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The greatest Boston, MA, radio personalities of the 1960s and 1970s

The amazing sounds that came out of a tiny Zenith transistor radio during the 1960s and 1970s

by Eric H., lifelong New England native (article posted on 10/3/07, updated on July 30, 2009)

WRKO Boston Top 40 Playlist


No high-tech, high expense, high-profile audio system today could ever have captured the rich sounds that came out of a $19 pocket-sized Zenith AM-FM transistor radio with an ugly orange facade during the 1960s and 1970s.

The results had nothing to do with the technical proficiency of the audio company's product, but rather what came out of the radio: passionate, livewire, one-of-a-kind disc jockeys playing music that sounded great. Many childhood seasons in the sun with my beloved radio led to a one-of- a-kind love affair with some of the greatest formatted radio stations in the history of this medium -- back when my hair was short, of course. We learned about the great Chicago Fire from Paper Lace's "The Night Chicago Died"; war heroism in "Billy Don't Be A Hero" by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (although the girl "threw the letter away"); the way we felt in June with "School's Out" by Alice Cooper; and what we thought was an intro to urology in "Yellow River." The music was fun and the disc jockeys made it that much more fun. It sounded like most announcers were having a great time rather than fitting into a generic, demographic, it-sounds-the-same-in-every-city radio show. Whether it was big-city DJ Joel Cash on WRKO Boston or the less talented types like "Supersonic Sid Tufts" on WCAV-FM in Brockton, MA, the passion for exciting radio was available, 24/7.

Whether we were being driven by my Mom in our phony wood-paneled Mercury Marquis station wagon to Marshalls for end-of the summer school preparation or enjoying a classic summer day at Silver Lake State Park in Hollis, NH, the radio was always there providing instant memories that still reside in my heart and mind today.

Some of the greatest Boston radio personalities of the 1960s and 1970s include:

Dale Dorman, WRKO-- Dale Dorman led the way with his wacky, fast-talking, improvisational, out-of-control-but-in-control morning radio show. Not blessed with the greatest radio voice, Dorman made the most of his talents, courtesy of a gift of verbal dexterity and the ability to tell jokes and provide energy to a waking-up time. It didn't matter if Dorman was reading an advertisement, talking over the beginning or end of a song, or just having general loose bowels of the mouth, he was always on his game as an amazingly consistent entertainer. Carolyn Murdoch with the news, short, punchy jingles and concise, tuneful top radio songs helped make the Dale Dorman show the best-remembered example of classic AM top 40 radio in Boston. Dorman was, until recently, the morning host at Oldies 103.3 in Boston, where he still displayed his amazing radio talent.

Dave Maynard, WBZ -- Dave Maynard had no need to scream to be listened to. He seemed like the favorite uncle at the family barbecue -- a funny, but in-control guy who had lots to say, but also was loved for his ability to listen. He had tremendous interaction with his co-workers and listeners -- paving the way for latter disc jockeys like Joe Martelle (see below). Playing the best of middle of the road music, Dave Maynard was a staple of WBZ radio

Jess Cain, WHDH -- Jess Cain brought a more laid-back yet humorous and almost theatrical angle to local morning radio. Consistently witty, but never laugh-out-loud funny, Cain brought myriad information and entertainment to morning radio for many years. Perhaps the most prepared out of all the 1970s radio personalities, each Jess Cain show could have stood on its own as a great performance. He made Boston morning radio classy, informative, entertaining and unique. It's hard to find, today, a morning radio talk show host who could conduct a show with such stellar efficiency while not sacrificing any broadcasting passion and heart. Cain also proved that you don't have to resort to gutter humor to get the listeners' attention.

Editor's note: Jess Cain died on Feb. 14, 2008, at 81.  I want to thank Jess for the 33 years of radio excellence at WHDH. Although I didn't personally know Mr. Cain, there are some tears coming out now, I guess, in tribute to all the happiness he brought me during the true radio days. He brought a lot of joy to the airwaves, to our childhood, and to the art and science of informing and entertaining through the magic of radio.  I did know fellow legendary Boston radio personality Norm Nathan (see below) and it just seems sad to me that he and other truly talented people like Mr. Cain are no longer with us.  We are, in fact, now their age when they brought us radio joy, so I guess time does indeed fly by and we have to enjoy each moment in life as a blessing.  Our sympathies go out to his family.  Jess was truly one of the great ones in Boston radio, and is instant "hall of famer" in my book.

