Radio Days

Bad news travels fast. A friend of mine, from my radio days, has been fired from a job he’s held a dozen years. That is, unfortunately, the way of radio (TV too). Few jobs have permanence. Everyone is expendable.

It’s a shame because he’s a great guy – as nice as they come. And, from the articles I’ve read, he’s taken the high road. I’m not so sure I’d be that nice.

All this got me thinking back to this special radio station where we met. It was one of the last stations to try and make a go of music on AM. We were not successful.

I started at WPEN in 1975. We were on Walnut Street between 22nd and 23rd in Center City Philadelphia. It was an old building, full of history and a few mice.

The studios were nondescript, but I do remember the fire escape. It was ostensibly used to catch a smoke and some fresh air. That it overlooked the girl’s dorm for an art college was incidental.

We played oldies. So did another station, on FM. They were the station most oldies fans listened to. It had little to do with the quality of programming and everything to do with the very real difference between AM and FM.

The reason this station holds such as soft spot in my heart is because of how well defined it was. We made no bones about it. There was nothing hip about this place. We were a rock ‘n roll oldies station – very stylized.

The most original part of our sound wasn’t our music or jocks, but our news department. Yes, we presented the news, but with verve!

Each newsman had three names on-the-air – whether they did in real life or not. Brandon Barrett Brooks, Bruce Erik Smallwood, Rod Allen Fritz and William Wellington Cole&#185 (among others) graced our air.

There was a joke that Walter Cronkite had applied for a job, but was turned down. No middle name!

Smallwood was the leader of the band. When he said “Thunderstorms,” your radio shook. He is best known for what he said when Philadelphia Electric was going to raise its rates.

“Ready Kilowatt says his costs are up, so he’s going to (pause for effect) up yours!

I loved that station. It helped define my radio career. It was a fun place to work. Those days are not coming back anytime soon.

&#185 – William Wellington Cole was actually Mumia Abu Jamal. He is my only close encounter with someone who became a convicted murderer.

3 thoughts on “Radio Days”

  1. I remember the WPEN building and a comment you made at the beginning of Love Child by the Supremes. The song starts with Diana saying tenament slum, and you said, OH, so you’ve seen our building. The WPEN call letters remained on the buidling for quite a while.

    I gather your comments are about Chris McCoy. It was a shock to read he was fired. I haven’t heard much since that one little blurb in the Inquirer.

    Hope the poker weekend was a winning one.

    GO EAGLES!!!

  2. I also have fond memories of that place….

    the morning after a newsperson fell and hurt their back in the newsroom..we came in to find a chalk outline where the “body” had been on the floor….

    then there was the time we “dressed up” a male staff member in yellow AP paper to surprise a newsman while he was on the air (long story)


    not to mention the calls to the pay phone across Walnut Street…how sad when the station moved to Bala…no payphone to watch 🙁

    ahhhh, great memories!

  3. 95 PEN really cratered when the Disco Craze hit. There was nothing so incongruous as listening to Joe Niagara spin one awful disco track after another. Philly’s obsession with Barry Manilow didn’t help either. Not even Joey Reynolds could save PEN when things returned to normal in the 80’s. Who loves you pretty baby?

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