Wayne Cabot (anchor, WCBS) 10/8/05
NOTE: Much of what Wayne writes here can be heard in audio with sensational aircheck material. Go to WCBS Audio Files
Not many 13 year old kids growing up in northern New Jersey tune the dial to 880 AM. This is as true today as it was in 1977 when I discovered the beacon that would call me to New York radio ten years later. I wonder why, as my teenage friends were listening to rock FMs, I found Newsradio 88 so appealing. Maybe because mom was raising me alone and WCBS filled my room with a comforting paternal voice. I'll leave that to Dr. Phil. What I know for certain is that WCBS exposed me to amazingly good radio.
The air talent was uniformly superb. Each had a distinct style and personality. Some anchors engaged me as old friends. Others told me the news with rock-solid authority. A few were adept at both. Jim Donnelly, morning anchor from 1972 to 1992, was unparalleled in his ability to be both warm and credible.
More than anything else, WCBS in the 70s and early 80s conveyed a BIGGER THAN LIFE sound. Tight, well-produced, and the audio elements said "class." To this day, everyone recalls Eric Siday's four-note sounder arrangement. And Steve Carmen's "News Is WCBS" jingle. Underneath it all was a teletype sound effect kept at a low, almost subliminal level. It conjured a bustling newsroom, wire machines in overdrive, copy editors running around with pencils tucked behind their ears, reporters working phones for late details. The audio production, as much as the on-air presentation, screamed to me: "Listen -- or you might miss something."
Listen I did. While doing homework. While getting dressed. While bicycling, camping, you name it. Yes, it all got a bit obsessive, and I can recall why. In one of the rare technical gaffes on WCBS, I heard the headline sounder play in the clear. Four rising notes, then a repetitive electronic trail. I thought it would be cool (OK, it was geeky) to use that sounder while practicing reading the New York Times into my Radio Shack tape recorder. So at :59, :15, :30 and :45, I would tape WCBS, waiting for someone to screw up and play all or part of the sounder in the clear. It took months, but it happened. And quite accidentally, I was left with a treasure trove of airchecks along the way. Jim Donnelly and Lou Adler. Pat Parson and Ben Farnsworth. Harvey Hauptman, Robert Vaughn, Ralph Howard, Gary Maurer, Bob Glenn, Bill Fahan, Greg Baker, and later Tom Franklin, John Wydra, Gil Gross, not to mention tons of reporters doing news, weather, traffic, sports, business and features.
I saved those cassettes in a box, alternately in hot attics and damp basements, and to my amazement, most still sounded pretty good when I recently dubbed them to CD. I would have taken better care of them had I known I'd become the unofficial archivist of WCBS. I've rebroadcast my old tapes numerous times. When Jim Donnelly and Pat Parson died. When Pope John Paul II died. When the Yankees won the World Series after a long drought. When the city was on the brink of repeating the 1980 transit strike.
Whenever I wonder if WCBS really was as good as I seem to remember it being, I pop in an old tape or CD. It never disappoints. The old gang inspires me to improve my game. I swear, I do a better job anchoring if I listen to an old aircheck of WCBS on the way to WCBS.
It is the vindication of my station obsession to get hired - in '88 - and to anchor with these legends. The night I got the phone call asking if I could be there at 2 a.m. to fill-in with Jim Donnelly, there was no way I was getting even a few minutes sleep. I stared at the ceiling all night, too nervous to nod off. I managed to mumble through in a daze, snapping out of it at the very end, in a moment of fan nirvana, when Jim and I signed off.. and Pat Parson signed on, reading his headlines and pouring it on with more flair than ever. He remembered me as the kid who rode the bus from Jersey to watch Pat and Ben. And now there I was between Parson and Donnelly, whose answers to my fan mail I still have. Pat encouraged me, in perfect Pat style, "to never be afraid to express yourself ever." Jim remarked that I "certainly have the NAME for radio!"
I learned a lot working with these pros, and the writers and producers, too. As good as it was, in many ways, Newsradio has improved. The format moves faster. The writing is tighter. The anchors are more versatile - running boards and editing on the fly. And the station has become focused - as the audience becomes more fragmented.
Times have changed. But there's a special place and time that lives on. Preserved on this site. Thanks, Don.