When Listening Was Still Easy

If you get in the habit of digging into the AM band at night, you’re bound to become familiar with some of the big regional 50,000 watt “clear channel” stations in your part of the world. Growing up in Michigan, stations like WCFL in Chicago, WLW in Cincinnati, and WGAR in Cleveland usually came in like locals at night. The east coast from Boston down to the Carolina’s offered all sorts of signals. Often WWL in New Orleans and WSB in Atlanta came in strong as well.

In the late 1980’s I had gotten into the habit of listening to KMOX in St. Louis on Saturday nights, and despite the fact that I happened to move across the country from Michigan to Louisiana, and then on to Alabama within that handful of years, I never lost the ability to tune it in. And what originally hooked my to KMOX on the weekends was an excellent big band program hosted by a old fellah named Charlie (Menese?). Although it was a great show (I’ll post one some time), and probably a long standing feature of KMOX programming I wasn’t able to find any reference to it on the web. However, what I really grew to love was the show that immediately followed– “Music and Musings” with Tony Oren. (I found one online reference to Tony’s show here.)

Oren’s program, which like the big band show is long gone by now, was the last of a breed of programming I sorely miss, grown-up easy listening. By that I don’t mean the seconal super syrup of “beautiful music,” or the yawny yearning of a “quiet storm.” No, I mean the low-key jazz flavored pop of “middle of the road” radio, specifically the sound of that format by night.

Okay, there’s the nostagia factor I won’t totally deny. If you grew up in the 1960’s, this is probably the kind of radio your parents listened to. And as I’ve written previously, there was a wonderful overnight program on WJR in Detroit, “Night Flight 760,” that played an array of smart easy listening that is embedded in my childhood memories as some of the best radio comfort food I’ve ever heard. And Music and Musings with Tony Oren was the last time I’ve heard anything like it. And I happened to record a show or two back in 1990 when I was living in Mobile, one of which I can now offer you here.

KMOX – Music and Musings with Tony Oren 10-27-90 pt 1

(download)

Yes, it’s true you can still find a few radio stations offering this kind of content. Over the last few years, I’ve known a number of like-minded friends who seek out stations who carry on with pre-rock pop music, calling them “old man stations.” It’s the only radio format left for seniors, and it’s certainly endangered. You’ll can still find a few local stations carrying on this kind of programming in senior hotspots in places like Florida and Arizona. And there the “Music of Your Life” syndicated/satellite thing (which I hear quite often on small town stations when I’m on the road), which is listenable but with no surprises. And AM 740 in Toronto’s mix of oldies and pre-oldies probably makes a lot of old fart DXers across North America feel at home, but I think the kind of radio you hear on this aircheck is probably extinct. These days, stations that cater to the oldest demographic groups inevitably mix in Elvis, the Beatles and the Carpenters. It’s not the same. “Music and Musings” offers something different. Something gone. And there’s nothing rock and roll about it.

Musically, in this aircheck you get some appropriate moody performances from typical stars of this format like Peggy Lee, Buddy Greco and Nat King Cole, and some rich high-fructose instrumentals from Andre Kostelanetz, 101 Strings and the Melachrino Strings. Even Pia Zadora doesn’t take away the beauty of it all. But to be fair, it’s not just the music, but the musings.

To me, a guy like Tony Oren is the penultimate announcer. Just warm enough. Even a little dry. And able to conversationally segue together every element of the broadcast with simple panache and confidence. His pacing is remarkable. It’s not easy to sound so relaxed coming across as sleepy, preposterous, or just boring. I wish I heard more announcers like this today. A total professional. I guess you could call it style. To my ears, so many NPR types strive for this kind of presence and fail.

KMOX – Music and Musings with Tony Oren 10-27-90 pt 2

(download)

But it’s not NPR, it’s just musings. A little anecdote about ol’ Dan Rostenkowski and a big lobbyist funded luxury junket in the tropics here, and some this day in history stuff there. But this aircheck is unedited, and in the second half you get the a CBS newscast. It documents the point in history where Pappy Bush broke his moronic “Read my lips!” campaign promise and signed on to a tax increase and forever pissed off some of his Republican buddies (and may have cost him the 1992 election).

However, I’m not posting this for the news or the commercials, but as an artifact of long gone breezy broadcasting. And as a personal remembrance of all those Saturday nights years ago when I tuned KMOX in on the clock radio and shut out the light.

