WRKO, Boston!

Boston skyline

Boston, and in fact all of New England, seems more like a little independent country within the United States. Distinct cultures, diverse neighborhoods, and with a manner of speaking that almost sounded like a foreign language. I had been to Boston before and realized that it was a one-of-a-kind place.

Dwight Case was still President of RKO Radio. So, I was once again with a group of “whatever it takes” broadcasters.

Dwight Case

Dwight was an outstanding man and excellent broadcaster. He did have one rule. If something went wrong or you made a clumsy mistake, he wanted to hear it from you before he heard about it elsewhere. Fair enough!

I felt most fortunate to be back with RKO and decided to try to put some roots down in my new home town. I bought a house in the western suburbs.

Casa Van Dyke

It was a bit of a drive from Wellesley Hills to the studio. But at the time of morning when I was on the Mass Pike, traffic was light and it gave me a chance to sip some coffee and wake up.

It was in Boston that I had the first chance to be “guest host” for American Top 40. It turned out that I would sit in Casey’s chair many more times.

WRKO was housed in the same building as sister-station WROR-FM and Channel 7 TV. It was a pretty big operation.

WRKO studios

In fact, in the basement, it even had a casual restaurant where the staff could order a meal.

Chuck Goldmark was the General Manager. Interesting guy…wore a full-length mink coat. Mark McKay and Harry Nelson had been previous programmers. But along the way, Goldmark appointed a woman from a competing station as “acting” Program Director. That didn’t work out well.

One afternoon, Dwight Case called me and asked me to join him for lunch the next day. You bet! When I arrived, he said that he was making a change in the GM position and the new General Manager was being installed right now.

Dwight said that after our lunch, we would go to the station and meet him…and the GM could meet his new Program Director, me! (Gulp!) I hadn’t planned on that. I was happy doing a morning show with a staff I enjoyed and living a comfortable, suburban life. But, you didn’t turn Dwight down.

We rolled back to the station and I met new GM, Bob Fish. Bob had been a top sales person at our sister station in New York City, WOR.

Bob Fish

Fish was a wild man! He was also great fun. When we met, I commented that he hadn’t really had a vote on me. Fish said, “Well, Dwight was smart enough to pick me so I’m sure you are a smart pick too. We’ll get along just fine.” We did.

I was quite happy to inherit a morning crew that was really good! Ed Walsh was morning news anchor and became News Director,

Ed Walsh

Ed was incredible on the air and went on to have a big major market career. He had a long run as morning man for WBZ in Boston and was both News Director and Program Director at WOR, New York. He can still be heard occasionally when he enjoys some fill-in duties with WINS, New York.

Ed and I would work together again in Phoenix. (That’s another chapter.)

Had the chance to catch up with Ed a while back when he and his lovely wife, Chris, visited Phoenix.

Ed and Charlie

We also had Roger Allen for traffic, Bill Rossi on sports, and a young guy doing weather “live from the National Weather Service office at Logan International airport.” Jordan Rich was just starting out on a path that would eventually make him a Boston legend. It was easy to hear that Jordan was on his way!

Jordan Rich

WRKO had a great air staff. Mike Addams was one of my favorites.

Mike Addams.

Mike was very talented and constantly displayed a super-positive attitude. Later, Mike would program our FM sister and eventually began a long run as morning man for Magic 106.7 in town. He became an institution in Boston. Great guy!

Mike is seen here with former WRKO Program Director, Harry “Bud” Nelson…another fine fellow!

Harry Nelson and Mike Addams

We also had Frank Kingston Smith on staff.

Frank Kingston Smith

Frank was a seasoned pro with an impressive resume, including WABC, New York. These guys really didn’t need direction, just positive support.

For evenings, I brought in Craig Jackson from Fort Worth.

Craig Jackson

Craig was an excellent jock and big time team player. He fit right in and sounded great!

We hired another strong talent from a competing station for weekends and to be Assistant Program Director.

Justin Clark

Justin Clark was a native New Englander and knew the market completely. He was our “make it happen” guy. He would be the last DJ on WRKO before the switch to Talk Radio 68.

It was becoming clear that music on AM was not going to be a winning idea going forward. Boston had two other stations doing talk at night, but no full-time talk radio. Time to make our move. With 50,000 watts day and night, WRKO could easily cover the market (and a fair chunk of the “ships at sea.”)

With RKO’s “whatever it takes” philosophy, we began to choose a staff.

Norm Nathan was already in morning drive by then.

Norm Nathan

Norm was entrenched in the market and a totally unique individual on and off the air. We teamed him up with Bill Stevens and the WRKO morning news team.

Mid-morning went to a Boston veteran, Dick Syatt.

Dick Syatt

Dick was quick-witted and fun on the air. The plan was beginning to take shape.

From Noon to 2, we stole the idea of using a psychologist for “The Thought Process.” We had worked with Dr. Harry Sobel before…so, he was our go to guy for that show.

Dr. Harry Sobel

In afternoon drive, Jerry Williams was the choice. He had worked Boston before and was quite familiar with the market.

Jerry Williams

While he was unique on the air, he was probably the most difficult guy I’ve ever had to direct.

We got lucky for the evening show. David Brudnoy was already popular doing the night show on WHDH in town. We were able to lure him on to the team.

David Brudnoy

David was brilliant…quick mind and smooth on the air. He was so easy to direct…primarily because he didn’t really need direction.

Fish made the deal for WRKO to carry play-by-play of the Boston Celtics.

We had live coverage of the press conference at Government Center after a championship win and aired it live when Larry Bird went to the microphone and declared, “Moses Malone, eat shit!” There was some kickback from that.

Larry Bird

One evening, we learned that World Airways made a non-stop landing into Boston Logan…literally. The plane slid off the runway and into the water.

WRKO reporter Chris Ryan was dispatched to the scene. I listened in wonder when I heard him describe what he saw as he looked into a window of the plane. (How did he do that?) While other reporters were being held back, it seems that Chris put on a fire fighter’s coat and road to the scene on one of the fire trucks. Well, as you can imagine, there was some kick-back on that too!

We knew that it would be a slow build following the format change. But we all settled in for the long haul.

Shortly into this exciting new project, we learned the news that the end was near.

Parent company, General Tire, had run into serious conflict with the government. The result was that all the RKO stations had to be sold.

Time for all of us to look at options. The magic that was intrinsic in RKO Radio was going to disappear. There was never a group before or since quite like RKO Radio. All of us who worked for the company still feel blessed for the opportunity to have been part of a one-of-a-kind operation.

I looked at other opportunities and found an interesting way to go. I had friends in Phoenix, Arizona so I accepted the offer to become Program Director for KOY, a legendary station in “The Valley Of The Sun.”

I was going to trade a snow shovel for sun block when the journey continued.

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Comment (1)

  1. Thomas Miller

    March 3, 2020 at 11:59 am

    This has been So.Well.Done, Charlie. Thank you. The vivid descriptions and pictures have me feeling like a fly on the wall. (that WLS control “desk.” Seriously…all of that…from THAT!?! lol) One unexpected take-away is the fraternity that was developed among those of you who clicked. Like the preverbal herding cats, I’d imagine getting 5 or 6 high-strung DJs on the same page was harder than being #1 in LA mornings. But you did it…rinse & repeat. And, you handled the more challenging ones perfectly…and I would have expected more. Hearing about the end of RKO when you were in Boston is like closing the chapter of a really thick, captivating novel that was actually part of many of our growing up memories. Looking forward to Phoenix!

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