Sue and Frank D'Elia on 95.5 WPLJ Sue and Frank D'Elia on Radio Stories – Moving T… Joel Thorne on Radio Stories – Moving T… Joseph Honerkamp on April 17th, 1972 Neil Leibowitz on The Palace that was the ABC…
Last Tuesday night, 400 folks said goodbye to a great radio station. This was my take on a sad but happy event.
The Sale of WPLJ
On February 13th of this year, Cumulus Media announced that it was selling a number of radio stations to the Educational Media Foundation for $103.5 Million. Included in the deal was WPLJ Radio in New York City.
While it’s true that once I became a NABET Group 7 in 1983, my job at ABC had almost entirely to do with WABC, I was originally hired as a member of the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department in 1976, and was member of that department for as long as it existed. In fact, for the first 6 years of my life at ABC, my on-the-air assignments included as much time at WPLJ as it did at WABC.
The station that was WPLJ when I got there, went on the air on May 4, 1948 with the call letters WJZ-FM. In March 1953, following the merger of the American Broadcasting Company with United Paramount Theaters, WJZ-AM and WJZ-TV became WABC and WABC-TV, and the former WJZ-FM became WABC-FM. In the beginning, it was just a simulcast of the programing on WABC, but in the early 60s, WABC-FM began to program itself separately, and over the next several years, tried various formats. During the 1962–63 New York City newspaper strike, the station carried a news format for 17 hours daily, but there were also stints with Broadway show tunes and general freeform programming, including broadcasts of New York Mets baseball games. At one point, WABC-AM personalities, Dan Ingram, Chuck Leonard, and Bob Lewis, hosted programs on the FM side which were very different from the shows they did on Musicradio 77 WABC.
Then in 1968, ABC split its radio network into four distinct Networks, one of which was dedicated to FM radio, and the following year, WABC-FM began carrying an automated, youth-oriented, progressive rock format known as the Love Format, but that was destined to last only a couple of years. Late in 1970, Allen Shaw, the then-president of ABC’s FM station group, announced that the ABC FM stations would drop the Love Format and instead would go to a completely live-and-local, rock format. At the same time, ABC would apply to the FCC for new station call letters to further separate themselves from their AM sister stations, and on February 14, 1971, WABC-FM officially became WPLJ.
In September of 1971, one of the first AOR formats was instituted on WPLJ. The slogan of the station was “Rock ‘N Stereo”. Artists would include Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Elton John, Deep Purple, Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, David Bowie and The Allman Brothers, but they would also play pop songs from artists such as James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Carly Simon. The station was different from WABC in that they played more album tracks, and the audience reacted by making WPLJ one of New York’s most listened-to FM rock stations for most of the 1970s.
When I first got to WPLJ in 1976, Jim Kerr was the morning man, John Zacherle handled middays, Pat St. John afternoon drive, followed by Tony Pigg, and Carol Miller, with Viv Roundtree doing overnights and Jimmy Fink, Dave Charity, and Bob Marone working weekends. The night I started at ABC, was the night that WABC’s main air studio was being taken apart. It was the beginning of the process of building new studios for WABC and WPLJ, with with custom designed Rupert Neve boards. The WPLJ’s FM-1 Studio was old and it showed it! There was a huge Gates board with big round pots and lots of channel assignment switches above each pot. It was so long that you almost needed a chair on rails to get quickly from one end of the board to the other! They tried to keep the studio as up to date as possible, but after years of use, it was in need of rehab, but that was not to come for several months. Running the board required you to remember where everything was located, to not hit one of the turntable or cart remotes that were located in the table in front of you, and to do a smooth mix of records, commercials, and the DJ. We had one Engineer (the late, great Jerry Zeller) who would often times do what was called “normalize the studio” when you relieved him. What these words meant was that Jerry would flip all those channel assignment switches to a neutral position…just the thing for a new guy to try and figure out, before he had to play the next record or open the DJ’s mic! Luckily, a brand new FM-1 studio was just months away, and the very clever design of it made it very easy to run!
Soon after starting at ABC, I worked a schedule that included 3 nights during the week, and two weekend overnights. As I said before, we went back and forth between WABC and WPLJ, and on my schedule I was mostly working with Pat St. John, Tony Pigg, or Carol Miller. The difference between AM and FM was huge, and way beyond just the music we played. While WABC’s studio was large and always bright, WPLJ’s was small and always dark. While it was not uncommon to have Dan Ingram or Chuck Leonard sitting on the air smoking a cigarette, the things that were smoked in the WPLJ studio were very different. While all we played at WABC was carts, at PLJ there were lots and lots of albums that we played on turntables. You might say the differences were like night and day!
While it was great to work with someone as knowledgeable about the music and radio as Pat St. John, I really developed a bond with Tony Pigg. We had a great time when we worked together, and always found something to talk about, and Tony had some great stories to share! There was very little we couldn’t talk about, and I remember a lot of laughter during the times we were in FM-1 together. We even had a “Wine Club”, where on a rotating basis on Saturday night’s, one of us would bring in a bottle of wine. Our two rules was it had to have a cork, and cost under $5! Tony was at our wedding when Susie and I got married in 1979, and a couple of years later, when #1 son Billy showed up, Tony gave us the smallest WPLJ T-Shirt I have ever seen.
