From the NJ Shore to the Poconos! Remembering WPST in the 80s
It took me three years of trying, applying, begging and pleading to get into WPST going back to my teens, but when I finally did, it was the place where my radio career took off.
Now WPST is located across the hall from our New Jersey 101.5 studios and sometimes when I walk out of our studios and see the call letters, I have a quick flashback like I'm doing right now. If this were television, the picture would get all fuzzy and I would get a lot younger and my hair longer.
I was hired at WPST in 1980. Funny story, the station I was working at in Long Branch was about to go fully automated in a few days. I had joined a bible studies group and the instructor said to put God to the test by believing for something and see what happens.
So with that in mind, I called program director Tom Taylor who told me that my timing was excellent and that afternoon personality Phil Simon had just given notice. The next day, I went in for the interview and that Saturday night began my first overnight shift which would lead to full-time overnights, I was on the air the night John Lennon died, and then morning drive.
WPST throughout the 80s was an incredible place to work. We were like one big radio family led by Tom Taylor who put the whole thing together. Dave Hoeffel, who did afternoons and would later program the station, compared it to a tapestry where everything you heard, the music, the announcers, the promos and even the commercials all fit together so that no matter what you were hearing at the time, you knew you were listening to WPST, and boy did they listen. WPST would place both in the New York and Philadelphia Arbitron ratings simultaneously for the first time.
Many of the people that I worked with between 1980-82 went on to have very successful careers in radio. Among them, Lee Tobin, Dave Hoeffel, Tom Cunningham, Mark Shepperd, Jay Sorenson, Ed Johnson, Jeff Kaplan, Kim Alexander, Wayne Cabot, and Marc Zumoff, who worked at our sister station WHWH. Eric Johnson, who came in after I left, would go on to program New Jersey 101.5 as would Jay Sorenson.
Tom Taylor was the glue who held PST together. Taylor, who programmed PST back then before moving on to a very successful award-winning career writing about the radio industry, remembers:
"The first thing I remember (please check me on this), is standing at a bank of payphones in a hotel lobby, and hiring you, over the phone. And I remember feeling that I'd done something good, both for you and WPST." (Thank you, sir!)
"As for the early 1980s — the musical climate was changing very swiftly. Many of our listeners had decided, seemingly overnight, that they were done with disco-flavored music. So the atmosphere was ripe for a wide variety of pop and rock music to flourish.
"Blondie and other American New Wave acts were just coming into the mainstream. Luckily, that stuff blended well with pop acts such as Hall & Oates, the Pointer Sisters, The Go-Gos, and John Mellencamp.
"And the influx of music from England was so strong, it felt like a second British Invasion. (Soft Cell's "Tainted Love," Human League's "Don't You Want Me," etc.) There was plenty of mass appeal rock music from groups like Queen, the Eagles, Styx, and REO Speedwagon. Our audience glommed onto all those influences, making it a really exciting (and adventurous) time, musically."
"Another thing," says Taylor, "the record labels had discovered WPST as a station that could help break new music, and which was watched by other top 40 stations. I remember going to a convention and meeting a national promotion executive who told me, 'Oh, your call letters are very credible.' That's when we started getting the gold and platinum awards that began lining the walls at 221 Witherspoon St. in Princeton." (37 of them, by the time I left in mid-1987.)
"We also started seeing artists stop by, such as Meat Loaf, Hall & Oates and the very talented Laura Branigan," he said. (She's the only person I've ever seen who could hold up her end of a live on-air interview while autographing albums.)"
When it came to promotions, Taylor says:
"WPST didn't have much of a promotional budget, but we did have energy, imagination, and plenty of willing hands. So our Nassau Gnomes softball team and our local 'Chickenman' mascot were frequently out in the community. So were the DJs, hosting concerts and doing lots — and I mean LOTS — of charity work. The Family Food Fund was an ongoing cause, and our people were leading charity walks, 5K runs, and sometimes even 500-mile bike rides, which Dave Hoeffel rode (the Anchor House Ride for Runaways)."
Here are the Nassau Gnomes after a game:
Nassau Gnomes circa 1980. That's me in the back third from the right.
Taylor continues: "Any successful media channel works because it creates a connection with its audience, and listens to those people. I'd like to think we respected our listeners, and that attitude was important to me when choosing on-air personalities."
When it came to promotions, WPST certainly knew how to draw a crowd. One promotion that stands out for me was the time we bet the Mahoney Brothers (who were and are the best Beatles band ever) that we would beat them in a softball game. If we won, we got to abuse them on the radio.
If we lost, Dave Hoeffel, Tom Cunningham, and I had to go on stage in front of an estimated 10,000-plus at Kuser Farm Park in Hamilton Park and sing "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." We lost and on June 28, 1981, we not only paid out bet but were brought out for an encore of Twist and Shout. To this day, Hoeffel and Cunningham are like brothers to me and all the brothers, Mahoney's included, are still working and rocking!
This brings me to Dave Hoeffel who did afternoon drive when I was there and later programmed the station:
"It wasn't really a Pop station, and it wasn't really a Rock station. It had elements of both formats... an album-oriented pop station kind of describes it. That made it attractive to me, as a listener, and as an aspiring on-air host," he said.
Hoeffel goes on to say:
"PST, on 97.5, also had a monster signal. 'From The Shore To The Poconos' was the slogan, but it could have been "From Staten Island To Elkton, MD," or "From Ocean City To Reading, PA... and beyond." We'd get request calls from Virginia Beach, State College, Pa., and all over North Jersey. In some rural areas up there, we were the only station that you could get."
"We played a lot of music first... well before other radio stations. Bon Jovi and Meatloaf come to mind. And we played songs that other stations didn't play at all, such as Silver Spring by Fleetwood Mac, Into The Night by Benny Mardones, When I'm With You by Sheriff, and Forever Young by Alphaville."
"Listeners would call and ask for a copy of some of those songs so that they could play them at their weddings because you couldn't find them in the record stores."
By the way, we did DJ a lot of weddings back in the PST days.
Part of PST's charm was supporting local music. As Hoeffel says:
"We also supported original local music with our "Unsigned Heroes" show, and subsequent album. I'm still in touch with many local artists who we featured on that show."
Jay Sorenson did the afternoon drive on WPST and later on came to New Jersey 101.5:
"All of our jocks either hung with some of these new bands, or made it their business to know about the music we played; crucial for believability, and authenticity," he said.
"I have to tip my hat to Program Manager Tom Taylor for recognizing not only the music but the DJs who came from various backgrounds and levels of experience — and molded all of us into one perfectly fitting group of real personalities. He let us be us while advising all of us about the vision he had for the station."
To Jay, it was all about "Stationality":
"It had a stationality that was cohesive morning, noon, and night. We were local celebrities in those days. We could fill a mall on both sides of the Delaware River with thousands of people from well-thought-out promotions that usually went on flawlessly. Working on the air from 1976 - 1981 and again from '84 - '86 when I got to be invited to join 66 WNNNBC-AM in NYC in Radio City, could NOT have happened had I never been on WPST."
This is a reunion shot taken in 1996. From left to right: Tom Cunningham, Jeff Caplan, Donna Klockner-Hoeffel Tom Taylor. Back row: Eric Johnson, Steve Trevelise, John Ford, Mark Sheppherd, Dave Hoeffel. Kneeling is Jay Sorenson
I think that none of us would be where we are today if it hadn't been for Tom Taylor and WPST. I know I wouldn't be. Salute WPST now on 94.5! I raise my coffee mug as I pass by your doors. Long may you rock!
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise only. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.