The 1970s - The Rock of Roanoke - Part 1

The 1970s saw some big changes for WROV, most notable was the remodeling of the radio station building. The original building consisted of a Quonset hut that was parallel to 15th Street. The hut housed the transmitter, the engineer's office, a small bathroom, a storage area and the music library. Just above the hut, parallel to Cleveland Avenue, a small concrete block building was built and attached to the hut.

As it was up the hill a bit, it was about two feet above the hut and to get from one part to the other, one had to traverse two stairs. The concrete block part of the building housed the control room, the production room, a reception area, an area where sales people had their desks, and an office for Burt Levine and GM Don Foutz. The concrete block part of the building was white and the hut wasn't painted and was a metallic aluminum color.

Dan Alexander in 1970

But around 1970, Burt had the building remodeled and added some extra space. A new larger office for Burt, offices for Jim Carroll and other salespeople, a copy writer's office and small bathroom were added to the back side of the building which now almost formed a square with a small grassy area in the middle. The new addition also contained a production room which freed up the original to become a news room.

To keep the new part of the building level with the concrete block part, it was necessary to construct it upon knee walls with a small crawl space underneath. This part of the floor was wood, not concrete, which made it possible for Bart Prater to weld a penny to a nail and hammer it into the floor right outside of Burt's office door. Bart figured that it would drive Ol' Burt crazy if he had to pass a penny on the floor that he couldn't pick up and put in his pocket each time he went into or out of his office. This new addition was said to have been built by the Jim Walters Home people (who were well known in Roanoke for their television ads which appeared on Saturday country music shows including Bonnie Lou & Buster).

Also, Burt had the Quonset hut enclosed inside of a 15' high cinder block false front which was painted brown. The upper part of the building had new brown siding installed and housed the new entrance which faced the new parking lot which was now above the building on Cleveland Avenue and no longer in the back. A new set of wooden white call letters was mounted on the wall near the new entrance and the older set of metal call letters was moved from the front of the concrete block part of the building (where the old entrance had been), painted white and mounted at the top of the cinder block false front.( more... )

The Station with the Missing W A newspaper ad from April, 1971.

The station entered the 1970s with an air staff that included Dan Alexander, Bill Thomas (not the same one that later worked at WFIR), Jack Fisher, Bart, and Jack Parnell.

Dan had just arrived in December, 1969 to replace Robert W. Morgan. Dan, who is from Neosho in the southwest corner of Missouri, was hired by Bob Canada. Not long afterward, Canada left and Dan was given the title of "Chief Announcer" at WROV. Burt didn't want to make him program director because he was still "smarting" a bit from Canada who, among other things, let Fred Frelantz go.

Dan recalls "I was born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks. When I chose radio as a profession it took a year for me to lose colloquialisms like "we-uns goin' to the feedlot. You-uns wanna join us-ins?" By 1963, he was working at KCLR in Texas, called "K-Clear" because of the great signal (which Dan says was because the tower was grounded in the middle of the town's sewage sump). He was on the air there, reading the hog market report when JFK was shot. He later did a year as a 1st Lieutenant in South Vietnam.

The Osmonds were in Roanoke in August, 1971. Since it was Wayne's birthday, the WROV gang delivered him a cake. Bart & Dan are in the rear on the left; Jim Carroll, Wally, & Ron T are on the right. Phil was on the air that night and did an interview.

Dan had previously worked in radio using the name "Mike Wolf" (which is very close to his real name) and once worked with Jim Bohannan. The name "Dan Alexander" was a creation of Bob Canada; it was the actually the name of one of the PAMS jingle singers in Dallas; Canada liked the name and, according to Ron Tompkins, had a jingle made for "Dan Alexander" figuring that this would become the air name of whomever was hired next.

Dan was famous for his character voice, Marvin Merriweather, who sounded a lot like the slow-talking nasal-sounding guy that used to do 7-11 commercials in the 1970s. Dan could easily do both voices live and on the fly and typically Dan would start a joke and Marvin would have the punch line. For a while the station played a song about Marvin, by Bart, describing how Marvin looked funny, talked funny, and because he never bathed, SMELLED funny. "Marvin Merriweather, gettin' it together, in all kinds of weather, Marvin Merriweather."

