Bill Mouzis, Sic Transit
|(Jan. 8, 2013) -- LBREPORT.com marks the passing at age 90 of Bill Mouzis, an audio and radio production engineer whose mastery of magnetic tape and musical and vocal subtleties elevated broadcast audio editing -- done with razor blades and grease pencils -- into AM radio artistry in the mid-to-late-60's.
Bill Mouzis in the KHJ radio production room, c. 1965
Mr. Mouzis' career is indelibly tied to KHJ radio (930 AM) in Los Angeles, which rose from near worst to first place during its "Boss Radio" period. It included legacy work on the station's groundbreaking 48 hour "History of Rock and Roll," written by KHJ's programmers, voiced by its air talents (initially Robert W. Morgan, later "Humble Harve" Miller) and delivered by Mr. Mouzis in a tour de force of musical montages, "time sweeps" and elegant mixing and editing.
Mr. Mouzis, a WWII vet trained in electronics, arrived at KHJ when it was part of the Don Lee / Mutual Radio Network about the time network radio began its decline. KHJ declined with it; at one point offering a schizoid schedule that included a cooking show, various musical shows, a telephone talk show and a program with Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows done from their home with Mr. Mouzis as its on-site engineer.
This changed in 1965 when RKO General hired radio programmer Bill Drake to bring KHJ a consistent, tightly-formatted rule-driven "more music" format that had succeeded in Fresno and San Diego. It quickly rose to dominance in Los Angeles as "Boss Radio" due in no small part to Bill Mouzis. As a result of KHJ's former network set up, engineers handled nearly everything technical; the on-air mixing board, commercials, logos and records, taking hand-cues from a DJ in an announce booth (who had only a mike key). For the first roughly two years of the Boss Radio format, Mr. Mouzis ran the on-air board in prime afternoon-drive for "The Real" Don Steele. During other hours he handled KHJ's most prominent recorded elements, working alongside Program Director Ron Jacobs, a highly creative radio programmer, and with morning-man Robert W. Morgan who was the station's promo/image voice and a rigorous perfectionist.
Rather than resent the formatic rules and perfectionism brought by the young whipper-snappers from outside the L.A. market, Mr. Mouzis embraced them...and their mutual perfectionism was symbiotic. Messrs. Morgan and Mouzis invented what they called a "Strassman" [we suspect it was named for Marcia Strassman's mid-chart '67 song "The Flower Children"] a unit of time or rhythm or vocal level that couldn't be measured like a volt, ampere or ohm but could only be sensed. "The drum beat [or voice] came in a couple of Strassmans too late," one might say...and the piece would be redone.
Mr. Mouzis edited audio on quarter inch magnetic tape running at 7.5 inches per second (not the faster, more forgiving 15 inches per second used in recording studios of the day). The process involved running a portion of audio tape back and forth by hand across a tape deck's playback head to try and locate -- by hearing a low rumble or a bump or a twitch of the VU meter -- the point where a specific sound element was recorded. The tape was then marked with a white grease pencil, and the process was repeated at the point where that piece of tape would be joined onto another.
The audio tape segments were placed in a grooved, metallic editing block (similar to a carpenter's miter box) and then sliced at an angle at their grease pencil marks using a single-sided razor blade. The two sliced pieces of audio tape were then lined up end to end in the editing block and attached to each other with special one-sided sticky tape.
That's what it took to do one audio edit back in the day.
In February 1969, KHJ aired a 48-hour special, "The History of Rock and Roll." Every edit, mix and montage in this massive project was done by Bill Mouzis. Copies of the 48 hour edition are now in the Library Of Congress, the Lincoln Center in New York and the libraries of Juilliard and UCLA.
We have reason to believe that the History project may have originated with what was supposed to be a modest KHJ sales presentation (usually a tape with chunks of various shows put on cassette for ad agencies). Instead, the KHJ 1968 sales presentation morphed into a mini-history, narrated by Robert W. Morgan and produced by Bill Mouzis, both of whom separately credited then KHJ staffer Ellen Pelissero for its writing.
As voiced by Morgan and mixed and edited by Mouzis, it included musical montages, time sweeps and verbiage that positioned KHJ as more than a teenage favorite but as the legacy of a great time sweep of multiple genres of popular music. "That's what makes it contemporary," Morgan proclaimed...adding: "And the beat" -- followed by Mouzis dropping in the opening drum strikes to The Doors' Hello I Love You -- "goes on!"
Only after this very classy non-sales pitch opening did the presentation even mention KHJ...which then sold itself. In a world of ham fisted hard sell, it was classy, brilliant and very effective.
In the mid-1970s, I told Mr. Mouzis that I considered the sales presentation a tour de force. He smiled broadly when I used that term, nodded and said he was surprised that anyone recalled it. He modestly credited Morgan, Pelissero and Jacobs for it. (I reiterated my view to Mr. Mouzis about 25 years later when a copy of the recording (long lost) was found, remastered and I'm told was presented to him.)
By the early-1970s, FM radio and musical changes had taken sizable chunks of KHJ's audience. For various reasons, Messrs. Jacobs, Morgan, Steele and others had left the building. Mr. Mouzis stuck it out, even after someone removed him from his production duties and filled part of his shift with the drudgery of recording the next morning's news sound bites onto tape cartridges. He did so with every bit of the professionalism he displayed in his previous work.
In May 2005 during his retirement, Mr. Mouzis wrote the following on 440int.com on the 40th anniversary of the debut of 93/KHJ Boss Radio. Typically, he credited many others as team members for the end product:
In visiting a few times recently with Bill Drake I was extremely flattered to hear him reiterate what he had told Ron Jacobs a few years ago when Ron visited him here in Los Angeles. He described me as his secret weapon in confronting the competition and in assembling and processing the greatest promos, montages and jingles ever conceived and produced with a quality, detail and clarity never before heard on radio.
In February 2012 as he approached his 90th birthday, Mr. Mouzis recalled his work on The History of Rock and Roll and wrote on reelradio.com: "As Vaughn Monroe put it, there are now Ghost Riders In The Sky, surfing the airwaves of our cluttered atmosphere...[S]adly...[many are] no longer with us today, but they are not forgotten...[M]y prayers are with them everyday of the year and particularly at this moment in time..."
Our prayers are with you and your family, Bill Mouzis. Rest in peace...and thank you.
[The piece above includes a few edits made on Jan. 10 to smooth some errant Strassmans.]
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