The announced sale of WPLJ last month (announced just one day before the 48th anniversary of the birth of the call letters) triggered these memories of my association with the station, that started over 40 years ago. Unfortunately, everything that has happened since, was triggered by the Disney decision that radio was not part of their core businesses back in 2007. Subsequent to that decision, the ABC O&O Radio Stations, and the ABC Radio Network were first sold to Citadel, which went into bankruptcy, which was then bought by Cumulus, which also went into bankruptcy, and it was that which ultimately led to the decision to split the NY AM/FM Radio siblings forever. From WJZ-FM, to WABC-FM, to WPLJ, the FM station had always been a partner to WABC. From the minute I walked through the door of the ABC Building all those years ago, WPLJ was always a part of my radio family. From running the WPLJ Board in my early days, to working on WPLJ Dr. Pepper Concerts in Central Park, to helping out at the WPLJ Transmitter in the Empire State Building (still as high as I’ve ever been at Empire), to attending parties, to moving the two radio stations from the ABC Building to 2 Penn Plaza in the late 80s, to the friendships that exist there to this day, 3 years after I retired, I have always thought of these two radio stations as one.
In the near future, probably in the summer of 2019, when the sale closes, these two stations that have been siblings since WJZ-FM first went on the air in 1948, will no longer be in the same family. From the time I got there in 1976, when both of the stations were highly successful, through changes in formats, through WPLJ going Combo, through the sale of ABC, first to Capital Cities and then Disney, to moving out of the ABC Building, and to the real hell that it created for the stations and their staffs when Disney/ABC sold them in 2007, the one constant was the WABC/WPLJ partnership. Sadly, that is over, and now friends and colleagues, some I’ve known forever and some for just a short time, will be looking for work and a new radio home.
I loved the radio business, and it was was my home for over 44 years, but today, radio sucks!
April is over, and I have officially been retired for three months, after my 40 years at WABC Radio. April also holds my other radio anniversary, as it was on April 17th, 1972 that I started at WHN Radio in New York, making it now officially 44 years since I first started working in New York Radio. I’ve been asked these last 3 months if I miss it, and my answer is always the same….No! I don’t miss waking up in the dark with the alarm, I don’t miss the Long Island Rail Road trip to Manhattan every day, and if I do miss anything, it’s some of the people. Not all of them, but some of them.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to reconnect with a lot of folks that were there when this life of mine started. The occasion was this year’s Induction Ceremony for the WCWP Radio Hall of Fame. You see, WCWP, the College Radio Station of C.W. Post is where it all started for me. If you remember my Blog Post, The First Time I Walked Into WABC, you may remember my story about starting at WCWP in my Junior year of college. At that point in my life, I obviously had no idea of what I was going to do with my life, and was in my 3rd or 4th college major. You also may remember the story of how a simple question that I was asked by WCWP Chief Engineer Bill Mozer, would change my life in ways I never even imagined! I’d been working at WCWP for about 7 or 8 months, and I guess had passed the “Mozer Test”, when he said to me one afternoon, “Do you want to come to work with me tonight?” By work, Bill meant did I want to drive into Manhattan with him where he was an Engineer at WABC and WPLJ Radio. Of course, I said yes, and to a great degree, the rest is history!
I was lucky enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame 2 years ago, along with several friends from my days at Post, Bill Epperhart and Ted David. Last year we were joined by Bobby G and Mike Riccio, two other friends from our college days, and two of the younger guys who we overlapped with, Jeff Kroll and Bruce Leonard. Yesterday, the third of those younger guys, Joe Honerkamp joined up with his two brother musketeers, Jeff and Bruce, to complete the set! Also yesterday, a very special lady, Mrs. Ann Gaffney was posthumously inducted in the Hall of Fame. “Mrs. G” was the WCWP Station Secretary from 1971 to 1984, and was, in a real sense, the Station Mom to hundreds of students who went through the station during those 13 years. She was always available for advice or a kick in the pants…whatever the situation warranted!
From yesterday’s WCWP Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
Fortunate to have worked with all three of these WCWP Hall of Famers…Joe and Jeff at WHN and Bill for many years at WABC.
As these things are, it’s always a nostalgic time seeing folks who I first met back when I was a teenager! As I turned off Northern Blvd. onto the Post Campus, I realized that this September it will be 49 years since I started as a Freshman at what was then known as C.W. Post College of Long Island University (today it’s the CW Post Campus of LIU). Where have the years gone, was a common question we all asked yesterday!
One of the biggest pleasures was to be there with former Director of Broadcasting, Bill Mozer, and current Director of Broadcasting, Dan Cox. Bill is the one that asked me that all important question over 45 years ago, that really started my life. Bill set the bar high at WCWP, expecting those that worked there to understand that excellence was to be the norm. It was that attitude that turned out folks who had no problem moving into the commercial world, be it at local radio stations, or network operations like ABC or NBC. Because those first hires did so well, the WCWP reputation of excellence spread, and it became a great leg up to come out of that little radio station on Long Island. I’m proud to say that under Dan Cox, that is still the case as attested to by the number of new WCWP Alumni that I was pleased to work with at WABC before I retired!
It was great seeing Harry, Bill, Jeff, Pat, Bobby, Bruce, and Bernie, who I have known for close to 50 years, and seeing folks like Suzanne, Dan, Pete, Jay, and others that are newer WCWP friends! It was great to be there to see Joe and Mrs. G inducted into the WCWP HOF, and to once again be a part of that little radio station on Long Island! Who knew that when I walked into the Benjamin Abrams Communications building 47 years ago, that the path of my life would forever be changed. Who knew that walking into that building would lead to my life’s work, to my wife and my family, and to my oldest son’s career path some 30+ years later!
Jeff Kroll said yesterday that most of us didn’t join a fraternity or sorority at Post because WCWP was our sorority or fraternity. He went on to say, it was our family! The great thing about family is that no matter how long you are away from them, or how far away your travels take you, you can always go home and are welcomed with open arms! That’s really what it feels like every time I’m anywhere that a number of my sisters and brothers are gathered.
