The 1960s - The Heyday - Part 3

WROV began 1967 still #1, listened to by more people each day and each week than any other radio station in Roanoke Valley, according to ratings done the previous fall. And that year the station unveiled a new positioning statement, "Get With The Winners." This campaign was the idea of creative services director Jan Wilkins, who wrote accompanying jingles and had them recorded by a production company in Richmond. The "winners" slogan also appeared on promotional material, in advertising and on the stationery and would continue to be used in some form or another well into the 1970s.

The old "chimes" format with the quarter-hourly bells was retired. It had been around since the late 1950s and sounded dated, especially since WPXI had signed on the previous summer using similar jingles to those used by WABC in New York City. The new jingles were up-tempo and catchy. Most made use of the "winners" catch phrase and the package included "If you want to win, you've got to get with the winners," "A winner's wonderland at 1240," and a few others including one for Fridays and Saturdays proclaiming "the wonderful weekend's here!"

Sammy Russell hosted the Towers Top Ten Show.

Sunday afternoons featured "The Towers Top Ten Show" which played the local hits and was usually hosted by Sammy Sammy Russell. It began with an introduction produced by Fred with lots of sound effects that went "(tympani roll) Tabulated from record sales.... (tympani roll) Tabulated from record requests.... (tympani roll) Tabulated from jukebox plays.... (tympani roll) Tabulation complete! (brass fanfare) Spotlight on the WROV Top Ten Songs Of The Week! (lion roaring) Tabulated through public viewpoint. And now here are the tabulation results of this week's top ten songs!" after which the DJ would rip into the number ten song.

For the Spring ratings promotion, WROV once again tried "Hiding the Ide" only this time the prize for finding the Ide was a transistor radio with fifteen batteries. Burt Levine obviously wasn't going to risk losing another thousand dollars on a contest that might only last for five minutes as had happened with the "Ide" promotion in 1966. Another promotion from about the same time was the "Levis Color Quiz" where listeners could win pairs of Levis and be entered in a drawing for a guitar valued at $64.50.

Fred King at a desk in what was then the Sales Department, the big open room outside of the control room.

Throughout the summer of 1967, the lineup remained fairly consistent. Greg Rose did the overnight show, Fred was the morning man and Sammy held down the midday slot. For the first part of the year Fred returned for the afternoon show followed at night by Jack but by Spring, Fred was doing only the morning show. Jack moved back to afternoons and Rick Bennett took over the night shift. Phil Beckman also came on board about this time. That fall, Sammy moved on and the station hired an interesting guy to do mid-days who went by the name of John Galt.

Nobody remembers John's real name. His air name came from the Ayn Rand novel "Atlas Shrugged" which begins with the line "Who is John Galt?" At the time, a local outdoor advertising firm was running a campaign to see who noticed advertising. Plain white billboards with "Who Is John Galt?" in big black letters went up all over Roanoke. So, figuring he would ride this free publicity, this became "John's" air name. He even had the slogan painted on the side of his car. But as Jack recalls "John Galt turned out be something we never figured on. He was AWOL from the Marines and was fleeing a court martial. You guessed it, one day several military police showed up, and arrested John right off the air. I guess he did his show for a while from Leavenworth." Following the John Galt incident, WROV hired Ron Phelps to fill the mid-day slot. About that time Greg Rose left and was replaced by Tom Sawyers. Rick Bennett left and the night show was briefly done by Steve Cannon (not the same one who now works for WROV-FM).

Fred King in the Castle, 1968.

Fred King was presented to the public as being "fresh from three years in a Trappist Monestary in South Tyrol, tired of the silent life of basket weaving and scroll work" and ready to bring to WROV "the spirit of the Alps" and stories about the "wicker basket runs he made for the Tyrolese during their Civil War." His "castle" was said to be in the North Scottish Moors. One of Fred's sponsors was Lendy's and his show featured the Lendy's "Drive In" game. Listeners called in and were put on the air to guess which Lendy's food item the waitress was going to bring out to their car and if correct, won it.

Fred King is perhaps best remembered for an infamous bit he did called "The All-Gone Machine," a sound effect of a big loud machine that made stuff disappear. Each night, listeners were put on the air live and listed items they didn't like, things they'd like to dispose of for good, such as their school books. In the imaginary world of radio, these were then chucked into the All-Gone Machine. This was discontinued after some racist called in and said he wanted to put "all of the (N-word)s in Roanoke" into it (remember, these were the turbulent late 1960s).

