I don't ever remember a time in my youth when WROV wasn't on a radio, somewhere, nearly every day. I was born in Roanoke in 1957 and my earliest memories are from around 1960 or so when I clearly remember hearing Johnny Preston's Running Bear on the radio. And a few years later I remember winning a Lendy's Big Boy (Leonard hadn't started calling them Buddy Boys yet) from Ron Sunshine and hearing my name on the radio for the first time ever. I lived off of Colonial Avenue and remember when Towers Shopping Center was built, and shortly afterward remember my dad taking me down there to see Fred Frelantz doing his "Wake-A-Thon."
Many have written about local radio in the 1960s and the "star status" that local DJs had and this was very much true. As a kid I had no concept of local vs. national celebrities so as far as I was concerned, Fred was just as big of a star as was Ed Sullivan. Probably larger in my eyes because I heard Fred everyday but only saw Ed once a week. My first three years of school were at North Cross School (little did I know that Bruce Jacobson and the Levine kids were passing me in the halls everyday) and remember attending "Field Day" in May, 1967. I went walking down the hall, heard music, turned into my third grade classroom and there was a guy from Pixie Radio (WPXI ) doing a remote, playing The Cyrkle's Red Rubber Ball. I don't recall which of their guys it was but remember thinking "this is cool....I want to do this one day" and standing there watching him for about half an hour.
About this time my parents decided to buy land at the foot of Bent Mountain in what then was considered out in the country. We eventually built a house there but for two years prior would camp in the summers so my dad could work on clearing the land, the garden, etc. Since there was no AC current, the only entertainment I had was the transistor radio. This was what became known as the 1967 Summer of Love, one of the best periods for music ever. I made friends with nearby kids. One, a girl named Patricia, was a few years older and was blind. Blind people all seemed to be radio buffs and she was no exception and had hers on and tuned to WROV all the time. WROV was doing "The Mr. Moe's Dedication Hour" hosted by Jack Fisher.
Once, while visiting her, I sat there dialing and dialing and finally got through and was put on the air where I dedicated The Beatles' All You Need Is Love to Pat, Lendy, Rosemary and Sharon, the neighborhood girls, and in doing so heard my voice coming out of a radio for the very first time. The next summer, same thing, only that year we were all sitting around with "Gorilla Club" cards listening for our numbers to be called out, and spending much time down the road at Spring Run Swim Club where, naturally, WROV blasted from open to close on their PA system.
In December '68 we moved into the house and I spent the next summer mostly at the pool with the speakers blasting out "You're listening to the sounds of Super Summer '69 on WROV." And along about that time I first remember hearing Bart and thinking his name was "Mark Claytor." Bart was about to become a father and was having people call in to vote on whether or not he should have his hair cut for the grand occasion. One of the neighborhood girls bet another a pack of cigarettes that Bart's baby would be a boy and won.
I cannot possibly emphasize enough the penetration that WROV had in the Roanoke market among young people. Part of this was due to the fact that we all wanted to hear Beatles, Monkees and Herman's Hermits records and that's where they were mostly being played. Some of it was due to the lack of programming targeted to kids on television at the time. Maybe one night a week if you were lucky a show such as The Beverly Hillbillies would be on but most of the time it was adult stuff that was, at the time to 11-year-old me, boring as hell. And much of it was due to the image of "coolness" that WROV had at the time. Some kids' parents thought WROV wasn't "wholesome" enough, it had a sort of renegade image, and that made us want to listen to it even more.
I mean, back then whether or not you listened to ROV was as much a part of your perceived "coolness" as were your clothes, your friends, etc. It seemed as if ALL the kids--from 8 to 18--listened to it. I would call into the nightly dedication hour or call in to have something thrown into the All-Gone Machine and the next day half the kids in school would walk up and say "I heard you on the radio last night!" At the time, I just thought that was the way it was supposed to be, it wasn't until years later working in radio that I realized what a truly unique phenomenon it was. When people speculate that WROV was then, possibly, per capita, the most listened-to radio station in the country, they were probably correct. It was nothing short of incredible. And it pretty much remained that way all the way through my high school years.
So it was absolutely the coolest day of my entire life thus far, that day in 1974 when I accompanied Cliff Beach to WROV to interview Bart for the Cave Spring High "Knight Letter" (well, except for that night the previous December when I first kissed a beautiful girl). Cliff was the writer and I was the photographer. I had seen the outside of the station before but this was the first time I'd ever been allowed into ground zero. I can't describe it other than to say that the minute I walked into the control room and watched Bart for a minute or two, I just knew that this was what I wanted to do for a living. Much to the chagrin of my parents who were expecting me to continue studying music and become a church organist someday.