Today is Friday, February 26th, 2016. Four weeks ago today, on Friday, January 29th, I worked my last day at WABC. The last four weeks have been a mix of fun times….retirement parties, get togethers with our family, time spent with friends, and doing what we want, when we want, but there also have been Doctor’s appointments for both Susie and myself, and issues dealing with her Mom. So, the last month has been busy, but it has also been easier to deal with it all because we were able to do it all on our schedule. You have no idea how much fun it is when you’re making Doctor’s appointments and you’re asked, “Do you need a late afternoon appointment?”, to reply, “No, I’m retired. I can come anytime.”
First, I have to thank New York Market Manager Chad Lopez for an incredible sendoff after my 40 years at WABC. On my last Thursday, there was a lunchtime pizza party in the conference room for me. That was followed up late that afternoon by a retirement party at Lucie’s Cantina around the corner from WABC. Surrounded by my family, my current group of WABC. WPLJ, WMBM, and Nash FM Family, with some special visits from past 17th Floor Family members, it was a really excellent celebration! Then, on Friday after the floor’s typical Free Bagel Friday breakfast, he took me out to lunch with Leslie Slender at Nick and Stefs Steak House! A good guy who made me feel very special, and who I’m sorry I only worked for during my last 10 months of employment!
Then, thanks to my wonderful wife Susie, there was another great Retirement Party on my last day, at one of our favorite Mineola spots, The St. James Restaurant. Surrounded by lots of neighborhood friends, some folks I’d just finished working with, some folks I used to work with, and my family, it was another wonderful part of what was shaping up to me an incredible weekend!
But wait….there’s more! On Saturday night, it was time for one more celebration, this one just for family. That night Susie, Krissi, Kenny, Billy, Lori and I had an incredible dinner at one of our all time favorites, Piccolos of Mineola. This has been the site of many D’Elia Family celebrations, and what better place to celebrate the end of my 44 years of working in New York Radio, surrounded by the love of my life and our children! It was another special moment in a couple of days that were filled with special moments!
After a round of celebrations like this (and Susie has one more planned next month for our Ocean City Family down at the shore) ,I joked that the best present anyone could have given me was a free pass to the Betty Ford Clinic! So far, so good!
So today, I’m out in the car on the way home from a morning Doctor’s appointment, and I did something I haven’t done in 4 weeks! I punched the car radio to the AM band, pushed button number 3, and for the first time since I walked out the door, I listened to WABC. I heard a few minutes of the new (well, not so new now) Bernie and Sid show, and then heard my good friend Noam Laden’s 10:30 AM News (good job Noam by the way). I also heard a few promos (which I used to do on a weekly basis) and a few commercials, that I did all the time. After about 5 or 6 minutes, I once again pushed the Sirius/XM selector and went back to listening to 60s on 6, and thinking back to those days a real long time ago, when I used to play that exact music on Musicradio 77, WABC.
After four weeks of not being a part of the radio station, it was kind of funny to be listening to voices I knew, doing something very familiar to me, but feeling some what disconnected. I guess I have made the transition from participant to listener, and although a lot of these folks are friends on Facebook, and in that way are still in my life, I no longer have a radio life, and you know what? I don’t miss it one bit! So, as long as I don’t drive Susie nuts, and she will put up with having me around 24/7, I think I could get used to this retirement thing…I really do!
Next week, we commence our first retirement, “We Can Go Anytime We Want Because We’re Retired” trip! We’re heading down to Florida, and we’re going to take in a couple of Mets Spring Training games, spend three nights at Walt Disney World (thank you ABC for my lifetime Disney retiree privileges), and just have a good time. We’re driving, and looking forward to spending about 10 days doing what we want to, when we want to, on what we hope will be the first of many of these trips!
I’m sure I will return to more Radio Stories as I look back on my 44 years of craziness in NY Radio, but for the immediate future, I’m thinking more about me and Susie and what’s next! Follow as we go forward to our next chapter on our new blog called, R New Adventures (http://rnewadventures.com). Hope to see you there, and that you’ll be along for the ride!!!
Well, as today is the last day I will ever walk into WABC Radio as an employee, thought it might be fun to look back on the first time I walked into the WABC Studios on the 8th Floor of the ABC Building at 1330 Avenue of the Americas. It was the fall of 1969, and at the time, I was a junior at C.W. Post College on Long Island, and I was probably in my 3rd or 4th major. I have always been jealous of those who knew early in life what their career path would be, because I had no idea, and during the first couple of years of college, my major changed whenever I had a class I liked. I had, however, started to work at the college radio station, WCWP, the year before, and liked that a lot. Unfortunately, in those days, Post did not have a broadcasting or a communications major, so I stayed a music major, still not really sure of where my life would take me.
I started at WCWP doing news, then branched out to a DJ show, was named News Director, and eventually started to do a lot of production and “engineering” type work. We were very lucky that during this time, the Chief Engineer at WCWP was Bill Mozer. Bill was just a little older than most of us, but Bill knew early on what he wanted to do in life, had the technical savvy, and went into radio. By the time I first met Bill, he’d already been an engineer at WTFM, and now was a member of the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department! As you can well imagine, this sounded like a magical job to a bunch of radio station geeks in the late 60s.
Bill was always great with radio stories and relating to us what it was like to work in the business, and anytime he was in the station, you could always find a couple of students hanging around talking to him. He worked the 4 to midnight shift at ABC, but he was off on Friday and Saturday, and on at least one of those nights, you could depend on Bill being around the station, perhaps a dinner run (most times to the Roslyn Café), and definitely a late night of radio talk. I’d been working at WCWP for about 7 or 8 months, and I guess had passed the “Mozer Test”, when he said to me one afternoon, “Do you want to come to work with me tonight?” The answer of course was a definite, “Yes!”
