Dan Ingram leaned forward to talk directly into the Superscope CRS 4000 cassette deck used in the interview.
CLAUDE HALL: You nervous about being interviewed?
DAN INGRAM: No, I speak into the box because one time I was in La Voisin, a New York restaurant that is closed now, and the maitre d' ushered me into a room off to the side. I said, "What the hell you sticking me in here for?" He said, "Well, Mr. Ingram, of course..." I sat down and across from me is a big screen and it's one of those two-way mirrors and behind it is a Mitchell 35mm camera with a guy sitting there that I could just make out. And, for real, I look in the sugar bowl and amongst the sugar is a lavaliere mike. And above me this gorgeous chandelier has one 500-watt bulb screwed into it and the lady I'm with says, "What the hell is this, 'Candid Camera'?" And Allen Funt steps from behind the camera and says, "Ah, you spotted us!" I said, "Who couldn't spot you - you're like an elephant out there!" This may sound unbelievable, but it's a true story. So, he sent me a bottle of wine for my dinner and that's how I blew my chance to be on "Candid Camera." And the thing is that I realized the instant my lady friend mentioned "Candid Camera" that we could have kept our mouths shut and had great fun with the whole event. It turned out that Joel Gray was playing the part of the waiter and he was going to give everyone too much service.
HALL: That's a pity...a case of talking too much in front of the mike.
INGRAM: Hey, absolutely.
HALL: How long have you been at WABC now?
INGRAM: Oh, let's see. Sixteen years as of this past July 3rd.
INGRAM: That's what I told myself the other day. I've been here ever since I was 26 years old...and that was a long time ago.
HALL: Almost before radio was invented.
INGRAM: Yeah. There was just this guy named Marconi hanging around the studio when I first got to the station.
HALL: How did you get your job at WABC?
INGRAM: It's a long story. I'd worked at a lot of other stations prior to coming here. And I was a partner in a firm called Mars Broadcasting in Stamford, Connecticut, with Stan Kaplan and Bob Whitney. I was not on the air for any radio station at that time. It was a syndication firm. I was doing production - contests and things. Then one day I got a call from Ruth Meyer, who was then the program director at WMCA in New York. She said, "You remember me?" I said, "I do remember you...from Dallas, I think." She said, "Yeah. When you were at KBOX, I called you one morning right after you got off the air and told you how much I liked your work and for you to say hello if you ever got into New York." Then she told me that she needed an afternoon disc jockey. But I said, "I don't know. I'm doing okay here." But she asked me to come into New York to talk to Steve Labunski, the general manager, anyway. So, I did and Steve offered me the job. I asked what it paid and he said $30,000. And I said, "That's no kind of money for New York. No, thanks."
But he remarked then: "That's our top dollar. Joe O'Brien's only making $32,000 and he does the morning show and he's been here 15 years." I said, "Well, that's not enough money for me. Thanks, but no thanks."
I hit the street with mixed emotions after that meeting, because I was doing a fast $21,000 with Mars and, you know, this guy offers me $30,000 and that kinda got me into feeling like going on the air again.
Now, one of the stations that we sold a contest to was WABC in New York. I walked into the station one day with the package of contests for Hal Neal, who was then the general manager. He's now the president of the entire radio division. To Hal, I made bold enough to say, "Hey, I don't like the guy you got on in the afternoon." He said, "That's none of your damned business! Give me your contests and get out." I said, "No, I really mean it. I think he's doing the station harm. I'm not trying to pitch for the guy's job or anything, although I think I could do better." Hal said, "Yeah?" I said, "Yeah!" Then, he asked what I thought was the matter with the disc jockey. I told him, "He's talking down to kids like they were little children. He's doing a show like it's a kiddy show." And this guy really was. He'd only been on the air there for three or four weeks. What had happened was that Jack Carney had just left the station. And they put this guy on who will remain nameless in this interview because I wouldn't want to embarass him. He's still in the business.
