WABC Memory Lane

Cumulus, New York (WABC, WPLJ, Nash FM, and WMBM) occupies about 3/4 of the 17th floor of Two Penn Plaza in New York City. That’s the building right above Penn Station, and in front of Madison Square Garden, that prompted the preservation outcry in New York, when the then Penn Station was torn down in the early 70s to build it. Since we moved here in 1989, my daily commute has been a Long Island Rail Road train from Mineola to the Penn Station basement, 3 escalators from track to street level, and an elevator ride to the 17th floor. But, it’s the last few minutes of my commute, when I head down the east side hall towards studio 17E that I want to talk about here.

A number of years ago, the office space on the 17th floor was reconfigured, and we lived through about 6 months of having to walk through a construction zone to get to the studios every day. One of the decorating features that was put in place when the construction was completed, was a series of wall posters highlighting the history of WABC. Some of the first posters depict the creation, and then the separation of the NBC Red and Blue Networks, and the beginnings of WABC. But it’s the posters that start a little later…from the Musicradio 77 days and beyond, that I notice each day walking by, as they depict my life since 1976 at WABC. So join me now on the last minute or two of my daily commute, and my daily trip down WABC Memory Lane!

The beginning of the Blue Network and the creation of ABC…long before my time…honestly!

1953

The creation of WABC..the ABC version of the calls, not the earlier CBS incarnation.

1962

The WABC I grew up with is on the move. The legendary All Americans capture the New York ratings, and give great financial support to the American Broadcasting Company in a real way!

1972

Many familiar faces from the WABC I found when I got here in 1976. Harry, Ron, Dan, Johnny, and Chuck were all part of my Musicradio! Although music only lasted my first 6 years, proud to say that some of the most fun I’ve had in this business, happened in Studio 8A during those 6 years! From working with the WABC legends pictured above, to people like Howard Hoffman, Mike McKay, Liz Kiley, Mark Summers, and Sturgis Griffen, it was always so much better than working for a living!!

1982

The NY Post called that day in May of 1982 “The Day The Music Died,” and it was a dramatic change for the station, and those of us who worked at it. Possibly because of my “talk” experience at WHN and WOR, I was charged by Chief Engineer Win Lloyd with conducting “Talk Classes” for the Engineering Department. Trust me, for folks that previously had just hit a button to start a record on the cue of a DJ, items like getting on and off delay, filling out logs and the like were very foreign. For many, it was the first time they’d done anything besides play music!

1984

Bob Grant! Love him, or hate him, Bob was one of a kind, and a real radio pro! I first ran into him at WOR in the 8 months I worked there in 1978. He did a program late at night, and those of us who worked evenings, wanted to get out of the building as quick as possible so we weren’t hit with anything that might come up during his show. Years later at WABC, the mail room at the ABC Building called up to the station and wanted to know what to do with a package that had just been delivered for Bob…it was 50 pounds of Cow Shit! Did many remotes with Bob and they were always interesting!

1988

Rush started on WABC from 10 AM to Noon on July 4th of 1988, and two weeks later, he started nationwide from Noon to 2 PM on what would become the EIB Network (Excellence In Broadcasting). He started with 58 affiliates that had been left over from the ABC Talkradio Network, and within a year, he was tearing up the airwaves. Credited by many with saving the AM Broadcast band, many may not remember that for at least a year, Rush did a local WABC program at 10 AM before doing his network show at Noon. Eventually the Network Show was expanded to 3 hours, and WABC became the flagship station of the EIB Network.

1996

Curtis and Kuby start doing shows at WABC, and eventually become the WABC morning team. This will be the second time that Curtis was part of a team morning show at WABC…the first was when he was paired with then wife Lisa (she has gone back to her maiden name of Lisa Evers on Fox 5) on the Curtis and Lisa Show.

1998

Sean Hannity takes over afternoon drive on WABC after Bob Grant is fired by Disney corporate. Bob goes on to do afternoons at WOR, and within 2 years, Sean is syndicated and becomes a staple in the nationwide Talkradio scene.

Early 2007

2007 saw WABC celebrating 25 years as a talk station with Curtis and Kuby in the morning, John Gambling at 10, Rush at Noon, Sean Hannity at 3 and Mark Levin at 6. I spent two hours every day doing the John Gambling show (reunited with a friend I made in 1978), and having the best time in a studio I’d had since the music days at WABC. Sadly, the WABC we knew was about to end.

Late 2007

This last poster tells it all…WABC becomes a “family member” of Citadel Broadcasting and the slide starts! Deemed “not in our core business,” ABC Radio and WABC gets cut loose by DISNEY/ABC and our lives change forever. No longer Disney Cast Members, we see many of our long time friends get the heave ho, as Citadel cuts costs and staff at WABC and WPLJ. Perhaps they were trying to tell us something when they put this poster right next to the fire alarm…we should have pulled that a long time ago! So Citadel went bankrupt, and then we became part of Cumulus and the stupidity continued. That continued until the Cumulus stock tanked, and the Dickey Brothers were forced out. Now we’ve got a new CEO, Mary Berner, who is trying to change the Cumulus Culture. Perhaps she will let our Market Manger, Chad Lopez, do what he’s got to do to return some spirit to this old radio station. If anyone can, it’s Chad! I’m pulling for him, and unlike so many others who seem to take great joy in the plight of so many legacy AM stations, hope that there is yet another success story for WABC in its future!

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April 17th, 1972

imageAs 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.

imageFrom 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!

imageNow 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.”

imageAfter 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!

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Random Radio Stories

Over the course of the last 44 years in the radio business, there are so many incidents and funny things that have happened that make great radio stories. The following are just a few that recently came to mind….As Johnny Donovan use to say to me, “Stop me if I’ve told you this story already!”

imageThe following happened in the later days of Musicradio WABC…probably 1979 or 1980. Howard Hoffman was the evening DJ at that time, and one of the elements that he integrated that was new to WABC, was an occasional phone call on the air.  Somehow, one night, a disgruntled parent got the number of the WABC News Room, and WABC newsman Rick James was lucky enough to get the call.  The lady started ranting about how long her son had been on hold to speak to Howard, and did we have any idea how much the call was going to cost her, and she went on and on and on.  Rick kept trying to get a word in edgewise to tell her that she had gotten through to the News Room, and that there was nothing he could do about it, but she never took a breath.  Finally, after about 5 minutes, she ended her harangue and said, “and what are you going to do about it?”

