It was a once in a lifetime gathering of “Awesomely Ancient Radio Personalities.”
“The Dinosaur” - Syracuse, New York’s leading Classic Rock station - had invited all the Rock & Roll DJs from earlier times to join in celebrating the 75th birthday of WOLF - AM. Wolf and WNDR-AM were the first radio facilities in Central New York to pioneer Top 40 programming in the late ‘50s and had been bitter competitors for many years.
A permanent truce established after six decades, disc-jockeys from both outlets were interviewed last Saturday in a four-hour program broadcast over four separate frequencies and streamed on the web around the world. I was particularly honored being asked to host a final hour of commemorative programming before the start of a live concert featuring two great local bands.
Treasured memories flooded in.
WNDR days marked the very birth of the Rock era. It advanced in a vacuum more than partially enhanced by traditional radio professionals shunning any aspect of the new music, a fusion of grass roots Country and Western and black-based Rhythm and Blues. I and other young enthusiasts were more than willing to step forward and grab the microphones.
I started riding my bike out to WNDR, which had moved to a swampy area just outside town where the towers were located. I was soon answering phones on weekends for 50 cents an hour. I would have paid them to be there.
My first efforts at WNDR were extended to include writing early morning news. I cajoled my way into doing a few trial newscasts, and then a regular weekend news schedule. It was temporary dues paying on the road to the holiest of all possible grails. Almost everyone acknowledged the real radio stars.
After mounting a relentless, non-stop campaign to get a shot, Program Director Bill Quinn finally acquiesced. It was determined that I be allowed a one-hour live on-air audition at midnight the following Sunday when the station would normally sign-off for maintenance.
I wrote every word I would say on paper, practiced every record introduction hundreds of times, sat in the control room hours on end watching every move made, and memorized dozens of different one-liners to use if I needed to ad-lib. I prepared for my moment of glory with unyielding commitment.
The adrenaline hit as soon as I sat down. The very first time I reached to open the microphone, an ignition switch on my own, personal “rocket to stardom,” I totally crashed. Big time. Bad.
Instead of the control panel “microphone-on” button, my humble hand brushed against a “master-off” lever directly beneath the intended target. I promptly plunged WNDR into twenty minutes of starkly stone silence.
The engineer on duty, fairly new to the business himself, took that long to determine the extent of my stupidity. After my first hour was finished, I assumed I was as well - my premiere performance also a swan song.
By an astonishing stroke of fate or fortune, no one in management heard my curious initiation. I blamed the engineer for not discerning my dumbness more diligently. Soon I was pulling full DJ shifts on weekends. During my senior year in high school, I worked each evening from 7 p.m. to midnight. Hooper Ratings, then the accepted standard in radio listening measurement, displayed a 58% total audience share during the time period, more than every other station combined.
It was a single point in time and space brought back ever so briefly - old time dinosaur radio jocks in joyous reunion roaring like thunder with scorching, blow-torch Rock & Roll.
Hope I die before I get old.