Archive for March, 2009

“Dandy Dan!”

March 26, 2009



When I started employment at WNDR, many of the air personalities had assumed memorable “air names”. Along with “Georgeous George”, we had “Mad Man Morton”, “Jolly Rolly Fowler”, “Big Bill Deane” and “Dandy Dan Leonard”.

Dan had originally joined WNDR as News Director (Stapleton being elsewhere at the time) in its pre-rock days when it was a failing Mutual Network affiliate with marginal listenership and major debts. Many stories were later told of collecting empty pop bottles and turning them in for deposit money those days the pay checks bounced.

Dan went to grade school with Tony Curtis in New York when Tony was Bernie Schwartz and “Dandy” was Daniel Edelstein. “Dandy Dan” had visions of becoming another Walter Winchell, a famous radio commentator for “all the ships at sea”. Dan threw such ambitions aside without hesitation when he saw the lights of Rock ‘n Roll rising on the horizon. They flashed $$$$$$!

Tossing aside his press cards and note pads, he hit the Central New York airwaves as “Dandy Dan” and soon became the most highly identifiable figure on the facility. Hundreds of “Dandy Dan” imitators sprang up like daisies in the spring around high-school lunchrooms, government office buildings and even corporate boardrooms across Central New York. The fact is anybody could sort of sound like “Dandy Dan” if they wanted to. Think of Howard Cosell on speed. Dan delighted in this and went out of his way to enhance the self-created audio caricature. Eventually, Dandy Dan sounded like Dandy Dan doing an impersonation of Dandy Dan doing Dandy Dan.

Dan also was unusually adroit at “station politics” and, upon Bill Quinn’s departure for WPRO in Providence, was made WNDR’s Program Director. At first Dan saw me as a spoiled teenage asshole. Good read. Still, I followed his directions with practiced precision and went out of my way making sure he understood I “got it” and knew who was in charge. He soon became an excellent coach. I learned more from Dan Leonard about the essence of creative promotion, the art of cunning manipulation and the power of “attack mentality” in programming than anyone else with whom I was ever associated.

Dan also made a fortune at the “Teen Canteen”.

Three Rivers Inn was a nightclub just north of Syracuse in the fading days of the “Big Band” era. It also was rumored to have strong “connections”.

“Let me make an offer you can’t refuse.”

“It means Lucca sleeps with the fishes!”

“Poppa, Poppa! They wacked Sonny!”

Three Rivers Inn was a great place. I was to have my wedding reception there.

Some of America’s biggest stars would begin their tours with a “shakedown” week at Three Rivers Inn. The word “shakedown” in this context has nothing to do with Sicilians and such; although some irony may be evident in its usage connected with the fine establishment under discussion.

A “shakedown” in theatrical terms is nothing more than a series of rehearsals in front of a live audience. You could “shake it down” in Syracuse without any important critics or major investors lurking around. Performers could work out the “bugs”, edit their lines and generally polish an act to perfection before hitting the stage in New York, Chicago or Detroit.

Regular “star” performances would be held Wednesday through Sunday nights for the regular paying adult crowd.

Dandy Dan’s “WNDR Teen Canteen” was a Sunday Matinee and he’d split his gate with the facility owners 50/50.

Attendance was normally well over a thousand teens. The format was usually playing some records, bringing on the act, bringing off the act and closing with a few more records.

Some of the attractions, who might not have been rock or even music oriented, called for a creative approach.

One time Dandy Dan had Sam Vine, a well-known hypnotist with frequent appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show to his credit, place all of our WNDR disc-jockeys under a trance. When I got to the microphone, Mr. Vine asked me who my favorite singer was. I said: “Dale Hawkins”. Vine told me I was Dale Hawkins and should sing a song. I sang “Suzie Q” and sat down. The crowd went wild. I really wasn’t hypnotized, but Dandy Dan said I would be, so I was.

More typical of the WNDR Teen Canteen were performances by The Four Seasons, Bobby Darin, Paul Anka, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Link Wray and the Wraymen (Amato was in heaven), Chubby Checker (Sam stayed away), Dee Dee Sharpe, the Ronnettes, Nat “King” Cole (I brought my mother to that one), The Everly Brothers, Johnny Ray, Shelly Fabares, The Del-Vikings, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Johnny Burnette and even Johnny Cash.

We even had a little Jewish writer at one Canteen who was just starting to perform his own material and held up a small Polaroid photo of his parents which he described as “actual size”. It was funny. We laughed our asses off. “Woody” somebody.

Other “Dandy Dan” productions included annual appearances by all of the Philadelphia/”American Bandstand” performers as the “Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars” rocked and rolled into town. Dick didn’t mind stopping in Syracuse for old times’ sake, having been a student at Syracuse University. During that time he was the “Buckaroo Sandman” on station WOLF pushing Tex Ritter jams.

The Jefferson Armory was in downtown Syracuse. One night, three trucks pulled up from Detroit as the first “Motown Review” completed a four state tour. It was Choker Campbell and his Orchestra with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Barrett Strong, The Marvelettes, a yet unknown Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and; headlining the show, the great Mary Wells with flaming red hair. She brought down the house, concluding her performance with a six minute version of “Bye Bye Baby”. I was so blown away, I used “Bye Bye Baby” for several years after that on WNDR as my closing “show theme”. It’s a real screamer.

