OWOSSO – So Where Do They Disappear To? Do you ever wonder where do our State Representatives as well as other politicians disappear to after they are out of office and out of the limelight? We wondered what our former State Rep Clark Harder has been up to lately. What we found out is that lately Clark Harder has been very involved with the Old Music Box and Internet Radio. We hope you enjoy the following story.
When Clark Harder was a youngster he longed to know what was going on behind the doors and walls of The Music Box at Houghton Lake.
“I first became aware of ‘The Box’ around 1960 when I was about 5 or 6. My folks would drive along M-55 on a Friday or Saturday summer night and the cars would be lined up all the way back through the blinker light at the intersection of M-55 and M-18 by the original Hub Super Market. Then we’d get close to The Music Box and the lines of teens would snake around the building and the parking lots would be full. I dearly wanted to know what the attraction was and quickly learned it was something I wasn’t old enough to enjoy. And I remember those images well to this day,” Harder said.
Today Harder, 60, is a seasonal resident of Houghton Lake, Vice President of the Music Box Historical Society, and the host of Music Box Memories internet radio at www.radionomy.com/musicboxmemories. Would be listeners can find it on their computers and mobile devices and it is available through many streaming internet radio services, including iTunes. The direct URL is: http://listen.radionomy.com/musicboxmemories. The internet station has its own website at www.mymusicboxmemories.com and a Facebook page called The Enchanted Music Box.
From 1973 to 1985 Harder was a radio announcer/disc jockey and news reporter for WOAP radio in Owosso, Michigan. He later went on to a career working for the Michigan House of Representatives and served as a state legislator from midMichigan in the 1990s. Since 1999 he has been the Executive Director of the Michigan Public Transit Association, a statewide advocacy and education organization comprised of transit agencies located throughout the state. But it is his internet radio hobby that he enjoys in his free time.
“I had all these records that I’d collected over the years, and I owned all the necessary equipment to webcast my own internet station from a brief stint doing voice-over work part-time, narrating scripts for a business that makes instructional videos for industry,” Harder related.
He was familiar with internet radio and web streaming but also knew there were, literally, thousands of internet radio stations. “I needed a hook if I was going to put out one more Oldies format internet station,” he said, “or why would anyone want to listen to my station over one of the many others?”
And in 2011 he found that hook. One cold winter day as he sat working in his home studio he suddenly remembered The Music Box. “I was listening to some old records and a Tommy Edwards tune from the 50s came on and I just immediately was reminded of the Music Box since that was one of those classic songs you often heard Shirley Kelly spin for a slow dance. I knew The Box had been closed from the early 1980s until the late 1990s and then had reopened for a few seasons before closing for good in 2001. I needed to find out the story behind that mystery.”
So he began researching everything he could find about The Music Box online. That led him to connect with Mark Barnhart of Houghton Lake, considered the resident expert on everything to do with the Box.
Harder contacted Barnhart and arranged to interview him for a speculative story that he had already pitched to Michigan History magazine. The two met in Barnhart’s home in Prudenville in April, 2011 and that resulted in Harder writing a story for the Historical Society of Michigan which the organization published in their membership quarterly magazine “Chronicle” in the summer of 2013. It also resulted in a fast friendship between Harder and Barnhart.
“I sat out to find the reason behind the Music Box being closed for all those years and I ended up knowing the entire history of Lee and Shirley Kelly, owners of the Music Box and the full story behind the teen dance hall and I gained a valued new friend, “ Harder related.
Click Here to Read that story: http://www.westmichmusichystericalsociety.com/box-1/
He knew the story needed to be shared with all the fans of the Music Box located throughout the country and connected through a Facebook page maintained by Becky Marra Davis of Chicago who grew up in Houghton Lake in the 1960s. And after he wrote the story he realized that he had found the unique hook he needed for his idea of having an Oldies radio station online.
“I started the internet station in March of 2014 on Live365.com, an internet radio hosting site that has since shut down operations,” Harder stated.
In January 2015 Live365.com contacted Harder and asked him to create a second station focusing on Valentine’s Day and so Music Box Love Songs was born which featured just the slow romantic dance tunes of the 50s, 60s and 70s; the kind of music that Shirley Kelly affectionately referred to as the “huggers.”
But in late December Live365.com lost its investors and decided to shut down all operations for effective January 31, 2016. Harder scrambled to find a new home for his listeners and Music Box Memories ended up on the Radionomy service based in Belgium. “There have been some issues but, in many ways, I think this service is superior to the sound quality of Live365 and, if they can keep the signal stable, I hope Music Box Memories can have a long run on the Radionomy site. If not, I have some other options in mind, “ he related.
Radionomy has minimum listener hour totals that Harder’s station must maintain to remain active on the site so he’s hoping the listener base continues to grow going forward.
