Monday, March 30, 2020

590 MIGHTY MEMORY #96

JERRY HELLER, WARM NEWS LEGEND PASSES AWAY 
(Photo: Scranton Tribune 


Word came today that Jerry Heller, the broadcast voice of WARM News on The Mighty 590 from 1969 to 2003 passed away. Heller had been in ill health for a while and it goes without saying that he as well his family and friends will be in our thoughts and prayers. 
Heller first came on the WARMland scene suddenly replacing Jack Doniger who exited the station in 1969. Doniger who was a foil for Harry West on his morning show left around the same time Harry did. Heller came on board and immediately made an impact with his straight forward reporting and on air delivery. While his predecessor was a tad bombastic with a deep voice (sometimes being echoed in the WARM format at the time) Heller brought a Midwest, articulate presence that was both aspirational and soothing to WARM listeners. High school teachers I had used Heller as an example of how to speak, how to send a message with concise verbs and nouns. 

I first met Heller in person when I was interning at various stations when I was getting my degree from King’s College in Communications and Government. To gain the degree from King’s I had to go to radio and TV stations. When I was assigned to WARM Radio for the first 3 weeks, I was ecstatic. It was winter and the weather was cold and miserable. Heller greeted me with a warm extended handshake and asked me what I thought of WARM News. I told him I loved it. He looked at me quizzically and said, “Not many kids your age like news” and I told him that I was a political news junkie since I was 10. He then asked me if I thought a Communications degree was actually needed for someone aspiring in broadcasting. I mentioned to him that this was part of my other major and was offered to me because of my interest in radio. I told him I figured two degrees were better than one! But he said, “You didn’t answer the question. Do you feel a person can succeed without a college degree in this field?” I answered “Absolutely. Look at some of the great radio people of our time. You didn’t need a degree to understand the complexities of World War II if you were a foreign correspondent like Walter Cronkite or Charles Collingswood. You didn’t need a degree to ask the who, what, when where and how questions. You didn’t need a degree if you had a great set of pipes”. I mentioned my own cousin who was at that time working in Pittsburgh radio and told him I wasn’t sure he had a degree but knew he was in a top market in the state. He nodded and said, “I’m sending you out for a week with my two best reporters, Kitch Loftus and Kevin Jordan. Talk to me on Wednesday again. 

So on a Monday and a Tuesday I went with Kitch Loftus to various news stories. One was with the late Mayor Walter Lisman’s news conference in City Hall in Wilkes-Barre. Now as an employee of that institution, I pass the downstairs anteroom where the reporters used to gather to await the pronouncements from the Mayor. Most of the stories were about the re-building of Wilkes Barre after the Flood of ’72. Wednesday Jerry was out an appointment so I went to Scranton with the late Kevin Jordan and covered things going on at Scranton City Hall. 
On Thursday morning I met up with Heller who was a little annoyed with me. “So Kitch and Kevin tell me you work at WVIA FM and are on the college radio station?” I answered, “Yes”. “Why the heck didn’t you tell me that?” I mentioned that I was there to learn and didn’t want to over step any bounds. He said, “Boundaries in broadcasting? You’re kidding me right?” 
He then reached into a cabinet near his desk and pulled out a cassette recorder. Then a pair of alligator clippers (they were used to take the bottom of the phone that you spoke into. You took the mouthpiece off and clipped them into the hooks and sent your sound in from the recorder.) putting them on the desk. He then said, “Forty Fort is having a meeting about their Airport paving at 11am and then I need someone to get sound on how people around here are coping with the winter weather and the potholes. Send it in and we’ll see if we can use it if it’s any good”. Anything else I remember asking? “No just go” he said. 

I took the recorder, jumped in my Nova and I was free labor for WARM First News First. Heller used every one of my reports and sound. He critiqued my delivery (I never personally got on the air with any of them) but he did use my sound. I understand later that he told my instructor to give me an A minus for my effort. The Chairman of the Department, Father Corcoran  asked him why it wasn’t a full blown  A. Heller responded, “He should have told me he knew something about broadcasting. I could’ve used him earlier”. 

