Dan and I spent the next couple days in Walla Walla visiting with our retired sister and the still working BIL. He works up at the old military base & Walla Walla Regional Airport as an all around maintenance guy. The airport has all these old WWII buildings so they’re cheap to rent for new businesses. I worked out there years ago at an electronics firm that designed and built frozen food weighing machines. While there at that company, they had a policy of teaching employees to fly, free, if they wanted. So I got flight training on their dime using that historic runway. Long before that, I’d gone out there once a week for over a year for USNR (US Naval Reserve) training as that’s where our meeting hall was. Might still be there. After each training session we’d all rush home, often we’d drag race through downtown Walla Walla. Lucky I never crashed, got a ticket, or blew up Dad’s engine. Almost always won those short races because my timing was good, Dad always had big engines, and those other drivers sucked.
In Walla Walla during those years, 1961-1964, there was no radio station in town that played Rock & Roll. It was all crap all the time, really snooze fest music. And a couple religious and Country/Western stations thrown in. We were too far for the average radio to pick up any Pasco station (50 miles away), which did play R&R. Though sometimes if the atmosphere was just right people could pick it up and the latest songs would be sung by the gurls to the rest of us the next day at HS. There was even a phone network for passing around the latest songs.
But we had at HS a kid (one year younger then me so…to me he was a kid) with a natural radio announcers voice, which all his friends and acquaintances, including me, were lobbying with him to use as a DJ at any local radio station. We didn’t care which one, just as long as he was the host. Finally he warmed up to the idea, after a couple years of his peers telling him he had a perfect radio voice, and went all in. Most of the student body was electrified when it got passed around school that he was going to become a radio announcer. Then our lobbying switched to the radio stations in town with a vengeance & it took a concerted grassroots effort on our part with teams of teenagers calling the stations asking why no R&R was played, while others visited the stations manager whenever they could and lobbied for our guy. And it was a struggle. The stations initially refused. “There will never be Rock & Roll in Walla Walla!” as one on air personality screamed after fielding 10’s of calls from our campaign group requesting popular songs during his call in request show. His stupid comments made the papers, outraging most parents with teenagers. Except for the religious freaks, as always, trying to block it, R&R was already widely accepted throughout most of the nation…but the radio stations in our town still objected and REFUSED to play it. Remember this was almost the MID SIXTIES. It’s not like R&R had just been invented. Occasionally you might hear a Elvis, or Ray Charles song on air but that was pretty much the extent of R&R on the radio in Walla Walla for those years.
Finally, one station, grudgingly, allowed our hero, Burl Barer (he even had a cool radio name – pronounced Burl BEAR), to host a one hour show featuring R&R from an approved play list. Damn it was good to finally have some of our own music. And Burl’s voice is so deep and rich we knew we’d launched a new city wide, state wide, maybe country wide, radio star. And that link above from Wikipedia about him proves we did! But just ONE FUK’IN HOUR PER WEEK?? Jeese. Anyway, teams of teenagers swamped the station with phone requests whenever Burl’s show ended. None of their other listeners were doing that. So they went to 2 hours per week. Then a couple hours a couple days per week. 8 pm to 10 pm. ‘Cus you kids should not have fun. It’s amazing how much the stations pushed back against it, or dragged their feet. Burl, his parents, and the station’s managers were concerned about him working at his age, what with school work and such, but he got air time, by popular demand. Other local radio station managers finally saw what was going on with this whole thing and Burl soon had two shows at different stations, eventually a weekend show. And on the other stations (except the religious or C&W) there would be the occasional R&R song played, sometimes a block of several, usually with a snotty introduction by an arrogant DJ apologizing and pandering to those opposed to ‘that music’.
