RADIO STATION WITH is celebrating its golden anniversary. If you were among those Baltimoreans born in the 1930s or '40s, WITH's 50 years are at least partially parallel to yours. The station is something of a scrapbook of your life.
To begin with, there was the innovative news, weather and sports format that blew away forever the networks' once sacrosanct schedule of soap operas and big bands. Then there were the local personalities -- "Buddy" Deane, Bill Dyer, Chuck Thompson, Howard Rudolph, Danny Sheelds -- and the first broadcasts of the early Orioles, Colts and Bullets games.
But the WITH contribution to your life and times in Baltimore is larger than that: WITH was the first white radio station in the city to feature black personalities. It did that beginning in the late 1940s.
You may remember Charles ("Chuck") Richards. Though many remember him today for his work on Channel 2 (WMAR) in a variety of roles in the 1960s, he got his start on WITH radio in the 1940s. He was host to his own Sunday morning show -- and he played to both black and white audiences. Richards was a genuine talent; he had a fine voice and was in any number of local glee clubs. He belonged to that special group of Douglass High graduates who made it successfully into the world of professional entertainment, including "Cab" Calloway ("hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-ho") and Nick Kenny ("If I didn't care . . .") of the Ink Spots.
Only a few years later, WITH took an even more daring step: It brought a black into weeknight programming. Maurice ("Hot Rod") Hulbert was selected to fill the spot, 8:00 p.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday. He'd come on the air emerging breathlessly from his "rocket ship," which ground to a halt in front of the WITH microphone.
"Good-googa mooga," he'd say. "We've landed here in the Big B! VOSA! VOSA! VOSA!"
Hot Rod would explain to the curious that VOSA was short for "Voice of Sound Advice." Throughout the show, he laced his patter with the acronym, using it when he liked something and using it again when he didn't. With Hot Rod, everything was VOSA!
When Hulbert left the station in 1960, WITH brought on a replacement, an electrifying showman named "Fat Daddy" (Paul L. Johnson), "the 300-pound King of Soul." Esquire, CashBox and Billboard magazines rated him among the top five rhythm and blues disc jockeys in America between 1961 and 1971. Record magazine rated him No. 1 "soul man." He came on something like this:
"From the ghetto through suburbia comes your leader of rhythm and blues, the expected one -- Fat Daddy, the soul boss with the hot sauce. Built for comfort, not for speed. Everybody loves a fat man!"
Fat Daddy was replaced by Larry Deane and what he called his "mean, lean, Deane machine." Deane later opened a successful record store and worked at Morgan State's radio station, WEAA.
But until that time (the early 1960s), WITH remained the only white radio station that featured black personalities. Following the WITH successes, other Baltimore stations followed.
By and large, the blacks who pioneered on Baltimore's white radio stations weren't civil rights activists. They carried no placards. They didn't set out to advocate for black advancement in the world of Baltimore radio. But as it turned out, in the 50-year history of WITH, they might have been unwitting harbingers of progress.