Six golden voices of vintage radio remain on the air in Baltimore Broadcasting Success

April 02, 1995|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Sun Staff Writer

The stereotypical radio personality is reflected by the theme song of the old television series "WKRP in Cincinnati," which projects relentless change as the gypsy disk jockey keeps ". . . packing and unpacking, town to town, up and down the dial."

So how did Jack Edwards, Alan Field, Elane Stein, Ken Jackson, Ken Maylath and Tom Marr end up "living on the air" in Baltimore for most of their careers?

In a business known for station sales, abrupt format changes and frequent firings, these half-dozen voices rank among the most durable on the local airwaves.

All at least 30-year veterans, they are still heard daily, having survived rock and roll, the revolution of the FM band and the recent rise of talk radio. And all say their affection for the business began early, when radio wafted out of the ether and captured impressionable imaginations. Here are their stories.

Elane Stein

"I have sponsors who've been with me 15, 17 years. That's unusual, too," says Elane Stein with a booming laugh, when a visitor notes her unusual longevity as Baltimore radio's most prominent -- indeed, only -- regular feature interviewer.

Ms. Stein traces her interest in radio back a long way.

"I was very oriented to the radio when I was a girl, but you know what I listened to? All the stories," she confesses, referring to the daily dramas on radio. They were called soap operas long before they turned up on daytime television.

Now heard in short spots at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. weekdays on WBAL-AM (1090), Ms. Stein's voice commands top advertising dollars for the top news/talk station.

Her stint in local radio began as the music director of WCBM-AM (680), where she came to work in 1961 after several years as a producer with the Voice of America, in Europe and subsequently Washington.

The Baltimore native had graduated from Forest Park High School and gone on to the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where her height -- she stands about 6-foot-1 -- brought her work for two years as a model.

"With the VOA, I hated it in Washington because I had to do all the editing and it was such a bureaucracy. I had a friend at WCBM who said, 'Come here and apply,' " she recalls. "I didn't know anything about contemporary music, but there I was, music director for about a year."

Doing interviews was always her goal, but Ms. Stein had to force her way into the job, "because few women were doing them." She worked weekends and at night taping chats with a variety of figures, then had to talk station officials into letting them on the air.

Ms. Stein says she has interviewed "thousands" of people about a variety of subjects, noting, "I don't keep track, but it was a lot of people."

"It didn't take long before I gained an audience," Ms. Stein says, ++ with no hint of boasting. She attributes her popularity to her involvement in the Baltimore community.

Her career has also spanned an eight-year marriage that ended in divorce in the 1970s and two major operations to treat Marfan's Syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissue.

"I'm interested in people. I never wanted to be a DJ, and when I came here [in 1975], I knew I didn't want to have a talk show either. . . It's not interesting to people what I say. They tune in because of the guests."

Over the years, she has also done off-mike work, as promotions director at WCBM (where she also operated a commercial art gallery in the station's lobby for several years) and currently is WBAL's public service director.

Although she has done local television -- on "Critics Place" on Maryland Public Television and as a regular panelist on "Square-Off" on WJZ-TV -- the tube has never attracted her as a full-time occupation.

"I like the idea of the anonymity, and that people are not 'on' as much when they're on the radio. You can have a conversation with them," she says.

Jack Edwards

When he was growing up in Highlandtown, Jack Edwards would spin Patti Page and Nat King Cole platters on a 45 rpm record player, pretending he was a DJ.

Later, at Kenwood High School, he played records at school dances, introducing the songs with a minimum of patter.

"I wanted 'em dancing. I still want 'em dancing," says Mr. Edwards, who regularly totes his collection of pop records to dances throughout the area.

For 15 years, from 1959-1974, Mr. Edwards reigned as the night-time voice of top-rated WCAO-AM (600), Baltimore's favorite Top 40 station for a generation of listeners.

Now, Mr. Edwards can be heard playing soft hits of the '70s on WITH-AM (1230) in the 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. slot.

"Thirty-nine years, it's hard to believe," he mused recently at the WITH studios downtown.

He got his on-the-air start in 1956 on WWIN-AM (1400), after meeting announcer Jack Dawson at a dance. (Yes, the same Jack Dawson formerly WMAR-TV's sports director.)

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