A follow up to this post (including another aircheck of Tony Oren) can be found here.

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27 Responses to “When Listening Was Still Easy”

  1. mike Says:

    Thanks so much for these priceless nuggets of radio history. I’m familiar with the programs as well as the format, and I feel the same nostalgia for them that you do. It’s hard to find real vintage radio recordings; I dig for them and do find one every once in a while, but nothing like I would like. Seems a lot of people are still interested in the spoken radio programs of the Golden Era, but very few collect the music programs that came later like you do. Excellent.

  2. Jerry Smallwood Says:

    Oh happy day when I stumbled upon this site. It’s been so many years ago my memory is rather vague. I think it was early Sunday morning’s I would listen to Tony. Many years ago I e-mailed KMOX and someone there I believe told me that Tony retired on a farm, don’t remember where. Was wondering if you knew the whereabouts of Tony and if he is still with us. Thank you for a most interesting site.

  3. Doug Glynn Says:

    Two of the smoothest broadcasters in the history of radio, Jack Buck and Tony Oren, had one thing in common, and that was St. Louis. Back in 1960 Tony Oren, (then Anthony Oren) was the smooth voice of KWIX-FM, studios in the old Ambassador Kingsway Hotel at Kingshighway and West Pine. He used a hauntingly beautiful strings-piano-female voice sweetener, Invitation, and his program was a spellbinding mix of classic big band and other delightful music. My then girlfriend now wife and I met him doing at remote at the old St. Louis Arena, and he was a pleasant in person as he was classy on the air. What a voice that man had/has. Still alive and working? I hope so, and that hope is renewed every time I watch “Cops” on Fox TV and hear the one-line disclaimer at the very start of the show. Anyone have a clue as to where that “farm” is, and whether he is still gracing the airwaves?

  4. Cliff Saxton Says:

    I happened across your excellent site and can offer a bit of info about Tony Oren, specifically a death notice published in the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. “Charles B. ‘Tony’ Oren, a radio personality in St. Louis for more than 22 years, died Friday (April 10, 1998) at St. John’s Skilled Nursing Center in Creve Coeur [MO] after a long illness. He was 75. Mr. Oren hosted shows at KMOX radio before retiring in 1994. As a young man, he lived in Australia, where he appeared as an actor in motion pictures. He traveled in Europe before moving to St. Louis in 1957. No funeral service will be held. Burial will be private.”

    Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed his KMOX program over the years, so much so that I’d get up in the middle of the night on weekends to putter around the house and listen to it. I then began taping 3-hour portions of the shows (the max of a reel of tape), and to this day I play them occasionally for relaxation. Before I found your site, in fact, I was listening to music and musings from November 1991…and except for the newscasts, the musings are timeless. I called Tony once or twice, and he was as gracious as could be. His farm, he indicated, was located close to and north of Cincinnati, and supposedly he commuted each weekend from there to do his shows in St. Louis, at least in later years. “Class” like his is sorely lacking on radio these days. He obviously put a lot of effort into preparing his shows.

  5. Jerry Smallwood Says:

    Thanks Cliff Saxton, for the info on Tony. That puts to rest what I have wondered about for a long time. I live 50 miles north of Cincinnati, I had no idea that Tony was that close. We truly miss Tony, a great entertainer.

  6. Bob Dearborn Says:

    Thanks for remembering me, WCFL and my “Long Gold” feature. You just made my day!

  7. prof Says:

    Wow Bob, how wonderful to hear from you. An honor really. (For those wondering, I actually mentioned Mr. Dearborn and his "long gold" feature in this post.)

    Bob, as a fan I’ve followed your post-WCFL work online Bob and what a career you’ve had, and have continued to have. I do wish I could have caught your fleeting morning gig at AM 740 a few years ago. And thanks for visiting the Radio Kitchen blog, and gracing these pages with your greeting. It’s radio legends like you who have inspired the creation of this site, and provided the readership (and listenership) to make it a viable project.

    And speaking of legends, for all of you who have enjoyed this post on Tony Oren, there will be one more in the near future. I’ve found another recording of Tony’s late night program on KMOX, which you’ll find here soon.

    And to all, thanks for listening!

