"SEASONS IN THE SUN"

THE SHORT TOP40 LIFE OF WWDJ(97/DJ)

 


The Rock & Roll history of WWDJ began on Monday, May 17th. of 1971 when WJRZ, a country station, became WWDJ - Top 40, a format which would be it's cornerstone for the nearly three years. (The station first began as WAAT in Jersey City around the late 1920's (it was once at 940 kHz, shifted to 970 around 1941;relocated to Newark around the mid-'40's). In 1958, WAAT and its FM sister (94.7 MHz) were sold to National Telefilm Associates, which changed the call letters to WNTA. In 1961-62 NTA sold the stations to Bergen Broadcasting; '62 was when the WJRZ calls were first used. (The 94.7 frequency would end up going by the calls of WFME.) WNTA also had a TV outlet (previously WATV) which NTA unloaded around the same time as it sold the AM and FM stations; the TV station is today PBS outlet WNET/13. It was around 1969 that Pacific & Southern Broadcasting took over WJRZ.)*

WJRZ played all Beatle songs for a few days before becoming WWDJ top 40.When WWDJ started, it looked like it would fill the AM gap left by the demise of WMCA and in many ways it was(especially to us who only had AM in their cars).

Picture of a car radio from a 1965 Dynamic 88 Oldsmobile(the kind I would listen to WWDJ on)

 Although 97DJ was no 'MCA, they still played more of a variety music than 77 WABC(one example was Chuck Berry's My Ding-a-Ling, a song that hit number one on the WWDJ survey, but not played on WABC). Unfortunately, as in the case of WMCA, it was another AM station with signal problems. They were directional 5 kw both day and night.WWDJ was owned by Pacific & Southern, who also operated KKDJ about the same time in Los Angeles, which was an FM station. KKDJ used the same jingle package as its sister station WWDJ. Another problem that DJ had an idenity crisis in that it did not know whether to be a New York station or a New Jersey station.

The original deejay lineup included "The Original" Bill Bailey, Bwana Johnny, and Mike Phillips, with Nick Anthony as Program Director. The other day parts were filled out with several DJ's from the country music days. One of those DJ's was Bob Lockwood, who was originally a WJRZ jock and stayed on for awhile at WWDJ with Jerry White, another WJRZ holdover. Lockwood, was PD at WJRZ and brought in from WJJD Chicago for his expertise in country music. WJRZ's predacessor was WNTA an ill fated MOR station programmed by former WNEW great Art Ford. Prior to WNTA it was WAAT. The DJ’s retained from WJRZ did not give their names on the air. The exception to this rule was Dean Anthony (one of the WMCA Good Guys) who hosted a variety of shifts on the station and was held over from the country music days where he had worked since 1969. Dean worked on WJRZ while working Sunday's on WMCA in what was to be it's final year as a top 40 station(1970). When Dean's shift was over at WMCA he would race over to WJRZ for his late Sunday afternoon show. One shift that Dean worked at the new WWDJ was 10am to 12 noon during the first several months it was on the air. He would often invite listeners to call him and give them their comments on the radio station (the comments were not played on the air). In speaking with Dean, he indicated that, in his words, “it was the tightest run radio station he was ever at”.  One of the reasons for this was because its program director was the former P.D. of WSAI in Cincinnati, Nick Anthony. To understand the station you have to remember the old WOR-FM. It had the same type of format and with a little more personality. WWDJ, unlike WABC, seldom referred to it's survey,(in fact, on the side of their building they had their own graffiti, which read "We'll make W A B - SEE"..). It played plenty of oldies and had what was a common attraction of this type station, a full time request line. They also had one more thing in 1971, that was New York Met baseball. The station was in the final year of a five year contract one which they would not renew.

There were many excellent DJ’s who passed through the 97 DJ doors. They include Al Brady,(went on to become Program Director at WABC), Ronnie Grant, Howard Clark(who demolished a new Jaguar XKE that was to be a prize on KFRC, "The Big 610" out in California, on the very first morning of the promotion) , George Taylor Morris(who is the voice behind "Reeling In The Years" and the DJ who broke the news on the Dark Side Of The Moon & the Wizard Of Oz association), Sean Casey(who was the last Program Director WWDJ, had), Joe Conway, Steve Clark(who was for a short time a WMCA Good Guy in 1967, plus on WOR-FM & CBS-FM), Mark Driscoll(also of WOR-FM and WNBC),Bob Lockwood, Don Cannon (he can be heard on the radio in the original Rocky movie), Bob Savage, Bobby Finck(ala Robert K. Oliver, or Rokko from 99X)and many more. Sean Casey worked at WOR FM and WPLJ before DJ, and then went on to work for a while at CBS FM. Steve O'Brien of ABC and YNY fame worked afternoons for a period of time as well as Jim King of 99X fame. During the summer of 1971, Dean Anthony left the station and was replaced by a DJ named Chuck Cooper (ala Radio City Bill, Bill Rock who has worked at WYNY and WNBC among other stations). Bwana Johnny had two separate tours with the station. So did Gary Russell, who worked mornings and weekends in separate tours (Gary was really a personality and would talk about other stations once in awhile. That was a real no-no in those days.) Gary Russell was also the last DJ on the air before WWDJ’s music format changed to inspiration.              

