Murray the K’s Entitled!
If anybody is…
WHFS IS A 5000-watt FM station with call letters that were meant to stand for High Fidelty Stereo. It was the first station to broadcast mutiplex in the D.C. area, transmitting from a 150-foot antenna atop the Triangle Towers, a fifteen-story apartment house at 4853 Cordell Avenue, right across the street from the Psyche Delli and the Bank of Bethesda in Bethesda, Maryland. You can always tell you're in Bethesda by the way they always keep the white lines white. Bethesda has one of the highest per capita incomes of all the municipalities in America.
The WHFS studios are on the second floor of the Triangle Towers, a sort of luxury condominium with a swimming pool on the roof and a uniformed clerk behind a front desk in the lobby. Two-bedroom apartments rent for $327 a month in the Triangle Towers. WHFS occupies the equivalent of three of those apartments. You walk into a dimly lit reception room, you find yourself face to face with a psychedelic gas station pump and you hear a familiar voice coming from the low-keyed speaker box, a little taste of the' station's product just in case you think you're in the coroner's office. WHFS plays progessive rock. According to the latest ARB ratings, it is No. 1 in Washington from 6 to midnight for males between eighteen and thirty-four. Since last August 2, Murray the K has occupied the 4 to 8 slot.
"It could have been in another town in another country," he says, "but it was a necessity, a complete necessity, a chance to get away and form fresh thoughts and go into neutral and be in a no-man's land of radio. I needed a place that was friendly."
He is wearing a jaunty white cap, tight beige jeans and a matching denim jacket. He looks just a little drawn and sometimes even perhaps a bit unsure, but still he reigns over his DJ booth with the authority of someone who has known command. You think of a White Russian prince who has had to settle for a job as a head waiter. When he talks into the microphone, he is casual and chooses his words carefully. He is not afraid of long pauses. A stereo headset hangs loosely over his cap. Murray listens to the music he plays. When it comes to radio, Murray is still a pro.
It is maybe two years since I have last seen Murray. He plays 'Maggie May' by Rod Stewart and when the record is over he puts me right on the air. We talk about who the new artists are, what's happened to a few of the old ones, where music is going, what is radio doing about it and, of course, New York. Murray is always curious about news from home, even though he's there almost every weekend.
It is an interview, beaming out into God knows how many ears, but in the walk-in closet that we are using for the center of this universe, it is just Murray and me, talking about warm remembrances, like I've just discovered an old friend working as a dispatcher in a bus terminal. You can bet Murray is still a pro. We talk about the time we first met. It was some ten years ago, shortly after the peyezayola scandals and Murray was very guarded then. We talk about the time we went down to Washington on the parlor car with The Beatles in 1964. We were two of maybe a couple hundred reporters and disc jockeys, all competing for a minute of The Beatles' attention, and Murray ends up as George's roommate. Murray the K, the Fifth Beatle. You can bet he's still a pro.
He's forty-five now. He had been planning to do a "Man" set, to play a list of maybe a dozen records with the word "Man" in their titles, but the interview has taken up most of his air time. He asks me if I'd like to play a few records. We look through the WHFS library but they don't have anything I'd like to hear. WHFS doesn't go back very far. To play what he wants, Murray has to bring most of his records from home.
It's getting late and he asks me to stay and have dinner at his house. He and his wife, Jackie the K, have broken up now and Murray isn't living as richly as he used to. But he knows how to stay comfortable. There is a heavy rain falling and the streets are slippery. He loses his way driving through the suburban labyrinth that hides the boundary between D.C. and Bethesda.
He talks about show business, about how he was a Hollywood brat, Murray Kaufman, a child actor, playing with Eddie Cantor in The Kid From Spain when he was five, with Al Jolson inHold Onto Your Hats when he was nine. "I did nine pictures and a couple of shorts and I became a has-been at eleven," he says. He talks about how he danced a while, did monologues and emceed his first radio program when he was nineteen, a variety show calledFull Speed Ahead on the Mutual Network.
