“Ken ‘Muck’ Meyer is the most famous radio talk show producer, ever,” says Podcaster, Dick Summer. “He was the best sidekick a talk host could hope to find,” says Dave Maynard, who spent 40 years on air at WBZ-AM. Steve Fredericks, on WMEX-AM, competed, in over nights, with WBZ-AM; Howard Lapides produced Fredericks and says of Meyer, “[He] played the key role, ‘Muck,’ that made the Glick show a hit.”
“Meyer was the best talk show producer,” says Boston media maven, Kevin Vahey. “Every talk-show producer has a Rolodex on his or her computer or phone. This is where contact data, for potential guests, hides.
“Meyer kept his Rolodex in his mind. When you needed a contact number, all you had to do was ask him and prepare for a fast answer. If a possible guest had a phone, Meyer had the number.
“He was also the best guest tracker, ever,” says Vahey. To hone the competitive edge, “a host might want to interview an obscure guest. After the next commercial break, the guest was live, on the phone, with the host. Meyer made it seem too easy. After a while, he booked guests for all the talk shows on WBZ-AM.”
Meyer did more than talk shows. He produced “The Big Broadcast of 1975.” The weekend-long show aired on WBZ-AM for MD. It was the first of its kind, recreating Old-time Radio shows with the original casts.
The “Ken Meyer Show” debuted on WBZ-AM, in 1979. His show was a mix of callers, long-form interviews and Old-time Radio. It aired until November 1985, when “Carl de Suze and I left WBZ-AM on the same day,” says Meyer.
Meyer moved to WEEI-AM, also in Boston, to host “Radio Classics.” “I walked out of WBZ-AM at 7:15 pm and grabbed a cab, but didn’t go home. I went to WEEI-AM, says Meyer. “At 8 pm, Doug Steffan introduced me as the new permanent host of “Radio Classics.”
As for the state of radio, Meyer says owners pushed listeners away. Local content drew listeners; owners slashed it to save a buck. Syndicated shows are profitable, he thinks, but do little for listeners or their home town.
Years ago, the syndicated Laura Schlesinger show displaced Jerry Williams on WRKO-AM. It was a savage move, born of greed. Schlesinger cost much less than did Williams; the station profited on a drop in revenue.
There is hope. In 2008, says Meyer, CBS tried to swap the local overnight show on WBZ-AM for syndication. Listener outrage forced CBS to reverse its decision.
If listeners find a unified voice, this may create a new form local radio. WBZ-AM is a case on point. The new local radio will be different, though.
New technologies work best with short-form content. Over-the-air radio seems suited to long-form. The key to success lies in finding a mix of old and new technologies.
In this exclusive Grub Street interview, Ken Meyer talks about radio, the art of interviewing and working at WBZ-AM.
Grub Street (GS) Rochester, New York, is your home town.
Ken Meyer (KM) Yes, I’m proud of Rochester. I had a wonderful childhood. I went to the New York State School for the Blind, in Batavia, about half an hour west of Rochester.
GS How did your interest in radio develop?
KM I grew up with radio. I came along about the time network radio was segueing into local radio. One of my strongest childhood recollections is of radio, everywhere.
What we call, Old-time Radio, today, was still the mainstay, when I was a child. Born in 1947, I missed the heyday of network radio, but the good shows remained on air well into the 1950s. I’m ever grateful for the timing.
GS A year or two later, television would overwhelm you.
KM Yes, television was just starting. Information and entertainment had yet to begin an all-out war for airtime. I was able to catch the radio bug before television took hold. I got that bug good.
When I was in the 3rd grade, my class came to Rochester, from Batavia, on a field trip. One of the places we visited was WHAM-AM radio. WHAM-AM was to Rochester what WBZ-AM was to Boston: powerful, influential and prestigious. WHAM-AM is still the biggest and best station in Rochester.
We visited a studio at WHAM-AM. Ross Weller was on air, at the time. I stood behind him as he turned on the microphone and said, “You’re listening to W-H-A-M Radio.”
I thought, “Wow, that’s how it’s done.” Radio blew me away.
Network radio, the dramas, comedies and westerns, I knew, well. Weller introduced another radio style, local radio, of which I knew nothing. At that moment, though, I knew radio would be a huge part of my life.
GS Did your parents encourage your interest in radio?
KM For Christmas, my parents gave me a tape recorder, a VM or Voice of Music model. I loved it. It was an endless source of fascination.
I produced radio shows, using that VM. I played records, pretending I was a disc jockey (DJ). I was ten or eleven years old.
I’d tape newscasts, off Rochester radio stations, and say, into my VM, “Now, here’s Ed Hinkle, with the WHAM-AM news.” I made it seem he was working with me. Hinkle would say, “Rochester City Council is meeting to …” as I cued a record.
GS Did you find a way to work sports into your radio practice sessions?
KM Of course, then as now, I was a huge fan of sports. Rochester was home to a farm-team, the “Red Wings,” for the St. Louis “Cardinals.” My father met Stan Musial when he played here for a few weeks. I was so impressed.
Tom Decker did play-by-play for the Rochester “Red Wings,” on WVET-AM, from 1954 to 1961. Veterans of World War 2 owned the station. Thus, the call letters were WVET-AM.
Decker deserved a chance to work major league teams. He didn’t get it. Still, Decker influenced me, then and now, when I think of his work.
GS How did you work sports into your practice sessions?
KM What I did was hook-up an earphone to a radio. I’d listen to Decker do the play-by-play of a game. I’d redo it.
Decker would say, “Bill Harold is at bat.” I’d say, into my VM, “Bill Harold is at bat.”
Decker would say, “He hits a double into left field.” I’d hit my pencil case with a pencil, to make the sound of the bat hitting the ball, and say, “Harold hits a double to left field.”
I’d redo games of the New York “Yankees,” too. I listened to Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto and Red Barber doing “Yankee” games. They were the best. Allen is one of my heroes, to this day.
GS You had an early crush on radio.
KM Yes, radio was and is my love. I sat at the microphone, recording, all the time. When I wasn’t practicing, I was listening to radio.
GS What network radio shows do you remember, best?
KM Arthur Godfrey, his “Talent Scouts” show, was on radio and television, at the time. This show, in a sense, was transitional. Godfrey was number on radio and television, at the same time.
Mostly, I liked soap operas. The continuing stories, the continuity and recurring characters caught my mind and tweaked my ears. I especially liked “The Romance of Helen Trent” and “Our Gal Sunday.”
GS It’s hard to believe “Our Gal Sunday” aired for 22 years. On television, today, two or three years is golden.
KM Yes, the opening, of each episode, of “Our Gal,” was, “How a little girl from a tiny town in the Midwest could find happiness with England’s richest and most handsome man, Lord Henry Brinthrope.” I never dreamed, 18 years later, I’d get a kiss from “Our Gal Sunday,” Vivian Smolen, or a hug from Julie Stevens, who portrayed Helen Trent. “Trent” aired for 27 years, with Stevens in the lead role from 1944 to 1960.
GS Soap operas were on in the daytime. Did you skip school to listen?
KM No, my mother, Helen, taped the shows for me, every day I was at school. When I came home, on weekends, I listened to each one. It was a wonderful time.
GS Where soap operas the high point of network radio for you?
KM Well, yes, but listening to the 1961 baseball season, on radio, probably tops the list. That year, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle battled to break the home run record set by Babe Ruth. It was a true radio event, that is, long form, taking weeks and months to play out, teasing the imagination along the way.
Maris hit home run number 61, to break the record, at 2:43 pm on Sunday 1 October 1961. I was visiting my grandmother. Phil Rizzuto was yelling, on the radio, “Holy cow, he did it. He did it.”
I lived history through radio. Radio brought the event to life, forcing listeners to use their imagination to see the swing of the bat; the bat hit the ball out of the park and Maris running the bases. It is easy to be in love with radio.
Grahm Junior College
GS You went to Grahm Junior College, in Boston, the same school as Andy Kaufman and Burt Dubrow.
KMWhen I went to Grahm, it was still the Cambridge School of Business; it began in 1950 as a business school, later expanding to include radio and television. In January 1969, the named changed to Grahm Junior College. It was a wonderful school, a great place to learn about radio or television.
GS How did you find your way to Grahm?
KM I used to listen to Bill Gibbons, on WHAM-AM, in Rochester. In the early 1960s, the station aired fifteen minutes of sports at 6:15 pm and 11:15 pm. As a huge sports fan, I listened every day.
Gibbons was the only Rochester sportscast to do longish interviews with players and sports celebrities, which I liked. I remember he did fifteen minutes with Howard Cosell. This was unheard-of in Rochester.
In 1965, I discovered someone who knew Bill Gibbons. He was an usher at Red Wing Stadium and one day, John, my father, and I ran into him at a gas station. I told him I was a huge fan of Gibbons and, in turn, he told Gibbons.
GS That’s networking.
KM Yes and Gibbons sent me a stack of photographs from the New York “Yankees, training camp. At the time, WHAM-AM was part of the Yankees Network and ran all the games. This was a great gesture.
I called to thank Gibbons and he said, “If you’re ever in the Rochester call me, I’d love to meet you.” I said, “Okay.” My mother agreed to drive me to the station. I called Gibbons back and made an appointment.
Gibbons gave us a full tour of the station. He let me sit in the studio while he did a sportscast. I fell in love with the behind the scenes excitement of local radio.
GS Is this when you decided I wanted a career in radio.
KM Yes, when the radio bug bites you, it’s like falling in love. Sadly, radio careers sometimes end as do love affairs, badly.
GS You’re not alone.
KM In 1966, during my senior year in high school, I went back to visit Bill Gibbons. I wanted advice about a career in radio. We talked for two or three hours.
Gibbons says, “Kenny, you’re trying to get into a business where you gotta read typewriter copy, off a piece of paper. Let’s face it; you can’t do that, can you.”
I said, “Yeah, I know, but there are announcers who can’t see working in radio. If they can do it, I can do it.”
GS Do you recall a few DJs with sight problems?
KM Sure, there was Ed Walker, who stills works at WAMU-FM, in Washington, DC. Ed Potter, I think, worked in Greenville, South Carolina. Art Edgerton was on air at WSPD-AM, in Toledo, Ohio; he’s in the Lake Erie West Hall of Fame as a Jazz musician and DJ.
