"Well, you can rock it -- you can roll it. You can slop and you can stroll it at the hop."
"At The Hop" -- Danny & The Juniors (1957) ABC/Paramount Records
1957 was a magical year. It saw the ultimate emergence of a new American music form called "Rock & Roll" and witnessed "The Little Church on the Hill," established in 1894, move from Chapel Hill off Road 425B to Oakhill Cemetery on Highway 41. It also saw 16-year-old Peter Cavanaugh make what can only be described as a horrifyingly inauspicious radio debut over WNDR in Syracuse, New York.
These completely separate events are about to marvelously converge more than a full half century later for a most worthy cause.
WNDR had rocketed to the top of Central New York ratings in a triumph marking the very birth of the Rock Era. It advanced in a vacuum more than partially enhanced by traditional radio professionals shunning any aspect of the new phenomenon, a fusion of grass roots "Country and Western" and black-based "Rhythm and Blues."
I and other young enthusiasts were more than willing to step forward and grab the controls. We didn't have to wait for anyone to get out of our way. They weren't even there to begin with.
Who would have thought?
My professional career started one April after riding my bike out to WNDR, which had moved to a swampy area just outside town where the towers were located. Every spring there was a flood, so the last 50feet were by boat. I was answering phones on weekends for 50 cents an hour, a position obtained after many uninvited visits just "hangin' around."
My first efforts at WNDR were extended to include writing early morning news. I eventually cajoled my way into doing a few trial newscasts and then a regular weekend news schedule. But genuine "coolness" could only be found behind studio turntables. We kids had quickly come to worship the few who played that "Rock & Roll" on Syracuse stations.
After mounting a relentless, non-stop campaign, management finally acquiesced. It was determined that I be allowed a one-hour live on-air audition at Midnight the following Sunday, when the station would normally sign-off for maintenance.
I wrote down every single word I would say, practiced each record introduction hundreds of times, sat in the control room hours on end watching all the moves made and memorized dozens of different "one-liners" to use if I needed, Lord forbid, to "ad-lib."
The adrenaline hit as soon as I sat down in the chair. I went to open the microphone channel and my humble hand brushed against a "master-off" switch directly beneath the intended target, promptly plunging WNDR into twenty minutes of stone silence. The engineer on duty, fairly new to the business himself, took that long to determine the extent of my stupidity.
After my "first hour" was finished, I assumed I was as well, the premiere performance also my last. But by an astonishing stroke of fate, no one important heard my curious initiation. I was on my way to fame and fortune such as might come my way.
On Saturday, April 28, a 1950s Sock Hop will be held at Evergreen Conference Center, 43803 Highway 41 in Oakhurst, with all proceeds going to The Little Church Foundation. I have been honored being asked to "DJ" the event and have already visited the venue and reviewed all technical logistics with Jackie Mallouf to insure uninterrupted fun and frolic.
The evening will begin with wine and appetizers at 6 p.m. followed by dinner at 7 p.m. and dancing, contests and drawings from 8-10 p.m.
Tickets cost $20 in advance or $25 at the door. They are available at Steve's Tropical Fish and Mountain Feed & Nursery in Coarsegold and Dorsey's Hallmark and Willow Bridge Books in Oakhurst.
I'll be spinning the tunes primarily from the 50s and early 60s with as many old favorites as we can squeeze in and, of course, taking requests and dedications as in the old days. If there's something specific you want to hear that night, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org sometime over these next few days so I can make sure I bring it along. That's what smooth DJ's do.
"Well, you can swing it you can groove it.
You can really start to move it at the hop.
Where the jockey is the smoothest and the music is the coolest at the hop.
All the cats and chicks can get their kicks at the hop."