WROV began 1964 with a lineup that included Fred Frelantz, Jerry Joynes, Jack Shields, and Glenn C. Lewis, "The Voice of The Turtle." Glenn's show opened with "In ancient times, prehistoric monsters roamed the face of the earth - today, these monsters are now extinct....except the Voice of the Turtle." We're not quite sure where he got the nickname, though it was likely inspired by a 1947 movie that starred Eve Arden and Ronald Reagan.
But the biggest stars of WROV that year weren't the air personalities. The Beatles suddenly appeared on America's "radar" in early February, 1964. After their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, it seemed as if everyone was suddenly a Beatles fan and couldn't get enough of them. Near the end of January, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" appeared from nowhere and rocketed to the top of the charts, and by the end of March the group had the top four songs and nine of the Hot 100. WROV was perfectly positioned to ride the wave of Beatlemania to even higher ratings than they'd earned before.
|The Voice Of The Turtle, Glenn C. Lewis.|
1964 saw several changes at WROV, including the departure of Jerry Joynes that summer. Rumor had it that Jerry left because he couldn't stand listening to the "chimes" every fifteen minutes, but he says this wasn't the case. "No, (laughs) that had nothing to do with it. Actually, I'd been there ten years. It was 1964. And I had an opportunity to do Virginia Tech sports so I took it. I wanted that more than a DJ job. I had a non-competitive contract with Burt so I had to work outside of Roanoke for six months.
"Eventually I ended up with Times-World at WDBJ. When I first went there I went there as PD. Burt wasn't happy. He said 'yeah you're going to go over there and take your audience' but I honored the contract." Though he moved on, Jerry continued having respect for his former brothers, especially Ron Sunshine and Fred Frelantz. "I had lot of admiration for those guys. A lot of guys came through ROV when I was there but I especially had a lot of admiration for them. We had fun and were always playing jokes on each other."
|Jerry Joynes left WROV in 1964.|
After Jerry left, the void was filled by Al Berto, Dick Brown, Dave Rinehart and Dave Moran until the opening was filled by a gentleman who had Beatles and plenty of other show business connections, Jack Fisher. Jack grew up in a tough neighborhood in Wilmington, DE and decided as a teenager that if he knew how to dance, he could attract girls, make a name for himself, and use it to get a job as a radio or TV announcer.
After teaching himself by watching other dancers on TV he landed a job as one on Philadelphia's Grady & Hurst TV show where he was known as Irish Jack. This led to a job as one of the regulars on ABC's American Bandstand, a local show which had just gone national with host Dick Clark. For four months Jack was seen across America every afternoon, dancing with partner Dottie Horner alongside Bandstand regulars such as Bob Clayton, Justine Carelli, Bunny, Eddie, and the rest ( more... )
After Bandstand, Jack again worked for Grady & Hurst who were then doing a live TV show from Atlantic City's Steel Pier. During this time, Jack met and befriended almost every big name in the music business including Bobby Darin, Fabian and Ricky Nelson. Jack was present in 1958 when Ricky drew over 44,000 fans to a concert at the Steel Pier, breaking a record set by Frank Sinatra. When Joe Grady retired in 1960, Jack worked with Ed Hurst on a network radio show from "the pier."
|Jack with Dick Clark in 1957.|
After full time radio jobs in Georgetown, DE and Portsmouth, OH, Jack ended up in Washington, DC at WEAM where, in early 1964, he was sent to help emcee America's first Beatles concert. Each of DC's four top-forty radio stations was asked to send one announcer to the show. At the time, nobody knew who the Beatles were and nobody wanted to do it. Jack, being the "low man on the totem pole" was stuck with the job.
"Harry Averill, the station manager at WEAM, had told me that I would be one of the emcees of this show. There would be four DJs from various radio stations, each to introduce a Beatle. Now remember I had seen Rick Nelson in his prime and had worked with just about every major rock act except Elvis in my days at Steel Pier. Quite frankly, myself and the other DJs at WEAM were a bit skeptical about this new English thing. One guy even called them the equivalent of four Everly Brothers.