“You-know-you-took-my hearrrrrrrrrrrt. HEY!”

“And-you-tore-it-all-apaaaaaaaart. HEY!”

Since those days in Syracuse saw no such things as “Soul Stations” or “Urban Outlets” or anything remotely resembling “Darkie”/”Negro”/”Colored”/”Black”/”Afro-American” programming available on a regular basis to an ever-growing minority population, WNDR was pretty much it.

Dandy Dan Leonard and the WNDR staff were about the only non-minority attendees at the Jefferson Armory that night. In addition to hearing an incredible show, I saw me some prancin’ that popped my young Irish eyeballs out ’bout sebenty-eleben feet.

If one danced with a young lady at our Cathedral “After-The-Game” gatherings without “sufficient space” in between (“Leave Room for the Holy Ghost” was the established guideline), the “binocular squad” from the Convent next door would make proper notation and/or run right-over in righteous wrath. Consequently, the “Holy Ghost” might have been enjoying lots of fresh, tender, warm, virginal, Catholic-High-School-Girl-Flesh, but all the guys got were the blues from no snatch and tight balls to match.

Much different it was at the Jefferson Armory.


The vision burned into the deepest recesses of my memory is that of a young lady leaping into the air with legs spread wide and landing directly upon the face of her partner. He, in turn, spun her backward and downward between his legs and then flipped forward with perfect release; both of them landing gracefully on their feet having completed a full somersault. The entire series of moves lasted about two seconds and they never missed exact beat.


The “binocular squad” would have experienced the world’s first collective coronary collapse.

In June of 1963, my Uncle Vince was seventy-seven years old. Aunt Louella and he had been apart for a few years. She was in a mental institution. They said it was “nerves”. Vince suspected she’d never recovered from that traveling salesman.

I was to receive my Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Sciences from Le Moyne College at the Syracuse War Memorial. Uncle Vince had made it a point arriving early to be certain of proper seating. He proudly waved at me from the front of the stands with a small Irish flag. I briefly saw him after the ceremony and we made plans to see each other the following weekend. I had parties to attend. He went home and died alone within hours.

He left me everything he had. His estate primarily consisted of over three thousand books covering every subject known to man. The volumes filled every room in his tiny apartment from ceiling to floor. Keeping the important ones, the rest went to the Jesuits at LeMoyne College. Although we had never discussed such disposition, I’m certain Uncle Vince was pleased. Knowledge only unifies as shared.

In November, I took it upon myself to cancel several weekend dance appearances which I had scheduled and which I felt it inappropriate to present. One of them involved an important station client, who was furious. Following a loud and fierce shouting match with our General Manager, I resigned from WNDR never to return. John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.


March 26, 2009


For LIVE SAM — Click on “Ace of Spades” (above left ) which Sam co-wrote with Link Wray. Recorded in February of 2003 at a “Syracuse Rock ‘n Roll Reunion for Sam” at Damon’s in Cicero, New York.




During my college years at LeMoyne, I was covering a morning and afternoon slot. I became involved in the “Sock Hop” business and would play records at schools throughout Central New York. I started adding live bands to my presentations and would also rent gyms and armories throughout the region to stage my own “Peter C. Rock ‘n Roll Presentations”.

“Sam and the Twisters” were my most favorite of groups. Sam Amato was more “The Fonz” than Henry Winkler could ever have hoped to become.

Sam had been thrown out of North Syracuse High School for dropping a male teacher in English class over some perceived slight, the nature of which no one could ever recall. At fifteen, Sam lied about his age and enlisted in the Marines for a year and a half until he was discovered and given, it must be recorded, a most honorable discharge.

I first met Sam at the North Syracuse Fire House where I was spinning tunes one Saturday night. He had just learned guitar and, upon my invitation, performed one single solo tune, a fairly decent rendition of Sonny James’ “Young Love”, a tender ballad.

The crowd had been infiltrated by a number of black leather jacket clad “hoods”. Back then, “hoods” was what suspected juvenile delinquents were called, not where they came from. “Hood” was short for “hoodlum”.

Sam had clandestinely issued orders. All gathered were quietly informed by the hoods that anyone who laughed during his performance or was in any way disrespectful would be “fucked-up”. I had always admired leadership skills.

Sam and I and a number of the hoods went out for a few beers after the gig ended. Within weeks “Sam and The Twisters” were born. They played no ballads.

It was the source of some chagrin a few years later when Chubby Checker came along by pure coincidence with his million-seller “The Twist”. The name “Twisters” had been selected to project a specter of dark, dramatic turbulence. Sam hated “The Twist”, which he professionally critiqued as “a fuckin’ piece of shit”. Most of Syracuse identified “Twist” and “Twisters” with Amato by then and thought Chubby had ripped Sam off.

“Sam and The Twisters” originally learned anything ever recorded by Link Wray, The Ventures, Johnny and The Hurricanes and other lead-guitar-based bands. They could fit their sound equipment in the trunks of two cars and set-up and tear-down all the gear in under five minutes. Over the next five years, they became the first true Syracuse-bred rock heroes and absolutely owned the area.

