On The Passing Of Steve Fredericks

He told a story of being pleasured by a woman under the desk while he was on the air

Steve Fredericks died this weekend. Pancreatic cancer. That is not the way I want to go.

Steve Fredericks played a large part in my life, which makes it strange this is the first time I’m mentioning him in the blog.

Back in 1969 I was officially a student, but really just living in a dorm and enjoying Boston. Steve was a liberal talk show host on WMEX.

Imagine WKRP brought to life. That was WMEX!

The station was owned and run by Mac Richmond, possibly the oddest man to ever own a station. He knew the price of everything and watched every penny. Really, every penny!

The station facility reflected Mac’s thriftiness. 111 Broadway was the Mac of buildings! It was foolishly designed by California architects who forgot Boston had winter. During one January you could see your breath.

There was a non-working water fountain in the talk studio. Rather than repair it Mac had a sign made proclaiming its inoperability!

At 1510 kHz WMEX was high up on the AM dial with a poor signal that covered little of the market. After dark you would often hear out-of-town stations overriding WMEX on monitors inside the building! Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

Fredericks worked in a studio designed for talk with its own entrance to Broadway in Boston’s “Combat Zone.” On the door was lettered “Steve Fredericks and,” then an obviously skipped line followed by, “Auditorium.” There was originally another host who shared the room. When he left Mac decided to save money and kept “and” for the next guy.

There never was a next guy.

Fredericks was in his late 20s or early 30s when I met him. He had curly hair, a bushy porn mustache and what I now realize was a Philadelphia accent.

He had a beautiful young girlfriend, Brenda, who later became one in a string of wives. Back then I had the hots for Brenda.

It was the late 60s. America was sharply divided between hawks and doves. There was always someone to battle on-air and Fredericks was a good battler.

At the time I thought he was great. Actually, I idolized him.

Along with my friend Howard Lapides (whose son was bar mitzvahed last weekend in Los Angeles) and my secret friend in the San Fernando Valley I was a “producer.” For $1.60 an hour we screened calls and escorted visitors in and out of the studio.

It was my first paying job in the business and I relished it.

Fredericks sometimes told the story of being pleasured by a woman, under the desk, while he was on the air. As the story went Steve was telling a caller the war in Vietnam was “immoral” as he reached bliss. He would stretch out the word “i-m-m-o-r-a-l” for effect.

Was it true? Who knows. Back then I believed it. That’s when it counted.

Steve’s real name was Steven Frederick Oxman. The three of us knew that. It was our secret which we quickly spread to anyone who’d listen. It was our radio bona fides.

$1.60 an hour jobs were meant to be short term. It wasn’t long before I moved away and lost touch with Steve. I caught up again a decade later when he was arrested.

Steve was now a sports talk show host back home in Philly at WIP. He was arrested in North Philadelphia after buying $5 of heroin!

I called him. As I remember my side of the conversation went…

“Steve, I understand some people get in strange places with drugs and I feel bad for you, but $5 worth? Really? You were busted for $5 worth?”

He told me the story. The details have faded, but it wasn’t like a cop writing you up for 65 when you were doing 80. Steve was really busted for $5 worth of smack.

As far as I know he got straight and drugs were now a distant memory.

It’s because of my work for Steve Fredericks that I got to hang out at a radio station. It’s where I really wanted to be. Thank you, Steve.

He was a smart guy. He was a good radio guy.

He had more talent than career. That’s a shame.

When Steve smiled and tugged a little on his ‘stache you could believe the under the desk story. Every word.

Why I’m Envious of Rick Allison

When I was a kid, growing up in the heart of the 50s, I knew the name and voice of every booth announcer on TV. There were men like Wayne Howell, Gene Hamilton, Don Pardo, Bill Wendel, Ed Herlihy, Fred Foy, Don Robertson, Bill Baldwin, Carl Caruso – you get the idea.

Back then, even when the show wasn’t live, the announcer was. There was someone sitting in a darkened announce booth at each station every hour of the broadcast day. It was all part of the agreement the New York stations, and networks, had with AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists – I’m a member).

So, when you heard someone say, “This is NBC,” or “That’s tomorrow at 8, 7 Central time,” it was one of these guys, live. I knew them all. Secretly, I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to say, as Mel Brandt did, “The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC.”

It was not to be. In order to be a booth announcer you needed something I never had, and even at age 54 still don’t have – pipes.

When I was a disk jockey, doing mornings in Philadelphia, Julian Breen (who was in charge of programming at the station I worked for, WPEN) thought it might be a good idea to use a “Harmonizer” on my voice. That’s a device which would allow them to change my pitch – make me sound more grown-up.

When I worked at WIP in Philadelphia, at that time the premiere adult station in town, they gave me a pass on doing voice over production. With Tom Moran, Dick Clayton and Bill St. James on staff, there was no reason to use me.

It’s been a disappointment, but I understand. I just don’t have the most important natural tool for the job. My voice is unique, just not in the right way.

Today, I got an email from Rick Allison. He’s a friend who lives here in Connecticut. He is an announcer.

I’m not sure if that’s the job description he would use, but that’s what he does. From a studio in his basement, as well maintained and acoustically perfect as any, Rick reads other people’s words into a microphone and cashes checks. With high speed data lines carrying his voice, it’s usually not necessary to leave the house.

He is the voice of MSNBC and Bob’s Stores. He’s on ESPN, HBO and USA and a load of radio stations. You have heard him on a thousand commercials, a deep voice with a touch of gravel. It is friendly and assuring.

In person, he resembles everyone I knew in the 60s and 70s. That is one of his most charming features. He is at once commanding and disarming with long hair on his head and more on his face.

Rick does a show on Sirius satellite radio. My guess is, he does the show for the same reason other men raise tomatoes. It takes time and money to raise tomatoes. It’s not like you can’t buy them at the store – maybe for less than you can grow them. Still there’s an immense satisfaction in creating something of value.

Rick’s in radio for the satisfaction of growing something. I can’t believe he’s in it for the money.

Anyway, hearing from Rick today just reminded me of this childhood fantasy that would never be. It’s what got me into radio – and probably what finally got me out and into television.

I am envious of Rick, not because of the work he does, but because of the talent he has. It’s a talent I always wanted – a gift I never received.