Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Big One

One of the greatest radio stations of all time as well as one of the oldest in America is still up and doing its thing in Cincinnati. But like most AM stations it may never be the standard of broadcasting that it was. WLW 700 AM, known then as “The Big 700.”
I have been a radio fan since I was about ten years old and like many kids in the early 1960s I carried a transistor radio just about everywhere, including under the covers when I went to bed at night. Back then Cincinnati seemed thousands of miles away. Later in life it may as well have been a million.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s I was a regular listener to that station, even as I worked my way through various Columbus stations. I always hoped that I would one day work there but it never came to fruition for me. But not for lack of trying. I probably mailed dozens of auditions tapes to them, none that received a response much more than a polite thank you for your interest.
However, I did make friends with some of the station’s iconic names just by calling them to chat and pick their collective minds. These guys were in my opinion the best in the industry. James Francis Patrick O’Neil (JFPO), Jim LeBarbra, Nick Young, Jockey Joe Kelly, Chris Cage and my all-time favorite DJ anywhere, Bob Martin who often called himself (Martin Startin’.) I used to run up long distance phone bills calling him at night and picking his brain about radio.
Next to WMNI’s Jim Davis, Bob probably had the only believable laugh on the air in those days. If he laughed you knew that he just said something hilarious, not just a reminder that you should giggle. Even WLW’s eye-in-the-sky traffic reporter, Lieutenant Jim Stanley was an entertainer.
In 1972 a book was published called "Not Just a Sound, the Story of WLW." It coincided with the stations 50th anniversary. I got that book and kept it with me like a radio Bible hoping that I would derive some sort of inspiration from it as well as a little fortune and possibly find a way onto their air staff. It only brought me inspiration and a reason to keep dreaming of working on a 50, 000 watt clear channel station in Cincinnati.
The one owned by the AVCO Broadcasting Company then. Often calling itself “The Big One!” That was because of the power and clear channel status, their signal crossed into several states. They were almost a network in and of themselves. To put it in perspective when I was at WTVN we were 5000 watts and one of the most powerful stations in Columbus.
WLW was the only radio station on the 700 frequency, anywhere.
As my own radio career eventually wound down for good in the early 1990s I walked away from the business with only that regret. That I never made it to Cincinnati. I would have traded a fulltime job at WTVN for a weekend shift down there. Hell, I would have worked there for free.

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