Remembering Mike Joseph

The name Mike Joseph may not sound familiar to many Westporters.

But the former resident — who lived here from 1959 through the early ’90s, and died recently in Los Angeles at the age of 90 — had an enormous impact on the sounds Americans listened to, for several decades.

Joseph has been called the nation’s first independent radio programming consultant. With Rick Sklar, he turned WABC into one of the premier AM stations in the country. He hired Dan Ingram, “Cousin” Bruce Morrow, Scott Muni, Chuck Leonard and Ron Lundy as DJs.

Beginning in 1977 he turned around over a dozen major market radio stations, with the “Hot Hits” format he created. His first success was flipping WTIC in Hartford from a low-rated classical station to the very popular “96 TICS.”

Other stations included WFBL in Syracuse, and WCAU in Philadelphia (“98 NOW”, WBBM in Chicago and WHYT in Detroit (both “96 NOW”), and KITS in San Francisco.

Mike Joseph

Before WABC, his radio turnarounds included stations in Flint, Michigan — one of the first Top 40 formats in America — and others in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Rockford, Illinois; Syracuse, New Orleans, Honolulu, WPRO in Providence, and powerhouse WKBW in Buffalo.

In the early 1960s, he was vice president of NBC radio.

Joseph was born in Youngstown, Ohio to Syrian/Lebanese immigrants. He studied pre-law at Western Reserve, and married Eva, an immigrant from East Berlin after World War II.

The basement of his Westport home was filled with thousands of records, including rock and roll, soul, funk, jazz, classical, even Arab music.

Joseph is survived by his ex-wife, 2 sons and 2 daughters (all graduates of Staples High School), and a grandchild.

11 responses to “Remembering Mike Joseph

  1. The basement of his Westport home was indeed filled with thousands of records–which he sold by using an old records price guide. I visited once but he wanted so much I didn’t buy anything. He didn’t know much about music, really. Just how to make money from it.

    • Zoé Kassis

      “He didn’t know much about music really, really. Just how to make money from it.”

      What an astonishing & thoughtless statement to make! My father began as a drummer already in high school. And then became a DJ. (As well as having been an actor. Beginning when his drama club in Chaney High in Youngstown involved itself w/ the local radio station).

      Even before that as a young child he was exposed to a musical atmosphere & performance space as my grandfather owned a club there in the 1930s called Club Lido w/ his brother that had shows of ‘All Male Reviews’ (one old 1937 poster online that an LGBT advocate showed me said “Gay Boy Reviews”). These were beautiful young men who dressed in top hat & tails & makeup or drag & sang popular songs; during what was called ‘The Pansy Craze’. As reflected in the musical ‘Cabaret’ & early David Bowie. (Some of his songs on Hunky Dory sound very similar to ‘Pansy Craze’ numbers popular in London then).

      Furthermore my dad was raised w/ our live Arab music. It has very complicated scales & percussion & my father was skilled at our traditional call & response & clapping. Something that would not be true if he were as clueless about music as you insist he was.

      And obviously all the stations that hired him as a consultant & as VP of NBC radio nationally did not agree w/ you. His private collection in our cellar contained promotional copies of records sent from record companies large & small run by people who were his personal friends & who he spent hours on the phone w/ discussing nothing but music; such as a very young David Geffen who he mentored & many others. They all lived & breathed music; thus I think they did know a little about it.

      He donated a lot to the Westport Public Library but he kept thousands of records for his own collection. And those consisted of *every* kind of music imaginable. His whole life was music. And every one in Westport that slept w/ a transistor under their pillow listening to ABC spin the amazing diverse array of songs that it did – one following another – should say a prayer for the soul of my father vs tearing him down when he is not here to defend himself.

      Rest in power dad. InshaAllah 🌲

    • Zoé Kassis

      He only sold those before moving & downsizing btw.

  2. Bill Boyd (Staples '66)

    He brought a lot of great music to my generation…I remember listening to NBC, PRO, and KBW …. great story Dan!

  3. Fred Cantor

    Was he the dad of our classmate, Mike Joseph? If so, I had no idea. I remember that Charlie Karp’s dad was a high-level exec on the TV side at ABC (and, as one of the perks of his job, enabled students at Coleytown Jr High to preview an episode of a then brand-new sci-fi TV show called, I think. “The Invaders.”)