Murray Kaufman, always a fast-talker. At twenty he decided that comedy wasn't his bag and he started an advertising agency. Then he managed major league ball players, fifty of them, including Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize and Sal Maglie. He soon found himself back in radio doing a talk show with Larraine Day, then with Virginia Graham and then with Eva Gabor. He hopped from station to station until he started playing music on an all-night program on WMCA. He was still Murray Kaufman when he went to 1010 WINS in 1958. He was going to call his new program The Swingin' Soiree and they asked him how he wanted to be billed. "I thought for three seconds," he says, "and then I told them, 'The Swingin' Soiree with Murray the K.' " We are near his house on a winding back street in the Cleveland Park section of D.C. and he looks for a parking space. "You know," he says, "WHFS, six months ago, people didn't even know the call letters. In New York, they kept telling me I was too big a name. I said, 'Ah, screw that,' and I went down to Washington. Of course I had to change. I had to grow up the way the music grew up. Murray the K, with my background, that was like a character I had to play. It was just a role."
* * *
WE PUT them in jail when they're alive and build monuments to them when they're dead. Society's greatest fear is not for its heroes but of them. Alan Freed lived to be scorned, reviled and sentenced to prison, his penalty for inventing the term rock and roll and then infecting America with it. "Do you know," he once told his neighbor, a gentleman of storied magnanimity named William F. Buckley, "Elvis Presley makes millions of dollars and I just get a salary every week. But when he talks to me he still addresses me as 'Sir'." If nothing else, Freed's crime proved how essential the disc jockey was to the growth of the mode of music now giving society's walls the DTs. Let rock and roll become the greatest story ever told, and Alan Freed would have to be worshipped as the man who told it first. Already he has been beautified by the New Culture as the No. 1 disc jockey of all time. When they start looking around for candidates to fill the No. 2 spot, they'll have to consider Murray the K.
"When I'd do my shows at the Brooklyn Fox or the Brooklyn Paramount, they'd judge the performances not by how many seats were filled but by how many chairs I'd go through," he says. We are sitting in his living room with a few dinner guests listening to him talk about his days at 1010 WINS. Murray Kaufman hadn't been Murray the K three months when he was doing his first Christmas show, live at the Brooklyn Paramount. Murray learned a lot from Alan Freed. You help break an unknown act, you play their records, you plug them to stardom and then you ask them to come and perform for you on your live rock and roll show, cheap, working for scale. In 1965, Murray's Easter show at the Brooklyn Fox, by then an annual event, was facing heavy competition for three other promotions scheduled for the same time. But still Murray murdered them. The Manhattan Paramount, expected to be the most formidable contender, grossed only about $90,000. In nine days, Murray's show broke all records with an astounding $298,000.
"They would judge every performance by how many chairs I'd break," he says. "With my foot. Backstage. I'd watch every second of every show. I'd stand there with my foot up on a chair. To get in six shows a day, you know, we had to run it on a very tight schedule, and if an electrician missed a cue or a performer was late coming down from the dressing room, my foot would go right through the chair. Wow, I wasn't a happy man. They'd say, 'Murray, you broke the house record!' I should be happy, but I was miserable. There'd be 11,000 people waiting on line outside and I should be elated, but instead I'm in a frenzy, I'm worrying, 'How're we going to clear the house in time to get the people seated for the next show?"
He tells about the time he gave away 800,000 Meyezurray Language dictionaries. He remembers how he turned the "Golden Gassers" phrase, a coinage that used to jingle in his pocket. Any DJ heavy enough to break a hit single must also have the muscle to get the rights to that cut for his own hit-anthology albums. Murray put out some twenty differentGolden Gassers or Blasts From the Past LPs, selling a total of six million. He talks about his T-shirts and his Listening Post and Record Review Board, so the kids could participate in judging the records. "I didn't have any play list," he says. "I couldn't work with a play list. I mean, I didn't have any program director telling me what to play on my show. The basic idea was to try to get into new sounds. Every day we would expose at least ten new records. In a week, I may have played maybe 150 different tunes. WMCA was working with a play list of maybe fifty to sixty. And the Top 40 stations only played forty."
