Monday, January 28, 2019

So Long, and Thank You

Frank Cali started working at WARM maybe a year after I did, in the very early 80's.  Frank, under the name of Chris O'Brien, did the overnight shift at first.  Yes, this was the time when real radio stations had real live people working around the clock.  It was called "full service radio."

I was the evening news person at the time, and I'd hang around after my shift ended at 11:30 PM, just shooting the bull with Chris for hours, hearing some old stories and learning about the business.   He loved radio.  Let me repeat:  Chris loved radio.  Before his arrival at WARM, Chris programmed a few radio stations in the market.  I will never forget his advice.  Chris believed radio programming wasn't all that difficult.  All you really had to know was "shut up and play the hits."  Of course, it was a little more than that.  He had one odd accomplishment.  It seems every station Chris joined, excluding WARM, had a polka show, and he always canceled it.

When Chris was "between jobs," he borrowed my typewriter to bang out resumes.  I'd drop it off at whatever place he was renting and pick it up a few days later.

Chris was what we in the business call a "floater."  He changed jobs frequently.  It's usually viewed as a negative.  I didn't see it that way.  He was just constantly looking for something new, a challenge.

Chris might have been the original Dr. Johnny Fever.  I remember when he arrived at WARM, he needed a card in front of him to remember his new air name and the station's call letters.

One of my favorite stories was when Chris worked at a radio station with big windows in the studio, looking out onto a used car lot next door,  run by a shady operator.  As Chris was talking on the air, he watched the used car lot owner get punched in the face by an angry customer.   Yes, I know assault isn't funny, but even after all these years, I still think of the way Chris told the story, and I can get a good laugh out of it.

We stayed in touch long after the WARM days.  He hired me to work with him at WKRZ AM 1340 in Wilkes-Barre.  I almost jumped, but WARM offered me more hours as a counter.   I stayed.  We reconnected a few years back, going out to lunch a few times.  It was good to talk with an old friend.

Chris, and I always called him that rather than his given name (he didn't mind), collected old television memorabilia.  Out of privacy and security concerns, I won't give the list of everything I saw in his most impressive collection, but there was a chair from Al Bundy's "Married with Children" shoe store, one of Johnny Carson's coffee mugs, some of Soupy Sales' old cancelled checks and contracts. plus tons of 3 Stooges stuff.  He was friends with cartoon voices, including June Foray, who brought Rocky the Squirrel to life.  Chris knew Moe Howard's daughter.  He had several autographs of the major movers and shakers from his time at the Voice of America in Washington.

There were plenty of health problems over the years, and that made me sad.  He had a lot left to give.

Chris used to live in a high rise a few miles from my house.  Even though he had moved, I'd pass the high rise and say to myself, "I have to see how he's doing."  The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  I'm sorry.

Frank Cali, Chris Starr, Chris O'Brien died Friday night.

I lost a teacher.

I lost a friend.