We got into his Volvo, drove into the city, he parked in the basement garage of the ABC Building, and we took the elevator up to the 8th Floor. When the doors opened, I was confronted for the first time with the WABC lobby…and what a lobby it was! It was orange, and I mean ORANGE – the walls, the floor, the receptionist’s desk, everything! There was a big Musicradio logo with concentric circles going out from it. It was a real attention getter, and boy did it get mine! We made a right turn, and went through a door into the studio area. He showed me a couple of WABC production studios, and then went and checked the “checkboard”. This was a large graphic display that showed where every engineer on the floor was scheduled that day. Bill saw that he was in News Control, and off we went.
In those days there were close to 40 NABET engineers working on the 8th floor, and nothing technical happened unless an engineer did it. News Control was the place where news cuts were produced, interviews with reporters were recorded, the WABC transmitter was controlled, and where engineers rotated in and out of all during their shifts. It was connected to Studio 8A, WABC’s main air studio by glass walls, and Bill put the air monitor up on the speakers and we were able to both watch, and listen, to Dan Ingram’s afternoon show.
After a couple of minutes, Bill said, “Do you want to meet Dan?” Did I even have to answer??? We went into 8A after the next stop set, and Bill introduced me to a man who was a living legend in New York radio. I have no idea what I said, but I’m sure I appeared to be a jackass, and probably just stood there babbling. Little did I know when my day started that morning, that by 5PM I’d be standing in WABC’s studio, meeting a man I’d listened to on the radio for years. WOW!
The rest of the time I spent with Bill at WABC that evening was just as amazing. Frankly, much of the evening was a blur! I know we had dinner in the studio with Cousin Brucie, and later I met Chuck Leonard, but there are huge patches of the night for which I have no recollection. I watched Bill and the rest of the engineers “work” (seemed more like fun to me back then), and by the time his shift ended at 12 midnight, and we were heading back to the garage to get his car, I had a much better idea how I wanted to spend the rest of my life! I’d been bitten by the WABC radio bug!!
WABC was the first real radio station I’d seen, and frankly, if this was what it was like to work as an engineer in New York Radio, then this is what I wanted to do! They say that you’ve got to love what you do, and watching the young guys who worked evenings at WABC, how could you not love what they did? Sitting, having fun playing music at the most listened to radio station in the country (and perhaps the world)?? What wasn’t fun about that? You could say that with that one night visit in 1969, Bill Mozer had changed the pattern of my life forever!
When Bill dropped me back at WCWP that night, I had a direction, and started figuring out what I needed to do to end up at WABC. I immersed myself in the work of WCWP, doing as many different things and learning as much as possible. Although Post didn’t have a broadcasting major, they did offer a number of broadcasting courses under the Theater Arts department, and in the following years, I took them all. I continued to take other courses, and remained a music major, but my focus now was on becoming a broadcast engineer.
One of the things you needed to get a job at WABC, was an FCC First Class Radio Telephone license. Upon graduation from Post, I enrolled in the First Class FCC course at Announcer Training Studios in Manhattan, and learned all the math, the formulas and the rules needed to pass the FCC course. After 6 months of classes, it was time to go down to the FCC office and take the first of the two tests that you needed. Sitting in a very old office, surrounded by guys taking Morse code tests, armed with a slide rule and my head full of formulas, I managed to pass the harder of the two tests, and got my Second Class license. A couple of weeks later, I was back to take the easier (to me) rules and regulations test, and when I passed that, it was time to send out my resumes!
OK…so this was the moment of truth! I was a college graduate armed with a brand new FCC First Class Radio Telephone Operator license, and I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but it was out of my hands. In response to my mass mailing of resumes, there were lots of reply letters and phone calls, most of which went something like, “Thanks for your interest…we’ll keep your resume on file”. I went into the Personal Office at CBS, and after filling our reams of applications that had nothing to do with broadcasting (?), they told me that they promoted from within (??). But it wasn’t all bad news. Bill had set me up with an interview at WABC with Chief Engineer Win Lloyd, and that went pretty well. I got called in for an interview at WINS, and went in for an interview with WHN Chief Engineer Pappy Durkin. Ultimately, I got offered jobs at WHN and from WABC.
So I took the job at WABC and my goal was met, right? Nope…I didn’t! Both jobs that I was offered were for Vacation Relief Engineer positions – someone who covers while the regular staff engineers are on summer vacation. At WABC, the “vacation season” ran from May through October. While WHN paid a little less per week, their vacation season ran from April through the end of the year. Although WABC was the dream, WHN was the reality. I started on April 17th, 1972 at WHN, and spent the next 4 years working there. I met some great folks, and learned a heck of a lot about radio.
Four years later, when a new IBEW union contract called for 2 less engineers at WHN, I left. (Well, I got bought out..a year’s pay with which I bought a boat!) Once again, Bill set up an interview for me with Chief Engineer Win Lloyd and Assistant Chief Bob Deitsch. This time it was more like 3 radio guys sitting around talking, rather than an interview. WABC was still the place to be in my mind, and this time I took the job. I started at WABC on August 7th, 1976, and frankly, it was everything I thought it would be! Thanks Bill!!
August 7th, 1979 to January 29th, 2016…..26 years old to 66, in the blink of an eye!
Of all the on the air people I have worked with in the 40 years I’ve been at WABC, I have worked with none longer, than my friend Johnny Donovan. With the exception of the last six months – Johnny decided in 2015 that it was time for him to hang up his headphones and retire, he has been the one consistent in my WABC life. Music, Program Directors, General Managers, DJs, Talk Hosts, fellow engineers, and even companies have come and gone, but not Johnny! Johnny Donovan worked at WABC Radio for 43 years. I first worked with him on the air during one of my first weeks as an Engineer at WABC…who knew then that I’d work with Johnny longer than any other on-the-air person in my time in radio!
