40th Anniversary Of Bob Hardt’s First Newscast at Musicradio77 WABC
By Scott Benjamin
A couple of fun Bob Hardt Outtakes
Bob's final ABC Radio Newscast
January 17, 2004
Bob Hardt with Mark Simone
July 8, 2006
Bob Hardt, who became know as “The World’s Skinniest Newsman” during his 11 years as the afternoon reader-writer at Musicradio77 WABC, said that this last Memorial Day as WABC Rewound was airing in the morning drive time he reflected on the time of his first trip the station’s studios nearly 40 years earlier.
In December 1967 the station was playing on the radio in the cab that Bob was riding in following his flight to New York from Detroit, where he was working for the ABC owned and operated station, WXYZ. Bob was en route to a meeting with WABC News Director Ed Hardy, who had been his boss in the Motor City, and the famed Program Director Rick Sklar, who would both oversee his audition to become WABC’s first reader-writer.
At that time all of the station’s newscasts were delivered by a stable of 27 staff announcers, some of whom also had successful careers as voiceover artists and, in the case of Fred Foy, had been announcers on some of the popular radio dramas of the previous generation.
Milton Cross, for example, was the radio voice of the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday broadcasts for 43 years.
“New York was behind the times in having reader-writers,” Bob said in a Dec. 15, 2007 phone interview with Musicradio77.com from his home in Palm Springs. “They used the staff announcers and didn’t have news anchors, per se, the way that stations in the other major markets did at that time.”
“In fact, I had never heard the phase ‘reader-writer’ used until I got to New York,” he recalled.
Bob delivered his first newscast, which was composed by one of the news writers, on Saturday, Jan. 6, 1968 – just five days after WABC eliminated some of the network commitments, such as The Breakfast Club and the weeknight ABC radio news features, that had caused many of the its younger listeners to tune elsewhere during those time periods.
He still has air checks of some of those early newscasts at Musicradio77.
WABC celebrated its new format by having the popular night personality Cousin Brucie do a remote broadcast on New Year’s eve with some of the other air personalities on hand and Brucie’s regular engineer, Saul Rochman, at the controls.
Brucie, who was playing the Top 100 of 1967, reminded listeners that the Big Kahuna from Miami, Roby Yonge, would make his formal debut the next day from 1 to 3 p.m.
During those early weeks of the more music format, the air personalities would deliver live one-line promos for the other music shows in an effort to drive home the point that WABC was now, more or less, a music station without long network interruptions for news or public affairs features.
“WABC was locked into The Breakfast Club, because it was the biggest owned and operated station that ABC had, and it was locked into the news features, which had people like Charles Osgood and Ted Koppel working on them at various times, but which just didn’t fit the format of a Top 40 station,” Bob said of the obstacles the station faced shortly before his arrival.
“It was a forward step for ABC radio,” Bob said of the establishment of four separate radio networks on Jan. 1, 1968 – including the American Contemporary Network, which was used by WABC and other ABC owned and operated Top 40 stations and the smaller affiliates that had that format.
“The American Contemporary Network had a distinctive character,” he said of the concise newscasts that included short audio segments and, as a result, a high story count.
“The writing had to be punchier, with short, direct, declarative sentences,” Bob said.
“For some of the ABC network anchors it was a change,” he said. “But Don Gardiner, who did the morning newscasts, could write for any format. He was impressive.”
After delivering his first newscast for WABC, which later that year would finally top the New York City ratings, Bob met with Ed Hardy and Rick Sklar to discuss what his role would be in a news operation that had previously been reliant on staff announcers, news writers and a handful of street reporters, two of whom, Joe Fahm and Gus Engelman, had spent most of their careers working for newspapers before joining Musicradio77.
Another reporter was Paul Ehrlich, who would soon become the news director at WABC and guide it to several awards over the coming years.
WABC had been airing a weeknight news block that ran from 5:55 until 7:15 when popular air personality Cousin Brucie came on.
