Change in format will force another spin around AM dial

June 03, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY

A whole new world opened after I bought my first transistor radio. It was all of $6.99 and came from the old Shocket's on Gay Street, a few steps away from the Bel Air Market. It ran on a nine-volt battery, which we always bought on the cheap at Sunny's Surplus.

That little plastic radio brought the voice of Alan Field into my room, a broadcast voice that will be on this morning for the final airing of his It's Showtime on WWLG, where he's the Saturday host.

Come 9 a.m. Monday, that station will change formats and discontinue the pop music-oldies sound that I've chasing around for the past 46 years. Too bad. There is nothing quite like an AM station that plays the bouncing hits of the era when music was singable, danceable and listenable. As you might have guessed, I like big helpings of old pop music and loathe talk shows of any political persuasion. (I've been known to have two different radio stations going simultaneously on different floors, with a loaded record player blasting for good measure.)

Alan went on the air on WCAO in 1960 just as I was getting into the infectious music of that period. I can still see the station's call letters and a stylized art deco bolt of lightning on an old brownstone mansion at Charles and Chase streets that served as its studio. The broadcast towers, and later the studio, were out on Park Heights Avenue. I never quite lost my taste for AM radio, disc jockeys and once-over-lightly newscasts.

And what a great fit for Baltimore, which Alan recently told me that after Detroit, was one of the earliest cities and markets to embrace the Motown sound. On the other hand, Baltimore also seems to enjoy reprises of a number called "Saint Theresa of the Roses," which gets requested a lot from from Little Italy and Dundalk.

And over the years, I've followed Alan and his familiar voice (not a Baltimore voice; he's from New York) from station to station, as formats and ownerships changed.

In the late 1970s, Alan landed at WAYE ("860 on the dial"), which then featured a Big Band format. Employing the radio name "Jack from Charles Village," I'd bug him to play the Larry Clinton version of "Heart and Soul" because it reminded me of a grade school friend who used to pound the tune out on an upright piano at the old Visitation Academy cafeteria.

Alan is a fan of Broadway and the world of musical comedy and operetta. He'd drop the needle on long-playing records for a contest called the "Mystery Voice," usually a performer in an obscure show. The thing drove me crazy (I got it dead wrong most times) but it was one more way that his personal style of AM radio worked its way into your morning's routine.

He switched to WWLG in 1993. He took his Broadway and Hollywood albums with him, and each Saturday at 9 a.m., he comes up with obscurities that put me back in the Towne Theater on Fayette Street or Row D at the Mechanic.

One Saturday, Alan played a Robert Goulet track from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, a stage show that played the Mechanic while I was in high school. I got so into the tune that I immediately placed a call to a New York music house and tortured a clerk until he found the same Goulet CD for me.

Come Monday, WWLG will go into the talk format, and I'll be roaming the dial in search of Richard Rodgers and Little Eva and her merry friends.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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