ELVIS GONE @ 40
WARM Radio and Elvis essentially grew up together and then faded away as the rock icon each one was in their own right. This month we look at the 40th anniversary of the death of The King. It was a Tuesday afternoon in August 40 years ago. The weather was muggy, oppressive and cloudy. One of those dog days of August that was neither pleasant nor horrible. Just blah.
I was working at WVIA FM and TV at the time. My shift was 2pm to 10. I had a rather forgettable program at 4pm called “Mostly Pops” where we played nothing but Boston Pops Music. In the evening, I was George Graham’s newscaster for his program (still going strong I might add,) “Mixed Bag”. Fridays on TV they let me do a Phone In program on TV about……..wait for it…politics.
For some strange reason I remember what I was wearing that day. I had on one of these soccer shirts with the fat stripes of Kelly green and black. I also had on, sadly, green shoes. After I got settled and did the Pops program, I went to check the news wire. Back then the news came from a teletype machine. WVIA had the UPI (United Press International) Service.
Right around 5:20 pm Bill Kelly, the then Vice President of both TV and Radio strolled through the hallway between the Control Room and the broadcast studios. We started to chat in the hallway about the station and the news of the day which included the troubles of Jimmy Carter’s Budget Director Burt Lance as well as the Panama Canal debate. All of a sudden, the bells started to sound on the teletype machine.
DING. DING. DING. DING.
Kelly asked me, “Do you mind while I look?” Hey Bill Kelly was an iconic Newsman on WARM before he came to WVIA, who was I to say no. As it rang, Kelly said, “Presley!” I said, “Is it about the concert tours?” He looked at me and said, “No, it says here he died!” “Died?” I replied. “Died”, he emphasized.
He grabbed the bulletin and I got the second one that came in as a correction. My recollection is that he went to the TV booth and cut a brief announcement for the next break and I broke in on WVIA FM. Bill is about 7 year older than I but it had an impact on both of us. We had both listened to the music. Seen the movies. We both knew that Presley was part of pop culture. Americana if you will.
That night on “Mixed Bag” I did news updates and George Graham talked and played artists influenced by Presley. When I got home that night, all three networks at 11:30pm had Elvis retrospectives. Throughout the days, Elvis was the news. The way he died, the funeral. The legacy. All of it was front and center. Even during the rest of that summer into fall, the best icebreaker in a bar to speak to a woman was to say, “Shame about Elvis wasn’t it?”
Years went by and Elvis’ image has been chipped to bits. But to this day, he is still revered as a classic entertainer. He is parodied to death. He is sometimes belittled and dismissed as a puppet of the Movie and Record industries. All of that though is submerged by the raw talent of Elvis. His image has been bruised and battered. But the music, the thing that we were all brought together around him….40 years later, and beyond…. will remain timeless. This was the song that was on the Radio from Elvis the night he died. “Way Down”.