After WROV, Dan worked in Denver at KTLK where he produced a novelty song The Ode To Alferd Packer, based on a true story about tracker lost in a blizzard in the 1800s who stayed alive by eating his dead friends. The song became a local hit and almost made the Dr. Demento Show (The Doctor DID eventually play another of his songs, Marvin's Duckie). Dan's gigs also included WAPE in Jacksonville, FL; Q-107 in Washington, DC; a two year stint as the morning host and production director for VOA Europe; and several years as production manager for WLS, Chicago.

Dan was a guest at a Miss Virginia Pageant reception, June 1971. The girls are Linda Moyer, Mary Sandy, and Ann Taylor.

Promotions of the early 1970s included the "WROV Secret Sound of Summer" which was a sound effect, played hourly for a call-in contestant who tried to guess what it was. One year, the sound was someone unfolding a lawn chair and it took listeners well into July to figure it out.

In Spring, 1971, WROV became "the station with the missing W." It was reported that someone had stolen the "W" from "WROV" and listeners had to figure out where it was. Jingles were edited to remove the "W" and the staff was told to just say "ROV" on the air. Callers guessed locations where the "W" might have been hidden; places in town were there was a prominent W such as "on the side of an N&W coal car" or in the Towers Mall Woolworth's sign.

Wally "Gator" Sale arrived about this time. He was the fourth Marion personality to come to WROV and was given his "Gator" nickname by Sammy Russell. He recalls "when the 'W' of the ROV got ripped off and there was a scavenger hunt to find it, with clues on the air to keep the listeners listening for the ratings period. I remember everyone saying 'practice and don't screw it up', 'NO W's, it's ROV', until someone finds the 'W'. The jingles were cut down to ROV, all the liners were ROV and the city was going nuts trying to find that missing 'W.'"

It's interesting to note that when the original metal call letters were removed from the building during its demolition in 2004, we noticed that the "W" was different and appeared to be much newer than the "R" "O" and "V". It's very likely that during the early 1970s remodeling, something happened to the original "W" and this gave them the idea for the contest.

Dan Alexander was featured in a September, 1971 newspaper story about local celebrities' breakfast preferences and was shown frying eggs.

That summer, Kenney's Drive-In Restaurants sponsored an afternoon "Oldies But Goodies" segment that began with a catchy little jingle and was followed by a few golden greats. Another summer, the station gave away a red and white motorcycle. David Levine painted hundreds of little WROVs all over it. The bike toured the valley, on display at various sponsor locations, where people got to try to count all of the WROVs and send in their guess. At the end of the contest, the person who came closest to the correct count won.

Ron Tompkins joined the staff in late 1970. Ron was from Morehead, KY, near the West Virginia - Ohio border. As a kid he was friends with country music star Tom T. Hall and the two did an act together on the local radio station. Ron remembers "he was Pee Wee Hall and I was Little Red at WMOR. The song he wrote, Harper Valley PTA made famous by Jeanie C. Riley was actually about Olive Hill, KY where Tom grew up, just outside of Morehead, about 20 miles west. I saw Tom a few years afterwards and confronted him with my beliefs of the song and he said he would never admit it publicly, then winked at me."

At the time he began working at WMOR Ron was about 10 and came in every Saturday and read a poem. He then was given a Saturday morning show that lasted half an hour. About this time the newspaper did a story about him, stating that he was the "youngest disc jockey in the USA." By 1961, Ron was signing the station on at six and working two hours before going to school. Also, like many other future DJs Ron built his own radio station in a cabin in his back yard and was once heard by a school mate ten miles away.

Ron is perhaps best remembered for his red hair—LOTS of it which he sometimes kept in a big "permed Afro" style. Upon arriving he did the overnight shift then after a few months went to mid-days. "One of the Levine girls delivered something to the front door from her mom & dad, probably the next days program log, and later I heard that she told them "He is so nice, you should move him up!"

The Staff in 1972: Charlie Bell, Phil Beckman, Larry Bly, Ron Tompkins, Bart Prater (and Lee Daniels kneeling in the full shot).

