“Rockin’ With AARP”

PC--Beatles Ticket

It was a once in a lifetime gathering of “Awesomely Ancient Radio Personalities.”

“The Dinosaur” – Syracuse, New York’s leading Classic Rock station – had invited Rock & Roll DJ’s from earlier times to join in celebrating the 75th Birthday of WOLF- AM. “Wolf” and WNDR-AM were the first radio facilities in Central New York to pioneer “Top 40” programming in the late ’50’s and had been bitter competitors for many years.

A permanent truce established after six decades, disc-jockeys from both outlets were interviewed last Saturday in a four hour program broadcast over four separate frequencies and streamed on the web around the world. I was particularly honored being asked to host a final hour of commemorative programming before the start of a live concert featuring two great local bands.

Treasured memories flooded in.

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” and black-based “Rhythm and Blues.” I and other young enthusiasts were more than willing to step forward and grab the microphones.

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

My first efforts at WNDR were extended to include writing early morning news. I cajoled my way into doing a few trial newscasts and then a regular weekend news schedule. It was temporary dues paying on the road to the Holiest of all possible Grails. Almost everyone acknowledged the real radio stars were DJ’s.

After mounting a relentless, non-stop campaign to get a shot, Program Director Bill 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 word I would say 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 to ad-lib. I prepared for my moment of glory with unyielding commitment.

The adrenaline hit as soon as I sat down.The very first time I reached 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 starkly 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. I blamed the engineer for not discerning my dumbness more diligently. Soon I was pulling full DJ shifts on weekends.

During my senior year in High School, 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.

It was a single point in time and space brought back ever so briefly –old time dinosaur radio jocks in joyous reunion roaring like thunder with scorching, blow-torch Rock & Roll.

Hope I die before I get old.

5 Responses to ““Rockin’ With AARP””

  1. Bill Hennes Says:

    What a terrific article Peter C.
    It sounds like a great time was had by all.
    Who from the old crews of WOLF AND WNDE
    made apoearances?

  2. Michael Sean Says:

    Fun read Peter. Don’t think I knew that episode. Nice to see how the early spark ignited the passion.

  3. petercavanaugh Says:

    Hi, Bill and Michael Sean!

    Bill — Let’s see — There was Gary Vann, Dick Snyder, Dusty Rhodes and Windy Craig (who ended up being the last live booth announcer for the CBS Television Network) from the early ’60’s and
    dozens of others who arrived on the scene later. It was really quite a time!
    Sean — Yes, that’s something I thought I’d exclude from my resume for obvious reasons, but it’s a classic example of “If at first you don’t succeed…” I still have “DJ dreams” about that, as well as locking myself out of the studio and/or not finding any more records to play and having to ad-lib until I turn purple and pass out.

  4. Dave Disinger Says:

    Great piece, Pete. Thanks again for allowing me the honor of joining you to swap “war stories” with all the veterans of the real “Glory Days.” Just for kicks, I drove down Andrews Road to gaze on the remains of the old “4 Towers Marina.” Sad to say, the bones have been picked clean, with no visual reminder of all the wonders that transpired on that hallowed ground.

    • petercavanaugh Says:

      It was terrific seeing you, as well, Dave. What an amazing weekend! On Sunday, we went out to see Jan Fetterly’s “Other Guise” at Dox Grill on the Oneida River in Clay. He’s still rockin’ away after more than a half century of high power drumming. The last time I was on Andrews Rd., you could barely see a trace of the old foundation. It was amazing so many of us fit in that little phone booth of a station, including a “Sales Office!”

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