Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Historians pretty much agree that radio as we know it began in 1922. 

 I think that by 2022, at the latest, it will no longer exist. 

It probably won't even last that long. At least not in any way resembling what it was, or is today.

Right now, its audience is largely confined to automobiles, but very soon, the car companies will be equipping their new vehicles with Internet capability....and that will kill terrestrial radio. 

And the demise of free over the air TV will not be far behind.  

 There are a number of reasons why; people's habits have changed dramatically. They no longer watch TV like they did even few years ago. They listen to music on the Internet or download it and play it on who knows what, but they don't listen to it on radio anymore. Americans are also cutting the TV cord as well, and watching only the shows they want to...when they want to...without the commercials...via the internet and cable.  It's possible now to watch a whole season of a particular show in just a couple of nights.

The other reason is that the government wants that digital spectrum that they gave away to broadcasters a long time ago for their radio and TV stations, BACK.  It's now not only worth a lot of money, which they could reap if they sold it to cell phone companies, and such, but they could also use it themselves... for... oh,..... whatever (can you say NSA?)  But I digress.

 Having worked in the broadcast business since I was 15 I was in the middle of many changes over the years.

Forgive me for boring you with yet another story about my days "playing" in the radio/TV biz, but that's basically how I felt about it; playing.

 It was a great life. I enjoyed almost every moment of it. I feel as though I never "worked" a day in my life. 

And there was definitely a Central High School connection, for which I am very grateful.

 Don Nance, my friend since the 5th grade, came across this old newspaper clipping, that frankly I never knew existed:

  That was the beginning of my more than 60 years of broadcasting. 

During those years I performed many roles; Announcer, DJ, TV host, Kiddie Show fill in, Play by play TV sports announcer (for one UNC Spring Football game) Radio feature writer/reporter, Announcer for FACE THE NATION  and other CBS shows, Host of the US AIR FORCE's world wide syndicated show, SERENADE IN BLUE, multiple commercials and Public Service Announcements, etc...

Don Nance
I never properly thanked those CHS students who were with me on that "Operation Talent" show that introduced me to my next 60 years...But, better late than never.

Thank you, my friends!

Lewis Nathanson

Delores Dollar

Linsy Farris

After all those years and stations,...the memories of my first job at WGIV in Charlotte are undoubtedly the sweetest. 

Something else reminded me recently of that cutting-edge, forward thinking, little station by the city dump.  It was the passing of Pete Toomey. 

Pete Toomey
Pete came to the attention of WGIV's founder Francis M. Fitzgerald at about the same time I was hired as the High School DJ. That would have been 1951-52. Pete lived a few houses down from the station and hung around a lot. It wasn't long before he started volunteering for small chores around the station and soon began picking up spending money doing larger tasks. He was always pleasant and well liked by the staff and before long had taught himself, with the help of our Chief Engineer Bill Lineberger, electrical engineering. After that, he became indispensable. (The station's address was "Toomey Ave,"  probably named after one of Pete's ancestors who was an early "settler" of that neighborhood.)

Hound Dog Promo Button
By the time I had moved on and entered college, Mr. Fitzgerald decided to let Pete try performing a little "on air" work. He did so well that it wasn't long before he had a loyal following of people who were hooked on that new "Rock and Roll" and the DJ who called himself, the "Hound Dawg."

If my memory is correct I believe Pete showed up several times in the number one spot according to the Charlotte radio ratings. I was told that his on air success never went to his head and he remained ever ready to help around the station, even continuing to change the light bulbs on the tower.!

Pete later joined the Charlotte Police Department in 1965 from which he retired in 1990. 

Chatty Hattie (Leeper)
He was almost the last link to the old WGIV that I worked for.  As far as I know, only "Chatty Hattie" and I are left from those "golden 50's and 60's days. By the way, Hattie Leeper (her real name) is now in the Black Radio Hall of Fame.  (Way to go, Hatty!)

