In this week’s issue… Remembering Harry Harrison – More cuts, exec moves at iHeart – Entercom realigns in Philly – Format change in WNY – Veteran PA morning man steps down – CRTC to Evanov: Again, no Toronto upgrade
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*At the end of a month when the idea of “radio personality” seemed to be discounted by some of the biggest companies in the business, the news of the death of legendary NEW YORK morning man Harry Harrison came as a reminder that there was a time when a friendly voice and pleasant demeanor was still enough to make a kid from Illinois into a big star in the biggest radio market in the country.
Harrison grew up in Chicago and started as a summer replacement DJ at WCFL, but his first big break was a couple of hours away in Peoria. Starting in 1954, he took WPEO to the top of that market – and back then, that was enough to land a gig in New York, where he became one of the “Good Guys” at WMCA (570) in 1959, doing middays as part of the city’s first truly legendary jock lineup.
In 1968, as WMCA began its slide away from top-40 toward talk, Harrison was recruited to rival WABC (770), where he took the morning slot that had long belonged to Herb Oscar Anderson. The smooth transition – he was on WMCA on Saturday afternoon and on WABC the next Monday morning – was an immediate success. Harrison became the last puzzle piece in the transition from WABC’s stodgy old network-flagship days to “Musicradio 77,” winning over the morning audience one listener at a time as he saluted birthdays and anniversaries, treating metro New York like a big small town.
Harrison made just one more move in his long, stable career, and it would turn out to be his longest: after the end of his WABC run in 1979, as the station tried to skew younger in a last bid to sustain “Musicradio” against the rise of disco and FM, he was snapped up in early 1980 by WCBS-FM (101.1).
The oldies station was a perfect fit for the Morning Mayor, where he was soon joined by WABC colleague Ron Lundy. His WCBS-FM show allowed him to keep playing the music he made famous at WMCA and WABC, while giving him new on-air colleagues including colorful weatherman “Mr. G.” and Phil Pepe on sports. Harrison remained a CBS-FM fixture almost to the end of the station’s oldies era, stepping down from mornings in 2003 but returning for a Saturday morning show in 2004 that lasted until WCBS-FM flipped to “Jack” the next year.
Harrison remained in touch with his fans, in part through the social media efforts of his daughter, Patti; his last public appearance was in November, when he was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. He died Jan. 28 at his home in New Jersey, at age 89.
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