It’s hard for me to believe that my old friend Chuck Riley has been gone for almost twelve years. I first met Chuck when I was just a kid and was working as a part-time board-op at CKY in Winnipeg where he was teaching me the tricks of production. At the time, I didn’t know it but I had the good fortune of learning from one of the best. However, being a board-op also meant I had many other tasks (can you spell gopher) and one of those was picking Chuck up at his apartment for the weekly jock meetings. Chuck was Chuck Dann back then and when I would arrive at his place, he’d say with a smirk on his face, “George, tell Jimmy that I’ve heard all his stuff before so I won’t be needing to attend his little motivational seminar. However, probably so I wouldn’t get in trouble, he’d reluctantly end up coming come with me, but first, he’d make wait.
It was at one of these wait sessions that I remember him answering the phone but staying silent until he finally said, “Hey pal, this is how it works, every couple of weeks, I put all my bills in a hat and then draw one out and pay it. If you don’t stop bugging me, your name is not even going in the fucking hat.
No matter what Chuck did or said, it was all worth it to me because I learned so tricks that production became my first love and I became addicted to great promos. Hell, I only left the production room and became a PD because I noticed that program directors always drove nice convertibles and had pretty wives. Even today I can’t imagine doing decent radio without having some super voices around like Riley, his brother Buster Bodine, Roger Klein, Earl Mann, Gary Housley, John Polk, Eric Chase, TJ Byers, Billy Moore, Tony Maddox, Bruce Buchanan, Eric Edwards, Jason Williams, Jack Mccoy, and Bobby Ocean to only mention a few of those that I’ve had the honor of working with.
Luckily, very early on, I’d learned that creating promos was very similar to writing a song, producing a movie, staging a play, authoring a book, or creating your next great break on the radio. You need an attention-getting opening, a little drama in the middle, and then you wrap it all up with a killer close.
Chuck, who was an American, eventually moved back to the US where some ten years later we worked together again at WIBC in Indianapolis. This time though our roles were reversed, I was his boss (like anybody could be Chuck’s boss) and I’ll never forget the time I was called into a meeting with him and Jim Hilliard. Jim was pissed and said to me, “George you’re only here as a witness because if Chuck ever forgets what I’m about to tell him, you will be able to remind him.” He then turned to Chuck and said, “Riley you’ve been acting like an ass! Every day you either have the switchboard or traffic girl crying and have pissed off most of the staff that works here with your nasty attitude. In fact, they are so pissed with you that they are calling for your head. Until you clean up your act Chuck, this is how it works, if your ratings even slip a tad, I’ll be forced to give the staff what they’ve been begging me for. Do you have anything that you would like to say in response?” Yeh, Chuck replied, “Tell ’em not to hold their fucking breath!”
However, my being reunited with my old production mentor was terrific and I couldn’t wait to drag him back into the studio and do a few award-winning promos. Chuck later claimed that he got his mean voice delivery from the way I wrote which he said he needed to round out his demo tape.
The thing about Chuck was that he had the rare ability to sound much different on the air than he did in the production room. This meant that I not only got to use him for promos on WIBC but at a lot of our other stations too.
It was at one of these promo sessions that we, along with Cris Conner and Buster Bodine, produced a top-hour ID for Wnap that became a classic. You can hear that 1973 session by clicking on the Buzzard at the bottom of this page. Below that is the demo tape that got Riley his shot in Hollywood, and after that, I’ve included a taste of his on-air warmth from a Saturday morning fill-in show on WIBC (great acting on his part). Enjoy!
PS. Some years later when Chuck was a big deal in Hollywood, he surprised me with a phone call claiming that he wanted to apologize for mistreating me over the years. I told him that I couldn’t recall him ever treating me poorly, but he demanded that I hear him out anyway. However, before he could get started, I interrupted him with, “Chuck I only have good memories about you, why would I want to replace them with whatever it is that you want to tell me” and hung up. I had no idea he was going through a 12 step thing. Miss you old friend.
SOME ABSTRACT THOUGHTS…
Doubt, without a doubt, will kill an otherwise great relationship.
I heard a thought-provoking line on a TV series the other night, “When I lived in Russia, I was poor, not American poor, poor!”
Speaking of the not so poor, the wealthy don’t like to show their wealth, but the rich are always ready to flaunt theirs.
A wedding ring is the smallest set of handcuffs in the world so choose your cellmate wisely my friend.
Socrates claimed if you marry a good woman you’ll be very pleased, but if you marry a bad one, all is not lost because you can still become a great philosopher.
I was told that Asians used to bind the feet of female babies for aesthetic purposes. Now I hear that their undeveloped feet caused them to walk in a fashion which strengthened their vaginal muscles. I think Paul Simon had it right when he sang “All The Crap I Learned In High School.”
Just because you agree with something doesn’t make it less controversial.
Does anybody but the government think that tax evasion is a horrendous crime?
The hardest part of any project is getting started.
Geo’s Media Blog is an inside look at Radio, Music, Movies, and Life. For a sneak peek at some upcoming Blogs, or some that you may have missed, go to GeorgeJohns.com. On Twitter @GeoOfTheRadio. Sharing and commenting is appreciated.