  8. Dion Miller Says:

    I just discovered this webite. I listened to Tony Oren during the 80’s and 90’s. I was sad when he and KMOX parted company. He had a wonderful voice and manner. I also would like to know about the late John McCormick, another KMOX personality who I enjoyed listening to over the years. I enjoyed his weather forecast of cities which usually came during the deep night of the program. I’m would like to find a copy of the book on KMOX entitled At Your Service.

  9. rick adams Says:

    i have enjoyed reading everybodies post on tony oren – i worked as a paramedic for a fire dept in stl county from ’77 – ’92 – music & musings started after the midnight news on saturday night – i went home so tired many sunday mornings because i would listen to the entire program (unless it lulled me to sleep) – one evening i called the station and spoke with tony on the phone – when i told him that he ruined many sundays for me, we both laughed – he was truly one of the classiest and smoothest voices ever on radio – i still miss him on saturday after the midnight news

  10. Claude Phipps Says:

    I too listened to the night sounds of KMOX and enjoyed the music. John McCormick with his background on the music, the “Little Club on Skyway Drive” always came on Monday-Friday mornings at 4:00am, just in time for a break. The only current radio type’s that come close are Johnathan Swartz (WYNC).

  11. David Schroth Says:

    I, too, remember Tony Oren from the 1970s and 80s. He did the midnight-to-dawn program on KMOX when John McCormick, “The Man Who Walked and Talked at Midnight,” was on vacation. Both were fine announcers. Two readers referred to John McCormick.

    To Dion Miller: I listened to Mr. McCormick’s program from 1966 till he retired in the late1980s. Every morning at 4:30 he reported the temperature in cities across the nation and the world, including the City of Light, the Eternal City of Rome, and Hong Kong, the land of too, too many tailors, as he always worded it.

    To Claude Phipps: Yes, I, too, remember his mentioning The Little Theater off Skyway Drive. St. Louis newspaper reporter Clarissa Start wrote a nice article about Mr. McCormick in 1971 in the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch.” He was a very private person. I remember how he would tell anecdotes about people he had known in Hollywood many years earlier, usually ending his story with the words: “Other days and other ways.”

    He often played records by Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra. Every Sunday morning at 3 O’clock he would feature the soundtrack album from a Broadway or Hollywood musical, and would tell portions of the story between musical numbers. His nightly program ended at dawn, when he would play a recording of The Lord’s Prayer and conclude his program by announcing: “And now, the night has separated from the day”

    In my judgment, Mr. McCormick was one of the finest radio announcers, along with Mike Rapchak in Chicago. He is in the St. Louis Radio Hall of Fame

  12. Mike Hill Says:

    Do you have any audio of John Mc Cormick from KMOX? I grew up listening to him at night.

  13. prof Says:

    No, no John McCormick. I do have a couple more KMOX airchecks here somewhere I’d like to post eventually.

  14. larry mumford Says:

    I’ve been looking for radio shows from Tony Oren and John NcCormick for a long time. What a classic piece of recording. I just love this stuff. I grew up in St. louis and am still here. I’m 56 years old, and I also use to stay up all night to listen to these shows. Great job.

  15. liz r Says:

    thanks for this great site and the airchecks. i’m 41 and i became familiar with st louis through friends in the late 80s and so with their radio programming – having been a dxing radio “geek” girl since my childhood days of under-the-blanket-transistors. i loved the fact kmox played what i referred to as “Dad music” at night; a comforting, cozy reminder of my own dad who died in 1989. there are certain songs i can’t hear without thinking of late-night kmox. i also loved to listen to the “man who walks and talks at midnight”. in an age of an am dial polluted with paranoid conspiracy fearmongers, religious nuts, and syndicated right-wing hate, i love, crave, and appreciate these dying formats, and not in an ironic way.

  16. prof Says:

    Hey Liz, I’m with you. I’ll try to dig up so more easy listening airchecks here in the future.

  17. John Perin Says:

    John McCormick is the best radio announcer I have ever heard,  His all-night programs were treasures over "the 50,000 red-hot watts of CBS owned and operated KMOX in St. Louis" as he voiced at the start of each broadcast.  Each of those shows began with the recording of Blue Barron's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" onwhich he had done the narrative.  Somewhere, I have some reel-to-reel tapes of John's shows from 1964, but I would certainly enjoy hearing some airchecks of those  here and maybe some information on John as well.  Thanks.

