Monday 24 Oct 2016

Top DJs Part 1
Matt Seinberg

I have been collecting radio air checks for so many years. Thus, other collectors and people in radio ask about my favourite DJ. That’s not an easy question to answer. There are too many to name.

If I had to do a Top 10 list of my all-time favourite DJs, the ones who had an effect on-the-air and often influenced their listeners in one way or another, would span from coast to coast, north to south. Let’s begin the journey.

First of all time, the DJ’s DJ, is Dan Ingram, famous for his longevity at WABC-AM 770 in New York City. Every aspiring DJ wanted to be Dan Ingram. His sarcastic wit, biting humor and easy-going manner kept him on the air at WABC from 3 July 1961 until 10 May 1982 when WABC switched from music to a talk format. That day is often referred to as, “The Day the Music Died.”

Dan’s next big stop was at WCBS-FM 101.1, also in New York City, from October 1991 through June 2003. He only worked part time there, doing shows on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Not many DJs can say they worked the same market for 42; that’s a feat left to the best of the best, such as Ric Steele, Carl de Suze and Wally Phillips. I was lucky enough to meet Ingram, several times over the years, and tell him how much I enjoyed listening to him. 

Two on my list is a fellow I have known since 1973, Pat St. John. I remember calling the WPLJ-FM 95.5 request line and being able to actually talk to him, and the other DJs at almost any time. It was even cooler when I got the “hotline” number and didn’t have to call the request line. Hey, I was in high school and all I wanted to do was be on the radio, and listening to Pat made it sound so easy.

Pat was at WPLJ-FM for 15 years, until leaving in 1987 for WPLJ-FM’s former rival, WNEW-FM 102.7. He stayed there until it changed formats to “hot talk” in 1998. After that, he joined Sirius Satellite Radio, where he still hosts and programs various channels.

St. John also worked for WAXQ-FM 104.3 from 2004-2006, and twice at WCBS-FM 101.1, the first time from 2002-2004, and the second time after the station switched from “Jack-FM” to it’s current classic hits format in July of 2007. He currently hosts a Sunday morning show. In addition, Pat is a much in demand voice over artist and music historian. For over a decade, Pat was the voice of “Dick Clarks’ New Years’ Rockin’ Eve,” on ABC-TV. Pat celebrated his 40th anniversary in New York broadcasting on 9 April 2013.

Three is the late “Big” Ron O’Brien, who I referred to as the traveling DJ. He started his career, in 1969, at KBAB-AM in Indianola, IA, with his last stop being WOGL-FM in Philadelphia. He died from complications of pneumonia on 27 April 2008.

What made Ron special was his amazing ability to, “hit the post,” when talking up a song every time. His timing was impeccable, and his humor deep, biting and funny. His famous closing line to all his shows was a very simple, “See ya, bye!”

Big Ron worked in every major market, including, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, Washington D.C. and Milwaukee. His longest stint in one city was Philadelphia, where he started in 1996 at WYXR, which became WLCE in 1999, and then moved on to WOGL in 2002.

I had followed Ron’s career for many years, but only became friends with him after he joined WOGL. We talked on the phone many times, and got to meet in person once in 2007. When I heard he was ill, I called his personal number to check in on him, and he assured me that he was okay.

It was when I only got his voice mail, after several attempts, I knew something was wrong. When I heard that he passed away, I was in shock. My friend Bob Perry was going to his funeral in Philadelphia, and I hitched a ride to say good-bye to my friend.

Four is Charlie Van Dyke, a 1970’s Top 40 legend who worked at all the major RKO, in Drake consulted radio stations, including WDGY-AM, in Minneapolis, WRKO-AM, in Boston, KFRC-AM, in San Francisco, and KHJ-AM, in Los Angeles. Other stops included KLIF-AM, in Dallas, WLS-AM, in Chicago, KRTH-FM, in Los Angeles and his last radio job, KGLQ-FM, in Phoenix, AZ.

Van Dyke had a conversational style, talking to the audience and not at them, using subtle humor and a smile to entertain the audience. Today, Charlie does television and voice over work from his home studio in Phoenix. His deep voice and dramatic delivery are audio signatures for such stations as WABC-TV, in New York, KABC-TV, in Los Angeles, and WPVI-TV, in Philadelphia.

Five is John Landecker of WLS-FM, in Chicago. He is famous for his middle name, Records. His mother was Marjorie Victoria Records and that name was given to him at birth. Did his parents know that he would grow up to become a well-known, famous DJ?

Although Landecker has spent most of his career in Chicago at WLS-AM, WLUP-FM, WAGO-FM, WZZN-FM, now WLS-FM, and WJMK-FM, he also worked in Toronto at CFTR-AM, WIBG-AM, in Philadelphia, WPHR-FM, in Cleveland, and WILS-AM, in Lansing, MI.

He is renowned for his two-minute feature closing his show, “Boogie Check.” He would take listeners phone calls in a shotgun delivery. "Bopgie Check" was not recorded, as widely believed.

Landecker told me the segment was live. Management wanted him to record "Boogie Checks," likely for legal reasons; he did not. As such, "Boogie Checks" was an exceptional example of live radio production.

Sometime in 2006, I had the opportunity to talk to Landecker when he was off the air. A mutual friend of ours was having lunch with him in Indianapolis, and I had asked if it was possible for him to call me at work. Imagine my surprise when my phone rang and it was Landecker. 

I didn’t really expect the call. I had nothing prepared to ask, except the normal, stupid fan questions and gush about how much I enjoyed listening to him. He took it well, and we talked for about five minutes. Since 23 January 2012 he hosts the 6-11 PM shift on WLS-FM.

Out of the Top 5, only two are still on the air doing what they love, entertaining an audience, and getting to do it their way.

There will be more to come in the future, so stay tuned, and rip the knob off!

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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