About that time I discovered that having a camera and a darkroom could be used an an excuse to get me into the radio station. It seemed like all the guys loved having me show up and take pictures, then when I'd print them, they always let me come down to the station to drop off copies for them. Knowing people at WROV led to me getting the job as being the WROV High School Correspondent from Cave Spring High for two years. I showed up once a week and read 3 minutes of Cave Spring news on the air (most of the time I never prepared it in advance and just made it up as I went along). The first year I did this with Chuck Holloway then the next, my senior year, did it on the Starr Stevens show. I met Rich Randall and that, in turn, led to me making friends with another Cave Spring guy, Steve Finnegan, at a horribly boring party in December, '74.
And that's when it seemed to take off. Steve, now known as The FINMAN, and I lived radio 24 hours a day. Both of us ended up working on WCSH, Cave Spring's closed circuit radio station. We spent nights sitting around partying listening to Chuck, Starr, and sometimes Bob James on WGAR and John "Records" Landecker on WLS (which came in well at night, though sometimes we'd drive all the way to the top of Mill Mountain just so we could pick up their signals). When I was a junior the camera thing paid off big time as I was called by WROV and asked if I'd come down that night to photograph a visit to the station by Wolfman Jack. If you can imagine being a high school kid radio wannabe and hanging out with Wolfman Jack, well, that was incredible.
That, too, ended up being the night that I officially met Fred Frelantz. This is funny: Wolfman Jack, national radio and movie star, was sitting there doing a radio show but I was thinking "Wow! I'm standing here next to Fred Frelantz!" That's how big of a star Fred was. The next year, my senior year of 1976, I ran WCSH. This was hilarious: I'd often skip school but still show up anyway to do my radio show on the station, which played over the intercom into the cafeteria. And I had WROV guys like Starr, Doug McCloud and Bucky Stover doing drops and voice-overs and crazy stuff for me. The FINMAN stopped by for guest appearances. Cliff Beach was another of the DJs. Nobody knew it at the time but three future WROV personalities were working on their high school radio station.
I got out of school, went to junior college, and worked at several local radio stations including WVWR, WFIR and WPVR. Finally in January of 1980 I was hired at WROV to replace Vince Miller who had just left for K92. Working at WROV was like a dream come true but it was kind of marred by the fact that the very day I started working there, suddenly they were up against the competition that would eventually do them in. Still, it didn't much matter. I was working with Bart, Rob, Barry and the rest, sitting in the chair I'd always wanted to sit in. No experience on earth can match the feeling you had when you sat down behind the board at 15th & Cleveland, put on your headphones, opened the mike and heard your voice after it had gone through the WROV audio chain. I was finally where I wanted to be.
But alas, things change. Faced with FM competition, Burt decided that to remain competitive we had to go for an older market so the station became "the station you grew up with" and we were now being told to lay off the crazy stuff. I eventually left for a job at K92 and the next year was off to Wilmington then Asheville then Raleigh, NC where I made a radio career for the next ten years. Honestly, though, had WROV stayed the same way it was in the 1960s and 1970s, I'd probably still be working there now. It was the greatest honor of my 18-year radio career, and to this day most of my best radio friends are guys who were part of it.
So, what's my favorite WROV story? That's tough because there were so many (and lots of those I could never share outside of "the inner circle"). Probably it's the night I walked around the corner and ran into Jack Fisher. It was about 10pm, John King was on the air and I'd just gotten there early for the all-night show. John mentioned that Jack was there doing something in the production room and I remember reacting to it as if he'd said that Paul McCartney was in there. I literally started acting like Lucy at the Brown Derby restaurant. I went walking around by the desk and Jack came down the hall the other way. I think I walked up to him then just stood there staring at him for about 30 seconds.
Jack was smiling but had a "who the hell is this nutcase?" look on his face and I blurt out "OH WOW, You're Jack, man! You're Jack! I remember when you had lunch with the cow and OH MAN YOU'RE JACK..." and I think I told him that meeting him was like meeting one of the Beatles and he shook my hand and thanked me then left (probably looking in his mirror to ensure that I wasn't following him home). Not long after that, Jack and Fred returned to WROV to do their monthly "Hall of Fame" Saturday afternoon shows and I got the job of working with them, finding records, keeping the logs, etc as they did their thing. There were thousands of really cool moments in my radio career, many involved famous people, but this is the one I remember as being the best of all.
December, 1980 (4.5M)
Steve Finnegan & Pat Garrett
As The World Burns
March, 1981 (3.1M)