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Big Ron O’Brien and Great Talent

05 May

Ron O’Brien’s passing last week caused a flurry of activity on the web from people looking for information about him.

Ron was a brilliant talent. My favorite memories of him were from his shows on WCFL.

Radio is missing that kind of exciting talent today.

Granted we’re in a completely different era of radio programming than the great top 40 years of the sixties and seventies. There are few truely original talents on today’s radio.

In the ‘old days’, radio was full of characters and innovators.

Frankie Crocker was an early radio hero of mine. I first noticed him on WMCA and never heard his work on WWRL. But after hearing him on WMCA, I decided to see what RL was all about.

WWRL had an incredible talent line-up that included morning man Gregory, Jeff Troy, Jerry B, Al G, Hank Spann and the amazing Gary Byrd. In fact that might be one of the top five best talent line-ups of the era.

Gary Byrd was extremely innovative. He did rap, before anyone knew what it was.

There were so many others in that period.

Jackson Armstrong was a powerhouse jock on WKBW in a line-up that included Danny Nevrith and Sandy Beach to name just two greats heard there.

Armstrong’s fast pace was unlike any other fast talking jock at the time and he was very funny.

Dr. Don Rose combined funny and corny on WFIL. He was an excellent morning man for the time. WFIL had all-stars in every day part. It was the tightest top 40 station with amazing song to song production.

Bill Bailey at WAKY was another who could not be copied. His grumpy rants were hysterical. WAKY’s afternoon guy Gary Burbank was pretty incredible too. ‘Hall Of Fame’ talent on one station in little ol’ Louisville.

There were great jocks in lots of smaller and medium markets.

WARM Scranton was an outstanding station. Harry West did mornings and their whole line-up was solid.

WDRC Hartford, WNHC New Haven, WAEB Allentown and WEEX Easton all had excellent talent.

Almost every town had at least one outstanding station.

Top 40 didn’t have all the talent.

WNEW had an outstanding MOR line-up including the very funny Gene Klavin in mornings.

Jean Shepherd’s late night talk show on WOR got more buzz around Roxbury High School than Cousin Bruce did on WABC. Shep was different. He talked to you like the conversation was just between you and him.

Think about it.

These were high school kids listening to a talk show on WOR. It was your grandmother’s station, except between 10:15 and 11 each night.

KDKA had Jack Bogut in mornings who had a knack for keeping you sitting in the car until his ‘home movie’ was finished. Bogut was as warm and relatable a talent as you’ve ever heard.

Radio encouraged innovation in those days, because it had to.

The era of great radio personalities began as television was stealing the big stars from radio. That’s when Alan Freed, Mad Daddy and Jack Sterling became important. It was a new style, and total departure from radio of the 1940s.

We need that again.

I don’t mean we must find the next Alan Freed. We need the next era of innovation that will capture the imagination of the audience.

Maverick owners like Todd Storz and Gordon McClendon encouraged innovation. They loved big promotions, big talent, lots of excitement and loved taking chances.

I’m not sure either Storz or McLendon could tell you much about accounting.

They sure understood the audience.

No one sitting in the ‘big chair’ at any major radio group can make that claim today.

 
 

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