Saturday, March 7, 2009

Terry Lee

Terry Lee from WIXZ 1360 Memories (Photo provided by Jim Metzer)

Hey, we never got a chance to run a post on the guy Old Mon listened to religiously during his cruisin' years, Terry Lee of WMCK and his "Music For Young Lovers." It's time to catch up with TL.

The New Eagle (just outside Monongahela) native's given name was Terry Lee Trunzo. He credits his radio name to his mom, who told him that it had a nice ring to it. And like most moms, she was right. As TL, he was one of Pittsburgh's ruling radio jocks in the decade between the sixties thru the mid '70's when the kids spent their weekends on the dance floor instead of playing "Guitar Hero" on their X-Box.

Lee became a DJ when he and some bandmates from Mon Hi played a dance at the Finleyville Community Center, and the scheduled DJ didn't show. In between sets, Lee plugged a turntable into his guitar amp and let a local girl play some records she ran home to fetch, according to Ron Paglia of the Tribune Review.

He enjoyed the experience - you didn't have to know the chords to play the song or worry about hitting the right harmonies, and could switch moods in a heartbeat - and traded his ax for a turntable. In fact, he rented the FCC the next week, his first gig as a DJ and the segue to a storied radio career.

He spun wax for WESA in Charleroi ('59-'63, as Tim Lee), WZUM in Carnegie ('63, briefly), WARO in Canonsburg ('63-'64), WMCK in McKeesport ('64-'69), WIXZ in McKeesport ('69-71; '73-'74), WLSW in Scottdale (briefly in '74), and WRUA in Monroeville. He also had recent gigs on 1320 AM WJAS and WLSW 103.9 FM, Stan Wall's station.

Lee later became a local promoter and producer while running a Charleroi record shop after WRUA folded in the seventies. Then, *poof*.

TL became one of the great mysteries of Pittsburgh radio when he dropped off the face of the Tri-State map in the eighties. The question of "Where's TL?" spawned a ring of conspiracy doo-woppers who had him doing everything from DJ'ing under another name to owning a farm in West Virginia.

The truth is that Terry Lee Trunzo did what so many other Pittsburgh area folk did - he ended up out west where the sun shines all day, syndicating a show based out of Phoenix's KOOL FM. Oddly, no one in the Pittsburgh market ever picked up the program to air. Or for that matter, seemed to know it even existed. Now's he settled down in nearby Ohio with his bride, a short hop away from Pittsburgh.

TL's "Music For Young Lovers" was one of the great baby-making radio shows of the sixties, and was the top-ranked program in the area during the era. For those of you old enough to remember red lights inside the cars, China Wall in South Park, Hurst five-speeds, and reverb speakers, no evening was complete without snuggling up to your sweetie while TL spun those lover's concertos over the nighttime AM airwaves.

Heck, part of his echoing on-air rap was the line "If you happen to be out in your car, take it easy," a double entendre if there ever was one. It covered everything from drag races roaring down Route 51 from the Eat 'N' Park to Streets Run Road to submarine races in the backseat of the buggies hidden away in South Park's dark and private expanses.

TL was on six nights a week from WMCK's Elk's Temple studio, with a four-hour Sunday afternoon show. You would win any bets that the weekend gigs were taped, along with many of his weekday night shows.

He did so many dances (he regularly spun three on Friday, three on Saturday, and three more on Sunday, plus weekday gigs) that it was impossible for him to be in the studio during prime hop hours. Lee would show up at the studio after his DJ duties were over and tape the next day's program, along a few tracks from whatever bands he happened to be managing at the time; he was a sort of local lo-fi recording pioneer.

He also hosted "Come Alive," a local version of "American Bandstand" on WIIC, and "The Terry Lee Show" on KDKA and WPGH.

According to local lore, Lee turned the Swamp Rats, whom he managed, over to Nick Cenci for an audition spot for "Come Alive." TL got the gig, and Cenci got the Swamp Rats, perhaps the first Steel City punk act. Lee got the better of the deal; the band broke up shortly after switching to the Co-Ce label.

WMCK became WIXZ in 1969, and according to Mon Valley legend, the owner first offered the station to TL, but he turned down the deal because of the time commitment. TL was raking in more benjamins at the hops and with his Night Train club in West Elizabeth than he would have ever made as a radio suit. (He would, after he left town, own stations in Naples, Florida and Mansfield, Ohio.)