Gibbons said, “Well, I agree. You deserve a chance. You might fail, but you won’t know unless you try.”
Then we talked about the Cambridge School of Business (CSB), which Gibbons knew from his days working in Boston. In fact, he worked at WBZ-AM. For me, the thought of working at WBZ-AM was at the far end of the rainbow.
I sent for a CSB catalogue. I also contacted the Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) for advice. I hoped VRS would sponsor me through school and help me start working.
There was a hitch. VRS urged me to take up piano tuning, not radio. I had specialized in piano tuning at the State School for the Blind. There wasn’t much from which to choose.
GS Do you have perfect pitch?
KM Yes, but I hated piano tuning. It’s a great line of work, only not for me. In time and with my persistence, VRS backed me.
I applied to CSB. I had to fly to Boston for a typing test and, I guess, an informal interview. CSB accepted me.
I contacted the National Braille Press, long before classes started. The Press needed a long lead-time to record the books I used. I graduated high school and got ready for CSB.
When my parents drove me to Boston, to start school, in September 1967, we lost our way. The first night, we stayed at a motel in the suburb of Revere. It was a scary start to life on my own in Boston.
GS Thinking about spending a night in Revere frightens me, right now.
KM My first week at CSB was a shock. To this point, my education involved small classes and knowing everyone at school. At the State School for the Blind, a group of students started together in grade one and stayed together through high school.
I knew no one at CSB. The closest I’d come to Boston was listening to a “Red Sox” game on the radio. Now, I was on my own in the big city, in Kenmore Square, no less, heir to the infamous Scully Square.
My mother would call. “Listen,” she’d say, “if you want to pack it up and come home, do it. We’ll help you work this out.”
GS Encouraging parents make a lifetime of difference.
KM I probably wanted to go home. I think knowing I could pack it in, with full support of my parents, helped me hang on in Boston. I’m so glad I stuck it out.
First day, my first course was “Radio One.” In this class, we learned to run a control board, play cartridges, queue records and such. Do you think anyone remembers vinyl records?
GS Historians might, but even then who knows. There’s an innocent nostalgia in your “Radio One” course.
KM We had to learn how to do all those routine tasks; many, of which, no longer exist. The instructor walked in to the classroom and I think, "Here I go." He wrote on the board and said, “Gentlemen, my name is Dick Walsh last time I saw it.”
GS There were no women in your classes at CSB.
KM A few women, as I recall, in my classes, but not many.
GS Times do change.
KM That day began a major change in my life. To this point, I knew how to turn a radio on or off or change stations and fool around with my VM tape recorder. A control board, with all those switches, cart and reel-to-reel tape machines and turntables threw me for a loop. I thought, “I’ll never be able to work radio.”
Dick Walsh talked with me after class. “Listen,” he said, “I’m going to get you through this, whatever it takes. We’re going to get through this class and you are going to pass, if I have to put up my career as a teacher and reputation as an engineer.”
He worked at WEEI-AM, at the time a CBS-owned station in Boston. In 1968, the station was at 590 AM. In August 1994, WEEI-AM, then owned by the “Celtics” basketball team, moved to 850 on the AM dial. The old-line, full-service WHDH-AM vanished. Today, Entercom owns WEEI-AM and 122 other radio stations in 22 other markets.
Walsh was telling me, in his way, I’d make it through his course, at least. Normally, Walsh worked early mornings at WEEI-AM, coming to CSB three days a week. On Fridays, he helped me until 10 pm or later.
GS A dedicated teacher always gives students an advantage.
KM Why he did it I don’t know, but I’m forever grateful to him. If he hadn’t put in this time with me, I would never have graduated; never worked on air at WBZ-AM or WEEI-AM. Walsh deserves all the credit that any human being or any teacher can get.
GS Walsh also helped you land your first major interview.
KM Yes, it was with Phil Rizzuto, who did play-by-play for the “Yankees.” He was my childhood hero. Rizzuto was a superb shortstop and way too modest. He told an interviewer, “My stats don’t shout, they kind of whisper.” He’s an adult-hood hero, of mine, too.
GS “Holy cow,” wasn’t that his buzzword.
KM “Holy cow,” exactly, I loved Rizzuto, on the air. I just loved his energy and enthusiasm. I read a book about him, “The Phil Rizzuto Story,” by Milton Shapiro, which enthralled me.
One day, Dick Walsh casually mentions Rizzuto has a show on CBS radio. It followed Lowell Thomas at 6:55 pm, weekdays. Walsh also mentions, casually, that whenever Rizzuto did his show from Boston, when the “Yankees” played the “Red Sox,” he, Walsh, was the engineer.
“Holy cow,” I thought. Then I asked, “Do you think you can set-up an interview with Rizzuto for me?” I figured there’s no harm in asking.
Walsh said he’d try. Rizzuto agreed. In September 1968, I went to Fenway Park to do the interview. We, Rizzuto and I, stood under the stands and did a twenty-five minute interview.
GS Holy cow is right.
KM In my senior year at Grahm, I had to do a radio documentary. I decided to use the Rizzuto interview. I wrote the script and edited the interview. A friend, Jim Rivers, was my announcer; he read my script.
A year or two ago, my girlfriend was rummaging through my basement. She found a stack of reel-to-reel tapes and gave the pile to Jordon Rich. He does weekend overnights on WBZ-AM.
She asks Rich to decide if there’s anything worth keeping. Doesn’t he find the interview, of Rizzuto, and the documentary? I hadn’t heard it for 40 years.
We listened to the tapes. What a thrill, interviewing Rizzuto, in 1967. What a bigger thrill listening to the interview 40 years later. It was an incredible feeling, a great surprise and a special memory.
GS Rizzuto passed away in 2007, that’s an interesting coincidence.
KM At Grahm, I took a sports-radio class from Fred Cusick. He did play-by-play for the Boston “Bruins” from 1969 to 1997, first on radio than on television. He was among the best hockey broadcasters.
His class was at 8 am, Tuesday. My next class was at 2 pm. Those Tuesdays were long.
I wanted an independent opinion about my Rizzuto interview and documentary. Cusick agreed to listen to both. The following week, he had me play the documentary for the whole sports class. He assigned an essay about Rizzuto, based on my interview.
GS Holy cow fits again.
KM Cusick excused me from the project and I earned an A, in his class. It was the only A he awarded that year. Afterwards, when I listened to him doing play-by-play for the “Bruins,” it was different experience.
I graduated, on time. I was not an A student, but I graduated. It was much fun.
Finding a Job
GS How was the post-Grahm College hunt for a job?
KM It was difficult. I wanted to work in Rochester. I went to all the stations and talked with Bill Gibbons at WHAM-AM.
Times had changed in three years. Gibbons said, “Kenny, I can’t even give my son a job here.” It was time to try a new approach.
My parents suggested a family vacation to Boston. Our idea was to enlist the help of Grahm Junior College in my job search. I called Dick Walsh, who threw his total support behind me, introducing me to Milton Grahm, president of the school.
GS Did the school help you?
KM Grahm gave me the standard talk about how the school stood behind its graduates. Good to his word, he arranged an interview for me, with Lamont Thompson, at WBZ-AM. Thompson was on the Board of Trustees at Grahm and the Vice-president of Westinghouse for WBZ AM, FM and television. At the time, Westinghouse owned WBZ.
I met with Thompson. After we talked, he took me downstairs, at WBZ. I met Guy Manilla, who was hosting “Calling All Sports,” the only weekday sports-talk show in Boston, at the time. I was regular listener. Manilla was great when I met him. I was chalking up the thrills, if nothing else.
Then I met Bill Shupert, the programme director (PD) of WBZ-AM, at the time. He and Dick Walsh had worked together at WEEI-AM. I told Shupert how I knew Walsh and how he helped me through Grahm Junior College.
On the spot, Shupert calls Walsh. They talked for 45 minutes. Shupert puts down the phone and says, “Kenny, if you can do half what [Walsh] says you can do, I want you working here. The problem is WBZ has no money in the budget to hire anyone, right now.”
GS It’s the same old song and dance.
KM On our way back to Rochester, a work-a-round idea came to me. I talked to my rehabilitation counsellor, at VRS. I said, “Look, I’ve got this guy at a major radio station, in Boston, that wants to hire me, but his budget is spent; there’s no money to pay me.
“Can VRS pay my salary,” I ask. “WBZ-AM won’t let me work without being paid.” There were no interns in those days.
My plan was for VRS to pay my salary for three months; this wasn’t an unheard-of idea. If WBZ-AM didn’t find a way to pay me, after three months, I walk away. At worst, I have a solid entry on my resume.
This was win-win case. VRS agreed. WBZ-AM agreed.
GS When there’s a will there’s a way.
KM For the first few days, at WBZ-AM, I hung around, mostly in the DJ lounge. I met Gil Santos. He was a colour commentator for the New England “Patriots.” The following year, I think, Santos moved to play-by-play of the “Pats.”
The day after I meet Santos, he comes up to me in the lounge. “Can you honestly get a hold of anybody,” he said. I said, “Well I don’t know. Who is anybody?”
Santos says, “Can you find Angelo Dundee for me?
Dundee managed Muhammad Ali. I was nervous. I thought, “Man, I can’t do this. I want out of here, but I better give it a try.”
Finding Dundee was easy. I made two phone calls. I made one call to Madison Square Garden (MSG), in New York City. I made a second call to a gym somewhere; a publicist at MSG gave me that number.
GS Seems much easier than you thought.
KM I was on my way.
GS How did you become producer of the “Larry Glick Show”?
KM About the end of my first week, at WBZ-AM, Shupert calls me into his office. “Go back to the hotel,” he says. “Have some sleep and come back to work overnight, with Larry Glick. You’re his new producer.”
Obviously, I listened to Glick. At Grahm, we’d stay up late to listen and call him. He’d answer the phone, himself, “Hi, this is Larry Glick. You’re on the air at WBZ, in Boston.” He didn’t have a producer.
Glick liked to call people, in the middle of the night. Maybe, during the last commercial break, he read something on the news wire; for example, a woman fired a loaded gun into a soft drink machine because it stole her dime. Glick would call her, right away, at 2:12 am.
At 2:12 am, listeners heard the phone dialling, on air. When someone answered, Glick says to the [unknowing] guest, “Hi, is this Mary Jones? It is! That’s great. My name is Larry Glick. I’m calling from WBZ radio, in Boston, and you’re on the air. I read in a local newspaper that you fired at gun at a soft drink machine. Could you tell us why you did that?”