Rick calmly answered, “Madam, do you have any idea who you are speaking to?”, and when she answered back that she didn’t, Rick replied, “Good…Go Fuck Yourself,” and promptly hung up the phone….She didn’t call back!

imageWhen I started at WABC, there was a staff of 36 Engineers who ran the board at WABC and WPLJ, worked in News Control, Production and Maintenance. Vacations contractually ran between April and October, and every year about 8 Vacation Relief Engineers were hired to cover that period.  Everyone started that way, as it was a lot easier to get rid of a VR than a Staff Engineer should the person not work out.  Over the years, there were some oddballs that slipped through the hiring process and made their way to the 8th Floor of the ABC Building.  One year, we had a VR who was unfortunately, virtually blind…not the best when you were working with a DJ who would cue you visually for the next element.  Then there was the girl who was assigned to News Control one year.  In addition to working for the News Department cutting audio, when you were assigned to News Control, you were also signed on and responsible for operation of the WABC Transmitter.  Well one afternoon, this young lady was in there during Dan Ingram’s Show, and in a quiet moment, decided she’d try a bunch of buttons of the Remote Control Panel and see what they did.  In rather systematic fashion she first turned off the echo on WABC, then the auto transfer system, and finally the transmitter itself.  Because she had disabled the auto transfer, when the transmitter went off, the other one didn’t come on, and WABC was off the air.  This was not something that happened very often, especially in the middle of the Ingram show.  As soon as the transmitter was off, people began running around the halls, and when George Berger, the Maintenance Supervisor ran into News Control, he found her buffing her nails, completely ignorant of what she’d done!  Another classic VR was the guy who didn’t come to work on a Friday because when he was leaving on Thursday, WABC Assistant Chief Engineer Bob Deitsch told him to have a “nice weekend”.  His answer when asked why he didn’t come in on Friday was, “Oh, I thought Bob gave me the day off!”.  This same guy was on the board one night with Johnny Donovan.  Johnny set up the break, passed his “Johnny Red” name jingle cart across the overbridge, and told him that when he cued him “give me the Johnny Red jingle, and then hit the next record cart”.  Well, they sat there with their headphones on, Johnny called for the mic, back sold the record, and cued the VR for his Johnny Red jingle.  Rather than play it on the air, this VR took the cart and gave it back to Johnny across the overbridge..literally following Johnny’s instructions! One year, a VR found out the hard way that when Dan Ingram was on the air, Dan Ingram got what he wanted!  This young lady sat down for the first time with Dan one afternoon, and promptly reached up and turned the studio monitor down to a very low level.  Dan looked up from his magazine and said, “Did you turn the speakers down?”  With no clue that she’d done anything wrong, she replied, “yes,  I don’t work the studio with the speakers that loud.” Dan said nothing, but got up, went down the hall to Chief Engineer Win Lloyd’s office, and within 2 minutes she was relieved, and never again was she assigned to work with Dan.

imageIn the four years I worked at WHN Radio, at their very old studios at 400 Park Avenue, every summer some component of the studio air conditioning would die, leaving us without AC in some of the hottest weeks of the summer. At that time, we had a News Director who was very much like the Ted Baxter character on the Mary Tyler Moore Show….he sounded great till you listened to what he was really saying.  Well, when the AC died, the SOP was studio doors open and fans blowing whatever air was available around the studios.  For some reason, the On The Air light for the News Studio had an electrical pigtail coming out of it.  One morning we got to work and discovered that the cleaning lady had left the vacuum out in the hall, and the temptation was just too much, and we plugged it into the pigtail from the News Studio’s On The Air light.  For the entire morning, every time the mic was turned on, the vacuum started down the hall.  After 3 or 4 newscasts, our Ted Baxter said, “I understand she’s got a job to do, but why does she have to start vacuuming every time the mic opens.”  As far as I know, he never figured out what was happening.

This was also the time when every radio station had to do Public Service Shows in order to meet a requirement in their FCC license. One day, this same newscaster was doing one in the production studio with a bunch of NY Dentists, when he asked them, “Why is it that black people have such white teeth?”.  To say that the 3 dentists on the show were speechless, would be a fairly accurate description of what the next couple of minutes in the studio were like, till one of them tried to explain that it was more about their skin pigment, than the actual whiteness of their teeth!

NABET on strike 1977During the summer of 1977, there was a 5 1/2 month NABET strike against ABC, and we spent the summer outside of the ABC Building rather than working on the 8th floor. As I was a single guy living at home, it wasn’t too bad that I just made $4500 that year, but of course for our older married fellow employees it wasn’t much fun, but those of us who were young and single, had a great summer (I met Susie that summer), and just picketing 3 hours a day every other day, we had lots of other time to be available to have fun!

Unfortunately, life wasn’t so much fun for our friends inside the ABC Building. Broadcasting back then was much more technical, and all the really good folks were shipped off to TV.  Our radio friends at WABC and WPLJ ended up with local management folks and secretaries from around the company.  Some of the secretaries were very good, and went on to having careers as NABET Engineers after the strike, but there also were some losers in the mix.  We didn’t see this happen, but we did see the aftermath after we got back to work in October.  It seems that George Michael was assigned this young girl who was more interested in looking good, than she was in running the board in studio 8A.  Well, that was a dangerous mix in a room with George who was a stickler for perfection, and one night, after a series of on the air screw ups, in his frustration, George got up and kicked the big chrome sign board in studio 8A.  This did nothing for her ability, nor for his frustration, but he did manage to break his foot!  When we came back to work, he still had a huge cast on his foot, and I must say we laughed at his expense a lot over that.  It also became the basis of an un-written rule at ABC…when you are mad, throw one piece of ABC property against another piece of ABC property, never a part of your body against a piece of ABC property!

