic Water-Hole. "Where shall we meet our neighbors?" he asked. "At the water-hole, where species have always gathered." More here.

Oliver began his career at Bell Telephone, where he stayed through WWII working on radar development, and later pulse-code modulation with Claude Shannon. In 1952 he joined Hewlett-Packard as director of research.  He was elected President of the IEEE in 1965. Five years later  he was supervising  the production of the first hand-held HP calculators in the 1970s. was IEEE President in 1965. He held over 60 patents and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1986. So how does he connect to Oliver? In 1971 he and John Billingham identified the band in the Project Cyclops report for SETI in a NASA funded study. Below is the opening quote from that study:
Generally speaking the microwave region, between about 1 and 10 GHz is low-noise. But rather than search blindly within that band, Cyclops recommended targeted searches of specific stars, but also in a subset of that Microwave band between 1 and 3 GHz. There were technical reasons, the low end of the band has smaller Doppler shifts, and less stringent frequency stability requirements... but it was also largely free from Oxygen and Water absorption.  But the target, was between the strongest hydroxyl (OH) radical spectral line radiates at 18 centimeters, and hydrogen (H) at 21 centimeters. These two molecules, which combined form water, are widespread in interstellar gas, and their presence radiates radio noise at these frequencies. So here we have two metaphoric signposts, representing the foundation of life as we know it, within the quietest part of the band. The scientists and the poets all agreed this was a fine place to look for alien life.

But perhaps it's not so clear. Critics point out that there are actually four hydroxyl radical spectral lines: 1612.231, 1665.402, 1667.359, and 1720.53. [SOURCE IAU] so the bulls-eye is somewhat less clear, and less poetic. Game theorists have dismissed the waterhole as a Schelling point. It's a focal point based on our own biased expectations. (Named for American economist Thomas Schelling.]) More here. The Fermi paradox aside, after half a century of ardent searching SETI has found nothing, but as Stephen Hawking pointed out... that may not be a bad thing. More here.

Friday, June 16, 2017

YANK's AFN Radio Guide

I have a few issues of Yank magazine from 1943 and 1944. The official name was "Yank, the Army Weekly." It was published from June 17, 1942 through December of 1945. At it's peak, there were 21 different versions being printed in 17 countries with a circulation of over 2 million copies. There were different editions for Britain, India, Philippines, Pacific, Continental, Far East and others. Because of that wide distribution and popularity, you can find most issues on eBay today for between $5 and $10.  All of the 1944 issues contain an AFN radio guide, and all of those guides list a mix of highlighted programs . But all of them list either Yank's Radio Weekly, or Yank Radio Edition. But there is little information available about that program. I found the answer in the British Edition of the March 12, 1944 issue.
"We are indebted to the American Forces Network for making possible a new half-hour radio program sponsored by Yank, and called Yank's Radio Weekly. It's to be strictly an ETO feature, and will be broadcast this, and every other Saturday from 11:30 until 12. The announcer, assuming he can keep the London fog combed out of his larynx, will be Pvt. George W. Monaghan of the American Forces Network. You can tune in on this new venture by dialing 1375kc, 1402kc, 1411kc, 1420kc, 1447kc, 218.1m, 213.9m, 212.6m, 211.3m, and 207.3m"

AFN produced other programs as well, Duffle Bag, and On the Record which also appear in the Guide. George Monaghan wasn't British. He was an American from Connecticut. He had been broadcasting since 1938, and had previously been an announcer on 1200 WTHT-AM in Hartford. More here.  The book This is the American Forces Network by Patrick Morley goes into more detail about Monaghan, and the relevance of other AFN DJs like Johnny Kerr. Their style was a big departure from the BBC style of the era. It's worth the read.

But back to the guides. Let's be clear, the guide was not a radio schedule. It was just a list of highlighted programs, times and frequencies.  Some of my copies are British editions and you can see they give different frequencies. I am sure that not all 17 countries editions had radio  guides. Both of my 1943 issues lack the guide but that may be specific to the edition. I scanned and included a selection below:

A115 - NOVEMBER 12 1944 (National Barn Dance, Amos & Andy, Mildred Baily Show, American Band of the AEF, Music Hall, Command Performance, Yank's Radio Weekly, Football)

A122 - MAY 14 1944 (Jack Benny Show, Command Performance, Fred Allen Show, Bob Hope Show, Charlie McCarthy Show, Yank Radio Edition, Take The Air)

A123 - JULY 09 1944 (National Barn Dance, Hit Parade, Duffle Bag, Gay Nineties Revue, Bing Crosby, Kay Kyser, Yank's Radio Edition, Amos & Andy)

A124 - JULY 16 1944 (Bob Crosby, Combined Orchestrations, Burns & Allen, Bob Hope, GI Supper Club,  Fred Allen, Yank's Radio Edition, Conducted by Faith)

A125 - SEPT 17 1944 (Andre Kostelanetz, Village Store, GI Journal, Fred Allen, The American Band of the AEF, Bob Crosby, Yank's Radio Weekly, Eddie Condon's Jazz Session)

A126 - SEPT 24 1944 (Comedy Caravan, Amos & Andy, GI Journal, Music by Freddie Martin, Conducted by Faith, Duffy's Tavern, Yank's Radio Weekly, Saturday Night Serenade)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cleaning out the Archives! (revised!)

 I am cleaning out the archives again so I have several eBay auctions going on concurrently. All radio and music related of course. You chart-watchers will be very interested in this one. I am off-loading a set of the Joel Whitburn Billboard books. The man has his own Wikipedia article and he deserves it. Regardless, it's on eBay now so my hoarding can soon become your hoarding.

  • Bubbling under the Billboard Hot 100: 1959-2004 LINK
  • Pop Hits 1940-1954: Singles & Albums LINK
  • Top Country Singles, 1944 to 2001: Billboard's Country LINK
  • Christmas in the Charts, 1920-2004 LINK
  • Top Pop Singles: 1955-2002 LINK
  •  I also put up a big collection of 78 RPM paper sleeves LINK
  • Pop Memories, 1890-1954 : The History of American Popular Music LINK
  • Country Annual (1944 - 1947) LINK
  • Tascam DR-05 Handheld PCM Portable Digital Recorder LINK
  • Gakken Denshi Electronic Mini Blocks LINK
  • Parasound T/DQ-1600 Broadcast Reference Tuner LINK
  • Lot of 8 Yank Magazines LINK