The talent was in and out constantly.

The Magic Bus-An innovative promotion that WWDJ did was the Magic Bus. It was a 9 passenger Volkswagen bus, painted in psychedelic colors(similar to the ones 97/DJ used on their promos & surveys).The Magic Bus would cruise the streets of the greater New York area loaded with various prizes to give out. The theme song for the Bus was most appropriately The Who’s “Magic Bus”, which would be played from the Bus as a signal that it was in the neighborhood. The DJ’s would give out the location of where the Bus was. The first person going up to the Bus saying “97/DJ is my local radio station” would pickup the prize for that day. One memory Bwana Johnny shared about the Magic Bus , was that it had commercial license plates, which meant at that time it was not aloud on the New Jersey Garden State Parkway. This created for WWDJ a major hassle in getting the bus around Jersey. WWDJ also had an on the air contest with the Bus. If a caller heard the Magic Bus horn on the air, they were to call & if the where the right # caller, they would get to “Ripoff” a prize. They finally gave the Bus away in a contest.(1)

In 1972, the station began promoting the fact that it played oldies as well as current hits. The slogan that year was "We Dig Gold Out of Rock". It also have a phrase in the beginning of 1972: “97/WWDJ, LETS THE SOUND SHINE IN".

In the early part of the year they ran a phone contest with the 1st person to answer the phone with the line “I listen to 97 WWDJ” winning the jackpot (that may not be the exact wording but you get the idea). The jackpot climbed quiet high, & it may have been as high as $30,000 before anyone finally got it.  During the Christmas season of 1971, the station ran a promotion called "The Real Santa", where kids would talk to Santa on the radio. He always signed off with "Merrrrrrrrrrrrrry Christmas. Goodbye". The station continued along in 1973, adding a top 30 countdown show Sunday evenings, which it called "The Big 30", hosted by the returning Bwana Johnny. This show started at the end of January 1973 and ran about six months.

THE LAST "SEASON" OF WWDJ

As the summer turned to fall and time marched on, it became clear that things were not going well. As 1973 year ended and 1974 began the station, dropped it's all night show signing off the air for the overnight period. There was less energy in the presentation and the playlist seemed almost thrown together. WWDJ tried various commercial promotions such as "97DJ plays less commercials" which they would play during the opening of a song(I'll bet they wish they had more commercials to play). Another promo was "The new 97DJ-two numbers, two letters-write it down". They would also have contests such as "the Great Zip-Off", in which they would give away $10.00 and a top ten album.One of the real hilarious moments toward the end of WWDJ, was a character developed by Steve Clark called The Maharishi. The Maharishi came about one day when Steve Clark had seen a picture of George Harrison with The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Steve Clark saw it as a gimmick, so he played it up. He would, in an Indian accent, always say he had just one question for Stevie, and that question always was:"Wanna buy a boooook?". He would also do rhymes like:"Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet(Note! Steve would repeat the each line as The Maharishi said it), and Stevie has smelly feet or Stevie is a creep".

The last day of WWDJ was relitivly subdued. All Howard Clarke did to indicate that WWDJ was changing was he just read the promo for the next day: "Tommorrow morning WWDJ changes its present format to become the inspiration of New York, we hope you will listen". Whereas, Bob Savage was a funny kind of sarcastic, making all kinds of references to the fact that DJ was going from Rock & Roll to religious. Bob would play songs like T.S.O.P. and say "I wonder what the P stands for, lets see, is it Paul, Peter, Psalms, Philistines..?". One difference though, was that they were not playing your typical Top 40 music only. They were playing songs that they never played in the past, such as Aqualung, Won't Get Fooled Again, etc. Songs you only heard on FM.

One exception was Steve Clark's last show, which was Saturday, 3/30/74. The last hours of his show was mainly dialogue, which he told about his history on the station and his personal history on radio. Steve Clark attributed the station’s failure to make it as a rock station to the poor signal which, as he said, at the time made it almost impossible to attract advertisements. He indicated that the station's ratings were good but the signal coverage killed it.