NABET wasn’t the only union that ABC had to deal with and when I started there in 1976. There were some weird contract clauses that even I had trouble believing. Take for example, the water pitcher that sat by the jock in Studio 8A.  Apparently ABC’s contract with the Stage Hands union said that they had jurisdiction over water pitchers, and three or four times a day, a stage hand would come down from the ABC TV Studios on West 66th Street to change the water in the pitcher.  Another was the Sound Effects union.  One year they wanted to record a local Volvo commercial with a door slam.  Now today, you’d Google “door slam” and find hundreds, but back then a member of the union came up to WABC with a small rack with 2 ITC cart machines in it, and 5 carts.  He then proceeded to play for us the 5 door slam sound effects he had, so we could record the one we wanted.  That’s just the way it was back then!

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Seven Jobs

So, as my work life is coming to an end, I started thinking back on the jobs I’ve had in my life. I’m sure largely because of my long tenure at WABC, it turns out I’ve only worked 7 real jobs in my life! My youngest son Kenny has had more jobs than that in his young acting career, and he’s only 29!

A part of the Cincinnati Zoo map detailing the opera house's location

A part of the Cincinnati Zoo map detailing the opera house’s location

So, the first job I ever got paid for came about because of my folks, and what we did each summer from 1960 to 1965. As singers in NY’s Metropolitan Opera Chorus, they were off all summer, as the Met’s season ended after the spring tour and started up again in the fall. During the spring season of 1960, Dino Yannopoulos, the principal stage director at the Met, approached my folks about spending the summer in Cincinnati as members of the Cincinnati Summer Opera Chorus. The supporting cast was mostly made up of music teachers and students, and as the new Artistic Director of the Summer Opera, he liked the idea of having a couple of strong professional anchor folks, plus they’d be working with formerMet Chorus Master Fausto Cleva (who had originally hired both of my parents at the Met) who was the Musical Director. The interesting thing about the Cincinnati Sumer Opera in those days is that the performances were held at the open air Opera Pavilion at the Cincinnati Zoo! The classic stories are of the geese and ducks (and an occasional bear) singing along with Puccini or Verdi, but for a 10 year old kid, getting to roam the zoo doing rehearsals was a great way to spend a summer! So, how did this lead to my first paying job? Well, many operas need folks to fill in for the crowd scenes so that there were bodies beyond just the singers, to keep the stage looking full. Those folks are called Supernumeraries or Supers, non singing stage characters. As I was always hanging around, I was pressed into service, and even paid for the job! During the summers we were there, I was a Matador in Carmen, an Alter Boy in Tosca, a street urchin in Boheme, and the about to be murdered crown price in Macbeth (killed cleverly by my own father, thanks to Dino’s stage direction). For these performances I believe we were paid $5 a show, and that was my first paid job! That continued through the summer of 1965, so for those 6 years, my first job was as an opera super at the Cincinnati Zoo Summer Opera!

Alexander's Dept Store in Rego Park

Alexander’s Dept Store in Rego Park

My second job came about the summer I graduated from high school, which was 1967. My uncle worked at Alexander’s Department Store in Rego Park, Queens, and hooked my friend Richard and myself up with jobs there. Richard worked in the Domestics Department on the second floor, and I was a stock boy in the Men’s Shoe Department on the first floor. I remember exactly 3 things from that summer….I learned my social security number, because we had to give it each week to get our pay checks, I remember eating liverwurst on pumpernickel, with lettuce, tomato and mustard almost every day in the employee cafeteria (something like 55 cents for the sandwich), and I remember that every time someone would ask me for a particular style shoe in a size, I’d go back into the storeroom, get the shoe, and then come out and realize I had no idea who asked for the shoe!!! My first and last experience in retail!

EssoTowards the end of my first year in college, our neighbor who worked for the Standard Oil Company asked if I’d like to work in Manhattan for the summer. She said that they were in the process of summer hiring, and she’d be happy to get my name on the list. After my success in retail, I decided that perhaps office work might be more my forte, so I said yes. Well, it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I was assigned to the Mechanical Duplicating Department, which was basically the Standard Oil Print shop. We were located on not the first, but the second basement level of the then Esso Building on 51st Street, just down the street from where the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lives each December. The shop had these great huge print machines, paper cutters, and all other manner of interesting mechanical devices, but as summer workers, we were not allowed to go near them! It ended up that what we did all day, was collate reports, and stuff envelopes! It also turned out that the summer workers that were assigned to that department were a mixed bag of some of the strangest people I have ever worked with, and remember, I spent the last 44 years working in radio! Why, we even had one guy who must have partied all night, because all he’d do all day was sleep!

The old Glen Cove mansion that was the Fidel School

The old Glen Cove mansion that was the Fidel School

After that experience, I was looking for something different for the summer between my sophomore and junior year at college, and so I started going over to the college placement office and look at what offerings they had. I saw a posting about a summer arts camp on the North Shore of Long Island that was looking for counselors, and since I was a Music Major at Post, thought that might be a good mix. The Fidel School in Glen Cove, NY was run by Ivan and Roslyn Fidel…he a musician, she a dancer…and the school was held in the former Francis L. Hine estate on Desoris Lane. I called and was invited over for an interview with Mr. Fidel, and was hired that first summer as an Assistant Counselor. It was a crazy, warm, funny place, filled with an incredible array of folks, and became my work home from the summer of 1969 until I started at WHN Radio in April of 1972. During the time I was there, I worked lots of different jobs, from being Mr. Fidel’s assistant, to running day trips from the camp to Sagamore Hill, to plotting summer bus routes, to even answering the phone. One summer, while he was making a film on Long Island, Walter Matthau’s son Charlie went to Fidel. I backed into Mr. Matthau one day…literally, and he was a very big man!! I worked summers and during the school year, Friday afternoon, and all day Saturday at their winter weekend program. We worked at the original Glen Cove campus, and at their satellite Bayville campus, and it was the last non-radio job I had in my life! I worked at Fidel all through the rest of college, during the time I was at ATS taking First Class Prep course, and worked my last Saturday there 2 days before I started at WHN!

So, the first four jobs occupied 12 years of my life, the next three jobs, 44 years of my life. Shortly after I obtained by First Class FCC License in 1972, I started at WHN on April 17th, and worked there till the spring of 1976 when I was bought out (got a whole year’s salary…bought a 21 foot boat) by a new IBEW contract. I played with the new boat for a couple of months, and in August of 1976, started at WABC. In February, 1978, WABC loaned me to WOR 8 months, and then in October of 1978, it was back to WABC, where I have stayed, and will stay till January 29th!

