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New book tunes into Pittsburgh's radio history
By Adrian McCoy   - 03/12/2010

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More Info on This Book: Pittsburgh's Golden Age of Radio

"Pittsburgh's Golden Age of Radio" (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99) is primarily a pictorial history of local radio in its glory days. But author Ed Salamon's introduction to the book and anecdote-laden captions paint a vivid picture of the city's place in radio history.

The book is part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series, which document local history, cities and neighborhoods through archival photos.

Mr. Salamon, a radio industry veteran, grew up in Brookline listening to many of the people he writes about here. During high school and college, he was in a garage band that played at record hops around town, where he met DJs such as Chuck Brinkman and Porky Chedwick.

After graduating from University of Pittsburgh in 1970, he got a job doing publicity for KDKA-AM's 50th anniversary. That launched a radio career for Mr. Salamon. From 1973-75 he worked as a program director at the former WEEP-AM, which was a country station at the time.

He left Pittsburgh to take over programming at WHN-AM in New York, a country station that went from the bottom to the top of the ratings during his tenure.

Along with Dick Clark, Mr. Salamon formed The United Stations Radio Network, where he created "The Weekly Country Music Countdown" and "Dick Clark's Rock Roll and Remember." In 1993, he was named president of programming for The Westwood One Radio Network. He teaches at the School of Mass Communications at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

For this book's purposes, the golden age of radio spans the beginning of commercial broadcasting in the 1920s to the end of the 1970s, as FM gained dominance over AM.

The book opens with the birth of radio, including the many firsts that happened here: KDKA, the first commercial station to be licensed, its historic broadcast of the Harding-Cox election returns on Nov. 2, 1920, the first regularly scheduled religious broadcast, which came from Calvary Episcopal Church in January 1921, and many more.

National radio networks and live local broadcasts and performances marked radio's rise to a dominant medium in the 1940s. Photos show KDKA musical director Bernie Armstrong, who worked there in the 1930s and '40s, and Slim Bryant and his Georgia Wildcats, a country band who performed live during KDKA's "Farm Report" in the '40s.

As TVs took over American living rooms in the '50s, radio had to reinvent itself. The book's second section deals with the rise of popular music and Top 40 programming, and the creative and colorful personalities who became local radio stars: Mr. Chedwick, Rege Cordic, Ed and Wendy King, Bill Steinbach, Terry Lee, Myron Cope, among others.

"All the people I listened to on the radio in Pittsburgh growing up meant so much to me," Mr. Salamon says. Compiling the "Golden Age of Radio" gave him "the opportunity to do something to be able to recognize and memorialize them.

"These people are not only important to Pittsburghers, but are important to radio across the nation. They were an inspiration for people across the country. A lot of people in Pittsburgh were influencers of what radio became."

The final section looks at the rise of FM radio in the late '60s and early '70s. Ken Reeth, a WAMO-FM program director, created the persona of Brother Love and introduced Pittsburgh to bands that weren't getting airplay but would become the staples of rock-radio formats. KQV-FM became WDVE, one of the original album-oriented rock stations. "All of these stations were early in their formats, and their personalities were emulated by stations across the country," Mr. Salamon says.

Gathering the material for the book was "equally challenging and rewarding," he says. Radio, with its high turnaround and format changes, doesn't often preserve its own history, and photos were hard to find.

Still, he managed to gather a rich visual slice of local history -- 200-plus portraits, photos from concerts and promotions, including an infamous "cow chip" flinging stunt with then-KDKA personality Jack Bogut and newsman Dave James.

The images came from a variety of sources: photographs from personalities featured in the book, radio station archives and from the collections of Mr. Salamon and others. Singer Bobby Vinton contributed photos of himself with KDKA's Clark Race, whom he credited with breaking "Roses Are Red" as a hit, and with Bill Powell of WAMO.

The memories and Mr. Salamon's connections in the business also provided the book with some great inside stories about local radio.

The author will do three book signings this weekend: at 7 tonight at Borders, the Shoppes at Northway, Ross; 1 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble, South Hills Village; and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Borders, Eastside. Mr. Salamon has invited some of the personalities featured in the book, including Mr. Bogut, to join him at the signings.

Buy It Now: Pittsburgh's Golden Age of Radio $21.99

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