Anyway. Hal Neal told me that if I thought I was so good, I should let him hear what I sounded like on the air. I said that I just happened to have a couple of airchecks with me - one from WIL in St. Louis and one from KBOX in Dallas.
About a month later, I came back to the station and Hal told me, "I listened to your tapes. I like your work. But what I don't know is how you would sound on my station. Because those two stations are really loud, yelling stations and WABC isn't that loud. I'd kinda like to know if you could fit in." I told him that I'd have a new tape on his desk the next morning. He said, "No, no. Tomorrow's Friday. And besides, I do my best work early. I'm in the office at 7 a.m. I get two hours of work done before the office fills up. I don't expect anyone to get anything in here before then. Monday would be fine." I told him that I'd given my word and "I'll keep it. I'll have a tape on your desk tomorrow morning when you come to work."
So, I drove back to Stamford and found an old aircheck of Jack Carney. We'd airchecked him to show how well our contest fitted into the theme of the station. I cut Jack out of the tape. Took all of the elements apart - the records, the jingles - and put the tape back together in two tracks, laying it in one track at a time, finished up doing it about 4 a.m., sacked out on the couch in the lady's john because it was the only couch in the place...in fact, it was a lady who woke me up the next morning.
I drove down to New York and arrived about 15 minutes before 7 a.m. and gave the guard a $10 bill to open up Hal's office. I put the tape on his desk with a note: "I always keep my word!"
He called about 10 a.m. and said, "I listened to your tape. Why don't you meet the 5:15 train at Stamford. I'll be coming in on the train."
When he arrived, we went into a bar and he told me that I was going to come to work at WABC as soon as I could get out of my commitments at Mars, which I did about a month later. And that's how I got the job. I still have a copy of that aircheck.
HALL: Did you start at better than $30,000?
INGRAM: Considerably better. Today, the scale is $52,000 a year here. That's the lowest money you can make. Anyway, I still have that old aircheck hanging on the wall in my studio and there's a big sign on it that's marked: THE TAPE.
HALL: The general consensus is that you're the highest paid rock jock in the world.
INGRAM: Gee, I don't know.
HALL: I don't know anybody else who tops you.
INGRAM: They're nice to me here. They give me a pretty good buck. But I don't know. There's probably 20 disk jockeys who make more than I do in the business.
HALL: In MOR radio, maybe.
INGRAM: I don't know. I really don't know.
HALL: I know what Herb Oscar Anderson was getting at the time he left WABC to, quote, retire. I assumed you immediately became the highest paid disc jockey on the stations at that point.
INGRAM: I hope so.
HALL: Did you ever see the psycho-graphic study by Dr. Tom Turicchi of Dallas on your show?
INGRAM: No. Someone once mentioned something about it to me. I don't even remember who.
HALL: I believe he did the study for the old WWDJ in lovely, downtown Hackensack, New Jersey. Anyway, you, as an air personality, came in so far and above even the music that it was astounding. People liked to hear you. I can't remember the score, but one of the hits that you had on the air during the study segment was "My Sweet Lord," which was a very big hit at the time, and you even topped good ol' George Harrison. News, of course, came in last.
INGRAM: Fascinating. I'd love to see that study sometime. I can use that kind of an ego kick once in a while. Long about Saturday, it gets a little tiring, you know?
HALL: Do you consciously realize when you're on the air that you're doing a good show...that you're doing a good job right at that specific time?
INGRAM: When I feel that I'm doing good, I feel good...yeah. There are days...well, there's a certain floor, or level, beneath which you cannot go, no matter how bad you feel personally or what's going on in your personal life that might affect you. That's because you're taking money for the job. As long as anyone's paying me for the job, they'll get a buck's worth of labor. As a matter of fact, I used my father's philosophy...he always said, "Whenever they pay you X dollars, you give 'em X-plus worth of work, and you can go home feeling that you're equal for the day." Which is the way I feel.
