It was the summer of 1977, when it was announced that WNBC-AM was going to change formats, from what was called a “chicken rock” music format to a more adult contemporary format. All the air personalities were fired, including Bruce Morrow, Walt “Baby” Love, Steve Warren, Joe McCoy and Norm N. Nite.
I managed to record all or portions of everyone’s last show in August 1977. The new format was to debut on September 1, 1977 under new program director Bob Pittman who was coming from WMAQ-FM in Chicago, another NBC Owned and Operated station.
I started to hear new voices at night on WNBC, but these new DJ’s didn’t introduce themselves. I call those air checks “WNBC No Names Please.” The jocks called them dry runs, pun intended.
Being the radio geek that I was, I called the request line and managed to talk to them, finding out their names, none of whom I had ever heard of before. They included Batt Johnson, at KMOX-AM, in St. Louis, MO; Lee Masters at WAKY-AM in Louisville KY; Frank Reed at WMJX-FM in Miami, FL; Johnny Dark at WRKO-AM, in Boston, and Allen Beebe at KMJC-AM, in El Cajon, CA.
The shows were intended for the jocks to acclimate themselves to the studios and working with engineers, so these shows were rather were nothing special other than it was the beginning of a new era at WNBC-AM.
The night before the big format change, something different happened. A crazy DJ named “Dennis the Menace” showed up for a couple of hours and he went wild. I later learned that was Johnny Dark just having some fun before the real format went live the next day at 6 am. I ended up meeting Johnny a while later and gave him a copy of that air check.
Many years later, I was in Florida listening to WFLC-FM, the Coast 97, and I heard this voice. I knew it was Johnny Dark. I hadn’t been in touch with him for many years, so I made it a point to call him the next day, and that was a fun phone call.
I called the request line, and when he answered, I asked, “Is this Dennis the Menace?” Dead Silence! Then he asked who this was and I asked, “Is this the same Johnny Dark from WNBC-AM?” More silence. I was laughing so hard I could hardly talk! He then asked again who this was and I told him. He started laughing as well, happy to hear from me after 15 or so years.
Anyway, this rush of memories always makes me think of my friend Allen Beebe. Beebe did pretty much every shift at WNBC-AM, and we managed to get together a few times during in eight years in New York. One time, I asked him to get me an NBC staff jacket. I asked for at least a large or X-large, but somehow he got a medium! But Beebe being Beebe, he kept it for himself and never got me the right size.
Another time, we’re hanging out in one of the production studios smoking what is still an illegal tobacco-like product, and we turned on the reel to reel recorder to keep our thoughts and ranting for all time. I know I took the tape home; it was in a black Scotch box. Somehow over the years, it disappeared. I would love to hear the younger version of us talk about radio and other silly things.
Allen Beebe is a professional air personality, otherwise known as a disc jockey (DJ). But since discs are no longer used, the term DJ is being replaced by other terms, some endearing, some not.
I got to talk to Beebe, and decided to find out all those things I never knew, but didn’t really need to make it through life. So I asked him the softest of questions, and decided to share them
Matt Seinberg (MS) How long have you been in radio? Where have you worked?
Allen Beebe (AB) How much time do we have? (big laugh)
MS Tell me them all.
AB Here’s the list, first, WLSU-AM, in Baton Rouge, LA, 1968, at Louisiana State University; KFTN-AM, in Tibadeau, LA, in 1969, which was Nicolls State College; Broadcasting Institute of America, 1969; KREH-AM, in Oakdale, LA, from July 1969 to January 1970.
Then I moved to KKNE-Amin, in New Iberia, LA, working, on-air, as Jay Montgomery, from January 1970 to June 1971. Then it was to WGQX-FM Selma, AL, as Danny V, from June 1971 to July 1972, and KGLA-AM, Gretna LA. I was at the Elkins Institute, for a month in 1972, to earn an FCC 1st Class license. Then it was back to radio: KNOE-AM Monroe, LA, from August 1972 to May 1975 and WNOE-AM New Orleans, LA, from July 1975 to February 1977.
From WNOE-AM I moved to KMJC-AM, in El Cajon, CA, until August 1977. My next move was to the Big Apple, WNBC-AM, in New York City, in July 1985. Then I worked part time at WAPP-FM for two months before moving to WEZB-FM, in New Orleans, LA, until 1992; then part time at WCKW-FM, in Garyville, La, until February 1993 and KQLD-FM and KGTR-FM, in Port Sulphur, LA, in April 1994.
I returned to New Orleans, WOTS-FM, from May 1994 to March 1995 and moved to WCKW-FM, New Orleans, from March 1995 to May 1997. My last station in New Orleans was WRNO-FM, from June 1997 to January 1999.
