I have been very fortunate in the 42 years that I have been an Engineer in New York Radio to work with some of the very best people in the business. In fact, if I started a list of the DJs, talk hosts, and programmers I’ve been lucky enough to work with, and for, it would be a “Who’s Who” list of the best in New York Radio over the past 40 years. While I’m telling stories here, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about some of these great pros. So here goes…… Might as well start with someone who most folks would have at the top of their Top 10 lists of all time great DJs, and that would be Dan Ingram.
Like most kids who grew up in the New York area, I had listened to Dan a lot since he started at WABC in July of 1961. The first time I met Dan as a WABC employee, was probably the second week I worked at WABC, in August of 1976. Like most new hires in the Engineering Department back then, I started on the overnight. It was slower and easier to get your feet wet in the middle of the night, and since you were still working on the air at WABC and WPLJ and doing news production, you got exposed to everything that a Group 2 NABET engineer would do on the 8th floor. Working on the overnight was also a way to size up the new hires, and to make sure they were solid enough to work the rest of the day parts. After a couple of days on the overnight, I started slowly moving around the day parts until about 7 or 8 days into my time at WABC, I found myself working with my training engineer on Dan’s show. On the day I started at WABC (Sunday, August 8, 1976), they started destructing Studio 8A, the main air studio to build a new studio, and we were working out of Studio 8B which Dan and others called “the trailer”. That’s because it was the same length as 8A, but was only about one quarter of the width. So anyway, I had just finished up working an hour or so with Ron Lundy with good results, so it’s decided I’m going to stay on the board. In the last record of the hour, Ron packs up his gear and Dan comes in, and just before he sits, he extends his right hand across the over bridge and says, “Hi, I’m Dan Ingram” to which I reply, “I know”. Snappy come back, huh?
One of my Dan Ingram stories happened 4 years before that fateful day, when I first met him in 1976. In the spring of 1972, I got hired in my first NY Radio job as an audio engineer at WHN radio, and after initial training, most days I worked the afternoon shift, which started at 4 PM. As I wasn’t that far out of college yet, a lot of days I would spend the morning and early afternoons out at WCWP, the CW Post radio station. A little before 2, I’d hop into the car and drive into Queens to take the subway to WHN at 400 Park Avenue. Well of course, even though I worked at WHN, my car radio was set to WABC and I’d get to listen to 30 or 40 minutes of Dan’s show before I got to the subway in Forest Hills. As always, Dan had some funny comment about the titles of the songs he played, often times a change of meaning from what the song writer had in mind. So I’d listen to Dan on the way to work, and then later that same day, I’d be on the air with Jack Spector at WHN. During the first 6 months or so I worked at WHN, we played a kind of middle of the road soft WNEW type format, and some of the new records we played were the exact same records that were being played on WABC. Many times Jack Spector would schedule a record that I’d just heard Dan talk up on my way into the city. Unconsciously, I’d hit Jack with the comment that Dan had made in his intro, and on many occasions what I’d just said would come out of Jack’s mouth as he introed the song! I realized that I was the unintentional vehicle through which Jack Spector was stealing from Dan Ingram, which caused me to stop listening to Dan on my way to work! Luckily, less than 6 months after I started at WHN, we flipped to a country format, so that issue no longer existed, and I was back to listening to Dan on my way to work! As far as I know, no one but me ever realized what was happening….
On July 3rd, 1981 Dan Ingram celebrated his 20th Anniversary on WABC, and I, along with George Musgrave, were the two guys scheduled to engineer the show, and I even got a shout out when he was on the air with Cuzin Brucie! WABC News Man Rick James had done a lot of prep on things that had happened in the world during the 20 years, plus we had audio clips of highlights of his past 20 years at WABC, lots of phone guests scheduled, and a big selection of the music that Dan had played during the 20 years. We had a great time that afternoon, enhanced I’m sure because that July 3rd was a Friday, and a company holiday because July 4th fell on a Saturday that year, and WABC was empty! (Yes….remember back to the days that even big stars like Dan Ingram worked 6 day weeks and holidays?). The show was a wonderful look back at Dan’s career at WABC and how he got there, but it was also a great look back at the history of one of the world’s greatest radio stations, Musicradio 77 WABC! There was the British Invasion, the W A Beatle C period, the great DJs like Cuzin Brucie and Scott Muni, transit strikes, snow storms, black outs, old jingles and the music. We had a great afternoon, and really, a party on the air. and in 8A, as the only people on the floor, were the operations folks that day. Little did we know that by the next July, WABC Musicradio would be replaced by WABC Talkradio, and our time working with the likes of Dan Ingram would be over! 20 years later, on July 3rd, 2001, on the 40th Anniversary of his debut on WABC, Dan was a guest on WABC’s John Gambling Show, which I was also the engineer for. I talked to Dan on the phone that day just before he went on the air, and it was fun to let him know about that little bit of trivia that I’d engineered both his 20th anniversary AND his 40th anniversary on WABC!
Of course,what everybody remembers about Dan was the Ingram wit. Even if you didn’t get to listen to his whole show, catching the show open and the show close became the first instance of appointment radio for many in the New York Metropolitan area! He was a fast thinker and a funny thinker, and much of what came out of his mouth was not planned, and certainly not scripted. Take his closes for instance. During the 6 years I worked with him, often times I’d be on the board as his close approached. A lot of days he’d be looking for a topic to have fun with over this closing music, and I was lucky enough to have a suggestion that he liked, and was the beneficiary of several Ingram closes. Like in 1977, when I was still a VR and got a letter in mid December that I was to be laid off on Christmas Eve…that became an Ingram close. Or the day after Thanksgiving one year, when driving into the ABC Building, I hit a pot hole on the LIE and lost a wheel cover…that became an Ingram close. Or on September 29th, 1980, when I told him that a year ago we’d both been at my wedding….Susie and my first anniversary became an Ingram close that day!
Funny things just came out of Dan’s mouth and they did it with very little effort, and once they were out, they were forgotten…like his intro from Neil Diamond’s Holly Holy, which I remember him subtitling on the radio, as “The story of a religious carburetor”. Anytime I hear that record I remember that phrase, and so in 1980 I’m sitting on the board in 8A, and Dan puts Holly Holy on the overbridge as the next record to play, and I say, “Oh, the story of a religious carburetor”. Dan says to me, “Hey, I like that. Can I use it on the air?” To which I replied, “Why not…I stole it from you a long time ago!” Dan didn’t have a set of cue cards, or a reference library that he’d go back to, or a Rolodex loaded with his best lines. He was funny, and once he said something that many of us will always remember, it was out of his head! I will remember this line for the rest of my life, but on that day in 1980 when I said it back to him, he had no clue that it had originated with him!
The last time I saw Dan was on a dinner cruise WABC sponsored to mark the 25th Anniversary of switching from music to talk in 2007. It had been a long time since we sat across the board from each other in Studio 8A at the ABC Building and I went up to him and said, “Mr. Ingram, I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Frank D’Elia and I used to be your engineer at WABC.” Not only did he remember, me but said something that I will always treasure. “Frank”, he said, “you were one of the smartest engineers I ever worked with. I had no idea why you were doing the job, but I know that every time you walked through the door into 8A, I was happy you were.” Yea, nice to know that the best DJ most of us will ever get to hear, thought I was one of the best engineers he’d ever worked with. I’ll take that!
Listen to a couple of classic Dan Ingram show closes that I was involved in:
Dan Ingram was the voice of WABC on TV http://youtu.be/T2ddp_sjRHI
Listen to Dan’s 20th Anniversary Show http://youtu.be/Y4xSoJYufDI