Forty Years Ago: Elvis
As a youngster breaking into broadcasting I was busy sweeping the long hallway down where the radio studios were before I mopped, refilled the coffee and coke machine and started pestering... I mean, asking everyone in the building if there was anything they needed or if there was some small or large service I could do for them. This I did basically free of charge, I was an intern before the word was ever used for free labor. Yeah, they paid me for a few hours a week… but every waking moment when I wasn’t busy elsewhere I was hanging around the studios to help in any way I could. Cause I loved the Music.
I loved the Music and it was a thrill and a privilege then like now, to get paid to play it over the radio while attempting to say and do humorous things and be entertaining and relevant between the songs.
Young folks today turn up at the radio station with their communications and marketing degrees expecting to start out in management and/or with a prime on-air slot at $100K a year. Things were different when I started.
Teletype Machines - Kind of An Ancient Form of Fax Machine
Suddenly from the newsroom the daily routine was shattered! I don’t remember the time I think it was mid-morning the three teletype machines on-board alert-bells started ringing like crazy. We had three news wire services: UP, AP and and UPI if there was ‘breaking’ news, they could ring a bell remotely so that the locals would know something was up and would pay attention. They sounded something like a bell for a bicycle, and one or two or three rings would signify the world was changing in some way.
But on this Tuesday morning August 16th, 1977 these machines all went off at about the same instant and were just about rocking and rolling across the floor of the newsroom the bells were ringing so hard and constantly. No two or three rings - they didn't stop for nearly an hour.
At first I thought lightning hit the building or something and blew the dang things up; I burst through the door and pulled the first section of the first alert off the first ringing machine and ran down the hall to the main on-air studio. Wish I still had that piece of paper.
Elvis Aaron Presley January 8, 1935 - August 16, 1977
It was to be a moment in history similar to the JFK assassination for people. We were finding out that Elvis Presley had passed away. Most people of a certain age remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. I think the guy that was on-air at the moment literally ripped the tone-arm across the record then playing on-air to interrupt the broadcast to announce the sad unbelievable news. We then went into 24/7 back-to-back Elvis songs for at least the next three days.
To say it was shocking moment is the biggest understatement I can make today. He was only 42 years old an age when most of us are still out on the sandlot trying to play football with the teenagers.
The “King of Rock and Roll” was gone. He didn’t even like the title ‘King’. He always said there was only one King, the One in the Bible. But that was Elvis. The phone lines lit up, people came down to the radio station for some reason, no one could believe the news there was a steady crowd in the lobby, it was dreamlike for a few days.
Elvis, though not really known as a songwriter was certainly a great and original song presenter, his voice and talent truly a gift. His steamy sexuality made the girls crazy, I always adored the purity of his voice and his stylistic delivery and what he brought to a song. Look up All Shook Up, or listen in a quiet moment to How Great Thou Art.
What British Invasion? Elvis 'Comeback Special' 1968
Growing up dirt poor around Tupelo, when he got on stage he ‘felt’ the music the way the gospel and blues singers he’d seen as a kid had. The Music was in Him and he was the music and sometimes it came out of that golden throat through a curled upper lip with fluid-like jerks and spasms from the rest of his body.
You know, the famous ‘hip shaking’ the Ed Sullivan Show refused to show – only telecasting Elvis from the waist up.
It’s easy enough to look up his entire biography/discography, we have something today Elvis never knew: personal computers and smart phones in almost every pocket and almost all the worlds information at our fingertips, if you want to know his entire story.
Funny but radio stations don’t play his music very much anymore. Oh you can sometimes scan the dial and somebody is doing a special show on the weekend or late at night on giant AM cross-the-country signals the truckers listen to and you’ll hear a few of his hits. But that’s about it.
I just didn’t want this day this week to pass without remembering one of rock and roll’s most talented singers, and as humble as he was talented. He never forgot his family and friends, or where he came from and most of all, always loved and respected the fans. He 'yes ma'am'd and yes sir'd people his entire life, please and thank you always a part of his vocabulary. He knew he was lucky, no... Chosen.
It's been estimated that Elvis has sold some 1 billion records since 1956 until now and believe it or not via some of the channels where music is downloaded he's still selling!
He's a member of three musical Hall of Fame's - Rock and Roll, Gospel and Country music. As of 2016 the estate of Elvis Presley including publishing rights, licensing and image fees, Graceland Tours and so on still pull in some $55 million a year.
There will never be another.
For many years well into the 90's, supposed sightings of Elvis were reported from across the country. Folks could not let go - conspiracies waxed and waned, people wrote books "Elvis is Alive' was one of the wildest. In the theories supposedly he was tired of the business and fame and faked his death; he was seen pumping gas at a station in Oregon, working in a donut shop in Houston, cutting hair in a barbershop in Minneapolis, repairing sports cars in Florida and on and on until at long last people realized -
Elvis had left the building.