Backstage: A Past Smokey Robinson Pitch to Porn in the Present

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week: a retro return in present tense.


Last weekend, my past and present collided, and the divide between them was blurred entirely. As a function of my current gig as communications director at a

leading network-owned TV station in South Florida, I still interact with radio types similarly to how I did when I worked for record companies back

in the day. Only now, instead of trying to get my records played, I ask for on-air help in order to preview the special

stories and investigations that are scheduled in our newscasts. Radio still follows its own dictates, and

nothing gets on the air unless it proves beneficial to their content.

At an ungodly early hour on Friday morning, I picked up Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan and escorted him to the Paul and Young Ron Show on BIG 105.9 FM. Phil's originally from New Zealand, and that gave us the opportunity to chat about music. The names of bands like the Bats, the Chills, Paul Kelly and the Messengers, Midnight Oil, and all sorts of obscure acts flew back and forth, and I took great delight in trying to trip him up with my dated references of the scene Down Under. Consequently, there was some nostalgia in making a radio run. But that's not what put my past into my present. It wasn't even the autograph Phil gave me later. "Great to meet you," he wrote. "You live the '80s forever." He likely could have said "the '70s forever" just as easily.

 
The real flashback moments lay ahead later that weekend back at the TV station. A big investigation into South Florida's porn industry demanded some radio exposure, and I was time-traveling mentally while phoning up my radio contacts and asking for special consideration. One local program director who scorned my very first pitch long ago -- simply because I had innocently asked him if he'd consider adding my Smokey Robinson single to his album rock format -- was also one of the ones I had to call this time around. He didn't hesitate to call me out for trying to get a story about porn on his easy-listening radio station.

Once a tough sell, always a tough sell. 


Fortunately, I eventually accomplished my mission, garnering enough airtime for the story to show my worth. Plus, it proved a perfect warm-up to the day that followed, which was to culminate in a much-touted radio/record-company reunion in Orlando on Saturday night. I wrote of this some months ago, noting how I looked forward to reconnecting with friends and adversaries alike, all of whom had been involved with me in the continuing tug of war between record label priorities and radio station demands. 

I headed to Orlando early Saturday morning on a bus, in the dubious role of chaperone as part of my wife's school field trip to Universal Studios. After I took in a few rides, my friend George, who, like me, is another seasoned record biz veteran, picked me up later that afternoon, and we went to our hotel in preparation for the evening's festivities. 

Unfortunately, things began to go wrong from the outset. The Ramada Inn where we were booked was, in George's view, a dump, especially compared to the upscale hotels we once frequented during our rock 'n' roll road trips on the record company's dime. The receptionist noted it was no longer associated with Ramada even though it still bore the name. The club where the reunion was staged was even more of a dive -- a rundown bar bearing a distinct odor of moss and mildew.

To our dismay, the gathering was a bust. Only five others had opted to make the journey and attend. The attendees had hair white as winter or had opted for toupees or transplants, and the collected girth no longer reflected the fitness of our 20-something pasts. Still, the memories were as keen as ever. One of the radio types reminded me that I once showed a preference for wearing Hawaiian shirts, and George used the occasion to get in his usual irreverent observations about many of those who simply had the misfortune of being nearby.

Naturally, there were also the obligatory photos, none of which seemed especially flattering or forgiving. By 10 p.m., most of the few attendees began drifting away, scattered by the live band booked for the occasion and generally discouraged at the marked lack of attendance. George and I stayed until past closing (a mere 11 p.m. on a Saturday!) and continued our nostalgic conversation with a handful of other hearty souls before venturing back into the night and heading toward our hotel. 



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