"It was snowing real hard that night and—are you ready for this—I did not want to go to do the show and tried to beg off and trade with other DJs. They did not want to go into DC in a blizzard either. I got a cab in Arlington and started on my way. Washington was deserted and quite beautiful with the snow falling all around. There was no one on the streets and I was feeling sorry for myself for having to take this trip. And then we turned the corner to go to the Washington Coliseum. There were thousands of kids in the street, it was—to put it mildly—very surreal. Salvador Dali would have been proud.
|Grady & Hurst hosted a Philadelphia TV show during the 1950s. Jack Fisher worked for them before and after his "Bandstand Days." Joe Grady is on the left with the glasses. Ed Hurst is on the right. The lady in the white dress is Patti Page "The Singing Rage." Photo courtesy of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia website.|
"The Washington show was a tough one for the Beatles. It was set up kind of like a boxing ring and they were playing in the round. This meant that they had to go to a different side of the stage everytime they sang a new song. They had to keep moving the mikes, it was very chaotic, and the noise was so loud you could hardly hear them play. Now, if you have ever seen any footage of live performances of the Beatles, you probably have seen some of this one. It was being filmed for later playback in theatres across the USA. George Harrison had mentioned in a teenage magazine that the Beatles were crazy for jellybeans. The kids who came to the show were throwing them all over the stage. To get around on stage, chains and snow tires were recommended.
"It was interesting to note some of the conversations we had with the Beatles back stage. As I recall they were very nice and respectful to all the media despite the clamor for their attention, They expressed their gratitude and thanked the jocks for playing their records. I think it was John Lennon who said, they hoped this thing would last for a year to two." Each of the Washington, DC DJs introduced a Beatle. Jack introduced Paul McCartney. At his first US concert performance. Now, THAT's a claim to fame.
Jack continued working at WEAM until he had a falling out with GM Harry Averill. The first "strike" came when Harry asked Jack to do a promo announcing the arrival of a new DJ named Doc Holliday. Anyone familiar with the real Doc Holliday knows that he had tuerculosis. Well, for a laugh, Jack coughed all the way through the promo. Harry heard it and called Jack saying "Jack, do you know how many people in DC have TB?" Jack replied "No Harry, how many?"
|Jack with Bobby Darin in 1959.|
The next "strike" came when Harry announced at a staff meeting that starting on Monday, Jack was going to change his name to "Terry Knight." Now, imagine this. The same guy, with the same voice and same delivery suddenly shows up on Monday with a different name. The listeners would have caught on immediately and known something was afoul. Jack knew this and upon hearing Harry's request, said "That's great Harry, I can go on and say 'Hi, I'm Terry Knight, remember me from last week when I was Jack Fisher?'" Not long after this, Jack accidentally locked himself out of the building and Harry had to show up with the keys.
And with that, Jack was fired. For a while he thought he might end up in Detroit at WKNR but they drug their feet on making the decision and getting back to him. As it turns out, Washington's and Detroit's loss was Roanoke's gain. Just as Jack was about to run out of money he was offered a job at WROV. Jack replaced Jerry Joynes and upon arriving in November, 1964, he embarked on a campaign to bring the Beatles to Roanoke. Though several local businessmen including the Krisches were eager to sponsor the event, it never came to be. But the attempt gained Jack much notoriety in the market. That, and his role in another big promotional event that transpired a few weeks after he arrived.
During his early years at WROV, Fred Frelantz was also a medic in the National Guard and in 1964 was required to serve his six months of active duty. Upon returning, he pulled off one of the most memorable events in Roanoke entertainment history. After his stint in the service, Fred wanted to re-establish himself with the WROV audience by performing a big publicity stunt. So in the fall of 1964 he announced that he was going to break a California disc jockey's record for continuous non-stop broadcasting by doing a "radio wake-a-thon."
|The Heironimus Department Store of Roanoke ran weekly ads which featured WROV's top hits.|
Ron Sunshine thinks Fred may have gotten the "wake-a-thon" idea several years earlier when the two were in Oklahoma. "When we were in Oklahoma City, KOMA did one in the window of a department store. I remember Fred being so intrigued by it that he tried to talk the school radio station (KUVY) into letting him do it. "When he went to KIRL in Wichita I remember him telling me that he was trying to get management there to go along with it. Whether they did or not I don't know." Apparently they did, as a 1966 WROV promotional flyer mentions that Fred had previously "gone for 97 hours and 119 hours without sleep."
