The Next Station

Sometimes I listened to WQXR, which reminded me how much I’d been missing hearing classical music. But becoming part of that staff didn’t seem like reality, especially since my last connection to classical music radio seemed so far away in time and place. Plus, having been fired by WFLN hardly seemed like admirable experience or a source of a good reference.

Yes, that was only three years before, but time must have had different dimensions. Perhaps it was the intensity of so much happening in such a short period. And perhaps time was also measured by not having lived that many years.

Late one night, though, I tuned into another classical station I’d never heard or heard of. WNCN. Some guy with a nasal, squeaky voice was making minimal announcements about the music. No commentary. Surely I could do better than that.

The next day I called WNCN and asked to speak to the program director. There was none, I was told. Anyway, I let the receptionist know why I called. So she passed me along to the Chief Engineer Dave Passell. Right away I knew that voice. It was the same I’d heard on the air the night before. What? The chief engineer announcing? Quite a low-budget operation, it seemed.

After I told him that I’d hosted programs in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and New Rochelle and that I knew something about classical music, he asked if I had an FCC Third Class Radio Operator’s license. Of course I did; it was required at every station where I’d worked. Like most announcers, the FCC required us to take tests to prove that we knew how to run broadcast equipment.

Satisfied that I met that first fundamental requirement, Dave invited me to come to the WNCN offices off Fifth Avenue on West 44th Street and take an audition, saying he might be able to use me.

Wow! What a break. I knew he’d be impressed with my sound and my talent. Once I arrived and told Dave again about my experience, somehow avoiding being too specific about WFLN, Dave handed me a WBCN program guide asking me to read some listings. No microphone. That was my audition. I did better than just read the listings; I ad-libbed introductions to the music. There was no indication that he was impressed. But he did say, in his dry way, that he thought I’d be OK.

And that there was an opening. But he also explained that there wouldn’t be much announcing, since WNCN was an affiliate of Boston-based Concert Network’s WBCN and that 12 hours every day of New York’s programs originated there, re-broadcast, delayed, on tapes. The other 12 were on different tapes. That is, I’d be more like an operator than announcer.

While most people think of radio networks as being based in New York, this one wasn’t. WNCN, WXCN Providence, and WHCN Hartford, were part of WBCN’s “bicycle network,” a term, I later learned, meaning the tapes came in the mail. It was applied to a few other similar operations. Dave didn’t call it that, of course; the term suggests something cheap. Which it was.

Basically Dave needed someone to run the tapes but who’d know enough about classical music to be able to handle emergencies, such as broken tapes, when it might be necessary to actually speak on the station. The Boston tapes aired from 12 noon to 12 midnight. The other 12 hours consisted of tapes that WNCN or WBCN had prepared. So Dave had produced a few tapes on his own. My job was to run those non-BCN tapes and take transmitter readings, standing by, midnight to 6 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday mornings, i.e., Monday through Friday night, since the hours of the day start in darkness.

The acting career was hardly flourishing. Getting paid for five six-hour nights meant an actual income, meaning that, if daytime acting work turned up I could do it, so long as the show didn’t run past 11:30 p.m.

Hotel Pierre

Dave and I made an appointment to meet where he could show me the operation. It was not on West 44th Street. The tapes and WNCN-created announcements came from the same space as the one housing the transmitter. That was at a high-class location: Fifth Avenue near 61st Street on The Pierre hotel’s 40th floor. Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it?

A perfectly groomed, superbly uniformed elevator operator whooshed us as high up in the hotel as we could go where a grimy concrete stairway led to a massive, anonymous, thoroughly locked metal door.

Dave opened it.

This was not a Sesame cave filled with luxurious goods. A large concrete-floored, high-ceilinged room with one small open window perched above it, had all kinds of partially open, sometimes torn cardboard boxes, in which mysterious pieces of equipment and giant tubes stuck out in every direction. Massive metal shelves held more such arcane pieces. In the middle of the space, a worn-out, big, stuffed leather armchair sat next to an old desk covered with scattered papers.

Meanwhile I could hear Brahms’s Hungarian Dances coming from speakers behind a less imposing door. There Dave ushered me into a smaller space where a guy who looked about my age sat on a wheeled office chair next to a desk on which there was a small console, a turntable, a radio board with dials for pots, plus a small reel-to-reel player. No microphone.

Dave introduced me to Jeff Kuklin, the noon to six “announcer” who oversaw the broadcasting of half a day’s worth of Boston programs.

Behind Jeff, against one wall, sat four giant reel-to-reel tape machines, whose tapes were larger than any I’d seen before. A tape was running on #1. Against another wall stood racks and racks of blinking lights, dials, knobs, and buttons, similar to WFLN’s  transmitter equipment.

“Uh,” Dave said, characteristically clearing his throat, “you have to take transmitter readings every hour. The logs are in there.” He pointed to the desk next to Jeff and reached over to open a drawer, Jeff pulling away. Another drawer held program logs plus a sheaf of papers, listing Tapes 101 to 150 with various amounts of check marks next to them.

Suddenly a sound like an enormous raspberry reverberated throughout the room. “What’s that?” I asked, astonished.

“That’s the air compressor. It keeps the transmitter from overheating,” Dave explained.

“How often does it go off?”

“Whenever it needs to.”

“But wouldn’t that interfere with the announcing?”

“Yes. But you’ll announce only when you have to.”

“And where’s the microphone?”

Dave pulled open another drawer and withdrew what looked like something out of airport scenes in 1940s movies, a flat microphone on a handle, a lollypop. “You just plug it in here,” he said, putting the jack into an opening above one of the pots. “You use it during an emergency and say, ‘One moment please.’”

Was he telling me even what to say? “But what if the compressor goes off while I’m talking?” I asked.

“Oh, this mike is not very sensitive. That’s why we use this model.”

“I see a turntable,” I said, “but where do you keep your LPs?”

He pointed to the wall next to the table. There were four LPs. André Kostelanetz: Strauss Waltzes was one. “But you’d only play them in a major emergency,” he said. “They’re pretty scratched.”

“Your commercials are there,” he went on, gesturing to the small tape-reel player on the desk. “They’re all recorded.” There must not have been many.

“Who records them?” I asked, hoping for a chance to actually speak on that station.

“Usually Roger does. He’s our sales manager, but sometimes Bob Ricci, one of our announcers, does a few.”

So, high up in a classy hotel overlooking Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, my job was to run tapes and take transmitter readings surrounded by all kinds of equipment in two concrete-floored rooms, one window high above each room to let in the night air. Or rain. Or snow.

Why were any of us operators called “announcers”? I didn’t ask. Anyway, I’d try it for a while.

My first night on the job, I learned that not all of those 150 non-WBCN tapes were playable. I’d open a box, curious to know what music was on the tape, hoping to select something I’d enjoy hearing, since I could play any one I chose, and discover a hand-written note saying “Defective.” Or I’d see a typed page or just a handwritten one naming the music, sometimes even the performers, but without any timings. Each tape could run three hours, and, somewhere between the music and the announcements, my job was to stop the tape, play a recorded station break on the small reel-to-reel player. “This is the Concert Network…This is WNCN, New York.” Maybe a commercial, but probably not.

I also soon learned that my predecessor had fallen asleep too often in the big leather armchair in the front room. Maybe he should have brought an alarm clock. I brought one and often selected the longest in-tact tapes, so I could sometimes nap for at least an hour. More than once a night. I never overslept.

As I mentioned above, I had joined AFTRA, the union for broadcast performers. This had no bearing on working for WNCN, where I was actually the first union member there. AFTRA members have never been required to work only for broadcast stations with AFTRA contracts. True, it’s always hoped that, when enough AFTRA members start working for a station, they can collectively unionize that station. But it’s up to them to vote in the union and thereby get the best salaries, working conditions, health care, and pensions.

Meanwhile, day-times, I kept going to auditions. After a while I also discovered that I was seeing the same would-be actors over and over again. We’d make fun of other actors and casting directors, just as Anton Spaeth and the actors at Players West had done. Except now I was on the inside of the acting scene, even without work.

Soon, some of us decided we ought to try to get acting lessons, just to keep in practice, even though we all believed we had talent and experience. We didn’t think we could afford to pay for courses at any of the acting schools, so, one of the guys, Arnie Weiner, was friendly with a director who’d had a few minor shows, Zeke Berlin. We asked Zeke whether, if we each paid him $10 per class, he would conduct a two-hour session once a week? He agreed, so long as he didn’t get a real job.

Those That Play The Clowns

Arnie was the first of us to get a role on Broadway. Seven years later, he (as Arn Weiner) had a small part in a play starring Alfred Drake, Michael Stewart’s Those That Play the Clowns.  

It was a backstage look at the acting company hired by Hamlet to stage the murder of his father. At that point Americans hadn’t seen and had barely heard of another backstage Hamlet story, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. Americans had barely heard of Stoppard, actually.

Naturally, like other friends of Arnie’s, I went to the opening. While waiting outside after the curtain came down, as Arnie emerged from backstage, an older woman we didn’t know went up to him holding a book. It was The Talent Guide, in which all professional actors could pay for an insertion with names, photos, a list of our credits, and phone numbers.

The woman cornered Arnie.

“Hello, Mr. Weiner,” she said, “Congratulations! It’s your first Broadway, show, isn’t it?”

Arnie looked shocked. And delighted that she knew.

“Would you sign my copy of the book for me?” she asked.

Arnie signed it. And we learned that she always did this to actors making their Broadway debuts.

While that was unusual, the history of the production was not rare; it closed quickly. Bad reviews. Four performances only.

As far as I can tell from online research Arnie was in only one other Broadway show, The World of Sholom Aleichem, 16 years later. Wow! He hung in there. Evidently he also had off-Broadway roles in 1967 and 1976. One ran for five performances, the other for 12.

Once or twice Dave Passell asked me to cover daytime shifts when Jeff or someone else couldn’t make it. Then Dave would go up to the Hotel at night to work on the transmitter or do some other kind of tech thing.