Now in a more music format, the station developed the Six O’clock report, which, following the 5-minute American Contemporary Network newscast at 5:55, would include 10 minutes of local news followed by a five-minute sports commentary from Howard Cosell, who at the time was just a little more than two years away from landing one of the three positions in the booth for ABC Television’s “Monday Night Football.”
Before long, he had been dubbed as “The World’s Skinniest Newsman,” by WABC afternoon air personality Dan Ingram.
“Dan was welcoming from the beginning and made me part of his stable of characters,” Bob said. “He let me plant my roots in New York radio. I take pride in the fact that I did the news for the best disc jockey in the world.”
Dan worked at WABC for nearly 21 years, where he became known for his funny one-liners and impeccable timing.
Bob said his hiring marked a significant transition for WABC’s news operation.
Less than three months later, based on Bob’s recommendation to Ed Hardy, John Meagher (pronounced Ma-her), who had worked at a competing station in Detroit, was hired to be the reader-writer on Herb Oscar Anderson’s morning drive-time show.
Although they had only met once during their years in Detroit, Bob has said he was impressed with John’s on-air delivery and knew that he was highly regarded by the newscasters in the Motor City.
The fellow ham radio operators have remained close friends to this day.
“It was the beginning of the end of the staff announcers doing news, although they continued to contribute for several years,” Bob said.
By the early 1970’s, WABC had expanded its staff of reader-writers and street reporters.
“What a talented group,” Bob said of the staff announcers, which also included famed voiceover artist Joel Crager and the last remaining member from that era, Bill Rice, who usually does the announcing now for ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson.
“There were varied personalities with different talents,” he said. “It was one heck of a team.”
“It was a special honor to work with Fred Foy, because he was a legend at WXYZ,” Bob said of the former announcer for the radio and television versions of The Lone Ranger. “He was a nice man who treated me well.”
He said it also began a transition in the newsroom.
“We had 13 or 14 writers when I arrived, although with more reader-writers coming on, we saw a decline in the number of writers that we needed,” Bob said.
Bob said he is still grateful to the veteran news writers, such as Joe Weill and Tom Romano, who helped a then 26-year-old from Michigan familiarize himself with The Big Apple.
“They knew the city better than I did, obviously, and they would tell me the pronunciation of a street or a location in the city,” he recalled.
Bob said that the news operation began to deliver a cleaner, crisper product during the ensuing years.
“You need to use the shorter audio clips to ensure that the newscast flows,” he said of the new approach.
“Most times you can take a comment and only use 20 seconds or less, although using just two seconds often doesn’t work because the listener might be confused as to what the context of the comment is,” Bob explained.
He said most of the voice reports from the street reporters were 40 seconds or less.
Bob said that he and the rest of the air staff also benefited from a talented group of engineers.
“Bless the engineers, because with the use of tape cartridges, which sometimes didn’t activate, they faced a gargantuan job in those days,” he said.
The newsroom equipment in 1968 would seem primitive today.
“It is mind-boggling to think how technology has changed over the last 40 years,” Bob said. “We used manual typewriters and before you took your coat off when you arrived you checked to see where there was a manual typewriter that worked.”
When he initially arrived, the street reporters were lugging huge tape recorders to news conferences with five-inch reels, although he said that he was using a Sony cassette recorder before the end of 1968.
Bob said he believes that 1968, ’69 and ’70 were the best years at WABC during his 11-year tenure.
“The station was just humming and there was a lot of good music,” he recalled as WABC built an audience that was once estimated at 8 million listeners a week.
His goal when he arrived was to become a network radio anchor, which led him to start doing free-lance work on the American Contemporary Network in early 1969.
In April 1979, he left WABC to work full-time at American Contemporary and remained with ABC Radio News until his retirement in January 2004.
He said both at the local and network level, a newscaster has to maintain a rapid pace.
