THE QUICK & CLEAN SUMMARY:
Sam leaps into the body of a radio station DJ, Howlin’ Chick Howell, in the city of Peoria, in 1959. His mission is to help the station owner, Rachel, overcome a new city ordinance, supported by local advertisers and the city council, to ban rock and roll music from being played on the airwaves.
He succeeds in the mission by talking Rachel into barricading themselves into the station, and playing their music in protest, until the ordinance becomes so unpopular that it is rescinded. The plan works. In the interim, Sam/Chick and Rachel fall for each other.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
Sam narrates about leaping. He tells us that though he has help, he usually ends up doing the dirty work himself. He does not mind, though, because “helping people out is like music to my ears.”
[To be honest, I feel like Chopin, the seeing eye dog, did most of the hard work in the previous episode.]
♪ ♪ Tutti Frutti, aw rooty, tutti frutti, WOOO, tutti frutti, aw rooty ♪ ♪
Sam has leaped into the body of a radio DJ in the 1950s. When the song ends, he does not know what to do. A woman starts speaking to him through a piece of glass. “Earth to Chick, stop clowning around and read the commercial.”
September 9, 1959
Sam is now trying to read a commercial. He does this poorly. When he tries to play tutti frutti again… he accidentally plays something else, by Pat Boone, instead. The woman behind the glass asks to speak with Sam. She says, “no, after Ike is out of office.” Sam now knows his name is Chick and that he has landed somewhere in the 1950s.
On his way to speak with the woman, another man says to him “I never thought I’d live to see the day when Howlin’ Chick Howell played something by Pat Boone.” Now we have a surname, too.
After a short conversation with a woman we come to know as Rachel, the other guy, Brian, lets us know that Chick has a thing for Rachel. Rachel has inherited the radio station from her father and she wants to play rock and roll music – over the objections of some in the town.
Sam interrupts a conversation between Rachel and Fred, one of the radio station’s advertisers. Sam cannot believe that anyone seriously believes that music could hurt children and Al arrives to tell him that a lot of people did believe that in the 1950s. The advertiser tells Rachel that he is pulling his advertising from her station. He also warns her that other people will be pulling their advertising, too. He also lets them know that he plans to propose a law to the city counsel, the following day, to ban the playing of rock and roll over the town’s airwaves.
Sam speaks with Al. Ziggy thinks that there is a 92.4% chance that Sam’s mission is to “save” Rachel. A year from Sam’s arrival, history says that the station fails. After the station fails, Rachel’s life goes downhill. Sam has to make the station No. 1 while playing rock & roll music.
Sam comes into work the following day. He mentions playing The Beatles – but Rachel corrects him by saying “You mean Buddy Holly and the Crickets.” Ah yes. The British Invasion has not yet occurred.
Rachel sees Sam talking to Al through the glass. He looks to be insane, showing records to someone invisible, and getting the opinion of the invisible person. Sam apparently cannot remember music from the late 1950s. Al tells him that his job is as much about talking as it is about playing music.
Just like that, Howlin’ Chick Howell is born. Sam kind of loses his mind with a new completely over the top radio DJ persona. Despite Al coaching him to do this, he looks somewhat surprised and bewildered. Rachel looks bewildered through the glass. She also looks… pleased.
She is not alone. We see the camera pan to the street outside. Teenagers are listening to Rachel’s station in their cars. We also see Fred, he of the “I’m pulling my advertising,” looking concerned about teenagers listening to rock and roll in their cars. There is basically a sock hop happening on the streets of Peoria.
Sam’s brand new manic radio DJ persona continues on and is a hit with the teenagers. Rachel rolls her eyes. Abruptly, though, the music comes to an end when someone throws a brick through the radio station’s glass window.
Sam and Rachel talk while Sam rewires the now broken stations’ now broken equipment. The “Swiss Cheese Brain” issues of Dr. Sam Beckett do not prevent the super-genius from making the necessary repairs quickly.
As he finishes the repair, Al notices that Chubby Checker (playing himself in this episode) is standing outside talking to one of the station’s other DJs, Brian. Sam geeks out about the not-yet-famous Chubby Checker and teaches Chubby the dance associated with the demo tape he just delivered: The Twist.
A little while later we find out that the city council voted to ban rock and roll. This ban imperil’s Rachel’s ability to run the station. She had only recently started making money with the station and that was when she began playing rock and roll. Sam comes up with a solution. He talks Rachel into barricading the door of the station while they continue playing rock and roll music. They plan to continue playing the music until the council changes their minds. Al considers this a harebrained idea.