But there are times when I know I'm doing something special. Like today there were a few times during the show when I thought something I said had an interesting and different aspect...it amazes me the way my mind works. It's like a machine cranking things out, because I don't prepare anything for the show. I occasionally will write something down that I think of and use it while I'm doing the show. But I never prepare anything in advance. I come here blank and I got home blank. That's the way I do my show. Every once in a while something will pop into my head and I'll say, "Gee, that's interesting! Where'd that come from?"
HALL: Like, "Wow! I'm glad I said that!"
INGRAM: Right! Right! In all modesty, I must admit that. I know it sounds like I'm on an ego trip, but I'm really not. I figure that being a disc jockey is the nicest way to steal money that I know of. They'll throw you in jail if you take money for any less effort.
HALL: Is your father still alive?
INGRAM: Yes. He's retired. He's a musician. John Ingram.
HALL: Oh, Ingram is really your name?
INGRAM: Yeah. As a matter of fact, most of the guys here at the station use their real names. There's only one guy who doesn't. George Michael.
I hired George for one of his first radio jobs, incidentally. I was then the program director at WIL in St. Louis and we had to figure how we could get two more hours of commercial time on the air and still get public service credit for it. So, we sat down and rattled our brains and I came up with a great idea: Get a kid from a local college to talk about college, but with our music and commercials. And we did. And it worked. The FCC went along with it.
HALL: I'll be damned.
INGRAM: The show wasn't quite up to what our normal sound was, but it was acceptable enough to keep the audience. Of course, WIL was one of the most incredible radio stations ever. It had between 30 and 40 percent of the market in its heyday. Unbelievable, phenomenal success. Bob Whitney was the national program director of the chain. Stan Kaplan was the general manager...or general sales manager, I can't recall. John Box was the managing director. Box was quite a man. Fascinating man. One of those legendary, larger-than-life kind of people. He walked into a room, everybody knew it. Just one of those types.
HALL: I know quite a few people like that in radio. Wally Schwartz is like that.
INGRAM: Yes, he's that kind of man. Wally is the kind of guy you like to have for a friend because you wouldn't want to have him for an enemy. Tough business man, but a fair man right down the road. Prince of a fellow.
HALL: He's always been damned good to me. Never lied to me. Always helped.
INGRAM: Absolutely straight arrow. I really enjoyed working for him.
HALL: When did you start in radio?
INGRAM: Oh, God! Let's see. The first radio station I was ever on was WOV, which is now WADO here in New York when Freddie Robbins was on the air with "The 1280 Club." Freddie Robbins had a disc jockey contest once. I was a finalist in the disc jockey contest and then I lost...came in dead last. One of six finalists, I was sixth. But that gave me the bug. As a matter of fact, I ran across the script they gave me to do in the contest...introducing a record by Ray Noble or something...I've forgotten what...but I can remember the day. Freddie was sitting there, reading the newspaper, and I sat over in the corner at another microphone. He said, "Okay, kid. Spin the record." And that was my first big break.
HALL: What year was that?
INGRAM: It was when I was 13 and I was born in 1934, so it had to be about 1947. Freddie was playing Charlie Parker and things like that in those days, getting a lot of bebop blues by Count Basie, I remember. When I later got to college, I became involved in the college radio station. Hofstra University on Long Island.
HALL: What was your major?
INGRAM: I was a drama major. They gave me a full tuition scholarship to go to school, because I didn't have enough money to do it on my own. And I would up being a drama major. Found out that I was a pretty bad actor. I could use my voice, so I got into radio. After I left college, I went to WNRC in New Rochelle, New York, which is now WVOX, I think. But only stayed there for a couple of months. We had a paycheck that didn't pay once...or something like that. All of a sudden, there was no job. It wasn't that I got fired...just suddenly there was no one working there anymore.
And then I went to WALK on Long Island...stayed there a couple of years. Then went to Channel 8 television in New Haven and did a couple of years. Then John Box hired me to go to KBOX in Dallas. Offered me double what I was making at the time. I told him I'd be right there even if I had to crawl.
That was the first really big break...going to Dallas. Later, John took me to WIL in St. Louis.
