Tom chats with the undisputed king of Tucson radio.

Emcee Glamour 

If There's A Ceremony, You Can Bet Alan Michaels Can Master It.

I WAS ABOUT to open a can of chili the other day when all of a sudden Alan Michaels called up and offered to emcee the opening.

He said he could squeeze me in between an afternoon drive-time appearance at a Bruegger's Bagels, where he would be giving out free handfuls of cream cheese, and an evening fund-raiser dinner, the purpose of which was to buy new neckties for needy mid-level management people. I politely declined, then made a mental note to change my phone number.

On longevity alone, Alan Michaels is the undisputed king of Tucson radio, having been on the air in these parts since Jimmy Carter was president. In dog years... well, no dog lives that long, so I guess that would make him part of a long-distant memory of a pleasant meal back in Saigon.

Michaels, he of the mellifluous voice and ready laugh, is entering his third decade as an on-air personality. And no, we did the research, and there is absolutely no way to use the words "on-air personality" without it sounding completely cheesy. He anchors the lineup at COOL 92.9 FM, Tucson's first oldies station and the one which, in the increasingly crowded market of oldies radio, has basically staked out the Bill Haley-to-James Taylor period, roughly the mid-'50s through the early '70s.

(Eighties music is featured prominently on The Point, 104.1 FM, while the '70s are half-covered by K-HIT 107.5 FM, a station where the owners and operators apparently believe that the '70s was a decade in which absolutely no black people had any hit records.)

I give it a couple years, tops, before a local station switches over to an all-'90s music format. I would say that radio executives are as predictable as lab rats, but I don't want to insult lab rats.

Alan was born Alan Michaelson in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, meaning that Woonsocket retains its unblemished record of being the birthplace of exactly zero famous people. (They probably have a sign at their city limits which reads: "Welcome to Woonsocket -- Home of (We're still waiting)."

I asked him his real name because I figured radio people are always changing their names for one reason or another and Alan Michaels just sounds too pat. Wouldn't it be something if the name on his birth certificate were Johnny Sunshine?

Plus, he's got this quasi-ethnic look to him, so I thought what with his growing up in the era of Ritchie Valens (Valenzuela) and Jerry Rivers (Geraldo Rivera), maybe he had come up with the Michaels thing for ethnic reasons.

He laughed and said, "No, I'm not ethnic; I'm Arabic."

Well, thanks for clearing that up.

I also had the misconception that he was one of those guys who had been in radio since he was 14, hanging around the station and being a gofer for the Boss Jocks until he got his big break and was allowed to do the 3 to 6 a.m. gardening show on Sunday mornings. And then the rest was history.

"Actually," he explains, "I came to radio relatively late in life. I didn't go on the air until the late '70s. I had done some TV in Providence, but mostly I was in public relations in Massachusetts."

Yeah, his biggest success was the Boston billboard campaign: "Hey, busing's not all that bad. Let's not make a big fuss about it."

He's got that killer radio voice, and I asked him whether it helped him with the opposite sex, whichever that may be. He said no and that he was a happily married man, clearing up both questions at the same time.

I always imagined that Lou Rawls could walk into a grocery store and ask the checkout lady where he could find grout cleaner, and she'd start taking her clothes off. And I don't want to think about Barry White.

Heck, even Luther Vandross, who walks on stage looking like the aftermath of an explosion at a glitter factory, gets all the womens with his voice. He walks out on stage, all 900 pounds of him, steering wheel still in hand, and says, "How y'all doin'?" and women start flinging lingerie.

As mentioned, Alan's a very busy man. He says that he emcees and hosts up to 100 events per year, which averages out to... oh, I don't know, lots. He even hosts a pet telethon every year. How those cats know how to dial the number remains a mystery to me.

He's getting into his busy season. He'll be doing live remotes from the upcoming Tucson Open golf tournament the week of February 22 to 29 and then will get bust with the upcoming annual bash thrown by the Centurions, a charitable group of which he is this year's president.

For that matter, he's also a member of the National Association of Women in Broadcasting. There are too many punchlines in there for me to deal with. Just do your own.

With all the stuff he does, I asked him if there was anyone big in Tucson whom he did not know. The exchange went like this:

Me: Do you know Jim Click?

Him: I do commercials for Jim Click. He's a great man, very caring. He does a great deal for this community.

Me: What about Lute Olson?

Him: Yes, I know him. And Dick Tomey and Jim Livengood.

Me: Well, do you know Clinton Gropen?

Him: Who's Clinton Gropen?

Me: I don't know, but it's probably not Hillary.

As always, he laughed.

So why doesn't he do what other long-time morning deejays do after a while: realize that getting up at 3 a.m. really sucks, then move up to management where they can do a really crappy job of programming music?

"Not me. I love what I do. They're going to have to drag me out of this place."

Then who would we get to emcee that?

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