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The Palace that was the ABC Building

When I started working at ABC in 1976, the headquarters of the three main broadcast networks were within 4 blocks of each other, on the same side of the Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. “Radio Row” started with the NBC Headquarters at 30 Rock, next up was Black Rock, the CBS Headquarters between 52nd and 53rd Street, followed by the ABC Building, just across 53rd Street from CBS, at 1330 Avenue of the Americas. This was frankly heady times in the broadcasting business, when having a broadcast license was almost akin to printing your own money, and cash flowed like water. All three networks acted like the well would never run dry, and spent accordingly.

Now 30 Rock had been NBC’s base of operations for years, and contained many TV and

1330 Ave of the Americas...the REAL ABC Building

1330 Ave of the Americas…the REAL ABC Building

radio studios, but when CBS and ABC joined the old master on 6th Avenue, they weren’t about to move TV operations to these new buildings. They did, however, need some jewel of their broadcast crown to be a part of their headquarters buildings, somewhat as a display. Both companies had the same idea, and tapped their local radio stations to be original tenants of their new headquarters buildings. WCBS AM & FM resided in Black Rock, and just across 53rd Street, WABC and WABC-FM (shortly to change to WPLJ) took up residence in the ABC Building.

I’ll be honest with you, as a young guy, there was something very special about working for the ABC New York Owned and Operated radio stations, and doing so in the headquarters building of the American Broadcasting Company. First, it was a perfect location. Across 53rd Street from the CBS Building (and our WCBS AM & FM friends), across 6th Avenue from the NY Hilton, across 54th Street from the Warwick Hotel (where I saw Cary Grant and Diane Cannon getting into their limo one night), surrounded by great shopping and restaurants , and one questionable “science experiment” on 55th Street called the Joy Deli, that many of us who worked after hours ate at. Second, on any given day, you might see ABC founder Leonard Goldenson heading across the lobby to his private elevator, or see ABC President Elton Rule or ABC TV President Fred Silverman heading to his limo waiting on 6th Avenue. Oh yes, every morning and every afternoon, you could see the parade of light blue ABC limos in front of the building with their license plates ABC-1, ABC-2, etc. Third, it was also neat that you knew that EVERYONE who worked in this building, worked for the same company. Be it in the lobby, or an elevator, or the 2nd floor ABC Cafeteria where you’d be hard pressed to finish a lunch that cost $2, you were all ABC employees!

The 8th floor contained the offices of WABC, and the studios for WABC and WPLJ (WPLJ’s offices were on the 9th floor). The studios were in the core of the building with the outer perimeter given over to offices, and the entire northern end of the floor for the Sales Department. The building, and the WABC/WPLJ studios, dated from the mid 60s, and had served the radio stations well, but designs for updated studios were in the works. The night I started at ABC (August 8, 1976) was the beginning of the rebuilding for the WABC and WPLJ studios, as on that night, WABC’s main air studio was dismantled, destined to be the first of the new studios on the 8th floor.

This was a new modern design of very user friendly, sexy radio studios, designed by WABC/WPLJ’s Maintenance Supervisor George Berger, in consultation with Chief Engineer Bob Deitch. George was a genius in many ways (to see some others, I reference

WABC's Studio 8A from the engineer's side

WABC’s Studio 8A from the engineer’s side

my post Christmas Parties https://fdthird.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/radio-stories-christmas-parties/), but his design of studios was without equal. The studios were built around custom Rupert Neve consoles with all the furniture built by the ABC Carpenter Shop (one of the huge advantages of the ABC Building was that they had every imaginable trade available for just about every use, from carpenters to electricians, to even their own telephone guys). And while the sexy part was great, the user friendly part was even better! George’s ego was stoked not by telling people what they needed, but by listening to what the users wanted, and designing a studio that exactly fit their needs! These studios were the best!

Because the NABET Engineers went back and forth between WABC and WPLJ, George designed the studios with exactly the same custom Neve board, despite the fact that the look and function of the studios was totally different! Both had 3 mic faders on the left,

Same Rupert Neve board in WPLJ's FM-1 studio

Same Rupert Neve board in WPLJ’s FM-1 studio

followed by a grouping of 4 and then 3 faders in the middle of the board, and then 2 that were separated on the right side. In WABC’s main air studio, those 7 faders in the middle were given over to 7 cart machines, which were arranged to the right and left of the engineer. In WPLJ, these same seven faders were 4 cart machines and 3 turntables, because all of WPLJ’s music was played off vinyl. The last two faders to the right were remotes, with selectors above them to dial up the many different available feeds. Above the main section, were your monitoring controls and studio switching buttons. The board was a pleasure to run, and made WABC or WPLJ operations so easy and clean!

8A and FM-1 were the first of 4 studios that got the Berger/Rupert Neve treatment, with WABC’s main Production Studio, 17C ,and it’s Commercial Production Studio, 8X (my home), following closely behind. These were also incredible studios, making this complex perhaps the best suite of radio studios in America! One of the saddest parts of our move from 1330 to 2 Penn in 1989, was leaving these great studios (and a great WPLJ Combo Studio George built in later years on the 9th Floor, again utilizing one of the original consoles) that were custom designed for what we did. In 1989, high above Madison Square Garden, we moved into a facility which I used to call “Generic Radio Design 101”, to which we had to adapt. We went from custom designed studios that were able to easily do exactly what we needed, to generic studios that we had to adapt to. Some progress! Later we found out that because ABC had waited so long to move us, the plans for the studios we moved into at 2 Penn were derived from a plan originally designed for WJR in Detroit. That design included turntables in every studio, and combo positions at WABC, a station that had no combo operations!

1989, and our move from 1330 to 2 Penn Plaza, was the end of an era of incredible studio designs at WABC and WPLJ. The sexy user friendly studios had been replaced by stock components that had to make do, and while there have been remodels in the last 25+ years to some of our original studios that have better suited the job done there, nothing can compare to those George Berger designed studios that graced the 8th floor of the ABC Building.

