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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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Radio’s Morning Show Personalities:
Early Hour Broadcasters and Deejays from the 1920s to the 1990s
by Philip A. Lieberman
213 pp. softcover 2009
McFarland Pub [1996]

Reviewed by Jim Cox
(From Radio Recall, December 2010)

This is the kind of book that historiographers of old time radio savor, for it not only focuses on a field that was conspicuous back in the day but highlights scores that participated in it at local stations. It’s a reminder, too, of the impact the “morning men” had on the industry (for most were men).

Some talented individuals went beyond spinning records by putting their brands on their assignments. Some were adept at special features, recognitions and awards, humor, singing, drama, playing instruments, supplying historical perspectives, contests, guest artists, interviews, dialoguing with sidekicks and other station staffers, introducing combos and orchestras and so forth. Before the memories of such notables fade, authors like Philip A. Lieberman are helping us recapture the sterling moments of a few interlocutors whose names might be missing in the annals of vintage radio otherwise.

Lieberman’s work is Radio’s Morning Show Personalities: Early Hour Broadcasters and Deejays from the 1920s to the 1990s. Issued as a hardback in 1996, it’s been re-released in a handsome 204-page softcover edition by McFarland in the past year. Lieberman, a Sarasota, Fla., city planner, maintains that for a long while in contemporary America radio’s “prime time” has been weekdays between 5 and 10 a.m. “In most markets, the morning show has the most listeners and carries the highest advertising rates,” he insists.

Structurally his book defines four distinct periods that focus on the progression of morning shows in local radio: early years, with spinning records a byproduct but not the main emphasis; golden age, with recorded music a concentration but not as much as the personalities playing it; top 40, giving music preference over personalities; and post top 40, channeling audiences into targeted classifications. Examples are provided for each period.

Some of the better-known spinmeisters proffered are John B. and John R. Gambling (who presided at one point over what the author contends was “the most listened-to radio show in the United States”), Gene Rayburn, Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, Jack Lescoulie, Arthur Godfrey, Jack Sterling, “Buffalo” Bob Smith, “Wolfman” Jack Smith, Don Imus and Howard Stern. Protracted vignettes of 28 of these are to be found there.

From a historian’s point of view, the real meat is in the book’s next 100 pages in which Lieberman offers a kind of biographical appendage of more than 200 morning showmen. While there’s not a great deal on any one of them—usually two to four lines—their names, markets and stations are identified, many by eras they were in vogue. If they had unique habits on the air they are also there.

Every book has its blemishes as does this one.

Its greatest limitation is its overriding absorption with the Northeast, especially in the 28 key figures presented in the early chapters. Only a couple can be identified as broadcasting from west of the Mississippi and south of the Potomac rivers. With few exceptions (like Chicago) almost all of the morning men receiving full treatment are in or near New York and Washington. Did those areas possess the only personalities worth celebrating?

While many from elsewhere are referenced in mentions at the back, a few extraordinary individuals who were “institutions” to vast numbers over wide territories for long periods are slighted. Among missing icons are Teddy Bart and the Waking Crew Orchestra, a live aggregate performing from the 1950s to the 1980s over Nashville’s WSM; and Charlotte’s Grady Cole, who woke millions of North and South Carolinians over WBT from the 1930s to the 1960s. The 1960s to the 1980s receives heavy emphasis, incidentally, while earlier decades don’t fare as well.

Despite this, Lieberman’s text supplies a historical gap that has existed in local radio. His writing style is enjoyable and it’s an easy read. His narrative coupled with photos of featured personalities in the early section makes it a must for historians of local radio. Radio’s Morning Show Personalities is available at $38.50 at www.mcfarlandpub.com and from 800-253-2187.