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Fas-ten Your Seat-belts!
August 17, 2012 - Jim Price
If you take any time to get to know and understand the forces that have helped to shape the Altoona area music scene over the years, one force that figured prominently was a popular late-night weekend radio program called “All Night Album Rock,” which aired on WFBG-AM from 1975 to 1986.
A special concert paying homage to “All Night Album Rock” will take place this Friday night, August 17, at 30 Something in Altoona starting at 8 p.m. The show will feature reunion performances from two late ‘70s-era Altoona area rock bands, Pulse and Black Diamond, along with special guests Blu Voodoo and an all-star local musician jam session. Also appearing will be show’s original host, Steve Kelsey. Proceeds from the concert will benefit the music education funds of the Central Pennsylvania Community Foundation.
Steve Kelsey actually started “All Night Album Rock” almost by accident in 1975. Working his first radio job fresh out of high school, Kelsey landed the part-time Friday night/Saturday morning “graveyard shift” of midnight to 5 a.m. Shortly after starting this job, he did something often frowned upon in the commercial radio industry, and deviated from WFBG’s Top 40 music format at the time; he began to bring in records from home to play on the air, mixing album deep cuts from Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Nazareth and other artists with the popular Top 40 hits of the day. This went undetected by station management for several weeks, but by the time management learned of Kelsey’s actions, his show had already gained popularity. Management decided that since the show was happening overnights when fewer listeners were tuned in, there wasn’t any major harm in letting it continue. “All Night Album Rock” was born, and would soon expand to two nights, adding overnight Saturday into Sunday morning.
Ushered in every week by the audio clip “Fas-ten Your Seat-belts!” (actually lifted from a song by obscure ‘70s rock band Stray Dog) the show continued to grow in popularity as Kelsey expanded his “underground” playlist and added program features. One such feature was “Battle of the Bands,” where he pitted popular bands against one another by playing two representative tracks from competing groups each night, and allowing listener phone-in scoring to decide the winners. He turned “Battle of the Bands” into an annual “season,” with bands who achieved three victories moving on to the “Battle of the Champions” at year’s end.
The growing popularity of “Battle of the Bands” coincided with the expansion of “All Night Album Rock’s” playlist, as Kelsey started featuring music from up and coming hard and progressive rock bands and artists. In featuring these lesser-known and newer names, Kelsey was actually introducing central Pennsylvania listeners to names that were years away from becoming household words in the rock genre. “All Night Album Rock” listeners were well aware of names like Judas Priest, Scorpions, Cheap Trick, Rush, AC/DC, Triumph, Def Leppard, Molly Hatchet and Iron Maiden years before these bands achieved widespread international superstardom. Kelsey also introduced music from lesser-known bands who would also become popular to the “All Night Album Rock” audience, such as Network, Riot, Stray Dog, Trooper, Legs Diamond, Detective, Ram Jam, Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, and The Godz – a Columbus, Ohio-based hard rock group that would eventually play several show dates in Altoona because of their popularity generated by “All Night Album Rock” airplay.
Kelsey also played music from a few local bands at the time. Black Diamond, featuring brothers Ken and Mark Earnest and aspiring local drummer Clint Carothers, had issued a 45 rpm vinyl record in 1978, featuring the songs “Back Street Lover” and “Lose It”; both songs became popular local entries in the “All Night Album Rock” rotation. Other area bands that received “All Night Album Rock” airplay during the early years of the show included Altoona’s Piranha (featuring rising area ‘guitar god’ John McKelvey), Coalport-based rockers Cut The Mustard, Pittsburgh’s Diamond Reo and The Silencers, and more.
Another popular show feature was the “Instant Request Contest,” which took on its own life and became a staple of the show. Kelsey would ask musical trivia questions, and reward the first correct caller with an instant song request of his/her choice. Kelsey soon added point values to each question based on difficulty factor, and listeners started accumulating points during the course of each month of “Instant Request” competition, with the monthly top three winners scoring record albums. This soon expanded into a yearly contest as well, with the annual winner receiving a multiple-album prize package. Competition on the “Instant Request” contest became intense as rivalries developed among teams and individual callers. Dedicated “Instant Request” participants would study music trivia throughout the week, and give up their social lives on Friday and Saturday nights to rest up for the ensuing overnight competitions. And more than a few contestants (myself included) wore out rotary dial phones in the quest to be the first correct callers in the heat of “Instant Request” competition.