All of us during the that time were "feeling" our way around. Big stations like WBT were still "riding the network" most of the day, with soap operas and quiz shows and dramas.  TV had yet to "kill off" that kind of radio programing. But soon, all radio stations would be following the independents like WGIV and be forced to produce their own shows...the most successful of which turned out to be DJ's playing records all day.

Bernie Pruet (engineer)             Mr. Fitz                  Ed
We tried a number of things before settling on "all music." I remember one summer we tried out a quiz show, called "Stump the Staff."  At 10am each weekday, everyone, the accountant, the secretary, Frances Crowell, Mr. Fitz, and anyone else in the building at the time would gather in our one small studio and try to answer questions that the listeners would call in.  The quality of the phone lines had not evolved enough at that time to be put on the air, so one of us would pick up the line and convey the listener's question to the staff.

Samuel (Genial Gene) Potts
The questions were generally pretty weak. The answers even weaker.  I remember one lady's question was directed to Genial Gene. She asked Gene if he could answer the question, "Who is my Sunday school teacher?"

Believe it or not, Gene answered it correctly...after asking her what Church she attended and what her age was, etc.

But I remember thinking at the time that "Stump the Staff" was not yet ready for "prime time."

In 1952/53 radio was still trying to appeal to "everyone."  We would feature Rhythm and Blues (that's what early Rock and Roll was called, before that it was called "race" music ) followed by Patti Page (that "Doggie in the WIndow" and so forth) Guy Lombardo, Wayne King, Tommy Dorsey...we would even play hymns several times a day. Most of  the day was broken up into 15 minute segments......The Lawrence Welk Show...followed by the Wayne King Show...then the Guy Lombardo Show....and the first time I ever said anything on the air as an official, paid announcer was, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 15 minutes of music by the "Sentimental Gentleman of Swing, Tommy Dorsey..."

Original WGIV building 1952
I won't attempt to tell you how garbled that came out.......but try saying that fast a few times...and you'll get the idea.

The little building we were in was so small that we had to put the AP ticker (Associated Press wire machine) in the bathroom, which, as we used to say, gave new meaning to the phrase, "...and now, from the WGIV newsroom..." That building, by the way, was originally part of the Morris Field complex during WW2. Mr. Fitzgerald had a way of getting the biggest bang possible out of his bucks.  The transmitter itself, as well as the tower were both purchased at auction from the North Carolina Highway patrol.

NPR in Washington, DC
A few weeks ago, I read about NPR's (National Public Radio) new headquarters in Washington. You have to see it to believe it. I was most impressed by its size and the fact that they have their own chef, plus, a wellness center, a gym, and, of course,  no 55,000 square foot station would be complete without....a couple of beehives on the roof which house  20,000 bees that are there to pollinate the vegetation up there. (Can you say "tax dollars?")

Ed pretending to know what he's doing
Around 1952, Mr. Fitz decided that we needed more room, so he purchased the soon to be torn down, pre-fab temporary Catholic School building on the other side of town and had it moved to Toomey Ave next to our little building beside the tower.
I spent several weeks of that summer, along with Pete and one of my high school buddies, Dieter Schock painting our new offices.  We were all paid the minimum wage which was 75 cents an hour...and we were glad to get it.

Unlike NPR, we didn't have any bees nests on the roof, but there was a wasp nest up there which we had a heck of a time getting rid of.

  While we were painting the walls, the boss was decorating his office with a huge new fangled kind of mural.  A paint-by-the-number mural.

Well, as Mr. Fitz always said, "It doesn't matter what a station looks like.  It's what it SOUNDS like."

The first summer I was at the station, there was a cow that grazed on the land around the station's tower and the studio wasn't air conditioned so the only way we could tolerate the heat was to open the window.  It wasn't unusual to hear that cow mooing between records.

There must have been some sort of agreement among the Charlotte Post Office workers that if any mail had an illegible address, it was automatically sent to Genial Gene. I saw envelopes with only the word gene...written on it and others totally undecipherable.......sitting on  Gene's desk.  And they were all meant for him.

One of the cardinal sins in radio back then was to curse....on the air.  It was simply unforgivable.
It was such a "no, no" we wouldn't even pronounce the name of a small musical group that was popular back then; The Art Van Damm Quintet."

