More Music, More Musing

Here’s a follow-up to one of my more popular posts here, where I feature my OTHER aircheck recording of Tony Oren’s wonderful overnight program on KMOX in St. Louis. It’s a show I still sorely miss. Oren himself oozed class, and his “Music & Musings” were already a remnant of an era gone by when I captured this reception back in 1990. It’s the sound I used to hear on the AC/Delco in my dad’s 1967 Pontiac Catalina as snow flurries swirled in the headlights.

Great voice, and paced and graceful conversational patter. Radio for grownups. Although Oren left KMOX in 1994 and died four years later, the radio station itself kept the overnight easy listening format it had offered for decades intact until 1999, long after it had disappeared from almost every market in America.

By being on after dark on a clear channel powerhouse like KMOX, Oren was talking to almost half the country each weekend. It was a station I could receive equally well in southern Michigan or on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It was my weekend beacon of relaxation, with Tony slyly musing into the night, and night and bouncing the stylings of Tony Bennett and Henry Mancini off the old American F layer.

And since I posted that first recording of Oren, a few readers have filled me in more KMOX history. Specifically, I wanna thank reader Cliff in Missouri for leading me to a book called “The Mighty MOX,” which only dedicates a page or two to Oren’s legacy at the station, but there’s a few compelling tidbits that are worth relating (besides his Oreo cookie habit…)

For example, a smooth operator like Tony makes it sound easy and completely natural the way he segues from the lyric of some old standard to story in the news. But the secret of his glib reverie was that it was all built on a regimen of preparation.

“Tony would bring a suitcase in with him,” said Rene Servicer, one of his producers. “He had his stuff in his suitcase. Tony had a miniature paper cutter and would slice up the wire copy and put it in the binder. He’d write in the columns what it was. ‘Man bites dog story,’ or ‘wedding’ or whatever. Say he played a song called ‘Eternal Love,’ he would real quick turn to the section on weddings and read an article about something that pertained to the song."

Still years away from Google searches and subscribing to radio fodder via email, Oren did it the hard way, sorting through the teletype copy off the news wire to collect all the tools he might need for a night of “musings.”

There’s not a lot of biographical details on Oren in the KMOX book, but it does mention that he traveled the world a bit, and had some semblance of an acting career in Australia. And from that deep rich voice I’d bet he was a smoker and enjoyed a whiskey now and then. A bon vivant kind of guy. And of course, a night owl.

There was certainly a flavor of worldliness to Oren’s show that attracted me, but there were more than a few after-dark damsels who found Oren’s assuring baritone banter appealing in a more glandular fashion. According to Servicer, woman would call and offer him breakfast at their house. And there’s no word in the book whether Oren was married, or if he enjoyed some complimentary morning meals with female admirers. I’d like to think he did.

Speaking of that, here another excerpt from “The Might MOX,” as told by Barb Felt, a KMOX account executive during Oren’s tenure at the station.

There was a middle-aged woman living on the east side who became addicted to Tony Oren’s voice on the weekends, but it was a love/hate relationship on her part. She would call him on the off-air line during the breaks and accuse him of reading her mind. She claimed she would be thinking a thought and then Tony would instantly bring that subject matter up in the on-air dialogue.     

Now that just sounds like a recipe for trouble, doesn’t it? There’s no further details of their actual relationship. But even if Tony did score a few stacks of hotcakes (or better) in the deal, it sounds like he came close to getting his brains scrambled one evening.

“One night after his show, Tony went to his car, (which was parked on the street in front of the station) and while he was unlocking the car door, a frenzied woman jumped up from behind the car and sprayed Tony with mace,” Felt said. “She screamed obscenities while threatening him that if he ever ‘read her mind’ again, she would take more drastic actions. She then disappeared into the shadows."

Having a voice that beguiles half a nation of female insomniacs obviously has a down side.

Anyway, here’s the tape. Unfortunately, it’s the only other one I have. Although Cliff says he still has a few recordings of Oren on KMOX around his house.

KMOX – Music and Musings with Tony Oren 02-04-90 pt 1
(download)

But as you hear that jazzy strum of the guitar at the end of the KMOX news, you know you’re in the hands of a radio pro. And the musings here are standard MOR radio fare– celebrities born on that date (Wow, Vice-President Quayle was only 43…), as well as the events of that day in history. And then, Al DeLory tinkles gently on your mind.

