By Ken Sharp
The golden age of radio for many baby boomers was the late '50s through the early ‘70s, it was a time of wonder and musical adventure, those days of yore when you laid in your bed with the lights out listening to your trusty transistor radio in its static laden glory beaming down the sounds of hit records and deep cuts from The Beatles to Elvis Presley, The Knickerbockers to The Everly Brothers, Shelley Fabares to CCR. For those wishing to jump aboard a way-back machine to relive those glorious days of our well-spent youth, check out “The Ray Ford Show,” a new online radio program, spearheaded by the husband and wife team of John and Chrissy Sellards. “The Ray Ford Show” delivers big time with its authentic static flavored AM radio sound, vintage and newly created retro jingles and an impressively deep playlist. With “The Ray Ford Show” the music is the star of the scene reminding us of that sense of wondrous discovery and intoxicating joy of AM radio when it was meant everything.
Tune in here: www.therayfordshow.com.
Discuss how idea originated for this exciting new radio show.
John Sellards: Well, I've been a record collector all my life, more or less, and have always been fascinated by AM radio, even having worked in it when I was in school and college. My wife and I are both big fans of mid-century culture, and somehow last year when we all got Covid and I was lazing around for a few days it hit me to try to see if I could emulate the sound of radio, online. It took the better part of a year, including having some custom code written by a person overseas known only to me as Roland, to make it work Meanwhile, my wife discovered a cache of really clean late-'50s 45s in her grandmother's basement, which had been her grandfather's – he was a Voice of America repair and sales shop owner in the '50s and apparently sold records and kept samples. So the two things happened more or less at the same time, and I thought, “What can we do with these records?” And the answer was an online radio station.
When did your fascination with AM radio first take hold?
JS: I've always loved the sound of older music on AM radio, and have fond memories of being a kid and picking up far-away stations playing doo wop and such late at night. One specific memory is being in high school and somehow getting a station several states away in the middle of the afternoon and hearing “Now, here's Elvis” and BANG “Welllllllllll I heard the news...there's good rockin' tonight.” And I think the whole concept behind the Ray Ford Show for me is trying to recreate the impact of that moment, to me, anyway.
What can listeners expect from this radio station way back machine?
JS: A lot of fun! It's really a pastiche of music from the early '50s into the mid-'60s, along with vintage commercials and jingles, plus a small bit of newly-recorded material to tie it all together. It's not necessarily meant as an exact replica of any year or style of broadcasting, more just an emulation of the feel of listening to the radio then.
This is not a one man operation, your wife Chrissy Sellards is also involved from top to bottom.
JS: Chrissy is Dottie Greco, whose voice you hear over and over as the general branding of the station. She also will be doing her own show-within-the-show at some point, Dottie's Lounge, which will feature more of the instrumental/lounge/exotica music that she knows and likes.
Chrissy Sellards: I wasn’t originally part of the plan. I’m a trained vocalist and John had only asked me to record some voicers. Mid-century aesthetics are my thing! The clothes, the hair, the TV shows and music, the furniture! It wasn’t a stretch for me to style my voice in an era appropriate lilt. John’s beta listeners asked who the girl was. The character and my purpose evolved from there. I happen to be really into instrumental music and exotica as John mentioned, everything from Perez Prado and Herb Alpert to Jackie Gleason through Martin Denny. I’m looking forward to creating a lush ambience for your cocktail parties and after dinner relaxation. One of my favorite songs is “Yellow Bird.” My dad is a keyboard player and I always looked forward to him playing that one on his Hammond Organ when I was a kid.
Was the show based around a real radio personality or composite of some from back in the day?
JS: The music selection is all us, but I suppose the Ray Ford character is really me thinking I'm Hunter Hancock. Although there was only one Hunter Hancock!
CS: Ray Ford was a character that John actually created in the '90s. When this radio station was taking shape earlier in the year, I convinced him to resurrect Ray Ford. I’m thinking that people will enjoy a listening experience with humans again, like it used to be back in the day. Within the last couple of decades, so many traditional radio stations have moved to a “DJ-less” format. I lived in the Boston area for 20 years over the 90’s and aughts and one by one, my favorite stations dropped their DJ’s. It was heart breaking to me. My character is based on my real-life family members and experiences. Our news and sports host, Rick Peters (actually my father Rick Almeida) also based his character off of his lived experience and as a tribute to our cousin Gary Almeida who worked in radio as DJ Gary Peters (RIP)
Now everyone is spoiled by superior audio quality. Discuss what was the appeal of listening to AM radio on a transistor radio back in the ‘50s or 60s and translating that aural experience in The Ray Ford Show.
