Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: Rockin' around the clock, all the way back to the '50s
In the late 1950s, rock 'n' roll was just hitting its stride.
WBEC and WBRK, the two local radio stations, had not adapted "Top 40" formats. So teens tuned in to the tri-city — Albany, Schenectady and Troy — radio stations of WPTR and WTRY. From these stations, we could hear the latest tunes and get to know our favorite deejays, like Paul Flanagan, "Smiling" Jack Spector, "Wild" Bill Hickok or "Boom Boom" Brannigan.
At the age of 13, I wanted to be a radio disc jockey like these guys to whom I would listen for hours on end. In 1957, as a "cub reporter" for the South Junior High School Sentinel newspaper, I adopted a deejay moniker and wrote as "Wild Jim Shulman."
However, I never professed to be a writer — just a storyteller. My corny stories about music, broom dancing and juvenile pursuits never came close to winning any literary awards. The paper's editor and classmate, Linda Winslow, could really write and would politely encourage me.
Mostly, I loved the "Wild Jim" title and began collecting 45 rpm records to play at friends' parties, pretending to be a disc jockey. I also had printed gummed labels on each disc with "Wild Jim's." My high school classmate, Jay LaPlante, leader of Pittsfield High's first rock band, Jay and His Pals, did become a successful deejay on WTRY, as Jay Clark. But it was not in my tea leaves to follow Jay. Hence, "Wild Jim" quickly gave up the moniker and the dream, but still collected records.
I shopped all the music/record stores in Pittsfield, including Sammy Vincent's, Wood Brothers, Melody House and Woody's. But one of my favorite stores was on Elm Street. I bought my very first record there in 1956 with money earned from mowing lawns. This was the K.O. Davis Piano Shop, and that first record was Elvis Presley's "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry (Over You)."
The owner, Kenneth "K.O." Davis, was much more than a shopkeeper. He had a master's degree from Columbia University and was a chemist at the General Electric Co.'s plastics division. K.O. was also remarkable in that he had absolutely perfect pitch. Anyone could strike an object, and he could tell what key it was in.
He had put his talent to good use by being a violinist in the Pittsfield Symphony and did piano tuning on the side. He opened the retail store to sell and tune pianos, but sold all kinds of musical instruments, plus records for young teens as myself.
K.O. opened his first store in 1944 in his home at 117 Dalton Ave. and soon located to 6 Burbank St., and then to 123 Eagle St. In 1948, the entrepreneur opened the K.O. Davis Piano Shop in a storefront of a house at 136 Elm St. The shop had a familiar neon sign, replete with a painted piano on it.
Davis lived in the house with his wife and their two children. The couple operated the business there for nearly 10 years. In 1958, they sold the building to the Esso Standard Oil Co., which planned to raze the building and put up a gas station in its place.
The gas station has since become home of a hair salon, and a shade and blind company. The man who introduced me to Elvis records, K.O. Davis, moved to Williamstown in 1958 and became an assistant professor of chemistry at North Adams State Teachers College, now the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
He died in 1989 at the age of 82. My friend Linda Winslow went on to become executive producer of the PBS News Hour, and my pal Jay LaPlante became an executive vice president of Sirius Radio.
And me, I'm still telling stories about those baby boom years — and wishing readers a happy 2018.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark or event you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at email@example.com.
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