An Interview with legendary NY radio personality Harry Harrison.
Conducted By Gary West @mrpopculture.com and www.mrpophistory.com
Mr. Pop – Harry – you’re a unique personality in the New York radio market. You were at three major NY radio stations, and by some coincidence, each station’s ratings peeked with you on the talent roster. That’s amazing and I can tell you, it’s never been done in NY then or since. Not two… three major stations.
Harry Harrison – Now that you bring it up, I guess that is true.
Mr. Pop – Let’s look at the ratings: At WMCA, you arrived in 1959 and under the Goodguy format, the station’s ratings rocketed to 15 and 17 shares. Your 1968 arrival at WABC had the station with about 3.8 million listeners. Just over a year later – that hit 6 million. WCBS-FM which was usually about a 3 share – hit over a 5 share. That’s not taking anything away from the incredible programmers and airstaffs at these stations. It’s just that, looking back at your career, this trend was obvious to me.
Mr. Pop – I became a fan of you and your work at WMCA, probably the best-programmed NY station during the 1960’s. For a time, it beat every other NY station in the market, no easy achievement for a station with lesser signal than its competitors. How did that happen?
Harry Harrison – You’re right. You do hear so much about WABC and its highly-deserved ratings, but WMCA, I’m proud to say, held its own – and amazingly well. We had such a great airstaff and program director, Ruth Meyer… and we were unique. WMCA was usually first to play new records, and that included the Beatles. That helped us get exclusives, such as hosting them at Carnegie Hall in February, 1964.
Mr. Pop – And WMCA did the same thing in August, 1964, when the Goodguys again, emceed the Beatles at Forest Hills. As if that wasn’t enough, The Goodguys were spotlighted at the Beatles Shea Stadium concert in August of 1965 and again, a year later.
Harry Harrison – Forest Hills. That’s right! You sure know your radio history!
Mr. Pop – Back in 1964, WMCA had two direct competitors, the other was 1010WINS. Did you have your eye on the competition?
Harry Harrison – No, not really. I don’t remember much about WINS because, things were moving so fast for us at WMCA. It wasn’t just the Beatles, we were playing all the British invasion artists such as Dave Clark Five and the Animals and Dusty Springfield. And all those appearances. We were busy.
Mr. Pop – And the Goodguys hosted the Animals at the Paramount Theater, didn’t they? Separately, I have ratings after WINS went all news – from June of 1965, both WMCA and WABC had 16 shares. WABC jumped ahead in September with a 19 share with its Summer of Solid Gold (WMCA 13). By the end of the year – it was WMCA out front again. You guys were amazing competitors despite the signal handicap.
Harry Harrison – I had forgotten about the exact ratings. That really is amazing. About the Animals – that was one of many shows we did at the Paramount. We did a few weeks there. Whomever wasn’t on the air would go do the show. I remember thinking, “Here we are backstage. Frank Sinatra was here.”
Mr. Pop – Those appearances included Palisades Park. I love the 8mm film (shot by a listener) of you up on stage and… dancing!! Harry Harrison has rhythm.
Harry Harrison (Laughs).
Mr. Pop – Harry, did you like the music you played at WMCA and later WABC?
Harry Harrison – Yes, I did. It was special. And, I got to do it again at CBS-FM.
Mr. Pop – Harry – since WMCA was the station to break-out records and create hits during that era, it was a major stopping point for artists to visit – wasn’t it?
Harry Harrison – If I only had a camera. So many artists came to visit us. One I fondly remember was Tom Jones. I also remember the The Rolling Stones and the Monkees – but there were so many others.
Mr. Pop – Yes, the WMCA Goodguys also emceed a Monkees concert at Forest Hills – back in the summer of 1967. I also loved the pictures of the WMCA DJ’s with the Beatles.
Harry Harrison – We were very involved with these kinds of things. It was such an exciting time. As I said, things seemed to move very fast.
Mr. Pop – Ruth Meyer just passed away. I keep hearing she was great to work for.
Harry Harrison – She was an amazing person and a great radio program director. If she had to tell you something, it was always constructive criticism. She put us together and we competed. Our weekly WMCA music meetings were something to look forward to. The Goodguy songs. It seemed we were always getting together and she made it all – a great experience. There was a lot of kidding and such and Ruth always had a great sense of humor. About the Goodguys – we all did like each other and as you said, it sounded like that on the air. It was true.
Mr. Pop – Just before you went to WABC, you and the Goodguys emceed one final concert – that of Diana Ross and the Supremes in August of 1968. At WABC, you rarely made emcee appearances.
Harry Harrison – That’s correct. I do remember Rick Sklar asking me to ride along in our “Truck-a-Luck” promotion – and that would have been the beginning of my WABC days. I remember giving a listener a color-TV. But you are right. WABC wasn’t that kind of station.
Mr. Pop – Just before your move to WABC, several things were going on at WMCA. Can you tell us?
Harry Harrison – Program director Ruth Meyer sort of warned me that changes were going to take place. I found out she was leaving and that bothered me. I still had some time left on my contract and eventually felt like, I wanted to move on. Didn’t know where I was going to go. I called Rick Sklar. We had a nice chat, but nothing was available. I did have offers – one from California.
Mr. Pop – Then something else happened.
Harry Harrison – That’s right. I asked my wife, “Pretty Patty” if I should call back Rick Sklar; that, I didn’t want to be a nuisance. She said go ahead. I did. Rick said he was about to call me, that there was a position opening up at WABC.
Mr. Pop – So you met…
Harry Harrison – Yes, we had breakfast and he offered me the morning show at WABC. It was at a hotel in Manhattan.
Mr. Pop – Your transition to WABC was as sudden as it could get. I remember listening to your WMCA show on that Saturday, September 18, then all of a sudden, less than 48 hours later, you’re doing mornings at rival WABC. Again – that must be some sort of DJ record. My guess is, you had to make an appearance at WABC while you were still at WMCA.
Harry Harrison – Yes, I visited Herb Oscar Anderson while he was still doing the morning show at WABC. And, the announcement was made to the public right just before I switched stations, I believe.
Mr. Pop – It was classic. No time was lost. I find it amazing that you just took hold of the morning show without any kind of WABC format “training.” WABC and WMCA were very different in their presentations.
Harry Harrison – That’s right. When I went to see Herb, we chatted about things, why he was leaving, but it had nothing to do with training.
Mr. Pop – One thing I noticed about your last WMCA show, particularly the final hour. You kept saying it was “77” degrees. That was a first. WMCA never-ever said “77” degrees as WABC never said “57” degrees. Then Jack Spector, who followed you, suddenly upped the temp to “78” degrees.
Harry Harrison – I did? I don’t remember why (laughs).
Mr. Pop – You “almost” went to WABC much earlier – or at least, they had an interest in you.
Harry Harrison – Yes, I was invited to a WABC meeting, but couldn’t go because I had made vacation arrangements to the mid-west.
Mr. Pop – Looks like that was 1960. Herb Oscar Anderson and Scott Muni must have attended, because those two early WMCA personalities were hired by WABC. Harry, thanks for your time today. I’ll leave it here, because so much is available about your WABC days and later, WCBS-FM. Thank you again!
Harry Harrison – Thank you, and thank you to all my listeners and WMCA, WABC and WCBS-FM, the great people I worked with… and worked for!