Baltimoreans reminisce about pioneering broadcaster Jack Wells

Louise Koleco, a Middle River homemaker, recalls listening to Jack Wells when he was spinning records on WCBM in the early 1950s and hosting "Dialing For Dollars."

"Every day, I'd call up Jack and say, 'Please play "You Don't Have To Be A Baby to Cry," by Ernest Tubb,' " Koleco said in a phone call from her home the other day.


"One day, Jack said, 'Come down to the station,' and I said I couldn't, because I was pregnant and big as a house," Koleco, now 81, said with a hearty laugh.

Other readers called or e-mailed their recollections of the legendary pioneering broadcaster and Baltimore native who died late last month at 86 in Los Angeles.


In an e-mail, Tom Fischer, 65, wrote to say that it was "sad, yet heartwarming" to read about Wells' death. "Guess that's the way it is when part of your childhood memories pass away.

"Like most of my generation growing up in the 1950s Baltimore, Jack Wells, aka 'Mr. Fortune,' was a household name. Oh, how I remember my mother never missed a morning listening to 'Dialing for Dollars' on the radio," Fischer wrote.

"If she was busy doing something around the house, she'd instruct me to write down the 'count and the amount,' because it would be devastating 'if Mr. Fortune calls and I don't know today's numbers,' " he wrote. "It was truly a Baltimore religion to know the day's 'count and amount.' "

Fischer explained that "Mr. Fortune" made two or three calls per show, and listeners would have to know the "count and the amount."

"Six from the bottom, or five from the top, and $25 usually increased by $5 every time he called someone who didn't know the right answer or no one answered the phone," he wrote.

"The count," he explained, referred to random strips of phonebook pages Wells used to select callers.

"He would count up or down a specific number to pick the person he called — that was 'the count' number you had to know," Fischer said in a telephone interview the other day.

"And God forbid if a relative, friend or neighbor called while 'Mr. Fortune' was on the air. They were told quite bluntly to hang up and call back later after he was off the air," he said.


Jim Genthner, an Original Northwood resident who now lives in Timonium, said his mother was an undying fan of "Mr. Fortune."

"I remember coming home from school and finding little penciled notes reading something like '$50 three from the top,' on scattered slips of paper, magazine covers and anything else that could be used to write the sacred code of the day."

But for all of her years of faithful listening, Genthner said, his mother never received the "hoped-for call," but claimed she had been sent a coupon as a result of being called and not at home.

"She never told me about receiving it at the time," he said. "It may have been her way of defending all of the hours she had spent keeping on an ever-ready alert for

The Call.

Mother, like the Pope, did not like to have her infallibility in certain matters questioned."


Fischer said his fondest memory of Wells was when he had his morning show on WJZ-TV, which included a feature where he interviewed "an average Baltimore citizen and what their job was."

"Early one morning in 1958, my father was on the show — but he and Mr. Wells decided to have a little fun. At the time, my father was a sergeant in the Baltimore City Police Department's Northern District, where WJZ was located."

Fischer said his father and several other officers had been ordered to appear on the show to talk about their police work.

"My father, being the clown that he was, brought along some old photos of my mother from her days as a 1920s flapper girl. You can imagine what they looked like," he said.

"He was to be interviewed after a commercial and when it was over, all of a sudden there appeared on the screen pictures of my mother in her flapper hairdo and clothes," he said. "And here was Wells' voiceover saying, 'Who is this woman? Has anyone seen this woman in the local area? If so, please call the police.'"

Wells then introduced Fischer's father, dressed in his uniform, who was to speak about "this lady," his son said.


Fischer said after several moments of lighthearted bantering between the two men and an explanation of the joke played on his mother, they fell into a serious discussion of police work.

"However, my mother was now furious! She was totally embarrassed by the episode, as she started getting calls from her friends who teased her unmercifully. My poor father had hell to pay for a long time afterward," Fischer said, laughing.

Joseph B. Ross Jr., 59, a retired Anne Arundel County firefighter and author, wrote in an e-mail to say that his Uncle Jack, who was then 14, and Aunt Rae had an encounter with Wells about "1959 or 1960."

Ross' uncle and his uncle's best friend, John, along with two girls, were driven from Brooklyn Park to WJZ's Television Hill studios, where they hoped to get on "The Buddy Deane Show."

"I don't know if they needed an invitation or not, but when they arrived at the door to the show, they were not permitted in. Either he was too young, or it was first come, first served, or whatever. I do know my uncle was particularly devastated," he wrote.

"They were all dressed up in ties and dresses and probably told everyone at St. Rose of Lima School that they were going to be on the show," he wrote.


Now, embarrassment turned to desperation, and as the luckless youths made their way across the studio parking lot, Ross' uncle began to cry.

"They saw Mr. Wells, and my aunt, who never was shy, called out his name and waved him down. Wells listened to their pitiful story and led them back through the door and was able to get them on the show," Ross wrote.

Ross said that when he was at school the next day, several classmates approached him.

"They said they saw Uncle Jack on the show who was sitting at a table eating a big Ameche's hamburger. I didn't know anything about it and then heard my aunt tell my mother the story a few days later," he wrote.

"Mr. Wells in addition to being a talk-show host and celebrity was a very thoughtful and compassionate man — a good guy!" Ross wrote.