We had a number of WNDR promotions transporting teens down to WFIL-TV in Philadelphia to appear on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”, then a five-day-a-week afternoon program on the ABC Television Network.
Sam would often come along and bring the band once in a while, appearing three times with the group coast-to-coast. He also helped break-up fights between the Italian girls from Syracuse and their “Bandstand regular” counterparts. All the guys got along quite well.

He also had a Triumph motorcycle with about eighty-trillion CC’s and would buzz me from the station to LeMoyne and back between air shifts.

The Triumph was also useful in such private and personal promotions as “Beat The Clock”.

This particular game was restricted to limited players and only one or two “contestants” at a time.

Sam would “work” the “WNDR Hitline” switchboard starting around thirty minutes before the end of a given jock shift and screen request callers with a remarkable sensitivity, almost psychic in nature.

Sam would be the soul of propriety.

“Peter C. will try to get that on for you if he possibly can. Thank you for listening to the new WNDR”

Ultimately, he would hear that certain intangible “something” in the voice of a female caller.

Sam would then initiate what can only be referred to as a form of highly sophisticated screening.

The age of the potential contest “players” would be determined (Sam and I remembered Russ Syracuse); the total number of possible “players” established (no more than two); geographic location fixed (three miles from the station was ideal); what we called “artistic exclusivity” was guaranteed (meaning the “players” were alone without parents or boyfriends hanging around) and the most critical qualification was “outstanding sporting attitude”.

This whole process could take between fifteen or twenty minutes to complete, allowing Sam time enough to “twist” his way though a very elaborate and charmingly structured seduction which would conclude with, at the very end, a friendly wager.

“So, anyway, where do you live?”

“Shit, we could be over there for coffee in (one minute per mile) minutes.”

“Whaddya mean, “No fuckin’ way?”

“I’ll betcha a hundred bucks we can be over there in (see formula above) minutes.”

“No, I ain’t shittin’ ya. A hundred bucks. Got it right here!”

“You ain’t got a hundred bucks? Hmmmmm. Let’s see. That’s a lotta fuckin’ money!. Hmmmmmm.”

“Tell ya what. I’ll put up the hundred bucks. But you gotta put up (use vivid imagination) and there’s no backin’ out!”

“Nah. Listen. Come on. Hey. No. Stop. Sure. Hey. Yeah, I’m fuckin’ serious! Hey. You wanna do it or what? I ain’t got all year.”


Motorcyles, let alone Triumphs, were still a rarity on the streets of Syracuse in the late ’50’s. Sam never bothered informing the “contestants” that our mode of transportation had been clocked at over one hundred twenty miles per hour with both aboard under optimal, straight-line conditions. The “one hundred bucks” always remained unclaimed. Sam finally traded-in his bike on a brand new, pure white 1963 Chevrolet Corvette with a real telephone on the dashboard. The phone was not plugged into anything other than Sam’s imagination, but still offered an impressive image to passers-by watching him “talk” on it.

NOTE–The following paragraph is from a few chapters ahead recounting my move to Michigan–

“The following week, Sam Amato accepted my invitation and visited us in Flint. We managed to sign-up Sam and The Twisters for an extended engagement at “The Stardust Lounge”, another major Flint Rock Night Club. In what was to become the turf of Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Grand Funk Railroad, they would have blown the town apart . Sam negotiated an astounding contract for the band — an 8 week engagement at $5,000 a week. They easily could have gone “all the way”.

Not to be.

Some of the “Twisters” had already “gone all the way.”

Days prior to their first scheduled Michigan performance, curse fate, several young ladies surfaced “enceinte” back in Syracuse. Two integral “Twister” members eventually did the “right thing” (which at that point was culturally recommended, if not required) and walked down the aisle. Wedding bells were breaking up that old band of mine.

Back in Flint, instead of Sam, The Stardust Lounge settled for a band out of Birmingham, Michigan, featuring a young bass player named — Bob Seger.

“Rocket to Stardom”

March 26, 2009




WNDR days marked the very birth of the “Rock era”. It advanced in a vacuum more than partially enhanced  by traditional radio professionals shunning any aspect of the new music, a fusion of grass roots “Country and Western” (as it was then called) and black-based “Rhythm and Blues” (or “Nigger Music” as it was referenced by a majority of older whites). I and other young enthusiasts were more than willing to step forward and grab the microphones. We didn’t have to wait for anyone to get out of our way. They weren’t even there to begin with. Who would have thought?

I started by riding my bike out to WNDR, which had moved to a swampy area just outside town in Dewitt where the towers were located. I was answering phones on weekends for fifty cents an hour. I would have paid them to be there.

Bill Quinn, the Program Director, had been impressed by a demo tape I had recorded at home in my bedroom entitled “Vista-View”. It was supposed to demonstrate my unique mastery of radio arts and sciences at the age of fifteen. I still have the tape, recorded on an old RCA reel-to-reel home unit . I had purchased the recorder with monies earned from mowing lawns in well-to-do neighborhoods near Nottingham High School. Although I had no idea what I was doing, the pretentious, piteous presentation miraculously “opened the door”.