Nirmal Daniere w name

That’s how I started hearing the Boston tapes. One of the program hosts was a guy with a deep, rich voice, Joe Marzano, who sounded like he knew what he was talking about. There was also nasal-voiced John Adams, the program director. And there was a woman! Women didn’t host radio programs in the 1950s, although the NBC network feature Monitor did have “Miss Monitor” give breathy (i.e., sexy) weather forecasts. This WBCN program host wasn’t doing sexy shtick. She had some sort of English accent and when she said her name it sounded as if she was mumbling: “Nrml Dnyr.” Later, when I met Marzano, he said that she was East Indian and named Nirmal Daniere.  

When a long piece of music was airing on those days, the timing being clear on a cue-sheet, I sometimes strolled down one flight of stairs to a radio station that looked like a radio station, not a storage room and hobby shop for engineers. That was WBAI. With an attractive receptionist who spoke with an English accent…such accents for women receptionists were thought cool then…and well-lit offices, double-glass-windowed studios, air conditioning. A pot of fresh coffee on a hot plate. Sometimes I’d hear them featuring jazz. Or modern concert music. Or comedy records. Or plays. Well-dressed Les Davis and Sid Shepherd hosted such shows. I wished I could be there instead of upstairs running tapes.

Eventually, if fact, I would be on the air on WBAI, a few years after owner Louis Schweitzer donated it to Pacifica Radio. Les and Sid? Gone, of course. The old ownership/format change thing.

Radio Daze

Lacking the confidence to take a shot at New York City radio, given a none-too-prestigious removal from WNCN, and the eyelid blink of two weeks at WNRC, I started reading trade papers looking for openings near enough to not have to commute upstate or across the Hudson…although soon enough I was under that river.

WHLI, Hempstead, NY, needed someone to fill in during summer vacation time. It was a pop music station close in content to WOND, and that experience plus my style and voice got me the job.

Daytimes meant announcing, in a friendly way, the music that music director Roger Ferguson selected. He followed a standard format, a male vocalist, followed by a woman singer, followed by an instrumental, with some room allowed for vocal groups. Boring. Our comments were supposed to be just slightly more inventive than “This is….,” “That was…,” “We just heard…,” but nothing too personal. Friendly but bland. It was not one of my favorite roles.

WHLI’s major value to the community was its full-time news staff. There were newscasts every hour where the news guys wrote and read their stuff, taking material from AP and United Press for national and international stories while also adding some local stories. Re-writes from local newspapers or their own actual reporting. Stan Bernard, who went on to a more significant job at WINS (“You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world.”), was on the news staff. Bearded like me, some people asked if we were brothers. Beards were still a subject of interest.

Much of the time the news guys and the d.j.s would hang out together telling jokes or making fun of the management. It seemed as if no one thought he was doing anything special but was just a cog in a machine.

I started looking for something better.

Within a few weeks I had started relief-announcing at WJRZ, Newark, and WQXR, New York, plus, astonishingly, WNCN again.

By the time I started on this aural merry-go-round my résumé mirrored the new activity, crammed with other credits: seven stations in 12 years: WNAR, WFLN, WHAT, WOND, WNRC, WNCN, WHLI. It certainly looks rootless, doesn’t it? You’d think it would look as if I couldn’t keep a job—an accurate perception for people outside broadcasting. Not without some truth, either. I’d been fired at three stations and quit four others. But people inside the business tend to believe that announcers who keep moving have something to offer. Otherwise, how would they keep getting work? And, when starting the 1965 search for something more interesting and better-paying than WHLI, not having left was a position of strength. I had a job already. You might think that managements would have inquired how and why I was no longer at those previous stations but they didn’t. Maybe because, except for WHLI, at least five years had passed and, as always, staff longevity being so rare, my moving on may have seemed normal.

The New WNCN

WNCN had new owners. In mid 1964 the station had been acquired by the National Science Network owned by L.W. Frohlich Advertising Agency, which dealt mostly in pharmaceuticals.

According to Bernie Alan, whom I knew from our college days at Temple and who was on the announcing staff at NCN before I re-joined, the Network also bought and operated WDHF in Chicago, KPPC in Pasadena, and KMPX in San Francisco.

The “Science,” no doubt, was so named due to Frohlich’s agency accounts. There was also something else. In addition to WNCN, the transmitter signal was used on a sub-channel* to broadcast pop background music to subscribers, who were, evidently, all doctors who used the service in their offices. I never heard how the service sounded. In addition, according to Bernie, there were weekly five-minute broadcasts of news scripts about medicine and developments in the medical world; he wrote and broadcast some himself. Once, he said, WNCN even covered a medical convention in Chicago, the broadcast sponsored by drug companies whose commercials were included.

*A sub-channel uses the same signal as the regular station does, but the programs are transmitted separately by a complex process I don’t fully understand. TV and radio stations still use the concept today, sending out more than one signal available with special equipment and/or by subscription.

Albert Fuller w name

WNCN’s new studios were on West 45th Street just off Fifth Avenue above a wonderful-smelling Chinese restaurant. Compared to the Concert Network’s East 47th Street station, this company knew something about how a good radio station should look. There were beautiful modern studios and state-of-the-art equipment. No weak particle board walls there. You could see through the gleaming glass windows that the new owners were taking classical music seriously; concert harpsichordist Albert Fuller was the music director. Maurice Essam was his assistant.

Jolly WNCN Program Director Ed Shaughnessy took a liking to my sound and my knowledge and immediately put me on call after we’d met. When he asked about why I’d left the old NCN, I’d explained that I’d wanted to try an acting career. And re: FLN, I could tell the truth: Mitchell Krauss took his job back.

No further questions were asked.

Bill Watson must have known the actual reason why I left the previous NCN. But I guess he and Ed didn’t discuss it. Or maybe Bill didn’t care about the why and how of my departure. He may have even admired my forcefulness in breaking down a studio wall; he was a rebel in his own way. Or maybe he was grateful that he’d gone on to fame, due to me.

Yes. Fame. He had become the star of the night, propelling the station forward into public consciousness. Compared to him, everyone else on WNCN was a daytime shadow. Oh sure, the daily NCN programming was a major contrast to the more conservative content of WQXR, but QXR was the big classical blast in town. NCN was still underrated and not taken seriously.

Watson had always been allowed free rein in his programming. And his personal choices were astonishing, appealing to a hell of a lot of people, at a time when there was no competition either; QXR was off the air overnight. As far as I ever learned, Bill cherished a rather narrow period of classical music; but it was a great period, starting around 1700 and going not much further than 1830. But look at which composers flourished then: J.S. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, to name the most famous.

Once in a while, as an on-call announcer, I filled in for Bill. Odd, isn’t it? He’d filled in for me back in 1960. But sitting in in his stead, I did not have the chance to program music of my choice; not that I would have reverted to what I’d been featuring during my 20 months at NCN overnight. I didn’t see that as an opportunity to do my own thing (to use a then-current hippie phrase). Instead, Albert or his assistant Maurice Essam gave me stacks of LPs from which to chose music evidently similar to what Bill featured.

That was when I first came to admire the music of the composers I named above; I’d always gravitated to something more modern or romantic and paid scant attention to what others had long taken as masterworks. String quartets, especially. I hadn’t realized how beautiful they were. This time I was actually listening rather than having them for soothing background, such as when I was a babysat little kid while my father joined friends to play such music at, say, Wilfred Skeets’s elegant house on a quiet street in Lansdowne, PA.

I never actually heard more than a few minutes of Bill’s program, Listening with Watson; most of the time I was in bed in one of three different apartments I sequentially inhabited during those years, mid-1965 to early 1971, during which my contact with him and the station ebbed and flowed. And, whenever I arrived at the station to host a morning show, I barely listened because I was preparing newscasts. I heard, but didn’t listen.

In a rich, sonorous voice, a voice Bill knew he had and in which he reveled, he always began his program by quoting a phrase from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: “Here will we sit and let the sounds of music/Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night/Become the touches of sweet harmony.”

His on-air persona flourished, captivating many people. He loved the music and was never shy about expressing his opinions, referring to the beauty, the magnificence, and the glory of the works he presented—a rarity at the time when most announcers offered no opinions.

He further cemented his reputation by airing long works, really long works, in their entirety, never interrupting them with talk. Moreover, he’d sometimes repeat the same music immediately after it ended, saying something like, “Wasn’t that great? Let’s listen to it again.” And present it once more, complete.

He could do that because he was not required to read newscasts in his seven-hour broadcasts, and, despite his ever-growing celebrity, the sales department had not been able to cash in and load his schedule with commercials.

In fact, Bill was known for making fun of the commercials he did have, commenting on their poor grammar, or bad punctuation. However, so far as I know, he never insulted the clients nor denigrated their products. He also did something Jean Shepherd had been doing, bunching several commercials together back to back, just to have the onerous task finished. This was nothing like some of today’s broadcasting with deliberate clusters.

Bill wasn’t likely to have more than five commercials a night, consistent with how little advertising was on WNCN at any time in those years. The station was always in the red, as if it were a Frohlich vanity operation. 1981 was the first profitable year, under a different owner.

Once Bill actually created a major traffic jam during the day around the corner on West 44th Street. A new sponsor bought time on WNCN. (An odd phrase, come to think of it. How can you buy time?) Livingston’s Leaf and Bean was a small shop selling a vast variety of freshly roasted coffee beans, stored in barrels, along with smaller barrels of fresh pipe tobacco of many blends. Livingston’s also sold pipes, pipe paraphernalia, and various kinds of coffee pots. To introduce the store they got Bill to tell his listeners that anyone who heard him was invited to stop by the shop the next morning to get a free ½ pound of coffee just by mentioning his name. When the shop unlocked its doors at 9 a.m. a mob stretched in every direction all the way from Sixth Avenue to Fifth. This event confirmed Bill’s power.