GS His spontaneous calls were often too bizarre. It would never happen today.
KM I agree, it would not happen, today, or maybe once before the station fired the host. One night, Glick called someone at 1:30 am and put him or her on air. The “guest” didn’t appreciate anyone invading his or her privacy. She or he sued WBZ-AM.
GS I recall Glick had difficulty with Alf Landon, the former Governor of Kansas and 1936 Republican candidate President.
KM I heard about that one, but it was before I arrived. Glick shrugged-off the refusals to talk with him or someone telling him to go forth and multiple. His attitude was he won some and he lost some.
Shupert made me producer of Glick because he didn’t want Glick making cold calls in the middle of the night; someone had to set up the calls for him. WBZ-AM didn’t need the lawsuits or angry women and men calling to complain. In part, the station needed me to help protect it.
I started producing Glick on Tuesday 9 February 1971. He worked without a producer, since 1968, on WBZ-AM, and for five or six years on WMEX-AM before that. It was a high-wire act, with no net.
GS What you describe is both frightening and romantic.
KM The challenge is compelling, in a way. Glick took care of his microphone, carts and tapes, records, if he played any, and managed the calls and callers. He had many outside interests and often got by on two or three hours of sleep. Anyone who hasn’t worked in radio has no idea the difficulty managing the on-air product when well rested; image the peril when you’re sleep deprived.
GS Life was different. Glick was fortunate to avoid many nasty messes.
KM The change, in attitudes, which called for a producer, was good for me. The show was a disaster waiting to happen. I worked with Glick, on air, for seven years, easing the pressure. Glick made me into a personality and WBZ-AM gave me many opportunities.
All I wanted to do was work in radio. Suddenly, I’m working the greatest radio station in the world, producing the top overnight show in America. My head still spins.
WBZ-AM was akin to the playing field at Yankee stadium. Many great players played on it, many great players were playing on it, when I joined, and many more great players are coming to play. Every day, I thanked gawd I worked at WBZ-AM, where I rubbed shoulders with Dave Maynard, Jerry Williams, Carl de Suze, Larry Glick and Guy Manilla, among others.
GS I heard a story that suggested your assignment to Glick was full of irony.
KM Yes, when I was at Grahm, I called Glick one night. He said, “Kid, give me a station break.” I did. Then Glick said, “I got news for you, pal, you’ll never make it in radio.” I never forgot his comment.
GS You joined WBZ-AM in 1971, its fiftieth anniversary year.
KM A welcome coincidence, I think, because I had a chance to use my earliest radio interest, Old-time Radio, in my job. Part of the special programming for the anniversary year was a week of Old-time Radio on the “Jerry Williams Show.” I produced Williams that week, finding actors and personalities, from the days of radio, for his show. It was great fun.
After the Second World War, Williams wanted to become an actor. He audition for many radio shows and appeared on a few, in small roles, I think. This was his connection with Old-time Radio.
Williams knew the shows, well. He knew some of the actors he interviewed. He had worked with some of them, too.
GS Do you recall the first interview you set up after joining Glick?
KM Yes, it was Duncan Renaldo, who portrayed the “Cisco Kid,” in the movies and on television. I don’t know how or where we got his phone number. Maybe a listener sent the phone number to Glick; that happened a lot.
I called Renaldo; he was wonderful. I’m thinking, “I’m talking to the 'Cisco Kid;' my gawd and heaven.” It was great job, with a pay cheque to boot.
GS I remember, in the early 1970s, there was a huge deal about Glick and the book, “The Exorcist.”
KM In 1972, “The Exorcist” was the top-selling book. We wanted to interview its author, William Peter Blatty. I read the book, had it on a record, but Glick had not read it.
It used to drive me crazy. Glick rarely read a book before he interviewed the author. He was always too busy.
GS He often admitted as much on air. You’re not telling anything out of school.
KM Yes, Glick would own up. He’d say, “I have your book. I haven’t had a chance to read it. I plan to read it this weekend.”
Many interviewers don’t read the book or see the movie before an interview. She or he might read the press material and wing the interview. Glick was busy, off-air, with his hypnosis centre and stage show; he seldom had time to read a book or see a movie.
GS Still, he did great interviews, with authors or anyone, repeatedly.
KM That was part of the Glick talent pool.
GS Wish I had the confidence and ability not to prepare. Right at the start, I'd fumbled and upset the author.
KM Me, too, but I told Glick he couldn’t interview Blatty without first reading “The Exorcist.” I had to ensure he read the book or we were in hot water; I sensed this interview might take off, get much attention. After a Friday night show, I gave Glick my book, my recording, of “The Exorcist.”
Click takes the recording home. On Monday, he tells me, “Reading that book was great. I would walk around the house and do this and that and still be able to read the book, it was fabulous.”
GS For a while, in the early or middle 1970s, you ran talking-book recordings during your milk and cookie break, about 3 am.
KM Yes, we tried the “Cane Mutiny” and maybe one or two others. Eventually, there were too many problems about royalties and such. It was a great idea that didn’t pan out.
After hearing the talking-book version, of “The Exorcist,” Glick wants to interview Blatty and Leon Janey, who recorded the book, together. These were easy contacts. Janey was a well-known radio and Broadway actor. Blatty was promoting the book and forthcoming movie.
We had Blatty and Janey on air, at the same time, with Glick. Blatty didn’t know about the recorded version of the book. I played part of the recorded book for him.
Surprised, Blatty loved the idea. Impressed, with the quality of the recording, Blatty raves about it. He tells Janey his reading is great and how wonderful for Janey to do it.
Clearly, this touches Janey, deeply. He says, “This is the only time an author complimented me about any of my work.” The interviews went well and that show was memorable.
GS Is there a sidebar to this interview.
KM Yes, both the book and the movie were controversial. The Roman Catholic Church was upset about every part of the book and movie. Some theatres refused to run the movie. Elsewhere, lines of people wanting to see the movie snaked around the block.
Glick decides he wants to interview Bill Friedkin, who directed the movie. I contact Fredkin via Warner Brothers. We agree on a date and time for the interview and he gives me his home number. All is good.
When WBZ-AM catches wind that Glick has Friedkin lined up, management decides to promote the show, heavily. Someone develops a special on-air promotion campaign; newspaper and television advertisements appear. This interview is a huge deal.
A day or two before the interview, Friedkin cancels. There’s too much controversy about the movie. He’s concerned something might happen, but I’m not sure what.
I call Friedkin. I say, “Bill, we spent all this money. The station went all-out promoting the interview. You must do the interview.”
Friedkin says, “I won’t do it live. I’ll record it, that’s not a problem. I can’t take a chance doing it live.”
GS Seems an interviewer burned him.
KM That could well be the case. I say to Glick, “What are we going to do?”
Glick says, “We’ve got to have someone on air, tonight, who can talk about the book or the movie.”
I found Matt Siegeloff, who worked for Saks Theatres. Saks was showing “The Exorcist,” in Boston. He came on Glick at 1 am, I think. Siegeloff talked for an hour and was great. He saved our bacon.
Good to his word, a few days later, Bill Friedkin taped an interview with Glick. Glick came into the station, during the day. Of course, this caused a commotion, especially since everyone knew he was interviewing Friedkin.
GS Glick at WBZ-AM, during the day, was the peak of rare events.
KM Yes, another time he came to the station during the day, was to interview Johnny Cash. Emmett Kelly, the renowned clown, with Ringling Brothers, sent Glick a letter about reaching Cash, in Israel, where he’s filming a movie. Given the time difference, we had to tape during the day.
Glick comes into the station. I make the call to Israel. The connection is terrible.
Cash says, “I’ll go down to the lobby to take the call.” There’s much dead air. Glick is talking, trying to fill time; this was not his forte.
Suddenly, the operator starts singing. “Bom, bom, bom, bom; da, day bom, da bom; Larry picks up on it. Now, he’s singing, in Boston, along with the operator in Tel Aviv, Israel. It was hilarious, an intercontinental duet.
GS I wonder what Johnny Cash thought when he picked up the phone, in the lobby.
KM Me, too, but it might depend on what he knew about Glick. If he knew about Glick, it was not a problem. It was great radio: Glick and a telephone operator, in Israel, singing a nonsense duet.
GS Wouldn’t hear such radio today.
KM No, I agree; we eventually did the interview, with Cash. We ran as much of the singing as possible, after outlining the back-story. Listeners liked it.
Glick was funny. There was nobody like him then or now. I think Glick could read a newspaper article and break you up.
GS When he read the sports he was hilarious, especially when he gave game scores.
KM I used to listen, out of one ear, as I screened calls or set up interviews. I marvelled at how Glick did it. The inflection in his voice was enough.
Larry Glick was an incredible talent. There are hosts, today, that are entertaining. Jordon Rich, Morgan White and Steve LeVeille, on WBZ-AM, are great. Still, no one, on WBZ-AM or any station, is close to Glick.
GS There’s an interesting story about author John Fuller.
KM Another book I got Glick to read, not hear, was “The Ghost of Flight 401,” by John Fuller. I heard Pat Whitley, on WMEX-AM, another mostly talk station in Boston, interview Fuller. Listening to Whitley and Fuller talk about the book ran chills down my spine. I knew Fuller would make a great interview for Glick, as he was into flying and liked to talk about the supernatural.
I contacted the publisher of “The Ghost of Flight 401.” It sent a copy of the book. I gave it to Glick and called John Fuller.
Fuller showed much interest. Wisely, he asks about Glick. “Does he read a book before he interviews the author? Does he only read the synopsis on the book jacket before the interview?
“No,” I say, “Larry Glick always reads books from cover to cover before an interview.” I figure I’ll worry about him reading the book, later. For now, getting Fuller to agree is my goal.
“In that case,” says Fuller, “I’ll do the interview.”
I say to Glick, “You’ve must read this book. I told the author you were a great interviewer, who always prepared. I told him you always read your interview material. This is why he’s doing the interview.”
Glick read the book. He loved it. The interview, with Fuller, was among his best.
GS Working at WBZ-AM made it possible for you to meet a few of your heroes.
