At age 12, I was a devotee of soft rock, continually tuned in at WNIC (100.3-FM), and therefore a pretty darn big fan of Alan Almond, whose death was announced yesterday. Radio was much different then. Looking back on it, it seems my preteen years were really the soaring heights of soft rock, considering the cascade of soft-rock hits that came out 1977-1982, bittersweet ballads by now-forgotten artists such as Randy Vanwarmer, David Gates, Dan Fogelberg, Dan Hill, Leo Sayer, and, of course, the Little River Band.
Not that Almond specialized in the soft and sappy: His show, Pillow Talk, was several hours of music designed for adults to, well, to get down to. And not in a rowdy way. The selections were gentle, as was Almond’s sexy voice. That part was lost on me, at my age. I just enjoyed hearing “Angela” (aka “The Theme from Taxi”) and Summer Madness, mixed in with this guy talking and some largely inoffensive music that could appeal to a preteen kid.
But even then, you recognized that Almond was an actual person, and his show allowed him the freedom to ramble on about topics in between picking out songs. It was a great time for personalities on Detroit radio, from morning jesters like Dick Purtan to late-night sensations like the Electrifying Mojo to left-hand-of-the-dial eclectics like Mike Halloran. But Almond always had something a little different, a slow sell, that gentle manner that listeners found so charming.
In an interview excerpted in today’s news, Almond’s mile-wide humble streak appears: He said the show was a hit not because of him, but because of its devoted listeners. He said, “the reality is, it was the fans. They told me what they wanted to hear. And I think that was the key, because I listened to the audience. I listened to the people that called. I worked the phones like a crazy person. Every time that phone rang, I picked it up and talked to them. I didn't just, blow them off. I was always nice to everybody. And I always had that '25 Theory.' If I'm nice to one person, they're going to tell 25 of their friends what a nice guy I am and that he played a song for us. And I still get mail, I still run into people from time to time."
And Almond wasn’t just blowing smoke there. I know it. Because when I called the radio station at the age of 12, Almond spent about an hour on the phone with me, just shooting the breeze. It was a thrill to hear that recognizable radio voice over the telephone answer my request call. And it was a surreal experience to be chatting at length with him while he took occasional breaks to change and cue up records. At one point during the phone conversation, he put me on hold and shared a flattering sentence or two about this young kid, a Pillow Talk fan, he had on the line with him. That was unbelievable.
I wonder how many other people Almond thrilled in that same way. These days, you’re lucky if a disc jockey tosses out a number to call. But there was a time when they welcomed your calls, and there was one person in particular who seemed to want you to know there was a real, live person there behind the microphone who would share his time with you. That man was Alan Almond.