Bill also had powerful opinions which were not limited to what he thought about the music. In his broadcasts he freely shared his ideas about politics and social issues. Listeners who agreed with him called and wrote to him praising his perception.

But there was the other kind of response—people who developed serious hatred for what he said and stood for. They hated him, as if whoever he was on the radio was him, rather than some part of him, the performing part. There’s that Steve Allison kind of thing I mentioned above when writing about my Philadelphia broadcasting days.

Bill had a ready temper, lashing out at those of the public who couldn’t deal with his seeming self-admiration and his comments. They seethed with anger, telephoning him, as if he were some kind of dictator ruling the night with an iron baton instead of just a guy who hosted a radio program.

You could ask why he would even pick up the phone, since, during long stretches of music, you’d think Watson would be Listening With Watson, but being all alone in the studio overnight must have generated a feeling of isolation and a need for contact with living humans instead of only admiring the creations of people long dead and gone. Not that I had that feeling myself in my 20 months preceding him. But by the time I started to work for the new NCN, he’d  been hosting programs for five years at those hours. The long-term effects could be different.

VU Meters w name

While he spoke to listeners, Bill could never look into anyone’s eyes during those 35 hours a week. His own had to be focused on the constant bounce of VU meters. And there were the glaring lights overhead, so glaring, in fact, that he’d turn off as many as he could sitting there with only enough illumination to read by, glowing in semi-darkness, as if a halo sat above his head.

He must have reveled in the stimulation of getting back at those angry people out there in the vast darkness, reaching out even into all those little, less important suburbs and towns clinging to New York. He’d excoriate his unseen enemies, those who failed to admire his impressive musical knowledge and the magnificent music he chose for people with the right degree of discernment. On the air he’d speak to the gadflies by name, defeating their arguments by making statements that brooked no discussion; he controlled the microphone and no one else’s voice could be heard.

During the time Bill and I both worked at NCN, he’d sometimes talk to me while his music was playing, or after I had started the next program, when he’d rave about lapsang souchong tea and how well it went with honey. He’d also tell me about some of the “beautiful” women who admired him and whom he had met, women no doubt overwhelmed by being close to such magnificence, not that married Bill ever claimed he was a great lover, nor did he discuss what went down (so to speak) with any of the women. Evidently such admirers sometimes visited him at the studios. I met one one morning. I didn’t find her beautiful. But then, there’s that eye of the beholder thing. And maybe the lady found in-person-Bill attractive. He certainly was decent looking, with a sturdy Roman nose and distinguished grey temples, despite being nearly bald. He also looked solidly muscular, as if his past life in the U.S. Navy had taught him how to stay fit.

In time he would call me “a friend” because we got along well together whenever we saw each other. But we never socialized outside the station.

I liked him.

In those early days of my return to NCN, looking for whatever work I could find, Bernie told me about a side job he had in our mutual home town of Philadelphia. As “Bob Weston” he was providing pre-recorded voice tracks for WDVR, whose format was “beautiful music.” That’s a concept a bit like WOND’s “Wonderful Music,” being a total avoidance of rock, Country & Western, jazz, etc. In the New York market WPAT, Paterson, NJ, was doing very well with that idea then. Fundamentally the content was attractive but unobtrusive instrumental versions of pop music standards with few vocals, ideal for background music. Often the selections were not announced. So Bernie’s tracks mostly consisted of station breaks and a few commercials.

He put me in touch with the management at WDVR, telling me that this would be no major source of income; in fact, he was getting $1 per spot (equal to $7.25 in 2012), which meant mostly for commercials; the other tracks had long-lasting lives of their own.

WDVR liked my demo tape, recorded, of course, at WNCN late at night when no one else was there but Bill. I got a slot. As “Gordon Todd” (i.e., sounding a bit like “Gordon Kahn”) my voice tracks hosted Saturday and Sunday morning shows, which didn’t require the usual stuff of weekday mornings, like weather forecasts and time checks. Vene’s Philadelphia family was thrilled (“We listen to you all the time!”).

I stayed on the air there for about 10 months until I no longer was able to record the tracks or use the WNCN studios. I was working for ABC. That big opportunity followed some good times at WQXR and a bad time at WJRZ, Newark, NJ.

 Crossing In The Dark Under the Hudson.

My WHLI and WOND experiences got me some work at WJRZ. By then Les Davis was one of their stars, the third time we’d cross paths, although we barely saw each other and rarely said more than “Hello.”

Eventually Les would show up on WRVR, too, hosting jazz. And he always had name recognition and fame while I was a fringe-faced guy on the fringe.

I had only few stints on WJRZ, a place where the receptionist always answered calls by saying “WJRZ, good radio!” I always replied “And good radio to you, too.”

I wasn’t there long. In July 1965, after what turned out to be my last overnight shift, I went out to the street to get my car to drive back home. The car was gone. I couldn’t believe someone had stolen it. An old Chevy with a multi-colored body. Who would bother?

Walking around the corner to the police headquarters right off Green Street, I reported the crime. Right. My car had been stolen a few doors away from police headquarters.

The police were used to having to deal with car theft. A couple of officers said that somebody had probably taken for it for “a joy ride” and that they’d look into it and get back to me. Then they gave me a lift to a PATH train from which I could get a subway connection home.

A couple of days later they called. They’d found the car. They told me I could pick it up at the Newark storage lot.


Subway to train to taxi to the storage lot. It was in a rundown neighborhood of cracked streets and scruffy buildings. A few intact cars in the front didn’t belie what lay beyond—a grimy, disordered jumble of dented, broken vehicles, strewn around as if dropped wherever there was space.

While I waited for the boss—call him Mike—I noticed the front office had a hand-written sign on which was scrawled, “Anyone showing up late doesn’t work here anymore.”

Grubby-looking, stomach-spilling, shave-needing, sloppily dressed Mike led me to my car. It looked intact. I was relieved. I half-expected to see a dented ruin. There was no key in it, but I had a spare. I put it into the ignition, saying to my beloved car, “Come on. I’ll take you home.”

No motor turned over. Silence. Except for cawing crows flying around the lot. I opened the hood. The battery was gone. So was the radiator. So were other parts. I turned to Mike. “What happened to all the parts?”

“How the fuck would I know?” he snarled.

I felt miserable. His unsympathetic response made it worse. “Can you help me get this towed back to Brooklyn?” I asked. Then he gave me a price which took my breath away, especially when added to what he said I owed for two days of storage.

“But it was stolen,” I said in painful disbelief. “Why do I have to pay for storage? I didn’t authorize you to store it. The police brought it here. I didn’t.”

“That’s not my problem, pal. You want it back? Pay me what you owe for storage, and I’ll see what I can do about giving you a break on a tow. I mean it’s a hell of a long way to Brooklyn.”

I stood there in continuing shock. Did it even make sense to tow home what was left of that beloved car with half the motor gone, its value plummeting into near-junk? I stammered, “But that’s…that’s not fair. Somebody stole it and…”

“You said that already, buddy.”

“Yes. And said that I didn’t ask you to store it. And why is it missing so many parts?”

Mike was getting angry. “Look, pal. I didn’t steal it. It’s not my fault.”

“But why is it missing so many parts?”

“Hold on. Are you saying I took the parts?”

“No. No. I’m just having trouble understanding this whole thing.”

“Yeah. Well, I’m getting tired of this bullshit. What do you want to do with this piece of junk? I haven’t got all day.”

“I need to call my insurance company and have them come over here and take a look at it.”

“And what am I supposed to do in the meantime? Wait until that fucking agent arrives? Look, pay me for a week’s worth of storage now.”

“But it hasn’t been here a week.”

“God damn it! Now I’m getting pissed off. You don’t want to pay me? Then get the hell off my lot before I beat the shit out of you.”

I walked away, leaving behind the ruins of my beloved car, feeling almost as broken as it was.

The next time WJRZ called, I had to turn down the work. No car. But also I wasn’t sure I’d even want to be in that part of Newark again.

By 1967, though, I was able to afford a new Volkswagen Beetle, which is how eventually I got to WPAT. More about that later.

Bites Out of the Apple

Back to New York

I got a teaching job. There was a last-minute opening to teach 5th grade at The Bentley School on Manhattan’s East Side. I was offered a yearly salary of $8,000 (equal to about $36,000 in 2015). Forget New York sustenance.

I was fired five months later.

My experience at The Overseas School had not prepared me for trying to control sometimes spoiled New York City kids from affluent families. Students in Genoa had nowhere else to go. They were on their best behavior. Students in New York private schools had many choices. Competition. Such private schools did everything they could to make sure that the parents got their money’s worth.

I started without any experience in establishing control. On the wrong foot. Moreover, I arrived suffused with European-influenced politeness, devoid of my former New York edge. Certainly that made me appear soft to some kids. Later, though, I was able to frequently take charge. And some students loved me.

My departing letter of reference: “…high ideals…stimulating and challenging…personal integrity.” I had been very creative, innovative, and original. But my imaginative extrapolations from the curriculum got further and further behind the school’s intended schedule.

Moreover, I struck a student. Johnny Callaghan had been one of the most disrespectful and disorderly students in the class. I’d kept him after school more than once, to the dismay of his mother and of school director Katherine Cantwell. The last time he was sequestered, he’d reached over onto my desk and tried to take a pen out of my hand. I slapped his hand. Lightly.

That did it. Gone.

We’d come back to New York so I could get my teaching degree. But during those first five months all my time outside of class was spent preparing the lessons and studying books on how to teach.

Helga’s salary wasn’t enough to sustain us. I needed another job. No time yet to study for a teaching degree.

General Development Corporation was looking for sales people. I applied. The product: land in newly developing communities in Florida. Real properties. In my training class, other candidates were convinced I’d be a success, coming across as outgoing, friendly, fluently verbal. Yeah. I could talk. Never closed a sale.

