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WOUB broadcast pioneer tells it all


I Googled my name and found it on your Radio Days site. I am in the WOUB survivors photo, but don't think I am mentioned inyour story. I don't know if you remember me but I graduated in February of 1958. I was a Radio/TV Journalism major and I should have been in the class of 57, but screwed around for a semester before enrolling on the main campus, then after a try as a vocal music major, switched to Journalism, so it took me four years plus one semester to graduate.

I just wanted to add, that I too worked for Andy Kovlan at WATH. I also was never a friend of Vinnie. I was the 'news director' at ATH in the summer of 1957 then News Director of WOUB in the fall. More about that later.

Starting in about 1955, I had worked a weekend shift and a summer vacation fill in job at WHIZ in Zanesville. I started there at 75 cents an hour, which was minimum wage. Working for Andy, I got $ 115 a week plus I did a top ten show at the Fairview Drive in restaurant and got 5 more dollars a week for that from Andy, plus a free meal a day from the restaurant. I also did music tapes which the Drive-in Theater used before and between movies and was the MC at some kind of a cash giveaway the movie did once a week. For that, Andy gave me another $5 a week, and the movie owner gave me free admittance to all the Drive in movies.

Compared to what I had earned at WHIZ, I thought I was making a fortune. Had Ted not already been janitor, I probably would have had that job too.

The summer of '57 I roomed with Jim Saunders [OU graduate assistant] who was finishing up his Masters The apartment had been occupied by Jack Foley, another WOUI announcer who also worked for Andy Kovlan at ATH. Jack graduated in June and left behind the fur nature, which he had obtained by giving stores free plugs while working for Andy. Jack worked at the radio station in Ashtabula in 1960, but after that I totally lost track of him.

Terry Leedom, who you also mentioned, was working for a radio station in Chillicothe Ohio that summer. He and I were the only two students at that time who had actual commercial radio experience and had become close friends. Andy Kovlan and the owner of the station where Terry worked, Truman Morris, were not so friendly competitors. Terry referred to the Morris as "Scrooge". One timeTerry, Andy and I happened to be together and Andy asked Terry directly how much Truman was paying him. Terry said $100 per week. Andy told Terry to go back and tell Truman that Truman was a tight wad, because Andy was paying me $125 a week. So much for privacy.

While enrolled at OU, I also was on at the old WOUI wired wireless AM station. I think the FM was 10 watts at the time. I was the first News Director for WOUB AM when it went on the air in the fall of 1957. Radio was still fun in those days. Terry went to great lengths to pull one prank on me. He used purple ribbon from a news machine in a typewriter and yellow paper of the type used by the wire service, and typed up a phony News Bulletin which read:


He then came running into the news studio, making lots of noise, as if it were hot off the wire, and handed it to me while I was reading a story live on the air. Fortunately, there was a commercial break coming up and stories about Eisenhower's illnesses had historically included words difficult to read cold, (electro-cardiogram was one) I took the commercial break to look it over. Then I saw the word in the second line. Terry was very upset that his trick didn't work. I felt sorry for him because he had planned it so carefully. Generally we would stick to much less complicated stuff like putting a match to the bottom of news copy while somebody else was reading it live and simple things like that.

Andy Kovlan had a lot more smarts than most people realized. You may be aware he also built and WKOV in Wellston, and financed WMPO in Middleport- Pomeroy. The frequencies for KOV and MPO were two of the last three AM frequencies available for Athens. When WOUB went on it air, it took the last AM frequency available. That gave Andy a lock on all commercial AM broadcasting in Athens, which is still the case today. The station in Nelsonville and Buchtel come close, but that station can only be a daytimer. ATH has a low power license and I think is operating 24/7. Of course, FM was not a contender in the 1950s. Nobody owned an FM radio in those days.

You mentioned Wilson Graham [WOUB Station Manager, later NBC, black American]. I remember his deciding not to take a tour of WSAZ with the rest of us because he was afraid his going south of the Mason Dixon line with us would be asking for trouble... Speaking of WSAZ, the News Director there, Nick Basso, is alive [2010] and fairly well and living here in Columbus. I run into him from time to time.

I did not read your story closely, but saw the WORK photo. I think that is the same station in Erie where I worked from June 1958 until 1961. [WORK was in York, PA] While I was there the call letters were WERC "Wonderful WERC." The station made me use the name Mike D'or on the air. They owned the name, and I think it was used by others. I started out doing the afternoon drive-evening Dee-Jay show, but top 40 music was really boring, so after 18 months, I became News Director. WERC was purchased by the Miller Family, which also owned WERE in Cleveland. The PD at WERE, Guy Harris, came to WERC to check us out, and he and I got along really well. (Earlier in his career, while in Pittsburgh, he was the first person to think of putting a helicopter in the air to report traffic.) For a few months, when WERE would be short of news people, he would call me and I would drive to Cleveland to do news on WERE. My wife was from Cleveland so she spent the days with her parents. Often it was news within the afternoon DJ show done by Bill Randal. He was the DJ who was the first to air an Elvis record.

