I spent some ten and a half years at 62WHEN…from April 1980 thru the end of October of 1990...and what a ride it was!
You see, as a student at Ithaca College during the mid-70s, 62WHEN was my "dream station!" When I discovered the station in 1976, it was called "Your Station," and every personality was a heavy hitter. Phil Markert, Ray Diorio, Jim Shafer, Jay Fredericks, Pete McKay were the full timers, Captain Gordon(Gordon Spooner) was the air traffic reporter and the news department was nothing short of amazing. The station promoted heavily(The top hour ID, by Jeff Laurence, imaged WHEN as "The Home of the 62 Heavy Chevy!") and was deeply involved in the community. The kind of station I wanted to be on!
I first visited there in March, 1977, with fellow WTKO staffer John Jarrett, seeing Pete McKay at work on a Sunday night overnight at the old James St studios. I can still remember hearing Pete play "Horse with No Name" and "Walking to New Orleans" as oldies…while I perused the huge cart wall of songs behind him. Major league in every way!
I finally got my chance at the Big 62 in 1980. I was working for a small station in Burlington, Vermont at the time, and very few people know that I was up for the mid-day job that March…but I lost out to some guy named Joe Gallagher. Being all of 23, all I could think was "Joe WHO?" and "How could this guy ever be better than ME?" In just a few short weeks, I was hired-over the phone--to replace Bruce Oberle and found out just how good "Joe Who" was!
But I digress! My first visit as a new employee to 620 Old Liverpool Road was memorable. I was bowled over by the facility. I sat with Bruce Siegel, the Operations Manager who hired me, and Bob Carolin, the General Manager, in Bob’s office and Bob said, “Well, you have six hours a night…what do you want to do with it?” He was giving me free license to program my own show! And I remembered a former all-nighter, Dave Greene, had done a wonderful trivia show mixed with music…now on the air at WGY in Schenectady. THAT’S what I wanted to do!
My first shift was Monday morning, April 28th, 1980…I don’t know that I’d ever been that excited in my life…finally, I was hitting the big time…a big station with a big signal! Will always remember my first song out of the midnight news. "Suspicion" by Eddie Rabbit. A hit from the previous summer, placed in the cart machine by the previous jock(it should have been Tom Owens…but I believe it was Vic Johnson, filling in on that Sunday night!). And my first words after saying the calls and my name were something like…"you don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to say that!" There IS a tape somewhere in my garage! And thus, MY 62WHEN "Wonder Years" began!
For two and a half years, I did the overnight show and had the time of my life! "Point Trivia" consisted of a couple of questions each hour, and people-and teams, often from SU and workplaces- would call in to play nightly. The third shift was alive and well-and at the end of the week, whoever accumulated the most points won an amazing prize…perhaps a Coney Island Hot Dog Steamer, or an Oster Sizzle Grill, usually worth about 25 bucks! We were a BIG budget operation!!!!
Point Trivia was more about the fun of getting your name on the air and becoming a Trivia champ than it was about the prizes…Routinely, more than a hundred people participated regularly in any given week, and I spent HOURS each week trying to come up with great questions from all kinds of categories…and of course, keeping track of points was part of it as well. Remember, this is before the Internet and personal computers, so it was all done in longhand! But it was engaging for both listeners and me, and it sure beat just "playing the hits!” And it helped me create a really high profile-amazing for an overnight jock-- in a town that I loved from day one. So much so that I got vanity plates for my Chevy Citation, "MrTrivia" and occasionally, a cop would pull me over…just to try to stump me!
I also got occasional breaks from the overnight hours to do vacation relief for others…on and off the air. My first summer included some PM Drive duty for Jay Flannery. I also filled in as Production Manager, midday jock, and in 1981, became Captain Scott King’s designated fill-in for air traffic in "The Spirit of Syracuse," flying with wonderful pilots like the late Dave Hudson…and sometimes, unbeknownst to listeners, the Captain himself…who was being paid for flying the plane while on vacation(and staying off the air!).
Tuesday night softball became a must! Different town every week, lots of laughs and usually, a lot of beer afterward! I had the unusual distinction of becoming the only WHEN GP Basebreakers to be injured BEFORE the season---while taking the team photo in the station driveway! I sprained my ankle by slipping off the edge of the station driveway(Joe Gallagher and I were playing catch, I missed the ball and was chasing it). Two weeks on crutches and yes, beer, but no softball!(I later duplicated the feat by spraining my ankle during a 62 WHEN Heavy Spikers volleyball game). And post games at the Retreat! But I NEVER ever went on the air sauced! I was young but I had a gig I wanted to keep!
My coworkers -- really, teammates---made those "Wonder Years" so much fun. I didn’t always know what kind of mood morning man Ray Diorio was going to be in, but I knew when to steer clear-and when to joke with him at the crack of before-dawn. I later learned just how hard it can be to be in a good mood in the morning! Ray had the best pipes and one of the friendliest deliveries around. Mr. Smooth!
