Saturday, October 17, 2009

Little River Band: It's A Long Way There

Late posting today as my Friday and Saturday schedule are out of kilter since I stayed in Charleston, WV last night in preparation for doing a pledge drive on West Virginia Public Radio this morning from 7-10 AM. The pledge drive went well, but I was tired all day and I am finally getting to where I am going – that is doing my blog entry for today. Today’s hit was by the first Australian band to break the American charts and the string of hits started with the 1976 American release of “It’s a Long Way There.”

Here is the full studio version:

Here is a live version from 1976:

This song creates a string of memories that extend back to the first part of 1977. In February of that year, I purchased my first new car – a 1977 Chevy Vega hatchback. One of the conditions of the new car was it had to have an FM radio. I learned a lot about autos with this car. First of all, I experienced the sales techniques of reciprocity and scarcity.

The reciprocity idea (I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back) was seen in that GM was giving purchasers a whopping rebate of $200 on the purchase of a new Vega. The rebate of $200 doesn’t seem quite worth it now, but in 1977 the list price on a Vega was $4495. Scarcity was illustrated in the fact that this rebate was only offered for a limited time. Not only that, but Chevy had extended their warranty from 50,000 miles to 60,000 miles on the power train.

Being a senior in college with two part-time jobs and no credit history, my prospect for getting a loan from anyone without a cosigner was slim to none; however, I took my chances and drove to Don Hall Chevrolet in Ashland, KY and began to check out the prospects of a new Vega. I should have been clued into future problems when my trade in of a 1970 Plymouth Satellite was accepted for nearly what I had paid for it three years earlier.

The salesman, Dave (whose last name escapes me), was slick. He made me believe he was doing me a favor because all he required was a list of personal references and the need for a cosigner would be waived. He also sold me on additional repair insurance which could be used during the car’s first year. This was worthless, as it never paid any of the claims that I had submitted.

I can remember that first evening – taking the car out on Kentucky highways 1 & 7.  I was cruising at the top recommended break-in speed of 50 mph. Listening to the FM radio, I realized that the static filled days of AM were gone; however, that never stopped me from tuning into a distant AM station on occasion. The very next day, I heard on the news that Chevy had decided to immediately stop production on the Vega due to the problems the cars had with their aluminum block engines.

I had personal experience with the Vega’s numerous issues when I had to replace engine #1 in the fall of ’77 after amassing 20,000 miles. Engine #2 went out in December 1978 at about 48,000, and engine #3 started having serious issues at 72,000 miles in November 1980. Oh yeah, the transmission died at 64,000 miles and I replaced it myself as it was then out of warranty. I sold the car for parts ($200) when I left Ashland in February 1981 (sans the radio) – which I used for three subsequent vehicles.

While the car was a piece of trash, I got excellent mileage out of the FM radio – which really is the connection to today’s song, “It’s a Long Way There” by the Little River Band. Shortly after buying the Vega – I discovered WVAF in Charleston, WV. This station in the Kanawha Valley had recently switched from a religious format to Album Oriented Rock. WVAF’s programming was stellar. While I had some problems picking up their signal in Grayson, KY where I was living at the time, they boomed into Huntington and I could carry the signal most of the way to Grayson. For someone weaned on the nation’s first AOR station (KQV-FM/WDVE Pittsburgh), WVAF quickly became my favorite radio station.

One of the highlights of the station was their on-air talent. One of these I remember in particular was the afternoon jock, Karl Mack. Mack also hosted a jazz show called “Just Jazz” on Sunday evenings that I caught on my way back from church in Boone County, WV every Sunday night. Karl was one of my radio heroes. Back at the college, I attempted to emulate his style. While we didn’t play AOR, I had been hosting a jazz show every Wednesday night and used what I learned from Karl Mack’s show for mine.

It was on his afternoon show that I first heard the LP version of the Little River Band’s first hit, “It’s a Long Way There.” The arrangement with strings set the stage for this tune and the harmonies were reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. WVAF introduced me to a number of songs that I wasn’t hearing anywhere else.

I will confess that while I was working at WEMM in Huntington, I was also listening to WVAF when I could. One night in 1978, I won a pair of concert tickets to see Cheap Trick and AC/DC at the Huntington Civic Center. WEMM had a Charleston phone line and it made it possible for me to be a winner. A friend of mine from South Point, OH joined me for this concert – although I was really hoping I could get his sister to go with me instead.

In either 1979 or 1980, WVAF changed format from AOR to a Top-40 format. Later the station softened its sound further to Adult Contemporary. This was the end of AOR in Charleston until country WKLC in St. Albans changed format to AOR in the early 80s. WVAF’s format change was accompanied by a new moniker of V100. Although the call letters have remained constant, so has the V100 brand.

Karl Mack, who’s real name is “Butch” McClung, was out of work with the change in format. We eventually worked together at WOAY-FM and Butch is active doing production occasionally for Southern Communications in Beckley. One interesting story about Butch is that, as a adolescent, he built his own AM transmitter and regularly broadcast illegally on the AM band.  He promoted his station by posting a sign advertising his contrived call letters in the front yard of  his family's home on US 60. An FCC inspector seeing the sign and not recognizing the call letters for the region, stopped and ordered the young man to cease and desist – which he did. Butch later turned his efforts toward amateur radio and has had a varied career in radio working in Cincinnati, Charleston, Mt. Hope, Oak Hill, Summersville, and Beckley.

Thanks to Butch and WVAF for introducing me to the Little River Band.

No comments:

Post a Comment