The station rented a trailer and positioned it in a highly visible location on the lower level of the new Towers Shopping Center near People's Drug Store. There, on Pearl Harbor Day 1964, Fred began broadcasting 24 hours a day. He lasted 142 hours and 5 minutes (just under six days) and missed the world record by just a few hours. And as a promotion, it worked in a major way. To this day it remains a vivid memory for thousands of people. In 1981 Fred said "I could cure cancer but I'll always be remembered for that darned wake-a-thon!"
|Fred Frelantz relaxes on the sofa in his Wake-A-Thon trailer Towers Shopping Center, December 1964|
Jack Fisher remembers: "The Fred stories surrounding his stay in this trailer are legendary. Cigarettes and coffee, and more cigarettes and coffee, people dropping in at all hours including some questionable female companions. All the while we played the music at the station, doing our regular shifts, throwing the mike to Fred for comments etc. It was during this time that Fred and I established a unique on air chemistry that you just don't get with any two radio guys. We parlayed this into a wonderful friendship and on air program."
The media said that Fred was lulled to sleep while being driven to breakfast at the Roanoker restaurant by Dave Moran. But truth be told, Fred had started hallucinating and had finally fallen into an unwakeable sleep shortly after a live break during which he said "Dave! Look out for that (censored) truck!" He was taken to a room at the Patrick Henry hotel where Sunday brunch guests were upset over seeing "that obviously drunken bum" being carried through the lobby. Fred slept for one whole day, woke up, went to the Texas Tavern and ate, then returned to the hotel and slept for another 24 hours.
|Several days into the Wake-A-Thon Fred started looking a bit sleepy.|
About this time, there occurred another famous first for WROV and the Roanoke Valley. Jim Carroll did his first sports broadcast. Jim had been an announcer and salesman at the station for three years but had not previously been a sports guy. His very first game was the Cave Spring - Northside football game of 1964. Jim would go on to broadcast about 1,300 Roanoke Valley sports events over the next 41 years and earn a place in the Virginia High School League Hall of Fame.
In 1965, Jack Shields left for a job at the Double Envelope Company and was replaced for a while by Jim Little, then Dave Moran "The Music Man" overnights. Glenn C. Lewis left about the same time and his slot was filled by H. Gale Henley who came to Roanoke from Burt's Richmond station, WEET. Jimmy Witter returned about this time as a part timer, sporting facial hair, now calling himself Ron "The Wierd Beard" Hart.
|Dick Brown, Glenn C. Lewis, Dave Rinehart and Jack Shields host the 1964 Dick Clark Caravan of Stars (  more... )|
Contests included an hourly trivia question called the WROV "Riddle Raddle," the "Quickie Quiz," and the WROV Diamond Keeper, where some local citizen was given "the WROV diamond" and clues were given to help listeners identify this person and win it. Advertisers included two locally owned restaurants whose food was always being given away in WROV contests: a drive-in hamburger joint called Mr. Moe's and the Star City's most famous restaurant chain, Lendy's. Lendy's was owned by innovative Roanoke restaurateur Leonard Goldstein, who served up Big Boy hamburgers, Slim Jim sandwiches and KFC.
But perhaps the most well-remembered commercials on WROV at the time were from a local used car dealer called The Automobile Exchange. Twice each afternoon, owner Ralph Peck got on the phone with WROV creative services director Jan Wilkins and talked about Ralph's best deals. These were supplemented by an array of commercials, all featuring different people singing the jingle which went "The Automobile Exchange has cars in your price range, any make and model you choose, with them you just can't lose, so see Ol' Ralph today for the top deal in town, The Automobile Exchange tops everyone around!"
