A radio show with jams and jellies

Baltimore Glimpses

September 01, 1992|By GILBERT SANDLER

IF you liked my show, buy my jams and jellies. They're on sale in the lobby."

This is the way former WBAL radio disc jockey Jay Grayson ended his three-hour show every weekday afternoon for almost 40 years.

Mr. Grayson was one of the most popular disc jockeys ever to broadcast over Baltimore radio. For most of this half of the century, from the early 1950s into the 1980s, his weekly cumulative audience was estimated in excess of 400,000 people. At any given time from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, he was reaching more than 100,000 listeners -- far and away more than any disc jockey playing opposite.

How did he do it? And why is Mr. Grayson remembered as one of the all-time greats of Baltimore radio? His formula was to play what he called "my records" -- his own selections, not those of a "program manager," the common practice in radio. He bet that what he liked his audience would like, too. He won the bet, five days a week.

And for much of the time he was on the air he was the only jockey in Baltimore who was a Baltimore native. He knew the town. He spoke to Baltimoreans as one of their own. He used to tell the story of an out-of-town radio man, brought in as a superstar, who was knocked down a few pegs when he read a commercial urging people to shop at "Hock-child Kohn." "The client," Mr. Grayson said, "went through the roof."

Mr. Grayson also had a style that occupied the center. He was sensitive, kindly, a gentleman with good manners. He never made disparaging remarks about commercials or civic figures, no matter how great the potential for laughs. He piqued neither the management nor his audience, never spoke to a controversial issue, seldom provoked a letter of complaint about something he'd said.

But mostly, he was popular because "my records" were the pick of a master. Mr. Grayson knew pop music, and he had an open mind for the changes that were occurring. In the 1970s, while in his 50s and playing music he had not grown up with, he said, "I honestly believe that music today is infinitely more tender and meaningful than the music of the 1940s and 1950s. Think about it. We had all that moon-June junk. Life was a bubble. The music of today relates realistically to life.

"I'll give you an example. I can't get out of my mind the larger-than-life lyrics of a song I play on the show. It's called 'One-Way Sunday.' It tells the story of a young musician who travels from city to city looking for a big break. It's a story of loneliness. He finally sings in his loneliness, 'I'm sittin' at the airport bar, lookin' like a superstar.' That to me is music. Much more beautiful than 'Deep Purple.' Flat-Foot Floogie? Thank God it's over."

About those jams and jellies.

Mr. Grayson took the line from a nightclub comic he once heard, though it had its roots in the old small-town lecture circuit. "To pick up a few more bucks, wives accompanying itinerant speakers would make jellies and sell them in the lobby outside the lecture hall. There was something about that ending to things that I liked."

Mr. Grayson has been off the air now since the mid-'80s and lives in retirement in the Baltimore area. You can't buy his jams and jellies anymore.

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