He talks about how he began to attract crowds so large, they'd throw him out of public places just to get rid of the mob. He remembers his minute mysteries, complete with sound effects, squeaking doors, cavalry charges, screams, men falling into an abyss. "I'd cue up a record so that the opening line of the song would be the punch line to the bit," Murray says. "Like, the first thing you'd hear was a space mystery sound effect. I would come on in an eerie and low and mysterious kind of delivery. I'd say, 'There was this brilliant light, I could see it in the house. It started to change colors. The reflection of the light in the room would go from orange to purple to pink. I went to the window and I saw this very strange ship hovering about 100 yards from my house and about fifty feet high. Then it made this cacophony of sounds. I watched in almost disbelief as the ship lowered itself to the ground. The ship itself started to change colors. The light became a brilliant orange glow. Suddenly a door appeared on the side of the ship and it opened and these three creatures walked out and came toward my house. They were like toothpick-thin with green and yellow faces, with antennae coming out of their heads, out of a part covered with strange purple hair. Their arms were orange and their legs were green and they had bug eyes. They came toward the house. I couldn't imagine that these could be human beings from Earth, and I was right. Because when they approached the house, they saw me standing in the window. They suddenly stopped. It was then I realized they were from another planet when they opened up their mouths and said…" Murray pauses. "At that point," he says, "I'd start the record and you'd hear, 'Bom-bom be-bom, be bom-bom be-bom, be-bom-bom be-bom, Blue Moon…' and the record would be 'Blue Moon' by The Marcels." In 1965, 1010 WINS was going to go to an all-news format anyway. They asked for a couple of extensions on Murray's contract and finally he said no. The Beatles were after him to come to Nassau, where they were filming Help!.
There was talk of him doing a series with them. Murray was also onto a network TV special and there were people who were going to back him in producing TV shows for syndication. All of a sudden he was off the air.
"All those people who put me down," he says. "Like Jack O'Brian. He would write vicious columns about me regularly. He wasn't so important but he represented people who really needed understanding. It wasn't enough that my stage shows were doing better than ever. That in addition to being a radio personality, a TV producer and everything else, I seemed to feel a definite need to be a rock and roll philosopher king. Besides, I was getting tired of being Murray the K."
* * *
THERE ISN'T any one jock who can break a record anymore. Not like in the days of Joey Reynolds in Buffalo or Bill Randall in Cleveland or Howard Miller in Chicago or Arnie Ginsberg in Boston or Dan Ingram in St. Louis or Murray the K in New York.
"I would play a new record," says Murray, "it would take off in New York and within a week it would break out all over the country, it would become a monster."
He broke 'Fingertips' by Little Stevie Wonder and 'Baby Love' by The Supremes and 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow' by The Shirelles and 'Tonight, Tonight' by The Mellokings. He broke 'Be My Baby' by The Ronettes and 'It's Not Unusual' by Tom Jones and 'It's Not For Me to Say' by Johnny Mathis and 'Walk On By' by Dionne Warwick and — would you believe it? — 'Like A Rolling Stone', by Bob Dylan. That was all on 1010 WINS. That was all by Murray the K's first version of himself.
What is there about a disc jockey that makes you want to tune into his program night after night when you can hear almost all the same records being played on any number of other stations? Maybe it's the sound of his voice. Maybe it's the way he says what he has to say. Maybe it's what he has to say. Or maybe it's just his magic, that indefinable quality of showmanship and charisma that it takes to become an unseen force, a voice speaking as if from the heavens, calling out to you from the big night to join in the ritual of celebration, the experience, at home, in your car, with friends, or alone, of listening to music that moves you, listening and knowing you are sharing a moment with a countless multitude of others.
The voice that announces the record must cross the same unknown as the voice that sings on the record: to reach out of thin air and touch you in your secret place. A good jock builds his program the way a good musician builds his music. You can see him sitting at his microphone, his knee jiggling to the music, his body dancing as he sits in his chair, moving back and forth like a religious man at prayer, as if he's pumping up the energy that it takes to transport his spirit out into the yonder, the energy that it takes for one man to present himself intact in ten hundred thousand places at once.
You can feel the cadence as he turns the knobs and cues up the records and answers the phones and reads off the commercials, all the while moving from one record to the next as instinctively as the way a poet chooses his words, the way a quarterback calls his plays, the way a boxer executes his patterns. I'm sure you've listened to that kind of radio, maybe riding in your car on a sensual moonlit night while, one after another, the records come at you out of the dashboard in exactly the right sequence to create the kind of drama, surprise, suspense and delight you'd get listening to a master story-teller. You can hear it in the jock's voice, that he knows he's doing this to you. You can hear it in what he says, that he knows he's now taking you with him, instead of you taking him with you. You can feel a pulse, a throb, a drive, an excitement, a joy until, if you're riding in a car and you get where you're going, you want to sit in your car and stay parked and keep on listening.
