When Moline's Wells Fargo Had Lounge Acts
Things were going just fine on WQUA's All-Night Fistfight. The station had a large collection of jazz albums so I would start each half hour with one of the Chicken40 records that some of the daytime jocks were playing and then spend a lot of time on one-sided phone calls or trying to make fun of whatever was in the news that caught my fancy (I didn't really have a fancy; I had an ordinary with a bow on it.) When things got slow I would play something by Shelly Mann and his Men, or a cut from a Lord Buckley album that said "Don't Play This!" on it. (I told you they had a large collection!)
Max Ryder the manager told Joe Murray the program director that my show sounded like a different station, and he liked it. Most of the time my music consisted of saloon jazz by well-known and not so well-known artists. I was supposed to get off at 5:30 A.M. but in the first two weeks the morning man, Don Hanley, was late five times. That meant I had to play a half hour of hillbilly music until 6:00 A.M. This was left over from the Jack Barlow all night show that went off the air about a year and a half before I got there. I know that he had a large audience, but I didn't get many complaints from his fans. That half hour was sold to an appliance dealer in Rock Island. After I had to do it the first time, and not being one to play it safe, I dug around and found some yodeling by George Gobel, also records by Hawkshaw Hawkins, Minnie Pearl, and of course Cowboy Copas. I had the Stan Kenton-Tex Ritter Album (really!) but I was afraid to play it for fear of losing the sponsor. It was Phil Rosine's account. I liked Phil. He didn't know the names of the personalities on the air, and the sponsors may not have known what they bought, but when it came to getting it on the dotted line, he put Bernie Madoff to shame (but Phil was on the up and up!) Many years later his nephew became a shepherd. I've known Mark Moskowitz for years but I never thought I'd associate him with "crooks." :)
I know that I won't remember the things that happened in 1965 in the correct order, but so what. You won't either. When I was new at WQUA we had an engineer named Jim King (no, I'm not thinking of the guy at WQAD. This was a man who wouldn't have guts enough to go on TV.) One day he told me that Mr. Flambo had him come out to his house and set up a new tape recorder with a timer on it – high tech for that era. Jim said that Flambo told him to set the timer for 3:05 A.M. that night. So when that time came I played a short 45 RPM record at 33, and came out of talking really slow for about ninety seconds, played a promo, and went back to normal. People started calling to see if the show was recorded. When I told them what was up they laughed and said things like, "If he wants to hear what you're doing let him stay up late like the rest of us!" One dim bulb was mad because he almost broke his radio, banging on it (I guess he thought it was stuck.) Two days later I saw the engineer and told him what I had done. He laughed and said the old man had him come out to his house and was all crabby because his new tape recorder was running slow. In fact, he had it in the repair shop.
"Geez," I said, "just tell him you fixed it. But whatever you do don't tell him what I did!"
"It'll cost you," he said.
"Okay, come on over next door to the Sportsman's and I'll buy you a Hangover Surprise. You'll love it. It's two shots of Wild Turkey, one shot of Everclear, and three fingers of prune juice."
"Can I get it in a clean glass?" he asked.
"Don't worry. That drink will clean your glass."
One night there was a local story about the Moline City Council having ruled something to the effect that bars in the city were allowed to stay open an extra hour but only if they had more than twelve bowling lanes. Well that situation applied to only one establishment. It was called the Highland Park Bowl. It was a big place out on 23rd Ave. Not only did they have a big bowling alley but a bar and lounge called the Wells Fargo. Well I had to make some jokes about that! A few days later Les Johnson, a salesman who wore a brown suit and an all-you-can-eat tie, whose account it was, told me that the Highland Park's owner, Sam Gnatovich, was all bent out of shape over what I had said. It seems people were giving him the business. I suggested that if I got that much reaction with just a couple of jokes, he should sell the guy some spots and I'd say a bunch of swell things about the place, and the acts he booked at the Wells Fargo could come over and be on my show. Les took my advice and the relationship between me and the Wells Fargo lasted for many years (more about that later.)
Sunday was my night off. Every Monday morning while I was living at the LeClaire I would go about one block east on 5th Avenue to the A+P Store. One day I found two books of green stamps left in my cart. There was a redemption center almost across the street from the Jug Tavern at the LeClaire, so after I took my bags over to the hotel I went over to see what two books of green stamps would get me. Sadly, not much. I had to pick between a small tea apron with a picture of General MacArthur on it or a small package of fireproof cigars. I took the smokes. Next door to the S+H joint was a little diner with ten or twelve stools and against the wall there were three or four tables that seated two people each. The cook was right out of Beetle Bailey. The waitress had a cute face, a front and a back. I think she was going for the Twiggy look - that was all the rage back then. Looking at the menu I noticed that orange juice came with or without seeds at the same price. I asked how come? She said that some of the older customers needed the roughage. I had two eggs, over-priced, toast and coffee. I took my check to the register and while I was waiting for Twiggy to come and take my money I noticed an 8 x 10 picture on the wall of someone who looked like Alastair Sim in a bad mood.
"Who's that?" I asked. I was told that she used to own the place, and she came in every morning.
"Well, that's no reason to leave it up," I said.
Twiggy whispered, "Her brother is the health inspector." I nodded with a smile. "And she used to work for the fire department."
"Well when she comes in tomorrow morning, give her these cigars. She'll like them, they're fireproof." That place closed about three weeks later. I'm sure the picture had something to do with its demise.
I had a feeling that things were going to change at the station. When I would look at the day pages on the log I realized that even my shirt had more spots on it. Well, what the heck, I worked all night and my listeners probably looked like hell too. In fact there was a rumor around the station that Bob Castle, the traffic director, was taking in laundry, just for something to do, so I sent him my shirt. Boy was I right about changes. Before long, Don Hanley, Joe Murray, Corey Kent, Jeff Blake and Dick Stuart were all gone.