Baby Boomer Memories: Nostalgia on the airwaves
Driving in the car, I often turn to radio stations that play current pop songs. Unfortunately, I don't recognize many of the tunes, not to mention the singers and the bands that are today's pop stars.
I confess that I have "chronologically matured" to the age when my "big-band-loving folks" disparaged the music of us baby boomers. They had a hard time transitioning from Frank Sinatra to the swivel-hipped Elvis of the '50s to the mop-haired Beatles of the '60s to the hard rock of the 1970s.
A lot of the more recent hip-hop and rap music hit me much the same way Bob Dylan did to my parents, as they would often mumble, "You call that music?"
I always loved music, but it was in the late 1950s when I began listening to AM stations on my transistor radio. Around eighth grade, I started buying single pop records with lawn cutting/snow shoveling income.
For years, I never gave much thought to the popular concept of Top 40 hits. These have been the best-selling or the most frequently broadcast songs/records. The weekly rankings by the radio stations helped me build my collection of the 45s, i.e., the records with the big hole in the center. I had to fit a plastic insert in each to play them on our hi-fi turntable designed for the larger 78 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm records that had pencil-size center holes.
In Pittsfield, it was a tossup between two popular AM stations located in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area. WTRY (980 on the dial) and WPTR (at 1540). My favorite station was WPTR. (Pittsfield's two stations, WBRK and WBEC, had not yet shifted programming to the likes of the younger crowd.)
After school on Mondays, Sammy Vincent's Music Store on North Street would be inundated by teens picking up the latest WPTR list of top songs. Initially, the list had only 31 hits, and not the Top 40. I believe WPTR liked to be a maverick among pop stations and eventually had a Top 50 list. When they had a Top 40, it was preceded by 15 other hits.
WPTR had interesting promotions, often using exotic animals in public appearances. They were the first station to have a Tower of Talent live outdoor show in Albany and admission for only 50 cents. In 1958, a bunch us took a bus to this show to see over a dozen pop stars, including the Everly Brothers, Fabian, Connie Francis and Annette Funicello. And because it was a pain to cover our books in school, it was WPTR that gave us free book covers.
But the most memorable thing about WPTR was its cadre of popular disc jockeys who not only emceed radio shows, but also spun platters at private and public gatherings, many in the Berkshires. One of these was Boom Boom Brannigan, who worked the station from 1961-76.
Boom Boom, whose real name was Joseph Motto, became the most popular local deejay celebrity in the 1960s and 1970s. He chose to stay in the area rather than go to New York City to join the ranks of Wolfman Jack and Dick Clark. Being a family man with five kids, he claimed that the rat race was not for him.
Over the years, as pop and rock music was played more on FM radio, WPTR changed its format to country music, then to news and sports and then to Christian radio. The WPTR call letters also bounced back and forth with WDCD (named for its owner, Don Crawford.)
In more recent years, the station went through a transition to oldies music and even brought Boom Boom back shortly in 2004. But neither WPTR nor Boom Boom could make WPTR come back from all its changes.
Boom Boom had a great career in radio and even owned a station. (He passed away at age 82 in 2010.) WPTR finally went off the air in October 2017 and gave up its license permanently only two weeks ago.
May the "maverick" station that left us with some great memories with its Top 31 rest in peace.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark, business or event you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at email@example.com.
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