DRAKE-CHENAULT SPECIAL FEATURES

This part of the website will provide some backround and insight about the "Special Feature" shows that were produced at Drake-Chenault. Special Features were programs that were often used by a radio station to create a "special broadcasting event" that could be promoted to listeners.

Special Feature shows were available to only one station in any given market, hence they provided an excellent opportunity to steal listeners away from the competition. Not only could the station increase its ratings, but commercial time within a feature show sold at premium rates.



In the early 70's Drake-Chenault produced "The Top 100 of the Sixties" and "The Golden Years", both of which documented the history of pop music. The Top 100 covered the 1960's ; The Golden Years spanned 1956 through 1972. These shows were hosted by Robert W. Morgan.


In the mid-70's, "The Golden Years of Country" debuted. It covered country music from 1956 through 1970. The program was written and hosted by Bob Kingsley, who also did the voicing for the Great American Country automation music format. The Golden Years of Country was DCs first feature to showcase Mark Ford's incredible studio production talents.

Of course, the granddaddy of them all was The History of Rock & Roll, a 52-hour blockbuster that chronicled the course of rock music since its inception.

The History of Rock & Roll was first produced at KHJ in 1969. It was hosted by Robert W. Morgan, and was produced in monaural. The show was syndicated, and was available "in stereo" by taking the original mono tapes and processing them through an early stereo simulator device.


In the mid 70s, Drake-Chenault decided to completely redo and update this monumental program. A producer/engineer was brought in (Steve-something, a guy from Texas). After about a years work with no useable results he was fired, and Gary Theroux, a knowledgeable writer and producer, was hired to get the project back on track.

Here are Gary's words about his experience working on The History of Rock & Roll...

THE HISTORY OF "THE HISTORY OF ROCK & ROLL"-- AND ME by Gary Theroux

My first job in radio was as one of two voices in a commercial for Milbank Home. I was then 11 and fascinated by the whole world of broadcasting. I still was while in college, working both as a country DJ on local radio and as the PD/MD and host of several shows on the (competing) campus station. After graduation I headed for the west coast. (I wanted to find out if what The Beach Boys had said about California girls was true. It was.)


Gary Theroux

I worked for several stations and in TV and film as well. I was also writing a book on pop history -- chiefly the stories behind songs -- based on the mountain of artist interviews I had conducted since I was a kid.

While at KIIS-FM (in Los Angeles) in 1976 I got word that Drake-Chenault was in the process of assembling a new version of "The History of Rock & Roll." I knew the program well, having been fascinated by the 1969 version as broadcast over Chicago's WLS. Little did I suspect how indelibly that program was to alter my life.

When I arrived at DC, the HRR project was in total disarray. The guy they had hired to update the program turned out to have absolutely no clue as to how to do it; he told me this himself, as well as the fact that he really knew next to nothing about rock music at all. That desperate situation explains why the DC staff welcomed me with such enthusiastic open arms.

Music Director Denise Cox

 

 

I had to start from scratch -- and immediately set to the task of evaluating what usable assets were on hand. There was the DC record library (very impressive), a tiny box containing but a handful of artist interviews (not too impressive) and an incomplete copy of the 1969 HRR script.

I spent several days reviewing those pages, line by line, and was amazed by both it's chaotic structure and the fact that it was jam-packed with historical errors, misjudgments, gaping omissions and irrelevancies. While I originally had planned to simply update the show, I wound up scrapping ALL of it -- except for a few irreplaceable interview clips and the famed Phil Spector listening test -- which was itself resequenced. A key reason for all the goofs in the earlier show: rock music had rarely been considered worthy of serious study or documentation before, so the original writers had little to go on.

 

Mark Ford, 1978

We produced the 1978 version in real stereo whenever possible, using elements like the then-rare true stereo mix of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say." At that time it had been issued on only one LP and was 180 degrees out of phase! But master engineer Mark Ford managed to tweak it back so skillfully that one would swear, hearing the playback, that Ray and his band were actually performing live before us at DC. How Mark managed to pull off that and a myriad of other wonders mystifies me to this day, knowing that he was working with only two-tracks on equipment that -- to an alarming extent wasn't really professional caliber equipment The only things digital in the DC studio then were Mark's ten fingers, which nimbly sliced and spliced endless tiny bits of quarter-inch recording tape.

HRR script, Page 1

 

While the music came first, I wanted the story of rock and roll to be told mainly by the voices of the people who created it -- with narrator input only when needed to fill in facts or bridge gaps. We salvaged a few interviews from the earlier show, recorded some new ones and also used some from my own archives (Over the years, I've interviewed close to a thousand hitmakers.) I then structured the show into self-contained hours, each with a clear theme and direction. A few superstars were given a full hour. Elvis and The Beatles got more of course, but most artists had only one or two sample hits included. This was because (believe it or not) 52 hours was hardly enough time to cover every important rock record -- even then. We had to be selective and sometimes the omissions were painful. For instance, I wanted to include more roots material such as Wynonie Harris' "Good Rockin' Tonight" from 1948, but got overruled. I also got outvoted when I wanted to include Bob Seger.