HALL: When you went to KBOX in Dallas, what was the format?
INGRAM: They had just turned rock six months prior to my arrival and they had a lot of golden-tone, good-sounding people on the air who weren't quite making it. John Box at KBOX had just learned that Al Lohman was going to WABC in New York to do the morning show. In searching for a replacement, he ran across a tape of mine from an aircheck service. I happened to be the first voice on the tape and he called me.
HALL: How long were you in Dallas?
INGRAM: Just a year and then John wanted me to come to St. Louis to do the morning show on WIL, which I did.
HALL: So, it wasn't a country music station in those days.
INGRAM: No, it went country much later...two or three years later. I don't know.
HALL: So, KBOX wasn't a country station when you were there.
INGRAM: No, it went country much later...about two or three years later. I don't exactly know when. I was there in 1959.
HALL: One of the rock jocks who went country music when it changed has never looked back; he's general manager of KLAC in Los Angeles - Bill Ward. He's made a good career out of country music since then.
INGRAM: That's great. Listen, more success to him, you know? I love to see people make a buck.
HALL: What show did you do at WIL in St. Louis?
INGRAM: The morning show. From 5:30 until 9 a.m. And I was also the program director.
HALL: What was the lineup on the station then; do you recall?
INGRAM: Let's see... after me, from 9 until noon, was Dick Clayton, who is now in Philadelphia, I think. I haven't talked to Dick in years. And Dick Kent was on noon to 3 p.m. Jack Carney did the afternoon show, followed by Ron Lundy in the evening. Bob Osborne did the all-night show.
HALL: You had some good people there.
INGRAM: Oh, a lot of good people went through that station. Really good people. Sam Holman had been there for a while before leaving to hit Chicago. Danny Dark was there after I left to hit New York. Ron Lundy was there for a lot of years before he came to New York. Ron Lundy was incredible there. He had 40 percent ratings in the afternoon even when the rest of the station was falling apart.
KBOX in Dallas also had been an incredible station. When I got to KBOX, Gordon McLendon had an announcement on the air every hour on KLIF; this little voice came on and said, "KLIF, with more audience than all other Dallas stations combined!" And Gordon's KLIF had 52 percent of the market. On year later, he only had 26 percent and we had 24 percent at KBOX. That was one helluva year. Roger Barkley was there, as well as Al Lohman, though they weren't a team in those days. A raft of good people went through that station too. It was good radio and good fun.
HALL: When you were at WIL, did you use a playlist on those days?
INGRAM: Yes. Though I cut it down some when I got there. WIL had been using a rather long list. I cut it down to 30 records and 10 either new records or hot records that were coming in. But never any more than 40. Forty was the magic number in those days. Of course, with commercials and contests, we were probably only playing eight an hour.
HALL: And you could talk a lot.
INGRAM: Oh, sure. And scream a lot. Had great fun.
HALL: Did you talk a lot in those days?
INGRAM: As much as I could get away with in the format. A lot of guys feel they're restricted by format radio. I don't. I view it as a challenge. I mean, you move the goal posts a little closer together on the football field and I can still kick a field goal. And that's fun, the extra difficulty. I get off on that. That's an ego trip for me.
I don't find format radio constricting at all. It's just a challenge of using the right word or the right grunt or whatever the hell to get across what you want to say. Yeah, I rapped big in those days...probably a bit more than most of the guys. Certainly not as much as Dick Clayton. He'd talk for half an hour. I'd write a 14-page memo just based on what he had said on the air during an hour, you know? And he'd just walk out and do it again. But radio was fun then. It was great fun.
Dan Ingram of WABC Talks About Commercials, Mets, Jets, Cosell...
HALL: What year did you come to ABC now?
INGRAM: July 3rd, 1961.
HALL: And that's when...What show were you doing then?
INGRAM: The afternoon show.
HALL: So you've always done the afternoon show?
INGRAM: Always the afternoon show. Well, there were a few years from 3 to 7, but most of the time from 2 to 6...2 to 6:30 for a while. But aside from minor adjustments, it's always been in the afternoon.