It was around this time that WROV saw the arrival of copy writer John Hartmann. Jack remembers he "arrived by motorcycle from Florida with his girlfriend riding on the back." Apparently, John arrived late in the evening, spent the night in a laundromat, then showed up at the station early the next morning. He talked Fred into letting him in the building where he sat at the front desk and wrote up a resume on the receptionist's typewriter. John could con anybody, and he did his number on Burt Levine the station owner. He had never written a piece of copy in his life and had never set foot in a radio station, but his resume was just short of that of Ernest Hemingway.

Ron Phelps was in the line-up in 1968.

In June, 1968, Ron Phelps left and WROV hired the man who would become the face of the station throughout the next decade and one of the areas biggest stars. Bart Prater started working for WOLD in Marion, VA in 1963. After a fire had destroyed much of the station, the owner ran an ad looking for a few high school kids who wanted to make a few bucks by helping clean up the mess. According to Bart, "the owner had a bunch of kids shoveling ashes and I told him I could do more than that." He was handed a leaf switch from a radio station control board and told that if he could fix it, he'd be hired. He did and the owner "had me fixing stuff at $1 an hour. I helped rebuild the transmitter and the control board and got on as an engineer and finally as a DJ."

Bart started as "the morning DJ at WOLD" which had nothing to do with the Harry Chapin song. "The song was about a DJ who was getting 'OLD' and had nothing to do with the station, but when it came out the owner of the real WOLD tried to sue." He followed fellow Marion jocks Frank Lewis and Sammy Russell to WROV because of its reputation as a station of air personalities and because of his respect for owner Burt Levine. Sammy recalls "Bart once built a 1KW AM transmitter from some old burned-up parts and a thousand pound ball of steel wool. I remember him asking me, 'Do you think I would have a chance of getting a job at WROV?' I said, 'Just send them a tape and have your bags packed.'" Bart initially did the overnight shift.

Bart was trained by another WROV legend, Phil Beckman. Phil was among the Bedford radio personalities who made it to WROV, along with Jack Shields, Chuck Holloway and Vince Miller. Phil started in radio at WBLT, Bedford his first day out of high school in June, 1966. Fred Frelantz hired him to do mid-days on WROV in August, 1967 and he was just "blown away" over getting a job there.

Fred King with Paul Revere & The Raiders in the WROV Studio, 1968.

But Phil's interest in WROV went back much farther. In late summer, 1962, Phil recalls a day when he was in Roanoke with his mother shopping for school supplies. He wanted to see the station so he got a cab and said "Take me to WROV." He recalls meeting WROV GM Bernie Mann, who couldn't believe a kid would take a cab just to visit the station and looked out the window to see if there really was one in the parking lot.

Phil recalls seeing the "Quonset hut" building, Jerry Joynes on the air and the engineering room. He saw the radio licenses hanging on the wall and realized the most of the WROV guys didn't use their real names. While there, they gave him some 45s that he still has today. He later wrote Bernie a letter thanking him and requesting autographs from the guys, a few days later he received a letter from Bernie which had them all.

Phil recalls what it was like in 1967-68: "the Gates Diplomat was the board, and we had three RCA front loading cart machines. Middle one held the 'format' cart (chimes, news intro, etc.) The 'WROV' girl was on a separate cart which frequently sat in the middle machine. When I would follow Fred Frelantz on the air, he would try to see how high he could stack the spot carts before there was a repeat. "The 45's were in 4 bins: A,B,C and D. Oldies (no shucks) were on a shelf next to the bathroom. Once an hour, we visited the 'cobweb corner', complete with Jess DuBoy's intro. One shift I did when first at 'ROV was Midnight to 8AM on Sundays! Jack Fisher followed me and he was always late. He would try to get me to go get breakfast for him at Garland's Drug Store."

Jack Fisher giving away a genuine back seat from a car and 100 gallons of gas from Sunoco on Franklin Road, 1968.

That fall, Chuck Owens left the mid-day show and was replaced by Danny Williams. Fred King moved on and was replaced on the night show by Bart, who made a contest out of playing Tic-Tac-Toe with listeners and apparently went undefeated for 16 days. The station was also sponsoring "Shock It To You" shows at the new Terrace Theater at Crossroads, and giving away $35 grocery checks each week in the Domino Sugar "Sweeten Up Your Life" contest. And then on October 31, they continued a popular promotion, the WROV Halloween House.

Roanoker Twig Gravely: "I remember back in the 1960s I actually went around asking everyone on Halloween the 'are you a WROV Halloween House?' question and found one. I think I got a carton of Diet-Rite cola and some WROV doodads." Another winner was Craig Strautin. "I won a WROV Halloween House. I forget what year, but it was in the very late 60s. I lived in Sugarloaf and all the kids I was trick-or-treating with were kidding me. Every door that opened up, ďAre you the WROV Halloween Party House?Ē Puzzled looks from the parent, 'No'. Get candy and move on to the next house. Finally the parent said 'yes' and all my friends were so jealous!! Iíll never forget it. The only bad part was carrying around that 6-pack of Coke the rest of the night and back up the mountain. But damn, I was proud as hell."