Ron became the music director and remained at WROV until August, 1972 when he took a job in Colorado as a regional record promoter for United Artists. "I did pretty well as a music director at ROV and doing mid-days as a jock. But I was really working at the music, not the air stuff. I was pretty lucky. At the time I had a 'GOOD EAR'. Record companies said if we added a song and it got into our top 10, it had an 87% chance of GOING NATIONAL. I worked it 15-20 hours a day...sometimes in 2 shifts. How my wife put up with me I don't know."

Other early 1970s air staffers included Dale Parsons, J. Michael Graves, Lee Daniels and Charlie Bell. Charlie had worked in Martinsville, VA and Wilson, NC before coming to WROV to do the morning show in February, 1972. But his stay was short, he left the station the following June to enroll in Roanoke College to major in theatre. He later became well known at the Mill Mountain Playhouse and even did a stint as the weatherman on Channel 10.

J. Michael Graves did two stints on WROV, in 1970-71 and again in 1973-74. He was said to have carried a briefcase everywhere he went which contained—he said—papers which proved that he was crazy. It was said that he'd spend hours inside of the closet in the lobby then would emerge, walk across the top of the front desk, and head off to the control room.

J. Michael Graves. Maybe he hid in the closet to change into his Superman outfit?

When asked he said "I will admit that I did walk over the front desk often and would have a coffee break type conference in the closet. I have no recollection as to why I did this, but then the voices in my head haven't been talking to me since I divorced the last wife. They liked her. They would be the ones who could best relate why I did this. When they start talking to me again, I'll be happy to relate their logic concerning this issue. I seem to recall something about the Royal Kings at the King's Inn being after me for some reason."

After almost seven years at WROV, Jack Fisher left WROV for the greener pastures of the advertising world with the Brand Edmonds agency in Roanoke in 1971. Jack wasn't happy over the forced departure of Fred Frelantz in 1969, also he was finding that with a wife and kids, a radio career made it tough to pay the bills. He would later work for the Finnegan & Agee agency and then worked for the Advance Auto Parts company, where he conceived the Advance Auto "In Store" network (the in-store audio and those three TVs you see over the counter? That was Jack's idea!).

Jack says "Looking back now I can really appreciate how hard it was to give up something I really loved doing and something I was very good at just to make a better living. Getting out of radio and into the advertising business was a big step considering that I knew little about the business side of advertising agencies. But learn I did. Again I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Brand Edmonds, the agency I went to work for, was an agency that was heavy in print advertising and was looking for someone with a broadcast background."

Fred Frelantz & Jack Fisher, 1970s

But radio will always be in his system, he says. "It's where I got to be myself. I made a decision for my family that I had to make and it's a decision I've regretted. I've heard some people say I quit too soon. That's what I always did best." Another WROV personality, Wally Gator, also departed the station in 1971.

These openings paved the way for Phil Beckman to return on a full-time basis. Phil did the 7-Midnight shift but, as he recalls, "they didn't think I was up-tempo enough to do the 7-Midnight shift" so he was moved to the overnight show and the night shift was filled by Larry Bly.

Larry, who is originally from Harrisonburg, VA, came to ROV from WWWW-FM, a.k.a. "W4" in Detroit. WWWW was owned by industry pioneer Gordon McClendon in Texas, the man who supposedly aired the first ever baseball game on radio and claimed to have invented the "Top 40" format. Larry remembers "WWWW FM in Detroit was in an old house right on the main drag. But this was shortly after the riots and burning of Detroit, so we were still in a seedy portion of town and I parked my Purple Dodge Charger in the front yard, so I could look down from the second-story studio and keep an eye on it." Larry was an instant success and was loved by the audience.

Ron Tompkins & Dan Alexander, 1972. We tried, but even all of OUR creative minds couldn't come up with a good, clean caption for this one...

When Ron Tompkins left in 1972, Larry took over the midday show and soon established his place as one of the funniest and most entertaining personalities in Roanoke broadcasting history, and he still is today. Larry's show included regular appearances by "The Reverend Billy" who gave a brief sermon then began selling you things such as "The Rev. Billy's Collection of Gospel CB Favorites" (complete with Bart performing song snippets of "Shall We Gather At The CB" and "The Old Rugged Twin Dipole Antenna").