Where have those jocks gone to, the Jack Laceys and the Jocko Hendersons and the Wolfman Jacks and even the Symphony Sids? In New York, at least, there are new ones growing, Frankie Crocker, Jonathan Schwartz, Bwana Johnny, Dave Herman and Allison Steele, the Night Bird. Cousin Brucie can still take you on a trip. Tommy Edwards is one of the best Top 40 jocks in the country. And who gets it on better than Dan Ingram, the old pro, in New York these last ten years? But they don't break records in New York anymore, not on Top 40 radio and certainly not like they did when they had Scott Muni on WABC, B. Mitchell Reed on WMCA and Murray the K on WINS, all in the prime-time slot competing with one another. Together, they had fifty percent of New York's listening audience. Of the three, only WABC still plays rock and the best percentage it can get is no more than eighteen. What happened to all those AM radio listeners?
You tune into a favorite jock because of his magic and part of his magic is his taste. You know he's going to play the kind of records that you like and you know that when a new one appears, he's going to have it first. But there isn't a jock in the country strong enough to break a record anymore. There isn't a jock with the freedom and the power. Certainly there isn't a jock who can do it alone.
It's program directors who authorize which records a radio station may play nowadays. And on many large stations even the program director doesn't have that authority; the stations are programmed in chains by format designers such as Bill Drake or record tip sheet publishers such as Bill Gavin. But neither Drake nor Gavin will break a record. They'll wait until a record has proved itself a hit in smaller markets such as Minneapolis or Milwaukee or Atlanta or Akron or Seattle.
Call it automation. Call it Howard Johnson's music. Call it robot music. Call it canned, assembly line, bubble gum, and conformity. It comes out wrapped in cellophane, pre-packaged, antiseptic, and with each portion weighing exactly the same as any other. It started with the payola scandals as a way to keep individual jocks out of the jaws of temptation, but then it turned out to be commercial as well, easier listening. It was helped along by the rock revolution. What happened to all those AM listeners in New York? FM. And who was one of the first and most important pioneers in FM programming? That old loudmouth of hysterical radio, Murray the K.
Murray the K is not the kind of egotist you would want to give more credit than he's due and yet he often ends up due more credit than he gets. Murray didn't invent free-form radio. In New York, there was the startling contribution of WBAI, with its format of total chaos. The lineage traces back to the Pacifica Foundation and KPFA in San Francisco, to campus radio and all those amateur stations transmitting through house current, coming out of the wall sockets in dormitories. Some colleges own the only FM stations in town nowadays. Who ever thought campus radio would become so powerful?
Free-form radio traces back through William B. Williams and any other jock powerful enough to design his own format. It traces back all the way to John Gambling, starting out in 1925, broadcasting from Bamberger's department store in Newark, N.J., telling the people whatever came into his head, interviewing anybody who happened to be around, playing whatever music was available, live, over the Bamberger Broadcasting Co.
As DJ Pete Fornatale explains it, free-form radio in its present formlessness was a reaction against the insulting way post-Beatle music was being handled in the AM environment. "No commercial outlet anywhere is fully committed," he says, "to the ideology behind the music." No, Murray the K didn't invent free-form radio, but he popularized it. As Murray says, with his usual self-effacement, "I created WOR-FM."
It was Murray on the East Coast and Tom Donahue on the West Coast, with Donahue broadcasting first from KMPX and then from KSAN in San Francisco. Independently and without consulting with each other, they both had arrived at the same conclusion, that there must be some new way of presenting the new music, that the serious listeners were turning from singles to albums, that radio had to find room to play sixteen-minute cuts, that a new culture was being born and that FM had to be the midwife. What they effectuated was a revolution in FM programming, a revolution that now has even forced AM stations to start growing up or die.
"In 1965," says Murray, "I started getting into the music much more heavily. I mean these kids were writing music that had matured enough to open up some real heavy questioning of the ambiguity of our society. I said, 'Hey, it's time to grow up.' People were realizing that contemporary music was really saying something. I said, 'Radio has got to change.' I mean there was no more of those inane lyrics, 'Who put the bomp in the bomp, bomp, bomp?' Music started to really make a lot of sense."
The year 1966 brought with it some dramatic spiritual transfigurations within the rock community. People were mooning out all over the place. No longer on radio, Murray toured with The Beatles, did TV specials, went to Europe and wrote a book, Murray the K Tells It Like It Is. In the book, he talked about God and predicted the break-up of The Beatles. He also lent his name to a new multi-media club, Murray the K's World, a reconverted airplane hanger at Roosevelt Field, L.I., complete with twenty-one screens for the world's biggest psychedelic light show. The club made the cover of Life but Murray stayed only a week. He ended up suing the club owner.