EH, VisitingNewEngland.com

Frank Kingston Smith, WHDH Sounding somewhat like Dick Van Dyke talking through an echo chamber, the spirited Frank Kingston Smith was livewire all the way, but perhaps most so at his late afternoon stint at WHDH. The perfect drive-home host, Frank Kingston Smith kept things interesting with his original and scripted joke book anecdotes and a gift at making a transition to a newscast, commercial or traffic report interesting. That deep, resonant voice is one for the "radio greats" book. Frank Kingston Smith was born to be on radio and made the most of it through his innate broadcasting talents.  Thankfully, he was here in Boston for us to hear!

JJ Wright, WRKO, KISS-108, now on Oldies 103.3  JJ Wright is the Cal Ripken of Boston radio -- a long-time radio veteran who has showed up at work everyday, has "hall of fame"- caliber radio credentials, and comes across as a genuinely nice person. Wright also possesses the criteria that makes radio legends -- a golden resonant voice, sincerity, excellent interaction with listeners and staff,  great anecdotal and joke-telling abilities without being over-the-top, and the innate skill of how and when to introduce and end a song with spirited talk.  He truly represented the best of top 40 DJs at  legendary WRKO and KISS-108 -- entertaining, unique and always steady and consistent at his craft.  The amazing thing is, after all these years, Wright is still doing the same high quality work at Oldies 103.3. He hasn't slowed down one bit, still keeping things lively and fun at Oldies 103.3 in the afternoon.  What an inspiration to those who appreciate the spirit of top 40 radio, and also for those who ever dreamed of  becoming a top 40 DJ.  JJ Wright would be one of those announcers you'd strive to be like, if ever entering the field.

Norm Nathan, WHDH Perhaps the warmest personality on the radio in a sometimes not-so-warm, self-centered era, Norm Nathan was relaxed, conversational, sincere, generous, and blessed with a great "Jewish" sense of humor and an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz music. A friend of our family, we knew Norm as one of the nicest people around, someone who always seemed liked an instant friend -- even though we didn't see him often. I remember one time in his latter years at a family meal at the China Blossom in North Andover, MA, where he just lit up the room with his warmth. There wasn't a more sincere guy; what you heard on the radio is what he was in person.

Harry Nelson, WRKO -- What an incredible talent, perhaps one of the best representatives of broadcasting excellence in the local top 40 radio genre! Nelson had an intense, unique, fast-talking voice sounding voice as if he hadn't been to the bathroom in a month. He also helped create the WRKO sound as one of the most identifiable personalities on the station. Harry Nelson was known in every elementary and junior high school playground for his glib, almost out-of-control personality. He was also known by many parents as an enabler to music they just didn't understand. We knew better; Nelson was one of our radio idols.  Simply an amazing radio personality.

Joe Martelle, WROR -- The ultimate "good guy," Martelle first brightened up our afternoons on WROR and then as part of the "Joe and Andy Show." Always presenting a sincere, positive presentation, Martelle had the resonant voice and one-of-kind personality to standout in an era when disc jockeys began to sound generic. Without a doubt, Martelle had the best interaction with his audience -- equally appealing to 20-something types and little old ladies who could stomach the rock in roll in between Martelle's unforgettable personality.

Editor's note: Joe Martelle recently wrote us about his radio career, he and his wife, Kimmie's, health challenges, and what he's doing now:

Thank you so much for including me in your article, "The Greatest Boston, MA, radio personalities of the 1960s and 1970s."  It's an honor to be included with some of 'the best of the best.'

My entire tenure in Boston, almost 20 years was with WROR, first nights in 1979, followed by a solo shot in "AM drive" for three years. Then my late radio pal and partner, Andy Moes joined me in December 1982. We were together as a team at the original WROR(98.5) until 1992, when Andy left to go solo at WEEI(AM).

I remained alone at WROR in morning drive for an additional three years until 1995, when I underwent emergency lung surgery and the removal of the middle lobe of my right lung. Following a year recuperating, I joined the new WROR in "PM drive," in 1997 and left in 99 to move to Texas and morning drive at KLDE in Houston, Texas. Following a triple by-pass in 2000, my contract was not renewed. My next and final radio stop, was at West Palm Beach, FL, again, in "AM drive" at Sunny-104.3.  In April 2004, I was hospitalized with pneumonia, bronchitis. I lost my voice, because of three nodules on my vocal cords. With no 'pipes'-- no show --  and that ended my 41 years on the air. My voice has returned, thank God, but not to the quality nor stamina required to go back on the radio full time.