“Gorgeous George” Vance became one of my first good friends at WNDR. He was  a superb alcoholic of staggering dimensions. George drove an old New York State Police car which, although official markings had been removed, nevertheless retained its siren. George was also an engineer and was required to remain in the building until sunrise due to WNDR’s directional night-time pattern. It was an FCC thing.

My first efforts at WNDR were extended to include writing early morning news. Quite often in the winter months, with permitted departure delayed by season, George would give me a ride to school and was happy to blast the siren from several blocks away until he pulled me up to the front entrance. My very first public “record hop” appearance was at The Jewish Community Center in Syracuse when George passed out drunk half-way through the night.  I, having accompanied him to handle equipment,  saved the day by stepping in. You just never know when that first big break might come.

I cajoled my way into doing a few trial “newscasts” and then a regular weekend news schedule.

“If you see news happening, call WNDR Action Central at Gibson 6-1515! WNDR pays Ten Dollars for the Top News Tip of the Week!”

“WNDR Action Central News” was fully produced with hysterical hyperbole..  Each newscast featured music beds, echo chambers, “filter” processing, sound effects, singing jingles, extreme editing and dramatic hyperbole. Fifty stories in four and a half minutes was the minimum required . One time, I squeezed in seventy-two.

You might hear:

“The President’s at Camp David/Auto accident in Dewitt mangles four/The Stock Market’s up/ Odds on sunny weather down/Syracuse Mayor says; “No” to City Council/Council says: “Wanna bet?/Break-in at Wilson’s Jewelers/The Governor wants more education money/Local State Senator says “Rocky’s right!/It could have been your sister–Jamesville girl found naked and dead near Manlius!!”

There we have ten “stories” which, allowing for “excited, rapid, machine-gun read”, would take around thirty seconds in delivery time. Stapleton always had his stopwatch handy.

WNDR’s News Director was Bud Stapleton, a good “friend of the Judge”. He was tough and mean, a former Marine. Bud was a World War Two vet who spent several serious years “island hopping” in the South Pacific and to whom a peaceful return to civilian life was “a fucking pain in the ass”. He was a certified American hero. It was Lt. Bernard J. Stapleton  who raised the first flag over Tokyo on September 3, 1945. I saw the picture. He was a short, wiry scrapper with laughing eyes, a sharp pug nose and the map of Eire stamped across his face.

Friday evenings brought Bud’s spouse-approved “Night Out With The Boys”. Bud’s weekly trauma therefore occurred without fail almost every Saturday morning when he would rise for his weekend news shift from short and fitful sleep on an incredibly funky, sin-stained couch in our WNDR reception area. His booze-blistered eyes recoiling from the light, his psyche mangled in the torturing clutches of a world-class, stomach-churning, soul-burning, head-pounding, heart-bounding hangover, Bud would take the deepest breath his smoke encrusted lungs could endure and shake the walls with mighty vocal magnificence.

We would be hanging around the studios, several rooms distant, and yet could still hear the two ritualistic screams;  always faithfully delivered in exact sequence:

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

“Where the fuck is it?”

At this point, we would helpfully and carefully join Bud in his anxious quest for “the gun”.

“The gun” was Bud’s beloved 38-caliber, Smith and Wesson “Police Special” which he was fully licensed and authorized to carry. Stapleton was also a duly sworn Deputy Sheriff, a distinction quite valuable during many the “news investigation” he was prone to initiate at a second’s notice, usually into the more sordid, squalid sectors of fair Syracuse.

“The gun” was always loaded, usually with safety released.

It would generally turn up in challengingly random spots since Bud would have “hidden it from himself” as a “security precaution”. Specifics as to its exact whereabouts would inevitably be obliterated in the dark shroud of an alchoholic blackout which Bud eloquently and poetically referred to as “The Dark Irish Night”.

It would normally require five to ten minutes of cautious search and was usually somewhere in the building, although every so often it would turn up in his car.

The longest it was ever missing was a half-hour. This was when Bud overlooked the fact he had slept with it shoved into his shorts. It was upon that occasion we heard Bud’s tearful off-air lecture on the ravages of age “numbing up your balls and dick”. The thought that a fifth of Wild Turkey and a half-case of “Congress Beer” might have played a slight role in his accidental self-anesthetization was not offered.

WNDR “Action Central News” was Bud’s interpretation of the Judge’s reflections upon “Top Forty Tabloid Journalism”, later reaching its highest plateau on such stations as WFUN in Miami, WKBW in Buffalo and the legendary CKLW in Detroit.

It was quite effective with mass listenership.

Syracuse, New York is also the home of Syracuse University and the celebrated Newhouse School of Communications.

The Newhouse faculty regarded “WNDR Action Central News” as professionally falling somewhere in between pig semen and rat vomit. They went out of their way expounding with exhausted exasperation upon the  degrading, disgusting, depraving journalistic waste product available every hour on the hour at good old 1260 on their AM dial.

It was a classic case of unbridled mutual contempt.

Bud Stapleton characteristically categorized the Newhouse professors as “Candy-ass faggots who can suck my cock on the the 6-0-Clock News”. He made frequent reference to “shoving their fucking ivory tower right up their baby-boy butts”.

I tended to side with his position, albeit overstated.