The Automobile Exchange song was written by Jim Nesbitt who worked for a short time at WBLU. He later moved to Nashville and wrote "Welfare Cadillac" for Johnny Cash. Dave Moran recalls "I remember there was some concern at WROV when Ralph Peck wanted to use the jingle because everyone thought (me included) it didn't fit. Jan took it and had some choir record it and it became Roanoke's "signature song" of the 1960s." Other big advertisers of the era included Yoda's, Kenney's and Toot's Drive-In who ran a commercial produced by Fred Frelantz with a jingle that went "Toots Toots... Toots Toots... Toot's Drive-In out on Williamson Road!"
|Ralph Peck (left) in front of The Automobile Exchange.|
Also Roanoke's three topless bars: Papa Joe's, Joe & Johnny's and Sammy's. Fred Frelantz was a regular customer of Papa Joe's and once was involved in an incident with Roanoke's most famous topless dancer. Jack Fisher remembers "there had been a topless wedding at Papa Joe's which had received national publicity and this is where Fred comes in. One night soon after the topless wedding Fred decided to pay one of his visits to the club. He thought he got lucky. The young lady who participated in this wedding was performing that night. She displayed an interest in Fred and they decided to leave as the club closed.
"Unfortunately for Fred, the dancer's new husband happened to observe this from somewhere in the wings and with a few of his friends gave chase. Fred managed somehow to dodge the chase, and after dropping off the girl hid out in his car at various places in Roanoke not daring to return to his apartment, sure it was staked out by an angry husband.
"He arrived early for the first time ever for our two man show and relayed the story to me, he had been hiding all night. He told me he thought he had shaken them and that they could not find him. I told him that could be a problem when I threw him the mike as we went on the air. Think anyone might be listening to the number one radio station in town?"
|The Gad-About was a small "guide for residents, newcomers and visitors in the Roanoke Valley." It was given to customers of hotels, motels, restaurants and stores. This was the June 15, 1964 edition. Some of the content is priceless. We'll put all of it here if enough people ask for it.|
Though Jack Fisher's 1964 campaign to bring the Beatles to Roanoke didn't succeed, WROV was institutional in bringing several other major rock acts to the valley. The July, 1964 Dick Clark Caravan of Stars show at Victory Stadium was Roanoke's first BIG rock show, featuring Gene Pitney, the Shirelles and a group that was just about to hit the big time, The Supremes.
At the time of the show, Gene Pitney's "It Hurts To Be In Love" was topping the charts and the Supremes had just released their first of five consecutive number one hits, "Where Did Our Love Go." The show was sponsored by WROV and was hosted by personalities Glenn C. Lewis, Jack Shields, Dick Brown and Dave Rinehart.
The following year's "Caravan" was to be even bigger but became a disaster. It happened on May 21, 1965 at Victory Stadium and Roanoke promoter Pete Apostolou called it his "biggest fiasco." The show was to include Bobby Vee, Freddy Cannon, Little Anthony & The Imperials, The Detergents and Herman's Hermits.
|Jack Fisher, Gale Henley and Jim Carroll, 1965.|
At the booking time, Herman's Hermits were relatively unknown but by then they had two songs in the Top Ten and a third on the way. The newspaper ad proclaimed the show would be on "rain or shine" and over 10,000 advance tickets were sold. WROV heavily promoted the show and ten fans won dinner with Herman's Hermits. Fisher & Frelantz were to be the emcees.
Then it started raining. And raining. And raining. Pete had asked for a wooden stage with a roof to be built the day before but the carpenters didn't show up. So the stadium crew set up a metal stage and by show time wires to connect instruments and amplifiers were running everywhere. And the artists, afraid they would be electrocuted, refused to go on.
The soaked crowd waited two hours, encouraged by frequent PA system announcements that the show was going to start "in 15 minutes." But it never happened, Pete lost about $5,000 and most of the crowd was disappointed and MAD. Happily, Herman's Hermits, who were managed by former WROV star Ron Sunshine, returned for a make-up show on June 13.
|The WROV DJs & Herman's Hermits in May 1965 the day of the Rain-Out Show. F: Lek Leckenby, Barry Whitwam, Peter Noone, Keith Hopwood, Karl Green; R: Fred, Ron "The Weird Beard" Hart, Jim White, Jack, Gale Henley.|
Near the end of 1965, Gale Henley left and was replaced by Frank Lewis then, another WEET alumnus, Buddy O'Shea. Also in late 1965, Dave Moran moved on and was replaced on the overnight show by Sammy Russell, who came to WROV from WOLD, Marion after a brief stop in Charlotte, NC. That December, WROV had listeners write Christmas cards to the troops in Vietnam. For twenty days, the station ran an appeal for listeners to write cards for the troops and send them to the station. Promos featuring the voices of military officials and mothers of sons in Vietnam were aired. According to Jan Wilkins, many schools, clubs and civic organizations also got involved and over 15,000 cards were sent. All were flown directly to the bases in South Vietnam and handed out to the troops.