“You were on a treadmill after the first two hours of an eight-hour shift, where you barely had time to get a Coca Cola,” he said. “It was very stressful, but it also was what made it fun.”
“At the network, there were times when two minutes before the newscast you didn’t know whether you were going live or not,” Bob said. “It became chaos. But that was part of what made it fun.”
He said that although he did some street reporting in Detroit and in his early days at WABC, he never had an interest making it his forte.
“I knew my strength was putting together a newscast and not in chasing fire engines,” Bob said.
He said that in addition to providing newscasts that were in tune with a Top 40 format, the American Contemporary network also aired some valuable short entertainment features during its early years, some of which were hosted by WABC air personalities.
“Those features worked well because they fit into the format,” Bob said of Sneak Preview with Chuck Leonard and Retro Rock with first Jim Nettleton and later Frank Kingston Smith.
He said he believes many listeners also stayed tuned to WABC during Howard Cosell’s “Speaking of Sports” commentaries, which aired Monday through Saturday at 8:25 a.m. and 5:25 p.m. on the American Contemporary Network, as well as Monday through Friday at 6:10 p.m. on WABC.
“Howard had a powerful delivery and he offered commentary, not scores, and was able to analyze issues and humanize the players,” Bob said.
He noted that Howard continued to do his radio commentaries well after he became a television celebrity as a result of Monday Night Football and his association with boxer Muhammad Ali.
‘I think he wanted to stay current on a daily basis, and at that time a lot of his television work was on the weekends and on Monday night,” Bob said.
He said that, likewise, longtime WABC-TV Channel-7 Eyewitness News anchor Roger Grimsby would air a 3:30 newscast on ABC Radio each weekday to get himself prepped for that night’s hour-long 6 O’clock broadcast.
On another topic, Bob said that through his early years at WABC, the station, in accordance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, aired several public affairs shows each Sunday.
On Friday afternoon, he and two other news reporters at WABC would ask questions of a newsmaker on WABC Press Conference, which aired on Sunday night.
Bob also contributed to Report To The People and some of the other public affairs broadcasts that aired late Sunday night or early Monday morning.
He said he laments that the FCC now requires far less public affairs programming.
“What’s the nature of the news and talk today?” Bob said. “A lot of it isn’t local, except for a station like KGO in San Francisco. A lot of stations are carrying the national shows like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.”
“Most of the public affairs in those days at WABC were aimed at the local audience,” he continued. “I think what happens too often today is an abdication of responsibility in a major way.”
Bob said that after being based in The Big Apple for 36 years, he “would not want to be a public figure being covered by the New York City press corps.”
“I think that the New York City press corps is harder on public figures than the Washington press corps,” Bob added.
He also said that as a result of the less stringent FCC regulations and the establishment of so many national syndicated shows, there are far fewer avenues for aspiring newscasters to get experience in radio.
“So many young people in television don’t have radio experience and it’s obvious,” Bob said. “There was a television anchor here in Palm Springs that had terrible writing in his stories, and it seemed as though there was nobody there to guide him.”
He moved to Palm Springs in February 2004, just weeks after delivering his last newscast for ABC Radio.
However, Bob is still occasionally called upon for duty.
He reported on a local earthquake for ABC Radio and in December 2006 spoke on the air with ABC Radio anchor Gil Gross, who worked in news at WABC in 1974, about former President Gerald Ford, just after he died in Palm Springs.
In the 1960’s, Bob covered the 38th president who was then serving as a congressman in the Grand Rapids, Mich. Area.
“Gerald Ford was one of the most affable politicians that you would want to meet,” he said. “And he was very accessible to the press when he was a congressman.”
Bob cherishes the memories of his years at WABC, which he shared with some of the station’s current listeners last year during a surprise guest appearance on Saturday Night Oldies while he was visiting the New York City area.
“I doubt there ever will be a radio station like that again,” he said.
WABC Musicradio 77 Home Page