WMCA Good Guys History
The WMCA Good Guys. From late 1960 until 1970, WMCA was one of New York City's top radio stations. "Built on showmanship", the station played top 40 music during the glory days of mass appeal Top 40 radio. It reached the baby boomers at their teenage peak and along the way distributed thousands of sweatshirts imprinted with a smiley faced logo to an enthusiastic audience that drove the station to ratings records.
WMCA was owned by the Straus family. It was strictly an independent radio station with no network affiliation. The decision to move toward a top 40 music format was a difficult one for the family. R. Peter Straus, who was running the station, was more interested in owning a talk station. But, thanks to the skills of the people he hired, the station took a very different direction for ten years and in the process created one of the most memorable New York radio stations ever.
The Genesis of the Good Guys
In 1958 Steve Labunski, a former executive in the Todd Storz organization, came to New York as the General Manager of WMCA. Todd Storz and Bill Stewart are credited with the idea of creating "Top 40" radio. While in the mid 1950's the idea was new, the concept was simple. Play the most popular songs from a tight playlist over and over again in a defined format. Labunski had been in Kansas City prior to coming to WMCA and had worked with a talented production and programming manager named Ruth Meyer. Ruth had evolved into the Top 40 expert in Kansas City. Against much opposition to hiring a woman program director, Ruth was hired in 1958 to work with Labunski to create a Todd Storz type Top 40 music radio station in New York. There was a great deal of opposition to this from the Straus family but, even so, Ruth's concept of a team type Top 40 format was created at WMCA.
While WMCA had been playing Top 40 music starting in the late fifties, Ruth Meyer consolidated the format in late 1960. It was the definition of "team radio", where all the air personalities worked together as a cohesive group. Meyer did not create the term "The Good Guys" but she perfected it and the use of that legendary phrase began at WMCA in 1963. Other radio stations (including competitor WABC) had used the term "Good Guys" but no other radio station ever promoted the idea to the extent WMCA did. Everyone involved on the air at the station worked together in promoting the idea, the music, the disk jockeys and the excitement.
The Good Guy Lineup
The original group was Joe O'Brien, Harry Harrison, Jack Spector, Don Davis, and Jim Harriott. In the fall of 1961 Dan Daniel was hired and Ed Baer joined two weeks after Dan. Ed was known as "The Big Bad Bear" since he was the last addition to the group. Over the next year there were a number of changes so that the air personalities that most people will remember as the WMCA Good Guys eventually became Joe O'Brien (6-10 AM), Harry Harrison (10-1 PM), Jack Spector (1-4 PM), Dan Daniel (4-7 PM), B. Mitchel Reed (7-11 PM), Johnny Dark (overnights) Ed Baer (fill in and weekends) and Frank Stickle (fill in and weekends). Later, in 1965, Gary Stevens replaced B. Mitchel Reed at night and Dean Anthony became the overnight personality. Interestingly, throughout this entire period WMCA kept one call in talk program hosted by Barry Gray which ran on weeknights from 11 to 1 AM.
How The Good Guys Created an Institution
Ruth Meyer had the good guys do everything together. They all had the same clean cut haircuts, wore the same suits and worked together at record hops and personal appearances. They sang songs as a group and released a record album "The Good Guys Sing". WMCA's theme song "We're the Good Guys" was written by Ruth and sung by the group. It was played frequently over the air as any WMCA fan will tell you. Even the station jingles (produced by Johnny Mann) were spiced up with the guys singing various dropins such as "yea yea".
The Good Guys were everywhere. There were many personal appearances and remotes. Bob Gale, who contributed some terrific memories of the Good Guys to this website wrote: "I remember attending a high school dance in 1965 with Neil Sedaka, Mary Wells and the Detergents. All lip-synching, of course. As much as I enjoyed the music I was really looking forward to the emcee, Jack Spector. Jack was called the human hop, because he did more than anybody." That was the magic of The Good Guys. They became stars who were just as big to their audience as many of the music acts they played. The "team" worked amazingly well.