KM Yes, not every radio station had the influence of WBZ-AM. Best, though, I had the chance to fill in for Curt Gowdy, one of my heroes, on WBZ-AM. Gowdy was at the top of his career, in the early 1970s. He did the “Red Sox” play-by-play for fifteen years; he did football, the 1972 Summer Olympics and hosted “American Sportsman,” on the ABC television network.
Early in 1972, I interviewed Gowdy. What a thrill, but I over prepared and five minutes into the interview, I decided to drop the script. The unscripted interview turned out great.
Gowdy told me, on tape, it was the best interviewed he’d done. He had done many interviews. He knew both roles: interview and interviewee. For him to say, on the record, that we had a great interview was unbelievable.
GS Such a compliment, from Gowdy, is stellar.
KM I was on cloud nine. Not long after the interview, Gowdy was back at WBZ-AM, for a day. His autobiography, “Cowboy at the Mic,” was out. He was going to guest host the WBZ-AM sports talk show, “Calling All Sports,” while regular host, Guy Manilla, took the evening off.
I knew Gowdy would be in the station early, to talk with management. I brought my copy of “Cowboy at the Mic” for him to autography. While Gowdy talked to station manager, Sy Yanoff, I paced.
Yanoff sees me and waves me into his office. “We have a problem,” he says, “Curt can’t do the last half hour of “Calling All Sports. Do you think you can fill in?”
“Sy,” I said, “I think I can be available for the whole show.”
I produced the show, with Gowdy. He kept plugging that I’d take over at 7:30 pm because he had to leave. What a great experience, beyond my wildest dreams.
GS Did you produce Glick that night, too?
KM Yes and I managed to stay awake the whole time. Only on a station, such as WBZ-AM, could anyone have such an experience. The management, at the time, was great about allowing me to fill in for Curt Gowdy, for example.
GS When you worked with Glick, one of your tasks was to wake up Carl de Suze.
KM Yes, Carl de Suze was among the finest people I met or worked with in radio. He did AM Drive, on WBZ-AM for about forty years. For his last five years, he did 9 am to noon.
Part of my job was to awaken de Suze for his 5:30 am show. I’d call him at home. When he answered, he sounded as if he was going to die. I’d say, “Hey Carl, how are you?” He’d say, “Oh, Kenny, old boy, how are you?” Always dignified, de Suze was gracious, to a fault, even at 4 am.
Racing from Concord, Ma, where he lived, de Suze usually walked into the studio at 5:29 am. He’d cue up his first record before taking off his coat. When he turned on the microphone, listeners thought he was fully alert and wide-awake.
I enjoyed his style on air. There was something about de Suze. I can’t find the words to describe it. He and Jess Cain, at WHDH-AM, were the best morning personalities I ever heard.
GS Steve Fredericks, who did talk on WMEX-AM, was the main competition for Glick.
KM I loved Steve Fredericks. I used to listen to him, as often as possible. Fredericks could talk about any topic, sports or politics and always with authority. I loved his voice, great quality to match his substance.
Fredericks was on air Saturday nights, which I had off, in my early days at WBZ-AM. I loved listening to Fredericks. He was free flowing. Sometimes he’d play old tapes from the days when he did play-by-play for the Philadelphia “76s,” of the NBA. It was great radio, different and fun.
GS Norm Nathan was competition for Glick, too, when he hosted “Sounds in the Night,” an overnight Jazz-music show on WHDH-AM.
KM Nathan was funny. He had a subtle sense of humour. Nathan would say something, off-the-cuff, and after a moment or two, you’d burst out laughing. His sense of humour was so dry.
Norm Nathan was excellent on air. I enjoyed his work. He was my replacement at WBZ-AM, when I left for WEEI-AM. There was no one better to take over my show.
I don’t recall “Sounds of the Night,” which I know he hosted on WHDH-AM, for years. I always preferred talk to music on radio. I do remember Nathan as a newscaster on WEEI-AM. Whatever Nathan did, he did well.
Working with Glick
GS You produced the “Larry Glick Show” for about seven years, from 1971 to 1978. The way Glick worked, you were part of the show. This, I suspect, was good and bad.
GS Dave Maynard told me, he thought you were the perfect fit for Glick. He thought it unlikely anyone else would’ve worked as well as you did with Glick. You knew what Glick expected, Maynard told me, and always delivered, never more or less than needed; you knew and respected the boundaries.
Maynard compares you to Ed McMahon, on the “Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson,” and Paul Schaffer, the bandleader and foil on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” This is heady company. Maynard said you were the perfect producer for Glick.
KM The years I worked with Glick were interesting. We had much fun. Listeners obviously enjoyed the show, too.
Glick and I found a quick rapport. He allowed me to develop an on-air personality. Listeners usually didn’t know who produced a talk show, an anonymous voice screened calls. Glick made sure everyone knew I was his producer.
GS Together, you and Glick made history.
KM I, we, didn’t think of it as make history at the time. We had fun jobs. We went to work. We did our jobs. Looking back, today, it seems what we did was special and, yes, we made radio history.
GS Glick used many imaginative aural mnemonics.
KM That was one key to his success. He gave first-time callers a round of applause. Until the death of John Lennon, in December 1981, he shot rude or distasteful callers off the air. Of course, there was the Larry Glick Salute, which needed little imagination to figure out.
Once, during a Boston “Bruins” game, the referee ejected Phil Esposito, who gestured his scorn for all to see. Bob Wilson, who did play-by-play for the “Bruins,” at the time, said, “Esposito gave the referee the Larry Glick Salute.” It was hilarious to hear that comment from the staid Wilson.
GS That’s a great story. Looking back, what, about Larry Glick, stands out for you.
KM Glick was a strong proponent of motivation. He wanted everyone to succeed. Glick knew I wanted to be on air and helped me.
Every chance he had, he let me come on the show. When the time came for me to work on air, say guest-host “Calling All Sports” or fill in for Glick, I was ready. I passed the jitters phase. I got over the strangeness of on air work and much of the stress of taking calls before having to do it on my own.
Hypnosis was a huge topic for Glick, which, I think, linked to his belief in motivation. He had a hypnosis clinic in Cleveland Circle, for many years. He also developed a nightclub act around hypnosis.
Jimmy McGettrick owned the “Beachcomber,” a nightclub, in Quincy, a suburb of Boston. He booked Glick, often. When McGettrick introduced Glick, he’d say, “The man who owns midnight.”
McGettrick was honest and true: Glick owned overnight radio in Boston for at least 15 years. Toward the end of his time at WBZ-AM, Glick moved into 9 am to 1 am, which fit. For the last few years, of his career, he did 9 am to noon, on WHDH-AM, which was not a fit.
Glick preferred informality, which made it easy to slip me into a character role on the show. He gave me a nickname, which I didn’t and don’t especially like, but it helped listeners remember me. The nickname is from a former life, in a way, but still, almost forty years later, many listeners refer to me by that name.
Before I left WBZ-AM, I ran into a co-worker at an event. He kept referring to me as “Muck,” the nickname Glick gave me. I had my own show by this time: I was no longer “Muck” from the “Larry Glick Show”; that was yesterday.
Still, everyone knew “Muck.” It took a while to set up Ken Meyer as distinct from “Muck.” Once, I got a letter address to “Muck Glick,” which was funny, but it bothered me. I’m not comfortable as “Muck.”
GS In a sense, Muck made Meyer, your career, your celebrity.
KM I won’t deny that, but you must realize Glick called me “Muck.” I rarely, if ever, used the name on air. Yes, the nickname helped build my audience, but when I was on air and not the producer, I was Ken Meyer.
GS That’s a good distinction, “Muck,” as producer, Ken Meyer as on air personality.
KM I think it works.
GS Dick Summer thinks it isn’t only that listeners knew you or know you, as “Muck,” but when, the time of day. In the middle of the night, when, as individual women and men, listeners were most vulnerable, they welcomed “Muck,” a warm, authentic personality.
KM Summer knows, well, of what he talks. He’s likely the most famous overnight DJ in radio history. Yes, I agree, with Dick Summer; at 3 am, how listeners know a talk show host or DJ is different from 3 pm.
At 3 pm, tired from a day of hard work, listeners think about going home. They need brief and frequent traffic and weather reports: short-form content. Attention spans are brief and only partly focused on radio when speeding along the highway or tied up in traffic.
At 3 am, the world is mostly quiet. There’s time to think or maybe fight insomnia. Listening to radio doesn’t usually get in the way, especially the way we, Glick and I, did it. Longer form content, which creates a bond between radio personality and listener, is welcome.
Overnight local radio, focusing on what happens around the listener, is the ideal foil for daytime stress. My sense, which reflects my personal interests, is that listeners, as individuals, need local talk radio, overnight. Listeners may simply enjoy the radio personality, as was the case with Glick and is the case with Steve LeVeille, who does overnights on WBZ-AM, now.
Listeners may be lonely or worried and need companionship. Short-form content rarely fulfills what late night radio listeners need and want. Sports scores or a brief news up-date is not enough for late-night radio listeners: a friendly DJ or host is most important.
The bonds that develop, between DJ or host and listener, offer a sense of hope. When you have support, such as family, friends or radio personality, hope is hard to avoid. When a huge city, such as Boston, has one local overnight show, I suspect hopeless increases, which is not good.
GS Glick, it seems, had a strong interest in everyone or anyone and most topics, which surely helped develop bonds with listeners.
KM Yes, he had an ever-widening range of interests. Maybe not sports, so much. Still he sometimes interviewed sports celebrities.
One night, I don’t know why, Glick decides he wants to interview Jimmy Piersall. He was a baseball player, an outfielder, who moved around, from team to team. Over eighteen seasons, Piersall played for the “Red Sox,” Cleveland “Indians,” Washington “Senators,” New York “Mets” and California “Angels.” After his playing career, Piersall did colour commentary for the Texas “Rangers” and Chicago “White Sox.”
Glick wasn’t into sports. Piersall had a history of self-control problems. Maybe there was a link to hypnosis.
I found Piersall. I asked him to do an interview, with Glick. Piersall says, “Is that the nut who talks about hypnosis all the time. If it is, I’ll do it.”
Glick has me prepare questions for him to ask Piersall. In the middle of the interview, Piersall says, “Who wrote out these questions, for you? You don’t know that much about sports.”
GS How true is that?
KM His wide-ranging interests in women and men led Glick to a cast of regulars on the show. Some of the characters were our callers. Other characters were frequent guests, who’d stop by the station.
