Wednesday, October 29, 2008

John Zacherle

William Berger, at WMFU, posted the following, just in time for Holloween. I echo a lot of what he wrote about Zaccherle. As a little kid growing up on Long Island, NY, in the 1950s and early 1960s, no Holloween was complete without Zacherle. Later on, he stayed with us as a freeform disc jockey... Be sure to listen to the Zach singles!

Vinyl Finds: Halloween Special - Zacherle Singles!

During my father's term as Program Director for WPLJ-FM (1974–1988), I was privileged to spend time in the halls and studios of what for much of that time was New York's #1 album rock station. It was a young music freak's fantasy: I got promo LPs, attended concerts for free, and sat in on live broadcasts. My favorite DJs to hang with were always Carol Miller and John Zacherle.

Zacherle (aka Zacherley) had been a TV horror-film host in ghoul makeup for most of the 1950s and early 60s (there are several clips on YouTube), and in the early days of FM's popularity he was an innovator of free-form radio, when WPLJ was called WABC-FM. Though PLJ's programming was fairly structured by the late 1970s, the form was still much freer than the computerized formats seen on the commercial FM band today.

Every Halloween, WPLJ would let Zach become a ghoul again and program his own show (he would also occasionally don his makeup and entertain at staff parties.) One year, I'm guessing '77 or '78, I sat in the cramped studio on Halloween watching Zacherle make radio magic. My love of horror films and rock music reached critical mass that night. At the age of 60, Zacherle was super cool and probably more up on things than many of his younger colleagues. I remember that he played something from the Dead Boys' first LP and also held up a copy of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma and said, "Billy, have you heard this one?"

During that time, Zach also presented me with copies of his two 1960 novelty singles, "Dinner With Drac" and "Coolest Little Monster" — below are all four sides as mp3s. (Except for the comic masterpiece "Hurry Bury Baby," these songs are available on CD and are presented here just for fun, in-browser listening.)

As the 70s became the 80s, radio formats tightened, mic styles became zippier and much of the old guard at WPLJ were being replaced or moving to less-commercial stations. In the post-disco era, FM had become the dominant force of music delivery, with a narrower presentation. I know that it was one of the saddest days of my Dad's life when he had to let John Zacherle go. Zach, now 90, still does Halloween radio (most recently on WCBS-FM) and continues to be an inveterate hipster and a cool ghoul.

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