The stereotypical radio personality is reflected by the theme song of the old television series "WKRP in Cincinnati," which projects relentless change as the gypsy disk jockey keeps ". . . packing and unpacking, town to town, up and down the dial."
So how did Jack Edwards, Alan Field, Elane Stein, Ken Jackson, Ken Maylath and Tom Marr end up "living on the air" in Baltimore for most of their careers?
In a business known for station sales, abrupt format changes and frequent firings, these half-dozen voices rank among the most durable on the local airwaves.
All at least 30-year veterans, they are still heard daily, having survived rock and roll, the revolution of the FM band and the recent rise of talk radio. And all say their affection for the business began early, when radio wafted out of the ether and captured impressionable imaginations. Here are their stories.
"I have sponsors who've been with me 15, 17 years. That's unusual, too," says Elane Stein with a booming laugh, when a visitor notes her unusual longevity as Baltimore radio's most prominent -- indeed, only -- regular feature interviewer.
Ms. Stein traces her interest in radio back a long way.
"I was very oriented to the radio when I was a girl, but you know what I listened to? All the stories," she confesses, referring to the daily dramas on radio. They were called soap operas long before they turned up on daytime television.
Now heard in short spots at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. weekdays on WBAL-AM (1090), Ms. Stein's voice commands top advertising dollars for the top news/talk station.
Her stint in local radio began as the music director of WCBM-AM (680), where she came to work in 1961 after several years as a producer with the Voice of America, in Europe and subsequently Washington.
The Baltimore native had graduated from Forest Park High School and gone on to the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where her height -- she stands about 6-foot-1 -- brought her work for two years as a model.
"With the VOA, I hated it in Washington because I had to do all the editing and it was such a bureaucracy. I had a friend at WCBM who said, 'Come here and apply,' " she recalls. "I didn't know anything about contemporary music, but there I was, music director for about a year."
Doing interviews was always her goal, but Ms. Stein had to force her way into the job, "because few women were doing them." She worked weekends and at night taping chats with a variety of figures, then had to talk station officials into letting them on the air.
Ms. Stein says she has interviewed "thousands" of people about a variety of subjects, noting, "I don't keep track, but it was a lot of people."
"It didn't take long before I gained an audience," Ms. Stein says, ++ with no hint of boasting. She attributes her popularity to her involvement in the Baltimore community.
Her career has also spanned an eight-year marriage that ended in divorce in the 1970s and two major operations to treat Marfan's Syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissue.
"I'm interested in people. I never wanted to be a DJ, and when I came here [in 1975], I knew I didn't want to have a talk show either. . . It's not interesting to people what I say. They tune in because of the guests."
Over the years, she has also done off-mike work, as promotions director at WCBM (where she also operated a commercial art gallery in the station's lobby for several years) and currently is WBAL's public service director.
Although she has done local television -- on "Critics Place" on Maryland Public Television and as a regular panelist on "Square-Off" on WJZ-TV -- the tube has never attracted her as a full-time occupation.
"I like the idea of the anonymity, and that people are not 'on' as much when they're on the radio. You can have a conversation with them," she says.
When he was growing up in Highlandtown, Jack Edwards would spin Patti Page and Nat King Cole platters on a 45 rpm record player, pretending he was a DJ.
Later, at Kenwood High School, he played records at school dances, introducing the songs with a minimum of patter.
"I wanted 'em dancing. I still want 'em dancing," says Mr. Edwards, who regularly totes his collection of pop records to dances throughout the area.
For 15 years, from 1959-1974, Mr. Edwards reigned as the night-time voice of top-rated WCAO-AM (600), Baltimore's favorite Top 40 station for a generation of listeners.
Now, Mr. Edwards can be heard playing soft hits of the '70s on WITH-AM (1230) in the 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. slot.
"Thirty-nine years, it's hard to believe," he mused recently at the WITH studios downtown.
He got his on-the-air start in 1956 on WWIN-AM (1400), after meeting announcer Jack Dawson at a dance. (Yes, the same Jack Dawson formerly WMAR-TV's sports director.)
"I told him I was interested in radio," Mr. Edwards recalls, and soon enough he was an intern at the station, "getting cigarettes and ice cream and such" for Mr. Dawson and running the control board for sports announcer Vince Bagli. (Yes, the same Vince Bagli of WBAL-TV.)
Mr. Edwards soon was teamed with Mr. Bagli on a show. He spent two years at WWIN, tried television for a year at WBAL as an off-camera director, but turned back to radio in short order, auditioning for "the biggie, the giant of pop radio at that time," WCAO.
His long reign there ended in 1974, when Mr. Edwards moved over to WCBM-AM (680), which was playing an oldies format.
Then followed a series of station moves: 1979-1981 on WITH, 1981-1983 back on WCBM, a two-year stint as music director at WRC-AM in Washington, a variety of part-time air work and off-mike chores as promotions director for WLIF-FM (101.9) and a part-time on-air job at WTTR-AM (1470) in Westminster.
