Bill Epperhart Salutes Ron Lundy
Ron Lundy retired from radio on September 18, 1997. Although this day was bound to come, it is something I never really wanted to see.
Ron was already at the top of his game when I started in radio. Well established as WABC radio's mid-day air personality, it was Ron who showed me the basics of a job I enjoyed for many years. My very first time in front of the WABC console, Ron Lundy was sitting on the other side. I have very fond memories of working with him, and an air check he did, wishing me a happy birthday, that I shall always cherish. I will miss him greatly.
We met on Memorial Day, 1971, my first day of work at WABC. The offices were officially closed for the holiday weekend and the instructions were to follow the engineering schedule on the green "checkerboard" posted outside of Studio 8X. First stop, 8A.
After making sure the "On-Air" light was off, I entered the room and introduced myself to Harry Harrison and his engineer, Jerry Zeller. The first two weeks for new engineers would consist of a 9-5 schedule for observation. After that, it would be overnights, where Jay Reynolds got to break us in, but that's another story.
Day one was going to be easy. Sit, watch, listen. This was the big time, working with serious minded professionals. Well, professionals yes, but serious minded? I had a lot to learn.
Around 9:45 the door was flung open and this "character" stepped into the room as if he owned it. Dressed in beach thongs, Bermuda shorts, a shirt that was louder than the music, wrap around sun glasses and sporting a 3 day old beard, the glasses came off, the hands went to the hips and the pronouncement was made that "This place is a piece of work!!"
There was no question as to who this guy was. He was obviously there to empty the ash trays, take out the trash and refill the water pitchers.
That was when Harry said "Morning Ron. This is our new engineer, Bill Epperhart. Bill, this is Ron Lundy." As I said, I had a lot to learn.
Ron was definitely different. He really was "like the kid in the back of the room at school." Ron not only nicknamed disc jockeys, he nicknamed everybody. In a matter of days, I became "Little Billy". All 6 feet of me.
Two basic radio types are "Disc Jockeys" and "Air Personalities". Each is at an opposite end of the spectrum. Disc Jockeys have great voices and know how to do format radio. They segue records, read "liner cards" and can tell you everything you never wanted to know about the history of the records they are playing. At the extreme, everything revolves around technique. Form without substance.
Air Personalities are charismatic individuals who will entertain and amuse you with their charm and wit. At the extreme, they know very little about the music they are playing or the production techniques involved. Those things are considered irrelevant.
Finding someone like Ron, who combined the best skills of both types, is rare. He was a technically superior Disc Jockey who could segue through all sorts of "on air production" without ever calling for the mic. Building on that foundation, he knew how to blend his personality into the format.
BARRY WHITE (on record): "Feels so good."
RON (into the mic): "You got that right."
BARRY WHITE: "Lying here beside you."
One day, a group of kids from an elementary school visited WABC. As he rolled a record with a 27 second intro, Ron asked (on the air) "who would like to read the weather?". Sounding as if he had all the time in the world, Ron coached one of them through the whole thing:
"Cloudy tonight, with a low in the 60's."
RON: "And tomorrow?"
"Sunny tomorrow with a high in the 80's."
RON: "And what's the temperature now?"
RON: "WABC Degrees with Bill Withers!!" hitting the vocal perfectly.
Ron was not only very talented, he was also warm and friendly. You couldn't help but like him.
When Dan Ingram got stuck in traffic and arrived a half hour late, Ron came in over Dan's opening theme:
grumble, grumble, grumble "Newsmen!"
grumble, grumble, grumble "Engineers!"
grumble, grumble, grumble "Management!"
For the next half hour it was "Hi there Kemosabe, this is Big Dan Ingram" exaggerating every word in a southern drawl, playing it to the hilt, doing a parody of Dan's style. The kicker, that the listeners never knew, was that a WABC staffer entered the studio around 2:20 looking for Dan. When told he wasn't in yet she just said "Stop kidding around Ron, I've been listening to him for the last twenty minutes!" You can't make this stuff up.
Ron used to cluster his live spots in the first half of the 1 o'clock hour because Ingram would usually arrive about 1:30 and crack him up. Ron laughed a lot and breaking him up on the air wasn't very difficult. Of course, turn about is only fair and many of Dan's openings had Ron in the background, egging him on. The interplay between Ron and Dan was another thing that made WABC great.
Because he worked the 10am to 2pm mid-day shift. Ron usually had very senior engineers working with him. The younger ones worked the "off hours". Since senior engineers also tend to have earned more vacation time than anyone else, Ron got to spend time with the vacation relief staff during the summer.
One of the really great things about being new and working with Ron, was that he would walk you through the whole process, teaching along the way. If he gave you something to do and you made it work, he took you to the next step. Ron covered it all, from shaving record intros on the "B Copies" so they could be "dead rolled" with the "Instant Replay" jingle, to back timing into the network news.
Ron was also excellent at "dove-tailing" his segues. The trick was to make them so tight that they overlapped, yet didn't step on one another. If you did it right, there was no way a tape editor could slip a razor blade between the elements. If Ron determined that you had the timing, he would show you how to use it.
Ron didn't waste time telling you what he was going to do next. Instead he prepared you to deal with anything that might change at the last minute. In the beginning, Ron seemed to be throwing cues so quickly, I wasn't sure if I was even in the right sequence. Our perception of time was completely different. He was moving at warp speed while I hadn't gotten past impulse power. All I knew was that whenever his hand went up, I would stab another button. That was before I learned that a second is very long in Top Forty Radio and can be divided into quarters quite easily.
Over time it all came together and Ron told me that I was "ready." There were just two final things I needed to know:
1. "A fancy segue never got anybody a rating
2. "It Don't Mean Nothin'."
"What Don't Mean Nothin' Ron?"
"All of it."
The last time I saw Ron, I reminded him he had taught me that. He told me he didn't remember saying it, but it did sound like something he would have said.
Ron Lundy will be missed. Thirty-two years in New York radio is a very long time. It won't be the same without him. Enjoy your retirement my friend.
Ron Lundy's Final Days on the Radio section
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