By Bob Andelman
(Originally published May 9, 1986.)
Bob Andelman is the Tribune’s new radio columnist, and he will report weekly in this space news about Bay area and national radio. But in his first column, he reminisces about radio in his hometown – and about one announcer in particular, an announcer who now is on the air in Tampa.
My mother has an old radio, cased in tattered black leather, planted squarely on a little corner table in the cramped kitchen of her house.
It’s there, beneath the phone, standing upright among telephone directories, scratch pads, dried-out pens and blunt-end pencils, the most important object in getting her hectic days off to a good start, rating higher even than a good cup of strong black coffee.
I’m not even sure she’s consciously aware of her dependence on the old radio. But for the 20 years she has been in that house in a small central New Jersey town, turning on the radio in the morning has been as automatic as walking a frantic 60-pound dog at the crack of dawn or telling one of her three kids we were going to be late for school – again. The radio has three bands – AM, FM and shortwave – but its dial rarely has been twirled in these past two decades. It sits at 1450AM, tuned to WCTC.
WCTC is the station you listen to in Middlesex and Somerset counties for all the local news, high school sports and agricultural county agent programs.
When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, listening to WCTC meant listening in the mornings to announcer named Jack Ellery, who was spinning lightweight pop records and cracking wise.
I was a child when I first discovered him. Ellery struck me as a laugh riot, telling silly jokes a 10-year-old considered sophisticated. As I got older, he didn’t amuse me much anymore. My grandfather had given me a radio of my own, and I listened to New York City sta-tions such as WABC (with its DJs, Cousin Brucie, Dan Ingram and Harry Harrison) and WNBC (Don Imus, Wolfman Jack) with a pale yellow wire plugged permanently into my right ear. Tuning into Ellery and WCTC became something I did only on winter school days when I’d look longingly out the window at 7a.m. for even the faintest hint of snow.
Ellery was the man whom the principal would call to announce school closings, a man everyone under the age of 18 knew deserved to be revered at least a few times during each cold winter season.
My mother never stopped listening to Jack Ellery – like Archie Bunker, he always was referred to by his full name in my house.
A few weeks ago, a cycle of sorts came full circle when David Okamoto reported in this column that Jack Ellery had come to Tampa to work at WFLA (970 AM).
It struck me as ironic that as I was taking over the writing of this radio column, the man responsible for my earliest memories of radio should turn up in town and fall under the scrutiny of my new beat.
I called home with the news about Jack Ellery. Mom was glad to hear he was still working.
“Ever since Jack Ellery left, I do not listen to WCTC,” she said, to my surprise. “I didn’t like him, but he was so outrageous to listen to. The new guy is dull, monotonous. You can hate what Jack Ellery says, but it’s never dull listening to. him. He creates reaction.'”
And Jack, if you read this, I know that even as a talk-show host, you’re up to your old tricks. Last week that involved declaring that “South Florida is full of anti-Zionists,” and a recent morning you were wondering aloud if convicted murderer Ted Bundy didn’t deserve clemency from the governor .
Good luck, old friend. And welcome to Tampa.