“Music Box Memories is as unique as The Music Box itself was from 1946 until it closed its doors for the final time,” Harder said. “We play an eclectic mix of oldies; of course all the ones you’d expect to hear but also the ones you never hear on commercial radio today. The theme with the more off-beat songs is that they had to be songs that were on the original dance playlists of The Box and we’ve researched the record files to be sure we are playing authentic tunes that were heard at The Box.” Harder mixes in other period songs to provide a greater variety to avoid repetition.
Along the way, Harder and Barnhart partnered with others to form the Music Box Historical Society in Spring, 2014 and did the first “Back to the Box” reunion dance in August, 2014 as part of the Houghton Lake Library’s 50th anniversary. Last summer the MBHS sponsored another dance held at the Houghton Lake Playhouse.
The reunion dance that was held July 2 this year, at the Playhouse, celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Music Box over July 4th weekend in 1946. Besides affording people a chance to gather and reminisce and listen to their favorite old tunes, the historical group is raising funds with plans to erect a historic marker on the Music Box property, for which they have already been given approval by the current owners. Long term plans also may include opening a more permanent museum of Music Box history and memorabilia if they are able to raise sufficient funding. As Harder puts it, “The Music Box was a major part of Houghton Lake’s attraction in the 50s through the 70s and it is a part of the local history that deserves to be remembered and preserved.”
Guest Story /Photo: Music Box Memories internet disc jockey Andrew Clark (Harder) webcasting at the 2014 Back to the Box reunion dance at Bobcat Field. –Photo courtesy of Beck Marra Davis.
The Music Box
A brief history of The Music Box
Friday, January 27, 2006 – By Mark Barnhart Sr.
By 1948 they had enlarged the slab and put a partial wall and fence around the dance floor and began to charge a nickel entry to help defray the cost of buying all the latest records. At that point it officially became The Music Box. The popularity grew very quickly and young people from the surrounding towns of Roscommon, West Branch, St Helen, Grayling, Lake City, and Harrison were now regular customers.
In 1950 the dance floor was enlarged dramatically and a ten-foot high cinder block wall was built around this open area and painted white. Several trees were left inside in the dancing area and romantic lighting was added. There was an enclosed room added that included a fire place and a soda pop counter. This first enclosed room was painted blue and from that time on was called the blue room by all the employees. To decorate the blue room the Kelly’s hung photos of the Houghton Lake Homecoming Queens starting with 1946 around the walls. A second enclosed room was added with a coat check room and modern bath rooms and painted orange that was forevermore called orange the room.
By now, The Music Box was large enough the Kelly’s needed to hire some help. Lee and Shirley’s philosophy was to insure the young people really had a good time and felt comfortable at their establishment. They decided to hire mostly college age young people as ticket sellers and bouncers so that the help was close to the same age as the customers. That way the customers didn’’t feel like they had a bunch of high school shaperones watching them. The Music Box was now open Friday and Saturday nights and all through the three big summer holidays.
Untill 1953 The Music Box was only open summer weekends but the crowds kept growing and the local kids ask the Kelly’s if they could open up in the winter. So a smaller enclosed room, “the winter room” that was easier to heat, was added on the west side of the open area in 1953 to be used on winter weekends. In 1955, a tower was built to house sound equipment and the music collection as well as give the person playing the records a good view of the dance floor. The sound system was brought up to state-of-the-art when a commercial McIntosh 200 watt amplifier and very large Jenson folded horn speakers were installed. The records, both early 78’’s and 45’’s, were now played on three Thorns transcription turntables using three McIntosh C-4 preamps. This fabulous sound contributed to the enchantment along with the decor.
The Music Box outdoor dance floor in 2001
While Lee ran and managed the general operation of the Music Box, Shirley worked with him on the business management and she played the records. Any disc jockey knows how hard it is to keep the crowd dancing. Well, the blond in the tower, as Shirley was known to many of the customers, was the best of the best.
The Music Box continued to grow and to be the place that many, many young people remember as their “Summer Place” or the place they fell in love. It is impossible to put into words the feelings and memories that The Music Box brings to those who had the privilege of experiencing an evening there. It was truly enchanted. I enjoyed dancing at The Music Box as a customer from 1957 to 1962 and then worked for the Kelly’’s as a bouncer and helped maintain the sound system from 1962 to 1972. I continued to help with the sound system until the Music Box closed its doors for the last time, Labor Day weekend 2001
Lee used to take Bopper for a walk around the dance floor about 11:00 every night in the 60s. Look to the left and you can see the white cinder block wall and one of the wood benches inside the Music Box.
Remember Shirley’s Spotlight? It got shined on couples who were to Smoochy-Smoochy?!!
The console you see here is the same one from 1955 till we closed the last time. From 1955 to 1999 there were three turntables. When we reopened in 99 one turntable was removed and a pair of professional CD players were installed. The large gray Macintosh tube amplifier that sat at the closest end of the console was taken out in 99 and replaced with a Mackie 1,400 watt modern amp. The record storage was still above the the area you can see in this picture. Shirley always sat with the chair in the position you see so she could watch the crowd as she played the music.
All photos courtesy of Mark Barnhart Sr.
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