Mike March, 70, disc jockey on AM radio, marketing director

April 01, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Mike March, a former Baltimore AM-radio disc jockey and marketing director for a beer distributor, died of a heart attack Monday at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Del. The Lutherville resident was 70.

A fixture on stations WCBM and WFBR during the 1960s and 1970s, he had been marketing director for Bond Distributing Co. for 28 years until retiring in January.

Born George Christopher Hagelios in Pittsburgh, he was raised in Allentown, Pa., where his Greek immigrant parents operated a restaurant.

He served as an Air Force tail gunner from 1953 to 1957, attaining the rank of sergeant, and then returned to Pittsburgh and attended broadcasting school.

"His father wanted him to go into the restaurant business, but Mike had other plans. He broke away from all the Greek traditions and became the black sheep of the family for a while," said his wife of 32 years, the former Janet Buckler, a retired CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield quality product auditor. "He got a nose job, changed his name and married a Presbyterian."

Mr. March began his broadcasting career in the Pittsburgh suburb of Cannonsburg at the same time that Bobby Vinton, a native there, was embarking on a successful singing career. They became close friends, Mrs. March said.

"While working at a station in Cleveland, Ohio, he got his name legally changed after winning a poker game with a judge," Mrs. March said, explaining that the stakes were a free name change for her husband or dinner for the judge. "Mike won, and the judge showed him a list of names, from which he selected Mike March."

Mr. March came to Baltimore in 1964, when he took an announcing job at WCBM, and quickly gained a reputation as an on-air funny man with his quick one-liners.

"When he started at WCBM, the lineup included such well-known radio personalities as Morning Mayor Lee Case, Larry Walton and Johnny Contino," said Ron Matz, now a WJZ-TV personality, who worked with Mr. March at WFBR. "Mike was a great communicator and a terrific on-air personality who really connected with an audience. Talented guys like him don't come along very often."

Harry R. Shriver Jr., a retired Baltimore broadcasting executive, brought Mr. March to WFBR in the 1970s.

"Johnny Walker had run off to Spain with a girlfriend, and I needed someone, so I hired Mike. And after Walker came back, Mike stayed on in the afternoon drive-time slot. He was very good and extremely popular," Mr. Shriver said.

Mr. March ended his shift with his characteristic sign-off: "Clear the Beltway north, Uncle Mike's working day is done, and he's extremely thirsty."

"He certainly lived life to the fullest," said veteran Baltimore broadcaster Royal Parker. "He was very clever, very good and was always on - even when off the air."

In addition to his radio work, Mr. March did voice-overs for commercials and radio spots.

"Mike had a classic, rich voice that was pretty versatile. One or two takes and that's all it took," said Greg Novik, the owner of Greg's Bagels in Belvedere Square, who got to know Mr. March in the late 1960s and 1970s, when working as a copywriter and in production for several Baltimore recording studios. "When I ran into him years later, he said, `I remember you.' He was nice to everyone and not ego-driven."

Betsy L. Harmatz, owner of the BH Audio recording studio in Towson, recalls working with Mr. March early in her career: "When he came in, he was always in a good humor. He kept those sessions going and turned them into parties. He was very kind and never treated me as the novice female engineer that I was in those beginning days."

Mr. March left daily radio in 1977 when he joined Bond Distributing, after the birth of his second child.

"He wanted a more stable work environment, yet he continued to do commercials and voice-overs until he was stricken with cancer of the tonsils in 1997, and that ended his career," Mrs. March said. "He returned to his Greek roots and liked to prepare such specialties for family and friends as stuffed grape leaves, spinach pie and meatballs."

He also was an avid collector of recordings of classic radio shows and liked to garden.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Havenwood Presbyterian Church, 100 E. Ridgely Road, Lutherville.

Also surviving are his son, Christopher M. March of Towson; his daughter, Jessica L. March of Lutherville; and a sister, Anne Masters of Arlington, Va.

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