Following the announcement of the return to music by WDAS-AM (1480) beginning with holiday music 11/23. Further insight into the station was told to me by the son of legendary Philadelphia personality, Hy Lit. The text, written by Sam Lit, follows:
1480/WDAS-AM was a legendary Rhythm and Blues heritage station located in the beautiful Fairmount Park section of Philadelphia. I had the privilege of growing up there are a kid, with my step brothers and sisters, as my stepfather Bob Klein was General Manager and owner. The term legendary does not even capture what WDAS-AM was to Philadelphia or the role it played as setting the standard of urban radio, both locally and nationally. WDAS’s influence was unequalled, where Philadelphia and the country heard the Rhythm & Blues hits and the sound of Philadelphia first. It was unique and magical, with an extraordinary on air presentation that began at the dawn of Rock and Roll in 1951, when Rock and Roll meant Rhythm and Blues. WDAS was an influence that was heard and woven into the fabric of our society, as well as the broadcast industry, nation wide.
The WDAS studios in beautiful historic Fairmont Park were one of the most exciting full service, on air engineer broadcast assisted, RCA blue print facilities that I have ever seen. And I have seen them all, including as you know WIBG, where I also grew up as a kid. The Disc Jockeys were true radio wizards, and the home of legends like Jocko Henderson, Georgie Woods, Kae Williams, Jimmy Bishop, Larry Daily, Carl Helm, Louis Williams, Joe (Butterball) Tamburro, and many more. Even Hy Lit was on WDAS-AM in 1969 from 1-4pm, as he launched WDAS-FM into contemporary underground radio beginning in late 1968. Joe “Butterball” Tamburro who began his career spinning records for Hy Lit at record hops in the late 50’s and met my stepfather, Bob Klein through the association with Hy, started DJ’ing on WDAS-AM in the late ‘60’s and began programming WDAS FM in the 70’s. (It was announced that he will be involved with the rebirth of the AM station) (see http://hylitradio.com/index.php?page=6 for a history timeline).
But no matter how big the musical high points, WDAS News was there. The WDAS newsmen and women were a group of brilliant journalists, where many prominent broadcast journalists, including Ed Bradley, Bob Perkins, and my stepsister Wynn Alexander, professed an award winning level of reporting, at a time when radio was where people turned to hear what was happening now, fast and factual.
The WDAS News department had achieved more awards year after year, for news journalism, than I can name. By 1966, WDAS News had won 17 major awards and dozens of Associated Press Awards for news and editorial in addition to 13 Valley Forge Freedom Awards, 3 Valley Forge Freedom Medals, the Armstrong Award for Journalism, and countless proclamations of recognition.
WDAS News was a tireless warrior against racism and oppression, and every known social ill. The contributions to black progress and racial harmony were recognized far and wide as well as congressionally. It is worth noting in a long roster of accomplishments, that in 1962 WDAS News, was the only station to ‘sweep’ the Associated Press Awards and one of only two stations in the country to win a Valley Forge Freedom’s Foundation Medal for editorial excellence that year. (see http://wdashistory.org/ for a history timeline).
There is no Philadelphia area radio station before or since that has matched what a single locally owned and operated broadcast voice has meant to a city or an industry. My stepfather sold WDAS AM/FM in 1979, for what was the highest dollar value ever paid for a Philadelphia radio station up until that time, culminating a combined three decades of unparalleled broadcast excellence.
Saturday afternoons saw Max and his members of the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra practicing on the 4th floor of his candy factory and at the Lorraine Hotel on Broad Street. Max “broadcast” the rehearsal throughout the plant through a loudspeaker system in the production area. During the Second World War, the orchestra played concerts at Army and Navy hospitals, service centers, camps, stations and raised over $6,000,000 in war bond sales. Leon organized it, led it, paid all the bills, and was their conductor. It was his baby. Throughout the years, he continued to conduct the eighty piece Philly Pops with performances at the Academy of Music.
