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Friday, May 14, 2010

On The Record

I love records! Everyone who’s ever met me is well aware of that fact. I can’t remember how to do some of the simplest things, but I can tell you the name of just about any artist that issued vinyl from the mid-60s on (labels and B-sides, too). It’s both a blessing and a curse to be a vinyl junkie – a curse, when it comes time to move, and to transport tens of thousands of records. But it’s a blessing when a recording artist discovers that someone actually has – and enjoys – that piece of music that they were convinced no one on earth has ever heard of, let alone owns a copy of.

So I guess this post was inevitable. Combine nearly two decades in the WCIX/WFOR newsroom, with a lust for records, and you get this selective discography of Channel 6’s greatest (non-)hits. The recording artists at the station ranged from anchors, to weathercasters, to tape editors, to interns. Here are just some of the musical souvenirs that our illustrious employees left behind.

Any look at Channel 6’s recording artists has to start with the one and only Hambone. Future superstar anchorman John Hambrick first started recording in the ‘60s – while based in Ohio. Before striking out on his own, Hambrick recorded this folk-inspired obscurity with two of his brothers. The oddly-named “John Jud Mike” appeared on the Fraternity label, which had several hit records in the 50s and 60s (including “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” by the Casinos, “The All-American Boy” by Bill Parsons (nee Bobby Bare), and “Memphis” by Lonnie Mack). This record, engineered by former Floridian Lee Hazen (whose credits include “The Little Black Egg” by the Nightcrawlers) went nowhere, but undaunted, John Hambrick pressed on, eventually winding up on Terry Knight’s Brown Bag label.

Hambrick’s 1972 LP “Windmill In A Jet Filled Sky”, featured a who’s who of Nashville studio musicians, including Southwest High grad Charlie McCoy and Harold “Pig” Robbins. Knight, whose main claim to fame was managing rock bands such as Grand Funk Railroad and Bloodrock, had high hopes for the album, but it failed to take off, leaving Hambrick to pursue his long career in TV news. Hambrick told us many stories about this LP, and his brushes with some of Nashville’s finest songwriters and artists. If ever there was a natural born storyteller, it was John. An unforgettable character in many ways.

(My personally autographed copy of John's 1972 single. Click images to view them full size.)

I remember when Don Franklin recorded his remake of the “A Deck Of Cards”, the T. Texas Tyler/Wink Martindale hit of several decades earlier. Franklin was a terrific announcer and weatherman, but he wasn’t a singer… which was okay, considering this record falls in the “spoken word” category. Don Franklin was a real class act. It’s a shame so few people seem to remember him, and I’m sure even fewer have any idea that he ever made a record.

Chuck Zink didn’t come to work at Channel 6 until the 1980s, but during his amazing run as Skipper Chuck on WTVJ, he took part in this children’s recording on the Vak label. Music played a big role in the Skipper’s program, though I’m sure few would remember songs such as “I Love Little Kitty” or “Wiggle Nose, The Flop-Eared Bunny”.

Steve Hass started working at WCIX in either 1970 or 1971, and I’m sure there were those that didn’t know about his past. Hass had been the drummer for the Gents Five, a Miami band that recorded a couple of very elusive singles back in 1967. “I started as a projectionist, then ran the video and audio boards,” Hass remembers. “Operated the camera in the studio mostly, and went on to shoot news footage. Those 16mm mags were a bitch to load.” The A-side of the Gents Five’s record was written by group member Dave Tubin, who is better-known to South Floridians as Cosmo Ohms, the long-time sound man at Tobacco Road.

Jim Hayek is best-remembered for his graphic designs, but his guitar was never too far away. (Jim was the first guy I’d call on, when producing my K-Tel album spoofs for the Christmas reel.) As half of Danny & Desi Doodrop, Jim entertained children on Duck Duck Goose, and entertained the rest of us at parties and during down time. It should come as no surprise that Jim won 4th prize in Creem Magazine’s national songwriter’s contest. That was in 1978, and it resulted in the release of a single the following year, on Hayek’s own Black & White label. As a guy who designed graphics for The Ten O’Clock News, it was sort of an inside joke that Hayek would come up with the band name The News (years before Huey Lewis’ gang). WSHE-FM liked the single, but declined to play it, being on a local label and all. (Boo!) Hayek is still active in music, and plays with a band called On Eleven in Denver.