My own health issues pale in comparison  to my sweet wife, Kim. Three months following my voice disability, Kimmie, was diagnosed with melanoma. It came totally out of the blue and we were both shocked and extremely scared.  At first, her diagnosis was grim and her chances for survival were not good. Frightened is not the word to describe our anguish. That was in September 2004. In fact, my voice disability and her health situation is what prompted our move to Colorado. She was born here and it's where her mom and family live. Kim  underwent immediate surgery with follow-up testing and evaluation at Duke University and Dana Farber.

Thanks to caring doctors, along with one of the worlds largest prayer chains, (thanks to loyal listeners, family and friends) we are both doing fine. There's not a doubt in my mind that Kim and I have been blessed with the healing hands of God. I'm not being overly dramatic when I say this,  but I strongly believe when one is so touched by such a miracle  one has a duty to 'pass the message' on to others, who may be ill and feeling so desperate and stressed about their chances for survival. 

When I lost my voice and my radio career was over, coupled with Kim's shocking diagnosis, it was a stressful and scary time for us. We both believe when things become so desperate it's truly time to let go and let God take over. He walked with us though some extremely dark nights and days and brought the light and sunshine back into our lives. We are most grateful.

During our second visit to Duke, the head doc came in looked at us and said, "Kim...Joe, we do not know what this apparent 'itinerant' cell is, but it's NOT cancer. Go climb a mountain." We jumped around and hugged each other!!! He just looked at us and continued, "I have absolutely no explanation but it's quite apparent ALL the cancer was removed during surgery (which included some lymph nodes) and this cell which they thought had spread was NOT cancer." That's when I looked him straight in the eye and said, "I know the answer, doctor."

He looked at me, as if to say, well, o.k, the non-medical person has the all important key information to this medical mystery. He was, shall we say, a bit on the arrogant side.  Anyway, I proceeded to answer him..."It's thanks to the power of prayer and the healing hands of God." 

He looked at me for the longest time without saying a word, then looking down at his clipboard and back up at me replied, "Perhaps, you're right------perhaps, you're right."

Some more good news out of Western Colorado: My book Radio Pro, which is how to become a successful on-air radio personality, should be published (if I finish it) this summer. When I decided to show tomorrow's future on-air radio stars what REALLY goes in to becoming an on-air radio pro, I decided early on that I did not want the book to merely reflect my own feelings, so I reached out to over 150 broadcasters, for their input. Many are friends and former co-workers in the Boston radio arena, including, Mike Addams, Roger Allen, Tom Bergeron, Mary Blake, Bruce Bradley, Peter Casey, Joe Cortez, Tom Cuddy, Dale Dorman, Pete Falconi, Rod Fritz, Larry Glick, Dan Justin, Gary LaPierre, Harry Nelson, Judi Paparelli, Nancy Quill, Phil Redo, Matt Siegel, Linda Smith, and Peter Smyth.

Also, Bob Spicer, Greg Strassell, Paula Street, Dick Summer, Ed Walsh, Tom Baker(my first GM at the original ROR, who put Joe & Andy on the air),  Sean Casey,  Chuck Igo, Joe McMillan, Frank Kingston Smith, and my old friend, Jordan Rich.

Then, there's Bob Lacey of the nationally syndicated morning-drive radio team, "Bob & Sheri,"  Ross Brittain, C.C. McCartney; a hubby and wife team "Steve & Johnnie" --who have been handling "all-night" radio on WGN-Chicago for years, Barry Kaye--a legend in Houston radio - and so many others, who have kindly given.

On the national radio scene, there are more great comments from well-known broadcasters, Gary Berkowitz, Dick Biondi, Don Blue,  Barbara Bridges, Stacey Cohen, Tom Cuddy, Joel Denver, Shelly Dunn, Steve Feldman, Joe Ford, John Gehron, Donna Halper, Harry Harrison, Chuck Igo, Mark MacCray, Scott Mackay, Cary Pahigian, Wink Martindale, Dan Mason, Melanie Morgan, Lorna Ozmon, Dick Purtan, Sally Jesse Raphael, Bob Rivers, Dave Robbins, Dave Ryan,  Tommy Shannon, Walter Sabo, Mark Williams, Guy Zapolian and so many other dedicated broadcasters.

 I'm hoping and praying Radio Pro will give future radio "wannabees" the inside look into what it really takes to be a successful on-air radio personality! Radio Pro is dedicated to the 'master of radio entertainment,'  the late Jess Cain. I am most fortunate to have three intros to the book by three super-talented radio pros; my pal, Cousin Brucie Morrow, who is still 'rockin' on Sirius Satellite... my long time friend and former news guy, Bob MacNeil (still on the air at Metro in Boston) and my mentor and friend, Fred Foy, who for many years was the Lone Ranger's announcer on radio and who had a long successful career at ABC Radio and TV in NYC.

