News and notes from the President and Chief Executive (CE) of the American Theatre Organ Society, Ken Double.

Tuesday, June 16th 2009

Thank heaven I packed heavy long sleeved shirts. It’s still cold in Chicago!!

Greetings from the Windy City, where I am writing this edition of the blog. I left Florida in sunshine and low 90-degree temperatures, only to land in Chicago in sunshine and low 60-degree temperatures!!! Would somebody tell Mayor Daley it’s summer! He controls everything else up here, he could certainly do something about the weather.

As I write to you we are just a couple of weeks away from the convention in the Cleveland and northeast Ohio area. I am happy to report that the convention attendance numbers are very encouraging. We were concerned about what the economy might do to overall attendance, but the splendid theatres, and the “newness” of this area, were obvious selling points to our membership, as it appears we will top 450 attendees, a spectacular number considering what might have been.

It is going to be a wonderful convention musically. And there is some very exciting news to be announced in Cleveland. No fewer than three new ventures will be announced…and perhaps as many as five. Keep an eye on this space, and the website in general for news, and of course, there will be a full report on convention activity in Theatre Organ later in the year.

Of course, for those of you who have been on the fence, there IS STILL TIME to make your plans to attend! And you can register with just a few clicks on the mouse right here on the ATOS website.

Attention to those in these chapters: Manasota, Garden State, Atlanta, Motor City and Orange County. In conjunction with your local chapter presidents and local board leadership, we have launched an initiative to bring some of your “local only” members into our ATOS family. Letters have been written to hundreds of those who have joined the local chapter, but not ATOS.

We ask our members in those chapters to “talk up” and sell ATOS, and join us in this effort to reverse the declining membership numbers. This is just one step in an effort to increase overall membership. And it is the step that makes the most sense in that those who received letters are already involved at one level. Let’s hope they see all the good things going, and join the national organization as well. Also, Dairyland chapter rounds out our top six experimental chapters in this program. Those members will receive their letters shortly.

We will take some time to evaluate the effectiveness of this effort, and proceed from there. Our sincere thanks to Tom Garver of Dairyland for taking the lead in this effort, on behalf of Board member and committee chair John Apple, and Atlanta member John McCall, who also assisted.

I am in the midst of an interesting trip. A stop in Chicago includes a visit to a grant writing and fund raising center with lots of good information on how ATOS can help itself in this area. I am performing in Indianapolis with the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra, and a young man named Laney Wilson. He is just 18, just out of high school, and was the third place finisher in the national Michael Feinstein Competition. This new venture sponsored by the famous pianist/crooner is basically a search for new young talent who will continue to perform music of the Great American Songbook. Young Mr. Wilson has great talent, and it will be a thrill to share the stage with him.

My last stop on the trip is in Cincinnati, where Ron Wehmeier is putting the finishing touches on the new installation of the Albee Theatre Wurlitzer in the Grand Ballroom of the Cincinnati Music Hall. The organ is owned by the Ohio Valley chapter, and offers a fresh start for this wonderful organ and a chapter that can now rally around its instrument in its new home.

So, more good news and more good stuff happening for ATOS. I look forward to seeing many of you in Cleveland. I will report back after the convention!

Ken Double
June 2009

Thursday, May 7th 2009

Yikes has it been busy!

Greetings from St. Petersburg, FL where we have not had rain in three weeks or more.  Mrs. O’Leary’s cow won’t have nuthin’ on the guy who drops an ill-timed, still-burning cigarette butt on the side of the road down here!

I am off to Atlanta Thursday, May 7th for more visits with officials at the Atlanta Fox on some interesting business brewing down there.  They now have two theatre organs playing regularly for the public.  You will read all about Larry-Douglas Embury at the Atlanta Fox Mighty Mo in the next issue of the journal.  In suburban Marietta, John McCall’s Allen organ is on loan to the Strand Theatre, and word is the audiences are crazy for the pre-show music, sing-a-longs, silent comedies and more.  That Atlanta Chapter has got it cookin’!  Congrats to Ron Carter for his great work at the Strand.  The Allen is there ‘til the Wurli/Morton gets finished.

