Remembering Dick Clark: Radio was his first love

By PAMELA LYNN MILLER, United Press International  |  April 29, 2012 at 6:01 AM
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BURBANK, Calif., April 29 (UPI) -- Dick Clark dialed up a TV revolution with "American Bandstand" but radio was No. 1 in his heart."

In 1981, Clark, who died April 18 of a massive heart attack, moved his production office from the Sunset Strip to a two-story mock Tudor building on Olive Avenue in Burbank that used to house a morgue. It was haunted and those of us on the upper floor who toiled late occasionally would hear a door slam and say goodnight to the female ghost of the building. (I forget her name. True story, that.)

The building had no windows that opened, no fresh air and consequently, each sector had its own smell and feel.

The first floor housed the conference room used for bridal and baby showers and pizza parties over which Clark would preside. It also contained Clark's office filled with memorabilia collected over the years, books I'd occasionally borrow for research and the offices of television producers and motion picture development personnel.

The first floor was where the multimillion-dollar deals were on the line and the shows were conceived, planned, nurtured, discussed, rethought, tossed out, restructured, nursed, mentally rehearsed, tweaked, poked, prodded and birthed without anesthesia.

The first floor was where the money, the excitement and the adrenaline was. The Producer's Table during rehearsals for the American Music Awards or Golden Globe Awards was considered the Holy of Holies -- only the select few might enter.

The second floor housed the radio suite where Clark regularly voiced two long-form syndicated radio programs, "Dick Clark's Rock, Roll & Remember" and "Dick Clark's U.S. Music Survey."

No matter how many television shows Clark produced, no matter how many movies he shepherded, personal appearances, running of his different enterprises, going to one place or another, radio was Clark's first love. When he walked up the stairs and left the movie and television side on the first floor for the radio department on the second, his whole body seemed to become lighter. He always felt as if he was "coming home" when he stepped into the booth and sat down in front of a mic.

Clark was underrated as a vocal talent. He could cold-read every script and, miraculously to my mind, sounded clean and natural every time. He likened cold-reading to walking into a dark room and being able to find the light switch without trouble.

Clark was truly a "voice actor" and his love of radio began when he was very young and grew out of tragedy.

Clark was 14 when his brother Bradley was killed after volunteering for a support mission for the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. Bradley was like Joe Kennedy: first-born, handsome and a talented athlete. Clark idolized his big brother as only a younger brother can.

When Clark came home one day, the building superintendent who was operating the elevator informed Clark inadvertently by saying, "Dickie, I'm sorry. You know how I felt about Brad. I don't know what to say."

Clark, who hadn't heard anything about Bradley, buried his head into the newspaper he was holding and stood there in a state of shock, he noted in his book, "Rock, Roll & Remember." For months afterward he'd go to his room and turn on the radio to deal with the crushing grief.

He bonded with the medium. The introvert eventually became an extrovert by communicating with everyone -- in a one-on-one style. Clark opened himself up in the radio booth, creating an intimacy with the listener, knowing on the other side of that mic was one person alone to whom he was speaking. He learned that from Arthur Godfrey.

When Clark closed the door to the booth and sat down behind the mic to read a good script or tell a story or two, he came alive. There was no vulnerability.

Clark kept us in the analog age as long as he could. He loved the physicality of pushing buttons, tape reels and hands adjusting levels on the mixing board. There's an actual smell inside an analog studio. For studio rats, there's nothing more enticing than the smell of warm electronics. Clark loved the smell, feel and personal attachment of radio recording.

Radio is where he kept his heart -- entrusted to people like me who held the key to the lockbox. Often before a voice tracking session he'd tell engineer Jim Zoller and me what was going on in his life.

When Clark's wife, Kari was in the hospital, we had a tracking session scheduled for that afternoon. Clark came up ashen gray and looking as though he and his body had gone their separate ways. He told us about the fitful sleep he'd had, waking at 4 a.m. and how ragged he was from lack of sleep and worry about Kari's condition. He loved his wife. Although not a nostalgic man, he could be sentimental and was always romantic when it came to Kari.

He loved her deeply and unreservedly and once went into another studio to record himself singing "The Nearness Of You" as a present for her.

Other stories emerged over the 24 years I worked with him: about how he absolutely hated baseball, which managers of early rock 'n' roll artists "took 'em bad" and how he didn't have a sweet tooth but a "fang." All these and more endeared him to me. He told me his secrets, I told him no lies.

(UPI writer Pamela Lynn Miller was director of Radio Programming & Operations for dick clark productions for 20 years [1993-2005], writing and producing "Dick Clark's Rock, Roll & Remember" [1982-2005] and responsible for the line, "These are the songs that make up the soundtrack of our lives.")

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