Besides,  Bud was the first person who ever shared with me the functional merits and outstanding benefits of “eating pussy”. “If you eat their pussys, they’ll fuck the livin’ shit outta ya every goddamn time”, Bud would quip. An important corollary from “Helpful Stapleton Sex Hints 101” was: “Show me a broad who ain’t gettin’ her cunt chewed and I’ll show you a bitch you can steal away from the stupid fucker who won’t, if you will”.

This was an area of learning which Father Shannon had never addressed.

As inspiring as Bud was in both broadcast news and handling booze (he never actually lost that gun or shot off his pecker), I still considered news announcing a necessary evil. It was temporary dues-paying on the road to the Holiest of all possible Grails. Almost everyone knew the real radio stars were disc-jockeys.

After mounting a relentless, unyielding, non-stop campaign to get a real shot, Program Director Quinn finally acquiesced. It was determined that I be allowed a one-hour live on-air audition at Midnight the following Sunday when the station would normally sign-off for “maintenance”.

I wrote every single word I would say down on paper, practiced every  record introduction hundreds of times, sat in the control room hours on end watching every move made and memorized dozens of different “one-liners” to use if I needed, God forbid, to “ad-lib” . I prepared for my moment of glory with uncompromising commitment.

Finally, the debut.

The adrenaline hit as soon as I sat down in “the chair”.

The very first time I went to open the microphone, an ignition switch on my own, personal “rocket to stardom”, I totally crashed. Big time. Bad.

Instead of the control panel “microphone-on” button, my humble hand brushed against a “master-off” lever directly beneath the intended target. I promptly plunged WNDR into twenty minutes of stone silence.

The engineer on duty, fairly new to the business himself, took that long to determine the extent of my stupidity.

After my “first hour” was finished, I assumed I was as well; my premiere performance also a swan song.

By an astonishing stroke of fate or fortune, no one in management heard my curious initiation. The engineer, whom I blamed for not discerning my dumbness more diligently, kept his mouth shut as understood. Soon I was pulling full “jock shifts” on weekends. During my senior year at Cathedral, I worked each evening from Seven ’til Midnight. “Hooper Ratings”, then the accepted standard in radio listening measurement, displayed a 58% total audience share during the time period, more than every other station combined.

“Chantilly Lace and a Pretty Face”

March 26, 2009




When Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper died in early ’58, Sister Cecilia told us all that God had punished them. Just as He punished Russ Syracuse.

The Russ Syracuse “scandal” was spectacularly that. It came down in early 1957 when Russ, a former school teacher and excellent disc-jockey employed by WNDR, was unexpectedly visited late one evening at his apartment on East Genesee Street by a young female fan who, as the cliche goes, “certainly looked at least eighteen”.

She was particularly striking and exceedingly well-configured. Since Mr. Syracuse, an extraordinarily popular bachelor in his mid-twenties, was not given to undue reticence in matters of amorous pursuit, delights of the flesh quickly ensued.

Boastful of her success in attaining celebrity injection, our sixteen year old Miss shared the story with fellow classmates. As is always inevitable in such a matter, it was only hours before her exploits reached the attention of school authorities, her parents, and finally the police.

Newhouse Communications owned The Herald-Journal, The Post-Standard and WSYR. WSYR had suddenly been radically displaced as radio ratings leader only months before by upstart WNDR, the “Rock ‘n Roll Station”.

Russ Syracuse was charged with Statutory Rape and crucified in the Syracuse press.

Daily front page headlines in both local newspapers demanded punishment to the full extent of the law. The news accounts stressed Russ’s former background as a teacher and, most emphatically, blamed WNDR’s music format and generally “outrageous” ambience as responsible for having created a sexually dangerous, ominously threatening cultural environment. According to overall coverage and editorials, it was “that music” which had truly victimized the teen.

To his eternal credit, Arthur C. Kyle, owner of WNDR, took to the airwaves with his own editorials. “The Judge” blasted the newspapers for self-serving hypocrisy and portrayed the alleged “rape” as a basically innocent misperception, completely distorted by the papers for their own mercenary purposes. At one time, “The Judge” had been a Justice of The Peace in Monticello, New York. He was an aging, yet elegant, bulldog of a man.

Russ was brought to trial with defense provided by “The Judge” and WNDR.

It was established that the “victim” (a) was by no means unfamiliar with casual sex and had parted with her virginity long, long before visiting the apartment that fateful night and (b) was clearly the “causal agent” in the affair.

Russ was found guilty on a reduced charge, served twenty days in Jamesville Penitentiary (less than two miles from WNDR’s towers in Dewitt) and returned briefly to the station. He then went on to enjoy a stellar radio career elsewhere, including WKBW in Buffalo and at KYA in San Francisco.

WNDR’s rating shares rose from 20’s and 30’s to 50’s and 60’s. Everybody seemed to be listening.

The week of the arrest, “Peggy Sue” was #1. It was immediately pulled from WNDR’s play-list. The first name of alleged rape victim and Buddy Holly’s song title were, by fate, one and the same.

Early Syracuse Rock ‘n Roll Radio

March 26, 2009



When I wrote the first draft of “Local DJ” in 1994, eight years prior to publication in April of 2002, the early “Syracuse Section” covered the first five chapters and ran around 7,000 words in length. More than two-thirds were abandoned in the last edit, which compressed Syracuse memories into “Chapter Two” in the final version.

