I'll admit that I'm a day late on this, but August 20 is National Radio Day. Since I'm in the radio industry, I felt I should acknowledge that day. I've been planing this post for awhile. I like to talk about what makes radio great. Sadly, it has gotten me into trouble in the radio industry and at my job.
I used to get into discussions on statewide radio industry message board. Once there was a discussion on some of the greatest radio personalities and radio stations ever. I posted my thoughts on the subject. A person, who hosted a show on the radio station I worked for (he paid to be on the air), got upset because I didn't mention him or the radio station. He complained to my boss about my opinions and how he was slighted. The good news is this person is no longer in radio. The bad news is you don't want to know what this person is doing now.
This is a list of some of my favorite things about radio. This will be chronological to keep down arguments. I'm also keeping this national rather than local. I would love to do a post about local radio's influences on my career, but it wouldn't be of interest to very many people outside of Missouri. I'm sure the person mentioned above will be upset that his favorites are not going to be mentioned.
JACK BENNY - Benny was probably radio's first major personality and his show was a pop culture phenomenon. The catchphrases were everywhere, especially in the Warner Brothers cartoons. Benny created a persona for his radio show that was different from his real life self. Benny was a humble, very generous man, who was also a very competent violinist, but on radio, Benny played a conceded, tightwad, who was a horrible violin player. His show also created a strange fictional world that could have only exist on radio. He kept his money in an underground vault with multiple chains, steal doors, loud alarms, lions, gorillas, dragons and, most famously, a guard who had been on duty forever. He didn't know what a car, radio or movie was. Also Jack had his sarcastic African-American valet Rochester drive him around in worn out Maxwell car. The sound of the car was provided by Mel Blanc (he recycled the same voice for the 70s cartoon character Speed Buggy).
FRAN STRIKER - He was writer working at WXYZ in Detroit. He created The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.
In a 1970s poll, more people could recite the opening to The Lone Ranger than they could the Pledge of Allegiance.
ARCH OBOLER - Producer and creative mind behind the horror show Lights Out. Oboler used some graphic sound effects for people being electrocuted, monsters crushing their victims to death and chicken heart that grew to engulf a whole city.
ORSON WELLES - He made his first mark on radio as the voice of The Shadow and his playboy alter-ego, Lamont Cranston. He later created The Mercury Radio Theater of the Air, which produced a great version of Dracula. He produced and performed in a version of Heart of Darkness that Francis Ford Coppala says influenced Apocalypse Now. That would be enough, but his crowning achievement was his version of War of the Worlds, that mimicked radio news reports, blurred the line between drama and reality so well that it caused panic along the East Coast.
TODD STORZ - He watched a waitress use her tips to play the most popular hits on a juke box and thought "What if radio played only the top hits over and over?" He then created the Top 40 format at the exact birth of rock and roll in the mid 50s.
GARY OWENS - A smooth talking, wise cracking DJ, who became famous outside radio and the announcer on TVs Laugh-In and the voice of cartoon superheroes Space Ghost and Blue Falcon.
BILL DRAKE - He took what Todd Storz created in the 50s and modernized it in the 60s. Consulting other radio stations on how to do it. He update the jingles from 40s sounding pop to a dynamic rock instrumental with vocals by the Johnny Mann Singers. He had radio stations remove the sales department from any decisions about programing, including getting rid of long form live ads. An tightened up the presentation to an art form. "AND THE HITS JUST KEEP A COMIN!"
THE REAL DON STEELE - Drake's big star at KHJ in Los Angeles. The epitome of loud, fast-talking radio DJs. Later appeared in the films Death Race 2000, Eating Raole, and Rock & Roll High School.
BIG DADDY TOM DONAHUE - The opposite of The Real Don Steele and Wolfman Jack, but belongs along side Storz and Drake. Began as a jazz DJ in San Fransisco, a general manager forced Drake to fire him because he couldn't talk fast enough. Donahue looked at the growing counter culture scene of San Fransisco Haight-Ashbury and created underground radio. Slower, quieter DJs playing long LP cuts. In the 70s, it morphed into AOR radio and influenced college/alternative radio of the 80s. His DJs included Sly Stone, Ben Fong -Torres and Howard Hessman from WKRP and Head of the Class.
BYRON MACGREGOR - Worked as a news director for the Drake consulted CKLW in Windsor, Ontario, a rimshot of Detroit, in the early 70s. Windsor had very little news, Detroit was coming unglued with so many murders that the morgue ran out of room. MacGregor's booming voice and envelope pushing "if-it-bleeds-it-leads" news writing became legendary. No truth to the rumor MacGregor lead a newscast with "A 5 year old boy was strained like spaghetti through the grill of a Buick today," but he did record a patriotic, spoken word record called "The Americans," that became popular again after 9-11-2001.
CASEY KASEM - Once referred to as "the man who taught America how to count backwards." The L.A DJ and cartoon voice over actor, created the syndicated radio show, The American Top 40 Countdown, where he played the hits, gave positive, uplifting stories about the artist, Billboard chart trivia, sappy, tearjerker dedications, and turned rock and roll into a kind of cross between sports coverage and a soap opera. He always closed with "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."
DR. DEMENTO - A musicologist and music historian, who introduced audiences to some of the strangest novelty and comedy records ever made on his syndicated radio show of the 70s and 80s. He also is credited with playing homemade tapes by a listener named Weird Al Yankovic.
And those are the people who not only made radio great, but inspired my career in radio.