The station also continued its emphasis on public service and public affairs programming. Much of this came from Burt's strong sense of family and community. He once said "I've always felt that part of the influence of a station is that you can really educate people, especially if you do it through entertaining them rather than lecturing to them. "We always felt our role was to bridge the fear of the unknown." An example of this was the station's many live call-in shows on controversial issues. One of the first came in 1966 when John Lennon said that "Christianity would vanish and shrink" and that The Beatles were "bigger than Jesus."
|Cards For The Troops. Buddy O'Shea with Marine SSgt. Huels, Fred with Air Force SSgt. Lewis (top), Army SFC Sandidge with Jack, Burt, Barbara Felton and Jan Wilkins (bottom). Click any of these shots and when the full sized pictures appear you'll see how many cards were sent in.|
The resultant storm of outrage saw the station taking many calls from angry people. Some advertising clients cancelled because they didn't want to be on a station that played Beatles records. With a looming public relations disaster on his hands, Burt decided to do a call-in show about the subject featuring Rev. Harry Gamble of Roanoke's Calvary Baptist Church. Burt recalled "His comment was, 'They're absolutely right, they do have that influence.' You can imagine the reaction of all these angry people tuning in hearing one of the most familiar people in the area giving his view. That just toned everything down."
Spring of 1966 saw a couple of big changes to the lineup. Dave Moran was replaced on the overnight show by Marty Hall. Buddy O'Shea left and Sammy Russell moved to mid-days. Sam, who says he was only called "Sammy" by the WROV listeners and one of his aunts, is from Marion where he began working on WMEV on his sixteenth birthday. He later worked at WOLD, then briefly in Charlotte, NC at WIST before coming to WROV at age 22. Sam is perhaps best remembered for his immensely popular Batman spoof, "Bat Granny." Bat Granny was "The Tinker Mountain Terror and masked mother" whose real identity was Granny McHaffle Finger. Each episode featured a reverberated Sam yelling "BAAAAAAAAAAAT GRANNY!"
Sam says that the Bat Granny character had her origin on a show he did on WOLD. "I did a thirty minute bingo show everyday. The show consisted of me calling out the numbers until we had a winner. In order to stretch this out and make it last the entire half hour I created the Granny McHaffle Finger character, who was a 'regular' on the bingo show. When the popular Batman show debuted on television, she then became Bat Granny."
Bat Granny may have helped Sam get his job at WROV. He recalls the day he was hired: "When Fred called me to offer me a job at WROV after he had listened to my aircheck, he didn't say hello; he just yelled into the telephone, 'BAAAAAAAAAAAT GRANNY!!' I knew then he was a super guy." By Spring, 1966 Sam had become the music director and Fred and Jack had joined forces for the Fisher-Frelantz Fling. Two-person shows were almost unheard of in the 1960s and WROV broke some new ground here. The title was from a jingle Fred recorded to the music of a Kellogg's commercial. The duo did both the 6am-9am and 3pm-6pm slots. Fred once said "people would hear us on the way to work and again on the way home and thought we were there all day."
|Sorting the Cards. Jan Wilkins, Sammy Russell, I.C. John Bury, S. Sgt. Dave Spangler and Fred prepare them for the trip to Vietnam.|
Upon beginning their two-man show, Fisher & Frelantz unveiled what was to be the big Spring ratings promotion, "hiding the Ide." The theme was "The Ides of March" and the contest was to last the entire twelve-week ratings period. The Ide was a small stuffed animal with a sign on his side that said "I am an Ide." Fred was given the job of hiding him and he chose the railroad trestle on Franklin Road near Brandon. Clues to his location were written and the finder would win $1000. Jack remembers "the first clue was given around 6:30 AM."
"Guess what? At 6:35 we got a call on the contest line that the Ide had been found. This contest which was just 5 minutes old was over and the lucky listener had just won $1,000. Believe me this is not how it was supposed to be." Apparently, a train crossed over and the vibration caused the Ide to fall through a drainage opening on the underside of the bridge. As Fred and Jack were announcing the first clue, it "fell from the sky" and landed on the car hood of the college student who would become the winner. Burt was furious.
