Memories of Rock and Roll Radio - WNJR ©JCMarion
I received my first taste of what would become rock and roll music back in the spring of 1953 on a little AM station out of Newark, New Jersey - WNJR, 1430 on the dial. Having become bored with the top of the pops of the first Eisenhower term - (you know - "Vaya Con Dios", "I'm Walking Behind You", "No Other Love", and that paragon of the times - "Doggie In The Window"), I searched for something different. And did I ever find it ! A new kind of music that was frantic and driving, or bluesy and deep. The artists I had discovered had all these great names - "Big" Maybell, "Little" Esther, Roy Milton & The Solid Senders, Guitar Slim, Fats Domino, and The DuDroppers. This was really it - I had come "home."
The fondest memory I have of my discovery are the great personalities that brought the music to the listeners. Never before or since have I ever heard of such a wild and varied crew of jocks behind the mike. They almost became like family, as was the usual appeal back then of the medium of radio. Live dramatic radio was just about dead as the television juggernaut was expanding in high gear into every home in America. What was left for radio was for it to become the personal juke box of a generation that would change the musical direction of the world which has not abated for more than four decades. (Has it really been that long ?)
I woke up and got ready for school to the sounds of George Hudson and his Downbeat Club. He came on with a great theme song by the Baton label Hearts called "Here Comes Georgie Hudson". To this day I still am in possession of my membership card in the Downbeat Club. This momento made me realize that the music I was listening to was made by and for Black Americans. That revelation fazed me for all of about two seconds, before I was rocking with the music. After George was done, there was a parade of personalities all day long. Straight talking Charlie Green came on with Groove Station which introduced me to the live recordings of Rusty Bryant and the Club Carolyn Combo direct from Columbus, Ohio. Mid-day was the time for Pat Conell known as "Pat The Cat in his Switchin' Kitchen !" Pat the Cat spoke in a jivey argot full of kitchen/cookery themes ("dig this biscuit", "got a full platter", etc.). After a noonday gospel show called The Old Ship of Zion (perhaps Joe Bostic ?), the station featured a number of syndicated R & B jocks from across the country. There was "Poppa Stoppa" from New Orleans, Zenas "Daddy" Sears from Atlanta, Jim Ameche from Hollywood, and even a short stint by a guy from Ohio named Moondog.
Other memorable deejays on WNJR included "The Bellboy" Clint Miller, and Danny Stiles known as "The Cat Man", who for many years since has played big band and pre rock pop music on a number of area stations. However, the greatest of them all was Ramon Bruce. He remains to me, the most dynamic personality I have ever heard in the medium of radio. He took on the persona of a super-hero able to do anything, anywhere, anytime. If challenged he would answer the call by affirming his ability declaring - "I AM THE BRUCE ! ! !" These fantasy bits were a lot of fun and led into the music in a rousing and exciting way. In a p.r. stunt I remember, The Bruce jumped out of a Cadillac convertible to save a lady from a (live) tiger, and the whole stunt almost going haywire. He could never be replaced, and his kind of radio is gone forever.
I also remember WNJR for having the most preposterous top ten survey list of any station around. I used to copy them down, and today they still give me a laugh. The most obscure songs and artists would show up as a top seller and everyone would ask, where? Who would believe that Naomi Caryl, Mister Bear, Ann Cole, and Elvis "My Baby Left Me" (at #2 !) would be on the top seller charts ? The Cat Man said so ! A real jarring culture clash would occur on Sunday afternoon when Clint Miller's Bellboy show would segue into - the Bernie White (Witkowski) Polka Show. From The Five Royals or Midnighters to The Silver Bell Orchestra's latest tune boosting the presidential hopes of Henry Krajewski was quite a reach to be sure.
My long term friendship with WNJR came to an end in 1957 at the hands of radio itself. In a real twist of irony, a new radio station was built a mere half mile or so from my house. The frequency they chose was 1440 on the AM dial (FM was virtually non existent then). Because of the closeness of the transmitter, they obliterated everything within 20 points on either side of their spot, so it was a fond farewell to my holy grail, heterodynamically speaking, for all time. It was a great run of four years, but the music had begun to change in the wake of Elvis, and the solid base of true R & B was beginning to fade. So it was goodnight sweet prince, thanks for the memories and the education. And there was some time left to enjoy late night dx-ing WLAC in Nashville for John R., and Gene Nobles for Randy's Record Bar.
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