What follows is from the original, extended manuscript, which includes various characters and incidents not contained in the Xlibris edition and released for the first time here.

Peter Cavanaugh

Oakhurst, California

March 26, 2009

Additional Note:

What the hell.

After formatting those early Syracuse chapters as “Blogs” (a word I truly hate), I must admit being persuaded that these are pretty cool mechanics, i.e., each individual segment can act as a literary “jump-start” to the rest of the manuscript or pretty much stand by itself.

And I can toss in pictures as I go along!


So I decided to keep at it and run through the rest of the original draft, all 72 chapters. Jesus. There are tons of new stuff here and some real names originally changed for formal publication in ’02. I’m finishing now, but will keep adding more images as I find things here, there and everywhere.

One possible point of serious confusion is the same thing you might encounter with e-mail. When examining that “Posts” column, the latest addition appears first.

So, for purposes of chronology, one should read Chapters from the bottoms up, as we old time drunks might say.

A better idea is to remember that every chapter includes these little dudes at the top:

“<” and “>”

I can’t remember what these are properly called, but < means “the chapter before this one” and > indicates “the next chapter.” All you do is click. As Dorothy did her ruby slippers.

Speaking of which, the chapters BEFORE this one are excerpts from “Uncertainties of Life”, my current project, in which I reference Dorothy and “The Wizard of Oz” as religious symbols. Hey. Don’t get scared! I’ve thought the whole thing through. A little.

“Uncertainties of Life” is kind of “Local DJ: Part Two”.

A little.

Peter Cavanaugh

Oakhurst, California

April 23, 2009

Michael Moore’s 55th Birthday!

Prelude to “Local DJ”





Chuck Berry

“Roll Over Beethoven”



A Rock ‘n Roll History
Peter Cavanaugh

Pioneering The Evolution Of FM Radio
Launching The Careers of Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper And Dozens More

Donald J. Cavanaugh with Peter Cavanaugh. Niagara Falls, New York. 1946


From my earliest memories, I had always wanted to be “on the air”. That was all I ever had in mind. This was true even before my father died on the radio when I was six years old. Donald J. Cavanaugh was working for the Veteran’s Administration as Assistant-Chief in Syracuse by the summer of 1948.

Having always achieved the highest possible scores in Civil Service Examinations, he may well have attained higher organizational distinction were it not for several dedicated Irish predispositions, heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages not being the least impactive. The “Holy Water” had cost him a number of years of unemployment, but he had not taken a drink in over six months when he entered WNDR’s studios to narrate a program called “News For Veterans” on Thursday morning, July 29th. It was a long, thirty minute script. Halfway through, he paused for breath. He began gasping. There was a problem. He slumped back in his chair. It was a massive coronary.

He was dead at the age of 52, a chronological distinction I have surpassed. A transcription was being made of the broadcast. At my mother’s wish, it was destroyed. I was not allowed to attend the funeral, being “too young”. I stayed at home. With my radio.


”The Old Wired Woodshed”

Ed Murphy played nothing but Irish music every Saint Patrick’s Day on WSYR radio in Syracuse, a departure from his usual mix of selections from “The Hit Parade”. He had the most popular morning show in town. One of his sponsors was “Old Spice After Shave”. I use it to this day. Ed came on at 7 AM, right after my real hero left the air.

“The Deacon” would finished broadcasting from his “old wired-woodshed, Uptown and Down City” with the sound of a slamming gate. To be mentioned as climbing this gate for the program’s close was a public honor and envied distinction. I sent in dozens of postcards ‘til he finally said, “Whadyaknow, little Peter Cavanaugh’s on board today, too!”. It was my eighth birthday and friends and relatives were immeasurably impressed, even though the Deacon had started as a joke.

A young announcer named Bob Doubleday, condemned to reporting “Agricultural News” years earlier from 5 ‘til 7 each dawn back in the ‘40’s, decided to do his reports “sounding like a farmer”.

“Aye–yah. Bob Jones in Canastota’s been up all night with a new colt. Henry Rogers out by Oneida got this fox in his front yard with one shot. Jim Taylor’s wife over in Weedsport sent some jelly in and she sure didn’t have to do that, but it was real, real nice.” Then, he’d hit his “player-piano” for a tune or two or, most often, engage in prolonged telephone calls with listeners, only his side of the dialogue being broadcast.

He’d play scratchy barnyard sounds under his twangy recital of hog prices and frequently offer several minutes of silence while he visited “the house out back”. By the time his Program Director caught on, it was too late. “Deacon Doubleday” had the highest ratings on the station and held them for decades with an act begun in rebellion, ignoring all convention. His show pulled ages and lifestyles across the board, attracting even more listeners than the prior ratings champion for many a year. This was “The Rosary”, recited each weekday evening at 6 for a quarter-million Catholics residing within the Syracuse signal area. Whether they all listened or not, most faithfully reported they did so when questioned.

“Local DJ”




“My name is MacNamara. I’m the leader of the band!”

That was the first line in the first song I remember hearing and learning.