Congratulations to our election winners, Donna Parker, Jack Moelmann and Doug Powers.  We say good-bye and thanks to Don Near, whose term will end at the convention, and who will get a short respite from national affairs before finding that time gobbled up by planning for the 2012 Annual Convention.  We also offer sincere thanks to Susan Cole-Shaw, Bill Mollema, Don Phipps and John Ledwon for running for the board.  Most often, it is too easy for people to simply say “No” when asked to run or to serve.  But these individuals stepped up, and at a very important time.  A year ago, there was no real election because we did not have enough candidates.  This year, we had an abundance of very good candidates, and we thank them for participating in the leadership process for ATOS.

We remind you about the upcoming convention.  It is going to be fun.  Remember how it used to be? We could go to Detroit, or Chicago, or New York or LA or pretty much anywhere in the 1960’s and 70’s, and most of the concerts would be staged at wonderful old theatres.  In recent years, converted warehouse space, high schools, and who knows where else has provided the home for many of our convention concerts.  But this year in Cleveland, it’s like a throwback to the old days.  One great theatre after another…the Akron Civic, the Canton Palace, the Mansfield Renaissance, the Ohio Theatre in Columbus, the Palace at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland (plus its three neighbors), and the handsome Masonic Auditorium…we know you’ve got to leave the recorders at home, BUT BRING YOUR CAMERAS!!!!  It will be a great convention.

Judging by the feedback so far, many of you are really enjoying ATOS Theatre Organ Radio on our website.  It is really exciting.  The idea was reinforced by a comment made by my friend Ray Compton (who was at last year’s convention and a guest speaker at a seminar – he kept calling me “Kenny” – my former boss, he is one of the very FEW who can do that and get away with it!!) who stated that we really needed to move in this direction.
But we really should have been paying closer attention long before Ray’s comments.  Our Webmaster and web guru Tom Blackwell works very hard for ATOS, almost daily.  His input in keeping our information updated regularly, and his monumental efforts (along with four others on his team) at creating what we will soon experience as our brand new website, make Tom an invaluable member of our team.

Knowing the website business as he does, and knowing that we are in the music business, he had championed this idea for some time.  The question was, how best to achieve it?

The answer came in the form of member Steve Worthington, and his five-year web/radio program Theatre Organ Replay.  Steve had been webcasting, paying for the space on the internet out of his own pocket, and airing selections from his vast collection of vintage theatre organ recordings.  Steve was willing to marry with ATOS to create a new format, thus, instead of reinventing the wheel, ATOS partnered with Steve to create our new program, ATOS Theatre Organ Radio.  With Steve’s experience and Tom’s expertise, ATOS has accomplished a major goal in terms of marketing its name and its music to a potential vast new audience.

The early returns in terms of Time Spent Listening, and total listeners has been astounding, even more than double our expectations.  And we have been heard in no fewer than 22 different countries.

This highlights what happens when creative, dedicated people tackle a new project with a great sense of purpose.  A lot more people know about ATOS and the music of the theatre organ today because Steve Worthington was willing to share his ideas and efforts, and Tom Blackwell was relentless in his push that this was the right thing for ATOS to do.  It was Tom who finally approached the Board at our meeting last January with the cost figures and put forth the formal proposal to get this started. And who benefits?  Our members, who with a “click of the computer mouse,” can have their own radio station playing theatre organ music all day long.  Thank you, Steve.  And a big thanks to Tom!

Finally, I want to thank our friends at the St. Louis Chapter of ATOS.  First, I finally had a chance to visit that most distinctive installation at Jack Moelmann’s house.  “Wow” might be one adjective.  It is certainly distinctive!  I also had a chance to visit the City Museum, which not only houses a thrilling Wurlitzer organ heard daily by people visiting, but also houses an equally thrilling three-story slide that is as heart-stopping as any roller coaster ride.  (Hint: if you plan on riding your behind all the way down the three stories, wear dress pants.  They really slide fast!!!)

Most importantly, I was provided a singular honor.  Since the death of the wonderful Stan Kann, Fox Theatre owner Mary Strauss just could barely stand the thought of someone else playing that wonderful organ.  So, for more than six months, it sat in silent tribute to its most famous player, save an occasional “peep” by curator Al Hacker.  For the annual “Party on the Pipes” last month, I was honored to play a concert at the Lincoln Theatre in Belleville, and I was asked to open the Monday morning “open console” time at the Fox by playing two of Stan’s signature selections, It’s Today by Jerry Herman, and Join the Circus by Cy Coleman.  It marked the first time the organ had been played in public since Stan’s untimely passing, and it was indeed an honor and a privilege to be asked to handle this occasion.  I was genuinely moved by the reaction of the locals from St. Louis and the staff members of the Fox Theatre who were so emotional when hearing the organ played again, and hearing tunes so closely associated with Stan.  It was a thrill and an honor.