Team shows take a lot of work and the Fisher-Frelantz Fling was no exception. Fred and Jack spent hours writing and producing hilarious material including their classic "Bonsack New Years Day Parade" which "took place in June to cut down on crowds." They did fake "Whirly Bird" helicopter traffic reports, reviewed plays at local theatres that they'd never seen, and made so much fun of local school lunch menus that school officials regularly complained. They took us to the Academy Awards and educated us with Fisher-Frelantz Notebook Paper Reports.
|Jack Fisher in front of the WROV studios on 15th and Cleveland, 1966.|
They also did a local version of 93KHJ Los Angeles' Real Don Steele's "Tina Delgado Is Alive" routine. And they established "The Fisher Frelantz Freeloader's Club" where they invited local clubs and organizations to invite them to dinner. Takers of the offer usually had high expectations and assumed Fred and Jack would speak and entertain, but much to their chagrin Fred would usually tell one joke, then they'd eat dinner and leave.
Fred and Jack also had an enormous amount of fun with a 59-year-old grandmother who burst upon the scene in April, 1966 known as Mrs. Miller. Elva Miller sang off pitch and off tempo and her debut album "Mrs. Miller's Greatest Hits" sold 250,000 copies in three weeks. Fred and Jack constantly worked Mrs. Miller jokes into their show. When Mrs. Miller released an "open ended interview" (a list of questions that the local announcer could ask with recordings of Mrs. Miller answering the questions) they had a field day.
Another promotion involved Jack and Fred and two motorcycles. Jack recalls "in a never ending quest to make money WROV management came up with the idea that a motorcycle could get better gas mileage than a car. Brilliant thinking. To parlay this into cash they talked the owner of Butterfield Cycle into letting Fred and I ride a couple of their motorcycles all over Roanoke as part of a contest, calling in from various points to report our progress. "The idea was to see which one of us would run out of gas first. I thought it might be which one of us would get killed first. Within the first three blocks Fred fell off his cycle three times, once per block. Once we got the hang of it we went off in different directions and filed our phone reports.
|Letters to the Troops|
"I remember speeding along one of the major roads and suddenly realizing I really did not know what I was doing, and this was before helmets, too. Well, I think we both ran out of gas at about the same time, the cycle shop came and picked up their machines getting the benefit of a lot of publicity which I am sure they paid WROV for. What did Fred and I receive? The gratitude of owner Burt Levine and the opportunity of course to spend several hours as human kamikazes."
Summer of 1966 saw the arrival of Donnie Brook and The Enormous Jack Curtiss. Sammy Russell remembers that "Jack Curtiss made a killer parody in a Boris Karloff voice of Sinatra's Strangers in the Night, called 'Stranglers in the Night'. I believe we played it in some limited rotation." Jack spent two months at WROV before heading off Swingin' Radio England, one of two offshore pirate radio stations that competed with the BBC. British rock musicians such as the Beatles frequently said they listened to the offshore stations so they could hear American records. Another short-lived DJ of the era was Don Hoya who would turn on the mike and say "Hi ya, hi ya, Don Hoya here."
|The Enormous Jack Curtiss & Boom Boom Branegan. Jack left WROV to go to Radio England....Boomer came from Radio England to WROV.|
That summer also brought another huge WROV contest. On the heels of Jack Fisher's failed campaign to bring the Beatles to Roanoke in 1965, the station decided instead to take some of Roanoke to see The Beatles. A busload of tickets were given away and winners were escorted by Fred Frelantz to the Washington, DC Beatles concert of August 15, 1966. Judy King, a writer for the Roanoke Times & World News, posing as a "friend of Fred's," covered it for the paper. The winners, mostly ranging in age from 11 to 14, carried Beatle songbooks, radios, cameras and food along for the six-hour trip. Upon arrival, they found their seats, saw the opening acts and finally the Beatles, though some were disappointed that they couldn't hear the music for the noise.
