Monday, July 26, 2021

From a Basement Radio Station to the Grand Ole Opry - Englewood's Own Dick McMahon

Photo of Dick McMahon (arrow) at the announcer's mic stand at the Grand Ole Opry. Ernest Tubb shown on bottom right, in the yellow suit.

In the 1950s, a teenage Dick McMahon entertained his immediate Englewood neighborhood, from his basement radio station studio.

"The reach from the basement was only a couple of houses. I kept changing the call letters, to always something that sounded cool," he said. "I was playing what was popular, at the time. Lots of big bands, Bing Crosby type stuff."

McMahon had been enamored with radio, from when he first heard the local Denver-area stations.

"I listened to a lot of the old KTLN, when it was in the Park Lane Hotel, at Washington Park. I remember listening to Joe "Upsy Daisy" Flood, in the mornings."

After he graduated Englewood High, in 1956, his love of radio took a back seat. He instead majored in psychology, at Arizona State. The diversion didn't last long.

"My first radio job was at KGMC, in Englewood, working in their record library. I would file the phonograph records, and catalog them for the disc jockeys. Later I worked for many years at KLZ radio. That's when Star Yelland, Warren Chandler, Carl Akers, and others were the big names there. 

 Listen to this 1959 Dick McMahon KLZ broadcast

His time in Denver radio was brief, as he was offered a job at a radio station, in Nashville. The gig was short lived, as the station soon went out of business.

"I then applied for an announcer position with WSM radio, which is the station that owns and operates the Grand Ole Opry. Part of my assignment there, along with my 7-11pm radio shift, was working on the Opry shows. At that time the Opry originated from the old Ryman Auditorium. The announcer’s job was to introduce the various portions of the show, and do the live commercials. So I would say things like 'This next portion of the Grand ‘Ole Opry is brought to you by _______, and here’s the star of this segment – MARTY ROBBINS!'"

The list of notable performers he encountered, while at the Opry, is a list of country royalty - Roy Acuff, Tex Ritter, Faron Young, Archie Campbell, Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Minnie Pearl, and Margie Bowes (who made a surprise appearance at his bachelor party).  

"Loretta Lynn was a genuine country girl. She’d drive up in her pickup truck and park behind the Ryman Auditorium, come in, sing a few songs, then drive back home."

McMahon served as Opry announcer for about three of his six years at WSM (he was replaced on WSM by a then-unknown Pat Sajak). He then teamed up with (later) Colorado U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong, who recruited him to start a TV operation in Idaho Falls, Idaho (KKVI / KPVI). He then moved to Oregon, to manage another television station. He current resides in Oregon, where he stays busy as an actor.

Check out this hysterical Amazon ad, featuring Dick McMahon

While he hasn't been back to the Denver area in several years, his time here left an impression.

"Denver will always be my home. In fact I named my son Denver, and my daughter's name is Molly - after the Unsinkable Molly Brown."

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Request for help - The GBJ Band

Hey all - on occasion I will post a question, in hopes that someone can help a blog reader. Got this message today, from someone in Greece:

"I need your valuable help please. There was a Christian band (trio) from Denver, the GBJ Band, and they released an LP called Flyin' and Singin' in 1977. Any info or just to see the front cover of the LP? Can you help please?"

Thanks for the question! Here's what I found.

The GBJ Band included Patrick "Pat" Boone, Ralph Carmichael, and Jimmy Owens. I found a 1977 picture of them, advertising a concert they were having, in Colorado Springs.

Of course the name Ralph Carmichael is familiar as the one of the early composers of contemporary Christian music, but this Ralph Carmichael is much (much) younger.

As for the LP, I couldn't find a thing. There isn't even a listing on Discogs. So fellow readers, can you help out this reader, who contacted me all the way from Greece?  If you have this album, I would love to include a picture. Many thanks, in advance!


Monday, July 19, 2021

June Sproule(s) and Her Piano


Far too often, when doing research on Colorado records, I run into brick walls. It happens. As was the case with this instrumental LP from June Sproules, Junie's Moods. I couldn't find a thing on this album. I knew there had to be a Colorado connection, given the KCMS catalog number (1272), but I kept coming up with nothing. 

Listen to "I'll Remember April"

Then it dawned on me. Maybe her name is spelled wrong. The label shows June Sproules, but typos happen. Sure enough. Her name is June Sproule.

I noted that the label showed a Hutchinson, KS home address, which is now a vacant lot. Putting two and two together, I finally solved the mystery.