X Stamper

Next I joined the sales team selling XStampers, a newly emerging self-inking product developed by Shachihata, Inc. at a time when rubber stampers always needed ink pads. My training included a “sure-fire” script. Working my assigned territory, Manhattan businesses north and west of Washington Square, I always felt I could do better improvising on the script. My sales did not flourish.

I got career advice from an unexpected source. A psychic. Via Helga, who’d always given a lot of credence to non-rational experiences, intuition, forms of spirituality, the possibility of the exchange of unspoken thoughts, and so on. To some extent, I shared such beliefs, especially regarding my own intuitions.

Helga had read a New York Times article about this man who’d recently moved to Westchester. Call him Walter Siegmeth. Siegmeth had made it clear that offering psychic readings was his calling and his profession.

Out of curiosity, Helga contacted Siegmeth to make an appointment. Perhaps, if he had insights, those would help us clarify what we were doing with our lives or might do, something we felt we needed to do. Before her visit, she encouraged me to go if her own experience justified the idea. She also planned to deliberately avoid mentioning my name and to say nothing revealing about me. She stuck with her plan and, after her visit, returned impressed.

So I went.

Siegmeth told me that, when he gave readings, they were things that he could sense about people, but that he never intended to project anyone’s future.

While I sat, he paced his living room, twirling what looked like a broken strand of a wire hanger. Among other things, he correctly perceived that I had a serious circulation problem in one of my legs. He didn’t specify what it was. It was postphlebitic syndrome that I’d had for many years. Given that I had never limped or favored that leg, there was no obvious way to intuit that.

Soon he looked puzzled. “You know,” he said, “I cannot tell at all what you do professionally.”

“I’m a salesman,” I told him.

“No. No. You are not a salesman.”

“But, it’s true. That’s what I’m doing these days.”

“I understand. But, even so, you are no salesman.”

He was right there; I was not a success.

“What else have you been doing?” he asked.

“Well, I was a teacher.”

“No. You are also not a teacher.”

I replied, “But I was a teacher and I loved it. ”

“Then why are you not doing it now?”

“I was fired,” was my answer. Upon later reflection, that question made me ask myself why I didn’t keep on trying to be one, if it was so important and meaningful.

“So then, you are not a teacher now. Yes?”


He twirled his wire more. “No. I see you doing something else. Something to do with music.”

Interesting, yes? “I hosted music programs on the radio.”

“Aha!” He said. “Then, why are you not doing that now?’

I explained to him that I felt teaching was more important.

“Forgive me,” he replied, “but I perceive you as belonging with music.” Well, yes. That was my professional past since 1955 and at the core of my being, given my love of music and my family history.

Twirl. “I also see you as some kind of administrator connected with music. Have you ever done that?”


“Yes. Well, I see you writing down a lot of numbers somehow connected with the music. Does that mean anything to you?”

It didn’t. It seemed totally alien.

“You know, it is not my prerogative, nor part of what I do, to tell people how to manage their lives. Perhaps what I see is in your past, of course, but it sounds like that is what you should be doing in any case.”

I left distressed. Not that he was counseling me, or that I needed to take seriously his suggestion. But going back into radio still seemed too insignificant, valueless to society, even if something easy and fun.

A few months later, I went back to WNCN and WQXR. And every day, when I was on the air, I had to write numbers, start times and finish times of music and commercials in the logs and schedules. I used to do that in the 1960s but had forgotten.

A radio performer again.  

Helga and some New York friends had more than once told me that I should return to a radio career. Given Siegmeth’s comments, she had further underscoring.

David Dubal w name

Naturally, I first contacted WNCN’s David Dubal.  He was still the music director. But the word “still” conjures up fascinating events which had occurred while I was in Europe.

For about eight months, WNCN didn’t exist. A rock station took over its frequency. Starr Broadcasting had bought NCN, lock, stock, and frequency in May 1973. Trying to make profits, in 1974 Starr turned it into  WQIV, “Q” for quadrophonic, “IV” Roman numeral “4” for four channels.

Loyal long-time WNCN listeners were up in arms, feeling that New York was being deprived of a major cultural treasure, that WNCN had served different classical music audiences than WQXR, which had always maintained more conservative main-stream programming. Certainly, in my previous days there, WNCN had been different (as you can see above.)

Thus were born the WNCN Listeners Guild and Classical Radio for Connecticut. They raised private funds for a lawsuit against Starr, also taking the issues to the FCC and the U.S. Supreme Court. By then Starr was having problems. The SEC levied heavy fines and censured some principals. Plus a potential buyer challenged the FCC license renewal. Starr flickered and faded and accepted a Guild-engineered offer from GAF Broadcasting.

WNCN returned in June 1975 under owner No. 3, a 20-or-so-year history.

Much of the above information comes from Matt Edwards, who was quite involved with the Listeners Guild. He also is behind the maintenance of, where his writing is full of all kinds of interesting information about the station’s history through its final days in 1994. Another source of clarification:

In fall 1976 I was glad to come back as a part-time substitute announcer, thanks to David. It was a compromise; it meant having decently paying work, even if it was insignificant as a meaningful contribution to society.

The programming had undergone a major change. GAF’s station became much more WQXR-like despite the Listeners Guild’s intentions and wishes. Guided by management, David chose well-known, well-loved compositions. Nothing too modern. Nothing too challenging for the listeners. Accessible. Safe. Some Guild members expressed their displeasure. This was no longer like the last NCN. But there was nothing the Guild could do about it.

And, to increase ratings and keep listeners tuned in, there was an avoidance of modern or experimental music.

Plus no vocals were permitted, meaning no opera arias, no Renaissance songs, no sacred works with singing. There were always listeners who’d complain about what they perceived as annoying screeching.

GS & John Gruen names

Unlike at the previous NCN, none of us on-air hosts chose any music for broadcast. The management wanted total control. That had always been the pattern at QXR and such control has been standard for many years in most commercial radio stations and even in many public ones. The station also published a monthly program guide, Keynote, a classy looking magazine which was a successor to the same-named publication started in the 1960s.

However, station manager Bob Richer and program director Matt Biberfeld wanted all announcers to have a lot of freedom in how they hosted programs and for us to think of ourselves not as announcers but as disc jockeys. Personal, personable, relaxed, casual. For classical music radio that was still rather rare. That, at least, was different from QXR, where only George Edwards and Duncan Pirnie would be considered personalities, albeit, by then, rather predictable and conservative-sounding. Like someone’s uncles. FYI: In 1987 QXR fired them both for “not having enough audience appeal” according to the station. Both filed age-discrimination suits.

Also rare for a classical music station, we were expected to frequently mention the call letters, just as most pop music stations did. QXR didn’t do that. And to repeat the letters whenever or wherever possible. The reason: when telephone ratings surveys were taken, the idea was to imprint the name on the listener, or Arbitron ratings where listeners had to write in the call signs of the stations to which they listened. That’s something wide-spread in radio now, e.g., “Here’s the WNCN weather forecast. “The time at WNCN is 6:46.” “On WNCN, that was Rossini’s Overture to La Gazza Ladra.”

Relief announcer Dick Jayson had trouble with repeating station IDs. In the ’70s he was doing the same sort of thing I’d been doing in the 1960s, filling in on many stations. When he came into the control room he exuded a palpable sense of nervousness. I asked him why. He explained that he was always anxious about giving the wrong call letters on the air, so he wrote down the kinds of things mentioned above and pasted a big handwritten sign on the board with “WNCN 104.3” in bold letters. In truth, giving the wrong call letters is no disaster. I’ve done it a few times, given my vast range of radio hosting. Nonetheless, such a mistake still regularly turns up in my nightmares.

When I first joined NCN, Matt Edwards hosted the Morning Concert, Bob Adams, the Afternoon Concert. Those SOP imaginative program names again. Former stage and movie actor Oscar Buhler was the regular staffer during 6 p.m. to midnight’s various programs. Midnight to 6 a.m. there was “Music Through the Night with Fleetwood,” a continuation of what he had been doing at WNBC for numerous years. Other part-timers and relief announcers regularly included Max Cole, Lucien Ricard, Frank Coffee, and Clayelle Dalferes. (There are multiple references to Matt, Bob, and Max in my pages above about the 1960s.)

In late 1976 Bob Richer fired Bob Adams, dissatisfied with his performance. I took over Afternoon Concert. I was back to full-time radio, despite my reservations about that meaning anything important. Well, yes, it seemed where I belonged. And soon, continually immersed in the kind of music which I loved I was once again delighting in sharing it with audiences.

Then, in the fall of 1977, Matt Edwards quit for personal reasons.

Here we go again. Staff changes in broadcasting. Almost as many turnovers as Pepperidge Farm.

Richer came up with what he thought would be a coup. To replace Matt with BAI’s much-enjoyed and quite-famed Larry Josephson, who loved and broadcasted classical music. That is, when Larry felt like it. His program had always been more personal than anything any of us announcers could do on NCN.

The publicity over Larry’s hiring certainly generated interest. And public dismay. Even before Larry arrived. But his advance reputation as a curmudgeon didn’t help. Classical music listeners tend to prefer sunshine and warmth in the morning. Moreover, being from BAI, there must have been lingering anxiety that Josephson would start advocating the overthrow of commercial broadcasting, popular culture, Jimmy Carter, and the American Way of Life, underscored by readings from Karl Marx.

Larry hosted for one week.

As you can see from what I wrote about him re: the 1960s, he was out of his element. He had to present someone else’s choice of music, provide weather forecasts and time checks (as I had suggested he do back in the 1960s…see above), stick to schedules, read commercials, the standard format for most morning radio. Even the word “format” must have been an anathema. And, apparently, he even derided commercials, on the air.

Listeners had proof of their fears. They called the station. They wrote. They telegrammed. They won.

Bob Richer has since acknowledged his mistake.

Next up on Morning Concert, Bob tried me. Public enthusiasm. Calls. Letters. Telegrams? Nah. People who complain are always more numerous than those who compliment. I became the newest morning star. Jim Pinckney was hired to host Afternoon Concert.

