Bridges, tunnels and “welcome to” signs aside, growing up, the real determination of geographical boundaries were the radio waves. When you got in the backseat of the car, you knew you were out of New York jurisdictions once you lost your hometown radio station.
When you’ve been around for a certain amount of time, those “back in the day” stories become more and more frequent, but sometimes you have to go there. I was stuck in traffic and made a cognizant effort to listen to the radio. Generally I look for the Black music but with a slant for what is known as urban adult contemporary.
Crazy how things done changed. Not only are the playlists generic, but there also exists a formula to the personalities. Jokes, gossip, topic then song are the key ingredients, with an occasional call in or interview. But there’s no real connection between the on-air personality, the music and the audience. In fact, it seems that there’s a dictatorial feel between the radio stations and music labels, in which the set agenda is “Here’s what we’re going to play 10 times a day and you will learn to like it and eventually love it.” Just as noticeable is a tone that draws a clear distinction between radio personnel and the listening audience, which sometimes comes across as combative and mean-spirited, as if killing someone’s aspirations is the goal, rather than upliftment.
It wasn’t that long ago that we had a cat, Frankie Crocker, “the Chief Rocker,” who would close his show with, “May each of you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live. May each of you live forever and me forever minus a day so I wouldn’t know that nice people like you have passed away.”
There was a young girl in Englewood, N.J., named Regina Belle, who was listening right along with us, sometimes chopping it up with her high school boyfriend. As an adult, she shares those same memories, revealing, “Frankie Crocker was the person who helped me dream as a kid. We tuned in faithfully every night to hear his voice and the music that he put together. I give him as much credit as anyone else who helped me with my career because he gave me inspiration.”
Belle provided additional flavor about another iconic New York radio figure. “Vaughn Harper brought that dream to a realization by believing in me. Without his push, my career could have been a much different story,” she disclosed. The story begins with Harper coming across the talented youngster and introducing her to a popular singing group that utilized her as a background vocalist and opening act. In retrospect, “popular” is a bit of an understatement. With platinum and gold plaques and a Grammy Award to their credit, I guess you could call the Manhattans a big deal.
Belle recalls, “The Manhattans were playing Carnegie Hall and Blue Lovett—the late, great Winfred ‘Blue’ Lovett—let me open. I sang two songs, one of which was Anita Baker’s ‘You Bring Me Joy.’ An A&R executive from Columbia Records, the label of the Manhattans, approached me after the show and asked if I’d be interested in a recording contract.” Talent, belief and, just as important, opportunity. I hear that!
With a new album, “The Day Life Began,” in tow, Belle returns to the stage a few blocks from where she was discovered Saturday, Feb. 27 at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill (237 W. 42nd St.). In a few months, along with her mentors, the Manhattans, she’ll play with the Whispers at NYCB Theatre (960 Brush Hollow Road) at Westbury in Westbury, N.Y., Saturday, May 7 8 p.m. Tickets for both shows are available at ticketmaster.com or the theaters’ respective box offices.
Over and out. Holla next week. Till then, enjoy the nightlife.