The Final Say was the name of a project that included WCIX videographer Rafael “Ralph” Murciano. Ralph played drums and piano on the group’s only release, which came out in 1984 on the band’s own TFS label. Who can forget Ralph’s music video, “Morning After Blues”, with Dr. Steve Greenberg? It’s too bad that tune never came out on vinyl!

The Rubber Thongs first appeared on WCIX, when a song they performed at the 1980 John Lennon Tribute in Downtown Miami made it on to one of our newscasts. Years later group leader John Paris would work the assignment desk at our Doral newsroom. John was a great guy who unfortunately became a scapegoat, at a time when management felt they needed one. Like so many that were fired from WCIX/WFOR, Paris landed on his feet, getting a much better job at CNN in Atlanta.

Robert Lyon joined the station a little later, becoming a news videotape editor after the switch to WFOR. But to me, he was Robert Lyon, guitarist of the pop-punk band Caught Inside. WFOR’s Shane McLafferty also joined the band on drums. Caught Inside is still well-remembered in South Florida for their fun, lighthearted songs that capture the late 90s so well.

My good friend Laura Regalado made many friends during her brief time at WCIX/WFOR. She’s still in the business, but living in Maryland now… and playing bass in the band e.joseph & the phantom heart. You might remember Laura (also known as Mia) as part of the band Bionix, during her Channel 6 days. One very talented and beautiful person.

WCIX also had some talented interns, with at least three of them having brief recording careers. In the 60s, Mark Ostrovsky was the lead singer of the Missing Lynx, whose single on the nationally-distributed DynoVoice label is now very collectable. Intern Matt Cooper was part of the trio Dream Time, whose 12” single received quite a bit of airplay on college station WVUM in the early 90s. Matt never made good on his promise to get me a copy of the record, so I don’t have a scan to show you! Hey Matt (or Omar), if you see this, help me fill a hole in my collection!

Another late 80s intern, Jimmy Deal, was a member of local hardcore band FWA, whose self-titled album included the underground hits “Warehouse Party” and “Vanna White”. Well, maybe hits is too strong a word, but those are fun songs that still sound good to my ears.

I’m sure there were other WCIX recording artists, but I can’t think of them at the moment. Any additions, corrections, and vinyl goodies will be gratefully welcomed, as always.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Versatile, A Plus

Tony LaRussa would have been proud. The St. Louis Cardinals manager, with a fetish for versatile athletes who can play multiple positions, surely would have loved the way WCIX stretched, pulled, and jostled its employees. Like LaRussa having his second baseman play the outfield, or a pitcher running out to left field, the old Channel 6 would sometimes let employees try unfamiliar jobs, either enriching or embarrassing themselves in the process.

Where else in the Miami market would a reporter (Jerry Fisher, Rod Meloni) have spent months at a time doubling as a line producer? Where else would a Chyron operator (me) have been allowed to write the Wall Street business reports, paving the way for a future career as a producer? As one who had to prepare the credit rolls that followed the newscasts on Fridays, I had to keep a score card (well, actually a score sheet) to keep track of who did what that given week. Switchers ran audio; audio operators ran tape; tape editors ran the Chyron. “Versatile, a plus” was more than an ad in an adult magazine back in those days. Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!

Keeping track of who did what for the weekly credit roll. Click image to enlarge.

Our versatility didn’t end with the newscasts. We had actors, disc jockeys, musicians, comedians, and comic book artists among our ranks. (Oh yeah, authors, too.) We were one talented bunch, if I do say so myself. Memories of that talent live on in our minds, but some of the old 6’ers left behind tangible souvenirs of their endeavors, in the form of records and, later, CDs. In the next entry, I will look at some of the WCIX alumni that were also recording artists. There will be names you’ll recognize, and others that you won’t, but I think you’ll find that our musical notes were as powerful as our reporter’s notebooks. I bet Tony LaRussa would agree.