Before R&R radio play time had become the norm, the whole town exploded in controversy about whether R&R was evil or not. Radio surveys, church’s used the pulpit to tell anyone who would listen R&R is bad, newspaper articles, hundreds of letters to the editor, radio station owners using their Bully Pulpit to lobby the city’s mayor to outlaw R&R!! Can you believe that? We even had teenage misguided Jeebus freaks at school telling the rest of us how evil that kind of music was. Gah! That did NOT go over well. It is JUST MUSIC. Which caused us to redouble our efforts. Eventually, and it took months, no, it took years, Walla Walla emerged from the dark ages and we got nearly full time R&R from a local station grudgingly changing their format. During the change over the station manager pissed and moaned about having to do it and repeatedly apologized profusely to the old timers and religious freaks. It started out playing R&R in the early morning hours only. Then eventually, after hundreds of complaints from teenagers, they played R&R from 8 to 10 pm, and several nights per week. Finally, we were making some headway. Also, the stations noticed their advertising revenue was trending up with more listeners. This was during the time when I’d occasionally turn on the car radio, hear only ‘How much is that doggie in the window’ type crappy ass’ed music, and switch it back off. Leaving it off for days at a time. There’s only so much Frank Sinatra I can stand, even to this day.
It was during the period when ‘our music’ was still only played an hour per week I was driving home from a Reserve training meeting (one night per week, on a Wednesday) that I’d occasionally stop at a pizza place on 4th street. And that’s the first time & place I heard the Beatles fully. Damn they were good. That pizza joint got a newer jukebox with 45 RPM records and since we had R&R on the radio an hour per week now, the owner took a chance and put R&R on his jukebox. He had to buy the box and sign up for the record service in Pasco though, because the business in town wouldn’t handle R&R. Holy crap, that place exploded with business from teenagers, but mostly gurls too young & immature for someone all grown up and in uniform like me. We’d call them bubblegummers (yes, I had a crew). I’ve often thought that those were probably the gurls that went on to be hippy gurls a few years later because they were so wild and reckless there in the pizza place. Oh, and the pizza was great too, and I mean great. But the music! Wow. I went from a casual listener to a fanatic overnight. The Beatles had like 3 songs on the box, the British invasion was already in full swing so there were several other British groups that most of us knew nothing about on there too, and a year later the owner told me he’d had to replace several of the records repeatedly because they got wore out being played so much. But he wasn’t complaining.
It was strange when I got out in the ‘real’ world to find out how far behind music trends those of us that grew up in Walla Walla were. We had no, or little, idea how great the music elsewhere had become. Sure there were some kids at WiHi who traveled and knew about it but they were the minority and could only share with a few as all our recording equipment back then was rather bulky, or not exactly mobile. Our record stores had not caught up for the most part either. And those with records brought in from outside were not about to share them as they would quickly ‘disappear’ or get scratched up if loaned out. This same kind of suppression of popular music also occurred with movies and dancing. Movies shown in Pasco would be advertised in the Walla Walla paper so we would know about them, but they would never come to our theater. It was an adventure getting people together to travel clear over to Pasco just to catch a movie they wouldn’t show in Walla Walla. Only ‘approved’ movies were shown there. Dancing at proms and the like was also strictly controlled. So when I saw the 1984 movie Foot Loose, (I’ve only watched it once, it’s too stupid to watch more than that), I recognized that same backwardness in my home town. Can you believe we had ignorant jackasses writing letters to the local paper editor, going to city council meetings screaming about how ‘that music’ was going to ruin out ‘Merican way of life and that it should be outlawed? And always on religious grounds. Wow. Such. Intense. Stupid. Probably the same people were still against Elvis and his style of music.
But I digress…Dan and I left Walla Walla heading for Portland and 30 minutes west of town there’s a turn off to the Tri-Cities (Pasco, Kennewick, Richland) where we spent most of our childhood. And some of our adulthood. It’s a longer route, but we took that route for memories. Here’s a picture of the New new Bridge off in the distance connecting Pasco (where we’re at at the moment), and Kennewick over on the south side of the Columbia. A couple miles further west is another bridge that when I went to college here in Pasco, we called the New bridge. We’re heading nearly due west in this picture. This is our old stomping grounds. In fact, when we were toddlers, we moved into a little cinder block house on this street a couple miles west of here.
This is all build up and modernized now. Use to be a dump around here.