He sits at his computer, the words rolling off his tongue like an old pro. His radio ready voice, husky and booming, hits the microphone without a hitch. Then he cues the music, a wailing saxophone, heavy piano and a beat fit for the twist. He’s Lee Douglas, and his mission is to bring the music of the ’50s and ’60s back to the air.
“I want to do what I believe I’ve been sent here to do, and that’s to keep music alive,” Douglas said. “Which means these people are not going to die, they’re not going to just disappear like everyone else.”
Douglas, 69, does that with his “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” podcast, every Sunday and Thursday for 90 minutes, all from the comfort of his Winter Park home. Douglas has been podcasting for about 16 years, but his solo show first began in 2006.
And he’s been pretty successful so far. He said he’s got 850,000 listeners from all over the U.S. and the world — everywhere from Florida and Kentucky to England and New Zealand. His collection boasts more than 100,000 songs, all of which he has purchased the rights to play, and many he digitized over a two-year span from his own collection of records and 45s.
A space to fill
Douglas began the podcast because he couldn’t find the music he liked on the radio. Radio broadcasters had forgotten all about the golden oldies — the real beginning — the music of the ’50s.
“It was like rock ‘n’ roll began with The Beatles,” he said with disdain.
So he set out to create a show to feature the tunes from his past. Always a teacher — Douglas spent his last eight years in the field teaching computer classes at Glenridge Middle School in Orlando — his podcasts are intertwined with history lessons. He’ll tell about a song’s artist, where it came from, and many times, how he’s even met the singer.
“He is from the NY area and was part of the rock ‘n’ roll birth … he adds a lot of insight into his shows,” said listener Jim Clark. “You just can’t find that anywhere today, his personal experience is what makes his show unique.”
He’ll tell just a little about Dick Clark, the longtime TV icon. He’s met rock stars, and spent time learning what it takes to be a DJ from Alan Freed, the father and inventor of the term “rock ‘n’ roll” and frequently credited as someone who helped desegregation by bringing together white and black teenagers with the music he played. Douglas’ delivery, no howls, jive talk or gimmicks, is all inspired by the natural style of his mentor, Freed, he said.
“This is a chance here for education,” said his wife, Cindy Gair.
And not only does he educate listeners who happen upon his podcast, but he still influences the minds of students. One listener of Douglas, Bruce Marianelli, is a professor who teaches a history of early rock ‘n’ roll class at a college in Pennsylvania. He said Douglas is just a wealth of knowledge for his students. They are required to listen to his shows, and they spend time calling and emailing him with questions.
“The man is so willing to share his knowledge, expertise and his experience and the relations that’s he’s had with some of these early performers in rock ‘n’ roll music, and that’s unique today,” Marianelli said. “It brings it to a whole new generation.”
That’s one reason Douglas continues his work. He loves hearing about sparking new interest in the music he loves, especially with younger listeners.
“That’s so thrilling to me that people at that age are going to learn about this music and care about it,” he said.
Bringing back memories
But it’s also for his generation. Moments can be relived through familiar songs, and for people who were teenagers in the ’50s this music was so important — tied to fun, friends and new experiences. For listener Jim Clark, who started dating his wife at 14, many songs represent the start of their life, and they listen to the podcasts together.
“I have somebody to share this music with … and it takes us back down memory lane,” he said. “It takes us back to the days when we were carefree and falling in love.”
“It’s keeping the music of a generation alive,” Marianelli said.