Joe "Wee Wee" Gallagher should get a chapter all his own in my book! No one made me laugh as hard as he did…no one was more self deprecating or more talented than he was. But Joe was not the best housekeeper in the world; I remember going to his "bachelor pad" once…dishes piled high in the sink…I asked when he was going to wash them and he said, "Oh, when they start talking to me!" Joe is tied with about four other people as the best coworker I’ve ever had…and even though I slid into his midday slot when he left us in 1982, I was broken hearted to see him go. He was a great talent, but even more than that, he was a really nice human being.
Joe followed Ray Diorio on the air, of course…Ray was , shall we say, not a fan…because while HE was the morning guy, it was Joe who truly captured the imaginations of his listeners and coworkers. It didn’t sit well with Ray, and while Joe and Ray did none of the customary cross talk at the change of shifts, Joe and Jay Flannery often did…and sometimes, more than that…
Joe’s on air alter ego was "Marge." Jay’s was "Wrinkles." Two older sounding women who belonged at Loretto Geriatric Center…not on the radio! One day, Joe and Jay-I mean, Marge and Wrinkles-took over the radio station for about a half hour! There IS a tape of this somewhere….funnier than hell, at least, it seemed so at the time! Theatre of the mind…or sometimes, the mindless!
And Joe came up with softball nicknames for all of us. Ray was "Raisin Bran Diorio." Ray didn’t like that much! Joe was "Wee Wee Gallagher"(a take off on hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese). Jay Flannery was "Brownie" as in "Brown Nose." Dick O’Neil, our nighttime jock, was "Stinky." And I was "P-U." As in Peter Ulysses King
. News hound Dave Bullard became "Moose," which is what I call him to this day. Vic Johnson, who later became our nighttime personality, was "Sasquatch," because he was a big, tall man!
I loved working with Jay Flannery, who always took my jokes about his age with grace and class…When I first met him, I said "I used to listen to you in Elmira when I was a little kid…" Jay... "Really?" Me..."Yeah…and I’m only 35 years old!!!" I was 23. Amazing that he still talks to me to this day! Jay manned the PM Drive shift for 11 years …I’ll always remember that while most of us worked with high quality headphones(called "cans" in radio vernacular), he worked with an old-school "Brush" single earpiece(that I called his "can.") that was probably leftover from some World War II foxhole. These days, Jay is very much the keeper of the flame of WHEN’s "wonder years" and, I am proud to say, a good friend and one of the best people I’ve ever worked with.
We had terrific weekenders too….Jay Walker, "Your weekend buddy." He died in the mid ‘80s but was the perfect utility guy who could fill in on every shift. Dependable, sounded terrific on the air and enjoyed his one or two days a week. Tom Owens, too. Now working fulltime I believe in the business after retiring from the phone company, one of the truly sweetest human beings I’ve ever known. His picture is also next to the words, "nice guy" in Webster’s. And Diana Kelly and Leigh Taylor, who, I believe, became the first female jocks on the air at WHEN!
Bruce Siegel was our ops manager and production guy until budget cuts(I think) cost him his job in 1986. Funny as hell and really creative in the production studio, he always seemed to have a side scheme going on…Amway, real estate with no money down, that kind of thing. But a solid guy with a fantastic sense of humor and, apparently, a singing voice no one knew about, because he became a cantor.
The legendary Bill Carey was our News Director(and the PA announcer/comedian for the WHEN GP Basebreakers)…a man whose huge voice belied his physical appearance(a skinny guy who could have fit inside a gun barrel!). Jules Coleman
was the "Voice of God." What a set of pipes, what an anchor! Jeff Scheidecker was a former coworker at WTKO and a classmate of mine at Ithaca College(on softball nights, sometimes he’d see a plane over head and yell out, "CRASH!" as if hoping for a big story!), and Dan Cummings, also a ’TKO alum, became a legend for muffing the line, "watching the ball fall" one New Year’s morning-and never recovering. Wonder if he still remembers that?! But 99 times out of a hundred, he was as smooth as it gets. Tony Rizzo didn’t have what you’d call classic pipes but he was a newsman’s newsman and was a terrific reporter. Carole Ann Stripple worked with me on the overnights and became a good friend…Ann Grabowski later succeeded her in that shift.
On the FM side…When WONO went country and became WRRB…Ron Bee and Jim Tate from the old WOLF(Jim was "Charlie Brown" on WOLF), Gary Dennis from WNDR and Becky Palmer("The Cowgirl") from WSEN made up an all star staff. I saw Ron every morning at the crack of 5 and he was ALWAYS in a cheerful mood. I love that man. Gary and I later shared an office and a lot of laughs about things that were SO politically incorrect…that I cannot write about them here! Jules "JJ" Jenners was a part-timer, then full-timer, who occasionally earned extra bucks by doing appearances as "Brewster the Rooster!"
