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It was a different world back then!

What Led To My Career in Radio

 

Sometimes "good" kids do bad things. That was the case on December 10, 1970. I was 14 years old. I got caught skipping my fortieth day of school in ninth grade. My father gave me a "whuppin'" that I'll never forget and he grounded me FOREVER because I had dishonored the family name. He felt he couldn't trust me. It didn't help that when I got caught, I was picked up by the local police and they put me in a jail cell for effect. My father nicknamed me "Jail Bird" and it really wasn't a very pleasant situation to say the least. If you're wondering how it's possible to skip that many days of school from September to December and still fly under the radar, here's how I did it. I went to Neshaminy Junior High School in Langhorne, PA and it was a rather large school. I think we had somewhere over 1,500 students. Back then schools didn't call parents when their children were absent to verify it.

If you were absent for three days, you needed to have a doctor's excuse. There was an old doctor who lived in Hulmeville. You could see him without an appointment. I would generally skip two days at a time, but if I was going to skip three, I would visit him and tell him I had a stomachache and he would write me the three day excuse. It only cost me a dollar! Then I would use the same type of blue Bic pen that he used and change his "3" to an "8" as well as the dates. Voila! Instant juvenile delinquent.

I can't justify what I did and I'm not proud of it, but it did have a tremendous impact on the entire course of my life, even though I didn't realize it at the time.

I can tell you that part of my dissatisfaction with school stemmed from an incident that had occurred the year before in 8th grade. I was a student in advanced academic classes and an A/B student. When it came the time for us to declare our high school concentration, I discussed it with my parents and got their permission to pursue what we called "Tech" school and major in Horticulture. I didn't know it at the time, but later came to find through my genealogical research that it's a pursuit in which that my ancestors had been heavily involved. My 3rd great grandfather, Jacob Engelman, Sr. had been an early member of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and won many awards from them during the 1830's and 1840's. My grandfather Price had been a groundskeeper at the Ford Motor Company plant in Chester, PA. My goal was to have greenhouses and a landscaping business.

So after the application for Tech school was submitted late in 8th grade, I got a call down to the Guidance office. My guidance counselor held up my application in his hand and said, "Greg. What's this?" I said, "That's my application for Tech school!" He then proceeded to tear it into tiny pieces and said, "YOU could be a nuclear physicist! YOU could be the next Ralph Nader (who had just published Unsafe At Any Speed)! But one thing you are not going to do is go to Tech school, hang out, and smoke cigarettes with Greasers!" That forced me into remaining on the Academic or College Prep track and unsure of how to proceed for a future career.

I'd always had a tremendous interest in history, but at that particular time there was a glut of Social Studies teachers. I enjoyed Criminology, but really didn't want to be a policeman. My guidance counselor had me take an occupational assessment test to see what might make sense for me to pursue. When the results came back I thought they were totally bogus. It said I should pursue a career in Sales. Sales? Yeah. Right.

As it was, FOREVER turned out to be February of 1971 when a friend of mine, Mike Sinback, who was of driving age and had a red 1964 Ford Falcon, stopped by my house on a Saturday and asked my father if I could go with him to WBCB, the local radio station in Levittown.

Dad said, "YOU want to take Jail Bird?" Mike said yes and my father came up with two conditions; #1: Be back in 45 minutes or less and #2: bring back proof. Mike assured him that we could do both and off we went! Mike's reason for going to the station was related to a community suicide hotline that he volunteered for called H.E.L.P. We got to the station and I was introduced to the disc jockey who was on the air at that time. His name was Toby Appleyard. He wore striped bell bottoms and a shirt with stripes that went in the opposite direction along with a paisley tie. The first question I asked was, "How do radio stations make money?" Toby turned to a rack of carts (tape cartridges), smiled and pulled one out. He turned to me and said, "We sell commercials." I thought that was VERY cool.

So, armed with a huge stack of discarded UPI (United Press International) wire copy, we hopped back into the Falcon and Mike got me home within the allotted timeframe. My father was impressed. I used the wire copy to practice reading aloud on a cassette tape recorder that my father had bought me for Christmas two years earlier. During this time, my voice had already changed and it was obvious that I had a baritone voice. So, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career as a radio newsman. After that, the next five or six times I was only allowed to go out of the house was to go to the radio station. This also came to include WIBG or "Wibbage" which had been a popular Philadelphia music station for years. Mike introduced me to Jack Reynolds, who was Program Director there. I got to hang out John Records Landecker, "Records truly was his middle name". I met other Wibbage personalities like Frank Kingston Smith, Jr. and Don Cannon. I made an acquaintance of newsman, Paul Howard."