Johnny started in commercial radio in New York’s Hudson Valley in 1963, meaning he’s got better than 50 years in the business! After stints in several smaller New York and New Jersey markets, he moved to New York City doing overnights on WOR-FM in 1968. WOR-FM was a classic Bill Drake programmed station, and the name Johnny Donovan was actually given to him by Bill Drake! Johnny was doing mid days 4 years later at WOR-FM, when on July 9th, 1972, he moved from the FM dial to the AM dial, and to his home for 43 years, WABC. During the music days at WABC, Johnny was the glue that held the place together as the main fill-in person, as well as holding down his own regular weekend shifts. For the last several years before talk, Johnny held down a Monday through Friday mid-day shift.
When WABC switched in 1982 from Musicradio to Talkradio, Johnny stayed on as a Staff Announcer, but that position quickly morphed into the position of Production Director, as Johnny became one of the pre-eminent voice and production people in the radio business. For the last 33 years, Johnny’s hands (and voice) have been involved in thousands of commercials and spec spots, show opens (no one else can say that they’ve been the voice of the Rush Limbaugh Show since it debuted in 1988), WABC station production pieces, and special programming (Johnny produced, and was the host for 10 years, of the yearly WABC Rewound broadcast, that looked back every Memorial Day weekend at the Musicradio days of WABC). To say that Johnny has left his mark on WABC, and on NY Radio, would not, I think be an exaggeration.
When I wrote one of these pieces about George Michael, I told the following story that had to do with Johnny’s years as WABC’s chief fill-in person:
“By the time I came to WABC, George was doing the weekend sports on WABC, and commentator on Islander games. Now since hockey is not an everyday sport, George would be gone a couple of nights a week. There was one night in particular that Johnny Donovan was filling in, that he and I will still occasionally talk about to this day. Remember how I said that George was a team player, and wanted his engineers to be as invested in the show as he was? Well, on this particular night that Johnny was filling in, the show had just started, and he handed me a song, and I told him we didn’t play that category at that point. Then he called for a jingle combination, and I replied, “no, we play a medium and a sonovox here”, then after I segued from the song, to the jingle, to the new song, he called for the mic, and I shook my head NO. At that point, Johnny went back to his magazine and told me, “fine…just do the show and tell me when to talk.” Some days I wonder why he still talks to me!!”
Then there was the day I came back from WOR as a permanent member of the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department. It was Monday, October 16, 1978, and even though I hadn’t worked at WABC since February, I was assigned a 6AM shift so that I could visit the company Doctor and go to Personnel and get all my paperwork done during the day. From the moment I got the phone call from Win, I dreaded the fact that after not running the board at WABC for over 8 months, the first thing I had to do on my return was work with Harry early on a Monday morning!! All I could think of was how Harry seemed to forget what his headphones sounded like from Saturday to Monday, and what a pain it was doing the show first thing out of the box Monday morning!! So, here I am about 5:30, walking down 53rd Street from the subway towards the ABC Building, and as I get to the driveway for the garage, I see Johnny’s Ford Fairmont sitting there, and realized that my first permanent shift at WABC would be with HIM, and NOT Harry! So, the first DJ I worked with at WABC as a permanent member of the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department was a man I’d work with for almost the rest of my WABC life!
Often times, when talking about the Musicradio days, Johnny would say, “If I knew it was going to be so important later in life, I would have paid more attention.” Well, I know there are so many more moments he and I have shared, but as he says, had I realized they’d be important, I would have paid more attention!
Also, if I knew we were going to work together so long, I probably would have been nicer to him that night when he filled in for George, but since Johnny enjoys telling that story about as much as I do, I guess all’s well that ends well!
To be in the New York Radio market…the #1 Radio Market in the country for 47 years, is an accomplishment very few can match, but that’s only the tip of the Johnny Donovan iceberg! Johnny is the undisputed leader in on-the-air voices at WABC. No one else has his history of being heard both in the Musicradio and the Talkradio days, and with a 43 year tenure as a WABC employee, there haven’t been many over the years who could come close to that either!! Combine that with his status as a Drake Jock from his WOR-FM days, his 27 year history as the voice of the Rush Limbaugh Show, and I know I’m not alone when I describe my friend Johnny Donovan as a true New York Radio Legend!
Johnny’s Last Show on Musicradio 77, WABC:
Johnny and WABC Rewound:
Sean Hannity talks to Johnny:
As I said in yesterday’s part one, there are many ways to look at the time we spend at a job, but for many, it all boils down to the numbers. Let’s pick up where we left off yesterday and take a look back at my years at WABC, by the numbers.
1989….We leave the ABC Building at 1330 Avenue of the Americas ,and move to 2 Penn Plaza, just above Penn Station. The move outside of ABC property is in case the FCC says that Cap Cities/ABC can’t keep ownership of one or both radio stations. My commute becomes 3 escalators and and elevator ride to the 17th floor.
April, 1989…in the midst of NABET/ABC contract negotiations, new contract proposals come out and Radio Engineers are not in them! What?? This is the first salvo of the second round of cutting NABET jobs in radio, and although we did end up in the final contract, there were less of us in the mix. We lost some good folks who took the opportunity to jump to TV, and some of our longest folks got a nice buyout after years of service to ABC. This contract was also the beginning of the separate Radio Seniority List. Hard to believe that there were 36 NABET Engineers at local radio (WABC and WPLJ) when I started!
2/9/96….the day the mouse arrived! After 10 years of working for CapCities/ABC, ABC becomes part of the Walt Disney Company, and suddenly we go from being employees, to cast members! Some of us take a bath the next year paying taxes as our CapCities/ABC stock is converted to cash, but hey, we get Disney Park admission tickets!
