WAMO Celebrates 75 Years On The Radio in Pittsburgh
The radio station has appealed to all demographics throughout its lifetime — and launched the career of the “Daddio of the Raddio.”
WAMO created the soundtrack to Fred Bohn’s life.
From the time he was very young, his mom and his babysitter had their radio turned to the station, and Bohn picked up the habit.
In the ’60s and ’70s, “that’s all I listened to,” the 71-year-old owner of Millvale record store The Attic says.
“I literally grew up with Porky,” Bohn says, referring to the late and legendary WAMO disc jockey Porky Chedwick, who introduced innumerable listeners to rhythm ’n’ blues. “WAMO is part of what Pittsburgh is all about,” Bohn says.
The station, which has spanned AM and FM frequencies, has been part of what Pittsburgh is all about for 75 years. Known originally as WHOD on the AM dial, the station first went on the air on Aug. 1, 1948, calling itself the “station of nations.”
“Pittsburgh was a city that was a melting pot of every kind of ethnicity,” says Ed Weigle, a friend of Chedwick’s who has researched the station’s early years as part of his hope to write a biography of Chedwick.
WHOD played Greek music, Hebrew tunes, polkas and music by African American performers that became known as rhythm ’n’ blues, Weigle says.
Among the early stable of talent at the station were Mary Dee Dudley, who is believed to have been the first female, African American disc jockey in the country; her brother, Malvin Goode, who was hired as news director in 1952 and later went on to a groundbreaking reporting and anchoring career with ABC-TV; and Chedwick, “who was the first white disc jockey on the eastern seaboard to play exclusively rhythm ’n’ blues,” Weigle says.
Chedwick collected obscure recordings of African American musicians and started playing them on WHOD.
“He called them dusty discs at the time because, literally, when he would go into the record stores, he would have to blow the dust off some of them because they had been sitting around for so long,” Weigle says.
Many of the songs were “oldies” before anyone used the term, he notes.
Chedwick, who called himself “Pork the Tork,” “The Daddio of the Raddio” and “The Platter Pushin’ Papa,” would play the B sides of 45s that the major labels were promoting — he simply liked the flip sides better — and songs that stretched the boundaries of decency, raising the ire of parents, clergymen and conservative radio listeners, Weigle says.
“Porky started in 1948 dabbling with this and, eventually, they expanded his radio show from 5 minutes to 15 minutes to 30 minutes to whatever,” Weigle says. “It became so popular because white kids were listening and Black kids were listening.”
By 1956, however, other stations had started playing R&B, including WILY, which came to dominate that format, Weigle says. WHOD changed its call letters to WAMO — for Pittsburgh’s three rivers, the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio — and changed its format to country and western. Managers fired the on-air staff — Mary Dee Dudley went to Baltimore — except for Chedwick, who was allowed to keep his afternoon slot.
“Must have been a strange thing to listen to, because you’re listening to Kitty Wells and suddenly, boo, here comes Big Joe Turner,” says Weigle, who is the voice of WWE.
When WILY switched formats to Top 40 and its call letters to WEEP in 1957, WAMO hired some of the WILY jocks — including Bill Powell and John Christian, who was known as “Sir Walter” — and adopted an all-R&B format.
“WAMO was the R&B force through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,” says Weigle, who lives in Venice, Florida.
Over the decades, WAMO has switched frequencies — it’s now at 107.3-FM — and changed owners. It currently is operated by Audacy Inc., which also operates KDKA, The Fan and other Pittsburgh radio stations, and bills itself as “Pittsburgh’s only urban station,” playing hip-hop and R&B.
Frank Greenlee, also known as “the Big G,” was a WAMO jock from roughly 1973 to 2000, starting when WAMO was a Black-owned enterprise. He says that WAMO was “the premier Black radio station in the city of Pittsburgh” when he started working there, but its audience was never exclusively Black.
“WAMO served a very large white audience and Black audience,” he says, and WAMO events attracted a “mixed community.”
“I met a lot of good people and made a lot of good friends,” says Greenlee, who lives in Wilkinsburg. “That’s what it’s about. I’ve been off the air for a long time, but people still recognize that I was there, that I had been there.”