JS: To me, it's really an entirely different soundscape, and a way to hear music you've heard a zillion times anew since the low fidelity and compression really can make things seem other-worldly, at least to my ears. For The Ray Ford Show we've gone a step further, adding a bit of static and plate reverb.
CS: Agree with John. I have so many memories: riding in the back of my grand parents’ station wagon listening to doo-wop, sitting at the kitchen table after dinner with my grand father while he played solitaire and smoked a pipe for hours listening to Frank Sinatra on their little am radio, singing along with Bing Crosby. I distinctly remember hearing The Flamingos' “I Only Have Eyes For You.” 5 year old me thought it sounded spooky. All of my grandfathers are gone now, but through John’s AM listening experience, it transports me right back to that time and place.
What makes The Ray Ford Show stand out from other radio programs focusing on those years?
JS: I think the big thing is that it's a dynamic station, instead of pre-recorded programs—this has been a hurdle for us already since I think right out of the box people think they'll hear the same songs in the same order over and over, and it's not like that at all. There is some repetition, but in theory you can listen for hours and not hear any repeats. Too, we are trying to make it sound authentic, within reason...so it's not a guy sitting talking about matrix numbers or recording dates and all that jazz, but general talk that is appropriate for the time. Ostensibly this is broadcast out of my home town, Beckley, WV, so there are a number of vintage businesses mentioned that in reality no longer exist.
Discuss playlist/research involved in creating your shows. This is a show that offers deep tracks, not just a virtual hit parade of the time.
JS: Well, I didn't want it to be that, and to be frank, all my radio friends are already saying, “This needs to be just the popular songs from American Graffiti!” and such. We have a lot of deep cuts, B-sides, album tracks, etc., and that's just the rock and roll and R&B, plus there's a lot of period instrumental, vocal, jazz, country, and on and on. Whatever feels right, more or less.
The music is chosen in ways that provide a really smooth, continuous experience, and there is a lot of sonic diversity, just like the actual charts from the day. A friend said, “I don't think I've ever heard Little Walter and the McGuire Sisters in the same set before, AND it work.” And that's really the idea. I love it all and don't see any reason to focus on just one particular style...there are plenty of other people doing that.
Can you share a sample playlist?
Don & Juan - Are You Putting Me on the Shelf
Annette - Song of the Islands (Na Lei O'Hawaii)
Young Jesse - Mary Lou
Little Willie John - Home At Last
The Springfields - Silver Threads and Golden Needles
The Miracles - I'll Try Something New
Connie Francis - Vacation
Clarence "Frogman" Henry - I Don't Know Why (I Just Do)
The Four Lads - I Just Don't Know
Freddy Cannon - Action
The New Christy Minstrels - Green, Green
Jay & the Americans - Cara Mia
The Four Seasons - Sherry
The Crystals - Uptown
King Curtis - Take The Last Train Home
The Chanters - No, No, No
The Marvelettes - Don't Mess With Bill
Little Walter - Roller Coaster
Brook Benton - Thank You Pretty Baby
Don Elliott - One Kiss Away
The Platters - Twilight Time
Dean & Jean - Mack The Knife
Barbara Lews - Puppy Love
Jimmy Clanton - Another Sleepless Night
Frank Sinatra - Same Old Saturday Night
...all with vintage jingles and commercials mixed in
What is the period of time your show focuses upon?
JS: It's really a pastiche from about 1952 to 1965, or thereabouts. A few things on the playlist are a little later but work, like “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” by the Casinos, and some of the spots are a little later as well. Our mission statement says, “Imagine it's 1962...” but in reality, we're asking people to take a leap of faith and just enjoy the overall sound and approach, since it really would be impossible to narrow it down to just a couple of years.
CS: We’re definitely asking people to suspend their concept of time and reality a bit. How appropriate that it’s quite sci-fi and layers of years and time are all co-existing simultaneously.
Why did you choose that time period to exclusively work with?
JS: Well again we are both big mid-century people and love the era. But we're not the people who have re-built our house to look like 1957 or whatever, we're just paying our tribute with the station. For me especially, this is my favorite music...we both listen to many other things but I always come back to this.
CS: Honestly, I don’t feel like it’s stretch for me. In a lot of ways, I still feel like I’m living in a past era. My family is of modest means. They invested in quality and didn’t remodel much. When they did, if an item was still usable, it got handed down. I grew up with a 1950s Hotpoint stove in my parent’s kitchen that was used daily. Coolest of all, my grandfather worked for Watertown Lifetime ware which was a brand of Melmac dinnerware. It’s been our daily dishes for three generations. We have barrels and barrels of it. As a teenager, one of my first jobs was at an ice cream and coffee spot. The owner was an antique specialist who had a fully functional counter, bar stools and soda fountain that came out of an old Woolworth’s if I recall correctly. Everything was true vintage, the tables and chairs, décor, signs and jukebox playing real 45’s. He rotated the music frequently and I learned a lot of 50’s and 60’s pop, rock, and R&B there. My father helped the owner with making the ice cream and drink specialties (anyone up for an Egg Cream or a Black Cow?) and my mom washed dishes with the owner’s girlfriend. I was a server. It was one of the best times of my life!