During the show, a 16-year old jumped out of the stands, ran up on stage, touched John, George and Paul then was grabbed by the police while the group, unphased, kept on playing. One person apparently brought along his pet frog Clyde, who escaped on the bus. The tired crowd arrived back in Roanoke at 5:15 am. Roanoker John Gibson, Sr. went on the trip and remembers "I do remember the reporter as I thought she was asking too many questions. I talked her into massaging my neck. One thing I do remember is that the sound system was terrible, but that was 38 years ago!"
|John Gibson's Beatles Ticket|
1966 also saw WROV faced with credible competition. "Channel 91" WHYE became WPXI "Pixie Radio." Pixie came on in August of 1966 with the idea of kicking WROV's butts and during the day, they cut into WROV's audience. Though Pixie was only a daytime station, they played a strict Top 40 format with killer jingles, great promotions aimed at teenagers, and talented disc jockeys. Pixie called themselves the "Home of the All-Americans" and had a lot of chutzpah. When they went on the air, they continuously broadcast the message "it's coming to Roanoke, it's coming to Roanoke" for days. Then they sent funeral wreaths to all the other stations in town. Fred Frelantz recalled that "we kept ours and when they were going out of business, we sent it back to them!"
Though they denied it, Pixie was modeled after New York City pop station WABC. They used the same jingle package and heavy mike reverberation. Interviewed by the Patrick Henry High School paper "The Statesman" in October 1966, Pixie DJ Rick Shaw said they tried to "punch hard and heavy" at music and keep small talk to a minimum. Pixie's then-modern sound undoubtedly led to WROV retiring the Jess Duboy chimes format. According to local radio veteran Ray Bentley, "Pixie made the market sit up and take notice. I think Pixie was the one that really made rock & roll respectable. They were dynamite." By Fall, 1966 a Roanoke Times & World News survey found that more than 90% of Roanoke's teenagers listened to Pixie or WROV regularly.
|The Pixie Remote Sign courtesy of RoanokeRadio.com|
But Pixie was a daytime-only station. As Shaw put it, "the All Americans must go to bed at dusk because so many channels can be heard at night that the FCC requires certain frequencies to sign off when the sun goes down." WPXI apparently applied for a change to 24-hour broadcasting and higher power but this was not approved. So all the new Pixie listeners faithfully switched back to WROV when the sun went down. And this undoubtedly hurt their efforts. By 1967, Pixie was losing money and employee paychecks were often bouncing. By 1968, Pixie finally was evicted from their downtown studios near the corner of Elm & Franklin and spent their last days at the hillside transmitter site in SE Roanoke. ( more... )
Marty Hall did the overnight show for most of 1966 and was hilarious. About the time WPXI signed on, Marty left WROV for a hitch in the Army and was replaced by Greg Rose. After WROV he worked for Hayden Huddleston as the host of the Harrisonburg version of "Klub Kwiz" then in Lynchburg at WLLL before starting the System 4 advertising agency in the mid-70s with WROV's Larry Bly. Donnie Brook also left about that time, and Fisher and Frelantz went back to doing separate shows. The lineup was now Greg overnights, followed by Fred, Sammy, Fred again in the afternoon then Jack back on the night show. 1966 also saw the departure of Barbara Felton, who was said to have left after an argument over compensation with the Levines.
|Marty Hall was the WROV "night owl" for most of 1966.|
That September WROV began celebrating twenty years of being on the air by having a $20,000 Sweepstakes contest which was, at the time, the largest contest ever presented in the metropolitan Roanoke area. Prizes included a brand new 1967 Austin Healey Sprite sports car, $1000 worth of furniture from Reid & Cutshall Furniture, a refrigerator - freezer, an "Autumn Haze" mink stole and a 21-inch Philco color TV along with hundreds of smaller prizes. The contest, according to Burt, was "a 'Thank You' to Roanoke Valley listeners and advertisers for their 20 years of support and for the warm acceptance they have given to WROV personalities and programs."
WROV ended the year with the traditional airing of Christmas music over the holidays and the 19th consecutive broadcast of Midnight Mass from St. Andrew's Cathedral. The top three local records were the Monkees' "I'm A Believer", Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally" and the Royal Guardsmen's novelty record "Snoopy vs. The Red Baron." Nobody knew it at the time but The Beatles were in the studio beginning "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Penny Lane" and the "Sgt. Pepper" album. The Star City was about to experience the Summer of Love with WROV providing the soundtrack.