And how could I not mention the sales staff? After all, as one of our fine salespeople reminded me early on, "I pay your salary!!!!" Seriously! The first time I met him, that’s how he introduced himself! "Hi, I’m Ed McKee and I pay your salary." The first time it was funny…but then, a few days later, he reminded me of that again! So I said, "Well, Ed, then you need to give me a raise because I’m only making NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS A YEAR!!!!!!" That was the LAST time I ever heard that sentence from Ed! Rick Yacobush joined the station shortly after I arrived. We also had Barney Sadowski, Cathy Crawford, Joe Salibra and Lee Vanden-Handel, who, in the late 80’s was part of the duo that sent Rush Limbaugh into national syndication.
Cindy Thomason was our Promotions Director, organizer and keeper of the prize closet and the Heavy Vette. She was like a prison guard with that prize closet, and pushed hard for us to go out in the Vette more often but truly, she made those promotions work. Cindy was amazingly organized. She was one also of the few people I knew "on the inside" when I started there, as we were classmates at Ithaca and worked together at WTKO too! Notice a theme?
And how could I not say a few words about Bob Carolin. Simply one of the two best General Managers I’ve ever worked for. He cared about us as people, he looked out for us and in so many ways, protected us from all the corporate bullshit HE had to deal with. Bob gave me a LOT of leeway on the air, as he did for all of us…he told me from day one, “You’re your own program director” and very rarely, called me on the carpet for anything I did on the air.
One of those occasions, though, came in early 1982...where I won tickets to a Foreigner concert from what was then called 94Rock! On Big Mike’s morning show! Mike was a friend and I think I answered a trivia question to win! Well, Bob hit the ceiling, and I guess, rightfully so..by then, I was making a robust ELEVEN grand a year, so I should have been able to afford the tickets right? Well, Karma intervened…on concert night, my car got towed near the Carrier Dome! Cost me 125 bucks to get it back! When Bob asked me about the concert Monday morning…I told him…and he smiled a little bit! But he did not gloat!
Bob had a wicked sense of humor-especially on Halloween, where we were all encouraged to dress up. One year, Bob came in as a pregnant nun! He did a whole lot of stuff that was politically incorrect-things that could get him fired now, but back then, were almost always taken as intended…a really good guy trying to make the workplace fun and trying to make us feel like family. He knew he couldn’t pay us a lot, so he tried to make up for it in other ways. Dinner gift certificates, concert tickets(the Stones, for me in 1981!) and more. One year, with corporate clamping down, he made sure we all got turkeys for Christmas. He wasn’t perfect but he was under so much pressure and for the most part, really insulated us from the heat he was feeling from corporate. He stood by me through thick and thin, and I will always be grateful for all the opportunities I had under Bob’s leadership!
Then there were the listeners…prize pigs and genuinely wonderful people who tuned in and considered us family…There were too many to mention by name but there’s one guy I’d like to single out…he called himself the Godfather-and he wasn’t even Italian! When I answered the phone, it was always "bonjourno!" from him! He was a Point Trivia regular, didn’t get out a lot, so when I learned his address, I decided to go visit him…turned out that it was a not so great part of town…I went in daylight, rang the bell, and he showed up at the door with a menacing look on his face and a gun in his hand…and asked…."What’s your problem?" I backed off a little, introduced myself and the scowl melted away in moments. We had a wonderful telephone friendship for years.
I think the Godfather typifies the kind of listener we had in those days….he was a devoted listener and considered WHEN’s personalities as his extended family. We were so good at reaching out into the community and developing meaningful relationships. We were wonderful at showing our "human" side and not just the "show biz" persona that radio personalities are known to project. The remotes, the softball and volleyball games, the promotions like the 62WHEN Winter Olympics constantly put us with listeners, up close and personal. I loved driving the 62 Heavy Vette around the region…it was instantly recognizable and perhaps, beloved, even by those who didn’t listen to us regularly. Parades, pancake breakfasts, fireman’s field days, you name it…we were there. And it was so much fun being a part of a radio station which was so visible and so much a part of the fabric of Syracuse and Central New York.
I’m still friends with many of the people I worked with --and competed against- in Syracuse. And as I write this, I realize that today is the 32nd anniversary of the day Bruce Siegel hired me for that all-night shift! Yet, I remember so MANY things from that era as if they happened yesterday.
I later became midday personality(’82), Production Manager(’86), and finally Program Director(’88) before leaving for Rochester in 1990. I moved here to Florida in 1993, where I found a new career in journalism. And while I’m having the time of my life as an Orlando-based radio correspondent for CBS News,
nothing was ever more fun than my first two and a half years at 62WHEN. They truly WERE "The Wonder Years!"
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