Marc Sommers on WABC
Thirty years after he arrived in The Greatest City In The World as an air personality at Musicradio77 WABC and found a home in nearby Edgewater, N.J., Marc Sommers has returned to that town in the Garden State after a stint in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains and has had another career-changing event occur with the recent acquisition by the Penguin Group of his 2005 book, The Bomber Boys (267 pages, $16.)
“We were looking at getting a major publisher in 2005 when the book was to come out, but I told my agent that I wanted to get the book on the market and not necessarily wait around for a larger publishing house,” he said in an Oct. 3, 2009 phone interview with Musicradio77.com
The book was published by a smaller company, AuthorHouse, and Marc, who uses his real name, Travis L. Ayres as an author, said that it had sold “4,000 to 5,000 copies” through the Internet.
He started using the air name, Marc Sommers, while working at KNOE-AM in Monroe, La. early in his career.
Marc said that he decided to write the book more than a decade ago after his landlord in Connecticut at the time shared some stories about his World War II missions.
Bill Sloan, the author of The Ultimate Battle, has called “The Bomber Boys,” which chronicles five men who flew missions in B-17s during World War II, “an absorbing, insightful read.”
New York Daily News columnist David Hinckley has stated that, “Some of the stories read like combat fiction.”
He started working on it shortly before he began doing weekends and then morning drive at WDRC-FM, an oldies station in Hartford, Conn.
“All of the stories were remarkable,” Marc said regarding the anecdotes that the five Bomber Boys provided in lengthy interviews.
“I didn’t want those stories to get lost,” he said. “Now, we’re losing the World War II veterans at a rapid rate because of their age.”
“It was between 1900 and 1930 that a lot of the Civil War books were written, because people wanted to interview the soldiers and learn what the war was like while those soldiers were still alive,” Marc said.
The longtime air personality, who was at Musicradio77 WABC from August 1979 until it switched to a talk format in May 1982, said his agent, Jim Donovan, persevered.
“My agent never gave up,” he said. “I didn’t know that he was still trying to get it to a major publishing house.”
Marc said that Brent Howard, an editor at Penguin, took an interest in the book, which went on sale Oct. 6, 2009.
He began a publicity tour in early October 2009, which included several radio interviews.
Marc, who served in the U.S. Navy in the late 1960’s, will conduct book signings Nov. 7 at 1 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in North Haven, Conn., where at least two of The Bomber Boys will join him.
On Nov. 8, he will sign copies at the Borders in Ft. Lee, N.J., near where Palisades Amusement Park, which advertised regularly on Musicradio77 WABC, was located until it closed in 1971.
Marc moved with his daughter, Tina, 12 who was adopted from Russia, to Edgewater, N.J. in June 2009 about three months after his wife, Elizabeth, an executive with Wal-Mart, relocated there following a job transfer with the retail giant.
His other daughter, Alissa, 32, is an artist and lives in the New York City borough of Brooklyn.
He said that they have kept their home in the Arkansas Ozarks, and tentatively plan to move back there within a few years after his wife’s current assignment concludes.
Marc acknowledged that Wal-Mart has generated some controversy and was the subject of some protests by Democratic congressman and congressional candidates in 2006 as a result of concerns about low wages and limited health care benefits for its employees.
However, he said that it is “the best company that” his wife has ever worked for.
“It is very concerned about the consumer,” Marc added. “Even if the competition leaves the market, they think of the consumer by keeping their prices low.”
Since returning to the New York City area, he said he has occasionally listened to WCBS-FM, where he worked from 1983 to 1994 as a full-time utility air personality.
Marc was one of several former Musicradio77 WABC air personalities that worked at WCBS-FM between the early 1980s and 2005, when it switched to the iPod-inspired JACK format.
The roster included Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy and Cousin Brucie.
“From what I’ve heard by listening to them on the air, Bob Shannon and Dan Taylor sound as good as ever,” Marc said of the WCBS-FM air personalities that he worked with and who returned to the station after it installed a revised oldies format in July 2007.
WCBS-FM became an oldies station in 1972 and the change in formats in June 2005 generated national news coverage.
By the late 1980s, more stations had adopted the oldies format as the teen-agers of the 1960s and 1970s yearned to hear the music of their generation and were part of a popular radio demographic as they raised their families.
However, by the early part of this decade some of the stations started to play fewer songs from the 1960’s and 1970’s and more from the 1980’s as the listeners who were in high school and college during that decade started to buy homes and raise families.
“I like the play list they have at CBS-FM,” Marc said regarding the revisions that were made to add more songs from the 1980’s and 1990’s to the format since the station again began playing oldies.
“There was some good music in the 1980’s, like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and REO Speedwagon,” he said.
“We used to play future gold on CBS-FM. I can remember putting “’Your Wildest Dreams’ by the Moody Blues out there because it fit the format and the Moody Blues had been popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s,” Marc said. “I was sorry that they eventually stopped using Future Gold.”
He said that after returning to the New York City area, he hopes to get to visit with some of his friends from the former WCBS-FM roster, such as the legendary Dan Ingram, who did weekends at the oldies station after his many years at Musicradio77 WABC, and Don K. Reed, who hosted the Doo Wop Shop show on Sunday nights.