In August of 1979, WABC and WPLJ’s studios were the subject of a rare (for WABC AND WPLJ) broadcast magazine feature in Broadcast Engineering. Thanks to my friend Dan Taylor of WCBS-FM for providing the following digital copy of that feature, which details the studios I have been talking about in both text and pictures. If you look at picture 5 on page 3 of the article, you’ll see 8X, my home away from home during my time at 1330! Thanks Dan for being a digital pack rat!

BE 1

 

BE 2

 

BE 3

 

BE 4

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Well, That’s a wrap!!

Today I sent off the email to the powers that be, revealing my intent to retire from WABC Radio . If everything goes according to my plans, January 29, 2016 will be my last day of work, and the end of 44 years of working in New York Radio, that started at 1050 WHN on April 17, 1972.

This life in New York radio really all started for me on a spring dayfrank delia in 1970, when I was standing in the hall at WCWP (CW Post’s college radio station) and WCWP’s Chief Engineer Bill Mozer said 10 words to me that would change my life forever, “Do you want to come to work with me tonight?” By work, Bill meant did I want to travel into the ABC Building with him as he worked as an engineer at WABC and WPLJ. For 8 hours that night I went from meeting Dan Ingram and watching his show in studio 8A, to eating dinner with Cousin Brucie, to exploring the much darker and slower (and smokey) environment of WPLJ! It was only 8 hours, but those 8 hours changed my life forever! I was no longer a college junior who had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated! I was going to be a Radio Engineer!!! Thanks Bill!

Well over half my life has passed since the day in 1976 when I walked into WABC, sat down and talked to WABC/WPLJ Chief Engineer Win Loyd, and got hired as a NABET VR. I started at WABC as a 26 year old single guy, and over the past 40 years, I met and

Pat and George Michael at a legendary D'Elia Party

Pat and George Michael at a legendary D’Elia Party

married my best friend, became a Dad 3 times, sent 3 kids off to college, saw my first son get married, became a Grandfather twice, and recently celebrated our 36th Wedding Anniversary with the same girl I met back in 1977, in the middle of a 5 month long NABET strike against ABC. Back in 1976, I started working for the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department, and over the course of 40 years, I have managed to work for 5 different companies without ever changing jobs!

imageAlong the way, I’ve worked with some of the best radio has to offer. From the Musicradio days, legends like Dan Ingram, George Michael, Johnny Donovan, Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, Chuck Leonard, and Rick Skylar. On the WPLJ side, there were great folks like Tony Pigg, Pat St. John, Jim Kerr, Jimmy Fink, and a late night guy named Bob Marone. When WABC went talk in 1982, I was fortunate to again work with the best in the business, folks like Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant, John Gambling, and again Johnny Donovan, plus some characters like Ed Koch, and Joy Behar.

On July 23d, 1983, I became a NABET Group 7 and started in the job I’m still doing as I write this, and as such, I’ve been involved in the majority of commercials that have aired on WABC since then. The methods and tools, AND most definitely the commercials, have changed a lot in the almost 32 years I’ve been WABC’s Senior Production Engineer, but the object has been the same…get the spots on the air! I’ve also worked with more Account Executives and Sales Management folks than I can count, some of them were the best in the business…and then there were the rest! Good or bad, I’ve appreciated every day that they do what they do so our checks don’t bounce, because if I had to do their job, they probably would!

When I started at Musicrado 77, WABC it was the most listened to station in the nation. It was the pinnacle of radio’s number one market, and the place where everyone wanted to work. Sometime in the early 80s, I started to think of WABC as MY radio station! Oh, my name surely wasn’t on the FCC license, but I definitely felt like I had an ownership stake inimage 770. I grew up, and now have grown old in this radio station, and the members of the WABC Family were, and are my family. Over the years, I’ve been to countless weddings (but only one in Palm Beach a couple of years ago where Elton John was the after party entertainment….thanks Rush! ), seen so many folks become parents, helped friends bury their parent, as my WABC Family helped me do twice 30 years apart, and been fortunate to meet, work with, and become friends with so many! How could I not think of this place as my radio station? I only hope that the new CEO at Cumulus can turn around the company, and indeed my radio station, because the recent history of this once great radio station has been very, very sad. The years since Disney CEO

Susie made the hats!

Susie made the hats!

Robert Iger came to the conclusion that radio was not one of Disney’s “Core Businesses” and sold off the ABC O&O radio stations to Citadel have not been kind to many of the former ABC stations. WABC is not alone in suffering through first Citadel’s bankruptcy, and now Cumulus and the Dickey Brothers mismanagement. It’s personally sad for me to see the kinds of programing that this once great radio station puts on every week for money, even though it has not changed my working conditions or paycheck. Frankly, were it not for being a NABET union member (thanks ABC for making me join in 1976), I would not be able to say that, as so many of my WABC friends are not so fortunate! The last 8 years have seen so many members of my family get shoved out the door, and so many others leave for greener pastures.

In 1976 WABC was the only radio station I wanted to work at, and 40 years of working at WABC has given me so much, taken me to so many places, allowed me to meet an incredible array of people, and provided me with experiences very few can look back on in their lives. It has provided a very good life for my wife Susie and me, and for our kids Billy, Krissi, and Kenny. It’s given me memories I will treasure for the rest of my life, and stories that I’ll probably be telling for years to come, but now it’s time to turn it over to the next generation. I’ve been very proud to work with a great bunch of young radio folk;, guys and girls more my kids’ ages than mine, who I’ve always thought of as my “work kids.” Doesn’t really seem that long ago I was their age, talking to the “old guys”, and suddenly I turn imagearound and I am one of the old guys! John Gambling used to say that he was always the youngest guy at every radio station he worked at, until he woke up one day and discovered he was the oldest! Same for me. It makes me sad that today, the radio industry, and especially the radio station I love, is in as sorry shape as it is. I was very lucky to come along at a time when things were changing, but I still had the ability to see a future that was bright and held promise. Today, the business is nuts, and unfortunately, a lot of decisions are made for short term monetary gain, with no long term view of the ultimate consequences. Based on the last 8 years, I fear that their future is not as bright as mine was in 1976, and that we are more and more seeing the signs that radio as I know it, is over. I worry about my17th Floor Family going forward, and wish them well, but for me, it’s time for Susie and I to move on to our next chapter.

