Saturday Single No. 9

Originally posted April 14, 2007

Like most lovers of pop and rock music, I imagine, I love radio. During my college years, I worked at the SCSU radio station for a while, and spent a lot of my class time with folks who went into radio (while I ended up working for newspapers and occasionally in public relations).

And, given that I have a prodigious memory and rapid recall, one of the things I’ve loved the most about radio is the trivia contests they often offer. Over the years, I’ve won quite a few.

During my final summer of college, I was picking up a few last credits by taking a television news workshop, producing stories and newscasts side by side with some of those who were going into radio and television production. One of those folks was a fellow named Jim who was the nighttime DJ at WJON, the station not far from the house where I grew up. One evening, just after the film Star Wars was released, Jim had a copy of the soundtrack to give away; it would go the fourth caller with the correct answer to the question: Who wrote the music that was used as a main theme in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey?

I was sitting in my mobile home writing a letter or something; I remember typing at the kitchen table right next to the wall phone. I grabbed the phone and dialed the WJON studio line. “Hi, Jim,” I said.

“Hey, how goes?” he asked, having recognized my voice.

“Just fine,” I said. “And the answer is Richard Strauss.” Strauss was the composer of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the dramatic trumpet and tympani fanfare used in the film.

“You’re correct caller No. 1!”

I hung up and dialed again. And again. And again. I was correct caller No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4. (I have a sneaking suspicion that if another caller had slid in with the correct answer after I was No. 3, Jim would have deflected him or her, waiting for my fourth call.) And I got my Star Wars soundtrack. Later that summer, I also won the Beatles’ Live At The Hollywood Bowl although I don’t recall the question I answered for it. And still later that summer, I won Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Works, Vol. 1, although when I went to the station to pick it up, I was told they’d run out and they would call me when they got more copies in. I never got a call. (I’m living no more than two blocks from the station again, and I sometimes wonder if I should drop in some day and see what the folks there can do for me about my lost copy of Works, Vol. 1.)

I’ve won a few other trivia contests over the years. While I lived in Minot, North Dakota, one of the stations there ran its Mystery Oldie of the Day contest at 7 a.m., right when I was about ready to head out the door to the university where I taught. As the DJ introduced the daily contest, I’d pick up my phone and punch in the first six digits of the station’s number. When the song started, if I recognized it, I’d hit the final digit and go for victory. That particular station limited listeners to one contest victory in every four-week period, so I began to keep a note by the stereo listing the date when I’d be eligible to win again. The prize was usually a free dinner at one of the local restaurants; I ate a lot of free meals during my two years in Minot.

Once, when I was working for a banking corporation in downtown Minneapolis, I happened to be between tasks when one of my favorite stations of all time, Cities 97, ran its morning trivia contest. I don’t recall the question, but I won a pound of coffee beans from a local coffee house and a Grateful Dead necktie.

But my favorite trivia contest happening has to be what took place one afternoon in Columbia, Missouri, during the summer of 1991. I was spending the summer working on a final project for my master’s degree in journalism, and I’d fallen into a nice routine. I’d do interviews and research and some writing from about 8 a.m. to, oh, about 4 p.m., when I’d get into my car and drive to a nearby convenience store to get the evening papers.

One day in July, I got into the car and headed out, my favorite local station on the car radio. When I was a block from the store, the DJ said, “Well, here’s today’s trivia question, and I’m going to make you guys work for this one a little bit.”

I listened carefully.

The DJ said, “Who was Norman Smith, what was his hit, and what groups was he associated with? Now, take your time and do your research with this one.”

I pulled into the store’s parking lot, got out of the car and headed to the pay phone near the store’s entrance, fishing in my pocket for a quarter and reciting the station’s phone number in my head. I called the station, and the DJ answered, no more than ten seconds after he’d finished his question.

He answered with the station’s call letters, which I’ve forgotten, and then said, “Whaddaya got?”

I said, “Norman Smith was known as Hurricane Smith, his hit was ‘Oh, Babe, What Would You Say’ in 1973, and he was associated with the Beatles and Pink Floyd.”

There was a three-second silence. Then: “That’s disgusting!” He laughed ruefully. “Are you a disc jockey somewhere or something?”

No, I told him, just a music fan, and he’d happened to hit on one of my all-time favorite singles. 

He sighed and said, “I really thought that one would make people work for it.”

A couple days later, I stopped by the station and, from the choices offered, picked up a copy of R.E.M.’s Out Of Time, which has turned out to be one of my favorite albums from the 1990s.

To fill in the blanks: Norman Smith worked for EMI in London at the famed Abbey Road studios. He was an engineer for the Beatles’ sessions up through 1965’s Rubber Soul, and he was the producer for Pink Floyd’s first three albums. In early 1973, as Hurricane Smith, he reached the Top Ten in the U.S. with his quirky, retro-styled hit, “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say,” today’s Saturday Single.

Hurricane Smith – “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say” [Capitol 3383, 1972]

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