Most of you will recognize the studio in the picture on the front of my new book, “Staying Happy, Healthy, And Hot.” Some of you will remember when the guy in the picture looked like that. But only if you remember WNEW from when “head shots” were all black and white, 8 x 10 glossies. It was an appropriate picture for the front of a fun book about being happy, because there was never a happier time in my life than the night that picture was taken.
Let me explain: I’m from Bay Ridge. My folks gave me a “portable” radio for Christmas when I was about 8. I don’t think I turned it off ‘till Easter. It was a magic box full of music and voices. The music was made by people with names like Frank, and Ella, and “The Count,” and “The Singing Rage.” The voices belonged to people named Gene Klavan, Dee Finch, William B. Williams, Ted Brown, Al Collins, and Art Ford.
The magic box immediately spoke to me. “Shazam!” it said. And instantly, I changed from a stickball kid dreaming of playing in Dodger Blue, to a disc jockey in training. The training went on for quite a while. About 30 years to be fairly exact.
I was on the air at one of America’s premier radio stations, WBZ in Boston, when the studio phone lit, and the station’s receptionist said, “Somebody by the name of Nat Asch wants to talk to you.” Nat was the Program Director at WNEW-FM. I heard him say, “George Duncan and I would like you to come down and do an audition for us.” I grabbed both eyelids and finally got them pulled down, forced my voice down an octave, and with my most professional diction, I think I said something like, “Gezornenplatz.”
The audition must have gone well, because I became the first morning man on WNEW-FM. And I will never forget that first morning. 6:30 AM – the studio door opens, and Gene Klavan walks in. “Welcome to the staff” he says. I find myself shaking the hand of one of the guys who shook me out of bed each morning since I was a kid. 7:00 AM – the studio door opens, and Dee Finch walks in. “Welcome and lots of luck, kid” he says. I am semi ready for that, and I manage to say something terribly clever : “Thank you Sir…Mr. Finch… Dee… lighted to meet you.”
At 9:30 AM – the studio door opens, a bright golden light shines down from heaven, a Norman Luboff choir sings, the tectonic plate under Fifth Avenue shifts, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a vision that looks exactly like what God would look like if he were a disc jockey. William B. Williams. He strides in, sticks out his hand to shake mine, and in that crackly bass-baritone rumble that he uses all the time except when he’s doing national TV commercials, he says, “Hi kid. Welcome to the staff. You sound fine.” I am not ready for that. But I am determined that I’m not going to fall back on my Gezornenplatz again either. I immediately engage my sub-conscious editor, which is able to make some kind of actual human verbal response the substance of which has, in the intervening decades, faded quietly into literary oblivion.
It really was a reasonable response, although I must admit that I was momentarily confused at the time as to whether the appropriate ritual was to shake Willie’s hand, or just kiss his ring. As I recall I said something like “Thank you.” But then my sub-conscious editor went into shock and off line, and I think I kept saying, “Oh thank you. Oh thank you” for the next five or six minutes.
I don’t know when the all female lineup ended. When I got to WNEW-FM the station had been into the “Classic Rock” format for a while. All except for Klavan and Finch. I suspect the all female cast went out. . . except for Alison, who moved from mornings to all nights. . .and then they got around to hiring me to do mornings. I only did the morning show for a few months. Zacherly replaced me.
Dave Croniger had asked me if I wanted to move over to AM and do the Milkman’s Matinee. Me…the Bay Ridge Stick Ball Kid, was going to try to follow the vocal chords of the smoothest ad lib air personality on the planet. . . Art Ford. . . I don’t remember him ever bruising his phrasing. It was amazing phrasing. (Editor’s note: Art Ford hosted the Matinee between 1942 and 1954. Dick Summer’s immediate predecessor in 1968 was Marty O’Hara.) It was shortly after that when Newsday sent a reporter and photographer to do a story on me, and the picture on the front of the book was taken. So now you know why an old black and white picture is on the front cover of my new book, called “Staying Happy, Healthy And Hot.” There was never a happier time in my life than the night that picture was taken.
About three weeks after the article was published, Billboard Magazine reported that I had “resigned.” I didn’t resign. Julius LaRosa was hired to do afternoons, and the station moved the entire lineup back one shift. There wasn’t any place to move me, except to weekends. And I had a family to support. That wasn’t going to work financially.
I had a good reputation in Boston from my time at WBZ, so Mac Richmond hired me to program his station, WMEX. That lasted two years. I’m not an office/executive kind of guy. And I wanted to come home to New York again. The morning show at WPLJ opened up, and they were kind enough to hire me. Some folks at NBC Network took an interest, and offered me a slot on Monitor. Another offer I couldn’t refuse. But WPLJ was owned by ABC, and they weren’t having any of it. NBC understood the financial problem, and gave me the overnight slot on WNBC to go along with Monitor.
I was fired from WNBC in a purge that replaced the entire staff. I did a few years as the morning drive guy at WPIX during the “Love Songs” era. Then they went fake jazz, and they told me they “didn’t want any Dick Summer radio.” I don’t know how to do any other kind of radio. So when Harry and Charles Binder offered me the Communications Director job with their Social Security Disability practice, I signed up. It has been a hugely successful venture.
Along with the 9 to 5, I’ve been producing spoken word CD’s, doing a weekly blog and podcast and now we’ve got the book. It has been a wonderful run…this radio thing…a long and very satisfying career. WNEW was probably the shortest part of it. But WNEW was my station growing up in Bay Ridge. And having the honor of saying those call letters on the air was, as the song says, “The thrill of it all.”
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