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.
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.
A young Mick Jagger sports a WMCA Good Guy sweatshirt.
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.
(Kyle, Ryan and Trevor have set up a website: www.westportrecords.com. They add new records daily, and handle all shipping too. For questions or offers, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ed Baer, relaxing in his home studio. A WMCA poster hangs on the wall. A few of his many records line the shelves.
* Dan Daniel died last week. Click here for his obituary.
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