The Dick Summer (re) Connection, Chapter 4
Read the original at: http://dicksummer.net/dsblog/
I spent about 20 years at some of the nation’s biggest stations, WNEW, WNEW-FM, WNBC, WPLJ, WPIX, The NBC Radio Network, Westwood One Radio and Metromedia TV,..
Almost everyone reading this will have an “I hid the transistor radio under the pillow to listen to….” story to tell. Mine goes like this: Growing up in Brooklyn New York my favorite station was WNEW. The music was fine, but it was the guys on the air who made me listen. They weren’t “big voiced announcers.” They sounded like a bunch of guys who hung out with the musicians and singers who’s records they were playing. They were having a small, exclusive party with these stars, and I was invited. Gene Klavin and Dee Finch in the morning, with Trevor Traffic the virtual chopper pilot, the majestically suave and witty William B. Williams in middays, wonderful wise cracking Teddy Brown in afternoons, The Man with the Purple Tasmanian Owl, Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins in evenings, and the smoothest, calmest, warmest voice of all, Art Ford on the overnight Milkman’s Matinee. “Everything’s Grade A, with the Milkman’s Matinee” was part of the theme song. And Art’s voice somehow made everything ok. When I was little, Art made me feel safe, and cared for. He even chased away the midnight boogie men for me. When I got a little older, if I was upset, my guy Art would say just a few words, and everything really felt ok. These people weren’t announcers, or disc jockeys, they were my “guys.”
In one short, amazing sentence, “Willie B.” taught me everything I needed to know about being an “air personality.” He was interviewing Vic Damone one day. And Vic was discussing a charity with which he was involved. Willie let him talk. And then just very quietly he said, “You know…I really like you.” I was stunned. It was so simple. It was so real. Thinking about it all these years later still gives me a chill. I realize why now. Willie was talking to Vic, but I knew I was included. Me. The kid with big ears from 61st Street in Brooklyn. I was hanging with Willie and Vic. Willie’s voice put it’s arm around you and gave you a pat on the back, and a play punch on the shoulder. And his voice was that way because Willie was that way.
I was seven. I remember that because Jeannie Cambell who lived next door was having problems remembering which way the hat goes on a seven. I knew and I knew I liked teaching her. But at the time I couldn’t figure out why. I did figure it out a few years later. But in about the third grade I started dreaming of driving down the West Side Drive in Manhattan in a convertible with the top down, and Jeannie was sitting next to me, late at night, going to work at WNEW.
Then we moved to a different part of town, and I lost track of Jeannie, until high school. First high school dance…all boy’s school. Who am I going to take ? Dad said why not call Jeannie ? I did. She had changed. Wow had she changed. She turned me down. Ouch. Ungrateful wretch. After all I taught her. But that’s another story. This is the story about moving from Boston to New York.
I loved Boston. The only way I would leave was to go home to New York. So when the late and very great “Professor” Scott Muni was putting together a staff for WNEW-FM. I gave him a call. I guess he hired me because I was one of the few guys who knew the music. (See last week’s Blog.) And a few weeks later I was actually driving down the West Side Highway just before dawn in Manhattan, on my way to do the morning show at WNEW-FM. It was in a VW Bug instead of in a convertible. And it was with an even prettier girl than Jeannie Cambell, it was with my lady Wonder Wench. So HA ! Take that Jeannie Cambell ! You could have been there.
WNEW-FM had simulcast the Klavan and Finch show from the AM station forever. But now FM was striking out on its own. And there I was at 6AM trying to remember the frequency of the station to do the station break. At 6:30, the studio door opened and Gene Klavin walked in from down the hall at the AM station to welcome me to the station. GENE KLAVIN SAID WELCOME ! At the 7 AM break, the door opened and Dee Finch did the same thing. Those guys woke me up every morning since before there WAS a Jeannie Cambell. Then at 9:43 AM, the door opened again, and there he stood. William B. Williams. He said, “I’m William B. Williams, please call me Willie. I’m going on the air at 10, (as if I didn’t know) but I just wanted to drop in and welcome you to the station.” I didn’t know if I should shake his hand or kiss his ring. But I had the presence of mind to force my voice down about two octaves and give him my best Brooklyn, “Hi. Glad to meet you.”
The FM morning show only lasted a few months before they switched me to the AM station to do overnights. That meant…THE MILKMAN’S MATINEE. The theme song said, “When the world should all be sleeping, but a melody comes creeping…everything’s grade A on the Milkman’s Matinee.”I was following Art Ford, the guy who chased away the boogie men for me when I was a kid. The guy who made “everything Grade A on the Milkman’s Matinee.” I was excited. I was also determined to do my best not to hurt the legacy that Art Ford had left me. Now it was up to me to see to it that everything would be “Grade A “while I was on the Milkman’s Matinee.
They’re all gone now. Gene, Dee, Willie, Ted, Al and Art. Even the WNEW-AM call letters are gone. And imposters have hi-jacked the FM station. “To everything there is a season” says the Book. So be it. But when things you care about crumble, you ought to at least learn a lesson from the experience. The lesson here is that everything has to change to survive. That includes the voices you hear on the radio. Losing those voices was like losing the people who owned them. And in this case, those people were friends. That’s a hard lesson. A lesson everybody in America learned again big time on September 11, 2001. My Lady Wonder Wench worked on the 34th Floor of the North Tower in the late ‘70s. I covered the Tall Ships parade for NBC Radio from the roof of the South Tower in 1976. The towers were just a few miles away from the studios on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where those voices once lived. Those long ago voices that put an arm around your shoulder and gave you a pat on the back. They’ve been gone for a long time. Most people now wouldn’t believe that once upon a time, the radio could actually make you feel safe, and cared for, and even chase the boogie men away.
America won’t ever be the same. Radio won’t either. But “To everything there is a season,” according to the Book. For me, once upon a time there was the Jeannie Cambell season. I’m here to tell you that the Wonder Wench Season for the Jeannie Cambell Season trade has worked out just fine. The original radio connection you and I made was a pennant winner. It’s going to be hard to beat. But let’s see what happens. I think we’re off to a great start. That’s why I call this the Dick Summer re Connection