Here’s what’s significant about this interaction. At the time Heller had what I consider to be the crown jewels of radio broadcasting in his news stable. Along with Loftus and Jordan were Ray MaGuire, Terry McNulty, Ken Curtis,Rick Herold, Bob Crawford, Andy Palumbo, Ruth Miller, Paul Degnan, Mark Thomas  and a few others I can’t remember. WARM had news 24 hours a day back then. The newscasts were expanded on the hour. Kitch Loftus told me, “You can set your watch by WARM news. If you needed to get on the road to work by 7;15, when the 7am newscast was over at 7:10, you knew you had 5 minutes left to get out pf the house and started.”. Heller was the leader of that team. WARM covered everything. But for him, everything wasn't enough. If an intern from King’s could give him more diverse sound, then he was thrilled. Heller also wanted you to get three or four different takes of the same voice over because he didn’t want to have you listen to the same sound bites every hour. 

To some not  familiar with radio of that era this might be a stretch. But I felt Heller was like a conductor  of an orchestra who every day wrote and performed a symphony of news. Plus, he made you better. Made you work better. Heller was the guy who orchestrated the news broadcasts that now sadly are only a distant memory. 

Through the years after he and others were let go at WARM, I’d run into him and he’d be cordial. But we never talked much about WARM News.  It wasn't because he wasn't proud of what he did, but because I think we both had the realization that all that could be said about those glory WARM News days was that it could never be replicated. That was  due to money, budgets and the way broadcasting had evolved. Jerry and I never wanted to go down that road. But let me say this, if there ever was a local broadcast Hall of Esme, Jerry Heller would be in my top 5 for admission. 

Jerry, I hope where you’re at now, the news is plentiful and the sound is just as melodious and even tempered as your delivery. 
Rest in peace sir!

Monday, January 27, 2020

590 MIGHTY MEMORY #97

TOBIN MATTHEWS

Tobin Matthew was an early rock and roll singer and who began my career in Chicago in 1957. He grew up in Calumet City, Ill. until the age of 21. His real name was Willy Henson. He got his start when Bob and Dick Poppel and Erma J. Nelson, all from Poppels Under 21 Tropicana Club in Riverdale, Ill., set him up with his  first band, The Rhythm Rockers.
The next band was Jimmy and the Jeepers later changed to Willy and the Jeepers He worked with a lot of the Chicago DJs, Jim Lounsbury, Jan Gabriel, Dell Clark, Howard Miller, Pappy John and many others. He recorded for USA, Columbia and Warner Bros. records from 1960 to 1966. 
His daughters Holly and Carrie, grandsons Ty, and Cam, granddaughter Payge.and brothers, George and Tim, and sister, Marcia. enjoy listening to his oldies record collection. With the help of his daughter Hollie, he started documenting his early music career on a blog. Here’s that link:  http://earlyrockandroll.blogspot.com/?inf_contact_key=c459985d0844e9bb011b8ac46d755131680f8914173f9191b1c0223e68310bb1
Tobin Mathew was one of those rock and roll talents of the early 60s that tried their hand at hitting the top ten. The fact they didn’t certainly doesn’t diminish their talent and skill. Tobin Matthews passed away recently. He will never get to the Rock nd Roll Hall of Fame but surely is remember by his fans for his musical efforts. A song that might have registered on WARM The Mighty 590 was this blast from 1962, “Susan”.

Monday, October 14, 2019

590 MIGHTY MEMORY #98

MEDIA MATTERS


KEVIN LYNN BACK ON WILK

Kevin Lynn was back on WILK Radio today and will return tomorrow filling in for the Conservative afternoon talk show host, former Democratic State Representative Frank Andrews. 
Lynn was in rare form today calling out the Trump junkies and their inane opinions. 
Hit it guys......

