Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hippies, studs and cops?

  • I have written many stories about "Wild Bill" Bates and his Westerville radio station WBBY, which sadly no longer exist. But during the time it was broadcasting on the 104 FM frequency it was one of the more interesting spots on the dial. Made interesting by Bates and by those who worked there.
    Bill Bates was one of the most colorful personalities in the Central Ohio area and because of his broadcasting genius many well known personalities went on to bigger and better careers from their early beginnings in Westerville.
    I don't know if "better" is the proper way to phrase that because I know they all had to have fun out there. I know I would have had I had the opportunity to work at Bill’s station for more than one day. I was actually sent out there once as sort of a strike-breaker.
    My boss at WMNI, Bill Mnich who was friends with Bates sent me there one day to fill in for a jock who had joined the others on the WBBY picket line. Rob Case who had just finished a marathon air-shift introduced me on the air as he ended his own show by saying something like…“Ladies and gentleman you are not going to believe this because I know I don’t, but stay tuned for Rick Minerd from WMNI here on WBBY.”
    Knowing that I didn’t work there or wouldn’t be in the future and that I was doing them a favor- and that I really didn’t have to answer to anyone, I had a great time that day.
    It was a refreshing break from country music because I was playing rock & roll and I had a good excuse to ignore regular radio station protocol. It was the closest I ever got to feeling what it must have been like to work at a pirate or underground radio station.
    I could play whatever I wanted, say anything as long as it wasn’t vulgar or in support of the strikers outside and in general just play in some sort of radio fantasy land for a few hours.
    Some great talent came out of that place and went on to make deep footprints in the local broadcasting landscape. Among them one of my all-time favorite radio people, Steve Beekman who I first met when he came to work as a fellow staffer at WMNI in the late 1970's.
    Then he was known as Stoney Roberts. He and I also landed at WCOL together several years later when he was calling himself by another name among the many he has used through his radio travels.
    He has been known as Steve Scott and Scott McKay among others. At WCOL he might have been Scott Stevens, the name he went by out at the Bates' DJ camp.
    Chris Johnston another former WBBY jock and the guy who would later replace me at WTVN came to 610 at the same time another WBBY jock came over, Mike Motley.
    Former WTVN morning man John Fraim had also spent time out there as did former WTVN Sales Manager Jim Pidcock who was known through the years when he was a radio and television voice as Johnny Dollar. Bill Fields known for his talents at WCOL and WBNS is also on the list.
    One name that surprised me from the old WBBY days is Dave Phalen. Dave is the Sheriff of Fairfield County and in all of my years in law enforcement, including ten of them with the Franklin County Sheriff's Office I never knew that he was a former disc jockey. That explains why he is such a smooth interview when matters in Fairfield County draw the interest of the local media hounds.
    Another "perfect" voice who came from the WBBY stable of talent was Scott Kahler who went on to enjoy years of success at WTVN radio, many of those as a production director. He was in a small fraternity of benchmark voices that has been highly prized by advertisers through the years like Bill Hamilton, Charlie Pickard and Steve Stratton among the very few. Sadly, Scott passed away in 2008.
    Jeffrey Mayfield who once worked out in that Westerville field went on to work for Billboard Magazine, Rick Seiler and Jay Smith founded their own radio station in Johnstown, as did Mark Litton. Another of my all-time favorite DJ's, Denny Erwin who used to do the morning show at WBBY became the "Burger King" by getting into that company's franchise business.
    I remember when Denny not only owned and operated his own chain of restaurants he had his own Burger King bus that went on the road to festivals and fairs.
    Terri Blair who later worked at Channel 6 is also an alumnus from the Bates family business. She later married a famous music composer, Marvin Hamlish.
    And another guy I will miss forever who came downtown from WBBY is Joe Gallagher. Joe actually worked opposite me on 1460 WBNS back in the mid 1970s when I was doing late nights on 610 WTVN. Once he set me up with a date he said he couldn’t keep because of another obligation.
    He told me he was supposed to go meet this hot chick on the east side of town who was about 19 years old who had blonde hair, blue eyes and an insatiable sexual appetite.
    He said he never met her but that she was a regular caller to his station and that more than a few of his co-workers rated her a ten on the scale. Saying that since she didn’t know what he looked like I could show up in his place and say that I was him.
    I knew that would work because most people told all of us that our voices sounded different on the radio than in person. So east I headed, rather excitedly. When I knocked on her door she opened it and there before me was a girl with the body of a Goddess. She was naked and her frame was absolutely stunning.
    Perfectly sculptured breasts, flat-iron belly and legs so beautiful that it took a moment for me to lift my eyes from them and see the ugliest face I ever saw. She looked like an animated cartoon character.
    Her face was flatter than her stomach and the features on it were jumbled like something a two year-old would draw with crayons. When she asked if I was Joe I told her no and then mumbled something about selling magazine subscriptions or something.
    Later when I called Gallagher he asked what I thought of her and I could tell by the tone of his voice that he hadn’t been exactly truthful when he said he never saw her.
    After whatever I said to him that equated to no way in hell he went into something about placing a flag over her face and doing it for “Old Glory.”I told him that if I had a flag with me I would have but that I doubted she would have gone along with such denigration. He assured me that she would have, which further strengthened my suspicion that he lied when he said he was never there.