Charlie DeGiovanni, a taxi-driver, in Boston, was likely the longest-standing Glick character. He drove Glick around. This friendship started when Glick worked at WMEX-AM and continued to his last day on air. DeGiovanni always displayed a photograph, of Glick, in his taxi. He worshipped Glick.
Every night, DeGiovanni brought sandwiches for us from “Ken’s,” in Copley Square. I loved the bologna sandwich, with mustard. When the food arrived, we aired a comedy album and took a milk and cookie break.
DeGiovanni never took any money for the food. He paid for it, I guess. Maybe “Ken’s” gave us the food for a free plug.
GS That’s payola.
KM I used to hear DeGiovanni on Glick, before I started to work at WBZ-AM. When I met DeGiovanni, it was like meeting a star. He was the same off-air as on, a gentle man, in all ways.
GS I like to hear that about celebrities, local or national.
KM Mel Simons, a local Boston entertainer, was another Glick regular. I met Simons when he came on Glick. Usually, he’d ask Old-time Radio or Television trivia questions. We’d give a small prize to whoever got the right answer, first.
Mel Simons appears on WBZ-AM
Simons gives talks about Old-time Radio or Television. His knowledge, of this area, is exceptional and his collection of radio and television shows is huge. He’s on air, with Steve LeVeille or Jordon Rich, occasionally.
What I like about Simons is how he takes an old-school approach to his work. He never cancels a show, no matter how sick, busy or the weather. A Mel Simons show always goes on.
In the end, a cast of characters, including me, contributed to the success of Glick. We had fun, playing the characters. Listeners enjoyed the interplay among Glick and his characters. It was win-win.
Big Broadcast of 1975
GS In 1975, you produced an Old-time Radio weekend promotion, for the station.
KM Yes, WBZ-AM joined with Muscular Dystrophy (MD) and the “Jerry Lewis MD Telethon” for this promotion. Bob Oakes, the PD, wanted to put on a special event to raise money for MD. He decided on a large-scale Old-time Radio weekend, at Dunphey’s Resort and the Melody Tent, in Hyannis, Ma.
My experience, producing an Old-time Radio week for Williams, in 1971, got me the assignment. Oakes took me off Glick for a while. I worked with Mel Simons, a Boston-based expert on Old-time Radio, to put the weekend together.
Simons provided copies of the Old-time Radio shows we wanted to recreate; his knowledge of that radio era and the shows is encyclopaedic. The station had volunteers transcribe tapes of some shows, for the weekend. We needed paper scripts so we could recreate the shows.
GS Did you find a way to sneak in “Helen Trent” or “Our Gal Sunday”?
KM Of course, one of the Old-time Radio shows we recreated was “The Romance of Helen Trent,” my childhood favourite. The theme song, of the show, was “Juanita,” which I knew by heart. During the re-creation, of “Helen Trent,” I hummed the opening theme. What a thrill.
I knew Julie Stevens, who portrayed Helen Trent, from the 1971 shows I produced for Jerry Williams. She agreed to perform on the “Big Broadcast of 1975.” In fact, we brought in the complete cast of the “Helen Trent” show for the weekend.
Mel Blanc, Dennis Day and Don Wilson (below), regulars on the “Jack Benny Show,” came for that weekend. So did Jackson Beck, the announcer on “Superman.” Brett Morrison, who portrayed “The Shadow,” took part, as did the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, with Bob Eberly.
Dennis Day, Meyer and Don Wilson
Minerva Pious, “Mrs. Nussbaum,” from the “Fred Allen Show,” took part, too. Everyone from WBZ-AM did a show from Hyannis. So did radio raconteur, Gene Shepherd,
GS What a lineup you had.
KM I can’t remember everyone, either. Dennis Day sang “Clancy Lowered the Boom,” a staple of his appearances on “Jack Benny.” Mel Blanc, who was the voice of “Bugs Bunny” and “Elmer Fudd,” among many others, was hilarious. Don Wilson held our version, of the “Jack Benny Show,” together, as he did on the original.
Gillette was a sponsor of the “Big Broadcast of 1975.” It gave us a copy of the original theme music from the “Friday Night Fights.” The American Athletic Union (AAU) put on exhibition boxing matches. Guy Leboe did the blow-by-blow announcing for our re-creation of the “Gillette Friday Night Fights.”
GS I think Leboe called the fictional boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano, in 1969.
KM Yes, he did. Before any performance, we reminded everyone, involved the show, how it was for MD. We gave them the script that took the show into a break: “You’re listening to the Big Broadcast of 1975 for MD.” We thought it simple enough.
During the airing of the “Friday Night Fights,” about ten of us were whooping it up; we tried to give the impression the crowd was huge. At the end of the first round, of boxing, there was a station break. We yell and Leboe says, “You’re listening to the Big Broadcast of 1975 for VD.”
The whopping stops abruptly. I say aloud, “Did he say what I thought he said?” The woman, standing next to me, says, “Yeah.”
We returned to Boston, about 4 am Tuesday. Tired and giddy, we wanted to find out what Leboe said. At the station, someone loaded the tape as we gathered around, hushed. From a speaker comes the voice of Guy Leboe and he says, “VD.” What would Jerry Lewis think?
GS Do you think the “Big Broadcast of 1975” motivated the many Old-time Radio conventions that followed?
KM I think so; the weekend was the first large-scale Old-time Radio show. The timing was ideal. Many of the radio stars, I contacted, were getting on, in age, but wanted to take part.
The “Big Broadcast of 1975” was a one-time promotion for WBZ-AM. I don’t believe any other station did such a show. It would be hard, today. Most of the original stars as well as the listeners, who loved those shows, have passed away.
GS What was the most special moment, of the weekend, for you?
KM On Sunday morning, everyone involved in the “Big Broadcast of 1975” had breakfast together. What a thrill to have Julie Stevens, of “The Romance of Helen Trent,” on side of me and Vivian Smolen, of “Our Gal Sunday, on the other side.
I enjoyed putting that weekend together. It was good, for a while, to go to work, instead of home, when the sun came up. Still, getting back to Glick and overnights was welcome.
GS I heard about Mel Blanc and the traffic jam on the way to Hyannis. Call you fill in that story?
KM Oh yeah, WCVB-TV, channel five, the ABC Television affiliate in Boston, wanted Julie Stevens and Mel Blanc for a Thursday morning show. We brought them in a day early. After the show, we drove them to Hyannis for the weekend show.
This was Thursday. Usually, traffic to Hyannis, down the Southeast Expressway and Highway 3, isn’t heavy in the early afternoon, Sunday through Thursday. We thought it’d be clear sailing, but not a chance; it was the worst traffic jam.
At first, I was a bit embarrassed. We have two stars in the car, the July heat creeps through the air-conditioning. The sun was bright.
Mel Blanc puts down his window, leans out toward the car in the lane next to us and as “Bugs Bunny” says, “Yeah, what’s up doc?” Next, he’s doing “Elmer Fudd” and “Sylvester the Cat” to the passengers in another car and leaning out farther out the window. All the way to Hyannis, at 5 miles an hour, Blanc is leaning out the window, yelling, in his voice characters, at other cars.
GS Did he do the Maxwell from the “Jack Benny Show?”
KM I bet he did. It was hilarious. My sides hurt from laughing.
I wondered what people, in the other cars, thought. Could they tell the genuine “Bugs Bunny” from a copy? Maybe the kids knew.
GS You left “The Larry Glick Show” in 1978.
KM The station needed a full-time booker for its many talk shows. I liked booking guests and moved to a great shift, noon until 8 pm. I produced “Calling All Sports,” with Bob Lobel and Upton Bell, from 6 pm to 8 pm.
Bob Lobel, Upton Bell
This was the best shift I ever worked. I didn’t have to get up too early, in the morning. I worked with all the on-air talent. There was plenty of time, after my shift, to do what I wanted.
When I started on “Calling All Sports,” Ned Martin and Jim Woods were announcing the “Red Sox” games, first on WHDH-AM and then on WMEX-AM and WWEL-FM.
GS Mac Richmond owned WMEX-AM. He always involves a good story.
KM True enough: WHDH-AM didn’t contract, with the “Red Sox,” for playoff games at the end of the 1975 baseball season. Richmond found out about this gaff and snapped up the playoff games, if any, as part of a deal to begin airing the “Red Sox,” on WMEX-AM, in 1976.
Martin and Woods announced the games on WMEX-AM. This is where WWEL-FM enters the story. The WMEX-AM signal was horrible and spotty; you might get the station, loud and clear, as you drove passed Cambridge Common, but it was gone, a few blocks down the street, as you passed through Porter Square. To ensure full coverage for the “Red Sox,” WMEX-AM simulcasted the games on WWEL-FM, which was reliably available in the greater Boston area.
GS There’s nothing like complicating simple circumstances.
KM Right, and after the 1978 season, the “Red Sox” didn’t renew with WMEX-AM. Woods and Martin lost their jobs. Woods joined Ken Harrelson to announce the “Red Sox” games on Channel 38; Martin retired.
Woods and Martin were among the best baseball announcers, in the country. Readers of “Sports Illustrated” voted them the best two-person announcing team in baseball. We couldn’t overlook their absence.
When the 1979 baseball season started, we had a conference call, on “Calling All Sports,” with Martin and Woods. We reunited them on the air. It was a great show; the phone lines jammed for the full two hours.
GS That show seems a perfect fit for Bob Lobel.
KM Yes, the show was typical of Lobel and it gave me chills down my spine producing the show. Working with Lobel was much like working with Glick. I was part of the show, which made me work harder and I got more out of my work.
In 1978, the Boston “Bruins” and Montreal “Canadiens” played in the Stanley Cup finals. Rene Rencourt sang and still sings the national anthem for the “Bruins’; at the time, the late Roger Doucet sang for the “Canadiens.” For “Calling All Sports,” we had a conference call, with Rencourt and Doucet; they sang a duet of the national anthems over WBZ-AM.
GS That’s great radio. No one does such simple, yet entertaining, radio, today.
KM It’s true and sad.
Then WBZ-AM changed its format, in 1980. It dropped “Calling All Sports” for a political talk show from 7 pm to 10 pm. My shift changed. Now I worked 2 pm to 10 pm, still booking guests for all the shows, but producing from 7 pm until 10 pm.
