Al Bennett, Bob Skaff and Dickie Glasser were always good friends of mine.
Following the AFTRA strike of 1967
I was surprised to receive a most welcome check for ten thousand dollars and a letter of thanks from ABC’s founder Leonard Goldenson for my having done both morning and afternoon drive and “for playing such a prominent role in programming WABC” during the strike. He also mentioned he felt it might also come in handy in my move from Pittsburgh where I had spent five years at ABC’s KQV and now was moving to be program director at the companies WLS in Chicago. My total salary in those days had never been more than $28,000 annually, so having been rewarded such a large amount I could purchase the first home I ever owned upon my arrival in Chicago. Settling in the suburb of Des Plaines, I made the down payment on my new brick home and in time also purchased the house next door as an investment. Combined they cost $41,000 in 1967.
Arriving in Southern California a few years later I sold both Illinois homes and in trading my Chrysler Imperial I paid cash for a new Mercedes-Benz and with a tip from my good friend Dickie Glasser, one of the top record producers of that era, I rented the personal fully furnished home on Coldwater Canyon of California’s Lt. Governor Ed Rienke and his wife Jean. While residing there I met Governor Ronald Reagan for the first time. I would meet him again in the white house after having been under consideration for a commissioner’s position at the Federal Communications Commission in 1987.
Money had never been all that important to me and I can prove it even today as I freely handed out cash to recording artist friends in need and others in radio down on their luck. As a single parent with the help of mother Della I took on the challenge of adopting two young lads, David and Clifford, from an orphanage in Texas. According to the judge in making the adoption final, it was the first time a single male had ever been considered for such action in Texas. At the same time, mother Della had discovered what I considered a beautiful home in an estate type setting, complete with a large swimming pool, an orange grove and again, fully furnished in Northridge. We could lease it while the owners were moving to a home overlooking the ocean. Having discovered son Clifford needed expensive medical treatment, combined with the cost of starting up my John Rook & Associates consulting firm, I didn’t have the ability to finance the home a year later when the owners decided to sell it for what seemed like an enormous amount of $64,000. More recently with California’s increase in property values it last sold for almost $800,000. I didn’t have the heart to tell Della and the boys, but I did let my friend Dickie Glasser know I needed to move. Shortly thereafter I received a telephone call from a stranger, Mr, Zucker, identifying himself as a friend of Dickie Glasser, offering to introduce me to a bank that might be able to finance the purchase of my home. He actually drove me to the bank when I made the application and within hours I received a surprise call from the bank advising my loan had been approved.
Several years later in moving to Idaho and purchasing my first radio station I sold my Northridge home to my friend Paul Kirby allowing me to pay off the loan and was shocked upon finding another longtime friend, Al Bennett, president of Liberty Records had co-signed my bank loan. Tears were shed in recalling the days thirty years earlier when Al Bennett, at the suggestion of my buddy Eddie Cochran had given me, a starving young actor in Hollywood, a job mailing recordings out to radio stations across the nation. Known as a “music business wizard,” Bennett was largely credited with the transformation of Liberty Records from a struggling start-up operation to a dominant force in the recording trade. “Alvin” of Alvin and the Chipmunks was named after him. He loved my referring to him as “Uncle Al”, always providing contacts, wisdom and encouragement at times when it was needed. His always present big smile would only be equaled by another good friend, Russ Reagan, who gave the world Elton John, Neil Diamond, Olivia Newton-John, Barry White and dozens of others.
Al would follow my career in radio always making sure I had the latest Liberty-Imperial-Dolton releases to program as I advanced from New Castle, Wyoming to New York, Chicago & Los Angeles and consulted a string of radio stations throughout the nation. Each time I returned to visit California to visit I usually stopped by to see Al Bennett and Bob Skaff, who opened the door for my station, KQV in Pittsburgh to present exclusive recordings of the Beatles in the USA, by introducing me to Bess Coleman, Brian Epstein’s personal secretary in London. In presenting The Beatles in their first concert tour of the states, I spent some time with them in the Bahama Islands and later with George Harrison and John Lennon while I resided in California.
Al and Bob provided me with exclusive new test pressings of recordings not yet available for release that I used in creating what I termed “music excitement” on my radio stations and introductions to many new friends, Bobby Vee, Vic Dana, Johnny Rivers, Johnny Burnette, Gene McDaniels, Jackie DeShannon, Irma Thomas, The Ventures, Timi Yuro, David Seville, even Walter Brennan and The Chipmunks were among those who enjoyed success from the airplay I provided when my stations led the nation in giving them exposure from the acetates or cassette tapes given to me. Bob Scaff always said, “if anyone asks where you got this, just tell them it fell through the transom of your office door or you found it on your car seat.’’
In early 1970 I received a personal telephone call from one of the world’s wealthiest men, John Kluge of Metromedia, saying Al Bennett had given him my name and after a conversation of maybe 20 minutes he said, “I’d like to hire you to take charge of our radio division.” But in explaining it would require my relocating to New York, I thanked him but wasn’t interested in a move east. “I love southern California with its climate and lack of humidity”, I said, He replied, “Let’s stay in touch, you never can tell what the future can bring.” We never communicated again, but I often count that decision among the dumb ones I’ve made.
Without me knowing it Al Bennett had shown his friendship. So in contacting him in his final years I told him of my appreciation of his kind efforts in helping me get a loan, “That’s something you weren’t ever supposed to know, but hell you gave me dozens of big hit records and besides you are a friend Johnny.” He’s gone now, at rest in his native Arkansas, but I’ll never forget that always present big smile of my friend Al Bennett.