HALL: When I first came to New York which was...I can't remember, but it must have been about 1960...the station in those days still had Don MacNeill's Breakfast Club...
INGRAM: Still had the news block on that started around 6:30 and went to 7:15, I think. Edward P. Morgan did the news in those days at 7 o'clock. Had a lot of network shows in there. They had news twice an hour.
HALL: Rick and I used to talk in those days...Rick Sklar. And, you know, he would tell me problems, you know, prime to running a radio station. They had sports on, too, like crazy.
INGRAM: We had Mets baseball. We had Jets later, also, on Sundays. That was a couple years later. Nut, man, we had the Mets on. As a matter of fact, it was interesting. I was here eight months and we went number one in the afternoon and stayed that way. And then the Mets came on and it hurt the rest of the station, I think, in terms of ratings more than it did the afternoon although they were on in the afternoon a good deal of the time. We still stayed number one in the afternoon all during that time. It was amazing. I don't know why we did but we did. You usually lose a certain amount of music audience to a sports audience. But be that as it may, I remember those days fondly because I used to sit and play gin rummy with an unknown sportscaster by the name of Howard Cosell and an insurance salesman by the name of Ralph Branca who proceeded to sell me some insurance. Howard still has several thousand dollars of my money from playing gin rummy all afternoon during the Mets games.
HALL: Oh, so you didn't have anything to do so you...
INGRAM: We just sat and played gin rummy. Can't play records on a dead mike, you know.
HALL: Did the contract call for you to stay on hand?
INGRAM: Yeah, sure, if it started to rain or something.
HALL: Yeah, cause Gary Owens has to go and be in the studio while the baseball game is on.
INGRAM: Well, I didn't have to do that. We had to be, you know, within calling distance...when we'd go out for lunch or whatever the hell. But there were a few days I'd call up and say, "Hey, you know, what's happening?" "It's a bright, sunny day and they're doing a double-header, go home!" They were very nice about it, as a matter of fact.
HALL: Who was the insurance man?
INGRAM: Ralph Branca, former pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Twenty game pitcher at the age of 19 who sells insurance now.
HALL: How often did you play gin rummy like that?
INGRAM: Oh, probably, a couple, three days a week. Depending on whether it was a night game or a day game.
HALL: Cosell impresses me as being a very, very bright guy.
INGRAM: He is a bright man. I respect Howard enormously. I think he's carved out a niche for himself with his own unique talents. And I really respect the man. He's got a lawyer's mind, a trained mind of a lawyer. And a brilliant mind and he does something that I like that William Buckley does and I like to do myself. He uses the language precisely and accurately. And I find that interesting. I'm a vocabulary freak and Howard is, too, to a certain extent. I think I'm probably more blatant about it than he is, but I enjoy people with whom I can communicate and communicate on a level that's very precise and I love Howard for doing that. Just the right word at the right time.
HALL: Did you immediately go to high numbers at WABC? Or did it take a while?
INGRAM: Well, I was here...let's see...eight months...the ninth month...gestation period, I guess...we took a special Hooper rating and found out the afternoon show was number one in New York - in April of the following year. So that's how I took. The rest of the station's in pretty good shape, too, although it was considerably lower.
HALL: When the station really began to cook, of course, is when they got off all that nonsense and the station really began to become a legend then. Did your work habits change or anything change or did you just continue to do much less?
INGRAM: A...no, not really. I've been doin' the same thing in the afternoon ever since I was...well, I did the morning show in Dallas and I did the afternoon show in St. Louis for a while after Carney left and we were still looking for air placement. But, no I don't think it changed except in terms of...I think there was more of a feeling of flow amongst the people in the station. Instead of carving out your own little niche, your own little island, doing your own little show, we became more of a station oriented group. And some of the people who left and some of the new people who came in were more oriented in that direction. And I think Sam Holman who was the program director for the first two or three years was moving in that direction at the time when he left and I think Rick picked that up and really did an awful lot with it. I mean to get the people on the air more interested in what was going on at the station than in their own little time block. And I think that kind of feeling helped. There was a certain excitement that happened when we'd get a new book in and this show would have a number one rating and that show would and all of a sudden it came together, you know.