About the same time, WBZ-AM gave me a show on Saturday. This was my first regular on-air shift. It was different from producing, a thoroughly enjoyable difference.
GS Who hosted the 7 pm to 10 pm talk show?
KM Hosts varied and rotated. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic Party nominee for president, did the show for a while, in 1980. He subbed for Jerry Williams, a few times, in the early 1970s, and knew his way around talk radio.
At election time, WBZ-AM let candidates host an hour of the show. They took calls, read commercials and answered questions. It worked well and listener response was great.
GS That’s an interesting idea.
KM David Finnegan got his start in talk radio on a candidate’s night. He was good, glib and funny, with a quick wit. WBZ-AM tried him overnights, 2 am to 5 am, I think, for a while.
Listeners liked and responded to him. Finnegan worked all topics equally well and could talk sports or politics. He knew how to have fun with listeners. He was charming and spontaneous.
Finnegan fit WBZ-AM as a glove. He took over 7 pm to 10 pm, full-time, in 1980. I was his producer.
I worked with Finnegan for three years. I hadn’t produced a political talk show. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I loved it.
Finnegan left the show to run for mayor of Boston. That was the year Kevin White, who had been mayor for years, teased about running and didn’t. Sadly, Finnegan lost to Ray Flynn. I often wonder what Boston would be like if Finnegan had won. In the end, the Flynn win worked out best for me.
GS Isn’t David Finnegan in private law practice, today.
GS Who replaced Finnegan?
David Finnegan, Peter MeadeKM Lou Marcel and I produced the show, too. That was in 1983. Marcel was different from Finnegan, but good and listeners liked him.
GS Peter Meade took over for Lou Marcel, I think.
KM Yes, Peter Meade replaced Lou Marcel in 1985 and I produced that show, too. Meade was good, on air. Many listeners said he sounded too much like David Finnegan, which is true, I guess. The point is Meade was good.
The WBZ-AM Experience
GS I’m not sure your good experiences, working at WBZ-AM, could happen today. There are fewer chances for new talent. Radio management is far less confident or willing to take chances.
KM You’re probably right. Today, a powerful station would play safe. Taking fewer risks means fewer problems, if boring radio.
In part, Shupert assigning me to Glick was risk management. Still, extra talent, on the show, allowed the show to improve. The number and quality of interviews grew and, as gatekeeper of the calls, I let only top callers on air.
Everybody, who worked at WBZ-AM, was grateful to work at the station. WBZ-AM radio was the place to work, a great station. Its audience ranged from the Canadian North to the Caribbean, from Bermuda almost to the Rocky Mountains.
GS Times change, budgets shrink and listeners fall away in the many shuffles.
KM Yes, but WBZ-AM is still special, if much different from it was when I worked at the station. Years ago, the station filled various listener needs. The station played music in the daytime, aired a news block in the afternoon and early evening, talk shows claimed the evening and overnight.
The talk show line-up was about the best, ever and anywhere. There was Guy Manilla on “Calling All Sports,” from 6 pm to 8 pm. Jerry Williams, Marcel, Finnegan and Meade did controversial talk from 8 pm to midnight. Glick did what Glick did, overnight.
The station dominated the Boston radio market. WBZ-AM was always number one, 24/7. I’d come home in the morning, after working all night, and think, “Wow, here I am, working at this world-class radio station.”
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I still can’t believe it. What a rush, even today.
GS A huge problem arose for you at WBZ-AM.
KM Yes, the PD, Cary Pahigian, wanted to cancel my Saturday show. He wanted me to book guests, for other shows, on Saturday. It’s difficult to book guests during the week; on the weekend, it's a waste of time to try.
Pahigian wanted me off the air. He never said as much, but it was clear that’s what he wanted. I wish he’d been direct.
GS This was 1985, I think, when he wanted to change your weekend job.
KM Yes and despite his attitude, the station expected much from me. Here’s an example. Monday 21 January 1985 was inauguration day for the second term of Ronald Reagan, as President of the United States. That was the coldest inauguration day, ever, and Boston had a huge snowstorm. I went to bed early that night.
I was snug as a bug in a rug when the phone rang at 12:30 am. Someone from WBZ-AM is asking me to cover for Bob Raleigh. At the time, Raleigh did 1 am to 5:30 am.
The snow prevented Raleigh from coming into the station. I live much closer, to the station, than does Raleigh. Can I do his shift?
Despite the snow and I’d been in a deep sleep, I agree. Glick was now doing 9 pm to 1 am. I said he might have to stay for a while, if I can’t find a taxi, quickly.
Now, it’s an adventure. Luckily, I find a cab in five minutes. I made it to the station in time.
Groggy, I flip on the microphone. Suddenly, I’m wide-awake, as if I had slept the night through. The excitement, in a sense, overwhelmed me.
GS Love comes first, regardless of any associated pain.
KM Yes, I think so. Still, Pahigian and, by implication, WBZ-AM, didn’t care much. By 1985, loyalty, it seems, was low on the list of employee benefits.
In early 1985, WEEI-AM, the all-news station in Boston, started an Old-time Radio show, “Radio Classics,” which aired from 8 pm until 10 pm. Different local celebrities, including politicians, such as “Dapper” O’Neil, hosted the show. “Radio Classics” was novel, for Boston, and a novelty.
I knew WEEI-AM was looking for a permanent host for “Radio Classics,” before the novelty wore off. Pahigian taking away my Saturday show caused me much anxiety. I called the PD at WEEI-AM to set up a meeting to find out what was possible.
When I called WEEI-AM, I had no idea who was PD. I was an experienced booker, but had not done my homework. This confirms how much stress I was experiencing.
It turns out the PD, at WEEI-AM, was Doug Steffan. I knew him. He once worked at WBZ-AM. We agreed to meet at a restaurant, the “Stockyard,” on Soldiersfield Road, near WBZ-AM.
Steffan and I talked for a couple of hours. I wanted to host “Radio Classics.” WEEI-AM wanted me to host the show. Old story, though, we couldn’t agree about money. We parted, needing time to think it over.
Mike Bellario, who owned the pizza chain, “Papa Gino’s,” had bought WEEI-AM, from CBS in 1982. It was a birthday present for his wife, Helen. The company that owned the station was Helen Broadcasting.
The general manager, of WEEI-AM, was Bill Kimmel. He and Steffan asked me for an audition tape. I gave them an interview I did with Fred Foy, who was the announcer on the “Long Ranger” television show.
Meanwhile, Pahigian, at WBZ-AM, was relentless. I worked at WBZ-AM for 14 years, filled in for the talk show hosts and successfully did a Saturday show for six years. Still, he wanted me off the air and probably out of the station. I was miserable.
I called Steffan back. He and Kimmel listened to the interview. I have the job. Kimmel says, “You likely know more about Foy than does Foy.”
WEEI-AM increased its pay offer and I dropped my expectations, deeply. I had to escape Pahigian. The deal done, I was the permanent host of “Radio Classics,” on WEEI-AM.
GS Pahigian was happy, I guess.
KM I’m sure. My last day was Friday 1 November 1985. It was the last day, at WBZ-AM, for Carl de Suze, after about 45 years. A good coincidence, if there had to be one.
I left via the Peter Meade show. There was no chance to do a last show. Pahigian refused when I asked to do a final show. I didn’t and don’t understand, to this day, why no final show and it still hurts.
GS Bureaucrats are not trustworthy and believe everyone is the same as are they.
KM I was on the air with Meade. I said goodbye. I walked out the door of the WBZ building, on Soldiersfield Road.
A fifteen-minute cab ride later, I was on WEEI-AM. Doug Steffan introduced me as the new, permanent host of “Radio Classics.” I was happy, in the way on-air talent is happy to be on the air.
GS How’s that for mixing emotions?
KM Leaving WBZ-AM was>the most agonizing decision I had to make. I cut my teeth at WBZ-AM. The first time I was on air, was at WBZ-AM, one night when Glick overslept. I did a “Calling All Sports,” 8 pm to midnight, on a Saturday in 1971, only a few months after the station hired me, with no experience. I wanted to keep that memory machine going.
Yet, if I wanted to take my life and career forward, I had to leave WBZ-AM. I remember hugging Gil Santos goodbye, in a hallway. Now my friends, such as Dave Maynard, were my competitors.
Yet, when WEEI-AM got the radio rights to Boston “Celtics,” basketball games, I became expendable. “Radio Classics” didn’t fit a basketball-focused station. This, despite the fact “Radio Classics” was always number one in its time slot.
GS It’s easy to believe, if you know radio; insane if you don’t.
KM The audience reaction was roundly negative. WEEI-AM wanted me back. It was time to re-negotiate.
My second time at WEEI-AM, there was a new PD, John Rodman. He and I met at the Sheraton Hotel, in the Prudential Building. The WEEI-AM studios were in the same complex.
Rodman and I made an easy deal. As we’re about to leave, Rodman says, “You know what, let’s stay down here a while and make them think we’re having a really tough time hammering out negotiations.” We did and it was great fun.
In 1991, the Boston Celtics bought WEEI-AM. The format went to all sports, all the time. The new owners fired me, but were much better about it than was WBZ-AM.
Working for the City of Boston
GS How did you find your way into working for the City of Boston?
KM The first time WEEI-AM fired me, it was horrible. I had nothing to do; I stayed in bed and moped. One of the rare days I went out, I ran into Peter Meade. He told me Ray Flynn, Mayor of Boston, at the time, was going to be on his show that night. I should, Meade said, come by the station and say hello.
I knew Flynn from his days on city council. I booked him on the WBZ-AM talk shows, often. We weren’t strangers.
I went to WBZ-AM that night. I talked to Flynn, after his appearance. “Ray,” I said, “I’ve been in this town for seventeen years. I’ve given this town everything I have. Now, when I try to find a job and talk to people that I know, even people in the business, they can’t do anything.
“I know it’s not their fault, but it’s still scary and sad. I like to think that I’m a contributing member of society. I want to be able to have a job.”
Flynn says, “I’ll get you a job.”
In January 1989, I started working for the City of Boston, on the Elderly Commission. What a relief.
GS As Larry Glick would say, “A favour for a favour.”
KM When I went back to the “Radio Classics” show, I had two jobs for a while. I’d leave the house at 7:30 am, to go to work for the City. I wouldn’t get home until late, maybe 11 pm, after my radio show.
