You can't spell radio without DI - Dan Ingram

Dan card.jpg

Dan Ingram passed at 83 this week.  He had impact on my life as a young fan of radio and later working directly with him at WABC.

My very first programming job in commercial radio was as the Assistant Program Director at the legendary Music Radio 77, WABC, New York. 

There was no bigger radio station on the planet.  At its height, it reached 6 million people every week.  A top station in New York 40 years later is lucky to hit 2.5 million.  It was a giant.  And among the giants, no one was bigger than Dan Ingram.

I had an office along the famed “blue wall” with the titans of radio management.  I was 24 years-old and I was cool. Among my responsibilities was making sure Dan Ingram was happy.  That was a tall order.  Dan was nothing short of my idol.  I had written him in junior high school and he answered.  I listened to him every afternoon.  And during my initial time around him, my youth showed and I am pretty sure I never said one intelligable word.  

He was the DJ, the other DJ's tried to be.  

New York Daily News July 2, 1981

New York Daily News July 2, 1981

Name any of the best air personalities from your hometown, they were listening and stealing from Ingram.  The legendary Rick Sklar, my friend and mentor, and the program director of WABC in its heyday told me Dan had the best “7 second mind in radio.”  Indeed. Dan "talked-up" those awfully short record intros with clever, fresh, interesting, topical, fun, and often provocative content.  

The speed and precision were devastatingly good.  

By July of 1981, I had earned Dan's trust and had the great honor of producing his 20th anniversary show on WABC - "Hey, it's the same as my first day, no commercials!'  It was a labor of love and a star-studded event with TV and radio personalities from all over showering praise on the master.  I melted just being involved, but melted more as the very first custom jingle for the event was played and it wasn’t one of the big celebratory jingles hand-crafted by Jonathan Wolfert in Dallas, but instead a spartan and short accapella "shout" - “Ingram’s 20th!” It played. It ended. Dan looked at me incrediously and said “That’s it?  You guys couldn’t even throw in the band?”  

At every radio station I worked for, I told DJ's to listen with only one earphone and concentrate not on their voice but the content.  Plenty more Ingram advice is etched into my radio DNA.  

Many people of an era will tell you they got into the business because of Dan.  I was one of them.  And one of the few who had the tremendous honor to work with him and for him.  

Howard Hoffman who worked nights at WABC during my time shared this about Dan:

He wasn't a disk jockey. He wasn't a radio personality. He was lightning in a bottle.

His genius was working in 25 second flashes on several levels at once:
-The casual listener
-The music lover
-The humor lover
-The insider
-The studio
-The advertisers
-The station management
-And of course, everyone else listening.

And he did it all with wit, brains, a wink and an infectious charm. (Listen to a small sample of his multi-level madness here:

He was to radio what Johnny Carson was to late-night TV.

He was to radio what Johnny Carson was to late-night TV. What Willie Mays was to baseball. 

I was a lucky one. I was one of those kids who grew up listening to Dan and ended up working with him at WABC as its music days were coming to an end, and we were tasked with seeing how long we can keep it alive.

Still, it took me about a year at WABC for us to actually get to know each other, since he was moved to mornings when I was hired to do evenings. It wasn't until I was moved to overnights that I finally got to know Dan.

Funny, because during those first couple of weeks, I didn't want to get in his way. We'd exchange pleasantries during the newscast and I'd let him get to work.

One morning, as I headed toward the seemingly six ton studio 8A door, I heard him shout after me, "What's your hurry?" I turned and said it was his studio at 6am. "Get over here!" he barked as he tilted his head toward a side chair. From that morning forward, I hung around the studio for an extra half hour every day until he was properly awake. For that thirty minutes, he was playing to another category of listener: Me. 

The morning after John Lennon was killed and I had to anchor coverage all night, he came in and read my face, saying, "You just did the hardest six hours of radio you'll ever do. Go get some sleep." He was right. I never had a shift like that before or since. But I stayed and helped feed him info for another hour.

May the Other Side now enjoy his wisecracks and his company. Bye now, Kemosabe.

Thanks to Howard for letting me share this.

Thanks to Dan for opening the path to my radio career.  I am forever in your debt.

As the Daily News said on July 3, 1981 - You can't spell radio without DI.