Larry is five days older than Bart and in 1972 they celebrated their 25th birthdays by having an on-air party. The Kroger bakery them with two cakes for the occasion. Many local celebrities and politicians, including Mel Linkous and Mayor Roy Webber, were invited (Mel showed up, Roy didn't). Listeners were also inviged to stop by. Bart had his guitar on hand and the partiers sang a few songs. Those who were there participated in the festivities which inclued a 'pin the tail on the donkey' game (which Larry referred to as "pin the tail on the boss' son") which was won by Judy Cox.

This motorcycle was given away to the person who came closest to counting the correct number of "WROVs" that were painted on it.

Among the most memorable things heard on the station in the early 1970s were the songs recorded in the production room by Bart. He was a good guitar player and frequently recorded original material and his own "cover versions" of popular songs. Bart's version of Elvis' Blue Christmas had him singing the lead with him singing falsetto harmony riffs overdubbed in the background. Another was his version of the Four Freshmen's Graduation Day in which he changed the lyrics to "a time for joy, a time for tears, a time for drinkin' twenty beers!"

But two were, by far, the most popular. The first was 1969's "Pickle Jar Lid." The other was Bart's version of the 1971 Dave & Ansill Collins' song Double Barrel in which Bart said a few phrases that became station slogans for years. The song opens with Bart proclaiming "I am the magnificent, I put it to you in your house, in your car, wherever you are, and if you want the hits baby, we got 'em. Right here in P.D. Bottom." And near the very end of the song he mentions—for what we think was the first time—the station's famous phrase "Oh Lordy, 1240."

Another shot of the 1972 WROV Gang. The car was Phil's Packard, which he bought from some Roanoke lady who raised monkeys in her living room (honest).

At this point we should probably stop and discuss the origin of the name "P.D. Bottom." The nickname of the part of the Star City near the Roanoke River and railroad tracks where WROV was located. It has been called this for years but didn't seem to gain it's notoriety until Bart made it famous in song. From that point on it seemed that whenever the station's address was given on the air it was always "15th Street and Cleveland Avenue, in the heart of P.D. Bottom.

There are many stories and urban legends about this. One has it that it's a railroad term, denoting the end of the long Pulaski Downgrade ending at the N & W's Roanoke Shops in nearby Shaffer's Crossing. Another has it that this particular area is on the "bottom" of the list of priorities for the Roanoke City Police Department. But according to local historian Raymond Barnes, frequent flooding was so bad on this section of Cleveland Avenue; also the depression of 1893 so severely affected this area that both the county and city disowned it and began referring to it as Poor Devil's Bottom. Shaffer's Crossing was also once referred to as "Dogtown" but this was just a meaningless epithet. As Paul Harvey would say, "and that, my friends, is the REST... of the story."

Bart in 1972

In 1972 we heard the debut of the WROV "Rock of Roanoke" jingle package from PAMS Productions of Dallas, TX. The PAMS 14 "Roanoke Radio" package from 1969 sounded a bit too slow for the music now being played. Also, other than Bart, the entire air staff had changed and the desire to get new jock jingles probably contributed to the decision. The jingles included "Solid rock," "More solid rock," "Solid rock round the clock," and a set for oldies that began "WROV yesterday..." and had separate year add-ons to follow it. Jock jingles for Bart, Larry, Charlie Bell, Phil Beckman, and Ron Tompkins were included. Terry Young, J. Michael Graves, Joe Martin and Scot Morris were added in 1973. Burt apparently didn't want to buy a jingle for Scot, who worked part time, so Scot paid for it himself.

The "Rock of Roanoke" jingles had their origin in October, 1971 when WLS Chicago agreed to pilot a jingle series with a younger, more contemporary vocal sound. The result was the PAMS "Solid Rock" package which was quite controversial at the time. The jingles were sung by PAMS singers Ronnie, Chris, Randy, Donna and Cheryl (information courtesy of the PAMS website which doesn't list their last names). The following year WROV purchased this package, had it customized, and from it, came WROV's nickname, "The Rock Of Roanoke." It sounded different from anything Roanoke had ever heard before, and those jingles STILL sound good all these years later.

You heard them everyday for ten years! Ronnie, Chris, Randy, Donna and Cheryl of PAMS Productions, singers of the WROV "Rock of Roanoke" jingles.

