Researcher Kaptain Kidshow has provided the following very important dates to clarify the fuzzy, unclear memories I have of this important (not) moment in radio history.
I noticed some conversation over on DCRTV about the "green towers" and let me just say that yes, they were green, this was something agreed to at a Montgomery County Council meeting that I attended - the main focus was how to minimize the impact of the radio towers on the greenery/scenery. My memory may be all wrong, but I believe the original towers were only 90' tall and were not considered, at all, to be a hazard to anyone, and I've read nothing about massive bird deaths from running into those nasty towers. Not sure about golfers, though. I never actually saw the towers; I was not of the income bracket to belong to a country club, and my only knowledge of golf is via Caddyshack (classic motion pix).
Here are the dates:
Advertising and filmmaker (and keyboard artist) Doug Bailey had wonderful memories of the theater organ, as well as the radio of his younger days, when it was used as a "theater of the mind" vehicle with which to entertain. Doug loved music, and he loved radio. It was a dream that almost came true that back in 1971 or thereabouts, would finally have a radio station to program with the talent and knowledge he posessed. Doug had been on the air in years past from his Rockville, MD studios in the "basement" level of Congressional Plaza, with and without the Mighty Moller pipe organ (before it was installed, say, during his days on WEEL, he had an electronic organ and electronic piano). Bailey told me he had a early afternoon show on WQMR for a couple of years; I believe they had a baby grand piano in the little building with glass bricks that is there no more (pictured elsewhere on this site).
There were many places on the radio dial playing "beautiful music" which is somewhat related to the format that Bailey wanted to bring to new ears and old ears alike, that is, NOSTALGIA RADIO. Yup, re-broadcasts of classic radio shows, with an emphasis on comedy, and music from the shows of Broadway and films of Hollywood. Bailey was quite well prepared to provide live music from his own studio, with the Moller pipe organ at the ready (it provided incredibly useful sound effects and Bailey's unique jingles for commercials for many years). He had been on organ-plus-vocal (with an occasional record) shows, I don't have the years but at the time I met Bailey (I think I was in 10th grade?) he was providing live radio - long after live radio was out of vogue - via a 5kc "equalized" phone line down to Alexandria's WPIK. A few years later, WPIK went to join the country-western format of sister FMer WXRA and Bailey's show went silent for a time (there was, trivia fans, a 2-week "trial" on pre-rock WHFS in stereo!)
At any rate the WPIK show was over, so the organ reverted to its always-useful self in jingles and sound effects. Bailey the artist could write simple, yet effective jingles for his clients, and could provide something unique and stay free of the "canned music" syndrome. One little tune I can remember, "Fairfax... Chrysler-Plymouth."
I readily admit I'm sketchy on the exact details of "what went down." I only did odd jobs for the Bailey agency, and the closest I ever came to a job in radio was when Bailey was very enthusiastic about the future of the dream that he seemed about to latch onto - that is, the launch of WXLN. I was in the office several times a week but fortunately was kept away from the "suits" that I was told were the stockholders that held the reins to the radio station. They were entrusting Doug Bailey to take this little daytimer with a very questionable signal and make it a real radio station in Bailey's own vision - that is, a modern - yet - totally nostalgic radio station.