Morning Concert had two parts. Six a.m. to 9 a.m. was basically “morning drive,” i.e., where Josephson stumbled. Nine to noon featured longer pieces.

I decided that I would have as much fun as possible, taking Richer at his word about us as disc jockeys. Why be deadly serious in the rather formal, restrained approach of the time? Certainly QXR’s George Edwards would never dream of making jokes. But plenty of compositions up to the present day are jovial, entertaining, and light-hearted. Back in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, for example, audiences cheered and applauded cadenzas, sometimes stomped for encores between movements, and were rarely as reserved as worshippers in churches. Think of the majority of Baroque music. Or Mozart’s irrepressible sense of humor. Or Strauss polkas.

So I had fun with, e.g., Offenbach’s “Orpheus in His Underwear” Overture, or Spoonerisms, like Handel’s “I Know That My Liver Redeemeth.” Goofy background stories emerged, such as a scherzo (Right. Joke) for piano four hands, me saying that it was for four-handed German virtuoso, Hans Keinfuss. Or reporting that Johann Strauss’s “Wine, Women, and Song Waltz” was a companion piece for his brother Eduard Strauss’s “Bier, Männer, und Schreien” (“Beer, Men, and Yelling.”)

I pointed out that one of Chopin’s Nocturnes was published posthumously, because he had been dead when he wrote it.

7 Veils

On an April Fool’s Day I presented a “very rare” recording of “Salome’s Dance” by Richard Strauss, a.k.a. “Dance of the Seven Veils,” where audiences would be able to hear the dancer. Over an open mike (mine), while Reiner with the Chicago Symphony performed, “Australian exotic dancer Mildred Dawkins” was heard ripping fabric and becoming increasingly out of breath.

We sometimes had Japanese-imported LPs with liner notes entirely in Japanese except for the name of the writer. Calling attention to one such LP’s notes, I observed that Alan Rich wroteこれは素晴らしい記録で, which I “read” in my best John Belushi-like samurai warrior voice. A caller chastised me, saying that I should not have done so, that the Japanese were “a peace-loving people.” Huh?

Certainly, this being New York, sloppy pronunciations of foreign words were a nein-nein. But my alleged Japanese was never criticized as being wrong. Imagine.

Sometimes, incidentally, in 1982, when quoting liner notes on-air I credited them to Hannelore Rogers instead of the actual writer. We were dating at the time. Later we married. Much later, she actually wrote liner notes.

Since NCN catered to knowledgeable, sophisticated listeners, I also decided to invent a cataloguer of works by Vivaldi, Baroque compositions being a staple of non-threatening music. His concertos have been ubiquitous on accessible classical music stations. I wanted to see if I could put one over on a Vivaldi nerd. And I did.

Vivaldi  was rather casual, even disorganized, about dating or otherwise identifying what he wrote. No opus numbers, which was not unusual in his day. Given more than 500 concertos, it became difficult to be precise about them, especially given that there are multiple works in the same key for the same solo instruments. Musicologists have delighted in creating their own catalogs, most prominently Marc Pincherle’s “P” number, Antonio Fanna’s “F,” and Peter Ryom’s “RV.”

I added “S” for Sondaggio, as a person’s name. Sondaggio is actually an Italian word meaning “search.” The numbers I used were record company catalog numbers.

Eventually, I landed a fish. There was a fascinated phone inquiry about Sig. Sondaggio. I replied that I had met that remarkable scholar while living in Italy and that he came up with a fool-proof system which he permitted me to use. The caller wanted a copy of the catalog but I demurred, explaining that I had only one, on very frail onion skin paper and didn’t want to let it out my sight. Disappointed, he hung up. And then he called back a few months later to say that l had given the same “S” number to two entirely different works. And to express his doubt about the whole idea. Perhaps Sondaggio had made a mistake, I suggested. “Are you sure you’re not making this up?” he asked, dismayed. I reassured him that it was genuine and he never called again. He was the only one who took the bait.

Every hour from 6 to 9 a.m., David Dubal deliberately programmed at least one extremely popular and familiar piece; I’d call attention to it by calling it a “Classical Hit” and then ding a nearby metal lamp with a pen.

During nine to noon, with my more free time between selections, I’d copy recorded promotions for upcoming syndicated national/international orchestra programs and then dub, edit, and re-use conductors’ comments, such as Carlo Maria Giulini talking about words Beethoven wrote on one of his scores, Giulini saying, “What is meaning? Is a mystery. Can we say this is great music? Yes. Is.” Transposed to “This is great music? Is a mystery.” It aired occasionally after pieces I thought trivial.

Although, inevitably, there was pleasure listening to, or at least overhearing good classical music, there were duties. For example, giving traffic and transit reports during drive time. We had no one on the streets calling in, but doing my own research was not required. Biberfeld felt that we needed to give listeners a sense of what was happening, so that they’d stay tuned and not seek truly useful information at “all-news” WINS or WCBS. All I had to do was call New York City Police’s Traffic Control Division and get some kind of report twice each hour. Not to overburden me, given that I was already announcing, running the equipment, monitoring volume, taking hourly remote transmitter readings, searching liner notes for informative supplemental comments, ripping copy from the AP news printer, assembling and editing the copy for broadcast, writing everything in the log and cleaning LPs (see below.) Thus I had friendly daily phone connections with Sergeant Tom Washington at Traffic Control.

Early on, Washington told me that he got his information from listening to WINS (“All News, All the Time. You give us 22 minutes; we’ll give you the world.”). Fine by me.

On a Tuesday ca. 7:22 a.m., Tom told me that nothing was happening. I didn’t believe it. New York on a workday morning? I didn’t say so to him; in my next on-air report, I announced that Sergeant Washington of the City’s Traffic Control Division said that there were no problems. Whoops! At my subsequent call he sounded truly nervous. “Hang on, Gordon! Hang on! I’ll get something,” he said. Clearly word had gotten back to him about my mentioning him on the air. Thereafter he always had some kind of information. Was it accurate? Up to the minute? Who cares? We’d both done our duty.

Being up to the minute also meant giving weather forecasts and time checks. One morning an angry caller said, “What the hell’s wrong with you? You said it was 6:41! It was 7:41!” To which I replied, “I don’t get your problem. You knew what time it was.” Later that morning, Richer told me that he had been the caller. Not angry. We both let it pass.

Actually, answering the phone while on the air was not required. But we did it sometimes.

Speaking of time, the station format at the new NCN much resembled that of QXR. All programs were broken up into hourly segments. Certainly that made sense during drive time when we had to prepare and read wire news copy at 6, 7, 8, and 9 a.m. But not at 10 or 11 a.m., for example. And Jim didn’t have newscasts at 12, 1, 2, or 3. At the previous NCN, we had longer works lapping over the top of the hour, say a 25-minute piece starting at 12:50. And that was a much better idea; it served the music, instead of serving the format.

This hourly format exists today in many stations and still makes no sense. It means that music directors have to squeeze everything into hourly bites. And being a commercial station means having enough breaks between pieces to fit in commercials, i.e., requiring time for non-music. Since no NCN announcer was permitted to do any programming, the way to fill a rare shortage of music was with extra talk. Easy.

But, if something were to run over that was a problem. We had found solutions for such problems. For example, we’d delete a movement from a baroque concerto. Who’d notice? Or we’d skip a section from a ballet suite, etc. But sometimes there was only one option: make the tone arm jump while playing the LP, by tapping the turntable, or banging on the counter next to it and then fade down the music and re-set the tone arm further in. (This bounces back into memories of my overnight show on an even earlier NCN in 1958 when opening a drawer under the turntable. See above.) Yes. We did that. Who came up with the idea? No idea. The practice was already on-going when I joined the staff.

Another responsibility was to “cushion” intense, recorded, ad agency commercials whose aggressive productions were deemed insufficiently civilized to be heard immediately within earshot of classical music. Sure, NCN was a commercial station, but management was sensitive to criticism. So we announcers had to make sure that we sandwiched such spots in between more restrained ones, read by us live or ad agency-generated. In fact, early in my years there, Richer had even asked such agencies if they would allow us to read the copy instead of having to broadcast their productions. After being turned down too often, he felt that he couldn’t pass up the revenue.

Richer was truly a hands-on station manager. He had to be. Commercial success depended on him. NCN had never made a true profit in all of its 20 years, regardless of management. That may have accounted for his seeming edgy much of the time. His demeanor felt different than Stan Gurell’s at the 45th Street NCN. Gurell often came across as congenial.

Of course, GAF had put a lot of money into this new version of the station, just around the corner from the last one. 1180 Avenue of the Americas. It didn’t look radically different. But daylight streamed through windows; the previous NCN had been encased by walls and hallways. Yet, although the new offices were larger, nothing seemed stylishly modern.

Clearly, a hell of a lot of money had gone into the sound quality of broadcasts. Audio engineer Dick Sequerra had been hired—and paid handsomely—to design everything in the on-air studio and all the equipment that it needed for maximum high-fidelity. Sequerra had been a designer for Marantz electronics, producers of high-end audio equipment, and had his own company as well.

The on-air studio felt like a sacred inner sanctum. One entered through a door leading to a slightly upward-inclined hallway to a second door. The studio was actually suspended above the floor underneath and supported by pads to eliminate any vibrations from the street or the subway below the building.

Once the building got a serious bomb threat, not against us specifically, but we were all warned to evacuate. I was on the air at the time. I chose to stay. Not only to be defiant, but I also felt that the way the studio was suspended and cushioned, I was entirely safe. There was no bomb, by the way.

Monks cleaner w name

The studio didn’t look unusual. Except for two extra turntables not next to the board. They didn’t play LPs; they cleaned them on a Keith Monks machine.  We had to clean every record before it aired. This meant that the first turntable’s tone-arm circulated water-dampened, groove-sized threads into the LP at high speed, and then the second one’s threads dried the grooves. Fastidious attention.

