I loved my transistor radio. It was black and silver, smaller than my hand, often hidden away in my pocket or attached to my ear. I listened to the tinny sounds of my favorite tunes through the postage stamp sized speaker. As I remember, the power players in New York City were WMCA’s Good Guys, WINS’ Murray the K,, and the jocks at WABC. They had personality. These jocks became more than the connection to the music; they transcended it. Cousin Brucie, Murray the K, Frankie Crocker, Harry Harrison, Jack Spector, and Dan Ingram were the ones who had style, a rhythm, the banter. Something.
FM changed everything. These deejays played a different tune and were a breed apart from their AM counterparts. I listened to WLIR-FM, a local station, and jumped at the chance to hang around the studio. When I wasn’t rewriting PSA’s for the jocks, I’d watch them cue up records and talk on air. I then landed at WYNY-FM. The jocks worked in a semi-automated system. The mics opened for a minute or two and were turned off automatically. I marveled that the jocks filled the space perfectly; they never were cut off early or ran out things to say.
One of my favorite deejays was WNEW-FM’s Alison Steele, the Nightbird. Steele began her nightly broadcasts with a poetic invitation, “..come fly with me, the nightbird.”. I did and listened to Renaissance, King Crimson, Babe Ruth, and wonderful new sounds from the UK. I idolized Steele and wanted to be an FM jock, too. I also listened to WPLJ-FM’s Jim Kerr. He had listeners come in once a week and play deejay for a Beatle hour. When Kerr moved over to WPIX-FM, I got myself an invite to host one show. That week I prepared a playlist and scripted my on air commentary. I thought my opening and closing songs, Good Morning and Hello Goodbye, respectively, were nothing short of brilliant.
I made it to the studio on time and toured around with Kerr and newscaster/jock Bree Bushaw. After pulling the albums from the station’s library, I returned to watch Kerr and Bushaw on the air. When it was time for me, I was handed a pair of headphones. I plugged them in. 30 second to go. I began to get nervous. After all, this was a big New York station. Lots of people were listening, including all my family and friends. I arranged to have an air check of this colossal event. A five second countdown, the red light went on, the mic was open, and the thousands who tuned in heard a strangling sound. It was me trying to get a word out. I gamely pressed on, but didn’t dare look at Jim or Bree in the eye for the rest of the hour. When I got home I tossed that tape in the garbage, along with any idea of pursuing this as a career choice.
Years later I met Alison Steele at a radio conference. I told her my radio story and she laughed. She graciously listened to my rehash of her trailblazing. We had a bit in common besides a keen interest in rock and radio; we both loved cats. Alison Steele lost her battle with cancer in 1995. She was a class act who left her mark and a true inspiration for me.