Cardella: Summertime Radio (Part 2)

It was quite a summer at the little radio station on Magnolia Avenue in Wildwood. The owner paid us once a week. No checks. In envelopes. In cash. Like we were splitting the proceeds from a bank robbery. Forty-nine dollars and some change stuffed into a white envelope. And I grabbed it greedily. Not that I was strapped for cash. My shared room at the Rainbow Apartments cost me only $2 a week. It felt like my own private room because I almost never saw any of my roommates. I wasn’t dating anyone so I didn’t need much more than my food money for my meals at Dom’s Italian Restaurant. The widowed owner of the Rainbow kept trying to convince me to let her fix me breakfast and do my shirts free of charge. I refused to take advantage of the nice, but grieving lady. But I was tempted.

Relations between Tom Moran and Frank the station owner had settled down after his aborted attempt to play the banned Percy Faith recording. Moran was destined to become one of the legendary air personalities on WIP, Philadelphia, where I would later land and wind up working with Ken Garland, “Wee Willie” Webber and Tom Lamaine.

Except for an occasional request to play some barbershop quartet music instead of Ella Fitzgerald, Mastrangelo pretty much left me alone. But I did have one major on-air disaster. Remember the Rosary Hour I mentioned last week? It was part of my nighttime shift. Highly unusual to say the least. I was told by one of my bartender buddies that when I switched programming to St. Ann’s Church at 7 p.m. sharp (in the midst of playing rock and roll), he and other bartenders went scrambling for the dial on their radios to switch stations to WMID. In truth, WMID, broadcasting out of rival Atlantic City, was the hip summer station back in the day. No doubt the Rosary Hour didn’t help our ratings.

One night at a minute before 7, I was getting ready to switch to the pastor at St. Ann’s Church for the Rosary Hour. The record on the air was Fats Domino’s WALKING TO NEW ORLEANS. I faded the volume on the fat man singing and waited for Father to pick up the recitation of the rosary as he normally did. But all I heard was the scuffling of feet in the pews. There is no worse sin in radio than dead air. I panicked. I quickly jacked up the volume on the Fats Domino record. Suddenly I heard the priest begin the rosary. So, for just a couple moments the dear Father did a strange duet with Fats. It was Walking to New Orleans vs. going to heaven. Luckily for me, Mastrangelo never heard it.

I was the only WCMC employee who lived at the Rainbow Apartments. All the others, male and female, lived together in a nearby rooming house. It was a scene familiar at the shore … sleeping arrangements among young people often don’t always define themselves by gender. Young folks together, where sleep is little valued, but only surrendered to out of necessity, and often without a prurient thought.

June 1960 quickly turned to September and Labor Day. No matter what the calendar said, it was the end of a magical summer. The radio station got ready to switch from its high-energy, commercial-filled programming to simulcasting the quiet FM sound. Mrs. Altieri had decided to spend some time with a relative in Florida. I was welcome to stay at the apartment in the off-season. All she asked for in return was that I made sure the bills were paid — with money she’d provide. The radio station promised me I’d be its main play-by-play voice on the regional high school sports it was scheduled to broadcast. I intended to stay, I told myself, even with the draft hanging over my head.

Wildwood emptied out and kissed summer goodbye. Dom’s Restaurant closed about a week after the summer crowd left. And when it did, loneliness crept in like the little cat’s feet of Robert Frost. If I had made friends at the radio station with the kids who were staying the year ‘round, maybe things would’ve been different. I had focused so hard on making good at the station, I hadn’t even had a summer fling. The only person I talked to off the air who wasn’t my landlady now that summer was over was the strange voice of the super fan we called “the Saint.” She called every night. And I’d cling to the sound of her thin, wispy voice to keep me from feeling totally alone. I decided to leave WCMC and Wildwood.

Bill Wotring, the station manager, was disappointed that I was going  back to Philly. He had no one — literally no one — to broadcast the high school football games in the fall and winter. That duty now fell to Tom Moran, who knew nothing about football. I had to teach him what was meant by “the T-formation.”

Not long after I left, the radio station was sold to TV celebrity Merv Griffin. Back in Philly, I worked at WHAT-FM for a while and then joined the Air Force Reserve.

Summer was over. I would never be as young again.