As my last day in New York Radio fast approaches, I’m thinking back to my first day. On the morning of April 17th, 1972, I was 22 years old, had been a college graduate for less than a year, had a brand new FCC First Class Radio/telephone Operators License, and was about to start my first job in New York City Radio as a member of the 1050 WHN Radio Engineering Department. I was the “kid” in the Engineering Department, with the next oldest guy in his 30s, and the majority of my fellow engineers being closer to my parent’s age than mine. As a 22 year old, some of them seemed ancient to me, but they were probably the age I am now, or even younger. My boss, Chief Engineer Pappy Durkin, had been there since he’d been a kid, and was a living history of the station. There was Sandy, who engineered the Mets games, and who I would only know as a voice on the phone till the season was over in October, and he returned to the 400 Park Avenue studios, who always had a great story to tell. That day I also met New York Radio veteran and legendary WMCA good guy, Jack Spector, and discovered that it was his first day at WHN too! I was just thinking back on those first days of mine in this business, and remembering what it was like to be the kid at the station, now that I am the old man at WABC.
Early on, I think I learned the lesson to keep your eyes and your ears open, and your mouth shut in a new situation, and I think it served me well during my 4 years at WHN. We’ve all seen those new folks who keep trying to impress everyone with how much they know, or where they’ve been, or the worst, WHO they know, and I don’t know about you, but my experience is that those folks usually can’t deliver what they promise. Well, the old guys at WHN took me under their wings, and since I loved their stories of the radio world that was, not only was I entertained, but I learned so much more from them than I ever would have, had I been a young know it all.
From Jack Spector I learned how to work with air talent. I don’t just mean how to take a cue, or what kind of a mix they wanted as they talked over a record, but how to really work with them. I learned that the best way, was to be a team with the person on the air, to understand what their temperament was, and what they wanted from me. It was their show, with their name on the log, so my job was to do whatever I could do to fulfill their desires. If they wanted their headphones to be loud, or the music really low when the talked, then that’s what they got! It was in those early WHN days that I learned that the Engineering Department’s job was service. I learned that the way my ego had to work, if I was going to be successful, was if we made a good team. I’ve seen people in my position trying to force their views of how to do it on DJs and talk hosts (even a young VR at WABC years later who tried to tell Dan Ingram how she ran a studio…that didn’t last long), and it never works out well. In a lot of places, that service mentality has changed, but it has always worked well for me, and almost 44 years later, I think it still works, and is the way it should be. Just one of the many things I learned from Jack…and I learned a lot, because before long, I was his permanent engineer, and we spent every afternoon together. He was great on the air, he was a great entrepreneur, he told great stories of the Good Guys, and he was a great friend for an early 20 something radio neophyte to have!
Now Chief Engineer Pappy Durkin was a treasure trove of stories, be them from his many years of engineering Brooklyn Dodger games, the friendship that developed from that with Jackie Robinson and his wife, or the history of the station and the old people who worked there, many of whom he’d worked with since they were all my age! I could sit by his desk and listen to his stories for hours (and often did), but every day as the clock swept close to 5, story time was over. Pappy would get up from his desk, put out his little cigar, go out to the bathroom, come back, put on his trench coat, grab his NY Times from the desk, and be out in the hall and hitting the elevator’s down button, just as the clock hit 5 o’clock! The lesson that Pappy preached more than once? “Always take your last pee on the company’s time.”
After a spring and summer of getting to know Sandy on the phone, fall brought him back to 400 Park Avenue (early in October as the Mets finished the season with an 83–73 record and in third place in the National League’s Eastern Division), and now our conversations had more depth than just a line check from Shea or a request to shuffle spots for a pitching change. In one of those extended discussions, he gave me a bit of wisdom that I have always remembered. “Kid”, he said, “just remember something about this business. No matter how well you do your job, someone is always going to be willing to do it for less. They may not do it as well as you, but management won’t care.” Now as a 22 year old, I, listened, but was not sure he was right about that. I mean, surely doing the job correctly was the most important thing, right? Sandy retired after the 1974 season when the Mets broadcasts moved to WNEW, but I always remembered what he’d told me, and as I got older, I realized he knew exactly what he was talking about. Just ask any of the 36 NABET Engineers who made up the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department when I got here in 1976!
And then there was WHN’s oldest salesman who imparted 3 statements of wisdom to me…(1) Never trust a fart, (2) never pass up the opportunity to pee, and finally (3) never refuse an offered breath mint…someone may be trying to tell you something!
44 years later, this 66 year old about to be ex-radio engineer, still remembers lessons I learned as a 22 year old “kid” at the Nifty 1050, WHN!