Finally, he returned to WITH in 1993, when the station was playing a big-band/nostalgia format.
"I'm just your local guy, keeping up with the music," Mr. Edwards concludes, adding he had offers over the years to move elsewhere, but decided, "I love my hometown."
The 6 a.m.-10 a.m. morning man on "Legends Radio" WWLG-AM Alan Field also recalls playing at being a DJ when he was a youngster in the Bronx, N.Y. But pursuing radio as a career came later.
"In college [City College of New York], I majored in speech and dramatics," he recalls, foreshadowing his long-time involvement in community theater in this area, as well as his role as WWLG's regular drama and entertainment critic.
Five days after graduating from college, he signed up for a two-year hitch in the Army, during which his parents moved to an egg farm near Vineland, N.J. (His father, a window cleaner, had purchased the farm during World War II as a work opportunity for relatives fleeing the Holocaust in Europe.)
After the Army, Mr. Field lived on the egg farm and picked up gigs as a piano player while awaiting word on applications for graduate school in the arts at both Boston University and Columbia.
"I couldn't think of anything else I could do in southern New Jersey while waiting -- except maybe radio," he relates.
Sure enough, he landed a job at an AM station in nearby Millville as an announcer and pop music DJ. When both colleges accepted him, "I ended up just not going."
He spent about a year in Millville, then moved to a bigger station in Torrington, Conn., and then Waterbury. By now married to his wife, Lucille, he was committed to radio.
He came to WITH-AM in Baltimore in October 1959, holding down the station's midnight-6 a.m. pop-music shift. Four months later, he moved over to WCAO, where he was a weekend DJ. In 1960, he took over the prestigious weekday morning show but lost it in the next ratings period, when he was offered the 9 a.m. to noon mid-morning slot.
"I became a housewives' jock," he jokes, recalling a regular top-rated request feature called the "Housewives Hotline."
"We were a pretty hot station," he notes. Yet he concedes, "I was not terribly enamored of rock and roll."
So in the early 1970s, Mr. Field dropped off the air to do free-lance announcing and commercial work. Among other things, he wrote a ditty for a local car dealer "that haunts me today" -- the one that goes, '. . . nobody has what Tate has.' "
He spent nine years writing songs, playing in jazz bands and acting in local community theater, and says the free-lance work was "interesting but also hazardous" for its lack of a steady cash flow.
In 1979, when WAYE-AM (860) adopted a big-band music format, he returned to the radio. When that station went to religious programming in 1981, he moved to easy listening WMAR-FM (106.5, now WWMX) before taking up the morning show at WITH-AM in 1985, playing the big-band/nostalgia sound.
WWLG came into existence in 1993, when the managers and most on-air staff of WITH -- including Mr. Field -- split from that station during a pending ownership change to preserve the big-band sound.
"There's very little room left for the kind of music we play," he confesses. But he suggests, "I think if it was more available, there would be more people to take to it."
The midday (10 a.m-2 p.m.) voice of "Legends Radio" WWLG-FM (1360), Ken Jackson says, "I'm the other famous guy" from his home town of Lowell, Mass.
"That was Ed McMahon's home, and also Ray Goulding [of the Bob and Ray" comedy duo]," he explains.
He recalls that "in the high school yearbook when most kids wrote they wanted to be a brain surgeon or lawyer or a bum, I wrote 'radio.' "
Thus, when he entered Emerson College in Boston in 1954, he went to work on the campus radio station, an FM operation patterned on NBC's Monitor radio service.
"This was serious broadcasting, and that certainly whetted my appetite," he recalls, noting his heroes in broadcasting were Walter Cronkite and Alan Jackson (no relation) of CBS.
Mr. Jackson married his wife, Anne, in college. His first professional job came at a small AM station in Milford, Mass., which was "just like Ted Baxter's [from TV's "Mary Tyler Moore Show"]. Our signal went down the street and around the corner of this little shoe-factory mill town, and I did everything, including cleaning the latrine."
He moved on to be news director at a station in Worcester, Mass., then in Reading, Pa., and eventually in Wilkes Barre, Pa.
With a growing family -- he has two children -- Mr. Jackson says he would have been content to stay there. But in 1962 the news director of WCBM in Baltimore, with whom he had auditioned in a previous job search, called with an offer.
"At that point I said, 'No more moves,' and I've managed to stay here ever since," Mr. Jackson says.
Although he is now playing records, most of his radio years have been spent in news, mostly in-studio announcing of newscasts. He was at WCBM until 1968, then moved to WBAL to handle the mid-day newscasts -- between the morning and evening shifts of that station's legendary Galen Fromme.
"I burned out on the news," says Mr. Jackson frankly, relating his 1973 departure from WBAL.
He dropped out of radio for several years, working on educational publications and doing a variety of free-lance work. But in 1979, he read a newspaper story about WAYE-AM, which was launching a big band music format.
