Tag Archives: Gary Byrd

Hank Spann On The Big 16

I keep asking my friends who book talk shows to connect me with Reverend Al Sharpton.

I don’t want to ask  about what he’s currently working on or stuff about Tawana Brawley.

Reverend Sharpton used to hang out and even preach on WWRL.  That’s what interests me.

He was there back in the day when WWRL was New York’s Soul Powerhouse.

I want to hear what it was like to be part of such a legend.

It had incredible jocks.  Better than many of those great Top 40 stations we remember.

I was a not so funky, rather clunky kid living in the New Jersey suburbs.  The kind whose best friend was a worn out Motorola transistor radio.

WWRL was located in Woodside Queens and during the day it put a good signal into my neighborhood.  It was gone with the pattern change at sundown.

So unless you grew up around New York City, WWRL probably never made it into your radio listening.

Great Top 40 jocks came out of RL.  Frankie Crocker, Al Gee and Chuck Leonard come to mind.

But the rest of the staff was special too.  Each a personality within a tight format.  This was Bill Drake meeting  Soul Radio, at least to an extent.

The line-up included Gregory, known as The Dixie Drifter, Jeff Troy, Jerry B, Gary Byrd with The GBE, and Hank Spann.

Spann was my all time favorite.

The ‘Soul Server’ as he was known could work the intro of a record like nobody’s business.  He was amazing.

Hank passed this week after battling a variety of health issues during the past year.

Sadly others like Gregory and Frankie Crocker are gone too.  Al Gee is said to have his own health troubles.

WWRL will always stand out to me as the best of the best.

Hank Spann was right on top.

I can still hear him ending a show….“Two steps to the rear and I’m outta here….”

The streets will be a little quieter now.

And somewhere a big station just added a great jock to the line-up.


Posted by on October 15, 2009 in Radio programming


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“Back In Time You Scratchy Old Record”

All of us that love radio have one station that stands out in our memory.

The station that caught our ear and will forever mean something whenever we hear the call letters mentioned.

For me, that station is WWRL.

In the 1960s and 70s WWRL was as great a station as WABC, CKLW, KHJ, WFIL, and WLS.   Unless you grew up around New York it’s a station you might not know.

WWRL broadcast from Woodside Queens on 1600 with 5,000 watts.  Not exactly prime real estate on the radio band.

I grew up in the suburbs of North Jersey.   Not exactly in the prime coverage area of the station.

It was the first Soul Station I ever heard.  I’m sure it’s the reason The Dells, The Originals and Charles Wright And The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band are still some of my favorites.

In those days, I always had a Motorola AM transistor radio with me.  I do mean always.

It was good enough to pick up the signal until the pattern change at dark.

WWRL had an amazing talent line up in that era.

The morning show was hosted by “The Dixie Drifter”, Enoch Hawthorne Gregory.

Jeff Troy who later worked at WRKS did midday, Jerry B afternoons.

Al G later on WPIX worked there, as did Chuck Leonard of WABC.

One of the most outstanding talents was Gary Byrd.  His ‘Gary Byrd Experience’ or GBE was the first time I  heard someone rap.

Gary did his own rap bits and later recorded an album for RCA.

Then there was “The Chief Rocker” Frankie Crocker.

Fast Frankie was one of my early heroes on WMCA, but he had left WWRL by the time I discovered the station.

These guys all had personality.  Frankie needs no introduction.  He was one of a kind.

“If Frankie Crocker’s not on your radio, your radio’s not really on”.

I still have the letter written on WMCA letterhead when he wrote back to me about how to get into radio.

Go to college was his suggestion.

Perhaps my all time favorite on WWRL was Hank Spann, “The Soul Server”.

Hank had a huge voice, I loved how he’d work the records with rhyme.  He was tight too. I never heard him miss a post.

I was thinking about Hank and all of the greats at WWRL today because his son Tone sent an email saying his Dad’s health isn’t so good.

Hank suffered a stroke and congestive heart failure earlier this year.  He struggles with Alzheimer’s now.

Keep him in your prayers.

And as Fast Frankie would say,


“May you live to be a hundred, and me a hundred minus day.  So I’ll never know that good people like you have passed away.”

“Peace, Love, Truth and Soul.

How I’d love to hear him introduce an oldie right now.

“Back in time you scratchy old record….”

The Soul Server is one of a kind.


Posted by on September 23, 2008 in Radio programming


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Big Ron O’Brien and Great Talent

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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