WMCA was a top 40 radio station that broke new records. Unlike its chief competitor WABC which refused to play anything that had not yet demonstrated record sales, WMCA would pick its "Sure Shots" and was frequently the first station in New York to play new records. Naturally, this included The Beatles. The level of competition was so great for new Beatles records that WMCA actually had people in London who obtained records for the station before their official release date. But, WMCA's commitment to new records was not just limited to The Beatles. WMCA air personality Ed Baer tells a great story of how he had a friend who worked at the Columbia Record Company pressing plant. Ed was able to get new releases from people like Dion, Bobby Vinton and Steve Lawrence before they were officially distributed and so, WMCA would be the first to play them. Playing new music was a major distinguishing characteristic that made WMCA a great radio station. WMCA's weekly survey came out every Wednesday afternoon and Dan Daniel counted down the songs on his 4 to 7 PM show. In fact, for a time, he actually counted them down everyday!
WMCA became one of New York's highest rated radio stations. In 1961, its chief competitors were WINS, WMGM and WABC. It regularly beat WMGM which eventually shifted to a "Beautiful Music" format. In 1965 WINS became an all news station which left just WMCA and WABC in the Top 40 race. It's important to point out that WMCA was only a five thousand watt radio station where WABC was a fifty thousand watt station. As a result, WABC had a much greater reach into the suburbs of New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island. But, WMCA did extremely well in New York City where it had a great signal. It was the number one station in Brooklyn and was also a favorite station in the black neighborhoods of Harlem since it played a wider range of music than WABC. The radio ratings of WABC vs. WMCA have been described as a donut where the center hole of the donut represents the areas where WMCA was the champ and the the outer ring of the donut represents the area where WABC won.
One reason that WMCA was so popular was explained by Good Guy Ed Baer. If a Top 40 radio station had an evening "teen" disk jockey who was successful it could capitalize on that by having a morning personality who could reach the adults. The concept worked amazingly well at WMCA. B. Mitchel Reed and Gary Stevens were at the top of most disk jockey lists in those days. So, the kids set the radios to 570 at night. The next morning their parents were greeted by Joe O'Brien who could talk to any age group with humor and credibility. To take the concept just a bit further, consider who came on at ten when Mom was home alone... Harry Harrison. And no one spoke to Mom better than Harry.
In 1968 and 1969 things began to change at WMCA. WABC dropped a lot of its network programming so it became more music intensive. And, FM radio stations were beginning to have an impact, particularly WOR-FM. FM was a problem for WMCA sooner than it was for WABC because of its lower signal strength. FM radios were not all that good, but in New York City the stations were still quite strong and that was the base of WMCA's audience. The effect of fractionalizing the market was felt quite early at WMCA. The WMCA sales staff was very concerned about this and began pushing for changes.
Terrell Metheney became the new program director and the emphasis on personality radio changed. Harry Harrison left and became the morning personality for competitor WABC in September of 1968, Gary Stevens moved to Europe and Joe O'Brien moved to mornings at WNBC in 1969. Next, the "Good Guys" moniker was dropped. New disk jockeys were hired to replace those who left. These included Lee Gray, Chuck Browning, Alex Bennett, Johnny Michaels and Frankie Crocker from WWRL (who later went on to become an extremely popular personality for New York's WBLS-FM). Murray "The K" Kaufman even came back. But, nothing seemed to click. The station tried a mixture of talk and music called "Power Radio" but switched back to the "Good Guys" in the Fall of 1969 with the return of Ed Baer and Jack Spector (who both had briefly left the station six months before). Dean "Dino on your radio" Anthony also returned.
But, by 1970 the New York radio dial was changing. FM was coming in and its effect of introducing an ever increasing number of radio stations was hurting WMCA. WABC was able to continue setting ratings records with its fifty thousand watt signal but a five thousand watt WMCA did not have that power luxury. This, in combination with the Straus family's desire to have a talk station, forced the format change to talk on September 21, 1970. "Dial-Log Radio" hit the air and the music and the smiles ended.
The Good Guys were gone and so was the magic.
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