In the meantime, the FCC was handing down its monumental "50-50" rule, ordering stations that had both AM and FM channels to stop simulcasting more than four hours a day and to begin separate AM and FM programming. A lot of people thought this was supposed to clear the air of too much rock, but what it did was to put an H-bomb in the hands of the leaders of the FM revolution.
It was just about then that Murray found himself discussing a Channel 9 TV show with Bob Smith, then vice-president and general manager of WOR.
Smith brought up the problems of finding a new format for WOR-FM and Murray started telling Smith where he thought radio ought to go, how rock could now reach an older audience, why there was a different option.
"Then artists grew and so the performers who were presenting the artists had to grow," Murray says. "I felt that it was most important that if music changed, then the style of radio had to change. You didn't have to hype the record anymore. The music was speaking for itself. All it needed was a stage to present it on compatible with its material. Bob believed in me and gave me carte blanche."
It was Murray's second time out. He was back on the air again, but no longer the screaming meemie of hysterical radio. It was soft-spoken Murray now. He began playing what he called "attitude" music. He developed what he called "block programming." He cut the commercials down to ten minutes an hour and began playing long, uninterrupted sets of album cuts.
He began playing concerts of different songs by the same artist. He began playing concerts of songs by different artists about the same theme. Scott Muni joined the station as a jock. Rosko arrived. Joan Baez began dropping in for live raps on the air. Peter Yarrow would visit and talk. Paul Simon would come by. Soon Murray began inviting guests, new groups, established artists, celebrities in other fields.
He did an interview with Mayor Lindsay. William F. Buckley was a guest on his show. "I played him some songs for him to comment on," Murray remembers. "When I played him 'With God On Our Side', he said, 'I'll have to think about that.'" As his audience grew, Murray found he had the power to break albums. He was the first to play Richie Havens, The Bee Gees, The Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix.
He played Janis Ian's 'Society's Child' while it was still banned by all the other stations because it was about a white girl who had a black boy friend. He was the first to play Bob Dylan's 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' on commercial radio. There wasn't an AM station in New York that would play a Bob Dylan album cut. Richard Goldstein wrote an article calling Murray a pioneer of the New Culture.
"See," says Murray, "with the new music, I had to start living down my previous reputations. A lot of people didn't dig the fact that when I was on WINS I had more blacks listening to me than WWRL. Then when I was soft, they said I couldn't' get back in AM radio. They said, 'Well, I don't know if you can get to the kids anymore.'"
WOR-FM became a commercial success. Then management decided to make it even more of a commercial success. Format designer Bill Drake had a contract with the RKO-Mutual chain that allowed him to move into any station he saw fit. One day Murray received a memo telling him that only certain albums and certain cuts had been cleared for airplay.
"At first I laughed," Murray remembers. "Then I knew it was all over. The Drake formula was coming in. I wasn't going to conform to any playlist. I had promised I wouldn't quit on the air. I sent a telegram saying I couldn't conform to these regulations. Then I went into see Bob Smith.
"Bob is a very smart radio man. He runs the most successful station in the world, WOR-AM. WOR-FM has been his baby. He said, 'Murray, there's no one for me to turn to. The people above me are lawyers or accountants. None of them know anything about radio. All they know is that Drake has taken station after station out of the red. There's no one to explain to what kind of culture we've created here."
"I can't work under a tight restrictive format. I don't ever want to follow. I want to lead. That night I went home and I didn't sleep. The next day I called him again. That night I felt a deep, sharp pain in my chest."
Murray the K had suffered a heart attack.
* * *
IT'S LATE at night and we're sitting in Murray the K's living room, our faces flickering in the candlelight. Murray has been seeing a lot of a beautiful, bright blonde named Judy Black and she's curled up on the couch next to him. He's telling what it's like to be an ogre and then have your fangs pulled. How did King Farouk feel after they took his dirty magazines away and kicked him out of Egypt? Or Napoleon, sent to Elba without either his army or his elevator boots? Ah, vey!
"I didn't know if I really wanted to come back into radio under any conditions," he says. "After my illness, I felt as if I had done it all."
We are drinking cokes and running out of cigarettes. After his heart attack, he spent some time in New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, went to Florida for two months of doing nothing and then looked around for something easy. He got a job helping to inaugurate CHUM-FM in Toronto, came back to New York to try a weekend show on WMCA, ran headlong into another play-list and then started his Monitor broadcasts for NBC. He also did a TV special, Murray the K in New York, that somehow cost $116,000 to produce. Murray calls it the most expensive local TV show in history and intimates he was crazy at the time. He just wasn't making it in the Big Apple.