Beyond the beautiful curation of deep cuts chronicling the period, discuss the use of vintage jingles etc. to help further recreate the listening experience.
JS: We found a source for a number vintage jingles that work really well, and it really is the glue that holds it all together—I don't think you could generate a realistic sound of vintage radio without them. We plan to add some custom ones down the road but for now it's all working so well nobody is in a hurry! I love the quick segues, too, although that's oddly the one thing we're getting some input about...I think people are so used to longer, more drawn-out fades and spacing that we've been asked to slow down the pace. I'm giving that some thought!
What is the overall story The Ray Ford Show tells?
JS: We were talking about that the other night; I think at the end of the day the story is one an audience that's forgotten how to listen to music generally, and specifically how to be open to things outside their taste and comfort zone. I keep going back to the original charts where you'd see Sinatra, Arthur Alexander, Jim Reeves, Connie Francis, Wanda Jackson, James Brown and the like all side by side. I think we both feel like the idea is to teach people how to listen to music again, using the commercials and jingles as the lure.
CS: Yes, we purposely do not have a TV in our living room. (well, John has a Magnavox console tv and stereo but we don’t fire up that tv often) Neither of us had a tv when we got together! We are continuing that tradition of relaxing in our living room, sipping our favorite drinks and listening to our favorite music, maybe reading magazines, or enjoying lively conversation while our pre-schoolers play cars on the rug. That’s our life. We’re hoping people will enjoy slowing down, listening to tunes again and re-connecting.
Knowing your answers would change depending upon the day, but right now, give me a few favorite deep cuts from the '50s and '60s?
JS: Gosh, that's a tough one. Maybe “I'm Not Free” by Dale and Grace, which is a non-hit that just rocks, and has an amazing guitar solo. “Over Again” by Honorable Fats Wilson, a Pittsburgh hit that I love – it's one of the greatest early R&B/soul ballads and goes on for almost 4 minutes to boot. I could list hundreds!
CS: I’m pretty surface level pop/rock so I couldn’t toss out any deep cuts. I’m a sucker for cute lyrics (“You Belong To Me” and “Silhouettes”) and as I mentioned earlier, instrumental and mood music.
Speak about a few of your favorite lesser known musical artists/groups of the '50s and '60s that you showcase on The Ray Ford Show and why they deserve discovery?
JS: I think instead of specific artists I'm more interested in inserting back in the light pop that was so popular then...Percy Faith, Ray Conniff, etc. This really polarizes some people but to my ears it fits right in. That's really what I grew up listening to at one end of the house thanks to my mother so it doesn't turn me off, and I think it's a good balance when that's present alongside Carl Perkins or whatever. It might not make sense on your Spotify playlist, but it does here.
CS: Do you think Lawrence Welk is cool? Let’s rethink that! There are one, two, three generations of new listeners now that might discover they like something they haven’t heard before!
Most importantly, how can listeners tune in?
JS: The Ray Ford Show is on live365, and you can find it through a simple search, or by visiting our website at www.therayfordshow.com. We are listener supported and there are Patreon and PayPal links at the bottom so if somebody finds themselves listening a lot – and we see there are those people, that are turning it on for hours at a time – we ask that they consider sending us support. Music licensing is not inexpensive and for us to keep the station going we need to meet a certain donation amount every month.
Fill us in your day job, which would fascinate readers.
JS: I am a graphic designer in the music industry and have worked on hundreds of projects over the last 20+ years, including projects by Elvis, Nat King Cole, The Kinks, The Monkees, and many more. Come see me at www.johnsellardsdesign.com!
CS: I’m on hiatus from professional music right now while I’m raising our children but I was a church organist, cantor and choir director for decades and had my own pop/rock power trio in New England. I occasionally assist John with photo clean-up and have done some transcription work.
Lastly, you're a musicologist and weren't you a winner on a music TV show back in the day?
JS: Ha! You remembered. I was the big winner in 1993 on a game show called 10 Seconds, which aired on what was then the Nashville Network. It was a Name-That-Tune-styled show only using snippets of real recordings. I won almost $20,000 thanks to Conway Twitty's hit “The Clown,” which I named to finally win the big prize.
CS: I show off John and these old tapes, and his old hair, any chance I get!