I may be retiring from Cumulus, New York, but in my heart I’m saying good bye to the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department and the American Broadcasting Company that a 26 year old me started working at so very long ago. Unfortunately, WABC/WPLJ Chief Engineer Win Loyd is no longer with us, because I’d love to say to him, “Thanks for the ride Win…it was better than anyone could expect!”

See you on Facebook!

Dan Ingram’s 20th Anniversary at WABC  

Check out this TV spot for WABC from 1977. http://youtu.be/6Q83t-z8r1s

George Michael with Mark Simone on WABC’s Saturday Night Oldies March, 2006

 

 

 

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New Year’s Eve, 1979

So, the fall of 1979 had been a very busy one for Susie and I, mainly because it was on the afternoon of September 29th, 1979, at the C.W. Post Interfaith Chapel that we became husband and wife. Following a great reception, attended by our WABC and WPLJ friends, it was off on a week’s honeymoon cruise to Bermuda, and then a week’s car trip honeymoon to Niagara Falls. That was followed up by our first Thanksgiving and

Susie made the hats!

Susie made the hats!

Christmas as husband and wife, and then it was time for our first New Year’s Eve of our married life! We knew it had to be special, and it was!l

So, what did we do? Well, we attended a party with some of our closest friends that was held in conjunction with a nationally broadcast event. It

George Thomas Musgrave III

George Thomas Musgrave III

was held in a very private and intimate setting on the 8th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper that just

happened to have a huge ABC logo on top of it. The truth…I had to work, as did a number of my other ABC friends, and we decided to have a bang-up holiday party on the 8th Floor of the ABC building, while on WABC, Howard Hoffman counted down the top 100 hits of 1979!! Significant others attended, as did some

Jimmy McGuire on the board in 8A

Jimmy McGuire on the board in 8A

of our ABC friends who weren’t even scheduled to work that night! We had a great time with great people, and didn’t leave till we saw the throng of folks who had endured the ball drop in Times’ Square go down 53rd Street and the ABC Building.

Howard Hoffman, counting em down!

Howard Hoffman, counting em down!

There was food, booze, paper hats, noise makers, and we were having such a good time, that when Howard’s shift ended at 10PM and we weren’t at #1 yet, he wouldn’t let the next DJ take over, and we continued the countdown. The next DJ (names will be withheld to protect the guilty) sat down and partied with us, and if

WPLJ Chief Engineer Bob Deitch joined up...always good to drink on the job with your boss!

WPLJ Chief Engineer Bob Deitch joined up…always good to drink on the job with your boss!

the truth be told, was rather shit faced by the time he finally got on the air. We all felt guilty about that, but luckily nothing came of his slightly inebriated air shift, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

So sit back now, and join us in Studio 8A of the ABC

WPLJ's Tony Pigg, George Berger and WABC Newsman Bob Capers were all part of our night!

WPLJ’s Tony Pigg, George Berger and WABC Newsman Bob Capers were all part of our night!

Building at 1330 Avenue of the Americas, as 36 years ago Susie and I celebrated out first New Year’s Eve as husband and wife, while Howard Hoffman counts down the top 100 of 1979, brought to you by Casablanca Records and Filmworks!

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

 

 

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Christmas, 1978

Having returned to the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department as a full time staff engineer in October, after being “loaned” to WOR for 8 months, it was time to get on with my life. I now had a permanent job for the first time since I’d been “bought out” of the WHN IBEW contract in the spring of 1976, and there were things to do!

So, one of the first things I did I did was to go out and buy a brand new 1979 Mercury Capri RS to replace my aging 1973 Mercury Montego. The Capri was a great looking car, but as that was about the bottom of the quality curve for the “Big Three” in Detroit, it was unfortunately a piece of shit! It was delivered with 46 things wrong with it right out of the box, including being a different model Capri depending on if you were approaching the car from the driver or passenger side! That was the dumb thing I did!

I’d also been dating Susan Johnson since we met at a July 3rd party in 1977, in the middle SLDof a 5 month NABET strike against ABC. We later found out the “plot” of the party was for us to get together, and trust me, that was a very good thing! The second date we went on was to the Dynasty Chinese restaurant in Roslyn for dinner, and my fortune cookie said, “you will marry your present lover, and be happy”. As we started to get to the end of 1978, I decided it was time to follow fate and my fortune cookie and see if I could make this wonderful girl my “better half”.

Susie has always loved Christmas, and something seemed just so right about asking her to be my wife on Christmas Day! That Christmas I made arrangements with George Berger to cover the beginning part of my 4 to midnight on the 8th floor, so I didn’t need to get into ABC till about 8. My folks had planned an early dinner and Susie had been invited over to spend it with the D’Elia Family. At some point in the late afternoon, I said I needed something upstairs, and could she come up and give me a hand. When we got to the top of the stairs I hugged her and asked her if she would be my wife. She said yes, and I think I ran downstairs to my folks and said 3 or 4 times, “she said yes, she said yes!”.

We called her Mom and Dad who were at her sister’s in-laws on the other side of Bayside, and they came over to my folks’ house, and the whole family toasted the bride and groom to be! Later that night, I kissed my now fiancé good night and headed off to ABC. Luckily, I only had to work 4 or 5 hours, and because very few of my radio friends were there and since I wanted to tell them all at the same time, I kept my mouth shut…literally!

The next day I managed to keep my secret until just after George Michael’s show started on WABC at 6PM. I was on the board and called everyone who was on the floor into Studio 8A and told them all that they had a wedding to get ready for, probably the following fall. As has happened so often in my radio life, during the next record talk up, George announced that I had asked Susie to marry me on Christmas Day and that she had said yes! That was a very good thing!

Happy 37th Anniversary Baby of the day I asked and you said YES!   ILYJTWYR!