For twenty-nine years, Max M. Leon owned the majority interest in WDAS which he purchased for a half million dollars on October 19, 1950 from William Goldman (a theater chain owner.). WDAS was originally licensed to Ocean City, NJ, Subsequent ownership was retained by retailers Dannenbaum & Steppacher, Thus the call letters “W-D-A-S. Dannenbaum & Steppacher moved the station to Philly where it has remained ever since. Bob Klein, and Leon applied for and was granted a construction permit for an FM station and in 1959, 105.3/WDAS-FM was licensed and came on the air. (105.3 was originally WHAT-FM/105.3 and was abandoned when WHAT-FM moved to 96.5 Mhz. Up until Hy launched Hyski’s underground on WDAS-FM in late 1968, WDAS-FM was Max’s personal playground for the fine arts in Philadelphia. (Coincidentally, Hy was heard on 105.3 when his 1340/WHAT-AM radio show was simulcast on WHAT-FM/105.3, from 1954-55).
Factoid:1972 WDAS’ Bob Klein files a class action suit against the Arbitron rating service on behalf of all black radio stations and proves that black radio listenership was undercounted. Arbitron settles after four days of testimony and amends its methologies and policies.
Factoid: 1968: Bob Klein hires Hy Lit as V.P. and General Manager of WDAS-FM. Hyski’s underground is launched on WDAS-FM. Hy also does 1-4 afternoons on WDAS-AM.
Factoid: 1968 The campaign waged by WDAS News against Girard College’s “white only” policy is victorious, when US Supreme Court orders that black students be allowed to attend the school.
Factoid: 1967 WDAS personality and Gospel Queen Louise Williams introduce a young gospel singer, Aretha Franklin to Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records… and the rest is music history.
Factoid: 1962 Georgie Woods breaks the Beatles’, “Please, Please Me,” originally on the African-American owned, Chicago-based Vee-Jay Records label.
Factoid: 1960 Louise Williams hired by Bob Klein to come to WDAS-AM to do gospel. WDAS Charities established to address the needs of the community. WDAS Charities initiates “WDAS Freedom Shows,” both Rock n’ Roll and gospel concerts that raise money to benefit those in need in the Philadelphia community. John “Lord Fauntleroy” Bandy appointed Assistant General Manager at WDAS, one of the first African-Americans to hold that position in radio nationwide. WDAS commissions further market research and listenership study with E. John Bucci, President Kennedy’s chief statistician. WDAS initiates one of the first voter registration drives. WDAS credited with increasing African-American voter registration by mayor of Philadelphia.
Factoid: 1956 Georgie Woods joins “Jocko” Henderson at WDAS-AM.
Factoid: 1953 “Jocko” Henderson hired at WDAS-AM in Philadelphia on October 5th. Georgie Woods hired as an air personality at WHAT-AM after a brief stint at WWRL-AM in New York.
http://wdashistory.org was assimilated by Wynne Alexander (Wynne Klein), my stepsister, Bob Klein’s oldest, and, Max Leons granddaughter. Bob Klein, Max’s son-in-law, General Manager, and part owner of WDAS, married my mother after her and Hy divorced. Even before as Hy’s best friend, (that’s another story for another time), Bob and his kids were part of a close family inner circle that dated way back before I was born. Bob was originally married to Max Leon’s daughter. Max Leon was a Jewish immigrant and at the age of 16 came to the US from Poland (Swierze) with a violin, four dimes, and a suitcase. Max ultimately became the general manager of a candy factory at which he began work as a candy breaker. He then became the owner of that same company, the Whole-Sum Products in 1934. They made different types of sweets while inventing marshmallow ice cream for the Breyers Ice Cream Company headquartered in the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia. He kept the candy factory all during the WDAS days. In fact, the candy company was a major sponsor on WDAS radio. There was many a year in which I heard the ‘Dainty Mints’ commercials on the air, and in the production studio. Dainty Mints was one of the staple nickel sugar product lines manufactured by Whole-Sum Products. Max made a bundle, one nickel at a time, literally. He made millions and in 1943, he founded, financed and conducted “the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra” which was the the prelude to what is now the Philadelphia orchestra.
The above written by Sam Lit and can be reached via www.hylitradio.com.