For a short time Neil Kuvin, who was another OU WOUI-WOUB grad, was a Program Director at WERC. I lost track of him after that.

I left that job at WERC to take the Music Directors job at KYW in Cleveland. I was 'Mr. Clean" who took over the job following the Payola scandal. An employee of KYW knew me from my teen years and vouched for my honesty. He met me because the first time I actually got paid to be on the radio was in Zanesville and I was paid by the radio station to sing on an amateur talent show they aired. Initially, in Cleveland I was supposed to also do a weekend air shift and the pay would have been really good. I think something in the neighborhood of $275 a week... that was in 1962.

However, for some reason AFTRA ruled that since I had control over programming... i.e., the music play-list, I was management and threatened a strike if I continued on the air. I had been the AFTRA Local President in Erie. Since KYW featured Big Wilson, Specks Howard, and some other big time jocks, management decided I would not do the air shift. I continued as Music Director for a little over a year and then at my request, was named Producer of Program PM, which was the number one evening radio program in Cleveland. At the TV station, downstairs, they were putting together the Mike Douglass show, produced by Roger Ailes. It started as a local show only. Management ordered me to put Douglass, an unknown, and his guest on Program PM for at least an hour a week. I really didn't need to be ordered, I was always looking for something to fill out the two hour long five night a week talk show. I gladly created a weekly segment for them, and had a lot of contact with Ailes. That was the first talk show ever of that type and the format was later easily adapted to TV and syndicated by the owner, Westinghouse. It was created by Bud Wendell, but is widely copied today.

I served at the pleasure of the Program Director in those jobs, and had gone through two with no problems. The second one was Gene Plumsted, who, in the early 1950s while programming a Memphis station for Plough, Inc. invented the 'clock' top 40 format. That was news on the hour and half hour, weather on the quarter hour, etc. with a lot of commercials and some top forty music in between. He basically created the format that is still used today. Gene also laughed at himself because about once a week he was kicking some kid out of the studios. The kid was trying to get someone to listen to a record he had made. As you probably guessed, the kid was Elvis Presley.

I am not sure of all the circumstances but I was told Gene had the mumps and was taking a few days off. Next thing I knew a memo came to me saying he had been fired. The station was number one in the number eight market in the country so if it was because of bad ratings, they were not very bad. Then, Westinghouse hired some boy wonder who cleaned house, and I was one who was quickly swept out the door. The new PD was twenty-four, I was twenty-seven. That was the first of several times I was fired because I was an "old timer."

I moved to a job back in straight news as a TV reporter/anchor in Lima Ohio. One of the other employees there was Chuck Osborne, another OU Grad and another former WOUI/WOUB alum. Chuck was live on TV, filling in for the hostess of a local talk show, when I interrupted the program with the first flash that John F. Kennedy had been shot. I did it from the booth over a news slide. There was no way I could warn Chuck in advance. He was silent for a moment or two, then picked up the show as if he had not heard the bulletin. Good thinking. A few minutes later, I interrupted again with more data, and instead of going back to Chuck we switched to network which had already started airing uninterrupted programming. The station continued to carry the programming and we went for more than days hours without airing a commercial, local or network. I think we stayed commercial free until after the funeral.

I consider that day the first day of a sea change as TV became the dominant provider of live news coverage for the masses and the end of the golden era of radio news.

You also mentioned Bill Miller's death.We were friends... everyone was a friend of Jolly Bill. We had both been interested in flying. I soloed a plane in 1956 while in school. While at MPO and JEH after college, Bill got a license and eventually became a flight instructor. He died along with his student in the accident you mentioned. It was in no way his fault nor the fault of the student pilot. They were in a high winged plane. Nobody can see above from inside a high winged plane. They were about to touch down when a low winged plane dropped on top of them. No one can see down from a low winged plane. It is a fairly common cause of accidents around busy small airports which have no control tower.

I was doing news in Columbus at WBNS radio when it happened. The daughter of the owner of the Gallipolis station was working as our promotion director. She and I had already talked about Bill because he was working at the station and she had grown up running around there. When I saw the wire story, I called the Highway Patrol to make sure it was the same Bill Miller. I knew the young woman was in an office in another part of the building with the programming piped in. I was able to tell her before I used it on the air. We shared our grief and then I went back to work and read the story about my friend without shedding a tear.

In the early 1980s, I created the Ohio News Network. I had agreements with sixteen radio stations and was doing daily newscasts to a market of over a million people, but I couldn't sell the commercials. At that point, Terry Leedom was PR/VP of Columbia Gas and bought some [commercials] but I got tired of not making money and sold the network to one of my partners, who in turn sold the name and what business was left to Marty Schwartz [aka Marty Howard, Ohio U '59] and a partner. Although very experienced in sales, Marty couldn't make any money with it either, and went bankrupt and had a heart attack, I think in that order. The heart problem was what killed him a short time later.

Can't think of any more stories involving people you knew. Just thought I'd pass these along. This turned out be a lot longer communication that I had planned. I think I'll pass it along to the WOUB alumni group on FaceBook too. I assume they have seen your story.

CU one of these days,
Jim Leckrone

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