GS It’s a sad commentary, on radio, but two or three jobs is too often the case.
KM Most of the time, I was on the edge of exhaustion. It was a gratifying exhaustion. When WEEI-AM fired me a second time, it wasn’t as hard on me.
Now, I work on the Disability Commission, at the City of Boston. I miss radio. Once it’s in your blood, you’re hooked.
GS Seems the path a love affair takes as it winds down. A sharp break, the first time WEEI-AM released you. Moving on, finding another life, in a way, working for the City of Boston. A brief reunion followed by a final break. Jobs, which are partly callings, such as radio, often involuntarily end as did yours.
KM I’d prefer it hadn’t happened, but it did and I moved forward.
GS The radio shows you hosted involved many interviews.
KM I enjoy interviewing men and women whom I admire. A radio show of only interviews is my dream. Interviews are difficult, for many reasons, but when one goes well, it’s a huge high.
GS Can we talk about your interview with Eddie Fisher, the singer from the 1950s and father of actor Carrie Fisher.
KM I love Eddie Fisher. I love his work. I have a two-CD set of his songs. I always thought him among the best singers.
I interviewed Fisher, when his autobiography, “My Life, My Loves,” published in 1984. The interview, as the book, was great. Fisher named names. He wasn’t afraid to admit to much substance abuse, but declined to talk about Elizabeth Taylor, even though he wrote about her.
During the interview, he answered all my questions, except about Taylor. He was on a tight schedule. This meant we had to record the interview.
After the recording ended, he offered to continue. He offered to reschedule a flight to Toronto. It impressed him that an interviewer read his book.
GS Staying in the 1950s, can you talk about Guy Williams, who played “Zorro,” on television?
KM “Zorro” I loved. One day, “Good Morning, America” did a long piece on heroes of television westerns. For the show, ABC Television flew Guy Williams in from Argentina, where he lived.
I wanted to interview him. Patty Neagler booked talent for “Good Morning, America.” I knew from her Prentice-Hall, the book publisher, where she once worked in publicity. She told me ABC used the St. Regis Hotel for guests and gave me the room number for Williams.
I started calling the St. Regis. Late in the afternoon, Williams answered. At first, he worried about how I found him; I reassured him it was via legitimate channels.
Guy Williams was upset because ABC brought him from Argentina and only used him, on camera, for maybe two minutes. I promised a much longer interview, if he accepted my offer. Eventually, he asked if I would call him back that evening.
When I call back, he hesitates about the interview. Suddenly, he starts telling me about “Zorro,” how all fight scenes filmed on Wednesday and how Walt Disney often came to the set to watch or talk with the actors and crew.
I say, “This is exactly what my audience wants to hear from you.”
Williams says, “Why don’t you tell your listeners what I said.”
I say, “That’s not what my listeners want. They want to hear Guy Williams talk about ‘Zorro.’”
Williams wobbles. I say, “This is not a ‘National Inquirer’ ambush interview. You answer my questions if and how you want.
Figuring he wants me to talk him into the interview, I say, “Let’s make a deal. I call you at 9:30 am, tomorrow, and we record the interview. If, at any point, you want to stop, we stop and I won’t run a word of the interview.”
Williams agrees. The interview went smoothly. He talked about his career, filming television and movies and the listeners loved the interview.
GS Who was your best interviewee?
KM Dick Clark was among the best, that’s for sure.
GS Isn’t he the best.
KM His people called me, asking if I wanted to interview him. At the time, he had a book, “Looking Great and Staying Young.” I asked if he and I could talk about “American Bandstand” and such topics. The snappy answer was, “Whatever you want.”
GS I’m not surprised you could ask him about anything. Dick Clark knows how to butter his bread, on both sides and the crust.
KM During the interview, the studio door opened, often. Station staff would snap photographs of Clark and say, “It is Dick Clark.” He was good with it all and that’s why he’s such a success.
GS When we arranged your interview, the other day, you mentioned Raymond Burr was a great interview.
KM Yes, he was among the best interviews. Raymond Burr (below) portrayed “Perry Mason” and “Ironside,” on television. Burr was more difficult to nail down than was Dick Clark, but worth the effort.
For Burr, I worked via woman in Washington, DC. I’d call her to arrange the interview. She’d tell me he was busy doing this or that, but he wanted to do the interview.
After weeks of her saying, “He’s too busy, right now,” I had enough. I said, “Either he does the interview or does not. Please level with me, now.”
She says, “He’ll be at the Algonquin Hotel, in New York City. You can call him to arrange the interview. I called the hotel and left a message.
Burr calls me back about 9:30 pm. I say, “Raymond Burr?” He says, “Oh, you recognize my voice.”
GS His comment is hilarious, if dry and subtle.
Meyer with actor Raymond Burr
KM We talked for a while and he says, “Oh, you don’t want to do this on the phone.”
“No,” I say, “but I can come to New York City or, if you’re coming to Boston, we can do an in-studio interview.”
He tells me he’s coming to Boston, shortly, to film television commercials for an insurance company. We agree to do the interview when he’s in town.
As it turns out, he doesn’t want to come to WBZ-AM. He thought he might cause a commotion. We did the interview at the Marriot Long Wharf, the hotel where he was staying.
After the interview, Burr says, “If I ever need to know anything about my life I’m going to call you.” Raymond Burr was a good interview and a modest man, for all his well-earned success.
GS Life goes best in threes, do you have another memorable interview.
KM Yes, Arthur Weingarten, author of “The Sky is Falling.” The book is about an aeroplane that crashed into the Empire State Building, in 1945. A listener told me about the book.
I researched Weingarten and his book. This led me to a friend, Terry Serecko, at Faucette Books. She sent me a copy of the book and a number for Weingarten.
When I called Weingarten, we talked for a half-hour and I was frank, with him. “I’m visually impaired,” I said. “I can’t possibly get a recorded version of your book and read it in time for the interview. Still, I want to interview you.”
Out of nowhere, left field, in truth, he says, “I have a proposition for you. My daughter, Tara, hasn’t read my book. She’s a student at Emerson College, in Boston, and never has time or interest to read the book. I’ll have Tara read the book onto a cassette for you. When I come to Boston you can do an interview.”
That’s exactly what happened. I helped the Weingarten family bond and had a great interview, too. After the interview, Weingarten says, “Kenny, you’re what interviewing is all about.”
GS Who was your worst interview?
KM That’s easy; it was Robert Mitchum, the actor. He was in Boston to promote a movie, “The Friends of Eddy Coyle,” which filmed in and around Boston. That was 1973.
The interview was for Glick, but I was filling in for Glick, at the time, and got the assignment. Mitchum wanted me to come to his hotel to record the interview. Tough-guy Mitchum didn’t want to go out at night, to do an interview.
When I arrived, it was clear Mitchum didn’t want to do the interview, at all, day or night. He knew that I knew he didn’t want to do the interview. At that point, I wanted to say thanks and leave.
I think he gave it his best. His frequent use of salty language caused a huge editing job. The Mitchum interview aired, with little fanfare.
GS Preparing an interview is likely easier today because of the Internet.
KM I agree, when I worked with Glick, it was often next to impossible to find out about an interviewee. We dug as deep and wide as we could. Sometimes, no matter how much preparation we did, it wasn’t enough.
GS It goes the other way, too, not enough or no preparation and the interview turns out well, even great.
KM Yes, that’s what happened when I interviewed the “Lennon Sisters.” They performed on the “Lawrence Welk Show” from 1955 to 1964. The Welk show air for about 30 years, with huge ratings. I think the show still airs in syndication.
the time, the “Lennon Sisters” had a book, “Same Song, Different Voices.” The book is about their show business experiences and personal lives. I wanted them on my show. They were in Boston, but I couldn’t get a copy of the book in time to read it before the interview.
I called the book publicist. “Look,” I said, “I don’t have time to read the book. If you were going to interview them, what, for you, are the high points of the book. What would you want known or emphasized?”
GS That’s research of a sort.
KM True enough, I guess. The publicist told me what I needed to know. I did the interview. It was great. Afterwards, the “Lennon Sisters” told me it was one of their best interviews.
GS Skilled interviewers are hard to find.
KM Well, there are many good interviewers. Larry King has been successful, for over 25 years, on television, and way back on radio. He takes pride in the fact he does not read a book. He thinks it gives him more of an advantage to do an interview by not having read a book.
GS King flips the onus to the guest to explain and defend what he or she wrote.
KM I don’t agree, with King. I think an author has something to say in a book. If you read the book, you’ll know what it is and you can guide him or her through it.
I try to read a book at least twice, sometimes three times, before an interview. I read the book once for enjoyment, a second time to remember the key points and a third time to confirm my sense of the book.
This didn’t always work out as I wished. There were exceptions, such as the “Lennon Sisters.” Otherwise, I always read a book, at least once, before interviewing its author.
Staying Involved in Radio
GS You guest on radio, some. I hear you on WBZ-AM, occasionally. This is ironic. You’re a featured and special guest on a station that drove you away.
KM When Morgan White, Steve LeVeille or Jordon Rich ask me to guest, usually when someone of note passes, I accept; of course. Mostly, it's the roar of the crowd and the smell of greasepaint, as carnival workers once claimed; that's what draws me back. Once bitten, by the radio bug, its’ impossible to rid yourself of it.
Morgan White, Meyer and Jordon Rich
GS You enjoy radio and are not afraid to admit it; that’s great.
KM There is an excitement only those who work or worked in radio understand. Listeners get a different thrill from what they hear on radio. What a thrill to sit in front a microphone and talk with millions of women and men.
The Internet opens any radio station to a worldwide audience. When I guest on Morgan White, say, I often think, “Wow, our soldiers, in Iraq or Afghanistan, may be listening, right now. It’s exciting.”
GS Radio work is a never-ending love affair.
KM Yes, I love radio. I love being on the air. I love being able to talk to people. I just love being able to reach people.
GS What do you think of radio, today.
KM I don’t think radio is as good as it was when I started working for WBZ-AM. I don’t think television is as good, either. Radio tumbled hard into the most difficult of times.
GS What do you think is the cause of the decline of radio?
KM I think overuse of syndicated programming hurts radio, perhaps beyond repair. When I moved to Boston, in 1967, almost every radio station broadcast a live, local show during overnights. In 2010, only WBZ-AM airs such a show, with Steve LeVeille.