Hutchinson (KS) News - July 12, 1958

I found references to a June Sproule performing several years earlier, dating back to 1938, so no clue if the woman on this album is her, or a daughter, or some other relative. Apparently a June Sproule was a regular in the Colorado Springs club circuit, when I'm guessing she recorded her album at Bud Edmonds' Manitou Springs KCMS radio studio, during one of her visits.


Monday, July 12, 2021

Saved from the trash - Denver Junior Police Band


Going through a stack of records, on the last day of an estate sale. The organizer told me to "take them all, or they were going into the trash."

With an offer like that, who am I to turn down free records?

I get home and notice that they all were Recordio discs - home recording discs produced by the Wilcox-Gay Corp., for use on their Recordio machines. Now, these are usually a crap shoot, as they are normally amateur audio recordings of Aunt Mabel sharing what happened at Uncle Bob's birthday party, or kids singing Christmas songs, to mail to grandma. The company went out of business in 1963.

I noticed there was one other in the pile - a 12" reference recording on an NBC record label. The disc showed a 1952 date.

While there is no obvious Colorado notation on here, the label on the record indicates that it was from the "Review in Blue" radio show, which aired on KOA radio, Friday nights at 9:30, and featured the Lowry Air Force base band. The record identifies 13-year old Jerry Robinson, a trumpet player with the Denver Junior Police Band, as the guest soloist.

As you will notice, the record is in almost unplayable condition, but wanted you to hear.

Sample of "Desert Star" (2:00)

The Denver Junior Police Band was formed in 1937. In 2001 it was renamed the Mile High Community Band. Members wore uniforms patterned after the Denver Police uniforms, with badges and holsters with little silver cap pistols. 

Just a few of the Denver Junior Police Band LPs in the author's collection.

Interesting note, in 1956, a 7-year old Kenny Passarelli (bassist for Elton John, Dan Fogelberg, Hall & Oates, Joe Walsh and co-writer of "Rocky Mountain Way"), auditioned for the Junior Police Band.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Jami Porter

Hit up the ARC thrift on Colfax, and found a cache of Colorado LPs - right place, at the right time. Someone had donated a bin full of state-made vinyl. Very rare to see such a collection, in one place. Yeah, for a moment there I thought I was on Candid Camera, and someone had to be filming my reaction to seeing so many obscure Colorado records at one thrift store (grin).

Surprisingly (not surprisingly) I actually had almost all of the albums found in the bin. But then I noticed this 1979 unknown-to-me record by a singer, with the singular name, Jami. 

While the record did not show a Colorado address, nor any other indication it was from Colorado, there was a picture on the back cover of a girl, presumably the singer, sitting on top of a snow bank. I also recognized a "Dan Hoffman" in the liner notes. I assumed it was the Aspen-based Daniel P. Hoffman, who recorded the LPs Red Neck Hippie and Empty House. So I took a chance, and brought it home.

The minimalist production is coupled with amateur folky femme vocals. The songs sound like they belong in a guitar church worship service, with lots of uplifting lyrics - minus what sounds like a song about a deceased child.

Listen to "Little Baby Boy" (3:37)

I couldn't find much on the vocalist, Jami Porter. She appears to have moved from Colorado, shortly after the release of this album. She is not the Albuquerque-based artist, of the same name.

Dan Hoffman handles all of the instruments, on the record. The liner notes also give a shout-out to the Chapel of the Hills church, located west of Woodland Park, for choir backing vocals on one of the songs.

One name that did stand out was the artist behind the hand-drawn LP cover design - Sean O'Meallic. If you live in Denver, you are familiar with the artist Sean O' Meallie, the designer behind the Running Balloon Man sculpture at Denver RTD’s Central Park Station, and Cowboy Pajamas, at the Residence Inn on Champa St. In 2011, he was the artist behind the Manitou Chair Project - a temporary art installation, involving 600+ empty chairs lined up along Manitou Avenue, in Manitou Springs.

Could this person be one in the same, and this was simply an album credit typo?

"Yup, that was a typo," he told me.

"My then-girlfriend, now wife and I met Jami while working at the Broadmoor Hotel. We were part of the annual temporary tourist seasonal worker population. She asked me to create the cover, even though I was not of her, nor any, religious group. Though it felt awkward, it was certainly an honor to be asked. As I recall, she was pleased with the outcome."

He told me that the album was given as payment for his work. He lost track of Jami, after she left Colorado, about 40 years ago.

"I've never done another album cover, after that."