By A.D. Amorosi FOR THE INQUIRER
Bill Weston, the program director at WMMR, kept the music quiet at the rock radio station’s 50th birthday party.
Weston wanted to promote conversation among current talent at the party — including vet Pierre Robert, ratings dominating morning team Preston and Steve, and drive-time guy Jaxon — and past luminaries. “Some of these people haven’t seen these guys in decades — if ever,” said Weston, as
he slipped off the dais, and hit the floor at Fishtown’s Foundry at the Fillmore.
It’s a great responsibility portraying the history of one of America’s few remaining rock stations that continues to play new music. Along with the party, former DJs have stopped by to talk to current on-air talent. “Hearing John [DeBella] on-air with Pierre Robert mid-day, busting each other’s chops … may actually put this station’s history in perspective for the young listener,” Weston said. “It may have given them greater ownership. And for those who only want to hear the next Foo Fighters song, hopefully they’ll be back.” The station will host Metallica at the Wells Fargo Center on Oct. 25 to close out its half-century fete.
Before April 1968, WMMR was known as a “beautiful music” outlet with shows dedicated to Sinatra and the like. WMMR’s first free-form rock show, The Marconi Experiment, named for radio’s inventor and hosted by Dave Herman, began in 1968 with “Flying” by the Beatles, and never looked back. (Herman, who died in 2014, was arrested in 2013 on a charge of attempting to transport a minor with the intent to engage in sexual activity.)
From there, local radio names such as Mark Goodman (one of the five original MTV VJs), Joe Bonadonna, and Lyn Kratz picked up the gauntlet. They, along with the likes of other former WMMR jocks such as Ray Koob (who is now at 98.1 WOGL), Michael Tearson, Carol Miller, Helen Leicht (now at WXPN), and Randy Kotz were along for the alumni bash on Saturday night. While some recalled off-the-record in-studio peccadilloes and druggy activities (“It was the ‘70s, oh, and the ‘80s and ‘90s,” said a guest, laughing), others were warmer in their recollections.
“Two things will always stick with me: When [program director] Joe Bonadonna asked me to host a Sunday morning show with music from my own personal music library, Acoustic Sunday was born,” Leicht said of her signature alterna-folk program. “No one would ever let you do what you wanted today. And working with the dear, late Ed Sciaky. He put Springsteen, Yes and Billy Joel on the radio before anyone, and put them on the map.”
A pony-tailed Kotz, whose first WMMR “tour of duty” was in 1978, recalled being hired away from “the other rock station at that time” (he still dared not speak the name of WYSP, now sports station WIP) and having way too many good times at WMMR’s original location on Rittenhouse Square. “It was if we were in the middle of everything there,” he said. Kotz couldn’t wait to run into De-Bella, Kratz and Earl Bailey. “We were one of the last generations to have our own say on what went over the airwaves. It was a dream.”
DeBella, now at WMGK, expressed a very similar sentiment when he mentioned to me how WMMR was his dream gig. “I love where I am now, you know that, but WMMR was, and is, my heart,” said DeBella.
Jacky Bam Bam DJ’d for the night, spinning Tommy Conwell, Robert Hazard and the Hooters. “Music is the soundtrack to my heart and our hearts, you know,” he said. “I’m looking around this room and I hope I can honor this station’s commitment to that soundtrack, and that I can pass the baton on to the next Bam Bam like they have done with me.”
Robert, resplendent in a sparkling suit jacket, was overcome with emotion. “I’m almost speechless,” he said, choking up. “It’s beyond a high school reunion. It’s like This Is Your Life. I’m seeing people I haven’t in 30 years, and I can’t get to them before they disappear into thin air. This is joyous. But I’m not surprised.”
Robert — who will celebrate his 37th anniversary at WMMR in November — compared the 50th anniversary to a book with many chapters. “You forget what happened in chapter two because you’re so busy living in chapter 30, until you see it head on,” he said.
He was pleased to see those who left WMMR under less than happy circumstances at the reunion and rejoicing in all that WMMR meant to them.
“There are people here who I thought might not be — there are firings, downsizings — but the fact that they came and are happily celebrating speaks to the greater entity, beyond any job, and that’s the music,” said Robert. “No one is dealing with … petty grudges. There’s too much good here.”