In February 1999, I landed a part time job at KFRC-AM, San Francisco, CA, where I stayed for but three months before moving to KLDE-FM, in Houston, TX for about a year and KGBC-FM, Galveston, TX, for another year, where I worked as Jay Allen. From June 2002 to January 2003, I worked KFNX-FM, in Bryan-College Station, TX and WMJY-FM, Biloxi, MX, from January 2003 to October 2011.
KMJC-AM was known as “Magic 91” under program director Kevin Metheny, who in mid-1977 moved to Philadelphia to program WIBG-AM. He offered to help Beebe find a job in Philly, or knew a guy that was hiring in New York. New York won.
After Beebe left WAPP-FM, I lost touch with him for many years. I had just come up with the idea to put together a WNBC reunion, and wanted to talk to Beebe about it. Somehow through the magic of the internet, I managed to track him to KGBC-FM, in Galveston. I wrote an e-mail to the general mail box and got a reply back from the programme director (PM), telling me he would have Beebe call me.
I heard from Beebe a few days later, and it was like time never went by. It’s like that with old friends, and I really had missed him. We had some fun times at the WNBC studios, especially on weekends when no one else as around!
MS What was your funniest radio moment?
AB When we first started at WNBC-AM, we were using old RCA consoles in out-dated studios. The station was in the process of rebuilding all the studios. The old consoles allowed any user to listen or talk to any other user, on the same type of board.
One night while I was reading a live spot. All of a sudden I heard a voice in my headphones talking to me! It was Johnny Dark in another studio trying to distract me by saying stupid things. It worked, and by the end of the spot, I was laughing so hard I could hardly talk!
MS When did you start your now famous name, “I AM Beebe?”
AB I was at WNOE-AM, in the mid-1970s. The PD, Buzz Bennett, wanted the jocks to use only one name. I started playing around with different versions, until “I AM Beebe” finally caught on and sounded right.
MS How did all the new DJ’s get along at WNBC in 1977?
AB We got along great. Bob Pittman put together a very diverse group of talent from around the country that really meshed together.
MS Is it true that you had “N-offs” at WNBC, to see who could hold the “N” the longest?
AB (laughing) That happened between me and Johnny Dark, usually at a shift change, on the weekend. I could always hold that “N” longer, usually around 40 seconds.
MS What are your thoughts on the current state of radio?
AB It sucks. If there aren’t drastic changes in the coming years, the audience is going to go away. They want something to listen to, a friend that talks with them, not at them. When I left WMJY, people asked me what happened, and I told them I was laid off. Their answer to me was usually, “I’m not going to listen to that station anymore.” The audience knows what is going on, and won’t listen if their favorite DJ is gone.
MS You and I had a running joke. From the day you arrived in Biloxi at WMJY, you always said you wanted to leave for a bigger market. Yet you stayed for almost 9 years.
AB Yup and I probably would have stayed longer, thankful for the job! (laughs)
MS Other than radio, what are your interests?
AB Photography, voice work and acting. If I hadn’t gotten into radio when I did, my other path would have been as an actor.
MS Are you doing any acting now that you have the time?
AB I’ve been doing movie extra work. I’m the guy you see in the background, looking a magazine, walking past the main actors, in a scene, or, maybe, waiting to cross the street. I don’t have any lines. My job is to look natural and good. I’ll do that when I can, usually 2-4 times a month.
MS When your old boss Bob Pittman took over at Clear Channel, did you contact him?
AB Yes I did. He didn’t get back to me though. I guess he forgot how he hired me in 1977! (laughs)
MS What else are you doing now?
AB Flying by the seat of my pants.
I have stated my view on the state of radio many times, and I’ll repeat it in the short version just to amplify the plight of Allen Beebe and other air personalities out of jobs.
The listener will not stay loyal to a station if there is nothing compelling to listen to. If there is not a live, local voice to listen to, what reason is there to stay tuned to any particular station? It’s certainly not the music, since that can be heard and found anywhere. I have my own little station on my iPod, as do millions of other people.
Between computers, automated music and scheduling programs and Wall Street driven media companies, the days of radio are numbered. The continuous layoff, of on-air personalities, is adding to employment woes, along with draining the talent pool.
Should an air talent like Allen Beebe be laid off because he’s “making too much money” and be replaced by a computer of no talent kid who doesn’t know how to talk to an audience? What is being lost in ratings, advertising dollars and good will can’t be brought back if you’ve burnt the audience.
To all the radio folks who have any sense of what the audience really wants, write to me, at email@example.com, and I’ll let you know how to contact Allen Beebe, a radio DJ who really wants to work and can do it for you.
I’m stepping off the soap box now. Thank you.
Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.
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