Although I was barely two and could hardly walk ( a condition I have since chronically experienced in similar surroundings through subsequent times for reasons other than infancy), my father would set me up on the bar to entertain his cronies with a fairly impressive ensemble of various Irish ballads, dirges and chants which I mastered even as I learned to speak. They would give me pennies and shot glasses of beer for my trouble. To this day, it seems like more than a fair exchange as I recall the laughter and the love.

My birthday falls upon the Eighth day in September. This is also, according to Holy Archives, the birthday of our Blessed Mother. That made her a Virgo.

Such a wondrous historical coincidence was brought to my attention shortly after I started attending parochial school at the age of ten by Sister Stanlislaus in the context of trying not to be a “bold, brazen thing”.

Cathedral Academy was “The Bishop’s School”. I, mixing with the offspring of prominent attorneys, doctors and other professionals usually several generations into the American experience, was economically “deprived”, one of but few admitted from “the area”. Retrospectively, I suspect they had a “ghetto quota”.

Our parish priest had intervened with the authorities on my behalf.

I was the leader of a small band of mischievous Irish boys, seeking fun with minimal funds.

One Saturday afternoon, the seven of us had a quarter. A new Tarzan film had opened at our neighborhood movie house, the Regent Theater on East Genesee. I bought a single ticket, then admitted my friends by opening a fire-door near the rear of the theater. I returned to the box office and announced that I had suddenly taken ill. I was in tears and obtained a refund. I was back in my seat within seconds through that fire door.

We considered the movie surely a masterpiece. It was the first time we had seen Tarzan use “flaming arrows”. Obviously, we would need to do the same.

The apparatus we assembled in my backyard was of the most basic construction, but undeniably proved functional. The “arrow” stuck near the very top of our neighbor’s garage. It was quickly evident I had applied far too much lighter-fluid. There was an almost instantaneous wall of flames. The garage burned to the ground and was totally destroyed. So was a brand new ’51 Dodge parked inside. The police were called. Someone informed. Our doorbell rang.

It was Catholic School or else.

Lee Hilton was also from “the area”. At the Cathedral, a dress code was rigidly enforced. On our first day of school, Lee wore a paper tie displaying, in red-crayon, the words “Times Are Tough”. For this public admission of honest misfortune, Lee was soundly slapped. The little Sister thought that Lee was being provocative. He was merely wearing what his Mom had made. He had no tie of cloth. I was more fortunate, taking mental note of certain new realities.

Mrs. Hilton’s failed expectations at surely invoking the sympathetic understandings of Christ’s own bride notwithstanding, I was to spend seven years of my academic career at Cathedral. I graduated in 1959 as President of the Student Council with a New York State Regents’ Scholarship. This would enable me to obtain four years of superb Jesuit training at Le Moyne College in Syracuse.

It was in 1957 I had begun my dance with the devil.

“Have you lost your faith yet?”, snarled Father Shannon.

I had been unceremoniously released from an assignment and high honor which the good Father himself had arranged on my behalf at WHEN radio. It was there I presented the “Saints of the Week” as part of the “Catholic Hour”. This gave me license to exit an ever more confining classroom three hours a week and hang around a radio station, simultaneously earning what was then referred to as “major brownie points”.

I was asked to take my leave when WHEN’s Program Director heard me on WNDR, the “Rock ‘n Roll Station”, playing “that music” with “those people”.

Father Shannon had earlier been a big Syracuse “radio star” in his own right as a singer (“Smilin’ Jackie Shannon”) on WFBL and later on the CBS Radio Network. Around age thirty, for reasons never given other than implied divine intervention, he left the business to enter the seminary. Following ordination, “Jackie” was eventually made “Director of Communications for the Diocese of Syracuse”, stationed at the Cathedral where all the hierarchial action was.

I was sort of a “discovery” for him, I suppose. He had often discussed my potential as a candidate for the priesthood. He felt betrayed that Peter, an altar boy for six years, had become involved in “popular, common, vulgar entertainment” . Far worse, it was “Negro Rock Music”, a new, clearly insidious invasion by forces undefined, yet surely Satanic in origin, dedicated to the decay and destruction of America’s youth.

We had been told at Cathedral by Sister Cecilia that listening to Don and Phil’s “Wake Up Little Suzie” was a mortal sin since it implied that “a boy and girl were sleeping together without having partaken in the Sacrament of Marriage”, an interpretation which had never even remotely dawned on her students.

This era of Catholic education stressed a highly structured, excruciatingly well-defined philosphy regarding matters sexual in nature. Even the word “sex” was never openly uttered other than in extremely hushed tones and then only after the “boys” and “girls” had been separated for “frank discussion” of “certain private things”.

The tight confines went along these lines:

To have brief “impure thoughts” was a venial sin.

To willingly enjoy “impure thoughts”, let alone engage in “impure acts”, was a Mortal Sin.

Both sins could be forgiven if fully confessed to a priest who was empowered by God to grant penance and absolution.

If you died with venial sins unforgiven, you’d need to spend a certain amount of time in a place called Purgatory before finally going to Heaven. Think of it as waiting at Detroit Metro in mid-January for a flight to Hawaii with a blinding blizzard delaying all planes. Every venial sin one carried would be six more inches of snow and another twelve hours in the terminal.