Another personality who joined the staff that fall was John Cigna. John came to WROV after having worked at WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana and took over as morning man and PD. WOWO, a 50,000W clear channel directional station since 1954, was heard across most of the eastern United States. In terms of coverage area and market size this was somewhat of a step down for John. As Jack Fisher put it, "[that] was even more unusual than me coming from WEAM. It was a weird way of getting in the witness protection program." Cigna went on to KDKA, Pittsburgh and worked there for over 30 years.

John Cigna in a 1960s WOWO promo picture.

As for the local music shows, during the mid and late sixties, Fred Frelantz and Jack Fisher were the emcees of every major rock and roll show that toured Roanoke. This included James Brown, Tom Jones, the Beach Boys, the Happenings, Ray Charles and many more. A few were disasters. There was the 1965 Herman's Hermits rain-out. Then in early 1968, in what was to be the first concert in the brand new Salem Civic Center, The Four Seasons were to appear but never showed up.

Another fiasco involved Tiny Tim. Jack remembers: "Because Fred Frelantz and I were considered the pundits of rock and roll in Roanoke at that time, our opinion on music and acts had a perceived value. Pete Apostalou, who promoted the soaking wet Herman's Hermits show, was the primary promoter of touring rock acts and wrestling in town. Apostalou was quite a character in his own right. One day he came by WROV and asked our opinion on a show he wanted to book. He asked Fred and I who would be a bigger draw—the Fifth Dimension, who at that time had only one hit; or Tiny Tim, the ukulele strumming warbler who was a featured act on TV'S Laugh In. We voted for Tiny Tim.

"Of course a few months later just about the time the show was scheduled the Fifth Dimension had scored with such all-time classics as "Up Up & Away" and the "Age of Aquarius" How were we to know? I emceed the Tiny Tim show which bombed bigger than Nagasaki. Tiny Tim was just as eccentric in person as on TV, he kept following me around calling me Mr. Fisher and asking me questions every 10 minutes. The moral of the story, when given a choice never book dogs, kids or long haired, squeaky voiced ukulele players."

Fred Frelantz with Paul Revere & The Raiders, 1968. The guy in the background (in the middle) is Mark Lindsay.

In 1968, it seemed that everything was either "far out" or "in." The Mamas & The Papas and Dobie Gray had recorded "I'm In With The In Crowd", there was "Laugh In" and all over the place events were called "be-ins." Jack decided to have some fun with this phenomenon by creating the Jack Fisher IN Club. Members received a card bearing the club's motto "If you go out of your way to be IN, you may be too far out to get IN."

According to Jack, "the IN Club was created to take advantage of the rebellion against conformity that was popular during that time in the 1960's and was designed to poke fun at all of the things you needed to do to be IN. There were over 3500 card carrying members, many of whom probably still retain their card today." Members of the IN Club didn't get any special prizes or discounts. "The IN CLUB was just that a card carrying club that was cool to belong to" says Jack, "Giving things away would not have been IN."

The Jack Fisher In Club. If you go out of your way to be IN, you'll be too far out to get IN.

The WROV lineup of late 1968 - early 1969 is the one that Jack Fisher thinks to be the station's best ever, and featured Fred, Jack, Bart, and John Cigna. There was some churn on the overnight show, which featured Bob Gale, Danny Williams and Mike Lane until it was taken over for the summer by Marty Shayne.

That spring saw a great promotion that was the result of Fred putting his foot in his mouth. Without thinking, Fred made the remark that he wished he had been a housewife because that was a lot easier than doing his job at the radio station. Hundreds of housewives complained. Seizing a great promotional opportunity, the station held a contest in which one Roanoke housewife, Ann Hessler of the Cave Spring area, won the chance to do Fred's show on WROV (with John Cigna helping her) while Fred showed up at the Hessler home to be the "housewife."

Fred, The Housewife Fred cleaning Ann Hessler's house, as her neighbors dropped by for coffee and to let Fred look after their kids.

WROV billed the decade's last summer "Super Summer 69." Special IDs by Bob Barron were used and many promotions were based on the idea. Marty Shayne remembers "it started as 'Super Spring 69' which is what they were doing when I returned from Vietnam and re-joined the ROV staff in May of 1969. After saying 'Super Spring Time' and 'Super Spring Temp,' etc, the promotion tuned into 'Super Summer 69.' And if you slipped up and said 'Super Spring' you were fined 20 bucks. I will not relate to you what Fred said when told about the fines. Ha ha ha!"