11/2/98…..NABET calls a 1 day strike against ABC that lasts into 1999! So, on the day before Election Day, 1998 I come to work to discover that the union has called a one day strike against the company. The next day ABC says, nope you’re not coming back and locks us out! For the second time in my ABC life, I’m outside the building picketing rather than inside playing radio! This time, however, I’m not a single guy, but rather a husband and father of 3, with expenses and a mortgage. After 7 weeks, when we are eligible to collect New York State unemployment insurance, I go to the office in Hempstead, and everyone there applying is an ABC employee! I get one unemployment check, and we go back to work in January, 1999!
9/11/2000….After there being a Gambling hosting the morning show for 75 years, in 2000 WOR management informed John R. Gambling that his contract would not be reviewed at the end of the year. Following his September 11th show, John left WOR, and within months, showed up at WABC. John and I had first become friends when I spent a summer at WOR in the late 70s, and he was the evening Staff Announcer. He started doing a Saturday morning show, but within a couple of months, John was doing 10 AM to Noon, Monday to Friday on WABC, and I was his engineer. John and I were both born in 1950, we both lived on Long Island, and we both had twins. Those 2 hours a day were some of my best memories of our talk years, and a place we laughed and had fun daily. We had 8 great years working together every day till February of 2008, when he became victim of a Citadel cost cutting move, and left WABC. He was back doing mornings at WOR in months!
6/12/2007….Disney CEO Bob Iger, declaring that radio is no longer a “core business,” spins off the ABC O&O Radio Stations and the ABC Radio Network to Citadel Broadcasting, run by former CBS money man Farid Suleman. For the first time in over 30 years, I no longer work for ABC! I become a Disney retiree with a lifetime Disney Silver Pass! The slide starts!
12/8/2008….Joe Scarborough Show. So, the idea was to take Joe Scarborough and Mika Brazinski from the CNBC cable show, Morning Joe, and put them on WABC Radio and then within 2 weeks, syndicate the show nationwide. They were both very nice people, but they had no radio experience and they were, after all, TV People. We in radio have always found that TV People are very demanding of many things unrelated to doing a radio show – like breakfast, the correct mustard, and how to fill out a W-2 form. The one bright spot was that when he was a teen in western New York, Joe would listen to George Michael on WABC and we figured out that on some of those nights that he listened, I was probably running the board for George. The show got off to a slow start and stayed there as even the O&O affiliates backed out eventually.
4/26/2010….the Joe Scarborough Show was put on “hiatus” to redevelop it’s format into a new three hour show…we’re still waiting!
3/5/2009 – Citadel stock is officially delisted from the NY Stock Exchange, and the stock closes at 1 cent a share that day.
9/2009….2 year contract extension ends…last raise. Our last NABET/ABC contract ended in 2007, so when Citadel bought the stations, we were without a contract. To get another thing out of the way, Citadel and NABET negotiated a 2 year contract extension, which gave us a small yearly salary increase, but maintained the NABET/ABC contract provisions that had existed. In 2009, based on the financial situation of Citadel and it’s stock, there is no talk of a new contract.
9/16/2011….After 4 years of staff cuts, programming changes, deteriorating stock price leading to eventual delisting from the NY Stock Exchange, and even a bankruptcy, Citadel “merges” with Cumulus, and the 5th, and last, employer enters the picture.
12/31/2013…After 25 years, the Rush Limbaugh Shows moves from WABC down the dial to WOR, and the sound of WABC changes greatly. The show that was credited by many with saving the AM band, has become a political football for the Dickeys (Lew and John…Cumulus big wigs) and although the show does stay on several of it’s other stations, the station that Rush started his network on is no longer his Flagship Station.
12/31/2014…The distribution deal for ABC News that originated when Citadel bought the radio network and was inherited by Cumulus ends, and suddenly the former radio flagship of ABC no longer carries ABC News at the top of the hour, and one more link to my history goes bye bye!
7/16/2015…contract ratified….no raise. A full 6 years after the contract extension expired, a new contract is ratified. We get no raise (a $500 signing bonus), get sick time cut (and now have to pay for Short Term Disability insurance), but we keep our vacation time that dates back to the good old ABC days!
9/29/2015…Perhaps as a Wedding Anniversary present to Susie and I, the Dickey Brothers (Lew and John) leave the Cumulus Building, turning over the running of the struggling company to Mary Berner, a board member with a publishing background. Her first official day is October 13th…so glad to be 65 and NOT 35!
12/10/15….My last WABC Christmas Party. As there are now 4 radio stations on the 17th floor (WABC, WPLJ, WMBM, NASH FM), it’s called the Cumulus NY Holiday Party, and a good time was had by all…even more was had by those of us who continued on to Market Manager Chad Lopez’s after party!
12/18/15…Jill Vitale plans her 4th annual WABC Alumni Party at the Statler Grill. I attend and have a wonderful time and party with folks that I currently work with, and folks I used to work with, including Dr. Judy Kuriansky, who was one of the first WABC talk show hosts way back in the early 80s! We are both slightly older than we were back then, but still fun!
1/2/2016….My 66th birthday! A long way from the 26 year old I was that first night in 1976, but based on the goings-on in the radio business, and specifically in the place I’ve called home since 1976, I’m very glad to be on this end of my work life!
1/4/16….The day I made it official and send in my retirement notice. After a vacation spent working on the emails, I let the world know I am leaving WABC. A VERY strange feeling!
8……Number of WABC GMs in the time I’ve been there. Now, in the old days, WABC and WPLJ had their own GMs. Over the years, some of these folks were GMs for both stations, and recently they’ve been called Market Managers. So when I first got there, the WABC GM was Al Racco, then Jim Haviland, Fred Weinhaus, Don Bolukous, Mitch Dolan, Steve Borneman, Kim Bryant, and now Chad Lopez.