We see the older men of the two debating about what to do next. They do not want the bad publicity of breaking down the station doors with an election on the way. The say, ominously, that “there is more than one way to skin a cat.”
At the station, Sam reads an editorial written by Fred Beaman wherein Fred describes rock and roll as “half articulate speech” and then he reads another document, from some other long-haired radicals: the First Amendment. Since Beaman described rock and roll as speech, and since free speech is guaranteed, Sam/Chick argue that they just want their rights protected.
The council’s other way to skin a cat rears its head. They get the power turned off to the radio station. We learn that the station has a generator. Sam sets off to get power back to the station. On the street, the older men are once again celebrating. We also see a group of younger people congregating somewhat angrily.
The romantic tension between Sam/Chick and Rachel grows as they get the generator going. We hear the teenagers on the street cheer as the radio station comes once more through their radios.
The station’s phone rings. One of Rachel’s advertisers calls her and threatens to pull his ads even if she does give up playing rock and roll. Rachel threatens the ad boycotters, in return, with a promise to contact every news organization in the state. (Their businesses will not like the bad PR.)
Rachel and Sam talk alone together. She asks why he is doing this (helping her.) He answers that he wants to exhibit a little passion. Rachel says that she is doing this because it is what her father would have done. Suddenly they both realize that the station is airing dead air. Sam hurries and plays another record. It’s a slow dance song. He and Rachel dance together in the station. Then they kiss. (I guess Sam’s inhibitions about making moves on his host’s love interest are gone.) Either way, Rachel abruptly breaks the kiss and she slaps him. She accuses him of taking advantage of her in a moment of weakness. Sam counters that she was afraid of liking it too much.
Sam goes to her and kisses her again. She is less reluctant this time. Al begins saying aloud how uncomfortable he is feeling as an observer. Sam notices that the station is no longer broadcasting. The old men of the town who do not like fun have cut the station’s transmission cables.
Rachel once again turns her ire against Sam/Chick. She accuses him of cooking up the entire barricade strategy as an excuse to get her alone. She further states that she should have given in and just stopped playing rock and roll.
Al: Ooh, that’s blasphemy. Next thing you know she’s going to be stepping on Elvis’ blue suede shoes.
Sam tells her to keep fighting. Fred is on the phone again. She says that she will get back on the air again even if she has to build an attennae. Fred threatens her with Sheriff Foley.
Tell Sheriff Foley to take his night stick and shove it.
Sam crawls up on the roof and attempts to repair their signal. He succeeds. The crowd of teenagers erupts in cheers.
The following day, the teenagers are still camped in front of the under-siege radio station. The police arrive and break up their gathering. A police officer – perhaps Sheriff Foley – suggests to the Mayor that he should consider rescinding his law. Fred answers for the Mayor that they are not rescinding anything. The police are under orders to break down the station’s barricade and end the broadcast.
As the barricade is set to be torn down, Sam reads from their news archives following the Japanese surrender after WW2 a monologue about the value of freedom. The crowd turns against the effort to shut down the station and Fred finally seems to feel a sense of shame about his efforts to silence their music. He leaves. The music continues.
Al tells Sam that the station becomes the number one station in Peoria and that Chick marries Rachel a year later. Sam – as Howlin Chick Howell – howls into the air and leaps away.
Sam leaps into the body of a rabbi. “Oy vey, I’m the Rabbi.”
This is well trod ground. Rock and roll faces stuffy opposition from a group of old people? Rock and roll wins! I do occasionally wonder, though, if maybe those folks like Fred had a point…
Despite it being well worn story-telling ground, I liked the episode. Patricia Richardson – who you might remember as Jill Taylor from “Home Improvement” – was terrific as Rachel. The motivation of making the station she inherited succeed made sense. It also made sense that she was having more financial success with rock and roll than with other genres.
The Chubby Checker cameo was great, too. I do not mind Sam being the inventor of “the Twist” dance move if Chubby Checker himself signed off on and appeared in the story. And I guess in a roundabout way, Chubby taught Sam who then taught it back to Chubby.
Al seemed to really be in his element as a helper for Sam as a DJ. Al is rarely not in his element, though. I am beginning to see why he was chosen to be Sam’s assistant in the Quantum Leap project.
Speaking of… Scott Bakula really got to cut loose in this episode. His Manic Radio DJ persona was fun to watch. He acted relatively far outside the confines of what I assume his personality was, prior to Quantum Leap, but it is plausible that someone could tap into their hidden inner DJ and find a talent.
The stakes are relatively low but this is one of the best episodes of the series to this point.