That summer also saw one of the station's best remembered stunts. June is "National Dairy Month" and WROV owner Burt Levine had an idea which resulted in the station getting national publicity. Burt approached Jack Fisher and asked him if he would like to have lunch with a cow. Jack naturally agreed. So on a very hot day in June, Jack arrived at the Crossroads Shopping Mall on Williamson Road in a limosine, decked out in a tuxedo, for his lunch with the cow. Jack remembers "A large long table was set up with the cow on one end and me on the other, the cow ate hay, I of course dined only on dairy products. Showing how starved the audience was for entertainment in those days, several thousand people attended this event.

Jack Fisher having lunch with a cow to honor National Dairy Month, June, 1969.

"As you might expect, the cow did not show all of the proper table manners required for a momentous occasion such as this and went to the potty right in the middle of the meal. She did not leave the table to do this. Sure enough, the next day my picture having the lunch with the cow had made all of the wire services and was featured on the pages of many newspapers in America. As people sat down to enjoy their Sunday breakfast there we were for all to see, the cow and I enjoying a unique dining experience."

As the 1960s came to a close, WROV remained the dominant station in Roanoke. Yet Burt, for reasons known perhaps only to himself, decided it was time to shake things up a bit. When John Cigna left, he hired a new program director, Bob Canada. Bob is perhaps best remembered for being—well, let's say that he was NOT a very tall guy. And he is said to have always shown up wearing cowboy boots and western-style jackets. Rumor has it that he bought a jacket similar to his own for Bart, who took it home, hung it in the closet and never touched it again.

Bob Canada (right, with singer Ray Price) is disdained for firing Fred Frelantz. But give him credit for hiring hiring Dan Alexander.

That fall, Bart recorded his original song "I Got A Pickle Jar Lid and I Carry It In My Pocket, Baby." The song began with Bart introducing himself and his guitar, as if he were performing live somewhere, then singing the song about finding a pickle jar lid south of Roanoke on a dark and stormy night and how finding it made him feel "so fine." It became an instant local hit. Pat remembers "Bart did the song and the station played it, shortly after that he appeared live on a telethon for RADACC (the Roanoke Area Drug Abuse Control Center) and performed it on TV. Everybody already knew who he was but with this, he instantly became a local star. All the kids were singing it on the school bus every day. I even saw kids at Cave Spring Intermediate School going around wearing Mt. Olive pickle lids on strings around their necks."

The song becane synonymous with Bart and with WROV. It was played for several years and survived the test of time. According to Bucky Stover who was friends with Dan Alexander at the time, one day in 1970 someone sent a big jar of pickles—one of those huge ones as you'd find on the counter in an old-time convenience store—to the station in honor of the song. Dan supposedly carried it into the studio when Bart was on the air, began taking them out and laying them around the perimeter of the counter and when Bart started doing a break, Dan walked around behind him and shoved one of the pickles in his mouth.

And it didn't stop there. According to Larry Bly, in 2003 "a jazz singer from Roanoke named Renee Marie, who has accomplished world renown within jazz circles (she's won two international prestigious awards) came back here to perform at Jefferson Center's Shaftman Performance Hall. She started reminiscing about this and that from her upbringing in Roanoke; and much to our total astonishment, proceeded to break into a rousing version of 'Pickle Jar Lid.' Those of us who were in the know, KNEW that it was WROV AM and Bart that she listened to. It was a real hoot!"

Fred, Tommy & John work on a Lendy's Commercial, 1971.

In the Fall, 1969, at the request of Bob Canada, Burt purchased the PAMS 14 jingle package. Started in 1951 by former KLIF Dallas musician Bill Meeks, PAMS (which stands for Production Advertising Merchandising Service) had the idea that radio stations could benefit from having musical station IDs. For the next 30 years, PAMS jingles were heard on thousands of radio stations across North America. Often, PAMS would develop a new jingle package and stations would build their entire image around the jingles. Each year PAMS usually created two or three mass appeal "top 40" jingle packages.

About the time the jingles were ordered, WROV said goodbye to a living legend. Fred Frelantz departed to begin a career in advertising with John Hartmann and Viking Tommy Holcomb. There are varying accounts of what led to Fred leaving WROV; as far as the public knew, Fred was leaving radio because he wanted to make more money but didn't want to move to a larger market. Newspaper accounts also quoted Fred as saying "I need a change, I'm burned out."

But several insiders maintain that Canada persuaded Burt to fire Fred because he felt Fred "was too old for the audience." That Canada didn't order a Fred jingle with the PAMS 14 package offers more proof that this was the case. Burt was said to have spent days ruminating over the decision and later regretted the way it was handled. One way or another, and not without irony, Fred Frelantz, the man who was the face of WROV throughout the 1960s, was gone just as the decade ended.