    But I didn’t know that one of our classmates had a dad who was influential in the radio biz. If it is our Mike Joseph whose dad just died, my condolences.

  4. Sharon Paulsen

    Interesting story, Dan. Thanks … enjoyed the history!

  5. Zoé Kassis

    Michael is my brother Fred. I thought you knew that. (Hence my rather bold back & forth w/ you about wether Eric Clapton played w/ Bonnie & Delaney when Michael was doing the sound and/or lights at Staples. I had mentioned I was there because my brother did the sound. And that I grew up in the music industry. Despite all the *hard* evidence I posted re. their tour dates together in NYC & New Haven near the Staples performance; I concede that I may be mistaken for the sake of peace 🙂 ).

    Michael is Michael Joseph Jr. – only please never call him that 🙂

    Our *real* name – as in family name – is Kassis. My dad’s Arabic name is Mikael bin Touma bin Youssef bin Youssef Kassis. (= Michael son of Thomas son of Joseph son of Joseph Priest).

    And David Barton’s dad was a well known illustrator – wasn’t he?

    Mr. Elliot – father of my sister’s best friend Patty & nine other children – was a famous radio sportscaster.

    And Anna & Pehr Smith’s dad was in radio also.

    Thank you for your condolences.

  6. John F. (J-period) Wandres

    I had been working as a news writer for WFIL-TV 6 in Philadelphia in 1967 when Joseph arrived in town to shake up WFIL’s sleepy MOR (Middle of the Road) radio format. On the radio side of the “roundhouse” on City Line Ave., was the radio station. The very first night the “new, improved” WFIL radio went live, George Michaels (Michaels with an S; the first jock who had been hired, from a station somewhere in the midwest.) went on the air with his regional twang. Joseph came into the studio and told Michaels to either lose that “twang” immediately or lose his job the next day. The jock protested the twang was his “signature.” Not to Joseph: lose it or lose your slot. Guess who lost his twang. Wiithin months WFIL radio was number one in the market.
    Although TV news was not Joseph’s strong point (in those days, at least) he did have some pointy hints about how to juice up the TV news. And WFIL-TV 6 “Aciton News” became the first station in the market to air news stories with color film — WFIL even had its own color film processor.

    • Zoé Kassis

      Lol – a DJ online wrote that he threw a coffee cup at my dad’s head. Another person who had truly warm feelings for him said it was like working for “Hitler”. (See that comment in the article & thread I linked below). I used to play w/ his stopwatch. He used it to monitor DJ tapes in our living room all night. Whilst making notes on legal pads about their intros & outros. He’d begun as an actor prior to radio – which explains about the voices.

  7. Zoé Kassis

    Thank you Dan <3

    All the stuff online I've been reading from the younger radio heads about my dad has been really lovely. Because in some radio documentaries over the years inc about 77/WABC & Bruce Morrow (Cousin Brucie) & the history of radio – my dad wasn't mentioned. It seemed to me like he'd been forgotten even in his own industry. Hence I was a bit sad for him (himself) seeing that. The only place I saw him formally remembered was in the Arab American Institute's list of 'Famous Arab Americans'. (It's an archaic & funny & nowhere near completist list – but we badly need the positive PR!).

    But today I saw there is a Facebook page dedicated to him that's been around for years (for the Hot Hits format that – for reasons I can't get my tiny skull round & I have zero interest in – some radio DJs are obsessed with… lol).

    I posted some history about him that people in the industry were unaware of & some of my thoughts & memories in a thread on an article about his passing on a radio website (under the name Hayet which Arab friends call me as it is Arabic for Zoé):

    And here is the Wikipedia article:

    And here is a poem I wrote about the Arab world of music & dance & design & food & customs he kept alive for us as an American dad w/ American children against all odds:

    MAHRAJAN (festival):

    Let us meet together
    under the wooden sound
    in the bowl to make mamoul

    under the dancer's foot

    inside the blackened almond eye

    after our true stories arrive in shards…

    The song & responding shouts
    at a festival

    The LOUD hand c l a P s
    The dancers naked foot
    d rrr u m


    Fi umman Allah Daddy (May God protect you Daddy) 🐬🌊🐚🌲🏔🌞