Moving Makes Me Sick
It was February of 1965. I was kind of unhappy to leave what used to be WOWI, but I would have been even more unhappy had I stayed. They changed the call letters again from WNUW to WHEL and went country. About a year after I left it burned down (I told Fordyce about that hot plate!)
When I told Joe Erni that I was leaving the New Albany Inn, he got tears in his eyes. "Gee, I'm sorry I have to go," I said. "So am I," he said, shaking his head. "Who else is going to rent a hotel room with no window?" I asked him if he had a big hotel book. He smiled and said that even though he owned a small hotel he had a book that listed all the big ones. "I meant the book is big," I said in my frustrated Jack Benny voice. "I know," he said. "Here, have a Walnetto." He pulled out his Big Book and looked up Moline, and asked, "What side of town is the station on?" I told him the town only had one side. "Okay, here's the LeClaire, and it looks nice. Go have a cup of coffee and I'll get you a good rate."
I got off the train in Moline (on the south side of the Mississippi.) I walked out of the station, looked around for a cab, and I saw one across the street, parked in back of the LeClaire Hotel. It's a good thing I noticed the name on top of the building. The cab driver might have taken me to Silvis and back and let me off a block from where I started. Joe Erni had indeed gotten me a good rate, five dollars a night. The LeClaire had everything – a bar called the Jug, two restaurants, a newsstand, bellboys, and a hot- and cold-running house detective that looked like William Barr, only not so baggy. The manager's name was Ptack. He put me on a waiting list for an apartment.
The next morning I walked the five blocks to WQUA. The lobby was large with two nice young ladies in it. Their nicknames were Marty and Mo (sounds like a Disney show.) They asked me if they could help me. I told them that we had given up on that years ago, but I would like to see J. Maxim Ryder. While I was waiting I couldn't help thinking that since I was working for two guys who parted their names in the middle (J. Maxim Ryder and G. Laverne Flambo), maybe I should change my name to B. Adam Jones, but that was redundant because I already was. Mr. Ryder handed me a one-year contract that had an option on their end, and asked me when I could start. I said that I was waiting for my new third class license to arrive. He asked if I had passed. Well, I said, there was a question about plotting to overthrow the government I wasn't too sure of. He tried to ignore that but didn't do a very good job (sparks flew out of the end of his cigar butt.) I shook a bunch of hands, they seemed to all be connected to nice folks, then Max and I went next door to Homer's donut shop. We each had a Mello Cream creation called a Barlow Donut (named after a guy who used to work all night at WQUA.) Homer's donuts were the best I've ever had.
The LeClaire Hotel was a great place to live. The only drawback (at the time) was new high-pile carpet in all the halls that collectively could have given Boulder Dam a run for its Watts! Walking to and from my room in my leather-soled shoes was a real adventure. The first time I did it and reached for the elevator button, a big blue spark that would have made Ben Franklin proud shot out of the end of my finger. The next day I went out and got some galoshes (good thing it was wintertime.)
Speaking of winter, I was in town two days and I got sick. Today they have medical names for it, but back then we just called it Sick. When I went downstairs, looking like I just fell out of an ambulance, a bellhop asked if I needed anything. I told him I felt just as bad as I looked and was there a doctor who had late hours in town? To my amazement he said yes, in East Moline. I looked up his name in the phone book, called there, and told the lady that I'd be right over and to not close until I got there because I thought I had Bubonic. I hung up, went out front, got in a cab, and asked the driver if he knew where this guy was. He said, "Oh yeah," and smiled.
When I got there the nurse said, "You the guy with the Plague?" I said, "No, but let me know when he gets here." She listened to things, thumped on things, and had me cough, said, "Roll up your sleeve," and gave me a shot. I paid her and that was that. I never did see the doctor. Back at the hotel I stopped in the Jug (bar.) I must have had too many and gone to a restaurant because I woke up the next day with a spatcheula in my pants (that's not the way you spell spatula, is it?) That afternoon I called the station, told them I was on the mend and would see them the next day. That morning I felt fine, but I was sorry that my license hadn't got there yet because I couldn't go on the air without it.
I went in to the station the next two or three days, cut some spots, but spent most of the time at the LeClaire. Still no license. Then (as our son used to say when he was little), I made a Idea! I called the FCC. I must admit I was a little nervous. Okay, a lot nervous. What if I hadn't passed the test? I'd be stuck up the Mississippi without a gig. The lady at the FCC was very nice. She said I passed, but it would be about a week before she could get the license to me. When I told her my situation she gave me her name and phone number and said to post them with the tickets, and if anyone gave me grief they could call her. I told the engineer (whose name was Jim King, not the one from Channel 8) and the PD, whose name was Joe Murray. He said he'd be listening at midnight.
I got to the station about 11:30 pm. A guy named Dick Stuart had just finished playing some Broadway show music. Jeff Blake was starting to play some Top 40 stuff and was all tied up on the phone, so I told him I'd be back at 12:00.
After the headlines Jeff played "Downtown" by Petula Clark. I sat down and said, "Show me the mic switch and the turntable pots." Then the record ran out. I opened the mic and said, "What button do I push now, Mother?" I gave him the business about starting me with a two-minute song, ad-libbed for a few minutes, and played a record. Jeff said, "You'll be fine. If you have any problems I'll be over at Bosso's." And he left. I took it as a compliment. I liked Jeff. We became good friends.