City Paper is not for tourists
The Phil Brothers Band, a very occasional oldies act, will be headlining a benefit concert at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Owings Mills, Md., on Friday. Its bass player and lead singer, Phil Wood, has of late had more time than he wishes to shake the dust off his rock chops and brush up on all the pop hits he played as a young longhair. That’s because Wood’s longtime employer, the local sports station WTEM-AM, pulled the plug on his show.
And Wood has no idea when, or if, the station will ever plug him back in.
“I don’t know what’s going on, to tell you the truth,” Wood tells me from his Baltimore home. “Nobody’s told me anything.”
The timing of WTEM’s demotion, or worse, of Wood couldn’t have been more peculiar.
Wood, an Annandale native who just turned 50, has worked in radio in the area since the early ’70s. He signed on with WTEM before it went on the air, in the spring of 1992. From Day One, listeners have looked to Wood as the station’s go-to guy for baseball. He can recite inanely obscure Washington Senators trivia or talk about that game-worn jersey and warm-up jacket from Ted Williams he keeps in his basement. His signature signoff for each broadcast was “Eddie Yost” (as in “adios”). During his off-hours, Wood edited and authored a baseball atlas for Rand McNally, and for years he served as official scorer for the Orioles. He was on that job the night in 1996 that Cal Ripken Jr. tied Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak.
His bosses at WTEM are clearly aware that nobody else at the station can carry Wood’s fungo when it comes to baseball. The station’s Web site declares that Wood’s broadcasts are “as American as…well, baseball of course.” Wood’s station bio also mentions that he produced a documentary on D.C. baseball for public television and has been a mainstay in the campaign to bring baseball back to the area.
Last month, after years of talking about bringing baseball to the station, WTEM finally sealed the deal to replace WTOP as the D.C. affiliate of the Orioles broadcast network. Management prepared for its first season of baseball by taking its baseball guy out of the lineup in the late innings of negotiations with the O’s. Wood says he was told in January that his show was going on a “temporary” hiatus. “Temporary” is a relative term.
“They said they wanted to go with syndicated programming for the NFL playoffs,” Wood says. “Well, the playoffs are over.”
And so, he fears, are his days with WTEM.
Though Wood remains on the station’s payroll, he’s yet to get any hint that his show, last heard on weekend mornings, will be reinstated. He’s mystified, and displeasured, by the treatment.
“I’d certainly like to be more involved with the radio station now that it’s gotten Major League Baseball, and I think I’ve earned that,” he says. “I’m not one who toots his own horn too much, but over the years I’ve distinguished myself as far as baseball is concerned. I don’t think there’s anybody in town, or east of the Mississippi, quite frankly, that can do what I can do with the baseball coverage. But it’s all up in the air.”
Wood hoped the air would be cleared at a meeting with station manager Bennett Zier scheduled for last week. But that meeting never came off. Zier, contacted at his office, declines to discuss with this reporter what role, if any, Wood will have in the station’s baseball broadcasts.
“We’re trying to figure that out,” Zier tells me.
While Zier has been figuring out Wood’s future, Wood has been getting back in touch with an important part of his past. That would be rock ‘n’ roll.
In fact, despite all the gab about Williams’ garb and Eddie Yost signoffs, Wood was actually more of a rocker than a jock during his days at Jefferson High School. And all these years later, he can speak just as excitedly and authoritatively about D.C.’s pop past as he can about its sports annals.
Wood, for example, can recall exactly what type of speakers the Beatles used when he saw the Fabs, along with the Ronettes and the Cyrkle, at D.C. Stadium in August 1966, just two weeks before they quit touring for good. “There were 32 Altec-Lansing Voice of the Theaters lining the field,” he says. “They had it sounding pretty good by the time the Beatles took the stage.”
And he remembers trudging out of Constitution Hall in August 1967 after watching the Who’s opening set (and bailing on headliner Herman’s Hermits), then heading uptown to see Jimi Hendrix at the Ambassador Theatre, formerly at 18th Street and Columbia Road in Adams Morgan.
“I’m sitting on the floor, waiting for Hendrix to come on, and I turn my head and there, sitting right beside me, was Peter Townshend,” Wood says. “My friend’s nudging me: ‘Talk to him! Talk to him!’ What does a 16-year-old kid say to Pete Townshend? I said, ‘I just saw you play. What guitar was that you smashed tonight, a Mustang?’ And he says, ‘Nah, it was a Duo-Sonic body with a Strat neck. We nail them back together every night.’” Wood and Townshend then saw Hendrix go through his own Fender-bender routine during “Wild Thing.” A few years ago, Nils Lofgren told an Irish journalist that while witnessing the same Who-Hendrix double-header, he decided he wanted to be a rock star.
To cap off the most rockin’ week imaginable, Wood’s own band played on the same bill as the Doors at the Alexandria Roller Rink. “Obviously, it was a huge thrill to open for the Doors, but Jim Morrison, who had played a show in Annapolis earlier that day, was a jerk to all the kids in the opening bands,” Wood says. “Somebody asked him, ‘Don’t your parents live around here?’ which they did [Morrison grew up in Alexandria]. But he just said, “My parents are dead.’”
Wood says he covers sports only because his own musical ambitions petered out during college. His years in media taught him that all athletes would rather be rock stars, too. “Freddie Lynn used to always tell me he wanted to be a Beatle,” says Wood. “He was left-handed, and looked a whole lot like Paul McCartney, so I told him if he’d just get a Hofner bass, I’d teach him to play and he’d be a Beatle. He said he didn’t have the time.”
Wood keeps his rock memorabilia, including several vintage Gibson and Fender instruments and amps andhis most gaga gewgawa guitar string he swears came from Hendrix at the Ambassador, in his basement alongside all the baseball keepsakes that he gave airtime to during his WTEM career. That’s also where he’s been practicing blues shuffles and 1-4-5 chord progressions, in preparation for his upcoming reunion show at St. Thomas Church with former classmate/bandmate Phil Stinnett (hence the name Phil Brothers). Proceeds will benefit the church’s preschool program.
“We’ll play the Clovers, Drifters, Beatles, and Stones, just like we used to,” he says.
Wood goes on at 7 p.m. The doorslowercase, alaswill open an hour earlier. Dave McKenna