HALL: Everything began to be...
INGRAM: Yeah, it got that, I don't know if it was team spirit...but that kind of camaraderie.
HALL: When did you start doing commercials?
INGRAM: That was...I think that was about in '66...'65...somewhere in there...about four or five years after I got here. One of the directors at the station is a guy by the name of Floyd Pearson who produced commercials for movies. And in those days we had directors on radio shows. For the first two or three years I was here, they had a director in the booth and you pointed at him and he pointed to the engineer and then the engineer...you know, it was that kind of thing. It was a living anachronism. But they got rid of them and he went into the commercials business and he said, "Listen, would you like to do some commercials?" And I said, "What does it pay?" He says, "I don't know look it up." So I looked it up in the book and it paid whatever it paid. And that's how I got started and then someone called me to do this and someone called me to do that and it kinda snowballed and one day Esty...William Esty called up and said, "How would you like to do all the Winston cigarette commercials?" Which I did for the last two years they were on the air, which was very nice. And then a couple of agents came and I decided to go with one of them. I never had an agent before. And then it really snowballed. The best year I ever had was in '73 when I did all the commercials for Chevrolet. Everything I did: Cars, trucks, the whole thing. It was an incredible year. And I've been very busy doing commercials ever since. I usually am up at 7 o'clock every morning and usually in town by 8 or 9 o'clock and doing commercials until I'm on the air. It's nice.
HALL: That busy?
INGRAM: Yeah, I'd say I average about 5 sessions a week. There are about a hundred people in this country who do most of the commercials and I'm lucky to be one of them. But it took me five, seven years to really break into it once I started.
HALL: Now there's a guy here and I can't remember his name. Gary Owens knows him or knows of him. A guy named Norman Rose.
INGRAM: Norman is one of the top, yeah. I'd say there are half a dozen people who do very, very well. And, Norman is one of them. Has a great deep...huge deep voice...gloriously beautiful voice.
HALL: Who are the big ones in your mind?
INGRAM: Well, Norman's certainly one. Joel Cragar. You'll recognize his voice. He's the guy who does the billboards on the ABC so-and-so night movies. He does that. He does a million other commercials. Bob Marcato. Bob Maxwell. Of course Danny Dark does a lot of stuff out on the coast. He's busy. Oh, there are so many people, it's hard to come up with...Joyce Gordon does a lot of commercials. Cynthia Adler. Some people who do jingles are the most incredibly well paid people in the world. I know a lady...I know several ladies who...as a matter of fact I just did a commercial for a make-up and I don't like to talk about what brands they are, because I'm anonymous when I do a commercial. And that, to me is a good relationship I want to preserve. I did a commercial for a make-up and the three lady singers who were singing along while I was doin' a little drop-ins together make in excess of a million dollars a year, on commercials.
HALL: Three of 'em?
INGRAM: Three of 'em. One I know makes over $400,000. I know the other two make somewhere around $300,000. Well, the reason why the singers make so much is they go back and over-dub and they get paid again. And they over-dub and it's an extra 30 percent. By the time they do three tracks and they triple it and sweeten the track, you get big triple scale.
HALL: I met one of them on the airplane to Los Angeles and she was going out to perform with...God, I think Herb Alpert was going to do a show somewhere and he was paying her way to come out there and work with him as a back-up singer.
INGRAM: They're incredible. And these singers...The incredible thing about 'em is that they can change their voice and sound like somebody else. Linda November is one who...you may never have heard...her father's a famous attorney...and she just does commercial after commercial...4 or 5 sessions a day.
HALL: On an average time...on your average year...what would you say your commercials equal to...Are they one times your salary...as much as your salary?
INGRAM: I make more than my salary making commercials. Considerable more.
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