Marc said that he had a trial subscription to Sirius when he bought a new jeep, but believes that Sirius/XM lack local program and spontaneity, which “are two advantages that radio has as a medium.”
However, now that he’s living near New York City, he said he would consider doing part-time work for the satellite network.
Marc, who hosted a Saturday night music oldies show on Musicradio77 WABC in the early 1980’s, said that he hasn’t listened to Saturday Night Oldies, hosted by Mark Simone on Talk Radio 77 WABC, since returning to the New York City area.
He said that he drives his younger daughter to school and assists her with her homework when he isn’t writing.
Marc, who said he does extensive research on his books, indicated that he had completed about 100 pages on a book about the Civil War.
He said that he hopes to complete it next year so that it can be published in 2011, which would be the 150th anniversary of the conflict.
Marc’s older brother, Tom Ayres, who died in 2005, was a longtime newspaper and television reporter in Texas and wrote five books in the final five years of his life.
He said in a 2007 interview with Musicradio77.com that his brother has been an inspiration in his own writing.
Marc said he has fond memories of his tenure at Musicradio77 WABC and spoke on the phone two years ago with Mike McKay, another air personality that was hired at the station in 1979, about their days together during a time when the station was going through a transition after being the most listened to station in the nation.
Mike now is a part-owners of some radio stations in New Mexico.
“Getting to WABC was a career-changing move then,” Marc said. “I am hoping that getting the deal with Penguin might be the same thing.”
Marc Sommers Book Signing
By Scott Benjamin
Travis L. Ayres, who was known to listeners of Musicradio77 WABC and then WCBS-FM 101.1 as Marc Sommers, recently returned to Connecticut to sign copies of the book that he began writing more than a decade ago when he was living near Wesleyan University and waking up listeners on Hartford’s Big D 103 - WDRC-FM.
There was a reunion on Nov. 7, 2009 as Marc and three of the five World War II veterans profiled in The Bomber Boys (The Penguin Group, 267 pages, $16) did a book-signing at the Barnes & Noble in North Haven, Conn.
Anthony Teta, Peter Scott and George Ahern joined Marc near the front of the store as customers held copies of the book and asked questions about the Bomber Boys’ B-17 air missions.
Marc stated in the book that it was a conversation with Anthony in 1996, while he was living in Connecticut, that sparked his interest in writing The Bomber Boys.
Since October 2009 he has been on a tour for the book, which initially had been published by a smaller company, AuthorHouse, which had advertised it on the Internet, generating the sale of 4,000 to 5,000 copies since the book was initially released in 2005.
Marc has said he hopes the deal with The Penguin Group will help raise his profile as he embarks on other book projects.
Bill Sloan, the author of The Ultimate Battle, has called The Bomber Boys “an absorbing, insightful read.”
After Marc and the Bomber Boys discussed the World War II missions for 30 minutes they spent more than an hour signing copies of the book, which The Penguin Group recently acquired as a result of the perseverance of Marc’s agent, Jim Donovan.
Marc, who was in radio for 33 years, said he was pleased that he and the Bomber Boys could appear together, since they had not had a joint signing when the book first came out as he was living in Arkansas and at that time didn’t have a publisher with an established public relations apparatus.
About 50 people attended the book signing, including some of the friends that Marc made while he and his family were living for five years in Middletown, Conn., not far from Wesleyan University, a little Ivy League school
During part of that time, the former air personality, who worked at Musicradio77 WABC from 1979 until 1982 and WCBS-FM from 1983 to 1994, did weekends and then morning drive at WDRC-FM, which was then a conventional oldies station.
“I always loved Middletown,” said Marc, noting that he did extensive research for The Bomber Boys at the town’s public library.
He recently moved to Edgewater, N.J., where he had lived when he was working in New York City radio.
He and his daughter, Tina, 12, relocated to Edgewater in June 2009 about three months after his wife, Elizabeth, moved there after she was transferred by Wal-Mart, where she works as an executive.
The family had been living in Arkansas and have kept their house there, near Wal-Mart’s main headquarters, and plan to return at some point.
“What makes Connecticut interesting is all the small towns where one grows into the next one,” Marc said. “it’s actually quite similar to Arkansas.”
Since returning to the New York City-area, he has had breakfast with former longtime Musicradio77 WABC and CBS-FM morning air personality Harry Harrison, who was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame on Nov. 12, 2009.
“Every year or two we had talked on the phone, so I called him and we had breakfast together,” Marc said.
“Harry is a cordial person who is not just show-business nice, but sincerely nice,” he said.
Marc - who acquired his air name while working at KNOE-AM in Monroe, La. - said also since moving back to New Jersey he has spoken by phone with Dan Ingram, the legendary air personality who did afternoon drive on Musicradio77 WABC and weekend shifts on CBS-FM.
Marc said that writing provides less immediate gratification than being a radio air personality.
“In radio you’re constantly in the public,” he said in an interview after the book-signing.
“As an author, you’re kind of in solitude as far as writing is concerned,” Marc added. “But the research element of it is very social because you’re interview people and, in my case, you meet a lot of librarians and research directors.”
He currently is writing a book on the Civil War that is scheduled to be published in 2011 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of that conflict.
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