Ed Baer was one of the real good guys.
That’s not an opinion. It’s a fact.
The VERY long-time Westporter was one of WMCA’s “Good Guys” — the name the station gave to its 1960s-era disc jockeys. At a time when AM radio ruled the world — or at least dictated teenagers’ musical tastes, which was basically the same thing — the New York station and its rival, WABC, wielded tremendous power.
But Ed Baer’s voice was warm, intimate and very, very real.
Ed — a Staples High School graduate who lived nearly all the rest of his life in Westport — had a long and varied broadcasting career. He worked at radio giants like WCBS-FM and WHN — and on Sirius Satellite Radio, where he hosted a weekday morning show featuring 1950s and ’60s music, and a weekend one with country songs.
Ed Baer died yesterday, from complications of pneumonia. He was 82 years old.
In June of 2016, I profiled Ed for “06880.” Here is that story.
If you grew up in the tri-state area in the 1960s, you remember the name. Ed Baer was a WMCA disc jockey. He and his colleagues — Joe O’Brien, Harry Harrison, Dan Daniel, B. Mitchel Reid, Gary Stevens and the rest — were the Good Guys.
They battled WABC (the All-Americans: Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie…) for radio supremacy. It was a legendary time in music history, and Ed Baer was part of some of its most exciting moments.
WMCA was a New York station, but he grew up in Westport — and lived there when he was a Good Guy.
Ed lived here after WMCA went all-talk too. He then worked at WHN, WHUD, WYNY, WCBS-FM. He broadcast 2 shows — 7 days a week — from his home studio, for Sirius.
He’s still here. Still as sharp and smooth-talking as ever. And still active.
Ed’s latest project takes shape in that home studio. With his 3 teenage grandsons — Kyle, Ryan and Trevor Baer — he’s selling his entire record collection. There are astonishing LPs, 45s and 78s, with amazing stories.
Trevor, Ryan and Kyle Baer with their grandparents, Ed and Pearl Baer. A photo of Ed — from his WMCA days — hangs on the wall.
But before you hear them, here’s the back story.
Ed’s parents moved here in 1945, when he was 9. His dad opened a candy store and soda fountain at Desi’s Corner, across from the train station. Ed worked there before graduating from Staples High School in 1954. CBS newsman Douglas Edwards — a Weston resident — was a regular customer.
Ed wandered into radio broadcasting at the University of Connecticut. When his father had a heart attack, Ed transferred to the University of Bridgeport. Westporter Win Elliot — the New York Rangers announcer — helped him grow.
When he served at Ft. Dix, his radio background helped. A sergeant who liked music allowed Ed to travel home Thursdays through Sundays. He brought the latest records back to base, thanks to a friend who worked at Columbia Records’ pressing plant in Bridgeport.
After discharge, Ed worked at 50,000-watt KRAK in Sacramento. He returned home after his father died. Dan Ingram — his former WICC colleague now at WABC — helped “Running Bear” land a job at rival WMCA.
The rest is history. Ed was there as the station moved from Paul Anka and Bobby Darin to the Beatles, Stones, Supremes and Doors.
They were wonderful years. When the Beatles played Shea Stadium, Ed sat in the broadcast booth and played the same records the Fab Four were singing. It sounded better than the concert. He’s got the only existing reel-to-reel (now CD) copy of that night.
Ed Baer still has this 78 from 1952. It’s the Staples Band — directed by John Ohanian — playing “American Folk Rhapsody.”
One day, he saw John Ohanian at Oscar’s. Westport’s legendary music director had taught Ed clarinet in 4th grade (he later switched to tenor sax).
“I hear you’re playing all that rock ‘n’ roll,” Ohanian said. “I thought I taught you better than that.”
He paused. “But I hear the money’s great.”
There’s so much more to Ed’s career: The concerts he hosted. Calling OTB races, and picking horses (very well) for the New York Post. Those Sirius shows (5 days of ’50s and ’60s music; weekends were country).
Which brings us back to Ed Baer’s vinyl collection.
He has no idea how many records he’s amassed, in his long career. His grandson Kyle — a civil engineering major at Duke University — estimates 10,000.
They line the walls of the studio. There are never-opened LPs by Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. Bing Crosby singing Stephen Foster. Show tunes. Comedy. Many are rare DJ promotional editions, or have never been opened.
And so many come from the WMCA days.
Ryan — who graduated the other day from Staples, and heads to the University of Southern California this fall — casually picks up a Beatles record.
Ed Baer’s unpeeled copy of “Yesterday and Today.” The letters “PROM” — for “promotional copy” — can be seen in the upper right corner.
It’s “Yesterday and Today.” The original cover showed the band dressed in butcher smocks, surrounded by decapitated baby dolls and pieces of meat. After protests, it was quickly recalled. A simpler photo — the Beatles in steamer trunks — was pasted over it.
Most owners peeled off the top, ruining both covers. Ed has not 1, but 2, of the very rare, unpeeled versions.
Kyle, Ryan and Trevor (a rising junior at Hamden Hall) are hearing stories like this as they help their grandfather sell his collection. They’re learning music history (who was Harry Belafonte? the Four Seasons? What was Motown?) and radio history too (what was the deal with transistor radios?).
The teenagers always knew their grandfather was a good guy.
Now they understand exactly how much of a Good Guy he really was.
Ed Baer, relaxing in his home studio. A WMCA poster hangs on the wall. A few of his many records line the shelves.