13……the number of WABC PDs over the years. Of course, legendary Musicradio PD Rick Sklyar when I started, followed by Glen Morgan, then Al Brady Law (he was there for a very short time…fired George Michael, Harry Harrison, and Chuck Leonard, and I’m not sure I ever actually met him), Jay Clark, Mark Mason, John Manelli #1, Valerie Geller, John Manelli #2, Phil Boyce, John McConnell (John was I believe VP of Programing while Phil was still PD, so for a brief period we had 2 for 1), Laurie Cantillo, Tony Mascaro (Not sure Tony actually had the PD title, but as the Operations Manager, duties were the same) and Craig Schwab.
17…..WABC morning shows through the years I’ve worked at WABC. A number of years ago, we had a WABC trivia question that went something like, “name the WABC Morning Shows in order from Harry Harrison to the present?” I used to be pretty good at it, but haven’t tried it in years! This is not easy, and a real memory test…I may not remember them all, and some will probably be out of order, but here goes! Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram, Ross and Wilson, Allan Colmes, Art Athens, Dave Dawson, Steve Cane, Rush Limbaugh (did it for 2 weeks and it was great….decided to stay with the network show!), Jay Diamond, Curtis and Lisa (Sliwa wife #2), Lionel, Mike Gallager, Mike Gallager and Penny Krone, Mike Gallager and Lionel, Curtis and Kuby, Imus in the Morning.
2……and finally, number of days of work left for me till it’s all over on January 29, 2016!
There are many ways to look at the time we spend at a job, but for many, it all boils down to the numbers. As it gets towards the end of my days here, I take a look back at my years at WABC, by the numbers.
8/7/76 – This was my first day in the employ of the American Broadcasting Company. I was hired as Vacation Relief Engineer #8, in the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department, making $251 a week. As all new VRs (Vacation Relief) did, I was scheduled on the overnight, and since the ABC/NABET week started on Sunday, I reported for my first day at WABC at 11:45 PM. I remember that Hurricane Belle was approaching NYC that night, and it was raining and windy as I made my way from the E Train to the ABC Building at 1330 Avenue of the Americas.
8A….WABC’s main air studio at 1330 Avenue of the Americas was 8A, and on my first night at work, I helped pull the studio apart. It was about to be rebuilt as the first WABC/WPLJ studio with a Rupert Neve custom board, as designed by George Berger. It was the place where the WABC Magic happened, and the place I loved being!
12/24/76 – The date my original VR assignment ended. Yes, I was terminated on Christmas Eve of 1976. The best thing about that? The memo detailing my termination date was delivered to me one afternoon when I was running the board in Studio 8A for Dan Ingram, and that day I was the subject of a classic Ingram Show close, where I played the part of Tiny Tim in a Christmas Carol with ABC being Ebineezer Scrooge!
1977…..The year I made the least amount I’d made since college. I was hired that year on 4/16/77, and on 5/16/77, NABET went on strike against ABC. We spent that summer on the street in front of the ABC Building, and didn’t return to work till the end of October! Total made for 1977 = $4500.
7/3/77…The day I meet the love of my life! The middle of a 5 month ABC/NABET strike; invited to a July 3rd BBQ at Bill and MaryAnn Epperhart’s house; I help Susie set off some soggy fireworks; my life is set!
1978….The year I thought I was finished at ABC. After working for the first couple of months of the year, WABC Chief Engineer Win Lloyd sent me over to see Paul Stewart, the WOR Chief Engineer, and I started working there in late February. They’d had a delay in studio construction, and had come up against a union situation and needed some help ASAP, and WABC CE Win Lloyd “loaned” me and Mike Phillips to WOR. I finished up at ABC on 2/24/78, and started at WOR the following Monday. It was not ABC, but I’d grown up listening to WOR with my folks. I met some great folks, made some life long friends, and made the most of the situation.
10/15/78 – After a summer away from the 8th floor of the ABC Building, on Monday 10/9/78, I am sitting on the board in WOR’s Studio 2, running the Arlene Francis Show, when WOR Chief Engineer Paul Stewart comes in, stands behind me and tells me that the upcoming Friday would be my last day at WOR. I guess the shock on my face told him that he knew something that I didn’t, and he comforted me with the info that Win had called him and asked him to let me go that day, because I was going to start at ABC the following Monday as a permanent employee! So, although my first work day as a real member of the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department was Monday 10/16/78, my employment started officially on Sunday 10/15/78!
8/27/77…..My NABET Seniority Date. I know….this is out of order, but continue reading, and you’ll see why! So, starting with my hire date, they subtract all the time I’d worked since my first day as an employee in 1976, and had I worked straight through, this is the date I would have originally been hired. Mostly had to do with where I ended up on the ABC/NABET Seniority List should there ever be any layoffs. On the 1981 ABC NY Seniority List, that date was good enough to land me 641 out of 994 New York Engineers. Flip ahead about 10 years and let ABC separate seniority lists by department, and it placed me #13 out of the 33 NABET Engineers in all of radio. Today, it probably makes me one of a handful (with my departure, there is only one NABET Engineer on the 17th floor).
12/26/78…George Michael announces on WABC that I asked Susie to marry me, and that the poor girl said yes!
9/29/79….Susie and I become one, surrounded by many of my ABC Family, including WABC’s Dan Ingram and WPLJ’s Tony Pigg. Our ABC friends give us a $1200 Sony Betamax. Welcome to the VCR era!
9/29/80….As the clock moves up to 6 PM, Dan Ingram is looking for a topic for a show close when I remind him that a year ago he was at my wedding. The close that day become a tale about him losing his car at our wedding!