WEEI-AM airs ESPN radio overnight. The only local content on that station is an occasional sports score for the “Red Sox,” “Bruins,” “Celtics” or “Patriots.” WEEI-AM, you might say, offers a little local service, overnight.
From 10 pm until 1 am, WRKO-AM runs a syndicated show; the host is Jerry Doyle, an actor. From 1 am to 5 am, the station reruns the “Howie Carr Show” from the previous afternoon or maybe a “Best of Howie Carr.” The reruns offer far less local service than does LeVeille, live, on WBZ-AM.
The local focus made money for radio. After the networks faded, in the early 1950s, a local focus revived radio. Take away the local focus and there are few reasons to listen to radio.
Listeners use radio when they need local information. Take AM and PM Drive, 6 am to 9 am and 4 am to 7 pm, respectively, which have the largest audiences. In these dayparts, radio delivers mostly short-form local content, such as weather, traffic, news and sports. In other dayparts, especially overnights, you hear mostly inexpensive syndicated programming, which attracts relatively few listeners.
GS This seems a simple equation to solve, provide local content and local listeners tune.
KM Yes, it seems that way, but I think too many radio stations go for the easy profit. This is a by-product of chains, such as Clear Channel, that own hundreds of radio stations. The chains cut costs, which is a polite way of saying fire local DJs, use identical, voice-tracked programming on all its stations and sell advertising for what it can get.
GS Thinking about your radio shows, Glick, Finnegan, Marcel and Meade, Manilla and Lobel, each was long-form, in a way. It wasn’t unusual for Glick, Finnegan or Meade to interview someone for an hour. Your Raymond Burr interview was at least half an hour, as I recall.
Long way to a question, do you think radio is a long-form medium, whereas television is a short-form medium?
KM Yes, I do. Short-form is good when listeners need important, information quickly, such as traffic, weather and time reports. In AM and PM Drive, radio is unbeatable, if the station keeps a local focus. The driver can’t watch television for updates or read a newspaper, as Stan Freberg said fifty years ago.
GS Maybe add news during a disaster, such as 9/11.
KM Yes, but I think, at other times, radio does long-form best of all media. The big four television networks don’t run many movies any more. Movies were once the saviour of the networks, but, today, are too long form. Audiences won’t sit for two or three hours. Third commercial break and they’re changing channels, looking for “American Gladiator,” a video channel or turning off the television.
GS Radio and some cable channels are our main source for long-form content.
KM Yes, National Public Radio (NPR) attracts reasonably large audiences for its mostly long-form shows. In Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) airs long-from radio, such as “Ideas,” in the evenings, mostly, and attracts many listeners.
Commercial radio, in the USA, airs syndicated talk shows, with one-minute calls and five-minute advertising breaks. There may be brief news headlines, but no thread and few themes. Mostly, these stations air discrete units in the form of short phone calls or monologues by the host.
GS The results of this trend are scary.
KM Well, I guess so; commercial radio, today, seems more interested in poking listeners, with a stick, to get an instinctive reaction; no response wanted. The fragmentation is horrible, a 30-second call, here; a 90-second monologue by the host, there; five minutes of commercials followed by a 60-second call. Where’s the continuity, thread or theme. Where’s the local focus.
If there’s no continuity, what holds the listener? There are too many syndicated radio shows on air. The content is too general, too fragmented, to develop more than a passing interest. What does the listener learn? Is it reassuring to learn you are one in 300 million; what a warm feeling. There’s little, if any, local content, so no community interest or bonding develops.
GS Radio is a mess.
KM Another problem is “Infomercials,” which make much money for radio, today. The production is good and listeners often don’t hear any difference, which is the point. Stations run a disclaimer, “The following programme is a paid advertisement for Velvet Skin Cream,” but some listeners don’t hear it and decide the 30-minute advertisement is public interest programming.
GS Some benefit, financially, from syndication and “Infomercials,” but what of the rest of us.
KM It is plain that programme syndication and voice tracking keep talented women and men off local radio. The cost of hiring a DJ is much greater than buying syndicated shows or voice tracking the 30 stations owned by a small chain. Paying an operator minimum wage to make sure the computers don’t crash, for long, while inexpensive syndicated shows air, is too tempting to pass up.
A few years ago, the syndicated Laura Schlesinger show replaced Jerry Williams, on WRKO-AM.
GS The most centrist, balanced radio talk show host replaced by syndication: what a sham
KM Williams had huge ratings. Yet, he likely cost the station five times as much as his replacement from syndication. Advertising rates were falling, at the time.
The decision to drop Williams, from weekday afternoons, was easy for budget-focused management. The station re-assigned him to Saturday and Sunday afternoons. That’s the twilight zone of radio.
GS Wasn’t there a great many complaints, from listeners, twice, against WBZ-AM dropping a live, local talk show for syndication.
KM Years ago, WBZ-AM dropped its live talk during the evening for syndicated shows. The late Tom Snyder hosted one of the syndicated shows that aired on the station. It was not a good idea.
GS As little as I like the syndication idea, for any station, I must admit Snyder was good.
KM Yes, most were familiar with his network television shows, which moved to radio, smoothly. Snyder worked local radio before he worked network television. He knew his way around radio, which made him an exception among syndicated shows.
In Boston, the syndication experiment didn’t last long. The local talk shows were back on air in a few weeks. This experiment confirmed Boston audiences, at least, wanted local content and didn’t connect with the too general focus of the syndicated shows.
GS In late 2008, CBS forgot the history of syndication in Boston.
KM Yes, WBZ-AM dropped Steve LeVeille, from overnights, for a less costly syndicated show. CBS, which owns WBZ-AM, tried airing “Overnight America,” a show simulcast on many of its stations. This experiment started on Tuesday 6 January 2009.
The outrage was enormous. CBS took away the only live and local overnight show, in Boston; this was going too far. After a few weeks, the station rehired LeVeille.
If a company owns hundreds of radio stations, syndication and voice-tracked content piles up the profits. CBS Radio has 134 radio stations, including all but one of the Top 50 markets. The temptation to take the easy way is compelling.
Listeners, I hope, wonder about their community. What’s going on in their home town, they need to know. Communities start to fall apart because radio, which brings the city together, isn’t doing its job.
There’s a sidebar to the CBS simulcast of “Overnight America.” Only listeners in Boston expressed enough outrage to force CBS to reverse its decision. Listeners to KDKA-AM, in Pittsburgh, WCCO-AM, in Minneapolis, and KMOX-AM, in St. Louis, continue to hear “Overnight America.”
GS What do you think about satellite radio?
KM I enjoy satellite radio. When you called, I was listening to the “Yankees” game on XM Radio. I can listen to any game, anywhere in the country, with FM quality, on satellite radio.
It doesn’t cost much money, either. Lost talent is the price we pay for satellite radio, syndication and voice tracking. A new DJ has little chance of a full career in radio, today.
GS Someone said the future for on-air talent is as perma-temps. Temporary jobs renewed until someone comes along who will work as well, but for less money.
KM I agree, if a DJ or talk show host has another job, he or she can work in radio, too. If he or she doesn’t have a second job or second household income, radio is a difficult career choice. It’s a sad state of affairs.
Return to Radio
GS You have a government job, now, do you long to return to those days of yesteryear, when you worked in radio.
KM No, not unless somebody calls me and says, “Hey, we’d like to do a radio show for us. You can do it from your home. You can do whatever you want with it.”
In that case, I’d think about it for two seconds and agree. Somehow, I don’t suspect such a call is coming. I’ve been out of radio for a long time. The new PDs and general managers don’t know who I am or what I can do.
I don’t know that an audience exists, today, for what I want to do on radio. Many women and men, of all ages, enjoy Old-time Radio. Will this audience set aside two or three hours a day or a week, to listen? I don’t know.
GS One problem is the wide availability of Old-time Radio shows.
KM Yes, anyone can buy 70 Old-time Radio shows, on a CD, for five dollars. They can listen when they find time, day or night, in the car, on their iPod. This creates difficult challenge for radio, with its need for scheduling and routine, to attract and hold the audience.
If a PD wanted me to do such a show, I’m sure I could work out something. For a while, after I left in WEEI-AM, I hoped someone would ask me to do a show, even once on a weekend. It didn’t happen, mostly because there’s no station interested in airing an Old-time Radio show.
GS Or interesting interviews.
KM I guess that’s true, too. In Boston, today, I think the only way I get back on radio is for me to the buy the time, myself. As anyone on radio, I have an ego. I don’t think my ego is big enough that I’ll pay to be on the air.
GS I believe the late Bill Marlowe bought airtime and resold it. That was toward the end of his career.
KM I didn’t know that. What I know is Marlowe was a huge talent and there isn’t much chance, today, for new talent to develop.
GS How do you think the new technologies affect the likelihood of you returning to radio?
KM A few years ago, I talked with Ed Walker about this exact concern. Walker, who is blind, started in radio around 1955. He’s still on air, at WAMU-FM, the station owned by the American University, in Washington, DC.
I asked Walker, “If you and I were starting out and wanted to work in radio, would we have a chance.”
He said, “No, the technology tends to work against us. Stations are moving to touch screens and, today, most live copy is read off a computer screen.”
When I produced David Finnegan, at WBZ-AM, Pat Wrigley used to fill in for him, occasionally. Today, Wrigley works at WRKO-AM, in Boston. The first time Wrigley saw the control board, at WBZ-AM, he said, “Man I guess you have to have your eyes wide open around this board.”
I said, “Nope.”
We had a great laugh. In the laughter was much truth. Until recently, control boards had stationary knobs and buttons; all you had to do was turn right or left to adjust the volume, for example. As Walker said, touch screens and copy read off a screen make radio difficult for anyone with sight problems.
Radio has come a long way from putting a cartridge into a machine and pushing a button. The Internet makes preparing your on-air shift easier, fuller and maybe more interesting for the listener. Technology, for now, anyway, is for the sighted, but I believe this will change, with time.
GS Thanks, Ken.
Ken "Muck" Meyer was inducted into the New England Broadcasting Hall of Fame on 15 September 2011. Check Grub Street for up-dates.
Click here for a list of all Grub Street Interviews.
Interview edited and condensed for publication.
dr george pollard is a Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth" as well as the Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment.
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