After my father became a part-owner of WEOK, on Saturday or Sunday afternoon we often dropped in at the studio, the second floor, fitted out in sleek high-tech, of a small office building next to the newspaper, the Poughkeepsie New Yorker, from which WEOK rented roof space for its aerial. It was a perfectly normal and natural father-son week-end excursion. Before WEOK, we had been at a loss for them. My father hoped that on one of these visits something would catch and I would take more of an interest in WEOK than simply congratulating myself that I was standing at the very inner-sanctum from where Harold Henning, the station manager, behind the soundproof glass, read the Saturday Rhinebeck and Red Hook News Roundup.
It was my father whose curiosity and intellect was aroused by WEOK, and he soon learned enough to talk to Henning about frequency interference, Nielsen, and ten second spots. The furthest my own mild interest went was to fantasize having a radio program with Hank Levin and Eddie Horowitz on which we would tell jokes and play Stan Kenton, Leadbelly and Spike Jones.
It was a fantasy that sputtered briefly to life in 1954, when Hank Levin and I were offered a fifteen minute radio show on WKIP. Hank was a hustler and somehow had cornered the manager of WKIP – at a wedding, or in the College Hill Golf Course Clubhouse, or on Bring Your Son to Rotary Day – and sold him on the show.
WKIP was looking for an opening into the teen-age market. The Sam and Hank Show (I can’t remember what it really was called) was meant to be a high school gossip show, interspersed with music. How out of touch the generations had become, even back then, can be measured by the fact that the grown-ups who ran WKIP thought that Hank and I in any meaningful way resembled Poughkeepsie’s average teen-ager, or could represent him or her in any way. For our first show, our “gossip” was a precis, by Hank, of the life of one of his Jewish heroes, Harry Houdini. (Mickey Mantle, Oscar Hammerstein and “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom were others.) My contribution was to cue up the next record and introduce it in a tone as self-assured, urbane and casual as possible – a hair-raising endeavor.
Hank didn’t care what records I played, as long as one of them was “Bali Hai”. He recently had seen South Pacific with his parents. After I got “Bali Hai” out of the way, as a sop to the hoi-polloi, I played “Hernando’s Hideaway” which, in my opinion, rose above the usual pap one heard on the radio. I ended our quarter-hour with Tom Lehrer’s Fight Fiercely, Harvard. Few people had heard of Tom Lehrer then; I had to bring my own record.
As we came out of the sound booth, the station manager was standing at the door. He could not hide his distress, although I think he tried to. He told us not to come back next week; or ever.