A few nights ago, about 1AM, I was checking my Facebook messages, which I do in order of receipt. My friend and colleague, Marc Drummond, had sent one late. I opened it up and was catapulted 29 years into the past. Marc had sent a YouTube link to a portion of “Rhythm‘N’ Rap” featuring Nile Rogers and the late Bernard Edwards of Chic. I hosted the show briefly in the early ‘80s. My friends, Henry Marx and Wally Roker, connected me to the producer. For the time it lasted, it was a very cool TV experience for a radio guy. (We never interviewed any rappers, as it happens, despite the title.)
I’m part of the first TV Generation. It was a special thing; high-tech in its early days. My first recollection of actually being on TV goes back to the late ‘50s / early ‘60s – I’m not sure which – when I was on “The Barnaby Show” in Cleveland as a kid. I, and a number of other children, had done something special. I’m thinking it had to do with art and school.
Barnaby, played by Linn Shelton, had pointy ears, wore a straw boater, a double-breasted blazer and carried an invisible parrot named “Long John” on his shoulder. He was very hip and urbane – though gentle as it was for little kids – as enchanted forest-dwelling elves go. He had a companion named “Woodrow”, who was a sort of country cousin to Barnaby; which is to say, he was somewhat rural in an elfish sort of way. He wore tights, a Robin Hood tunic, pointy shoes and a terrible wig. Think Will Farrell in his “Elf” role, but without the sweetness. The real Woodrow chain-smoked. They’d never allow him to do that indoors - in a TV studio, no less! - or around children today. But, I digress.
I was fascinated with the KYW-TV studio; the machinery, the wires, the cameras and microphones and the obvious, but mysterious, coordination between members of the crew. I liked this! Viewing myself on a monitor for the first time was magic.
It would be a few more years before my return to television, which happened in San Francisco in the early ‘70s while I was on air-staff at KFRC/San Francisco. I was requested to help host a local cutaway portion of the Jerry Lewis Telethon from the city’s Marina district, outdoors, along with KSFO/San Francisco’s Terry McGovern, another really good music radio jock, though very different from the KFRC sort. I recall that it was a beautiful, sunny day and that Terry was a nice, generous and helpful co-host; very big brotherly toward me.
My next memorable TV experience came around the time of “Rhythm ‘N’ Rap,” cited above. It was when I snagged the announcer gig for the Emmy-winning “Motown 25” in 1983. I was there at Pasadena Civic Auditorium working the actual show, which was amazing. Then, I was called into the Hitsville West studios in Hollywood to replicate that work in post-production for the actual NBC-TV network airing. I narrated along with Smokey Robinson, though he and I recorded separately. This was one of those gigs I’d have paid to be a part of. It’s a story unto itself which I’ll tell at a future date. Promise.
One day about 11 years ago I received a call from Leanna Levy, my agent. She told me that she had received a call from the producers of “Real TV” and that they wanted me for an announcer job. This was not to be an audition. They heard my work and had made a decision. I was the guy.
Actually, I was one of three announcer guys. My part was that of segment announcer. The show had been on for quite awhile, apparently, and had fallen upon low ratings. This re-issue was to be under the name “Real TV with Ahmad Rashad,” the new host. One of the other announcers was Beau Weaver, my old KFRC colleague and, by then, one of the most prominent voice-over guys in Hollywood.
This was a dream job. I worked five days a week, for a total of about six hours per week for more money than I’d ever made for any single, regular job in my life. And, I’d long been used to being well-paid.
Work was on a sound stage in the middle of Hollywood and I had a parking space with my name on it. I’d arrive at noon and go into the booth. The segment producers would come in, one after the other, and hand me copy, which I would quickly pre-read. It required a sort of dramatic approach to delivery which I thoroughly enjoyed! If I had any questions as to what was to happen onscreen at a given point they’d tell me, I’d deliver my part and we’d move on. I rarely saw any footage beforehand. There was no need. In eight months, I watched footage prior to recording three times. The copy mostly said it all and the producer, Ken Davis or one of the others, would guide me, which they did well. Then, in eight short months, Real TV ended, despite a considerable increase in ratings. It’s a long, but understandable, story. I’m just glad I got the gig.
As for “Rhythm ‘N’ Rap”; I fell out with the producer. He communicated poorly. I overreacted. That was that. I don’t know what happened to the show between its initial production and its arrival on YouTube. Perhaps it aired in Canada.
Overall, I’ve always liked this TV thing.
(Follow me on Twitter @jjsradioblog.)