A Mortal Sin, however, brought a far, far darker fate.

Death’s arrival with an unforgiven Mortal Sin damning the soul would mean burning in the raging, searing, blast-furnace, blow-torch fires of Hell for all Eternity.

There were the “heavy spins”.

“And how long is Eternity in which the soul and body burns forever?”

“If there was a giant steel ball the size of the planet earth suspended in space and if every one million years a small, gentle dove flew past this giant solid-steel ball the size of the planet earth and the very tiniest tip of its feathery little wing just barely brushed against the giant ball, a few teeny-tiny, itty-bitty molecules of steel completely invisible to the human eye being brushed away with each passage every million years; by the time the giant solid-steel ball the size of the planet earth was completely severed in two by the small, gentle dove flying by every million years taking a few microscopic molecules with it each and every time, ETERNITY WILL HAVE JUST BEGUN!!””

“And what part of the body burns the hottest in Hell??”


There was a finale.

“Is anything besides commiting a sexually impure act a Mortal Sin?”

“Yes!” “Wanting To!!”

There I was being told “wanting to do it” was the same as “doing it” with an identical penalty. The punishment was, pardon the expression, Sister, a stiff one at that. I intellectually came to a painful realization that I was confronted with two mutually exclusive moral positions:

Either (a) I was condemned to be a Mortal Sinner throughout life with my only hope for Salvation being a friendly comet nailing me at light-speed velocity just seconds after leaving a Confessional or (b) I could explore my God-given conscience and honestly conclude that the Church was flat-out fucked on fucking beyond belief.

My Uncle Vince was the one who helped me straighten it all out.

Vincent was my father’s older brother and had studied for the priesthood. With my father’s death, he had become my mentor. He and my Aunt Louella lived above us on Ashworth Place in Syracuse. He didn’t have much money either.

Vincent had been noticed as a very young man by the nuns and had been educated in the finest schools at Church expense. While in Rome completing his education and just prior to ordination, Vincent felt obliged to enlist in the U.S. Army. World War One had started. He fought in the trenches of France and was gassed several times by German forces. It was a good thing he had that mask. He gave it to me on my seventh birthday.

When the war ended, Vincent decided that he didn’t want to be ordained after all. Still, he owed the Church something. Debts must be paid. He spent many years teaching Greek and Latin at Mount Saint Mary near Baltimore. Mount Saint Mary was a major seminary where a significant number of “Diocesan Priests” in America received final training. He had instructed many of the Cathedral clerics and several of his students would become future Bishops. He had remained a single man into his early fifties.

Vincent would visit Syracuse on vacations and stay with his sister Molly. My Aunt Molly was married to George Bassett. The Bassett family lived on a farm near Syracuse to which we all would travel every so often. The Bassett family had owned the land since before the Revolution. There was a farm girl who had been orphaned at a young age and adopted by the Bassetts. No one was quite sure who her father might have been.

Louella was in her late thirties and had been married briefly to a traveling salesman. He had abandoned her in Detroit. She had obtained a divorce. She was not very polished. She had just managed to finish fourth grade. She was barely literate, but could draw beautiful pictures. She was a Protestant. All these things were fine with Uncle Vince. They fell in love and were married.

As expected, the powers-which-were went wild.

Having married a divorced-woman, Uncle Vince lost his job with the Church. He moved on to Cornell for six years and was a Professor of Philosophy there. He came to the conclusion that he probably didn’t know anything at all. He left teaching when he turned sixty-five.

My Uncle Vince moved back to Syracuse and became a night desk-clerk at the old Howard Hotel in the very worst part of town. He told me he liked “hangin’ out with the other bums”. They didn’t mind it if he said “ain’t”. He would bring me to the library all the time and choose “important books”. I read “Gone With The Wind” when I was seven and “Ulysses” before I was ten and burned-down that garage. I would sneak out of my room in the middle of the night and study the stars with him through an old, dusty telescope he would set up on his porch.

Vince’s first-cousin was Dr. John McGrath. He was Director of Music for the Diocese and played organ in the Syracuse Cathedral. For some reason I never knew, there was a bit of enmity between the two. “All he needs is a monkey”, Vince would say.

As I would ask him of life, Uncle Vince would answer all of my questions with questions. I later came to know he practiced the “Socratic Method” of instruction. He loved Socrates and would sign that name to many articles submitted to the Syracuse Herald-Journal and Post-Standard Editorial Departments. He was published all the time incognito. He hated Republicans.

It was from Uncle Vince I learned of Ireland. He spoke of it incessantly. His only sorrow in life was that he would never visit the “Old Country”. He said he was “too tired” and “too poor”. He said that none of the Cavanaughs had ever “gone back”. The only promise he ever asked of me was that I would “return” in memory of all who could not. He said, “All we dead Cavanaughs will go along for the ride, if you don’t mind”. He said it would be important to remember that. I assured him I would do so, but hoped he would live forever. There was sorrow in his eyes. He said that was not a problem.

When I questioned Uncle Vince about sex, he asked me how all the priests and nuns who said it was sinful had gotten started.

I just couldn’t begin to think of Sister Cecilia’s parents in bed, or holding-hands, or even being aware of each others’ existence. It was far more than innocent contemplation might endure.