In the 1960s, in New York Radio, WMCA was truly the “Little Radio Station that Could!” In the new “Top 40” radio format, it was the little 5,000 watt station that was 50,000 watt WABC’s chief competitor. If as Avis said for many years, #2 had to just try harder, then no one tried any harder that the WMCA Good Guys to put their station over the top. Under the direction of legendary Program Director Ruth Meyer, the DJs at WMCA were everywhere promoting their station and extending what they did on the air to their listeners. While WABC had a huge signal, WMCA and the Good Guys owned many parts of New York City where they had a very good signal. During my time in New York radio, I have been very lucky to work with most of the Good Guys, just not at WMCA.
Most of my introductions came at 1050 WHN in New York where I was hired by WHN Chief Engineer, Pappy Dirkin as a vacation relief engineer in spring of 1972. On April 17, 1972 I reported for my first day of work, and within a relatively short time of starting my training that day, I found myself on the air working with a disc jockey! In 1972, WHN’s format was a kind of MOR blend in which you might play a Frank Sinatra song, followed by a Herb Albert Tijuana Brass cut, followed by an instrumental. While they did use carts for commercials and some songs, a lot of the music they played was played on vinyl. In those ancient days of radio, one of the skills you needed to know was how to “slip cue” an album. This involved putting the tone arm on the correct cut, and as soon as you heard audio, actually grabbing the surface of the record with your fingers, stopping it, and then backing it up….all with the turntable still spinning underneath the record. Then when you were cued by the DJ you had to let the record go and turn up the audio pot with your other hand while coordinating the two actions. If you did it right, there was a seamless start of the record on the air.
WHN had been at their 400 Park Avenue studios for many years, and the turntables in the control room were the same huge units that had originally been used to play back 16 inch electrical transcriptions! Now, I’d done slip cuing before, but only on a “normal” turntable, never one of these massive units with about as much torque as a V/8 Mustang! So I’m sitting on the board in the WHN control room, trying to hold on to these records with my nervous sweaty fingers, when this tall man walks into the control room with some papers in his hand. After I start the record, he extends his hand to me and says, “Hi, I’m Jack Spector. These are my music lists and since this is my first day I just wanted to make sure I’d done them correctly.” To which I replied, “Beats the shit out of me…it’s my first day too!” Jack had a good laugh out of that, and that was my introduction to Jack Spector, the first of my Good Guys. Jack was a great guy and a lot of fun to work with. He had been everywhere, had done everything, and had great stories, so there was never a dull moment when you worked with Big Jake! A couple of months after we both got there, WHN changed format and became 1050 Country, and shortly after that, I became Jack’s regular engineer. Now I really got to know Jack, and the lessons I learned from him while we worked together have stayed with me for all my radio life.
With the change to country also came a new program director, and it was the lady who created the Good Guys, Ruth Meyer. To Ruth, the Good Guys were a Family, and so not only did she come to WHN, but so did a large number of the Good Guys – either in full
time rolls, or as weekend guys, or fill in hosts. Over the next couple of years I got to work with Dan Daniel, Joe O’Brien, Dean Anthony, and Ed Baer. Some I got to know very well (Ed Baer was there for a long time and we really became friends out of the station), and others I just worked with for a couple of shifts, but they were all great guys with wonderful stories.
Following what Ruth had done at WMCA, these guys were not just sitting in the studio doing their shows, but they were out in public. We had huge country shows at CWC Post College, a big 1050 Country Fair at a “secret location” (it was St John’s University), listener parties at places all over the area, and just about any other kind of promotion that you can think of that showcased the DJs and the station. It was a very interesting experience to be exposed to her and the way she saw a radio station and these guys who were classic radio DJs. The best was being anywhere with a group of them when they’d start to talk about the WMCA days and get into their stories. They were part of a fascinating time in New York Radio, and to hear the stories of these legends was incredible for a 22 year old who was just starting in the business!
After 4 years at WHN, I left 1050 and moved down the block and down the dial to WABC (both WABC and WHN’s studios were on 54th Street in Manhattan). It was here that I got to know the last piece of my Good Guy Puzzle, Harry Harrison. Having moved right into the WABC Morning Show after leaving WMCA in 1968, Harry was the Morning Mayor of New York. The first morning I was training at WABC, all I had to do was tell Harry that I’d been Jack Spector’s Engineer at WHN and had worked for Ruth Meyer, and I was an accepted member of the team!
WMCA’s Good Guys were the definition of personality radio. Each of them was different and brought different things to the table, but they were all clearly a part of the team. I was very glad to get to meet and work with so many of them, and get to see what that kind of radio was like. How fortunate was I to be at the right place at the right time, when for a brief moment, WMCA was recreated as New York’s 1050 Country! I learned so much about radio and how it worked from these folks. You couldn’t help watching how any of them worked and not learn valuable lessons. From how they approached their radio shows to how they interacted with everyone at the station, every day was a teaching example, and I was glad to be the student. Getting to know these great DJs and their PD Ruth Meyer, and the things I learned from them has had such an impact on my radio life. I can’t think of any way I could have gotten a better education!
My first Good Guy, Jack Spector died March 8, 1994 while on the air at WHLI on Long Island. Jack had worked a lot of places during his radio career, and as sad as it was that Jack was dead at the young age of 65, I think it was very fitting that he died while on the air doing what he loved. In the words of Jack Spector, your Main Man Jake, “Look out street, here I come!”