Two massive speakers loomed against a wall facing the console. When Richer would bring in visitors he’d often point with pride at such equipment, calling attention to the cost. At times, he did so while I sat there at the console, unacknowledged. I’d identify myself, pointing out that I operated this magnificence and that, jovially, of course, there was some cost for my services.

All of us had AFTRA union contracts. Never having discussed the amount with any of the staff, it was never clear if everyone got paid the minimum required as I did. In 1977 that was $27,000 a year (in 2015 = $109,000). Although we were union members, we rarely concerned ourselves with issues or contractual digressions. This was not the same as how QXR felt back in the ’60s (see above); QXR was part of The New York Times, a thoroughly unionized operation. Moreover, QXR announcers were among that rare breed who didn’t run their own equipment while on the air. Union engineers’ duties included lowering tone arms on LPs, moderating the music volume on-air, and opening and monitoring what announcers said on microphones.

I had been an AFTRA member as far back as the early ’60s and had seen the benefits whenever I’d subbed at QXR. There was good pay and there were good ancillary benefits, such as some medical insurance. I always took pride in being a member of the union all through the years and was an active participant in national and local union meetings, mingling with celebrities far better known than I but feeling like an equal.

Come 1979, GAF’s contract with us was due for renewal. Bob Adams had been the last shop steward. No one had volunteered to replace him. But that role needed filling when the contract issue emerged. I volunteered to be steward, which was to everyone’s relief; they didn’t want the responsibility nor the risk of seeming militant.

Not that this meant that I was in charge of anything or a labor organizer. The steward linked the staff and the union, making personal decisions, but might be called upon to talk to management on behalf of the staff or the union.

I called a 1978 meeting for the announcers to collectively decide what we wanted in our new contract, which I would then convey to AFTRA. Other than more pay, we wanted little else, except maybe time-and-a-half for working holidays or getting compensatory days off. AFTRA’s Irv Lewis worked on our behalf and advised us that getting raises plus that time-and-a-half deal might not be easy. The negotiations stretched out for many months. Ultimately we got slight raises plus an agreement about the time-and-a-half, with neither Richer nor us becoming combative.

During that same year, Richer called us four full-timers together to talk about some “really bad news.” First and foremost, bad news for him and GAF. The National Labor Relations Board had ruled on the AFTRA/Bob Adams suit about his firing and ruled against GAF. “So we have to take Bob back,” Richer said, clearly dismayed. “This is a problem; we only have slots for four full-timers, so I have to let one of you go. Gordon, you were the last one hired, so, I’m sorry, but we can’t afford to keep you on full-time staff.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; this was more astonishing than threatening. How could Bob think he’d get away with it? AFTRA would have instantly contested a dismissal without cause, especially due to my being shop steward. Maybe he thought I’d not contest what he said. But I did. “Bob,” I replied, “Jim was the last one hired.” Sitting there, Jim was clearly distressed.

Richer looked even more dismayed. “OK. Sorry, Gordon. My mistake. I’ll have to think this over. Jim, you can stay for now.”

Of course, Richer must have known that Jim was most recently hired. And he couldn’t find any other way to justify dropping me. Certainly he wouldn’t have dared to get rid of Jim. Jim was Black; it would look like racism. Who knows? Maybe Jim and AFTRA would have filed suit over that.

Pinckney remained. And two weeks later, Bob Adams returned to WNCN, but not as a program host. He was given a news shift with no connection to the music, which he loved as much as we all did. We had no regular on-air news reader; we had always assembled and read the newscasts ourselves. Bob was also given a special schedule: Wednesday through Sunday 4 a.m. to 10 a.m., i.e,. no weekends off. The dark hours of the dawn. Clearly this was meant to make him dislike the job so much that he’d give up and quit. He didn’t quit while I was at NCN. I’ve since learned that he was even hosting Music Through the Night, according to Keynote in 1984. Where was Fleetwood then? I have no idea. An on-line obituary says that Harry continued on NCN with Music Through the Night into the late ’80s. Bob died, by the way, in 2010 at the age of 92.

Some incidental moments:

I’ve since learned from Bob Richer, with whom I’ve become friendly, that Fleetwood liked to turn off all the lights in the offices and hallways and leave on only a tiny lamp next to the console. Harry had contended that the VU meters gave him all the illumination he needed. And evidently, he occasionally took timed short naps. But how long could they have been? Maximum: one side of an LP, i.e., approximately 25 minutes at most. Back in my early NCN days, we’d had as much as an hour, given those long tapes. Now that was a real nap.

There was an announcers-only utilitarian bathroom which was immediately outside the Master Control entrance. It had a toilet and a sink, so that an announcer could rush and flush quickly when needed. There was no other facility in the offices, which meant the rest of the staff had to take a long walk past all the desks to a hall in the building. Couldn’t the big budget have afforded something more convenient? Staffers, of course, would yearn to use what was more readily available, the announcer’s perk. Once, while I was in there, a couple of the women knocked on the door hoping for access, as if I’d been there too long, meowing like kittens. I opened the door, pants on the floor, and said “Be right out.” They dispersed.

Pleasures and perks

Beverly Sills w name

In 1980 I became friendly with Beverly Sills and a number of stars from New York City Opera. Bob Richer had developed a new close relationship with the Opera, further enhancing our reputation on the New York classical music scene. We program hosts went on the air with interviews and conversations with company members, broadcasting from the New York State Theatre, helping to pitch subscriptions in Operathons, events similar to now-current public broadcasting stations’ on-air fund drives. Thus we felt close to the people at the Opera, including Sills, who had just become the company’s new general manager. Bob had proposed the tie to Peter Sharp, president of the Opera. They worked out a deal for NCN to broadcast Opera performances and syndicate them. Subsequently, the Operathons repeated for several years.

As an outgrowth of that, we also fielded a softball team (“The Brahms Bombers”) to play against an Opera team in Central Park. The NCN staff was certainly much smaller than theirs; we might have had, maximum, 15 employees. I played, but the station turnout was small; we were able to field only eight players. So, the Opera team lent us some ringers. Of course, they had plenty of people with athletic abilities. Think of stagehands, for example. The Opera team was so eager to play that, at one point, an umpire had to stop the game; the Bombers had 13 people on the field, of whom five weren’t us. The Opera won, of course, especially due to two home runs by Sam Ramey, in both cases when the bass emptied loaded bases.

NCN was certainly doing well by then, sometimes surpassing QXR in the ratings. Sometimes they were slightly on top. Not that there were major differences. Together we had only a fraction of a market as big as New York’s. But under Richer’s guidance and Biberfeld’s, as well as with true PR savvy, we were taken seriously. This was certainly different from the days of a niche audience, albeit truly devoted, in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Corigliano w name

We got major coverage in the classical music world when, April 21st, 1982 we had a four-hour live broadcast featuring as guests and performers, Aaron Copland, John Corigliano, Morton Gould, Ruth Laredo, Vincent Persichetti, Ned Rorem, Virgil Thomson, Eugenia Zukerman, and more. Beverly Sills was there, of course, along with NYC Opera’s Carol Vaness and Alan Titus singing selections by Bizet and Gounod. There was also a reception at the station for the broadcast connecting it to inaugurating a new studio from which we could broadcast live performances, as we did that day. Beautiful, expensive sound-proofing, of course.

By then, NCN was finally making some real money. At the end of 1981, we’d celebrated the first year ever when the station had made a genuine profit, 25 years after the station went on the air. Each of us got a commemorative marble and brass paper weight inscribed “With thanks for your help.”

Walking into that new studio, separating myself from the milling, jolly guests sipping champagne and nibbling hors d’oeuvres, having glad-handed many and received lots of compliments for my expertise, I saw an elderly, balding man sitting all by himself. No one else there. He looked forlorn, so I wanted to cheer him up. “Mr. Thomson,” I said, “I’m so glad to meet you and see you here.”

“I’m Aaron Copland,” he said gently. So much for my expertise.

It’s actually contradictory that we had those contemporary composers as our guests, since GAF’s NCN avoided broadcasting programming contemporary music for fear of turning off listeners, turning their dials elsewhere. I’m sure David had never scheduled any of Ned Rorem’s beautiful songs, for example; music emanating from singers’ lips would never be allowed to cross that audience’s ears.

In the Science Network days David and all of us had been deeply involved in airing music of our time, and he had had many connections with such composers. No wonder the Listeners Guild was stirred to get NCN back on the air, and no wonder they were distressed that the content had been so down-sized into easily accessible listening.

Wuorinen w name

Sure, at the latest incarnation of the station, we often aired interviews with such major living members of the concert music world, even as we had done in the late ’60s and early ’70s. We just didn’t air their music. In one such interview with Charles Wourinen, I asked how he felt about such an absence of his compositions on NCN. He replied that meant people would be stimulated to go hear it live.

When I met Corigliano in 2015, discussing the reception 33 years ago, I hadn’t remembered that he had been at that 1982 event. He also told me that he’d been the Music Director at WBAI in the early 1960s and had likewise participated in the War and Peace reading project. When talking about the Wourinen interview, I actually had forgotten with whom it had been, telling Corigliano about the above comment. “Yeah, that had to have been Charlie Wourinen.” I was shocked. How did he figure that out? “That’s the kind of thing he would say.”

Throughout all of those years, it was great to feel so much a part of New York’s classical music life, to even feel significant in my own way, not as some kind of minor celebrity, but more part of a community, as if we were equals.


Moreover, ever since my first days at NCN, I was regularly offered free tickets to theatre and concerts or was given them when they had been requested. That was marvelous. Example: One day I was presenting music from Khachaturian’s ballet Spartacus, music which, incidentally, I admired. Saying so on the air I mentioned equal admiration for the movie, and how it had marked the return of blacklisted screen writer Dalton Trumbo, adding that equally disgraced Howard Fast deserved much credit for the great book on which the script was based. A few days thereafter a package arrived at the station from Fred Bass at Union Square’s famed Strand Bookstore. He’d sent a copy along of the book, autographed by Fast.  

