Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Mr. Raiford Goes to Washington

There's a certain irony about the fact that Bob Raiford, who spent most of his life performing on radio, and the radio industry itself, were both born in the same decade;  KDKA Pittsburgh 1920 and Bob Raiford Concord, NC 1927. Bob might very well outlive "radio" as we know it.   -Lee

Bob Raiford today
Bob Raiford is 88 years old...and still going strong!  He is part of the daily John Boy and Billy Show out of Charlotte, NC which is syndicated in over 100 markets.

As far as I know, he has set some kind of record....for being perhaps the longest running radio personality in history.

There might be some old codger that nobody ever heard of who is still mumbling into a radio station mic....somewhere...I don't know, but if there is, chances are he sounds like "Titus Moody." But Bob Raiford sounds as good or better than he did when that 23 year old kid from North Carolina first announced, "This is WTOP in Washington."

Bob Raiford at 23
And how did a 23 year old student at the University of 
South Carolina happen to become an "announcer" at one of the most powerful and prestigious radio stations in America?
Well, a fellow named Dave Campbell, who had once been an announcer at WBT and for a short while at WJSV, the "old" WTOP. who lived in Columbia, suggested that Bob make an audition tape...and send it to Lloyd Dennis, the General Manager of WTOP radio.

University of South Carolina
Bob was planning on getting a law degree and was about to enter his final year for his BS degree, and had already been accepted by the Law School which had agreed to count his final year of his BS degree as his first year of Law School.  He had it good that year. Things were going his way; in addition to his academics, he had a full time job at the local radio station. Next stop, Law school.

He had almost forgotten about that audition tape. It was sent mostly as a lark anyway, and weeks had gone by with no response.


Then one day a letter arrived from someone in Washington named "Patti Searight" (program director at the time)  inviting him to come to Washington for an "in person" interview for an announcer's job.

The trip would be at his personal expense, but "that's just the way it was done" back then.  Maybe still is. The siren call to the Big Time is a "heady wine" and hard to resist, plus for a Carolina boy who had never been anywhere that didn't have Carolina in its name, it would be highly unlikely to find him not standing at the Train Station the next day waiting for the 8 o'clock Express to Washington.

He arrived at Union Station the following morning, walked to the radio station, which was at 14th and E streets at the time, got on the elevator to go to the 14th floor, where the studios were, and who should he see in the elevator with him?
Eric Servereid

Eric Servereid!

That's when his thoughts of "being in the Big Time" turned to "What the Hell am I doing here."

Those thoughts intensified when he got to the lobby and it was "filled" with mature men from big cities like Chicago, Baltimore, Boston..."and here I was...I'd been on that train all night and no doubt was
somewhat disheveled and definitely lacked sleep and had to get back on that train at 8 o'clock that night. I was one of the last to be called. Finally, I went in...and did my thing...and was told to return to the lobby and wait a little longer. I almost decided to not wait, because I had seen all of the others leave...but before I could get up and start for the elevator, Patti Searight called me back in  and Lloyd Dennis (VP in charge of Radio) congratulated me and offered me the job."

"I don't remember what the salary was, but it was little more than I was making at the small station in Columbia, SC.  However, there were stars in my eyes...and I accepted.  One week later, my voice was again heard on that little station in South Carolina. But this time, it was also heard on stations all over the United States, introducing  CBS newscasters.

But it didn't take long for reality to kick in.  "My wife was pregnant, about to add one more mouth to feed and the higher cost of living in the big city of Washington was much more than in South Carolina. I learned later that a number of the announcers took part time jobs at places such as Woodward and Lothrop in order to make ends meet."

"Some of the WTOP staffers that I remember were, Eddie Gallagher, who was the "main man"...a contract performer who did the morning drive time show called Man in the Sundial." My first assignment was to do an 11:30 to midnight program called "Moondial."  

 Other staffers  were, Bob Dalton, who had recently come up from Richmond, Ted Miller was there as well as Hal Stepler.  There was another announcer, whose name I've forgotten, but the thing I remember about him was his inability to say anything over a microphone unless it was written down for him. 

Bob at WBT

Most of this all happened in the summer and Fall of 1952.   Not long after Raiford felt that he had become "established" (and accepted by John Hayes) he was invited to come to WBT/WBTV in Charlotte where a rare opening for an announcer had occurred, and where living was much cheaper.

Bob Raiford today

(He got the job at WBT and spent almost 5 years there, establishing a National Name for himself doing a nighttime music show (he called "Raiford at Random) over that station's powerful signal heard regularly from Maine to Florida.  

In later years he would return to WTOP.  
 Stay tuned.



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