Other early 1970s WROV people included newsmen Paul Houston, David Douglas and Darrell Hudnall. Dick Bentz was hired as the copy writer / promotions director after John Hartmann left. He is probably best remembered for his commercials for Lakeside that used the music of Freddy Cannon's "Palisades Park" and his commercials for "The KIIIIIIIIIIIIINGS INN!" He did them all, except for one: he refused to do it the week the band was "Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts" because he couldn't say that without cracking up. He later worked in the same capacity at WLOS-TV in Asheville, then went to Atlanta and sadly, he passed away in 2003 after a long illness.

Phil shows off one of the T-Shirts WROV was giving away in the early and mid 1970s.

Another person worth mentioning is Bob the Janitor. Bob, a middle-aged black man, showed up every night and cleaned the radio station. Bob would always stop and talk with you but nobody ever understood anything he said because he always mumbled with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

In 1973, WROV was home of a screamin' night jock named Terry "Motormouth" Young. He was a wild guy who would scream up the intros of records such as "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree." There are a lot of urban legends regarding Terry's departure from the station (and we can't think of any that we can print here). He later worked in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Detroit and is now heard on XM Satellite Radio's "The 60s on 6" Channel. Terry was replaced on the 7-Midnight shift by Shane Randall, who called his show "The Shane Randall Ride."

WAPE, Jacksonville FL in 1979 featured two former WROV guys: (l to r) Phil Beckman, Steve Gannon, A.J. Davis, Greaseman, Dan Alexander, (kneeling) Paul Sebastian

Other jocks of this era included Tom Twine, Scot Morris, Larry Dowdy and Tom Crockett. Crockett is rumored to have once put the reel tape of "Message of Israel" on the machine backwards, played the entire fifteen-minute show in reverse, and then told Burt "Gee, I'm sorry, thought they did it in Hebrew this week!" Another "Crockett" legend tells of him once falling asleep in a chair in Al Beckley's transmitter room, then being rolled outside by the some of the other guys who then lit off a cherry bomb in a garbage can a few feet behind his head.

1973 also saw WROV hire one of the best music directors that ever worked there. Bedford's Chuck Holloway was tall, had a long beard, and called himself "Chucker". He worked mornings and had what record industry people call "the ear"—the ability to spot a hit song long before anyone else. While WSLC's King Edward IV had it for country, Chuck had one of the best "ear's" ever for spotting a pop hit and is probably best remembered for a day in the fall of 1974 when—legend has it—he accidentally put "Another Park, Another Sunday" by the Doobie Brothers on the turntable upside down. He liked the "B" side of the single better than the "A" side and decided to add it, instead. That song was "Black Water" and it became the Doobies' first-ever #1 hit.

Tom Twine worked at WUVT and WROV in the Early 1970s

Ironically, Phil Beckman (who also has "the ear") did the same thing at approximately the same time at WQRK, Norfolk and says "I was the MD at The Sooper Q. We not only were playing 'Another Park', we used it as a theme for our Sunday softball games we had with various organizations. When I carted up the 45s, I always listened to the flip side a little bit just for grins. 'Black Water' blew me away and I knew I had to hear it through the extremely compressed QRK air chain, so I carted it up.

As the Q was known for playing more than one cut by a popular artist (not necessarily as 'album cuts', just maybe a nice extra tune), BW fit the mold. We all liked it better, so we played it pretty much from April or May of 1974 until the Q became semi-automated in January of 1975. Then, lo and behold, up pops 'Black Water' as a current on the TM reels when we were done with it! I never was an aggressive sort with the record companies, so I may have missed a gold record. Chuck certainly deserved one. More than one station gets gold records for the same song, depending on market size and politics."

Chuck Holloway a.k.a. "Chucker" in 1975

In telling the "Black Water" story we should note that Roanoker Rob Fraim says that he brought the record to Chuck's attention after giving it a listen one night on the jukebox at the Village Inn Pizza Parlor. And since Chuck is no longer with us, we can't ask him about this. But that's likely how it happened as WROV was a station where listener requests occasionally made it onto the playlist. Phil adds "On a side note, WROV was one of the first stations to chart 'I'll Be Around' by the Spinners due to someone listening to that side and liking it." So Doobies, if you read this, send gold records to Phil and Rob.