I also met the inimitable Kay McAbee for the first time, if you can imagine, and what a joy.  He got on that Fox console, and my guess is that seats just under the chambers needed complete vacuuming (Stan Kann style) after Kay blew the dust out of the chambers!!  It was great fun in St. Louis.

We had our first ever ATOS Touring Show staged at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, NY, and although not a financial success, it was an artistic success, with talk of what can be done in the future to make it better.  We will continue with this – very patiently – to do all we can to make this new idea successful, both in terms of the finances, but more importantly, in terms of introducing the theatre organ to new audiences across the country.  Discussions are ongoing in five different cities for the touring show idea.

The phone grew out of my ear all day.  This exercise has been cathartic.  I’m off to the ‘fridge.  I need more ice.  ☺  Take care until next time.

Ken Double

Wednesday, February 25th 2009


I counted dates on the calendar the other day, and once February 28th hits, it will signal the end of a 41-day stretch, of which I will have spent 32 on the road. At times, I wonder why I pay rent!

But the travel is enlightening, heartening, mostly fun, and very worthwhile. In January and February, I have had the opportunity to touch base on the following:

  • Get a first-hand look at the work being done at Macy’s/Philadelphia on the Wurlitzer being installed in Greek Hall.
  • Help complete the ATOS funding commitment to that project, and aid in acquiring funds to add an automated record/playback system to that instrument, vital to its success in its new surroundings.
  • Visit with Bob Dilworth and the Board at Dickinson in Wilmington, DE as they set about creating a brand new ATOS chapter there.
  • Visit with NYTOS chapter President John Valentino in New York City.
  • Meet with officials at Allen Organ company about a new project for ATOS.
  • Travel to the Thomaston Opera House and play the chapter’s 48th birthday party, and discuss issues with that chapter in a healthy Q and A session.
  • Meet with members of the Central Indiana Chapter’s concert committee to discuss programming for a more general audience appeal.
  • Perform with the 101st Army Band at the Denver Paramount Theatre, before an audience of more than 1800 in attendance.
  • Attend the re-dedication concert of the newly-renovated Wurlitzer at San Gabriel, played to a most-appreciative full house.
  • Meet with officials at the Atlanta Fox Theatre to discuss a wide array of topics aimed at both national exposure for the theatre organ, and the formation of a theatre-managers-group that can help us “sell” other managers on greater uses of the their instruments.

I also did a little count. During all this travel, I boarded at least 15 different aircraft, including rides on two “prop-jets” (didn’t think any of the major airlines – even with their puddle-hoppers – were still flying anything run by propellers!!!), and only had one minor mishap. During a change in Houston, the flight to Denver was delayed due to mechanical failure. I marvel at those who moan and groan when getting off a plane to wait for another aircraft. I mean really! Would you rather be on one that has a mechanical problem, or would you rather go up and down just like you’re supposed to??!!!!! I, for one, prefer landing properly on runways as opposed to rivers.

Congratulations are in order for our friends in Rochester, NY. They staged a weekend series of concerts in February in partnership with the AGO. The final program was presented on the Wurlitzer at the Auditorium Theatre, and was recorded for later playback on Michael Barone’s famous Pipedreams radio program heard nationwide.

Very slowly, in one small pocket after another, we find the relationship between the theatre organ fans/ATOS and our counterparts in AGO growing in a positive manner. I have often jokingly referred to our more classical-oriented friends as believing that the theatre organ is “the crazy uncle in the corner” of the pipe organ world.

Fortunately, programs such as those in Rochester and what is being planned for the closing concert at the ATOS convention (and the opening concert of the OHS convention) in Cleveland are doing much to break down barriers and open lines of communication. This is a VERY good thing.

We are all fans of a very tiny niche of the musical world. And we would be wise to do everything we can to promote all of the programming on pipe organs, not just the programs to which our own individual and particular tastes are drawn.