We did half-hours spotlighting each year in rock history from 1956 on; they made great catch-alls for one-off miscellaneous hits that didn't fit elsewhere. I also had two montages built for each of those half hours. The A montage was made up of key lines from every #1 single of that year, in order. The B montage was clips from other key hits of the year that we did not have time to play in full.

An unexpected surprise: One of the engineers' girlfriends complained that the HRR was taking up all of his time and demanded to know what he was working so hard on. He made a dub for her of the master reel of A montages and took it to her apartment. He told her to listen while he went out to pick up pizza. When he returned, she was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the speakers. She had tears in her eyes as she listened to bits from every #1 record, in order, starting in January 1956. He said, "What's the matter? It can't be that bad." She said, "No, it's wonderful. But I've just heard my whole life passing before my ears." When I heard that, I knew we had found the best and most dramatic way to end the HRR: "The History Of Rock & Roll Timesweep," which links all of those A montages together to form a "monster montage" of every #1 hit record from 1955 to 1978! The result? That hour became the most heavily bootlegged of any -- and I still see tapes and CDs of it pop up at record swap meets and on E-Bay.

Bill Drake

We auditioned several possible narrators for the show and even cut a few hours with one of them -- a highly unlikely choice who had come to fame fast-talking his way through high-pressure electronics commercials. I finally said to Bill Drake -- who of course had done liners and top-of-the-hour IDs for many of the DC client stations -- "Why don't YOU narrate it?" He smiled and said, "I was hoping someone would ask." So he did take on the role.

Incidently, when I started at DC, Bill Drake was almost a phantom to nearly every employee. He worked almost exclusively from home and only stopped by the DC offices a few times a year -- often at night. Hardly anyone at DC had ever met or even seen him.

I wanted to work directly with Bill on the HRR project, but was blocked by one management member from even calling Drake on the phone. I was told that anything for Drake had to be filtered through HIM and HE would get whatever it was to Bill. A few days later I would get a report that Drake was "very upset" with my proposals and that major changes had to be made. I'd be handed back my papers and they were covered with scribbles. I'd make the changes, hand in the revisions and then get another report that Bill was upset. Finally the day came when this nameless executive visited Mexico, drank a little of the wrong tequila (or something) and got laid up ill at home. I then had to screw up my courage, drive out to Drake's house and deal with him directly, face-to-face.

I was met at the door by a big friendly guy in a University of Hawaii T-shirt who invited me in and gave me a drink. He was Bill Drake, of course -- and as we talked for several hours it became crystal clear that he and I had been on the same wavelength all along. As it turned out, that executive had "adjusted" my scripts and proposals, and it was those changes that had upset Bill.

Gene Chenault

 

After that it was smooth sailing for Mr. Drake and I -- and I came away from the DC experience with a deep and abiding admiration for Bill. I still miss him today, so many years after the last time we said goodbye. I also grew fond of fatherly Gene Chenault, both as a businessman and a person. Oh -- and here's a little fact that Mark Ford has never known: I was so impressed by him, and still refer to Mark as the best engineer of the many I've ever worked with, that when my first-born son arrived in 1989, we named the baby after him. Mark Theroux is now 12 years old.

Despite the fact that the HRR's final on-air credits were largely inaccurate (due, I assume, to one last burst of egos and office politics), I was immensely proud of the program, which aired on over 400 stations in the U.S. and reportedly another 400 or so overseas.

More personally, to echo Jim Backus, "I Married Joan" -- the girl I was dating while at DC -- and now have two sons (the other, Rick, was born in 1991). That's about it, other than I now live in the NYC area and miss California EVERY SINGLE DAY. As The Tradewinds so eloquently sang, "New York's a lonely town -- when you're the only surfer boy around."

Copyright 2002 Pop Record Research

And here's an HRR "mini-story" from Hank Landsberg:

In August of 1977, HRR production was in full swing. That month, the script writers and pre-production assistants were preparing the HRR segment that would chronicle the music and life of Elvis Presley. We had scripts mostly written, interviews recorded and edited, and backround instrumental tracks ready for Mark Ford to assemble into the "Elvis chapter" of the show. Then Elvis died! Since we had all of the production elements ready to go, it was decided that Drake-Chenault would produce a three-hour "Elvis Tribute" program. I believe that Elvis died on a Tuesday. We began production immediately. Bill Drake came in that night to record the voicing as Mark Ford produced the show. The writers were working frantically to make last-minutes script changes.

"Elvis Special" script, page 1

 

They'd bring the scripts in to Bill. He'd voice them, and Mark would mix the show almost on-the-fly. Just to be sure there were no technical problems, I stayed at Drake-Chenault throughout the night, not leaving until 4:00 pm the following day (Wednesday?)

The production of "Elvis: A Three Hour Special" was completed Wednesday afternoon, and went immediately into tape duplication. For two days, the tape duplication system ran three shifts. By Thursday afternoon, we had several hundred copies of the show. The show shipped Thursday and Friday for air that weekend.

The show got rave reviews, even from our competitors, who couldn't figure out how we were able to put together such a high quality show in such a short time span. The answer was that Elvis picked the right time to die!