Another time a package containing eight bottles of Martini & Rossi vermouth was sent to me, after I’d been reading live copy for the product on the air. Who sent it? No idea. I gave away all but two bottles to other people at the station.

Station Number 16

In May of 1982 someone had posted an ad from Broadcasting Magazine. The classical music radio station in Albuquerque, KHFM, was looking to hire a morning program host who would also be chief announcer. New Mexico! I’d seen it and loved it when, as a vacation in the summer of 1977, I had driven that far west, camping in my new VW van (a descendant of my cherished European one). I was enchanted by The Land of Enchantment. The dramatic vast spaces, the beautiful spacious skies, the purple mountain majesties, such a compelling contrast to the tight little island of Manhattan. I had yearned to live in New Mexico, but couldn’t think of how to do it.

This was the chance. No second thoughts. No doubts. I knew that they were bound to be impressed; I was a New York classical music radio host.

By then, Helga and I had split. I had been living alone in Manhattan, on East 46th Street in a tiny, expensive one-room apartment (rent of $475 a month or $1,465 in 2016). A ten-minute walk to NCN. And I’d fallen in love with Hannelore Rogers, a rare, lively, intelligent woman who’d done something rare—written me a fan letter. Classical d.j.s didn’t get them often. When I told her that I was going to look into the job, she was truly distressed. She loved New York, having lived there less than two years.

I applied. After hearing my air-check audition tape, KHFM invited me to come for an interview, paying for the flight and hotel room. I was offered the job at a much lower salary than I was earning at NCN—$32,000 a year (ca. $80,000 in 2015).* KHFM offered me $18,000 (ca. $45,000 in 2015). Of course, I knew that living costs in Albuquerque were radically lower than those in New York, but I didn’t think that that was enough, never letting on that living in New Mexico would have been my joy at any price. I asked for $22,000 ($55,000 in 2015). They thought it over. One day later we had an agreement.

*Above I pointed out that in 1977 at $27,000 a year the 2015 equivalent was $109,000. This reflects the constantly changing fluctuation of the dollar’s value in different years.

Hannelore had traveled with me. She was offered a job working for the same man who was one of two major owners of KHFM. Bill Weinrod, also the executive administrator of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. She was hired as marketing and development director, a new position at the Symphony, then undergoing expansion in an improving local economy. We moved into a small adobe-like house (i.e., it was made of cinder blocks but had a shape designed to look like a characteristic adobe house). We did not marry. Yet.

My final performance on NCN was on July 30th 1982.

There we go again. In and out. In and out. In and out. My 12 collective years at WNCN had been in small increments, about three years starting in 1959 (fired), about four years starting in 1967 (quit), about five years starting in 1976 (quit).

And during those final five, inevitably, there were changes in the NCN staff: Bob Adams, fired. Matt Edwards, quit. Larry Josephson, hired and fired. Jim Pinckney, hired. Bob Adams, rehired. Gordon Spencer, quit. Six realignments. Broadcasting.

Coming to think about it, I had few roots. Starting in childhood, relocating was a regular part of my history. No surprise that as an actor I wasn’t sure who I was (see above). By the time I left WNCN I’d moved from 17 homes.

KHFM letters

There’s no question that shifting from New York to Albuquerque seemed like a radical change. A welcome one. Plenty of gorgeous sky rarely impeded by tall buildings. To the east there were unobstructed views of the glorious Sandia Mountains, glowing deep violet in the evening. The air felt fresh. And traffic noise, such as I heard constantly outside the midtown Manhattan apartment I’d just left, was minimal.

I’d often wanted out of New York ever since returning seven years before. Not that I’d not had a great life there then, but always earnestly, constantly yearning to be closer to nature and away from the inevitable pressures endemic to New York.

As for being a performer, I thoroughly enjoyed having programs on WBAI and producing jazz shows for Italian radio. But, on a day-to-day basis, most of the time I was just making the best of the WNCN full-time position. Making the best wasn’t enough.

Mike Langner w name

Thus, when interviewed for KHFM, I told Bill Weinrod and station manager Mike Langner that I wanted to be able to do my own programming for the morning show.

We discussed the obvious limitations, e.g., no difficult modern music. No non-classical music. But it was OK, for example, to present some singing. They agreed.

Two layers of freedom. Magnificent.


The station was a self-contained one-story cinder block building, on a small side street, the transmitter tower looming above and behind it. 5900 Domingo Road. (Incidentally, in 2015, a drive-by revealed that the building had become a private home. With the tower still standing. KHFM had become part of multi-station ownership at 4125 Carlisle Boulevard sharing the space with, as far as I could tell, three other stations.)

On the first day walking into 1982 KHFM, I’d brought an umbrella; the skies suggested rain. The receptionist, Shirley Davis, laughing, found it funny because, she said, it never seriously rained there.

Shirley’s desk in the reception area faced large plate glass windows looking out to the unassuming street with its modest ranch style houses and a few scruffy trees. The on-air studio, just off that, had a window looking out to a sandy, stony yard on a small street perpendicular to Domingo Road. Offices were on two sides of the building, between which was an open space with more stones and sand. The only other special feature of the building was a dusty back room with wooden shelves holding a major array of tubes, dusty discarded turntables, miles of electrical cords and cables, and other equipment about which I knew little. An echo of 1959 NCN at the top of The Pierre hotel, especially given that Mike’s major background was as a broadcast engineer just as had been Dave Passell’s.

Charlie Maldonado was the program director. Given that Bill and Mike had agreed to programming freedom, I had been told to check with Charlie if some choices might be questionable. I rarely consulted him. Neither he nor Mike were likely to question Bill’s decisions. Probably they wouldn’t dare; he was a co-owner. Life in that part of New Mexico seemed to lack the tension and competitiveness of back east. Easy-going.

My show aired from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. I had to arrive by 4:30 to turn on the transmitter and prepare a wire-copy newscast. A throw-back of 27 years to WFLN. Given the size of Albuquerque and environs it wasn’t necessary to have traffic reports. KOB’s morning-drive and afternoon-drive pop music shows covered that.

My last newscast was at 9:00 a.m. And most Monday mornings members of the staff were laughing loudly outside the not-well-sound-proofed studio door. They weren’t guffawing over international disasters or tragic current events. They were at the weekly staff meetings. Early on, I mentioned the problem to Mike. Characteristically he said that he would take care of it. Note the word “would.” It was equal to another phrase: “Yes. We could do that.” Implication: it’s not urgent and worth thinking about. Quasi-italiano. Soon I tried to take care of it myself by stuffing a crumpled newspaper under the door. It made no difference. Eventually, after repeated requests, Mike added some thick felt to the bottom of the door. It made no difference either.

As in the past at WNCN and WBAI, my show was about the music not about me. Programming choices covered all periods from Renaissance to modern, as long as they were accessible. Parts of ballet scores. Symphony movements (provided they were scherzos, or nocturnes, or not something marked allegro or adagio, etc.; that was my own musicological fastidiousness). Piano pieces. String quartet movements. Guitar pieces. Choral works. Symphonic movie music. Art songs, primarily featuring baritones, although when on occasion presenting a woman singing I’d issue a “soprano alert,” tapping a lamp, just as I had done for NCN’s classical hits. I loved every minute. Oddly, there were few listener complaints.

Certainly my music choices were quite varied and unconventional as compared to, say QXR’s and NCN’s. More than once, Sales Manager Roxanne Allen would mention her concerns during management meetings. She said she could have trouble with sponsors if they heard something they didn’t like. Not that she ever mentioned specific examples where someone declined to advertise with us due to the music. In any case, neither Mike nor Charlie ever suggested that I program differently.

I tried not to talk too much or too long, a carry-over from NCN and QXR. And rarely spoke about myself. However, there were occasional short conversations with unusual studio visitors whom I made up and personified with character voices. Bill, Mike, and Charlie had no problem with that. The prized New Yorker had almost carte blanche.

Thus I exchanged niceties with motherly Cockney cleaning lady Flora. Was halted in my tracks by an Italian couple disagreeing about the weather, in Italian, untranslated. Texan Merle Noir (merle noir in French means blackbird) would stop by to deliver dairy products. There was commentary about the music by stuttering, happily enthusiastic Clove Parnes, whose speaking style was inspired by my encounters with Clive Barnes at WQXR. And there were fake ski reports by Jean-Claude Silly.

Once Jean-Claude reported on the ski area in Los Alamos. There was a real one called Pajarito, but in the 1980s it seemed to be out-of-the-way and under-publicized. In fact, it was known then to have very few lifts. This suggested that visitors were discouraged and that the area was primarily for residents. Or as if it were top secret, Los Alamos being principally a government town, famed for work on atomic bombs.

Jean-Claude said that he had trouble finding the ski area because there were no signs pointing the way and street names were almost non-existent. Those he could find seemed to be numbered in code. And when he asked people for directions, they whispered unintelligibly. He thought that he’d found it near a statue of J. Robert Oppenheimer wearing dark glasses and pointing toward the sky. But it turned out that that was at a trash dump full of shredded paper. Finally, J-C. was invited into someone’s house, after he had signed a three-page document vowing secrecy. And, as he looked out of the occupants’ plate glass window, he could see a bunch of children skiing. He was told that that was the place he was looking for. This may seem like a lot of talk, but he gave this report in installments one February morning. Listener response: none. Not even from Los Alamos.

Having to be on duty only four-and-a-half hours, I sometimes had the freedom to use the recording studio wherein I created short comic productions, each no longer than about three minutes. One item was A James K. Polk Portrait, a send-up of Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. My version set to music by Jerome Moross from the movie The Big Country.

