Cudmore: Early Amsterdam disc jockeys on Armed Forces Radio

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Sam Zurlo grew up on Amsterdam’s Pulaski Street and was starting his radio career.  While waiting for a radio job back home he was working at a station in Lumberton, North Carolina, when he was drafted.

The Army needed people to staff the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) in Europe where American troops were deployed, lined up against Soviet Union forces in the Cold War.  Zurlo said there was a story among the U.S. soldiers that the Army actively went looking for young American radio performers to draft.

Zurlo recalled the facility where he was stationed was in a former castle in Frankfort, Germany.  AFRS programs were heard throughout Europe by American troops and European civilians, some behind the Iron Curtain.

Americans stationed in Frankfurt monitored Radio Moscow constantly.  Engineers played Zurlo a Radio Moscow recording that talked about him as a new voice on AFRS, giving information on where he was from, where he entered service, his age and appearance and making the claim that Zurlo had attended a U.S. propaganda school.

Zurlo said he never went to propaganda school but that he did read straight news and introduce popular songs when he was on the air.

By the summer of 1953 Zurlo was back in Amsterdam and had a night time record show called Best of Wax on the city’s local station, WCSS.

Through the years Zurlo was on the air primarily at WCSS, but also at WENT in Gloversville-Johnstown and WVTL in Amsterdam.  He retired from his popular talk show on WCSS in 2017.

His Daily Gazette reporting of Mohawk Valley news took place between 1957 and 1992.  Zurlo and his wife, Hattie, live in Tribes Hill.

An interview with Zurlo done by Garry Dillon was featured in a 1953 edition of Community Magazine for a Better Amsterdam.

Local researcher Gavin Murdoch said the Walter Elwood Museum has copies of Community Magazine and Murdoch has been putting some of them on Facebook,  “At their peak, 7000 copies were delivered free to homes in Amsterdam.  It ran on the advertising income.  It was published by The Franklin Press, 22 Chuctanunda St. Amsterdam.”

In the early 1950s Community Magazine profiled pioneer WCSS broadcaster Jack Griswold, who also had Armed Forces Radio experience.  An Amsterdam native, Griswold joined the WCSS staff when the local station began broadcasting.  He had been working as chief announcer at WKRT radio in Cortland.

Local business leaders headed by former Amsterdam mayor Arthur Carter formed Community Service Broadcasting and started WCSS in 1948.

A military veteran, Griswold left WCSS for a time when he was recalled for a year of Army service in Korea.  He hosted a five hour nightly disc jockey show as the Rice Paddy Ranger for Armed Forces Radio.

In 1953 he married Rosemary Meader and returned to WCSS to host music programs including the Jack Griswold Show, What’s New and Mohawk Hit Parade.  He also interviewed local people on The Mike Is Yours and did a contest called Hold the Phone.  Griswold would call local people who could win “an ever mounting jackpot of prizes” for identifying “the mystery tune.”

Griswold left WCSS for a radio job in Pennsylvania, according to Zurlo.

Walt Gaines was hired as WCSS manager in the early 1950s and entertainment and controversy ensued for a few years.  Gaines did several radio programs himself: Singspiration, Walt’s Mike and Midday Merry-Go-Round.

Gaines unsuccessfully tried to start another radio station in Amsterdam and later headed WLFH in Little Falls.

Succeeding Gaines as WCSS manager was Phil Spencer. Spencer ultimately bought the station and operated it for many years.

Categories: Life and Arts

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