Listen in as George Michael announces that “she said yes” on WABC Radio

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Radio Stories – Christmas Parties

Some of the group that gathered at the Statler Grill

Some of the group that gathered at the Statler Grill

The last two weeks, I’ve enjoyed a couple of great radio station Christmas Parties. A week ago, we enjoyed a great Cumulus New York Christmas Party (since there are now 4 radio stations on the 17th Floor of 2 Penn, it’s no longer a WABC/WPLJ Christmas Party) at the Skylark Roof Top on West 39th Street. Orchestrated by Deb and Michelle in our Business Department, it was a great event, and everyone had a great time. As did those of us who traveled around the corner for NY Market Manager Chad Lopez’s after party (thanks Chad!). Then, this past Friday night, I attended the 4th Annual WABC/WPLJ Alumni Holiday Extravaganza, orchestrated by Jill Vitale at the Statler Grill. It was great to spend the night with folks I still work with at WABC, and with folks like Dr. Judy Kuriansky that we worked with in the 80s! The drinks were flowing at both, and the holiday spirit (and spirits) made me think back to the many radio station Christmas parties I’ve enjoyed ever since my first in 1972.

Statler Grill

Some more of the group

My first real radio station Christmas party was the WHN Radio party of December, 1972, and frankly, it was a heck of a way to start! The party was held at a very classy east side restaurant, The Sign of the Dove, on 3rd Avenue and 65th Street. I think I was off that day, so I came from home and was one of the first folks to arrive. As a 22 year old in my first year of working for a real company, I didn’t know what to expect, but even my wildest dreams did not compare to what I saw. The Sign of the Dove was an elegant continental style restaurant that had hosted parties for the likes of Jackie Kennedy, and on one December night in 1972, for the staff of WHN. The surroundings were beautiful, and as I was ushered to an open upper floor space with skylights and art work, part of me wondered what I was doing there. The meal was elegant and incredible, but the thing I was most taken with, was the whole prosciutto that was being thinly sliced on the buffet table! When the festivities officially started with a few remarks by the station’s General Manager, we were all told that the usual Storer Holiday bonus would be given that year (I think it was $100 for every year you’d worked there), and were then surprised to all be given Seiko watches as a Christmas present from the station! Wow, I thought, is this what working for a real radio station is like? An elegant party, a Christmas bonus, and a $100 Seiko watch as a gift? I could get used to that kind of treatment!!

It’s good I didn’t, because the station must have been doing very well in 1972, because the “party” WHN had in 1973 was a real night and day experience. In 1973 there was a smaller, intimate party one afternoon in the GM’s office! Rather than a full bar and a carving board filled with delights like at The Sign of the Dove (sniff…no hand carved prosciutto), in 1973 we were offered soda and what looked like a Ritz cracker with Oscar Meyer liverwurst spread on it. Oh, and there were also no Seikos that year either. No ,in 1972 we had a “grab bag”, and I think I pulled out a $3 bottle of women’s perfume….I conveniently left it at the party! So a big lesson learned that year about what to expect from a radio station Christmas Party…I learned you never knew what to expect!!

That was a valuable lesson to learn, because 1974 brought an even more different event! Although money was still tight at 400 Park Avenue the next year, they managed to get a trade deal with an Italian restaurant on the upper west side, and once again have a real party. I remember that the day of the party was cold and snowy, and that getting to the location off Central Park West was a real pain that evening. It seemed like everyone was of the same mind that night; a nice drink now that we were in from the cold would be just the ticket. Unfortunately, the bartender had a heavy hand, and with that first drink, the majority of the staff was blotto! I remember having a conversation with Chuck Renwick (WHN’s General Manager at the time) that made no sense, as did little else that night. The one memory I do clearly have was of leaving the restaurant in a group that included our Production Director Allan Kaltor (yes, that Allan Kaltor who later went on to David Letterman Show fame). Allan got outside the restaurant, raised his hand to hail a cab, and just kept going face first into a snow bank. Yes, it was just that kind of party!

Now, parties at ABC were interesting to say the least: at least in my early years with the company. This was the age during which ABC threw money at everything, so there was both a WABC party and a WPLJ party, and since we were members of the WABC/WPLJ Engineering Department, we were one of the few groups at the stations that got invited to both! Traditionally, the WABC party was a loud raucous affair in the Wine Cellar of Mama Leone’s on West 48 Street, and the WPLJ party was an equally loud and raucous but perhaps slightly classier affair at the Promenade Cafe at the Rockefeller Center skating rink! The one thing they both had in common, is that they were full of people none of us knew!

Mamma Leones

The location of some legendary WABC Musicradio 77 Christmas Parties!

When we talk about WABC and WPLJ, you have to realize that in those days, they were in essence, small companies. All told, there were probably under a hundred folks working at each of them, so when you go to a Christmas Party and find 300 plus people in attendance, you know that there are more than just spouses and friends making up the difference. In those days in New York, some division of ABC must have had a Christmas party every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and we were sure that there was a group of folks who just spent that period of the year going from party to party. We knew that was true to some extent, because we’d see the same people we didn’t know at the WABC and the WPLJ parties!

One of my favorite post Christmas Party memories is the year that the WABC and the WPLJ parties were on consecutive nights. The next day, WPLJ’s mid-day jock, John Zackerly (the original Cool Ghoul from late night TV fame), wrote the following on the WPLJ Trouble Report: “If the Engineers are to be invited to both the AM and FM Christmas parties, could the parties please NOT be scheduled on consecutive nights in coming years?” I assume that Zack had a rather trying 2 days!

I always remember that one poor bastard that had to make the rounds was the then President of ABC, Elton Rule, and I’ll always remember the year that his visit to the WABC party was special! Everyone in the company knew who he was, but often times what would happen when he’d stop by, was that the station General Manager would be stuck with him. On this particular year, WABC had a Department Head meeting the morning of the WABC Christmas Party at Mama Leone’s, and GM Al Racco begged folks to bring members of their departments up and talk to Mr. Rule, so that he wasn’t stuck with him all night. Someone asked, what should they talk to Mr. Rule about, and Al Racco replied, “I don’t give a damn if you tell him you love his tie…just don’t leave me stuck with him all night!” WABC Assistant Chief Bob Deitch was in that meeting, and later in the day shared the discussion about the Christmas Party to our Maintenance Group Seven, George Berger, and the die was cast!