    Another jock from WBBY was Diane Townsley, believed to be the first female DJ in the area, and still another was Jack Phillips. He and I worked together at WNCI in 1974.
    Readers of the Gary Trudeau comic strip "Doonesbury" know that the mythical radio station in that feature is called WBBY. Maybe Trudeau crossed paths with "Wild Bill" at one time or another or maybe he too was merely a fan.
    I mentioned that Bill was colorful. Throw in outrageous, spontaneous and eccentric and what was strange to a lot of us then is now a fun topic often discussed when old-time radio guys around here get together. There are so many tales about him that a book solely about him was considered by his son Ken who managed that station for years. He and I exchanged ideas about such a project just a few years ago.
    Stories about his public dancing, sometimes wearing little more than skimpy underwear. Red, white and blue one’s with stars- worn sometimes at high school football games while leading cheerleaders along the sidelines. Standing on top of an old Ford van in shopping center parking lots dancing to disco music and shouting at passerby’s in his underwear and waving American flags.
    Disrupting public meetings, challenging elected officials and launching campaigns to oppose them in elections, even disrupting broadcasts on his own station by going on the air with tirades about them.
    I could go on and on and someday I hope Ken and I can hook up and do just that. But as wild as he was Bill was known as one of the smartest broadcasters in Ohio. He built his radio station from the ground up doing the construction of it himself and even building the tower it broadcasted from. He was an amazing broadcast engineer as well as the station’s owner.
    He was also the chief cook, bottle washer and wire fixer. There wasn’t much about radio transmissions he didn’t know or couldn’t teach to others. And there was never a time when he was willing to back down from the Federal Communications Commission who tried to regulate him.
    Even going to Washington, D.C. to challenge them and make a spectacle of himself during hearings. No one or no organization was too big to take on, and usually in very public forums.
    The more attention he could draw to his outrageous behavior the more he liked it.
    Once while I was doing a talk-show from the WCOL Broad Street studio window he showed up on the sidewalk waving a sign and shouting obscenities about Columbus Mayor Buck Rhinehart. He began pounding on the glass and shouting to me to let him in so he could tell the world about corruption in City Hall.
    I summoned my program director to the studio and asked if I could reschedule whatever we had planned for my show that day and bring him in but my request was denied. After a while Bill was out there shouting to people that WCOL was afraid of the truth and that Rhinehart controlled not only the city but us as well. He was calling us the mayor’s puppets and dancing around like a stick-figure being manipulated by strings.
    Then he began flapping his arms and dancing around making chicken sounds, laughing at me and pointing at me. I would have given anything to have been permitted to open that door and interview him. All of this that was going on the sidewalk on a busy workday afternoon in downtown Columbus by a man in his seventies.
    The irony of all of this was that one of my guests that was scheduled to be on later that afternoon was the man who would change everything for me, Franklin County Sheriff Earl O. Smith. After I wrap up my radio adventures I will explain how that day changed the rest of my life and why I am grateful that we never rescheduled that man.

For more information visit my website @

Bill Smith, by any other name...