“All Night Album Rock” steadily grew in popularity and became a part of local culture, especially with high school and college-aged listeners. I know, because I was one of them. Attending Altoona Area High School in the late 1970s, I can attest that on many Monday mornings, conversations on the portico or the bridge (between the high school’s two buildings) didn’t center around what the Mountain Lion football team did on Friday night, but on Mahogany Rush’s upset win over Black Sabbath in “Battle of the Bands,” or the Scorpions knocking off the mighty Aerosmith in a “Battle of the Champions” preliminary round. (I still have score sheets where I kept records of weekly “Battle of the Bands” winners in 1979 and 1980!) Or the conversation might have been about that challenging five-part, ten point “Instant Request” listening question that Kelsey posed to cap a nightly contest (he would string together a succession of the beginning riffs of five different rock songs, challenging listeners to identify the song and artist for each).
Kelsey would give up the reins of “All Night Album Rock” in the early 1980s, with rising Altoona radio personality Jay Randyll taking over. Randyll would continue the show’s features and traditions, and continue to expand the show’s musical playlist to encompass popular trends such as the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” the rise of hair band rock in the ‘80s, the rise of speed and thrash metal, and the infusion of punk rock and hardcore music into the rock mainstream as the ‘80s decade progressed. Randyll added a co-host in 1984, as a rookie radio guy named “The Professor,” Jim Price (yes, I know, shameless plug) began doing weekly album and concert reviews on “All Night Album Rock.” The show’s popularity remained at a steady high, and playlists from the show were even published in the British-based international rock publication “Kerrang!” Magazine. And local music remained an important staple in the “All Night Album Rock” playlist, with such area bands as The Front, Shockzone, Black Angel, Slammer, Bashful, Thin Ice, Tom Brunner Group, Nitro, and Randyll’s own band, Tommi-Gunn receiving steady airplay on the program.
“All Night Album Rock” reached the end of its 11-year run when station management pulled the plug in September, 1986, preceding a succession of format changes on WFBG-AM through the remainder of the 1980s decade.
But like the original “Star Trek” television program, “All Night Album Rock” was cancelled, but not forgotten. During its run, it influenced countless listeners and shaped their musical tastes, including many who now make music on local stages. Members of current popular area bands as diverse as Felix & the Hurricanes, Half Tempted, Flight 19, The Hawks Blues Band, Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band, Mama Corn, Black Sun, Blu Voodoo, Xs For Eyes, Samara and more all cite “All Night Album Rock” as a major influence in helping shape their formative musical tastes and/or inspiring them to pick up instruments for the first time. And it inspired my own career; “All Night Album Rock” planted the seed that prompted me to eventually choose radio as a career, and the show paved the way for my eventual involvement in this area’s music scene. I likely wouldn’t be writing about area music in this blog or in Pennsylvania Musician Magazine, nor would I be hosting the “Homegrown Rocker” local music radio program Sunday nights on Rocky 104.9, had it not been for the seeds that Steve Kelsey first planted with “All Night Album Rock” in the late 1970s.
That is why I intend to be in the audience this Friday night at 30 Something, to celebrate and remember that special period in Altoona area radio history.
Here is a full listing for live music on area stages this weekend and the coming week:
Flight 19 at Central District Firemen’s Convention, Bellwood (starts 8 p.m.)
Hotel California (Eagles tribute) at Blair County Convention Center, Altoona (starts 8 p.m., tickets $15 in advance or $20 at the door)
J.J. Grey & Mofro and The Greyhounds at People’s Natural Gas Park, Johnstown (starts 8 p.m.)
Richland Community Days Festival, Johnstown; featuring Denise Baldwin, Hard Rock Coco & Joe, Ribbon Grass and The Conniptions (beside Richland Township Municipal Building; music starts 5:30 p.m.)