It wasn't long before I decided that I would rather be an air personality and a Program Director rather than a newsman. My father stopped referring to me as, "Jail Bird".

I listened to all the radio I could hear. Wibbage, of course, was my favorite and had a great lineup. Besides Landecker, there was "Morning Mouth" Ed Richards, who was an early shock jock. Ed was outstanding though he was tame by today's standards. I also listened to Famous 56, WFIL and New York radio stations, WABC and WNBC. WCAU-FM, Oldies 98 was a Philly treasure and one of the first non-classical or beautiful music FM to rank in the top 10 in market ratings. I also loved to listen to WRCP AM/FM, which was a country music station. Back then we called it "Hillbilly" or "Country and Western". I was able to hear WRVA from Richmond, Virginia and WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia.

I spent a lot of time in Reading, Pennsylvania where my sister, Daria, lived. It was about 60 miles from where I lived. While there, I would call the local Top 40 station, WRAW and talk to the jocks. Once they found out I was interested in a career in the business, they would let me come to the station and answer the "WRAW Hitline" for them. I answered the phone, "WRAW, the Home of All Hit Music!" and spent most of the time talking to 14 year-old girls. As a fourteen year-old boy, it was great fun. It was there where I met R.J. Harris, who became my mentor in radio. I also met Dave Dillon then when he worked at WHUM in Reading. Dave later became a great Program Director.

Later that August, on my 15th birthday, Mike and I were at Wibbage again and John Records Landecker asked me if Greg Price was my real name or if it was my "radio name". He said it was a great name and made me promise that I would always use it on the air. I was humbled by the fact that John viewed me as a "radio" person and not a groupie. I had done a number of bits via the telephone for John that he used on the air as a show character called, "Begonia Lane". John had given me tickets to see my first rock concert in May of 1971 at the Cherry Hill Arena where Sly & the Family Stone were the headline act. Frank Kingston Smith, Jr. emceed that show and let me come backstage when I told him that I was "Begonia Lane". Strawberry Mansion had opened the show, followed by Ruth Copeland who wore little more than a leather vest and loincloth. I got to meet Sly who almost didn't go on. He was so drunk that they had to throw him in a shower and pour coffee down his throat. Once he got on stage, he did a great show.

It wasn't too long after that when we moved over 150 miles from Langhorne out to Danville, Pennsylvania.

Central Pennsylvania radio in the Anthracite Coal Region wasn't nearly at the level of professionalism of the Philadelphia market. That was actually encouraging to me. I got a better sense of how talent was developed and moved through the markets. In Danville, where I lived, there was an AM/FM combo, WPGM which was a Christian format. I hung out there some. I would also hitchhike the 8 miles up Route 11 to Bloomsburg and hang out at WHLM AM/FM. I could listen to a great cross section of stations that I hadn't been exposed to before. Locally, there was WISL AM/FM Shamokin, WMIM Mount Carmel, WKOK AM/FM Sunbury and WMLP AM/FM Milton. WKOK, "The Mighty KO" was rather polished for the market size and WMLP in particular was an excellent small market station. I could also listen to WILK from Wilkes-Barre. Because of its tremendous, 5,000 watt directional signal I could listen to WAHT from Annville-Cleona in Lebanon County. At night, the airwaves were stacked. I could listen to WNBC and WABC from New York as I had in the Philly suburbs, and I could also listen to WKBW Buffalo, CKLW Windsor, WLW Cincinnati, WLS Chicago, WCFL Chicago, WGAR Cleveland and many, many more. These were great radio stations with entertaining personalities.

I was able to listen to Don Imus on WNBC, Jackson Armstrong on WKBW, Bob Dearborn on WCFL, Larry Lujack on WCFL, Don Burns on WKBW, AND John Records Landecker on WLS after he left Wibbage in 1972.

In 1973, I moved to Myerstown, Pennsylvania. While in High School there, I was chosen to voice a one-time-only radio program called, "Youth In Action Broadcasting" on WLBR, Lebanon, PA. I was also Editor of my high school newspaper where I received an award from the American Publishers Guild as "Most Valuable Staffer" in the county. I took advantage of the state of art technical facilities the school system offered and produced television news programs for the Eastern Lebanon County Middle School.

I graduated from Eastern Lebanon County High School in 1974 where I was the morning Public Address Announcer and the "Band Announcer". I graduated 22nd out of 225 kids. Out of those who were academic or college prep, I was 8th. I was never one to let school interfere with my social life AND I avoided a life of crime!

 

 

 

 

 

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