Sunday, February 24, 2008

oldies but goodies yet again

john christian
John "Sir Walter" Christian from Poise Foundation

OK, Porky was the king of the radio jocks, no argument. But if he was king, Sir Walter Raleigh was the Prince of Soul DJ's in the early days of Pittsburgh R&B radio.

In 1955 John Christian starting spinning disks at WILY, an East Liberty station, joining local radio pioneers Lee "3-D Lee D" Dorris and Bill Powell, all three playing soul for the black audiences of Pittsburgh. He owned an appliance store that advertised on the station and got into the business through a bit of serendipity. The station manager heard his voice over the phone and offered him a job.

Two years later, Christian, dubbed "Sir Walter" in Time magazine for his faint British accent, left to team up with Porky at WAMO. Bill Powell joined him there. Brother Matt came on later, giving WAMO a dominant lineup of jocks.

"And that's when WAMO took off," Christian told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "There was a segment of people who obviously appreciated what Porky was doing. They were primarily white people. When they brought on African-American talent, that's when the total community, white and black, became involved." WAMO to this day draws on a large mixed audience for its' music programming.

He used to dress up in an English butler outfit or in a white suit, sometimes with tails. Christian would sport a monacle and talk in a faux accent. He often was seen wearing a top hat or bowler. Sir Walter had very large, white mutton chops. And he referred to everyone as "M'Lords and M'Ladies."

Some thought his persona was a takeoff on satirist Lord Buckley, who would do bits with a veddy British accent and over the edge costumes. Whatever the origin, Christian's act worked like a charm in Pittsburgh. He was a popular hop jock like all the primo DJs of the era.

He eventually left radio because of "creative differences". Control of the playlist had been torn from the DJ's and given to the accountants, and Christian figured it was time to move on. A Top 40 list was anathema to the old school jocks. He then scored a long running gig with TV station WPXI.

Now he's best known for his charitable work. The John Christian Charity Trust Fund awards grants to different area social and community causes. Its' big money maker is his annual celebrity golf outing.


And add the Stockdale Fire Hall in Washington county to the hop havens of the 1950s & '60s. The Pittsburgh Tribune Review and Post Gazette both just ran articles on it and a big reunion dance it hosted to celebrate 50 years of platters. Other old Mon Valley halls mentioned in the PG: the Jumpin' Jive Bee Hive and the Cougar Canteen in Charleroi, the Italian Hall in Monessen, the Blue Fox and Italian Citizens Club in Monongahela, and the Twin Coaches in Rostraver.

To the east in Westmoreland county, Harry Lattanzio's Rink in Latrobe brought in the Pittsburgh R&B jocks to rock the joint for the locals & the kids from Indiana and Ligonier.

More songs? The Girl from the 'Burgh recommends "Cry Like A Baby" and "The Letter" by the Boxtops, "Close Your Eyes" by Peaches and Herb, and "Dream" by the Everly Brothers. A few other tunes that you may remember: "Dedicated to the One I Love," Shirelles; "Houseparty," Showstoppers; "I Only Have Eyes For You," Flamingos; "Showtime," Detroit Emeralds; "Image of a Girl," Safaris; "Because," Dave Clark Five; "Wipe Out," Surfaris; "This Diamond Ring," Gary Lewis and the Playboys; "For Your Precious Love," Jerry Butler; "Chains," Cookies; "Don't Say Nothin' Bad About My Baby," Sapphires; "Forever," Marvelettes; "Up on the Roof" and "Under the Boardwalk," Drifters; "Stand By Me" and "I Who Have Nothing," Ben E. King; "Baby Love," Supremes; "My Girl," Temptations; "Midnight Hour," Wilson Pickett; "Try a Little Tenderness," Otis Redding; "You Don't Own Me," Leslie Gore; "Chapel of Love," Dixie Cups; "(Remember) Walkin' in the Sand," Ronettes; "A Lover's Question," Clyde McPhatter; "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," Platters; "It's Only Make Believe," Conway Twitty; and "It's All Right," Impressions.

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