Congressional Plaza is a good old-fashioned "L" shaped "strip shopping center." Not a mall; it came to be during the days of The Congressional Airport (Congressional Lane was originally Congressional Airport Lane). Nearly everyone knows someone or someone's older relative who had flown into/out of/or both from Congressional, including my father... us older folks, that is :) I lived in the Congressional Towers apartments from 1965 through 1972, and the Plaza was just across the street and up a short distance. The first time I met Bailey and learned of his agency must have been around 1966. Someone had alerted my mother that there was a theater pipe organ back in that office somewhere (geographically, if you can remember People's Drug Store on the upper level, that's roughly where it was only "downstairs.") I still found it unlikely and found it really awkward to take my teenage self to a grown-up ad agency and ask if it really did house this wonderful instrument that could provide rich musical sounds first heard during the silent movie era. I walked up to the door one day after school, still not believing it and just intending to kind of walk up to the door, look in, then walk away, sure that it was just another office. I was half right - it APPEARED to be just another office. The receptionist up front, some turquoise waiting chairs (requisite color of the times). The real clue was a decal on the window that included the image of a theater organ console (multiple keyboards, stop tab rails, pedalboard, bench) and the words around it 'AMERICAN THEATER ORGAN ENTHUSIASTS ATOE.' Somewhere in time that was changed from "Enthusiasts to Society." At any rate, I opened the door, and the receptionist told me that yes the organ was back there, and was used daily for a radio show, and I'd be more than welcome to sit in the studio during the show, and I assured her that I knew how to be quiet in a live studio! So I saw many performances of the Parker and Bailey radio show during the WPIK days, and skipped a lot of school to be there. I had been a member of the ATOE(S) myself and had the honor to play the Mighty Mo whenever I wanted to (it was kind of fun to play a few songs, then run up to Peoples, and find that they could hear the organ somewhat especially in the back of the store).
I took many color photos, though only with a tiny cheap camera, back then, and can't find any of them after the years and moves; but the studio and organ console are pretty much as you see it in these photos; one thing not mentioned above, the xylophone was located in the back of the studio, above the heads of seated studio visitors, and it was LOUD AS HELL; the chimes, which you can see behind the console, sounded great mounted just as they were. The "swell shades" seen behind and to the left of the console, were the means of controlling the volume of the organ, as you pressed the swell pedal, more shutters would open; they were loud and leaky, but never heard on the air as the RCA ribbon mikes were very directional, and Bailey took advantage of their null spots!
Fast forward a few years, and Bailey is about to launch the nostalgia-formatted WXLN. I helped a bit with the audition tapes, and couldn't wait to hear the station on the air. Doug Bailey was very happy! The organ was on the air daily once again, with the revival of the Parker and Bailey show... LIVE RADIO! True show biz!
I guess it was 3 weeks into the operation of WXLN when I ran into Bailey on the steps at Congressional (between upper and lower levels, they're still there even though they're probably painted gold or something). He said "time to quit your part-time job at Kitts (music store on the upper level at Congressional, where I worked during high school) and work full time for me as musical director." I don't know why but I didn't pursue the offer, I had a couple years with Kitts (really Jordan-Kitts as all employees knew before the public became aware). I don't remember with any clarity exactly what was happening with my life, only that it was crazy. Bailey explained that I'd help pick music to play (he knew my young ears knew and appreciated older music) and that he'd pay me to travel and look for old records. I only mumbled that I'd think about it...
Next thing I knew - several weeks later - was that the mood at the agency was dark and stormy. The "why" wasn't mentioned so in my youth, I just plain asked - and a very angry, hurt Doug Bailey told me that WXLN, that Bob Dupree had announced with his great voice as "excellence in radio" - had it's plug pulled by the stockholders.
I know there was astonishment at this - a new radio format takes TIME to become established - at that time, I believe the FCC even had rules that a startup had to be prepared financially for two years before killing the station. Not WXLN. I know nothing about what happened next, could have cared less, but it ended up a religious station. It was a bitter time, because it was a beautiful format - that was given no chance to reach and establish an audience. Worse, it was staffed by talent that represented an era of radio not to be heard from again. Now we have righty talk and Dr. Laura. The 21st century in radio; voice tracked, satellite-fed nothingness.
There is no happy ending to this story; only another example of why I strongly feel the "business" end of radio has, along with legislative grease and some heaping helpings of greed, ended the era where radio was pleasant entertainment, something other than a political statement (as long as it's GOP) and traffic and weather on the 8's. One thing does survive with a vengeance on the radio - commercial load. I always wondered if you stopwatched WTOP, took away commercials, teasers, witty rejoinders, how much delivery of news would you really have vs. commercials?
really - The End