• ABC’s Reporter on the Road…..doesn’t go on forever
• Mick and Keith to the rescue. They keep me from going on the dole, mate
• All the news that’s fit to print – or say – about the Steel Wheels tour
As the Eighties drew to a close, so did my days as ABC Radio News’ Reporter on the Road. ABC was acquired by Capital Cities Communications (and in turn would later be acquired by Disney); cost-cutting and layoffs followed. The position of Reporter on the Road was a big-ticket item and in its 6th year would have to be considered vulnerable to elimination. Indeed, I was eventually let go. I later learned, however, my tenure had been extended thanks to many of the affiliated rock radio stations to which my reporting was targeted. See, in addition to filing my voicers, wraparounds, audio cuts and natural sound, I was frequently up early in the morning, calling in to select radio stations around the country and chatting live with the morning drive hosts about the previous day’s events. Since I’d done my share in that time slot at more than one radio station I knew what these folks were looking for. The “morning zoo” -type programs wanted the wacky stuff and I would push the envelope along with the DJs. Less zany shows wanted a more measured discussion of the events I was covering. The morning host of one station in Hartford was a guy I’d worked with in Philadelphia and he developed a routine where he and his news director would bring me in by phone and whine, “Here’s that blankety-blank Mark Scheerer again, checking in from some place we all are jealous about. Scheerer, you lucky dog, you were backstage at the Grammys last night – tell us about it, you #$%&!”
Affiliates, I learned, had lobbied hard with ABC to keep my position extant, particularly for those live shots, but ultimately, they weren’t able to forestall the demise. The reporter was off the road by 1989.
But the Rolling Stones were back on the road and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards provided me with a brief coda to my ABC stint.
Throughout the eighties the two had been famously quarreling and by 1989 the Rolling Stones, as a result, had not toured in seven years. The potential windfall from resuming live concerts proved strong enough to lure them into the studio where they recorded a new album, Steel Wheels. A tour (quickly dubbed Steel Wheelchairs by rock ‘n roll trolls) was announced. ABC Radio – the programming side, not the news network – bid on and won the rights to be the official broadcast partner. Part of ABC’s offer was to do live daily radio newscasts about the tour, believe it or not. Dave Alpert, my longtime producer and friend from the days we were both Metromedia radio newsmen, was assigned to create the newscasts fed out of the network newsroom and I was hired to be the on-air talent.
Dave and I were thrilled. At first, we dared to dream this meant we would actually go on the road with the Rolling Stones. It didn’t quite come to that, but was a gas, gas, gas just the same. The nightly Stones newscasts were to be delivered whether or not the band was performing on a given evening. When they were onstage, we got local rock radio newspeople on the phone for live reports on that night’s highlights, set lists, traffic jams and gossip. But on dark tour nights, we had to fill with features. So, in order to stockpile loads of interview sound with the band, Dave and I were dispatched to various cities with our tape recorders. They sent us to Kansas City to interview Mick & Keith, to Boston for Bill Wyman, and so on. For a weekend show at North Carolina State University, we were invited to bring our wives along. When they played Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts I was able to line up tickets for my sister and brother-in-law and my friend Pete, who was into the Stones way ahead of me in high school. The Steel Wheels tour was a wonderful three and a half months for Dave and me.
The tour culminated in a live pay-per-view concert with an FM radio simulcast from the convention hall in Atlantic City in December. It was extremely cold, I recall, and we stuck to the tour hotel for the weekend. Among the guest performers scheduled were Eric Clapton and John Lee Hooker. Hooker, the blues legend who died in 2001, was 77 at the time and a bit frail. Dave and I were invited to his hotel room to tape an interview. We still chuckle when we remember how Hooker was propped up on a twin bed, fully dressed, with the covers pulled up to his chin, while we sat on the bed opposite, stretching out our arms to get the mic in front of him.
My only duty during the live broadcast was to camp out in the green room directly behind the stage with a wireless mic. Dave had gone back to New York to anchor the broadcast from there. He threw it to me when the band entered my area just as the house lights went down and the crowd roared. “Mark, can you see the Stones yet?” I remember breathlessly reporting, “There’s Mick! He’s bouncing up and down, limbering up! And here comes Keith! He’s holding a bottle of Wild Turkey in his hand!”
During the show I was free to wander around behind the gigantic set and peek out though gaps in curtains. The stage was topped with a tower, inside of which was an elevator that Mick would use to ascend and appear on a ledge at the top to perform “Sympathy for the Devil.” I was nosing around the elevator when I discovered a small room next to it with curtained walls. In it was a large recliner chair with tables on either side – one with a stack of towels, the other with plastic water bottles. Opposite the chair was a huge fan. It was Mick’s cooling-down room, for when Keith would play “Happy” and a few more songs that Jagger sat out. I was a huge fan, too, but I decided not to be caught standing around gawking when it was time for Mick’s cool-down.