Sunday, October 13, 2019

590 MIGHTY MEMORY #99

WESTCOTT FAMILY AND FRIENDS GIVE HARRY WEST A LOCAL SEND OFF 

Two of Harry West's children, Wendi and Scott traveled from Pittsburgh yesterday to have local friends, fans and listeners say a final farewell to Harry West. For over four hours, people remembered the former WARM personality and shared stories of Harry. 
Radio people are a special breed. All of them came to remember Harry as a person but as an entertainer. 
Those gathered there appreciated the kindness of both Wendi and Scott (as well as Harry's sister, husband and son) to give us a chance to say, "Till We Meet Again".
 With old, (well how about vintage) broadcast buddies at Harry West remembrance yesterday at the Grotto. . Joe Middleton, Bobby Day, Rob Neyhard, Tommy Woods, Joey Shaver and Bob VanDerhayden (The Duke of Doo Wop). https://wnep.com/2019/10/12/remembering-harry-west/

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

590 MIGHTY MEMORY #100

HARRY WEST MEMORIAL SATURDAY AT GROTTO IN HARVEY’S LAKE 

Members of Harry West’s family and friends will be holding a get together on Saturday October 12th at The Grotto Pizza at Harvey’s Lake. Friends, listeners, fans and former co-workers are invited to stop by and share memories of Harry. The event is from noon to 4pm.

Monday, September 30, 2019

590 MIGHTY MEMORY #102

RADIO LEGEND HARRY WEST PASSES AWAY 

Harry West, the radio voice of generations at WARM Radio passed away Friday night, September 27th in Pittsburgh. West was ill for some time. He relocated to Western Pennsylvania in 2016 when his family moved him into a Skilled Nursing Facility. Harry was feted by friends and family at one of his favorite places in the area, The Grotto at Harvey’s Lake. 
West, born Harry Westcott was fond of telling the story of how his parents got him a crystal radio set when he was a boy. Harry retold that story for years. He started his radio career in Reading but then moved up to the Scranton area when WARM Radio rocked the local radio industry and changed formats in 1958. The outlet went from a standards type of music to rock and roll. It was an instantaneous success. When Harry joined WARM Radio he came onboard as a newscaster for WARM First News First. 
After morning deejays Harry Newman and George Gilbert moved on respectively to other markets (Newman) and responsibilities,(Gilbert) Harry was made the Morning Man. Harry’s show, part of the dominant WARM format became a huge success. For the next decade he was the cornerstone of WARM programming. His show consisted of wry humor mixed with sledgehammer irony and downright corny, but well delivered jokes. Harry West became the morning jolt for all of the WARM audience which was called WARMland. 
As a young boy wanting to get into radio, Harry was my broadcast idol. If there was a remote he was at, I’d ride my bike to it if he was in range. He was always gracious, kind and encouraging. As a teenager I interviewed him for a rock and roll column I was writing. In college at Radio station WRKC FM my friend Jim Gibson had him speak to the station staff. As a broadcaster myself at WVIA FM, I gave Harry a tour of the station when he was on Auction 44. He had just returned from York the year before. 
My best interactions though were when I was in Public Relations working with him at The United Way and later other entities. 
Harry got WARM’s mission about non profits and charitable causes. He was a ready participant in causes even at one point getting legislative action for disabled children. Harry and his wife Audrey had two disabled sons. 
Harry West was a radio legend when radio actually meant something back then. Now with competing entities, broadcasting, especially locally based stations are just cookie cutter shells of earlier days. There are some people in their 30s and 40s who have no memory of Harry or what he brought to the community and that is unfortunate. But there are those in my generations and others who have fond memories of The Harry West Show. His career never made him a rich man. Broadcasting in local markets never puts you in a high tax bracket. But you touch lives every day. Inform people. Inspire others. Create a memory for times gone by. Age and infirmity took the physical presence of Harry West away from all of us. But the mere mention of the name Harry West brings a smile to every face and a fond memory that links generations back to a time when life was simple and dare I say kind. 
For those who want to relive those memories and carry Harry with them in their hearts, please come to a celebration of his life on Saturday October 12th from noon to 4pm at The Grotto. Harry enriched all of our lives with his career. In many ways, because of how many lives he touched, Harry West died a very rich man. Beloved and remembered fondly, frozen in time in our memories. 


Harry with Sue Henry when she interviewed him at WRKC FM for WILK Radio. 
Harry's show is on this WARM retrospective we did a few years back.