We would introduce it as "The Art Van Darn Quintet."  Sometimes, "The Art Van Heck Quintet."

Julian Barber
Johnny Surratt
When Julian Barber (whose uncle by the way was Red Barber) returned from serving in Korea, he tried to get his old job as an announcer and newsman at WAYS back, but they refused.  So, he applied at WGIV and became the news director. The two primary announcer/DJs were Johnny Surratt and Eric Dehlin. Both were very helpful to this young newbie and taught me a lot about the business. I will always be grateful to the memory of those two men. Johnny did an afternoon show called "It's Surratt Race." 

Julian's job mainly consisted of writing and presenting the noon news, following which, Eric,  one of the smoothest DJ's I ever worked with, would begin his afternoon show.  Since we only had one studio, one mic and one chair, Julian would finish his newscast and while the commercial was playing, get up from the chair so Eric could sit down, then after the commercial, Julian would give the weather forecast and the close of the newscast over Eric's shoulder. Then Eric would "roll" his theme song (start the turntable) and begin his show, talking over the theme. 

Eric Dehlin
 Each of our two turntables (located on either side of the DJ) contained a switch which allowed us to  play either a 78 OR a 33 1/3 rpm record...depending on the way the switch was positioned.  Well, Julian was a great practical joker and while he was closing out his newscast over Eric's shoulder, he loved to surreptitiously flip that switch on the turntable where Eric's theme song was cued, so that  instead of starting out bright and lively, would sound slow and dark, not unlike a dying moose. 

After the first couple of times, Eric got wise to Julian and afterward would double check the turntable and flip the switch to its proper position, if necessary, before starting his theme song.

But one day, he forgot...and as the first sounds of the "dying moose" began to go out over the airwaves and the engineer turned the mic to the "on" position, the WGIV audience heard, " G - D  Dammit !"  As far as I've been able to determine, that was a "first" for Charlotte radio.

Eric later apologized on the air and I don't believe anything was ever said about it after that.
Radio was a very "forgiving" medium back then.

If something outrageous was said (and it rarely was) there was no practical way people could go back and check.  They would simply assume that they had heard it wrong.
Although, I'm sure anyone who's still around who was listening that day, remembers it.

That teenage talent show only aired one time.  That was because the station recorded the show on a new fangled medium, called audio tape (which the Germans had invented during the war and we stole afterwards.)  WGIV's one tape recorder broke a couple of days after "Operation Talent" aired so I was asked to just play records for the following Saturday's show.  (Being a DJ was what I wanted to do in the first place.) 
Francis M. Fitzgerald

Mr. Fitz was one of the most remarkable men I've ever known. He always had about 10 new big ideas going at a time.  Not all of them amounted to anything, but enough came to fruiition to make him a wealthy man.  He had plans for that little station to eventually become WGIV-TV, so he placed a mirror behind our one microphone so we could practice. He did actually receive a license from the FCC for Charlotte's second TV channel, but sold it when he realized that people had to buy a "TV converter" to receive the signal.  That station was channel 36.

Another idea he had was to build a huge media center in Charlotte to house all his proposed broadcast properties. It was to be named "Radio City" or something like that. I believe evidence of that can still be seen in the general area of the original location of WGIV.  I think it now houses apartments called "Radio Center Apartments or...?"...whatever.

There was no reason for members of our class to remember this, but another one of Mr. Fitz' ideas at the time was forming and leading a dance band consisting of some of Charlotte's finest jazz musicians. He did, and asked me if I could use any influence I had with the powers that be to select his new band to debut by performing at the Central High Senior Prom. 

His band was chosen, but not because of my influence, but because he offered them for free.

No doubt your memories of what the heck the band sounded like at our senior prom is the last thing in your vast memory bank.  But, believe me, they were very good!

I think Mr. Fitz was hoping to bring back the Big Band craze of the '30's, but like radio, those days are gone forever.  May they rest in peace.

Thanks for listening.