Feed the birds – there’s an empty space in the air

It was not lost on me that my old Mobile, Alabama radio pal Charlie Ocean died on the
birthday of another old Mobile radio friend, Scott O’Brien, who also recently passed
away.  I suspect that they had a celebratory cocktail, headphones on, in some studio in a far off place on Wednesday.  I hope that their old media friends in Mobile did, as well.

Scott (whose real name was Scott Griffith) and I met in 1980 working on a fundraising
event called Gridiron.  I had just moved to Mobile and worked for a competing (and I use that term loosely) station, WMOB AM.  Scott was a force on “G-100,” WKRG’s FM adult contemporary station. He couldn’t have been friendlier to a guy from Mississippi who was not only learning about Mobile but still learning the ropes in radio, as well.   When I went to work with Scott at WKRG a couple of years later, he was just as friendly and a great guy to be in the trenches with in any broadcast situation.

Gridiron brought a lot of journalists, media people and “civilians” together to spoof
politicians and raise money.  A character Scott played was Fob James, during his first term as Alabama’s governor.  As James prepared to leave office (that time), I wrote a parody of Bob Hope’s Thanks for the Memory that Scott delivered beautifully.  Scott had a great singing voice and it amazed me, years later, when I called in from Nashville to help celebrate his 30 years on the air in Mobile, that Scott remembered every word to the parody and sang them all on the air on the Uncle Henry show, where the tribute was being
staged.

He loved to sing and sometimes, Scott would harmonize with me.  For years, I kept an old piece of G-100 letterhead bearing the words of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.  Scott banged out the lyrics to the entire song on a manual radio station typewriter for me after we had sung the song and I only knew a couple of verses.  We always sang the whole song after that.

Les Kerr-Charlie Ocean, early 1980s

Just this April, it was a great pleasure to reconnect with Charlie Ocean (Robert Murphy), as I was getting ready to play the Bluegill Restaurant on Mobile Bay.  I had sent him of one of my CDs and asked if he could stop by the show.  He told me that he loved my song “The Gail,” written about my wife, because he had a “Gail” in his life, too.  Charlie remembered me (and my ego) well when he quoted Kris Kristofferson in his admiration for my song.

Charlie Ocean was the afternoon announcer on G-100 and I did the news during his drive
time shift.  He often got me in on his hilarious bits, including calling a foreign country on the air without permission from the station.  A half-used matchbook from a hotel in Palau, New Guinea had come into his possession and he just had to call the desk clerk.  To
listeners, the humor was in Charlie’s conversation with the unsuspecting clerk who had never heard of Mobile, Alabama and wondered if we were some kind of international
law enforcement officers.  To us, the humor was in the anticipation of the look on the station manager’s face when the next phone bill would arrive. Amazingly, it was a couple of years later that we both got fired, and although the expense of that phone call was not mentioned specifically, I’m sure the dollar signs had made a lasting impression on the
management when they decided our services were no longer needed.

Our role models were the then up and coming David Letterman and Bob and Doug Mackenzie, the irreverent Canadian comedy team of the early 80s.  We often imitated Bob and Doug (who were Rick Moranis & Dave Thomas in real life), calling each other “Hoser” and tossing in the Canadian, “eh,” on the air.  Another on-air bit Charlie did to illustrate a common Mobile frustration was to set up a joke by telling me the first part on the air, then giving drivers time to get into the Bankhead Tunnel where there was no radio reception, before delivering the punch line.  He would tell listeners not going through the tunnel that the punch line was “just for them.”

C. Ocean - Producer

Charlie, like Scott, encouraged my music and he somehow obtained a multi-track audio mixing board and decided to help me record.  After hours and without permission (is that a theme here?), Charlie decided he was going to produce what he thought would be my first hit record.  He loaded the mixing board up into the G-100 production room and with a myriad of wires and cords, connected the thing up to where I could play and sing on multiple tracks utilizing the station’s tape, microphones and other equipment.  I still have the tape of the song I sang, Jimmy Buffett’s A Pirate Looks at Forty, and on the box label, Charlie wrote “C. Ocean- Producer.”

So to Charlie, “See ya, Hoser.”  And to Scott, I’ll send the words with which he always ended his show, “Feed the Birds.”

Text and photos copyright 2011 Les Kerr.

Learn More about Les at www.leskerr.com

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About Les Kerr

Les Kerr is a songwriter, recording artist, journalist and author originally from the Gulf Coast now based in Nashville, Tennessee. Learn More about Les at www.leskerr.com
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13 Responses to Feed the birds – there’s an empty space in the air

  1. Bruce Cunningham says:

    Scott and Charlie were both friends of mine back in the early 80’s, and the bittersweet irony of Charlie’s death coming on Scott’s birthday was not lost on me. Nicely done, Les….you brought a tear to my eye.

  2. the south in my mouth says:

    I used to do morning radio in Charlotte and I loved it. So free-wheeling and fun.

  3. Beautiful. Not sure if these tears streaming down my face are for times and people lost or remembered, but nobody could have described either of them better than you have here. Thanks!

  4. As a friend to both Scott and Charlie, I thank you, Les, for your moving words to them both.

  5. lorilewis says:

    As a former colleague of Charlie’s from the WGCX/ROCK 104 days (’93-’95) It was a sweet find when I google’d to find if anyone was talking about Charlie besides the trades/tv, etc… My heart is broken knowing Charlie left us – Sweet memories. Lori Lewis (Randi was the name they gave me in Mobile however 🙂

  6. Bob Spielmann says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the words Les wrote about two wonderful people, Scott and Charlie. They were both great guys. Thanks, Les, for your thoughtfulness.

  7. Ron Reams says:

    I’m a little late in sending this, but having just recently passed the first anniversary of Scott’s passing and because I also knew both Scott and Charlie (along with you, of course) I wanted to pass along my compliments for a job well done on this rememberance. You’re a thoughtful, gifted writer, as well as a good man, Les… but naturally I’ve known that ever since we also first became friends a few years back. Thank you for the many times you have helped put a smile on so many faces with both your words and your music, especially when that was not such an easy thing to do. .
    — RR

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