  18. Warren Loescher Says:

    I constantly traded duties with anyone on the police force in order to stay with the night shift –  to patrol the quiet streets with John McCormick on my radio.  He kept me entertained – yes – but also kept me alert to my duties and awake to the pulse of the world.

  19. William Owen Says:

    A blast from a simpler past.  I was thinking about simpler times and recalled all the nights of late night driving in the South in my 1963 Chevy and listening to John McCormick, the man who walks and talks at midnight.  This was in the times before FM radio and now satellite radio.  The clear channels KMOX (St. Louis), WWL (New Orleans), WLS (Chicago), and WSM (Nashville) would come pouring into the AM car radio as I drove to and from.  He had a soothing voice and a way with words that I fear will nt be heard on the airwave again.  We need a few more sound bytes posted to let those of us who remember hear that time again.
    Thanks

  20. Chris Says:

    I listen to KMOX, WLS, WGN, WBBM, WJR, WTAM Cleveland, WBZ Boston, KDKA Pittsburgh, WLW, WHAS, WWL New Orleans, WBAP Texas, and many other good AM stations on my crystal radio in the winter and fall from my location in Kentucky.
    It's still amazing to me to get these DX stations with no batteries, electricity or amplification.
     

  21. Stephen Ross Says:

    I worked as a Night Auditor at a Jacksonville, Florida motel for one (1) year from June 1976 -to- June 1977;  had always been a DX'R since childhood, so I would tune to KMOX while working.  At that time,  Talk Show Host Jim White preceded Tony in the 11PM to 2AM (Central) time slot, and after CBS news, Tony arrived to work his magic.  Lord knows – I NEEDED "something solid", encouraging and soothing at the time.  Our location was undergoing a "tumultuous" period – with NUMEROUS Management Changes – 13 IN ONE (1) YEAR – (I even applied for the job, hoping to bring SOME SOLIDARITY to the location, and stop the "revolving door" atmosphere being exercised by the remaining employees)….and I honestly looked forward to late nights with Tony!  I figured no one would get fired at 3AM.  But a "Baker's Dozen" of Prima Donna's after one (1) year,  found me eating Valium like it was candy, (to settle me down) and chasing it with coffee (like it was going out of style) to keep me awake…long enough to do my job….and my Doctor used one (1) word:  QUIT!  I did!  Tony Oren literally helped me get through HELL for a year!  May he rest in Peace…but I'm certain he's working "HIS MAGIC" in Heaven!

  22. Richard Says:

    I remember lying in bed as a kid listening to Tony and KMOX on Saturday nights. I fell in love with the program and listened from the mid 80's until he signed off in '92. Such richness and professionalism and smoothness. You can't find such quality programming today. I proceeded to work in radio part time for 20 years, getting out Feb. of last year. It's just not the same anymore. And Tony exemplified what was good about radio in days gone by. 

  23. Richard Says:

    I listened to Tony Oren and John McCormick starting in the late 1970s.
    That was the way radio was meant to be. I had several reel to reel tapes full of their programs but they were accidentaly thrown out. I do still have a cassette tape of Mr. McCormick. Very sad when he died.

  24. Chris Says:

    Amazing radio, I think some of the best hosts came on after midnight. John Mc Cormick, Charlie Douglas and KGO's Ray Taiaferro. 

  25. Steve Howard Says:

    I worked in radio in Tennessee from 1973 until 1995. I must admit my father was the first person I knew who tuned in John McCormick on KMOX at night (he listened to me by day) and I found John’s style addicting: “You’re locked onto the 50,000 red-hot watts of KMOX, the Voice Of St. Louis. 4:30 now, and time for news.” I always pictured that John may have begun that 4:30-am newscast (5:30 in my corner of the world in Kingsport TN) as a way to get himself thru that last 90 minutes of his shift – but it sure became an institution. I feel ashamed that, of all the taping of more-forgettable radio I did, I have no John McCormick. He sure lulled me to sleep many a night, and inspired me on mornings I had to go in myself and sign on my own station(s) at 5 am or 6 am. RIP, good sir, and thank you for showing us how it was done.

  26. Robert Says:

    I seem to remember a night time program from kmox that played beautiful music through the night. I think it was called holiday inns midnight.

  27. Robert S Says:

    Was there anight time program called Holiday Inns midnight?

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