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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ron


Ron Allen died yesterday.

He worked at WARM radio for decades, as a disc jockey, sportscaster, and program director. Ron was my first boss in broadcasting. He hired me in 1981 to run the Sunday morning religion and public affairs shows from 1 am to 9 am. All it entailed was putting tape reels on a machine and pushing the "play" button every half-hour, but I was thrilled to have it.

I have to level with you. Ron was not an easy man to like. I worked at WARM for nearly eleven years. Ron and I had our moments. He went up one side of me and down the other after I had worked my first shift, and there were several other reamings through the years. One stands out. I was invited to Mr. and Mrs. Allen's anniversary party. Don't ask me why, but I didn't RSVP that I couldn't come. Of course, it was followed by several minutes of yelling a couple days later. During the tirade, I started to think "I'm getting yelled at for missing his party. Maybe he likes me." Way deep down, I think Ron did like me, and I'm sorry things didn't end on an "up" note between us.

A short time after I left the station, I ran into Ron at Lackawanna County Stadium. He was WARM's elder statesman, a link to the glory days. I let Ron know that I thought the station was treating another long time employee in a shabby fashion. Of course, Ron didn't agree and he let me know it, quite vocally. I saw him at a Turkey Hill a few years later, and he walked right past me. It hurt.

Ron never really yelled at you. He did raise his voice a bit, but it was the words that mattered. Cutting. Biting. Ripping you to shreds. I deserved it most of the time. He had quite a command of the language. His reamings were works of art, almost entertaining.

Ron Allen was one of the most talented broadcasters I've ever worked with. His recall of facts, figures, and stories was absolutely amazing. I always got the impression that Ron felt something was missing. He was THE sports guy, but I believed Ron wanted to be known for something more than that. He did a general interest talk show for a while, and it was good. He was a genius when it came to movies, and he really could do an interview.

Ron may have come along too soon. He did most of his radio work before the days of all-sports stations. Listening to the "talent" out there today, Ron could blow them away. I ran the board for Ron's evening Sportsline show for a few years. That's radio talk for keeping track of the time, answering the phone, and making sure all the commercials got played. I also had control over something called the "dump" button. If someone said something inapporpriate, the "dump" button would trigger the delay system, and the offensive comments would be zapped before they made it on air. There was many an evening when I had my finger poised to hit the button when Ron started fighting with one of his callers. I never used it because at the end of the call, Ron would skillfully manipulate and convince the caller that his (Ron's) opinion was the right one. He was the master. Angry callers were whipped.

You might remember Turkey Trot. It was a yearly WARM promotion, just before Thanksgiving. Each air personality had a turkey, like "West's Wishbone." If you bet on the right turkey, you won a bird. It was like a horse race, except with mythical turkeys. Ron recorded the call of the race as "Tommy Feathers." He would go into the production room, armed with nothing more than a list of turkeys, and ad lib several races. It's almost imposible to describe. I've never seen anything like it.

The Friday Night Sportsline was groundbreaking radio. The station would position reporters at four or five high school football games. The reporters would phone in updates. Ron would skillfully switch from reporter to reporter, from game to game, throw in a few other callers and sports news. On top of that, there were breaks for news, weather, and commercials. He made it look and sound easy. It wasn't. Believe me.

If memory serves, the Sportsline actually began on a Sunday night. Remember, this was long before ESPN, so WARM (and Ron) was the place to turn for the latest scores, sports news, and it was the place to talk about it.

I don't think Ron ever took me aside to teach me anything, but I learned so much just by watching, and listening. I was lucky.

Some of my favorite days at WARM were spent listening to Ron "hold court" in the production room that doubled as a talk studio and Ron's office. The man could tell a story and be wickedly funny. Always highly opinionated, and that was part of his charm. You always knew where Ron stood.

Ron suffered a stroke several years ago, losing much of his ability speak. It was so sad. Such a gifted communicator was silenced.

This is a picture I took at Lackawanna County Stadium on opening night, in April of 1989. I don't remember what was happening at the time. Ron was likely yelling at me for something. I'm okay with that. That was Ron.

Good night, Mother Fletcher.

My sympathy to Ron's wife, daughter, friends, and fans.