When Allen Secher sat down to plan the musical lineup for the Valentine’s Day edition of his show, “You Must Remember This,” on Montana Public Radio, he considered each song by asking himself a simple question: “I sat in front of the list I had, and I just said, ‘Does it make me all atingle?’ That’s a silly reason, but it’s correct.”
From an initial list of 43, Secher distilled the hour-long show down to 15 songs, but the choices he faced were difficult. Opening with “My Funny Valentine,” was a no-brainer, but which version? Ella Fitzgerald’s? Frank Sinatra’s? Tony Bennett’s? To find out which he chose; curious listeners will have to tune into the show airing Feb. 9 at 8:30 p.m., when Secher will play a selection of love songs from his vast catalog of recordings from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, what he calls “music of the Greatest Generation.”
At a time when money is tight for many in the Flathead and across Montana, anyone who wants to take a romantic Valentine’s Day trip without spending any money need look no further than their radio – and Secher offered some additional advice to his listeners:
“Get yourself in a comfortable place, turn down the lights, put a glass of wine in your hand, sit back and romance, however that may be,” Secher said in his mellow baritone. “Everything I’m going to play should really take you to awfully good places.”
Taking people to good places via radio is something Secher does monthly through MTPR and on Sunday nights with his Frank Sinatra-centric show on Kalispell’s KOFI. Since moving here in 2000, Secher has been re-introducing Montanans to the music he loves, and of which he possesses an encyclopedic knowledge: the standards.
“When we get up to Elvis Presley, that’s my cutoff date,” Secher said, then clarified that he prefers music composed prior to the mid-1950s, though there are many modern interpretations of those songs he adores, citing the work of Missoula jazz singer Eden Atwood as an example.
For Secher, this music takes him back to a time that resembles the present era in its financial hardship and war, yet starkly different in terms of the music it produced.
“You needed things to take your mind off of where you were, as a result, these love songs began to proliferate,” he said. “You don’t find a lot of guys writing love songs now compared to the 30s or 40s.”
“Love songs, fantasy songs, could make a comeback because of our recession,” he added.
Upon listening to some of Secher’s music, it also grows apparent how patriotic and optimistic it sounds – sentiments rarely expressed in modern popular music outside the country-western genre. Sitting in a corner of his basement he has converted to a small recording studio, Secher plays one of the six versions he owns of Frank Sinatra’s “The House I Live In,” a song recorded in 1946, describing America’s religious tolerance and ethnic equality.
“He just sings my songs,” Secher said of Sinatra. “It’s as simple as that.”
Secher’s musical tastes have developed over decades in the broadcasting business, which he fell into after doctors removed a growth from his vocal chords that left him with a deep voice at a young age, a turn of events he described as a “cosmic luck-out.”
Broadcasting through his teenage years in Pennsylvania, he color commented on high school football games, and had a radio show titled, “Sessions with Secher, Music E*sech*ially for You.” He deejayed and hosted talk radio shows though college, and worked in Mexico dubbing Spanish films into English. In the mid-1960s, he parlayed a gig at a Los Angeles radio station into a show for Armed Forces Radio that ended up running for 30 years.
“If you were on an Air Force base in Germany or a carrier in the middle of the Indian Ocean, you caught the show,” Secher said. “At one time, it was the longest-running show on Armed Forces Radio.”
Through that program, titled “East of Eden,” he interviewed artists, thinkers and celebrities including Maya Angelou, John Cassavetes and Elie Wiesel. It also allowed him complete freedom to do whatever he wanted creatively: play music, read children’s literature or, as he did in 1988, devote an entire hour to reading love poetry to the woman who is now his wife, Ina Albert.
In that time, Secher did voiceover work and acted in small roles on TV, as well as playing an active role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, participating in marches through the South. In the 1990s, Secher won seven Emmy awards producing children’s TV shows and documentaries in Chicago.
Currently living in Whitefish, Secher is the rabbi of Bet Harim, the Jewish community of the Flathead Valley, and he records readings for books on tape, a job which compensated him for much of the recording equipment in his basement.
While his KOFI show has been on the air for six years, Secher took on the public radio show so that he could delve more deeply into the trivia, backstories and biographies of not only the performers, but the composers of the music he loves.
“I wanted to do a show, for me, that was intellectually challenging,” he said. “I wanted to broaden the scope.”
His December show was themed “Songs That Got Us Through the War,” and included songs like “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” and “Remember Pearl Harbor,” along with Franklin Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech and Edward R. Murrow’s reporting from London on V-E Day.
For a future show, Secher plans a “Who’d a Thunk It” theme, with surprising performances from well-known celebrities, like Clint Eastwood singing “Accentuate the Positive,” or Sinatra performing an obscure duet titled “Mama Will Bark,” in which Old Blue Eyes barks and howls like a dog. Yet another show could be dedicated to songs by George Gershwin and Cole Porter that never caught on.
In an age of distractions, Secher believes the classic American music he plays resonates with a new generation, and helps listeners of his era to reminisce.
“I think I want them to take away my fervor for this music,” Secher said. “It’s now 50, 60 years later and this stuff is still going and it’s still popular.”