7/3/81….The 4th anniversary of the day that Susie and I met, and the afternoon of Dan Ingram’s 20th Anniversary Show on WABC, which George Musgrave and I engineer.
Summer of 1982….My pregnant wife working the evening shift as a nurse, and I am offered to work as the WABC Day Group 7, while Saul Rochman tries a summer at ABC TV. From May to October, I’m working Monday – Friday days, seeing Susie here and there.
11/3/82….William Ryan D’Elia joins our world…Susie and I become a Mom and Dad! WABC/WPLJ Chief Engineer Bob Deitsch wakes me up very early on the morning of 11/4 wanting to know what we had!
7/23/83…The day I became a NABET Group Seven. A supervisory engineer..the highest union position one can attain at ABC. 7 years into my stay at ABC, I get to the job that I would do for the rest of my time at WABC. Commercials, production, air checks, special projects, Monday through Friday work schedule…the die was cast! My salary….$774 a week! I get taken to lunch at Ben Benson’s Steak House by Win Lloyd and Bob Deitsch, and Susie and I have dinner at the Top of the Park restaurant in the Gulf and Western Building, and a hansom cab ride to celebrate.
11/20/86….I become the father of twins! 3 D’Elia kids! WABC’s Bob Grant announces the birth of Krissi and Kenny to the world, shortly after their birth at 4:13 and 4:15 PM.
1/3/86…Cap Cities buys ABC. WTF???? Eight of us from the 8th Floor go out to lunch at a local Italian restaurant, and between us, have 8 carafes of wine….I remember little of the day after lunch!
7/4/88….The Rush Limbaugh Show debuts on WABC at 10AM, to be followed 2 weeks later by nationwide syndication, and a friendship blooms between Rush and the D’Elias.
To be continued……
In the almost 44 years since I got my first job in commercial New York radio, at WHN in April of 1972, I was very content to work behind the scenes. I’d had my time on the air in college radio (WCWP at C.W. Post College on Long Island), and knew that my talents and skills served me much better as a member of the team, rather than the guy or gal fronting the show. Unlike a lot of folks I work with today, what I do has never been a stepping stone for me, on the way to another job. I am an audio engineer at a radio station, and that’s what I do. However, in these past 44 years, that is not to say that my life, and that of my family, hasn’t been highlighted on the radio. Join me as I travel down an audio memory lane of, My Life on the Radio!
Let’s start with a brief listen to why I decided to make that decision a long time ago:
I have to thank Radio Historian, and fellow WHN Alumni Peter Kanz, with the following piece of audio he presented me with many years after it originally aired:
Working every day with Jack Spector at WHN, there was always the opportunity to get family mentions during the course of his show:
At WABC, the day after I asked Susie to be my wife, George Michael shared his thoughts on her response:
Then there was my WABC Batchelor Party, first commented on by Dan Ingram:
And then that same day by George Michael:
One of the great things about being on the board with Dan as his show ended, was the opportunity to suggest a topic for his close, like the day I mentioned that a year ago he was at Susie’s and my wedding:
But one of my most cherished bits of Ingram audio, was the following from his 20th Anniversary on WABC:
When our first child was on his way (Billy in 1982), there was this from Mark Summers:
The D’Elia family was also mentioned on WABC when we switched from music to talk. Although I don’t have a copy, Bob Grant announced Krissi and Kenny’s birth, shortly after they were born at 4:13 and 4:15 PM on November 20th, 1986.
When Rush Limbaugh started at WABC, he had a desk in the hall outside of my studio in the ABC Building. He was a part of my everyday work life on WABC, and things we did off the air became topics of discussion on his show. I also became an on-the-air figure on his show: Moe Thacker Union Thug. As the President of the United Screeners of America union, I was a constant thorn in his side. Here’s a collection of some of the best moments:
In this first cut, Rush talks about our annual Long Island Pub Crawl that we did for a number of years:
Rush commented on the extensive vacation that Moe Thacker gets each year:
In this next cut, Rush admits that Moe can be a decent guy, and details some of the discussions we had as we talked each morning when he was in New York:
Rush is offended by not getting Girl Scout cookies!:
Of course, I wasn’t the only member of the D’Elia Family to be highlighted on WABC Radio. Here’s a very young Billy with Lisa Karlin on Mother’s Day:
Susie was also a part of WABC News the day after she delivered a friend’s baby! Here she is with WABC News’ Kathleen Moloney:
Lionel also had advice for Krissi and Kenny one year on July 4th, when I brought them to work with me:
I had first met John Gambling a long time ago in the 8 months I worked at WOR. When John started doing 10 AM to Noon at WABC, I was the engineer for the show, and on the occasion of my 30th Anniversary at WABC, here’s what John had to say:
In 2009 I was engineering the short lived Joe Scarborough Show that was on both WABC and being syndicated. As a young boy in Western New York, Joe had listened to WABC and to George Michael, and knew how big a part of my WABC life George was. Shortly after George died on December 24, 2009, Joe had me on to talk about a man that was a big part of both our lives:
In early January, when I announced that I’d be retiring at the end of the month, I got this special audio message from a man who had been a part of my WABC life from the beginning, to just shy of the end (he retired back in 2015), Johnny Donovan. First as a DJ, and then as the Production Director, Johnny and I had been through a lot together, and this message holds a very special place in my heart!
And last but not least, I was even getting mentioned on other New York radio stations, like this shout out from my friend Dan Taylor, at WCBS-FM:
Heck, Dan even made me a couple of jingles for when I’m playing radio:
So there you have it, a life in, and on, the radio, courtesy of some of the best folks I have had the privilege to work with. It has truly been a pleasure to be a part of all of their shows, and to create the best on the air product we could. That, after all, is what the last 44 years of my life have been all about!!