Sunday, March 31, 2019

Ken Alexander celebrates 60 years in radio

Today I made the 25-mile trek from my downtown digs to the burbs to gather with a hundred presumably suburban people to celebrate the 60th radio anniversary of Ken Alexander, who's part of the Those Were the Days show, which can be heard every Saturday on WDCB (which became infamous at one point for employing a thief, housed within the reportedly corrupt College of DuPage, which made the City Colleges of Chicago seem relatively clean). The celebration was at The Framemakers in Westmont, which sponsors the show (a shameless plug because it's incredible that they support old-school radio endeavors).

Steve Darnall, Ken Alexander, Chuck Schaden
Chuck Schaden (right) reads a Fakebook post for Ken Alexander
because Ken isn't online at all, thus why it's important for folks like me to do online posts such as this,
though I don't know if current TWTD host Steve Darnall (left) agrees.

Mr. Alexander (don't know if I'm allowed to refer to him as "Ken," since he's an elder statesman and I have never met the guy) told his radio story, which includes the following that I scribed on my phone while "Those Were The Days" creator Chuck Schaden told us that Mr. A doesn't have any type of portable phone, thus making this means of reporting ironic.

In 1947, Mr. Alexander graduated from from Austin High School on Chicago's west side (which is probably way different now than when he went there). He didn't go to college because he had to work (which I think was typical of those times, thanks to a more forgiving, booming post-war economy). He was told about a radio job as an errand boy at WGN, and he went for an interview and thought he had a good chance of getting it. But alas, just like today, it was about who you knew, and he was predictably told that it was given to a relative of someone who was already working there (gotta love nepotism...and I wonder what ended up happening to that lucky lad).

Ken Alexander
Ken Alexander reading an old-school radio story that was featured on the show.
And in case you didn't know, the war is over! 

With his radio dream sidelined, he needed to make a living elsewhere, so he worked in the railroad biz from 1948-1957. He quit that demanding job (I'm not being really was demanding, according to him) to work at Musicraft on Oak Street near Michigan Avenue (i.e., the Gold if you need clarification). Then in 1959, he got a chance to broadcast from the Edgewater Beach Hotel on WEBH as a Sunday volunteer after the owner, Buddy Black (who was previously at WGN), heard his demo. Radio geekery that Mr. A shared: Amos and Andy kick-started their radio career at WEBH in the 1920s.

crowd at The Framemakers
Ken Alexander (very far left) making the rounds before the event. The Framemakers (celebrating their 50th year) ended up bursting with standing-room only. Note the pro photographer...his pics will be way better than mine.

He eventually got paid when they got rid of the volunteers, and he played his own classical music records on the air. Then the owner of WNIB, Bill Florian, wanted to hire him, though there were no openings because FM stations didn't have much money in the 1950s (as if there's any money now). More radio geekery shared by Mr. A: Bill Plante, who became a major CBS TV news guy, did announcing at WNIB while he was on his way to major national news success. When Bill (don't know the guy but I'll use his first name anyway) left to do news elsewhere, Mr. A eventually replaced him. At that point, he was working at the Gold Coast store, WEBH, and WNIB at the same time.

Eventually he gave up the store and initially held on to WNIB while getting an opportunity at WAIT in the early 1960s. He said he scored that sweet gig because he had a good demo; unlike the out-of-towners, he understood WAIT's style because he lived in Chicago. He quit WNIB when he got a normal job at WAIT, which even included overtime (imagine that, you underpaid radio folks). He started at WAIT in 1964 and left about 22 years later, in 1986 after the situation became more volatile.

Nostalgia Digest with memorabilia
Some nostalgic items from Chuck Schaden's collection sharing space with Nostalgia Digest, which is also now a podcast!

It was interesting timing, because the station was sold a few months later for a mere half-million (while the Florians banked 165 million bucks for WNIB in 2001). Then he joined Chuck Scheiden's "Those Were the Days" show after that, as permanent guest host. His radio career continued in the 1990s when he went back to WNIB as a fill-in for announcers. So far, he's been with "Those Were the Days" for over 30 years.

radio nostalgia and Nipper
More radio nostalgia from Chuck Schaden's home...sorry to the man who I had to squeeze by to shoot this. And note the picture of Darnall, Alexander, and Schaden near Nipper, of "His Master's Voice" fame. Or he could just be a dog.

After sharing his radio story, he took questions from the large audience, but I had to get back downtown for my own radio gig, so I couldn't stay in Westmont (which is a lovely burb...check out their downtown...worth the trip, easy by car or Metra).

NBC's the Monitor
Have you been listening to NBC Radio's Monitor this weekend?

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