It’s hard for me to believe that my old friend Chuck Riley has been gone for almost twelve years. I met Chuck when I was was working as a part-time board-op at CKY in Winnipeg and he was teaching me the tricks of the trade. Little did I know that I was learning from the very best.
However, my being a board-op meant I had many other tasks to attend to besides learning how to do radio production. (can you spell gopher) One of those tasks was being sent each week to pick Chuck up at his apartment so he wouldn’t miss the weekly jock meetings. Each week when I would arrive at his place to get him, I would be a total surprise, and he’d ask what I wanted. Then when I would tell him he would 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, and probably because he didn’t want me to get in trouble, he’d reluctantly end up coming come with me, but first, he’d make wait.
It was while waiting for him at one of my weekly wait sessions that I’ll never forget his answering the phone but for the longest time not saying anything. Finally, he said, “Hey pal, this is how it works, every couple of weeks I put all my bills in a hat and then I draw one out and pay it, if you don’t stop bugging me, your name’s not even going in the fucking hat.”
I am so grateful to Chuck for taking me under his wing those many years ago because production became my first love and to this day I’m still addicted to great promos. Hell, I only reason I ever left the production room to become a Program Director was because they always seem to drive nice convertibles and had pretty wives.
Even today I can’t imagine doing radio without having some super voices around like Chuck 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, Bobby Ocean, only to mention a few that I’ve had the honor of working with.
Luckily, I learned early on that creating great promos was similar to writing a song, producing a movie, staging a play, authoring a book, or creating the next great break on the radio. You just need an attention-getting opening, a little drama in the middle, and then wrap it up with a killer close.
When I worked with Chuck back in Winnipeg, he, like the rest of the Americans that worked at CKY, eventually moved back to the US and that was the end of my radio education. However, as fate would have it, some ten years later, we hooked up again at WIBC in Indianapolis where I now was his boss. (like anybody could be Chuck’s boss)
Now instead of having to pick him up to bring him to jock meetings like I did when I was a rookie, I had to attend meetings between him and Jim Hilliard and one of those meetings was unforgettable.
On this particular day, I was told by Jim’s secretary that he needed me in his office immediately. When I arrived, Chuck was sitting across the desk from Jim and I could tell that Jim was pissed. As I sat down he said, “George, you’re here as a witness because if Chuck ever forgets what I’m about to tell him, you will be able to remind him.” Then he turned to Chuck and said, “Riley you’ve been acting like an ass lately! Every day, not only do you have the switchboard or traffic girl crying, you have most of the staff at the station pissed off at you. In fact, they are so pissed that they’re calling for your head and if your ratings even slip a tad, I’ll be forced to give it to them. Now, do you understand me and do you have anything that you would like to say?
Yeh, Chuck said, “I understand what you’re saying but I need you to tell the staff not to hold their fucking breath” and with that, he walked out.
Chuck, later became one of the biggest voice over guys in America when he moved to LA and landed the CBS Television gig.
However, what I most remember about Chuck was that he had the rare ability to sound much different on the air than he did in the production room and even in the production room he had several different commercial voices. Because of that, I could use him for promos on both WIBC and WNAP.
It was at one of these promo sessions that Cris Conner and had with him that we recorded the top-hour ID for WNAP which Buster Bodine later mixed it all together and made a classic out of it.
(You can hear that 1973 session by clicking on the Buzzard at the bottom of this page. Below is the demo tape that got Riley his shot in Hollywood, followed by a taste of his on-air warmth from a Saturday morning show on WIBC. Great acting on his part). Enjoy!
PS. One of the things I’m very sad about was that 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 didn’t recall him ever being abusive towards me, 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 you’re gonna say?” And with that, I hung up because I had no idea he was going through a 12 step thing. Miss you my old friend.
Doubt, without a doubt, will kill a 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, real poor!”
Speaking of the not so poor, the wealthy don’t like to show their wealth like the rich who 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 Geo’s Media Blog @ GeorgeJohns.com. On Twitter @GeoOfTheRadio. Sharing and commenting is appreciated.