Tree at St. Bernard Church Homecoming Picnic, Hastings (starts 9 p.m., free admission)
“All Night Album Rock” Tribute Concert featuring Blu Voodoo, Pulse (reunion) and Black Diamond (reunion) at 30 Something, Altoona (starts 8 p.m., donation $10 at the door, proceeds benefit Central PA Community Foundation Music Education Fund)
Rock On Rut Benefit at Ace’s Lounge, Johnstown; featuring Paragon One, Yum and Itch (starts 8 p.m., $10 donation, proceeds go to Rutledge family in memory of Richard Rutledge)
Stephen Johnopolos at Raphael’s Steakhouse, Altoona (starts 6:30 p.m.)
Felix & the Hurricanes at the Heidelberg Club, Altoona (members and guests)
Locked and Loaded at Aldo’s, Altoona
Richland Community Days Festival, Johnstown; featuring Spiff Jeffy & The Freeze Line, The Johnstown Classic Rockers, Flood City Brass, Jerry Intihar Band, Jazz In Your Face, Tree, & Who's Your Daddy
Half Tempted, Locked and Loaded and Saving Jake at Campbell Hill Rec Room, Geeseytown (Jeff Showalter Memorial Ride after-party, starts 4 p.m., $20 donation includes music and food)
St. Bernard Church Homecoming Picnic, Hastings; featuring Blue Grass and Acoustic Stew (music starts 5 p.m., free admission)
The Jam at Florence Dean Cancer Benefit at Wagon Wheel Music Park, Philipsburg (starts 6 p.m.)
Doug Whitfield at Raphael’s Steakhouse, Altoona (starts 6:30 p.m.)
Dan Stevens at Bedford County Arts Center, Bedford (starts 7 p.m.)
A.X.E. at Family Pizza, Altoona
Screamin’ Ugly at 30 Something, Altoona
Rapid Fire and That’s What She Said at Pellegrine’s, Altoona
Emily’s Toybox at 4D’s Lounge, Altoona
Lose The Name (reunion), Xs For Eyes and The Whatleys at Aldo’s, Altoona
Without Zerb at Belmar Hotel, Altoona
The Syrins at Zach’s, Altoona (starts 10 p.m.)
Blu Voodoo at Magoo’s, Cresson
Mr. Jones & Me at City Hotel, Northern Cambria
A Beautiful Mess at Castle Pub, Ebensburg
7th Gear at Yesterday’s Party, Ebensburg
Punk Fiction at Madhatters, St. Boniface (starts 9 p.m.)
Village Street Café Blues and Jazz Festival with Candle In The Wind, Jenny Drummey, Brex, The Hawks Blues Band and Hexagon at the corner of Village Street and Grove Avenue, Moxham (Johnstown) (starts 1 p.m., free admission)
Polish Picnic at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Lilly; featuring The Masters, Pop Harker’s Raging Slagg and The Hallmarks (music starts 12 noon, free admission)
St. Bernard Church Homecoming Picnic, Hastings; featuring Rick Ramsey (4 p.m.) and Flood City Brass (8 p.m.)
Bodacious B at Alley Popper, Houtzdale (starts 3 p.m.)
Griff at Madhatters, St. Boniface (starts 4 p.m.)
A.X.E. at Valley View County Park Amphitheater, Altoona (starts 6 p.m., free admission)
Felix & the Hurricanes at Shaw’s Bar, Altoona
7th Gear at 4D’s Lounge (upstairs), Altoona
Open Mic Night at Mugshotz, Gallitzin (starts 8 p.m.)
Open Mic/Jam Night at City Hotel, Northern Cambria (starts 8 p.m.)
Open Mic/Jam Night at Pellegrine’s, Altoona (starts 9 p.m.)
The Earthtones and The Brew Devils at WingFest, Tussey Mountain Amphitheater, Boalsburg (starts 6 p.m.)
Steve Summerhill at Jethro’s, Altoona (starts 7 p.m.)
Blu Voodoo at Pellegrine’s, Altoona (starts 9 p.m.)
Punk Fiction at Thirsty Dawg Taverne, Patton (starts 9 p.m.)
Bodacious B at Zach’s, Altoona
(More shows may be added to this list as information becomes available. Feel free to check back.)
To report additional shows or corrections to this listing, email information to email@example.com.
Ken Earnest and Clint Carothers of Black Diamond, circa 1977. Most of the Black Diamond roster will reunite at the "All Night Album Rock" tribute show this Friday night at 30 Something in Altoona.