“James K. Polk was the 11th President of the United States of America. Born November 2, 1795, in a  log cabin in North Carolina. And this is what he said, this is what James K. Polk said: ‘Don’t light a match mother or the house will burn down.’ James K. Polk studied the law at age 23 in a Nashville office. And this is what he said, this is what James K. Polk said: ‘I must have a pen. This pencil is broken.’ James K. Polk stood five feet two inches in his stocking feet. And this is what he said, this is what James K. Polk said: ‘Sarah, where are my shoes?’ James K. Polk never carried a pistol in the White House. And this is what he said, this is what James K. Polk said: ‘My servant George always carries my gun.’”

Whiiting Coffee

There was a report from Vienna by investigative reporter Herbert von Holznagel, who, speaking with a German accent, reported on a recently unearthed tool shed once used by Beethoven. Herbert rattled around all the clinking objects in the station’s back room discovered fascinating things, such as a piece of parchment covered with ink blots which looked like a trail of blood or maybe they were blood which looked like ink blots, an unfinished sausage sandwich on seeded rye where the mustard had dried out, and many pounds of ground coffee which he touched to get a sound like rustling straw. The last item was a send-up of what was actually in the station’s back room. KHFM had a trade deal with coffee roaster/seller Norman Whiting, which meant for one daily no-cost commercial the station got one free bag of coffee. Shirley would go once a week to Norman’s and come back with seven bags. She stored them in the uninsulated back room. The coffee dried out under the southwest sun’s heat in about 10 minutes.

Once I created a fake radio commercial touting a film called Oberheim (the name of an electronic audio synthesizer). In it a kid, Bobby, was passionately in love with his computer. In the 1980s it was already possible to own a personal one. Bobby didn’t want to leave his bedroom; the computer was jealous of any other relationships and spoke with Bobby with a whiny, high-pitched voice. “Starring Richard Burton as a talking fireplace.” Here I dubbed in Burton saying “…they do hear some sub-human monster yowling at him from inside,” dialogue from an LP promoting the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Obviously I was having fun. I recall few listener responses. Except once Mike took issue over my fake interview with a dopey basketball player who, I said, was from New Mexico A & M. The 6 foot 11 player was trying to figure out how many points he scored in the last game and couldn’t do the math. Mike said I shouldn’t have insulted A & M that way. But there was no A & M. Turned out that there used to be, many years before; but the name had been changed in 1960 to New Mexico State. Obviously some people remembered the bygone name.

As chief announcer I had few duties other than to sometimes find replacements for on-air shifts by calling a few volunteers we had. I did train everyone to frequently mention the call letters as we had done at WNCN. Plus I wanted them to talk a little about the music, suggesting they quote or use a sentence or two for the liner notes. Dave Fisher, a volunteer program host, a kindly local auto repair mechanic who loved music and had some understanding of it, had trouble with that idea. Probably he was not comfortable having to ad-lib. He demurred, saying “I thought that the music was the most important thing,” meaning to let the music speak for itself. To which I countered, “Right. But it’s not the only important thing. And talking about it shows how important it is.” He struggled for a while trying to do it right. I never criticized; he got better in time.

Mike eventually brought in a young woman, almost a girl, named Suzanne Bernadette. She had been a member of the congregation at Hoffmantown Baptist Church, and that’s where they’d met. Evidently he thought that it would be good to have someone so young on the air. Suzanne always sounded innocent when announcing. However, I lamented to him one day that I couldn’t get her to stop deleting slow middle movements from some Baroque concertos—she claiming that doing so kept everything more lively. That maybe she would listen to him and correct the practice. He replied that he thought that was a clever idea. I also tried to change something else she did: constantly promoting the next piece to follow a commercial break “after I return.” I pointed out that the commercials were part of the program as much as she was. Mike saw nothing wrong with that either. She was his protégé, I guess, and she could do no wrong.

This is one of several times in those years when I expressed perhaps unwelcome opinions to Mike. Perhaps they seemed as if I was being critical. Maybe I couldn’t disguise my underlying attitude. Having been a New Yorker for the previous seven years or so, I was trying my best to seem accommodating and less impulsive. I’m sure that over time, I got better at it, but being outspoken was most likely too direct for New Mexico culture. I tried applying Italy-learned ways of being indirect, but don’t think I always succeeded.

My attitude toward Mike probably showed. I had trouble with his too-easy agreeability with everyone and everything. He didn’t conform to my conception of station management.

In time I learned that his major qualification for running the station was due to an incredible ability to come up with solutions to technical and engineering problems; he often invented unconventional, inexpensive fixes, a sort of duct-tape approach. It turned out that he was known all over New Mexico radio for such special talents.

He told a story about himself, having been called by an engineer at KRST to try to solve a transmitter problem. The engineer told Mike that a switch repeatedly kept getting stuck and that the engineer had tried everything he could think of. But despite considerable knowledge and skill, nothing corrected the problem. “Mike,” he said, “I know this won’t make sense, but, could I hold up the phone near the transmitter for you to say something? Maybe just hearing your voice would make it work.” Mike thought the idea was funny, but having understood the details of the problem, he replied, “Well, it’s worth a try. Move the switch down and up again.” The engineer did so. It worked.

Roger Melone w name

The on-air staff included gentle, unassuming, sweet Don Hoyt, who, being bald and chubby, seemed much older than I, but probably wasn’t. Don loved classical music and knew a lot about it. He was also a member of Roger Melone’s New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Don had one “defect.” Living alone as he did, he must not have taken good care of his clothes. He often smelled as if they needed a thorough washing. The effect seemed to be the reason that at choral concerts people seemed to never stand directly next to him, as if leaving spaces on either side.

KHFM had a Saturday night jazz show from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. hosted by young volunteer Rick Fletcher. Every so often, I’d listen to hear how he was doing it. After a few months, I noticed that he regularly would give obviously wrong information, such as who the soloists or what the titles of the music were.

One evening he aired what sounded like Billie Holiday at a studio rehearsal. She talked to the musicians, made suggestions, ran over a few bars. It was more talk than music. But worse, she seemed off-mike; the sound was execrable. Rick let it play for half an hour. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t notice how bad it was and let it run so long.

I asked Don Hoyt about Rick, since they had known each other for a long time. They also had a mutual friend named Marsha. Evidently Rick was having an affair with her. She was married and in the NMSO Chorus. She and Rick apparently had telephone liaisons during the jazz show. Moreover, I learned that Rick always appreciated listener calls while he was on the air and encouraged them.

Being chief announcer I asked him to meet me to discuss what I thought was wrong with his performance, telling him that he had to pay more attention to what he was broadcasting, citing some of his obvious errors with information. He said he would try to do better. But for the next couple of months nothing changed.

Mike Langner agreed that Rick wasn’t very good at hosting the show, but didn’t want us to stop broadcasting jazz. So I told him that I would take over the program, although that was not the reason for my wanting Rick to leave. It was not an ideal choice; it meant having to give up late Saturday evenings, despite my love of that music. Even with initial reluctance, the re-connection with jazz was great.

Soon I also noticed that on many of the station’s LPs there were tiny little numbers in pen next to some of the track listings. They were dates. Bill Weinrod not long thereafter told me that he used to play those records when he had the jazz program. He’d given it up to have more free time. He wrote the dates so as to make sure he didn’t play the same selections too often and too soon.

Weekdays at 9:05 a.m., after my newscast, we aired a nationally highly popular syndicated program Adventures in Good Music, hosted by genial Karl Haas. We had started carrying it on WNCN in 1970.

Some NCN listeners and staff had felt that it was too simplistic and that Haas talked down to audiences. Certainly it didn’t appeal to some musically more sophisticated people. Bill Weinrod felt that way, too. But he didn’t want to interfere with KHFM programming. As a spot-commercial carrier it was as successful as anything else on the station. Personally, I felt that New Mexico was more fertile ground for Haas’s concept, presumably being less discriminating than New Yorkers. Not that I listened to those broadcasts that time around either. Yet, at that stage of my maturity, I was more accepting.

We hosted one of his concert/lectures in November 1985. That weekend he came to the studios to record one of his broadcasts, beginning by choosing some of our LPs to use. Clearly he didn’t need a script. Then he went into the recording studio where Cindy Abrams produced the program for him. Cindy later told me that Haas had placed a clammy hand on one of her legs, but that she gently removed it and that was that. He was about 72. She in her early 30s.

I also used the recording studio to produce and tape my jazz shows for RAI, those I had started in New York, then called Jazz da New York, renamed Jazz con Gordon. Although I was well-paid, I tried to save money by not buying new tape, and took some I found on shelves in several places, including the back room. Since many reels were not full, I’d splice together what I needed. Some already had splices. Not all of the tape was the same brand or of the same formula, or of identical colors, but I didn’t know that much about tapes and had thought that they were all the same. Which is to say that, in trying to save money, I was probably producing programs whose sound quality was not the best or uniform, especially if some of what I used had been stored in KHFM’s hot, uninsulated back room.

In any case, about a year after I had been sending my KHFM-produced shows to New York, RAI’s Carla Verdacci contacted me to say that they decided to drop the program, especially since I was no longer in New York. Some years later, I became convinced that the sound of the tapes themselves was not consistently of the best quality and that that was the reason for dropping the show.

Neal+Stulberg w name

Of course, KHFM, Albuquerque’s only classical music station, had a strong connection to the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. No surprise either, given that Bill Weinrod was a major station owner as well as executive administrator of the Symphony. This meant that we carried promotional programs featuring interviews with visiting conductors and soloists, along with other features, such as those with Music Director Neal Stulberg as host. Plus commercials. Written by Hannelore. Announced and produced by me. In the same recording studio. Later, even after I’d been fired (see below), I still used the studio for such productions.

Given the relationship with the NMSO, we attended all the concerts plus many social events, becoming friends especially with Bill and his wife Kate. We spent many times together in mutual homes hosting meals, or going to concerts, movies, and the theatre together. We also became close with Resident Conductor Roger Melone, as well as Neal Stulberg and his wife Leah Shamoon. We kept up regular contact all with of them for many years after moving away.