A Story for National Radio Day
When I was in college in the 1970’s, I lived in South Jersey. I heard about a “Talent Night” being held every Monday night at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Barrington, New Jersey. I was living in Haddonfield, NJ, at the time, just a few minutes away. The bar was right next to the Mr. Softee ice cream factory. (I still have nightmares about the jingles their trucks played.)
The Talent Night was hosted by Philadelphia radio legend Ken Garland. Ken was the morning man at WIP. He had bigger ratings than anyone in Philly radio history, even Howard Stern. When I signed up for my performance, he was very cautious about the song I was going to do, which was an original I had just written about the Jonestown Massacre. “That’ll be a real crowd pleaser,” he said sarcastically.
My performance received a standing ovation. I understand that was the first one in Crazy Horse history. Hey, despite what the power brokers in Nashville think, I write a hell of a song. Ken even apologized to me on stage, telling me how powerful my song was.
This was the beginning of my career at the Crazy Horse. I became a regular at the Crazy Horse, performing a new original song every night. Ken talked about me on the radio, calling me their resident genius. I had an 8-track recording studio in my house and started recording jingles, some in 8-part harmony, and bits for his show. He introduced me to the WIP lineup, most were DJs I had listened to for years. I was in radio geek heaven.
I lost touch with Ken when I moved to Atlanta to be the Creative Director of Corporate Media Communications in the late 1970’s.
Fast forward to the 1990’s. I was working at QVC. I was proud that my unconventional approach was constantly breaking sales records. Their upper management at the time didn’t like me, but they liked my results. (Thankfully Barry Diller would change all of that.) By this time, Ken had moved on to WPEN in Philadelphia, still getting unbelievable ratings.
One day, I saw Ken along with his wife and on-air partner Elaine Soncini, backstage at QVC. Since WPEN had similar demographics to QVC, the company was considering advertising on their station. When Ken saw me, he ran over and hugged me. He turned to the QVC executives who were conducting the tour and said, “This man is a creative genius. You’re lucky to have him!” They all smiled and agreed but I knew they were dying inside.
Ken invited me to have dinner with him at La Collina, a restaurant in Manyunk, a suburb of Philadelphia. It’s a beautiful place and overlooks the town. Great Italian food! We hadn’t even received our salads yet when Hy Lit, another legendary Philadelphia DJ, came over to the table. Ken invited him to join us. In a couple of minutes, Wee Willie Webber, a fixture in Philadelphia TV and radio also joined us. I was amazed that they both recognized me.
We spent the evening swapping lies about our broadcasting careers, drinking, eating and laughing our asses off. It was a very special night for all me. Sadly, it wasn’t too long after that when Ken was diagnosed with cancer. He bravely stayed on-the-air as long as he could. His death left a hole in the Philadelphia radio community that will never be filled.
He was a brilliant broadcaster and, more importantly, he was a great friend. His legendary career, and the fond memories of his good friends, makes him immortal.