And it’s AM STEREO! Wish I could have recorded it that way.

However, shortly into the following Ella Fitzgerald number it becomes obvious that there’s a Spanish language station vying for the attention of my radio. In fact, I’d guess it’s coming in from down Havana way. And like many of the artifacts of AM analog reception and the inherent propagation variables of that type of audio transmission, the effect of these two stations coming in at the same time is almost graceful. Even poetic. And to hear what I mean, just check out the Cuban music floating beneath Tony’s treatise on the retirement of jockey Willie Shoemaker at the beginning of part two of this recording.

KMOX – Music and Musings with Tony Oren 02-04-90 pt 2
(download)
                           
Actually, it’s not that strange that a Cuban signal would drift over like this. I made this recording in Mobile, Alabama– where I was around 560 miles from the St. Louis transmitter on the mainland. And to the southeast, Havana wasn’t much further– like 640 miles or so. And the Cuban signal actually takes over the frequency so completely that you can’t even hear Oren introduce a Johnny Mathis classic. And considering Oren’s episode with that psychotic fan, it’s kinda fitting that he happened to play “Misty" for us that night. And once Johnny comes in clearly, listen to the signal throb warmly atop the distant Cuban station. It’s not just misty. It’s mystical.

And besides the incidental Latin accompaniment on the second half of this aircheck, Tony’s musical selection is even better. Especially, if you’re as fond of Dinah Washington, Nelson Riddle and Jack Jones as I am. And before it’s all over you get some CBS news, 1990 style. Nelson Mandela is about to finally be released, and sweeping reforms are underway in South Africa. And the Soviet Union has come down with a fatal case of glasnost. Meanwhile, writer Salman Rushdie was just one year into his fatwa problem. But no mention of the coming recession the first Bush presidency was cooking up for our country and the world.

It’s funny how everything before the world wide web seems like a simpler time. And the schmaltzy pop instrumentals and jazzy vocals of “Music and Musings” certainly sound dated. But as much as I usually find nostalgia a little silly, when I hear the archival sound of old-fashioned “middle of the road” American radio I do feel a homesickness I can’t deny. Not for any place I used to live, or anything I used to do, but for that calm adult sound that used to come out of any radio if you turned it on and adjusted the knob. The lack of irony is refreshing. The professionalism is inspiring. And the solace makes as much sense now as it did back then.

And in case you missed it, my first post on Tony Oren can be found here.

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4 Responses to “More Music, More Musing”

  1. Paul Kelly Says:

    I get the same nostalgia. Probably a generational thing. When I was a teenager I would have ignored the likes of Oren. But listening back, it really is a lost world. There were still adults that inhabited a completely different cultural universe than their kids. Those adults were my parents, one of whom is now dead.

    Nowadays almost anything in the mass media is geared toward the 18-34 demographic and there’s no “grown-up” niche like there used to be. Just modern rock and classic rock and oldies-rock for the elderly. But the oldies stuff just doesn’t seem the same thing. Though it’s gonna die out soon, too.

  2. Doug Says:

    Another great post. Maybe it’s just nostalgia but I really enjoy listening to these old airchecks. Thanks again, Professor!

  3. steve wolf Says:

    Many thanks for bringing  back a lot of great memories. Between Tony on the weekend and John McCormick during the week I was in heaven. Both Tony and John Shows were very much alike in style. Both read stories off of the wire and played beautiful music to listen to. I would get up at 3am just to listen to these great guys and I was a in my 20s. What my generation missed. If you have any more shows by either one of them I hope you will posted them one day. One more thing about John McCormick. He was the  man who walked and talked at midnight and would always sign off by saying,"and now the night has separated from the day". OH where is Bob Hyland when we need him. The might Mo was magical station during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Thanks again for the memories of the might MO, the voice of St. Louis.

  4. Chris Says:

    it was John McCormick I was trying to think of.  He offered a bit of commentary and music through the night and read the news too.  I recall listening to him about 1975 or 76 as my dad had a contract mail route in Knoxville and sometimes I would go with him while listening to the dial along with nighttime powerhouses WWL and WBAP, WCBS    "And now the night has separated from the day" was a good quote.

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