A final note: election ballots have been mailed. We have eight outstanding candidates running for the ATOS Board. This is quite a wonderful change from last year’s election. I encourage you to look over the ballot, vote for those you believe will best serve ATOS, and participate in our process of helping ATOS grow.

Hopefully, I will eat more meals at home, and board fewer aircraft, in March!!

‘Til next time,
Ken Double


Saturday, September 20th 2008

Ken Double’s Blog – or – This is a good way to spend time while at the airport!

I am winging my way back to Florida after an 11-day trip into Indiana and New York State. This trip accomplished several things. First, I performed at the Grande Barton organ at the Warren Performing Arts Center in Indianapolis, and then had the chance to play the Forum Theatre 4m Robert Morton organ in Binghamton, NY. I always enjoy playing the Barton – a truly great sound in that hall; and thoroughly enjoyed my first opportunity to play the Morton.

Congrats to Paul Stapel, one of the real “worker bees” of the Binghamton Theatre Organ Society, and we sure could all learn from his efforts. I was on all three local TV stations’ newscasts, did two live radio interviews, and Paul’s publicity efforts helped to draw a sizeable crowd. There is no magic secret here. He works hard to establish relationships with station management; he buys some advertising blocks on three stations; and pounds the pavement to get the news directors to respond to his request for interviews. He has an advantage in being in a smaller market – this is tougher to do in big cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. But it comes down to relationships and elbow grease. And for Paul, it pays off big time.

On a personal note, my trip generated solid response in our efforts to raise funds to repair the Long Center Wurlitzer in Lafayette, IN. Water damage has rendered the Main Chamber unplayable, and our independent organization, the LCTOS, has started its campaign to raise $50,000. Meanwhile, we are working on two programming ideas outside of Long Center to keep our concert series alive at other venues while we work on the Wurlitzer. One potential avenue is fantastically exciting in terms of exposure and marketing, and could provide a major shot-in-the-arm to an organization that needs it. More on this when our plans are solidified, because these ideas could be pursued by ATOS chapters elsewhere.

I will also have more to report very soon on my first efforts at major corporate sponsorship for ATOS. The trip to Indianapolis provided an opportunity to meet with Ray Compton of Compton Associates, who is working with ATOS as an unpaid consultant. (Many at the convention heard Ray speak at a seminar.) We met to discuss a new logo and new look for ATOS. And he arranged a meeting with two banking officials which could lead to a first corporate sponsorship/partnership arrangement for ATOS. The first, I might add, of hopefully many. I will report on these details as we finalize the deal.

So, some concerts, some business, some fund-raising, GREAT weather, particularly in New York where it was Chamber-of-Commerce sunny and 70 degrees everyday, all made for a great trip.

One final note, and an important one. As President/CEO, and now in a paid staff position, I find myself at times conflicted about the opportunity to perform concerts at certain times. In this position, I have a distinct advantage in terms of marketing myself as a performing artist. This advantage could clearly and understandably be interpreted by some as a “conflict of interest.” To that end, two different opportunities were presented to me recently, and I reacted in two distinctly different ways, for two reasons.

The Alabama Chapter is hosting a Regional convention in the Fall of 2009 in Birmingham. They asked me to perform one of the concerts, and I respectfully declined. This is an ATOS co-sponsored event, and I feel that in the position I hold, it would be easy for me to accept every concert offer out there. When the organization is directly involved in the events, i.e. annual and regional conventions, and our new touring show production, I feel it is in the best interests of the organization and the other performing artists, that I decline invitations to play.

Meanwhile, I was invited to perform at the Desert Winds event at Thanksgiving time in Phoenix. I accepted this invitation. First and foremost, this is NOT an ATOS-sponsored event, thus the conflict of interest is not so apparent. Second, I was going to be at the event anyway to represent ATOS. Third, this particular performance on Saturday night was only recently added to the schedule due to the completion of the work on the organ to be presented. Thus, the last-minute nature of the request demanded a quick answer.

It is important for the membership and the Board of Directors to know that I am cognizant of the position I am in as President and CEO, and attempting to work in the best interests of ATOS, and not in my own personal interests.

Stay tuned, as there is more to come. Bring new members to ATOS. It vital to the growth of the organization, and, it adds to the FUN!!!

Will check back here soon.

Your blogging correspondent, Ken Double

(September 20, 2008) Ken Double