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Friday, May 8, 2009

Do You Remember DJ Jack Fisher From WIOI?

  Jack with Dick Clark, 1957.

                                                             1965 Dick Clark Caravan of Stars

Way back in the '60's when I was a teen, we didn't have portable music devices like the Walkman, the iPod, or the smartphone. In fact, my generation had no conception of an MP3, a flash card, or a memory stick. All the music we consumed came from car radios, 8-track players, home record players, juke boxes, or live bands. However, unlike what many may think, the 1960s were ripe with various types of music. To illustrate my point, let me cite the top twenty Billboard hits of 1968.

1.Hey Jude The Beatles
2. I Heard It Through The Grapevine Marvin Gaye
3. Love Is Blue Paul Mauriat
4. Love Child Diana Ross &The Supremes
5. Honey Bobby Goldsboro
6. Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay Otis Redding
7. People Got To Be Free The Rascals
8. This Guy's In Love With You Herb Alpert
9. Judy In Disguise (With Glasses) John Fred &His Playboy Band
10. Woman Woman Gary Puckett &The Union Gap
11. Mrs. Robinson Simon &Garfunkel
12. Who's Making Love Johnnie Taylor
13. Hello I Love You The Doors
14. Tighten Up Archie Bell &The Drells
15. Young Girl Gary Puckett &The Union Gap
16. Harper Valley PTA Jeannie C. Riley
17. Those Were The Days Mary Hopkin
18. Little Green Apples O.C. Smith
19. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly Hugo Montenegro
20. Bend Me, Shape Me American Breed

I would like to point out that the American charts contained movie themes, instrumentals, R&B classics, country songs, vocal hits, dance hits, as well as popular rock songs from British and American artists. Music was considered marketable, no matter what the genre. Musical tastes demanded a variety of selections, and the charts attest to the popularity of these songs.

Radio offered something for the tastes of everyone -- and, on a single chart, no less. Popular radio stations filled the air waves with hits and kept the public up to date by playing new releases. With the latest invention of the transistor radio, people were able to take their music with them wherever they wished -- particularly to recreational areas such as pools, beaches, and backyard. 

Disc Jockeys were celebrities then. These broadcasters made permanent impressions on their listeners as they interacted with popular music and teenagers. They were paramount record promoters similar to gunslingers of the Old West in that they earned fame and respect from listeners and artists with personal style and deadly aim of song selection.

In the local Tri-state region, WIOI radio, a top-40 station at the time broadcasting from Portsmouth, employed a DJ named Jack Fisher. Fisher had grown up in a tough neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware, and had decided as a teenager that if he knew how to dance, he could attract girls, make a name for himself, and get a job as a radio or TV announcer.

Before he became a DJ, Irish Jack, as he was known, followed his dream. His determination to dance lead to a job as one of the regulars on ABC's American Bandstand, a show which had just gone national with host Dick Clark. For four months Jack was seen across America every afternoon, dancing with partner Dottie Horner.

After his Bandstand days, Jack again worked for Grady & Hurst, who had previously employed him on their Philadelphia television show and who were then doing a live TV show from Atlantic City's Steel Pier. During this time, Jack met and befriended almost every big name in the music business including Bobby Darin, Fabian and Ricky Nelson.

Then, Jack took a full time radio job in Georgetown, Delaware. Jack soon after became employed in Portsmouth at WIOI. He was responsible for introducing Beatles records to the area audience during his stint at the station. After a couple of years here in Portsmouth, Jack ended up in Washington, DC at WEAM where, in early 1964, he was sent to help emcee America's first Beatles concert.

Each of DC's four top-forty radio stations was asked to send one announcer to the show. The British Invasion had recently hit the states, and the story goes that Jack, low man on the WEAM totem pole, was stuck with the job because no one knew at the station knew who the Beatles were and no one wanted to do the job.

Jack remembered: "Harry Averill, the station manager at WEAM, had told me that I would be one of the emcees of this show. There would be four DJs from various radio stations, each to introduce a Beatle. Now remember, I had seen Rick Nelson in his prime and had worked with just about every major rock act except Elvis in my days at Steel Pier. Quite frankly, myself and the other DJs at WEAM were a bit skeptical about this new English thing. One guy even called them the equivalent of four Everly Brothers."

In performing his task, Jack wound up introducing Paul McCartney at his first US concert performance. What a claim to fame!

As Jack Fisher, who grew to even more legendary status on WROV Radio in Roanoke, Virginia, recalls ...

"Radio emerged out of the shadow of TV and forged its own identity in this decade by adopting and defining music and news formats that were designed to appeal to specific demographic audience groups. It not only had a willing and receptive audience, but a whole lot less competition for their attention. There were only three TV networks to watch, no Internet or video games. The DJ playing the hits and doing wild and crazy stunts was a real star in the local markets where he worked."

I feel privileged to have lived in the era of DJ significance as it related to the success of the music of the day. Jack Fisher, a man with local ties, certainly had a prominent place in the golden age of the popular music disc jockey. I am happy to share a small part of his story with you. Many thanks to the following: the "1240 WROV Tribute Site" and the "History of WROV Radio, Roanoke, VA." where, incidentally, you may find pages of disc jockey and radio history.
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