Fast Music

The recent death of Ed Baer — the Westport native, longtime resident and renowned, versatile radio DJ — got local folks thinking about the role of radio in our lives.

Inevitably, talk turned to Westport’s rich musical past.

Mike Fast has plenty of memories to share. Growing up in Bridgeport in the 1950s, he was one of many young boys fascinated by radio’s reach and power.

In 1957 he started hanging out at the WNAB studio downtown. Just 13 years old, he learned all he could about the business.

A couple of years later, at Harding High, he spent after-school hours at the station’s transmitter site. Mike had no formal training, but he learned how to build and design his own equipment.

Mike Fast, at WNAB’s Bridgeport studio.

At 17 — through his Westport friend Stuart Soroka — he discovered WMMM. The station’s studio was above Oscar’s, on Main Street. Mike’s interest in Westport was piqued.

“It seemed like everyone in town smiled, and wore new clothes,” he recalls.

In 1961 Mike, Stuart and a kid named Gordon Joseloff started a radio station at the YMCA. Their 1-watt transmitter — a couple of miles away, at Compo Beach — was hooked up to a phone line in their “studio.” It was an early “pirate” station — and it was called WWPT.

A July 1961 New York Times story on WWPT featured (from left) Gordon Joseloff, Jeff Berman and Stuart Soroka. As the caption notes, Mike Fast was missing from the photo.

Joseloff went on to become an international news correspondent with CBS — and later, first selectman of Westport. Today he runs WestportNow.com.

Mike’s Westport connection grew stronger. He, Dennis Jackson and Cliff Mills bought a turntable, and ran record hops at the new Staples High School on North Avenue.

A poster for dances at Staples High School. Perhaps Mike Fast’s shows cost a dime more than Dennis Jackson’s because they were 2 hours longer.

In 1962 Ed Baer — whom Mike had befriended back at WNAB — was working weekends at New York’s WMCA. Mike had very little experience, but when Ed set him up with an interview there, Mike talked his way into a job. (The key: Both his mother, and the mother of the engineer interviewing him, were from County Cork.)

Mike worked other jobs too: doing sound at the United Nations; at the National Radio and TV Center; at WHN. A stint at 1010 WINS lasted “about 10 minutes.” He played the wrong record, and legendary DJ Murray the K threw him out.

In 1965 the WMMM engineer retired. Mike talked his way into that job too, even though he knew little about transmitting equipment.

Around that time, Staples began bringing live bands to the auditorium. The school had no PA system, so the ever-resourceful Mike supplied groups like Cream and the Rascals with his own.

Ginger Baker, on the drums at Staples High School. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

But Mike’s real love was live recording. He worked often with the Westport Country Playhouse, and the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford (which burned to the ground last Sunday).

After doing sound on the road with Edgar Winter’s White Trash, Mike produced and managed his own bands. They were booked all over New England.

But those gigs did not pay well. Mike got back into radio. He moved around: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Portland.

He returned east — and went back to WMMM. He was there when Donald J. Flamm bought the station, and turned it into WDJF (named for his own initials).

When the FCC changed rules — eliminating the need for radio stations to hire 1st-class engineers — Mike was fired. The same day, his wife told him she was pregnant with their first child.

But he always found work. Mike has spent his entire life in radio and sound.

Mike Fast

“It’s a different world today,” he notes. “Radio stations are not the creative factories they used to be. I consider myself lucky to have been there, in the golden age.”

WMCA, WINS, WMMM — none of them are the stations they once were. But Mike Fast worked at all of them.

And — thanks to Westporters like Ed Baer, Gordon Joseloff and Murray the K — he’s had a very memorable career.

(Hat tip: Dennis Jackson)

12 responses to “Fast Music

  1. Does any of your reader know (hmmm, or care) that the WMMM call letters stood for “Westport’s Modern Minute Man?”

  2. Stuart lived right behind us on Wake Robin Rd. I think he made a very early recording of Barry Tashian doing “Please Dear” with the Schemers. Mike Friedman on drums !

  3. In 1959, when I was a sophomore at Staples, Stu Soroka gave me the opportunity to DJ a weekly radio show which I called the Ray Charles Hour. Maybe my memory is faulty, but I believe that back then the studio and broadcast facilities were in Stu’s home on Wake Robin Road. We broadcast that show just about every Saturday morning for the next two years, and when I went off to college I continued broadcasting it on the college campus radio station. Great memories – and Ray Charles remains my all-time favorite musician.

  4. In a first, I am working with the faculty at Staples to have the next Supper & Soul concert, featuring David Wax Museum, broadcast live on WWPT by students including interviews with the band.

    Tickets for the Dinner and Concert on February 9th are on sale at http://www.westportwestonchamber.com/supper

  5. Stuart lived right behind us on Wake Robin Rd. I think he made a very early recording of Barry Tashian doing “Please Dear” with the Schemers. Mike Friedman on drums !

    • Jonathan L Maddock

      Are you the brother of Frances “Tob”(sp??) Taylor. She could whistle really loud using her fingers. It was so impressive, we used to beg her to whistle. I grew up at 5 Wake Robin Rd, born in ’55, and knew Stuart Soroka via my oldest sister, Judy, who told me about Stu’s radio station at his parent’s house. She was impressed, right Judy??

  6. Very cool story. That’s a wonderful vintage photo of Mike at WNAB; I also love that Canteen poster (and Dennis Jackson has his own extensive radio background as well).

    WICC was another area station—out of Bridgeport—that we listened to in the mid-sixties because it played Top 40 hits. And one of the highlights back then was when our friend and Coleytown Jr High classmate Brian Keane performed live at WICC’s studio with his band. Brian ended up having his own magical career in music too as a Grammy & Emmy-winning composer, producer, and performer.

  7. Bill Boyd... Staples 66

    Great stories about locals and radio…. I always thought it was “Mighty Minute Man.”….both are appropriate!

  8. I must mention that before Dick Sandhaus managed my high school band, The Loved Ones, it was Mike Fast. It was he who brought us four little white boys to see James Brown at the Apollo Theater in 1966. Amazing. He wanted to warm us up for our opening spot with the Rascals at Staples (and later the Bushnell, both booked by Sandhaus).
    Our rapscallion guitarists from Fairfield nicknamed him “Sham Clell” saying he looked like a clam out of its shell. How he put up with us, I don’t know.
    Fast was best friends with my brother, the renown DJ and station owner, Dennis Jackson.

  9. Mike Fast. Holy Moly! In 1965 Mike came to Hammond Organ Studios, at the time on the Post Road in Westport and recorded my song “London Town” that included street sounds along with Hammond chord organ, honky tonk piano, banjo, drums and me singing through a telephone. Haha! We did a remix above Oscar’s. Great job Mike. I still have some of the 45’s and use the song, sung by a London “Bobby” as one of the opening numbers in my musical “Rusty Rainbow”.

  10. He did the sound at “The Nines Club”. I helped set up equipment for the bands. The Vagrants with Leslie West and the Rich Kids were often onstage. Richie Supa (Goodman) went on to write a lot of music for Aerosmith. I was 15 when I worked there.

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