Whether that tale was so or not, a group of Top-40 guys from Cleveland bought the station and turned it into WIXZ. TL was the only DJ they kept from the old roster when they changed the format, and he switched from a grinder to a rocker to keep up with the station's frenetic pace.

In truth, he always had a soft soft for a heavy beat. Lee managed and produced the Arondies ("69"), the Fantastic Dee Jays ("Love Is So Tuff"), the Swamp Rats ("Psycho"), the Fenways ("Walk"), and the Racket Squad ("The Loser"). He even had his own Sherry and Stone labels to break a song locally.

Lee was a fan of anything that got a place jumping, especially if it featured a tight harmony or a garage rock beat. And he would parlay that formula into a sizzling dance hall resume.

TL, although a huge radio presence in the region, really hit his heights as a hops' host. Lee was one of the kings of the dance scene, along with Mad Mike and Porky; not only did he have the hot wax, but he could lure some of the big groups of the era in for a quick set, too, helping to sell his shows (and their records) to his teen followers.

If he gigged a dance, rest assured that it sold out. Tales abound that TL pulled in so much long green at his events that he had to travel with a bodyguard to get the night's take home intact.

He often drew over a thousand fans to his dances at venues like the Night Train (which he owned), Redd's Beach (now Pine Cove Beach), the Wildwood Lodge, the White Elephant, the Linden Grove, Burke Glen Ballroom, the Red Rooster, the Lebanon Lodge, the Blue Fox and the Varsity House, along with fire halls and social clubs throughout the Mon Valley. Heck, he even once did a show from a ferris wheel!

Lee left the business in 1992 after selling his Florida radio station. But he's back, after a rousing reception for 2010 hop he spun at the Palisades. According to his web site:
"Some of the projects I'm working on are transferring my record collection to CD, pulling all the photographs from the 60's and 70's for a book that I am in the process of writing, and editing radio specials that I produced in 1969 on various Pittsburgh groups including the Jaggerz, Vogues, Racket Squad, DeeJays, Swamp Rats, etc. Also, I'm working on a Skyliner special that I produced at the network studios in Phoenix with Jimmy Beaumont in 1988."
Additionally, he has several CD's of his shows available for the discriminating oldies fan, jingles, commercials, and all along with the music from some of the bands he managed/produced.

Best of all, Lee is back on the airwaves, now using 21st century technology. He streams "Terry Lee Live" every night from 8-11PM, of course saving the last hour for his "Music for Young Lovers" segment. His Magic Communications Network is on the air 24/7. Just click on his website (link above), then hit "Live Feed," and you'll be transported back to the halycon days of sixties and seventies. And yes, he still takes requests, although by e-mail now.

As an added bit of sugar, every Friday afternoon at 4PM, Pittsburgh Oldies Radio features Porky Chedwick spinning for three hours along with Lee's show. There's a treat that's hard to resist - the Magic Memories man and the Daddio on the dial together.

TL is behind the turntable again on the hop circuit, too, hosting shows at McKeesport's Palisades, Castle Shannon's Linden Grove, Stockdale Fire Hall, Monessen Elks and Troy Hill's Most Holy Name, spinning records to a packed house, sometimes with his brother legend of the era, Porky.

And hey, whatever he's up to, it's good to have him back. As he used to say every night: "On behalf of Terry Lee and WMCK, goodnight and God bless you." We add God bless us oldies fans, everyone.


DaddyRockinStrong said...

2 radio/dance DJ's that i always tuned in on the 'Philco radio' were Terry Lee and Porky Chedwick. i still can hear Terry and Porky in my mind as if it was yesterday. the best DJ's playing the best songs. they gave to me a gift of sound that none other have. i am grateful to have listened in.

John Weimer Aliquippa, PA Class of 1957.

Dino said...

There was never a better DJ than Terry Lee - period. With that silky voice and the music he played - often B sides that he happened to like - those of us in the Mon Valley area were truly blessed to have him in our cars with us every night - we got to hear a lot of great music that we never would have heard had it not been for T. And, the dances were just always spectacular - never any trouble just that great TL Sound and kids dancing and having a blast. Yep, T was THE BEST and we truly were blessed to have had him in our lives. He was always very nice to talk with as well - he liked to talk music. He told me on several occasions that, "Good music is good music no matter who makes it!" I am very glad that I was able to listen to him and his music and to get to be around him and talk to him several times. I sure miss that voice.