“Dandy Dan!”

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CHAPTER FIVE

“DANDY DAN!”

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.

HEY!

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.

HEY!

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.

3 Responses to ““Dandy Dan!””

  1. John Wright Says:

    Those were the days. It was the best time of all to be young in Syracuse, NY. I can still recall Dan’s voice after all these years, as well as others on WNDR. I wish I could get in a time machine and go back there.

  2. fran dowling Says:

    best of all-Frank Hennessy & Glenn Williams .

    • petercavanaugh Says:

      Hi, Fran! Both Frank & Glenn were true “radio pioneers” in every sense of the phrase. I had the pleasure of working with Glenn for several years at WNDR and was always impressed by his professionalism and extremely dry wit, especially off the air. He was NOT one to suffer fools. The only time he became seriously irritated with me was when I once made the mistake of concluding an hour of my DJ show with the words, “Don’t go away! We’ll be back right after the news! — a fairly standard cliche back in the day. Glenn hit his mic and said, right on the air, “Mister Cavanaugh! What makes you think WNDR’s audience will go away when I read the news?” I stammered and stuttered an instant apology, but NEVER used that line again.

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