Then, one day, he was visiting relatives in Falls Church, Virginia, when he bumped into a vice-president of the AVCO Broadcasting Company, owners of a chain of seven easy-listening radio stations. The vice-president offered him a job on WWDC in Washington. Murray took it.
"I thought, 'Hey, man, they pick the music,'" Murray says. "'Wow! I don't have any responsibility here, on a station where all you have to do is be pleasant.' It took me a month or so to stop trying to try. I had a beautiful one year and thirteen weeks of Novocain radio. The swingingest thing I had to play was Engelbert Humperdinck or Tom Jones. Sometimes I'd do a little schtick, I'd say, 'And now we have a triangle of music,' and I'd play Andy Williams and Herb Alpert and Claudine Longet in between.
"Once I stayed on the air for thirty hours with just a six-hour break. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing to raise money for the Children's Hospital Christmas Fund. Everybody called it The Miracle of Brookville Road. There wasn't enough time before Christmas for people to mail the money in so they would drive up to the station on this back road in Silver Spring and just drop it off. We collected $37,000."
He started on WWDC on March 31, 1970. He quit at the end of last June. "But mostly," he says, "I would walk into the station a minute before my show and not even think about the music. I'd be off at 5:30 and in twenty minutes I had forgotten about anything I did on my program. I needed that job to get cleaned out. I needed it for a mental catharsis. I really needed the luxury of nonentity, the lack of the need for approval and a chance not to be oversensitive to ridicule.
"But not ridicule so much as critique. I loved the recognition and the fame but it wasn't worth my sensitivity. It's your own self-esteem that's important. In New York, they challenge you every day in New York. If you're No. 1, the only place you can go is down."
Murray likes his new lifestyle. A kitten named Motorcycle jumps on the couch and nestles in his lap. He still goes to New York to do his Monitor shows and every once in a while he's hired as the host for some place like Barney Google's. Last summer he emceed one of the Schaefer Festival concerts in Central Park. Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley were on the bill and Murray felt peculiar about it. Suddenly he finds himself being repaid favors he never realized he was owed. He also finds himself running into enemies he never realized he had.
He talks about his new job on WHFS. "It took me until about July of this year that I really decided I had a thought to come back in any shape, in any kind of involvement," he says. "Now, I've got three people helping me and we're spending about three and a half hours a day preparing the show, the same as on WOR-FM. People don't realize all the creativity that goes into my show. It's not just putting a bunch of records together.
"Even on WINS, I used to spend hours and days putting things together, thinking how I could make that artist or that record. I wasn't out there playing an instrument or singing, but I wasn't satisfied with just being an announcer, I needed recognition, too. Selling an artist, doing it subtly, that was my way of being successful. Years ago it took a long time for rock to get where it went. Now, because things move so fast, we're in a new era. I can't go back and do WOR-FM. It has no validity anymore. I realize I've spent the last two and a half years trying to find the new thing."
It was when he was at CHUM-FM in Toronto that Murray first got the idea for Radio Free America, an expansion of the programming concept he originated on WOR-FM, a series of thematic sets using rock, speeches, news broadcasts, poetry and even classical music. "In Radio Free America," Murray explains, "the jock uses his studio as you would in a recording session. For instance, in a set on war, I used speeches by Churchill, Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon and Kennedy. I used 'Draft Dodger Rag', 'I Ain't Marchin' Anymore',' AND 'The 1812 Overture'.
"The music creates its own rhetoric. You have to find records that can segue into the right key. And you mix like you're going to create your own production in the studio. Everybody has a record player and records. What they can't get at home is combinations, frames of reference and knowing they're not going to hear a commercial for fifteen minutes. I've done sets on Friday the Thirteenth — superstition, literature, daily newspapers, ecology, Indian abuse, Bach, the planet Earth and music. It takes enough cuts to weave a particular story. I even try to work the commercials into the contents of the show. The music today has outgrown its presentation. The music is ten years ahead. You can't play underground cuts without some thinking and preparation."