After three years of trying to battle WABC and the growing audience of WXLO and other FM's, with Gary Russell's last words of "I lost my voice, which is fine, that's good, cause I'm out of  work" and the playing of Suite Judy Blue-Eyes, WWDJ Top40 rode off into radio history and became a religious station on April 1, 1974.

MEMORIES FROM THE LAST DAYS OF THE “J”

Vince Santarelli, editor of APPLE BITES shares this remembrance: I  just wanted to share my last memory of WWDJ. March 31, 1974 was a Sunday and I was doing weekend afternoons at our local yokel radio station. At 1:50 PM, I pulled up in the radio station parking lot. I had been listening to DJ because I knew they were changing their format the next day. Just as I was about to shut off the radio, when the deejay played what turned out to be the last record that I heard on 97 DJ - Sister Janet Meade(which was a hit at the time )doing "The Lord's Prayer." As I walked away from the car, I thought to myself, "how appropriate."

Former WWDJ DJ Mark Driscoll remembers: Steve Clark, Bob Savage, & myself were forced to cart up music(Roy Rodgers,etc) for the new format. We got mad…started putting pieces of rippin rock in the middle of the songs. We were out of town before they realized how many we got in the system. Angry…was the way we all felt. It(WWDJ) was a cool little coffeepot…just had a lot of fun. Fighting WABC and 99X on FM-was the fun of it…we managed to mess’em both up for a while.”

Gary W(from the NY Message Board) shares this remembrance:  I remember that Sunday. Bob Savage was on the air and was saying things like "and tomorrow it's Sean Casey with the book of jobs." Funny stuff. He kept on making references like that all afternoon. I had read about the format change that day in Val Adams' Daily News feature "Radio Roundup."(see below)

Sean Casey, WWDJ's  last Program Director remembers:  I was extremely proud of all the jocks professionalism to the last song. Knowing it was all over....they performed like they were in a Spring Book.We did rather well for a little pea-shooter across the river covering all five boroughs!Even beat ABC in their core demos in at least one book on Saturday Nights.I think Steve Clark covered that shift at the time. ABC must have been slightly nervous because The Late (GREAT GENTLEMAN) Rick Sklaar tried to get me out of town by offering me the PD gig at the ABC O & O in Houston. Stupid me wanted to stay in the BIG APPLE. The programming was the best. The sales were bad.I don't think we had one local sales rep. Everyone wanted to be on Madison Ave going for the Agency business. What a waste. Mark Driscoll made some serious contributions to our limited success. Al Brady Law was the genie at the genesis of our climb. Some other amazing contributions came from Bwanna Johnny, Ronnie Grant, Mike Phillips, I still love and use one of his lines to this day...." I'm a prince, trapped in the body of a Disc Jockey"....Again Steve Clark...Don Cannon...Nick Anthony...Bob Savage. There were so many more....I sound like I'm at an awards ceremony...One of my fondest memories of 97/DJ was the station was only fifteen minutes away from my home in River Vale....the shortest commute of my entire career to date.

Former WWDJ DJ Bob Savage remembers:   During the last days of  WWDJ, the first memory that comes to mind is the entire office staff was let go by Pacific & Southern CEO Johnny Tyler. This occurred because WWDJ was losing many thousands of dollars each month. The studio was sold & the DJ's had to move into a mobile home adjacent to its transmitter site. The only employees left were the Union engineers & Union announcers. I remember having to type the program log for the FCC in between the playing of songs, because of the dismissal of the staff.

ME(John F. Porcaro) remembers:  My friends and I were driving around that Sunday(an activity we did very often back then, yes even with the gas crisis) and hearing all this talk of going religious the next day 4/1/74 and we thought it was an April Fool's joke. I mean, WWDJ was a funny station. Even the next day, we did not believe it. I remember driving to college thinking:" boy, they are really playing this joke up big". After we realized it wasn't a joke, we were not happy. None of us had an FM radio in our car, that is why we were so bummed-out. WWDJ was a great station.

Acknowledgments: Thanks to Joseph M. of the Message Board for providing lots of info and also Dan O'Conner, Paul Richards, Mark Young, Howard Luloff , PeteTauriello, Vince Santarelli & William Brown for providing me with data about the station. And of course, Allan Sniffen, who if it were not for his Message Board, I would not have met Joseph, Dan, Paul, Howard , Pete & William or gotten to fill in the blanks in this article.

"KEEPING THE MEMORY OF WWDJ (97DJ)ALIVE!"

[WWDJ Cover Page]

E-mail John at PORCAROCPU@Aol.com


This page saw its induction on August 9, 1998