I have written many stories about my good friend Bill Smith from Boston who worked at 610 WTVN back in the early and mid 1970s. He was the most talented person I ever met in radio. When I say that, I am cofident that I am echoing what everyone who knew him might say.
I have never spoken to anyone who ever had something negative to say about him. He made a lot of us younger DJs glad to be working at WTVN and he made a lot of us better at what we were trying to accomplish.
In a business that can be cut-throat and back-stabbing because of clouded egos his willingness to rub off on others was exceptional. Exceptional because here was this guy not much older than me but clearly one of the best on any station, radio or television who was willing to coach, critique and set the example. And he wasn’t even in management.
Moreover, this was a time when WTVN was saturated with heavy hitters. That entire announcing staff was pretty amazing.
My best memory of working with him was my final night at WTVN before I left for a spot at WNCI. Bill and his constant companion in those days, a girl named Linda had put together a modest going away party for me, just the three of us.
My shift didn't end until 2:00 AM on WTVN-FM-96 but Bill's show on 610 AM was over at 10:00PM and during the four hours of my last show I saw Bill and Linda working in the production studio next to the FM on-air studio I was working out of.
There wasn’t anything unusual about him being in the station several hours after his shift because he went into those studios nightly and created magic. He was the best production man in Columbus. (Production is the term for commercials.)
Bill could do things back then with just a microphone and a tape recorder that even with today's technology it would be difficult to even come close in terms of style, delivery and imagination. He was a genius. In addition to having one of the best radio voices ever he could do hilarious impressions, make his own sound effects and he was a talented musician.
His guitar playing was fabulous in a sort of amusing way. His animated versions of B. B. King songs were every bit the equivalent of Weird Al's vocal parodies.
Plus, he had this voice, actually several that the naked ear would never have guessed was his, nor would they know he was a white guy when they heard it when he wanted to sound black He could talk in these voices to make you cry with sympathy, or fall out of your chair laughing. He could carry on conversations with himself by the magic of over dubbing that sounded like several people talking to each other.
He could sing like B.B. King well enough that if it were not for the lyrics he made up one might not be able to tell the difference. It was in that voice and with his blusey sounding guitar he went into the studio that night and recorded the funniest song I ever heard.
It was one of the gifts he gave me when I got off the air. That and a pizza that had "Rastus" spelled out in pepperonis. Rastus was what Bill had nick-named me during my years at WTVN and it was a name that caught on more than the on-air name I was using at the time, R. Dean. Others around the station picked up on it and after awhile I was actually answering to it.
It was sung and narrated by Bill behind an instrumental version of one that was popular at the time by a group called “The Brighter Side of Darkness" called “Love Jones." It was about a DJ who was crying his eyes out because he was sad to be leaving one radio station for another, and sad to be leaving his friends behind.
His interpretation of my feelings weren’t too exaggerated. Although I was excited about the new opportunity at WNCI I was sad to be leaving some pretty great friends.
A few years after I left so did Bill. He eventually returned to his hometown and went to work for a much bigger radio station, WBZ in Boston, at the time one of the biggest radio stations in the country. And aside from a few exchanged long distance phone calls and a few letters in the years that passed we eventually lost touch with each other.
However I recently discovered that he is still on the radio in his hometown and still creating magic for listeners there. Someday I hope he finds this book and reads this because I don’t remember if I ever thanked him for all he did to make me better at my craft than I probably would have been without his early tutelage.


Harry Chapin's 1973 song “WOLD” is probably a favorite among many DJs of that era. I know I played the hell out of it at WNCI and later at WCOL. Harry really captured the emotion of life on the radio with that one. And as time went along in my own career I met many guys who could sing “Feelin' all of 45, going on 15" with the emotion of what it meant. A true Van Gogh pressed in vinyl for us radio guys..
It could have been worse, I could have related to his song "Taxi." Not that there is anything wrong with that career but I would not have been any good at it, I get lost when I travel north of Broad Street. I was fortunate to have had the many wonderful AM and FM opportunities I enjoyed but I never experienced moving away from the familiar surroundings of Columbus as did many of my colleagues.
But I almost did a few times. I used to fantasize about working at such powerhouses as WLS in Chicago and CKLW a little further north into Canada, and every time either would run a job opening in Billboard Magazine I would fire off a tape and a resume.
I never got responses from anyone that big but I did get a few from other markets. I could have ended up in Plainfield Vermont, Hartford Connecticut, and Cutbank Montana among a few I can remember.
The Hartford job would have at least put me in the New York market. It was just across the Long Island Sound. My good friend Beemon J. Black was working there at the time and had talked me up to his bosses but I was a young divorced father at the time and couldn't imagine being that far away from my son and trying to make visitations with him work out in any way that would have been fair to either of us. But had I gotten a call from WLW I would have packed my tent and headed the shorter one hundred miles south. As fate would have it I stayed home, and aside from never getting that gig in Cincinnati I have never regretted it, especially now that I am retired and still living in familiar surroundings.
But more important than that, had I drifted from town to town chasing radio frequencies I never would have found my way into law enforcement. My life has been more interesting because of that little detour. And because it happened when it did I was able to hang around long enough to really ice my own cake.
That is, long enough to retire from something before I got too old to find my way home. And that is what this book is really all about. Like that Chapin song that talks about a gypsy lifestyle and a guy that never really found it, and regretted what all of it ended up costing him in the end.

No comments:

Post a Comment