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Jim Aylward: Radio dream became a reality

Jim Aylward worked as a producer and announcer at WEEI in Boston.

Courtesy of Jim Aylward

Jim Aylward worked as a producer and announcer at WEEI in Boston.

It wasn't TV in those days. It was radio. And radio had nothing to do with the kind of shock talk we know of today.

When I was growing up, radio had live programs with local stars, studio orchestras, country singers and the like. I lived in a little town just about 10 miles from Boston. I thought Carl Moore on WEEI, the big CBS station, was the best in the business. He had been a strong plugger for Irving Berlin, and had played Berlin's songs in department stores. His piano style was barrelhouse, kind of like Fats Waller. He was on the air several times a day. He did a program at 7:15 called Top O' The Morning! And, he allowed a few people into his studio to watch live.

I would get up very early, rush to catch the trolley to Sullivan Square, Charleston, and then the subway to Boston. I would run up to Tremont Street, to the Edison Electric Illuminating building, and take the elevator to the 13th floor, run down the hall to the little studio and sneak in to watch Carl live. I made up my mind that one day I would be Carl's announcer.

I had a few things to clear away before I could do that. I had to finish school, somehow get a radio show of my own, join the Army, spend a year on the front lines, come home and get a job in radio, and work for WHIL, WREB, WTAO and WWNH.

One time there was a call for an open audition for an announcer at WEEI. I showed up only to find hundreds of men waiting to be called to the big studio with the Wurlitzer pipe organ built into the wall. Knees shaking, I struggled through it. After a minute or so they said "Next!" and I was out of there thoroughly embarrassed. I decided I would never audition again.

The first little show I did was a comedy routine, so I sent a copy of the thing to WHDH because they had Bob & Ray doing the same kind of stuff, or so I thought. I got a letter asking me to come in and see the program director. When I sat before his desk he said, "You think you're funny!" I didn't like his tone, and I said, "I am funny!" He said, "You're not!" Shocked, I said "You wrote me and asked me to come in here so you could tell me this?"

I then managed to get a personal interview with Ken Ovenden, the program director at WEEI. I told him what had happened at WHDH, and he said, "For all of Boston radio, I apologize to you." We became friends and he said if he could ever hire me, he would. Years later, he called while I was in New Hampshire and said he needed a producer and wondered if I would be interested. I joined the outfit producing a 15-minute evening show with Carl. Later, he managed to make me a part-time announcer. No audition.

In those days CBS had the great soap operas. My big announcing job was to say, "WEEI, Boston!" in between Ma Perkins and The Romance of Helen Trent.

I did one of the last dance remotes in the country on Saturday nights — "From the Statler Hilton Hotel in beautiful downtown Boston, Sammy Dale and his Orchestra with songs by lovely Priscilla Howe!"

Eventually, since I was producing Carl's late-night show, they allowed me to be his announcer as well. Then they sent me to the official WEEI photographer for my professional photo at the mike. No teeth, please. Serious. They airbrushed my nose and left me with just nostrils, but finally I was part of the CBS family, and, at last I was Carl's announcer.

New Port Richey resident Jim Aylward was formerly a nationally syndicated columnist and radio host in New York City. Write him in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Jim Aylward: Radio dream became a reality 08/24/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 24, 2009 4:30am]
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