The 'Patterns in Music'
Strasser and his record library selections lead the Detroit radio ratings
Ted Strasser and his record library full of ideas are the stars of Sunday morning radio in Detroit.
Each weekend the veteran WJR announcer stakes out a huge listening audience for the "Patterns In Music" program he has nurtured since 1963. No local program dominates a time slot like "Patterns," which enjoys the highest ratings in all of Detroit radio.
But it stands to reason. Where else can you hear Kid McCoy blow "Sugar Blues" on his legendary trumpet or the song-writing histories of Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter stretched lovingly across 4 hours?
Every Sunday between 8:15 a.m. and noon, Strasser takes a theme - a pattern in music - and brings it to life with a combination of rare recordings, interesting anecdotes and bits and pieces of nostalgia that soon make you wonder where the morning went. It is a date with the past that Strasser's loyal listeners rarely miss.
He once did a tribute to the great composer Irving Berlin and gently suggested that listeners drop a line to the septuagenarian. The author of "White Christmas" was besieged with mail in his Detroit-area fans, but took time to answer each letter personally, according to Strasser.
That is what "Patterns In Music" is all about. It evokes heartfelt response to the artists and themes portrayed. Rather than a slice of the current popular pie, Strasser digs into the vast WJR record archives and tells a complete story. But it is more than a dry musical history lesson, because he orchestrates the program ingeniously and builds a sense of anticipation for the highlights.
During a recent tribute to John Phillip Sousa, he teased the audience with several of the master's lesser known works and then gradually built up the level of recognition to a crescendo that peaked with "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
Everyone has heard "The Stars and Stripes Forever," but Strasser heightened appreciation of the classic, kind of like hearing it for the first time. By the time Sousa's memorable march was blasted across southern Michigan on WJR's 50,000 watts, the listeners were in a state of flag-waving readiness.
Strasser came to WJR in 1956 after 3 years on radio and television in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His broadcast career began with a one-year stint at a tiny radio station in Sterling, Illinois during the early 1950s.
After a series of announcing chores at WJR, Strasser inherited "Patterns In Music" from Jimmy Launce, the station's current mid-morning disc jockey who had hosted the program for half a year.
"Patterns" was originated and first hosted by Larry Jones, who handled the proceedings for about 18 months before giving way to Launce. But today, the program bears the unmistakable stamp of Strasser. The ideas, the lengthy preparations and the execution are all his.
Under his guidance, the show has grown from 90 minutes to the nearly 4 hour slot it now occupies on Sunday mornings.
"For quite a number of years the program has enjoyed the highest ratings of any program in the area," he said. "That is the percentage of the radio audience tuned in. Over the years we have added a half hour here and there, but we've tried to keep the same format. The program has enjoyed such tremendous popularity that there has been no reason to change."
Once upon a time, Strasser had assistants who helped research various themes, but now he does "the whole - ball of wax." He develops an idea, digs up the background information, including fascinating stuff you're not likely to have heard elsewhere, schedules the contents, writes the script and then does the show live.
The amount of work that goes into a production depends on the theme. If it is an idea he has explored before or a well-known artist, the records may be gathered and the spoken portion of the prepared in as little as 5 hours.
But for more esoteric subject matter, Strasser may take 4 times that much to ready an episode of "Patterns In Music."
"In a sense it has gotten easier for me over the years because I have grown more acquainted with the vast record library we have at WJR," he said. "And there are certain programs people kind of expect me to do each year and I repeat them year after year, although I try to take a little different approach."
Strasser will also delve into areas suggested by his audience, although not frequently. It is not that he dismisses the ideas of others out of hand, only that most have occurred to him at one time or another.
"Once in a while someone in the audience will suggest a pattern, but after 17 years there aren't too many I haven't done," he said. "During the first few years I used to think that some day the well is going to run dry but I've long since stopped worrying about that.
"My personal favorite is probably pretty much the same as the audience's," Strasser said. "That would be the autumn program. which I do every year."
Just as the leaves turn to brown and the wind begins to carry a slight chill, Strasser manages to find the emotions of the fall season dormant in his faithful.
After such tunes as "When Leaves Bid Trees Good-bye" and "Autumn Nocturne" and, of course, "Autumn Leaves" he turns to a dramatic reading for the climax. It is called "A Conversation of Leaves" and it never fails to generate a huge response.
"It has proved to be a very poignant bit of prose," he said. "People will call me as early as June to find out what date we will be doing the Autumn pattern."
Many of the programs are tied to the calendar - Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July and New Year programs are naturals - or to special events occurring in the area. On the Sunday prior to, the Republican national convention in Detroit, Strasser served up a pastiche called "In a Conventional Way."
The program was tailored with campaign music and rare recordings of the voices of Republican politicians. This fall, he plans to carry the idea one step further with a collage of presidential music on the Sunday before election day. .
Birthday themes are another favorite with Strasser's legion of fans. Sousa's birthday and those of Berlin, Porter, Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and a myriad of others are apt to result in a program.
Strasser particularly enjoys finding a long-lost musician or composer that the audience assumes is gone. An example is Berlin, who was 92 when "Patterns In Music" was devoted to his lifework.
"I enjoy doing tributes to musicians who are still with us, but up in years," he said. "We've done Irving Berlin and Meredith Willson and Fred Waring. In those instances I usually give an address where the listener can send a birthday card."
Strasser will also use his program to honor someone who recently died. Within days of Bing Crossbows passing, "Patterns In Music" offered a wistful remembrance of the great crooner ranging from his early jazz days with band leader Paul Whiteman and trumpetist Bix Beiderbecke to the last recordings of his life.
Strasser won't hesitate to do a little educating if he thinks it is appropriate. He loves to remind his audience of little known songwriters who wrote well known songs. He recently featured composer Harry Warren, the largely forgotten genius who penned such classics as "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Sun Valley Serenade" and won 3 Academy Awards.
"There are composers we all should recognize but for some reason we don't," he said. "Harry Warren was a great songwriter, but he is not remembered like Irving Berlin or Cole Porter."
There have been a few shows Strasser would like to have done, but couldn't. Having gathered a lot of material about the origin and legend of children's nursery rhymes, he found there was little music to go along with it - other than kiddy records.
But he has an idea for every Sunday program. Sometimes it is planned months in advance, and sometimes is not set until a few days before he puts it on the air. But the ideas are always forthcoming. .
"This program has actually become a part of me," he said. "A part of my mind is always on "Patterns In Music." When I come back from vacation I, may do a pattern about vacation music, or take a musical tour of the places I've been. I constantly have with me a pad of paper or a notebook to jot down ideas."
But no matter what he is presenting on a given Sunday, the audience is always there.
Most of them are middle-aged, according to Strasser, but he claims a healthy share of young people among his listeners.
"Much of my music is old music, which is why I am constantly heartened and amazed by the number of young people who listen," he said. "It is a very loyal group. It has gotten to the point where I am hearing from regularly listeners who have, in a sense, grown up with the program.
"A person will write and say they were indoctrinated when they were 8 or 10-years-old listening on Sunday morning with their parents," Strasser said. "Now they are listening with their own families. "
By Richard Johnson staff writer, Spinal Column Newsweekly, August 27, 1980
This article was sent to me in July 2007, by Janet Vargas, daughter of Ted Strasser
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