Here's a FIRST, of sorts, just for you.  I will be on with my old friend, Jordan Rich and his all-night show on WBZ Radio, July 13th, 2008, at  2 a.m., EST). It will mark my first time back on radio since my voice disability first occurred in April 2004. The last time I was on the radio in Boston was about ten years ago. I'm looking forward to 'connecting' with my old friends and to chat about my book. Here's hoping my voice holds up!

I believe the health issues we face have truly been for a reason----to share with others the 'healing hands' of God.  I am a very thankful guy who wants others to know, 'miracles' can happen to any of us, if we allow God to be the focal point of our lives.

We moved to the property we owned for years, here in Western Colorado and for all intents and purposes, I'm retired and taking care of our ranch. Our closest  neighbors, deer and elk, who kindly let us share the land with them. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share some of my radio 'daze' with you. Your article brought back many wonderful memories and I thank you again for your kindness in including me.  If folks want to say 'hi' they can reach Kim and me at Box 386, Mesa, Colorado 81643. 

All my best and God Bless.

Joe Martelle
 

Jim Sands, WHDH -- The "Famous Jim Sands" had one of those made-for-radio voices -- resonant, driving and steady. He had a terrific oldies show on Saturday night for many years and as a fill-in weekday announcer sounded better than the regular radio show hosts. You could always identify Sands' voice, unlike much of the generic any-city announcers of today. That distinctive voice, an obvious love for his craft, an unassuming sense of humor and an innate sense of what made radio terrific resulted in one of the all-time great Boston radio personalities.

Stay tuned for more great 1960s and 1970s Boston radio personalities!

Reader Feedback:

Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg
Your list omits the greatest and perhaps most successful (in terms of audience share) talent ever to grace Boston airwaves.    Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg was an MIT engineer who began by buying time at night on 1600/WBOS in Brookline in 1956, doing a show and selling ads to cover the cost (and then some.)     He soon migrated to 1510/WMEX, where his frenetic, high-energy style set the bar, not only in New England, but nationwide, for personality-drive Top 40 radio.  He owned the nighttime teenage audience wherever one could hear signal-challenged WMEX.  His exciting, tight, sound-effects laden presentation is captured in the "Cruisin'" CD series, which preserved the heyday of Top 40 persoanlity radio for all time.
 
A man of many talents, Arnie went on to become a founder of Kiss 108 and TV Channel 66.

Dennis Jackson, owner of WQQQ (Sharon, Conn.), WRIP (Windham, N.Y.), WZEN (Farmington, N.H.) and WCLX (Burlington, Vt.) . You can read more on his perspectives on Ginsburg at his Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=209929&id=1055109016



Bruce Bradley
Bruce Bradley was the best as far as I'm concerned. A lot of people think that he was the best ever radio personality in America.  He definitely should have been in the Radio Hall of Fame. I'm going to write a letter to get him nominated and I hope everyone who reads this should.

The biggest reason is that Bradley worked every format when he was first at WBZ -- it was middle of the road, then moved to top 40, especially on his show.  He moved to the nation's largest market, New York City, where he worked at WHN for a long time. During his tenure, the station changed formats at least three times including beautiful music and country.

He was at WNEW when that was the best middle of the road persnality-driven station.  He went on to do morning drive at WYNY.  He was morning host on an all-news station in Philly. Then, in later years, he was a headline-making controversial talk show host on the big Midwest station, KMOX, in St. Louis.  He was a great announcer -- smart and very funny.  Fred King, Holyoke, Mass.
 

Larry Glick, Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg, Jess Cain
I was an avid Boston radio listener between April 1961 and September 1968, although I continued to listen through 1977, but basically only late at night to WBZ's Larry Glick and later the syndicated Larry King.  My favorite DJs were Arnie Woo-Woo Ginsberg of WMEX and his competition in the evening WBZ's Bruce Bradley.  Jess (Cain) was a morning favorite, too and Norm Nathan was a real pleasure to listen to as well.  Dave Maynard and Carl DeSuze were names that come easily to mind.

Why April 1961?  Because that is when I acquired my first portable radio from Radio Shack on Commonwealth Ave. near BU.  I finally unglued that thing from my ear in September 1968 when I realized that the pop music which I had so enjoyed until that time was turning into reptetive junk.  Only a bit around 1976 when Disco returned for a while was there anything seriously new to listen to.

One line I will always remember from Jess Cain was when he announced that in competition with the Prudential Center's restaraunt Top of the Pru would be the new taller John Hancock's Top of the John.

Best regards,
R. Brauner

Do you have a favorite 1960s, 1970s Boston radio personality? Tell us about him/her!

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