Before I go on, let me give you a clear picture of who George Berger was. A product of the radio station at Hofstra University, George was a genius with computers, audio design, and studio design. He was a person who could solve virtually any problem from audio processing to remotes, to playing the best practical jokes ever! He was responsible for the most incredible, sexy, user friendly WABC and WPLJ studios built around custom Rupert Neve boards that always took into consideration what the job they’d be doing, and what the users’ needs were. George was the one that would take whatever it took to design a solution, to any problem in the radio stations. As I said, George was a genius, but he was also a great friend. Although maintenance was his area of expertise, when my kids were little, and because he was Jewish, he would come in and work my air shift on Christmas Day so that I could stay home with my family! George always had a twinkle in his eye, and a solution in his brain, and he left us way too young in life, and will always be missed by his friends who loved him!

Okay, so as I said, he was also a genius with practical jokes, and fearless, and as soon as Bob Deitch shared details of the Department Head Meeting, George knew exactly what he’d be doing at that night’s party. After work, everyone journeyed from the ABC Building over to Mama’s on a West 48th Street and the party began. As there were always a lot of ABC Corporate parties on any given night during the holiday season, our party was well underway before Mr. Rule arrived, and as per usual, he gravitated to the station GM. There was a small group of staff around the duo when George instigated Bob Deitch to take him up and introduce him to the President of ABC. No sooner had that introduction been completed, when George said, “Oh, Mr. Rule, what a great looking tie!” As poor Elton looked down to try and figure out what was so great looking about his tie, GM Racco shot a withering look, but George was all smiles!

There have been many more parties over the years that stick out in my mind, including ones where the GM stood on a grand piano, with his tie around his forehead, drunkenly singing into a beer bottle, or where people were handed drinks to try that were made with breast milk, ones where show hosts were asked to leave by the GM, because of their “risqué” dancing style, and ones where recently dismissed hosts were escorted out by the Program Director, but those are tales for another time and more VODKA!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

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When Radio and your Real Life merge

"Jean"getting ready to do his radio show

“Jean”getting ready to do his radio show

Our youngest child, Kenny the Actor, is currently wrapping up his gig on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas as one of the four featured singers, but last year at this time, he was in Warsaw, Indiana performing in the Wagon Wheel Theater’s production of A Christmas Story, the Musical. This musical is based on the Jean Shepherd movie, A Christmas Story, which in turn is based on several of Jean’s earlier essays, and which has been a long time staple of the D’Elia Family’s Christmas celebrations, thanks in part to TNT’s marathon showings. As a child of the 50s, I had been a long time fan of Jean Shepherd’s nightly radio show on WOR 710 in New York, spending many a night trying to stay awake till the end of his show and the finish of whatever great yarn he was spinning on that particular evening. If you know Jean Shepherd’s voice, you will remember that he narrated the action in the movie, A Christmas Story. In the musical version of the story, the narrator is actually identified as Jean Shepherd and unlike the movie, the premise of the musical is Jean doing his radio show on WOR and telling this particular tale of one of his childhood’s Christmases, on a snowy Christmas season night in New York. Sounded like a great premise, especially since Kenny was playing the Jean Shepard part and would be in every scene narrating the action as it unfolded on stage.

As a life long fan of Jean Shepherd and his radio work, I referred Kenny to some online clips of his WOR show so he could get a sense of who Jean was and the kind of radio he did. As someone who spent about 8 months working at WOR in 1978, I also sent him off to Indiana with a WOR mic flag for inspiration, that had somehow come into my collection. We talked a lot about what it was like to listen to him on the radio, and about how familiar the characters in A Christmas Story were to those of us who grew up listening, and I recalled the following story to him of my own one time interaction with Mr. Shepherd.

imageThe details of time and season are not important, but it was sometime in the 70s, and seems likely it was a warm spring night. It was the occasion of a Jean Shepherd “college concert” at the Dome auditorium on the CW Post college campus, right next to the college radio station. It turned out that Bill Mozer, Director of Broadcasting at WCWP and fellow engineer at WABC, like me had grown up listening to Shep on WOR at night and was a fan. When we heard the announcement about the show, we bought tickets. I really don’t have a clear memory of much of the evening or even Jean Shepherd’s stage presentation, other than to remember that we laughed a lot as he told stories of characters we were all familiar with. What I do remember with great clarity is what happened after the show.

Bill and I returned to the radio station to hang out….nothing new in that as it was a place that many of us gravitated to when we had free time. That particular night, I remember that Bill and I were hanging out in the engineering room, which was at the back of the building, down the hall from the studios. The reason I’m thinking it was spring is that the back door of the station was open, and light from the hall was spilling out into the dark night. We were standing in the hall talking, when we heard a familiar voice call out, “Hey, can you help me…I can’t find my damn car!” Oh my God…could it be? Had we really heard Jean Shepherd calling out from the darkness? For guys like Bill and I, who had grown up listening to that voice night after night, there was no way it could be anyone else. So, he walked into the light of the doorway and we said, “We’d be happy to help you Mr. Shepherd.” He was, I think happy to realize that we knew who he was and told us to call him Shep. Then he asked what this building was, and when we said it was the college radio station, well he was even happier! He proceeded to come into the hall, and stood there probably for 45 minutes telling us stories about his radio life and so many other things. At first, it was just Bill and I, but as time went on, just about everyone in the building but the guy on the air was in that hallway. I don’t know who was having a better time, but it seemed to us that he loved having an audience of young radio folks, and I know that Bill and I could not believe our luck in having a private Jean Shepherd concert! After about 45 minutes, he decided that he’d better take off as he had to drive into the city, and honestly I have no recollection if we helped him find his car or not, but I know I will never forget the night we spent in the hall of WCWP being entertained by our childhood hero, Jean Shepherd!

I also won’t forget seeing Kenny play the part of Jean Shepherd in A

Jean and Ralphie imagining in Higbee's display window

Jean and Ralphie imagining in Higbee’s display window

Christmas Story, the Musical! Just after Thanksgiving last year, Susie and I flew to Chicago and then drove to Warsaw, Indiana. Sitting in that darkened theater the two nights we saw the show, enjoying the music that was added, watching our son play Jean Shepherd on the radio, and being transported back to those nights as a boy I struggled to stay awake till his stories were finished…well, to be honest, it doesn’t get much better than that! Thanks Kenny for giving Mom and I a reason to get to Warsaw, Indiana and see A Christmas Story, the Musical, and for transporting me back all those years to my darkened bedroom in Jackson Heights, NY, and my Zenith bedside radio tuned to 710 AM! One of the benefits of being the father of a talented son!

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