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Jan 14 2008

Crazy, man, crazy!


Gather ’round, cats and kittens, while I spin a tale of a groovy grotto that percolated over Pittsburgh in the early ’70s.

Your host was a rotund profundity named Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins, who hung his Tyrolean hat here between 1969 and ’76 — first at Pittsburgh’s WTAE (1250), then at McKeesport’s WIXZ (1360). He also hosted a show called “Jazzbeauxz Rehearsal” on WTAE-TV (4).

For a native McKeesporter, it’s odd to think of the legendary “Jazzbeaux” (sometimes he spelled it “Jazzbo”) working from WIXZ’s grotty studios on Long Run Road, near the Zayre’s and the Winky’s, but it happened, daddio.

(According to the website 440: Satisfaction, which tracks the careers of radio personalities, “Jazzbeaux” also worked briefly at WKPA, now WGBN, in New Kensington during World War II.)

Pittsburgh had a lively jazz scene in the 1960s and ’70s, but it’s hard to imagine that Jazzbeaux was happy in the Steel City, where “cool” and “hip” radio meant the gritty, vintage R&B and slow-jams spun by Porky Chedwick at WAMO (860) or “Mad Mike” Metrovich at WZUM (1590).

In more cosmopolitan places like New York and San Francisco, Collins’ hipster raps found a ready audience, and that’s where he was best known — and most beloved.

How to describe Collins? “Beyond cool,” wrote author and broadcaster Gene Sculatti in a profile for Jersey City, N.J., based public radio station WFMU-FM (91.1):

Back then they turned to Jazzbo for jazz. He was in the clubs, at Birdland and the Hickory House, down at the downbeat office, digging, and he was on the air laying a taste on the ears (Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Sinatra and Shearing and Peggy Lee, and Slim Gaillard doing that whole “mello-roony” rap about “Ce-ment mixer, putty putty.”)

But if it’s music that brought ’em in, it was Jazzbo who kept them coming back, with an announcing style so laid back it was four winks west of Sominex, but so hip. Snooze and you lose, ’cause what he’s saying at that crazy half-speed is twice as gone as any other disc jockey you’ve ever heard.

Last week, James Lileks, blogger, author of a series of books on popular culture, and writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, posted a 1957 episode of the NBC Radio sci-fi series “X Minus One” featuring none other than Jazzbeaux Collins as narrator. At the time the show was taped, Collins was at WNEW (1130) in New York City and a regular contributor to NBC Radio’s Monitor.

Now, with a tip of the PBRTV propeller-beanie to Mr. Lileks, here’s Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins in the Feb. 27, 1957 episode of “X-Minus-One,” as it was heard nationwide over NBC:

X-Minus-One, NBC Radio, Feb. 27, 1957 (10.2 MB)