"Just for the hell of it, I just called 'em, and ended up back on the air reading the news," he says.
"Eventually, I did a music program at midday," he recalls. When WAYE's format changed, he moved to WITH, and continued to do news -- until the financially strained station lost its news wire, leaving him a full-time music man.
Like Mr. Field, he also moved to WWLG two years ago when the station's managers left WITH to launch Legends Radio.
"I've never been a format man, I play the kind of music I like," says Mr. Jackson, who prefers the term program host to DJ, saying derisively, "they're those Top 40 robots I despise. . . . I feel in my own little way I'm an entertainer. It's a casual approach. I hope I make people feel good for a few minutes."
When Ken Maylath was growing up in Westchester County, N.Y., he and a high-school friend recorded an entire imaginary broadcast day onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder.
"We made up a little hick town in the Midwest and played radio station," says the news director of WCBM-AM (680), who has been reporting news in Baltimore since 1962 -- without taking a single sick day.
He is heard from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays.
As a boy, he particularly recalls listening to Arthur Godfrey on CBS, and notes the "How-ah-ya" man worked in the early 1940s on Baltimore's WFBR-AM -- which was Mr. Maylath's first Baltimore station.
Mr. Maylath worked in college radio at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., did summer work at a couple of commercial stations, then -- during a two-year Army stint -- worked at an AM station in El Paso, Texas.
In 1960, Mr. Maylath traveled home via Erie, Pa., where he landed a job playing easy listening music. "I decided within a couple months that it was a lot of work for not very much money," he recalls, noting he had to live frugally at the local YMCA.
But he kept at it. In 1961, he moved to a station in Elmira, N.Y., as a staff announcer and middle-of-the-road music DJ, and in 1962 landed a job as a news announcer and DJ at Baltimore's WFBR-AM (1300).
He recalls, however, that the job interview that brought him to Baltimore was secondary to the real reason for the trip. A lifelong train buff, Mr. Maylath came to town to ride an excursion train to Western Maryland.
"I decided to talk to the station the day before, just on the off chance," he says. When he got aboard the train, it was with the knowledge he would be returning soon to work at all-talk WFBR.
Over the years, the newsman notes he covered City Council "when Mr. Schaefer was just a council member," and reported most other big local stories -- including a visit by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
He also became the moderating force on "Conference Call," a cantankerous midday talk show that began on WFBR and has survived to its current noon weekday air time on WCBM.
Mr. Maylath worked at WFBR until 1988, when all employees were swept out in the first of two ownership changes that ultimately led to the disappearance of the venerable station's call letters. (The frequency is now WJFK-AM.)
After a few weeks, he joined several other former WFBR voices hired at WCBM to continue their talk show format.
When it is suggested his style seems in contrast to the pugnacious conservative stance of most Talk 680 hosts, Mr. Maylath says, "I think
it's safe to say I have a smaller ego than some of the people in the [talk show] business."
A self-professed "terrible" student, Tom Marr says his high school counselor suggested he would be looking at a choice between pumping gas or becoming a stock clerk. But an interest in sports, "a little bit of talent and a lot of luck" propelled him into a 35-year radio career.
"I did my first high-school sports show in 1960 at WWDC [AM] in Washington," says Mr. Marr, whose two-way talk show airs from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on WCBM-AM (680).
In fact, that first sports show had actually been offered to a friend from his home room at Montgomery Blair High School [in Silver Spring]. "But he didn't know anything about sports and I did, so I just re-wrote the stories out of the old [Washington] Daily News. It just seemed to come naturally."
Soon enough, the scholastic sports show was Mr. Marr's.
After high school, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and, upon discharge in 1963, landed a radio job in Rhode Island. But he wanted to return to Maryland with his wife, Sharon, a Baltimore City Police detective, so he went to work later that year in Salisbury.
After a stint announcing on both radio and TV at WTAR in !B Norfolk, Va., Mr. Marr landed a job as a news reporter for Baltimore's WFBR in May 1967.
"I love Baltimore," he says, noting he raised five children here.
In 1979, when WFBR landed rights to the Orioles games, he became a baseball announcer for six years, when the WFBR contract with the team ended. He recalls those years with mixed feelings.
"I was not really comfortable with baseball play-by-play," he says, adding, "It would have helped if I'd had the experience of doing minor-league games for a couple years."
Mr. Marr has not been to an Orioles game since 1986, yet says he is friends with a number of former players. He shows off a cracked batting helmet catcher Rick Dempsey Jr. once slammed to the dirt after a strikeout.
Later, Mr. Marr became a talk show host -- after station manager Harry Shriver suggested that he could do more than news.
Like that early scholastic sports radio show, "It just seemed really natural," he notes.
When the WFBR station sweep occurred in 1988, he was offered work on the new all-talk WCBM, where he has been since. Mr. Marr also does a Saturday talk show and a variety of fill-in work on WWDB-FM (96.5), a talk station in the Philadelphia area.