Murray has been selling his concept for syndication. "Here, let me show you," he says and he gets up off the couch, walks to his tape recorder and turns it on. I hear him reading from a report on the gun lobby. The reading dissolves into music — 'I Say a Little Prayer'. Suddenly, an announcer is describing Bobby Kennedy's assassination: "He's pointing the gun atme!"Then you hear Tom Paxton singing 'His Heart Is Beating Still' while Ted Kennedy's choked voice reads his eulogy to his brother in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
You hear all kinds of things on Murray's tapes. You hear coughing and a standard clean air public service message, to which Murray has added the sound of an Apollo rocket blasting off and then the record, 'Everyone's Gone to the Moon'. You hear The Beatles singing the first verse of 'Help!', then an operatic baritone singing the second verse, then The Charles River Valley Boys singing the third verse, then Mrs. Miller singing another verse.
There are other tapes and Murray plays them, all cleverly produced, each turned by the obvious hand of a pro. Listening to them, I begin to think of that vast weed patch of FM stations that this country has become, reseeding itself according to totally capricious winds, each station shading its own little 50-mile or so radius with its own weird brand of cultural foliage. How diverse are the inspirations that each program director whispers into his audience's ear! As now weeds sprout in the weed patch, the New Culture that FM has given us is quickly becoming a New Cultural Feudalism. There is not enough cross-pollination. FM is creating new fiefdoms, new pockets of parochialism, new divisions in a country that is already splintered.
I begin to think that maybe it would be nice, and even economical, for all these tiny FM stations to automate, for the owners to hire an engineer who would just have to run Murray's tapes and then read off the commercials and the station breaks. Isn't the day close at hand when the easy-listening stations in Vermont and Utah will be ready to play 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands', too? Murray's tapes are so smooth and professional that you don't even notice it's The Beatles and The Who and Jimi Hendrix. I begin to imagine I can hear them on WOR-AM. They sound so plausible! Not only smooth, not only professional, butplausible! And not only plausible but… commercial! When the tape recorder stops, I turn to Murray.
"Murray," I tell him, "you'll bury Drake!"
* * *
IT'S GETTING late and I have to go. I chuckle over one of Murray's jokes, about a farmer who is in trouble because he has all hens and no rooster. A friend lands him a prize stud who immediately takes care of eighty-eight chickens and then forty-three guinea hens and then twenty-seven gobbler turkeys and then suddenly stiffens and falls dead in the barnyard. A vulture starts to circle overhead. The farmer bends down and says to the rooster's lifeless form, "You dope, you didn't have to do it all in one day." The rooster slyly cocks an eye open, looks at the farmer and says, "Shhhh. To get a vulture, you have to play their game."
I suddenly think of one more question to ask Murray. Whatever happened between him and The Beatles? "Well," he says, "when I started with WOR-FM, I sort of got into my own thing. I mean, I was into what I was doing and we just didn't get to see much of each other anymore. I mean I did the series with them, I toured with them… I'll tell you what happened. Here I was being treated like I was a Beatle myself. They had Murray the K Day at the Coca Cola Pavilion at the World's Fair and they had to ask me to leave because there were three-quarters of a million kids there. They used to come up to me just to touch me.
"And then I had the greatest realization — that for five and a half years, I was pretty successful before I even met The Beatles. It happened, man, it was a lucky break for me, but I realized that my career was becoming dependent on my association with The Beatles when I had gotten by without them pretty well for five years. I didn't want it to be as if I was riding their coattails.
"I've helped a lot of people and a lot of people have helped me. I was the first to bring The Moody Blues to this country, The Who, Cream, Hendrix. I was the first to bring The Rolling Stones to New York. I was sitting in the Ad Lib Club in London with John Lennon one night and he said he had these friends in a group called The Rolling Stones and why don't I bring them to New York. So I booked them into Carnegie Hall and gave the date to Billy Fields…" It can be a lot of fun being with Murray. But Murray is a pro and pros know how to come away with a profit. Pros fight hard and when you fight hard you leave a lot of wounded. In the dark night, I suddenly remembered something that had happened a long time ago concerning Murray and a friend of mine, Bobby Darin. It was Murray who had helped Bobby get started, who claimed even that he helped Bobby write 'Splish, Splash', who had played the record on the radio and had helped make it Bobby's first big hit.
A few years later, Bobby was a big star and Murray was going around bad-mouthing him. I heard about the bad- mouthing and I told Bobby. In the dark night outside Murray's house, I suddenly remember what Bobby had answered. "Murray?" he had said. "Murray can say anything he wants about me. Murray's entitled."
© Al Aronowitz, 1972