It was around 8:30 on a Saturday morning, and Joe Gallagher had found his latest fascination.
“I was down in the cafeteria and they’ve got a motion-activated towel dispenser and it works great,” he told his WGY radio audience. “You put your hand in front of it and a towel comes out. You put your hand in front of it again, another towel. . . . They just kept coming and coming and coming.”
Gallagher said he grabbed 100 towels. Once the WGY (810-AM and 103.1-FM) news had concluded, he shared the silly story with the Capital Region.
Then the phone rang — jangling, urgent bells from another era. Joe took the call.
“ ’GY, hello,” he said. “Oh, yes sir. Yes, I was down in the cafeteria. That’s so cool there, the towels just kept coming out, it worked perfectly. About 100. . . . What do you mean ‘permanent record?’ You mean to say if somebody calls here looking for a reference . . . Yes sir. Yes, it’s not a toy . . .”
Weekend audio mayhem
Not a toy, just a gag. Gallagher has better things to do with his mornings at WGY than fool around with towel machines. On a snowy morning, he decided to riff for a few minutes on “The Artist,” the new movie that’s a nod to the silent films of the 1920s. Spy nuns in high school, the weather, a few off-key bars of “Mr. Joe from the weekend show” and talk about the old television cop show “Highway Patrol” were still ahead.
All in a morning’s work for Gallagher, a Schenectady resident who has been maintaining audio mayhem on the Latham radio station’s weekend shows since 1997. The tall, gray-haired radio host is both candid and comical when he talks about his radio career.
“My brother Tom was in radio; he’s the one who got me interested,” said Gallagher, a native of Geneva who graduated from the city’s DeSales High School. “Since he got me interested, I haven’t spoken to him in 30 years. No, we’re good friends. He took me on a tour, I was sold on it, I said, ‘I’d love to do this.’ Some days, I wish he had been a plumber and he got me interested in that. The only problem is in radio, you don’t have people calling on Sunday nights saying ‘We have a leaky sink.’ ”
The Gallagher brothers worked together at Geneva’s WGVA radio during the 1970s, and Joe moved up and down the state Thruway for station jobs in Syracuse and Buffalo. He landed the afternoon drive slot at WGY in 1983 and stayed at the powerhouse station until 1989, when he decided to leave radio.
He eventually went back to school — Catholic Central High School in Troy — as development director and public relations spokesman. During the early 1990s, he began working with Bryan Jackson at WCDA (96.3-FM) radio, but Gallagher spent a lot of time as a stay-at-home father to sons Joseph and Michael while wife Kathleen worked. Kathleen is currently director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference.
Time with the boys
“It’s the highlight of my life,” Gallagher said of his home parenting. “My neighbor one time said to me, ‘Joe, I know you must be frustrated you’re not working right now, but think of what you’re doing here with your kids, this opportunity.’ And I always understood that. I am so happy that I had time to spend with my boys when they were growing up and to take part in all their school activities.”
Joseph Gallagher is now a senior at LeMoyne College; Michael is a freshman at Sage College of Albany, where he plays basketball. Gallagher believes both guys, tall fitness buffs, want to work in the law enforcement field. “I miss them,” he said. “My family is everything to me.”
In 1996, Gallagher returned to WGY’s air doing remote broadcasts. Because WGY weekend host Paul Cassidy was going on medical leave, Gallagher was scheduled to fill in for the morning shows. When Cassidy passed away after a heart operation during the fall of 1996, WGY asked Gallagher to stay on the weekend shift.
At first, he said no.
“Bless her heart, Paul’s wife called me one day and said, ‘I heard you won’t take Paul’s show,’ ” Gallagher said. “She said, ‘I would like you to take Paul’s show, I think it would be the right thing for you to do.’
“I had already told Tom Parker, the program director, I wouldn’t do it under the circumstance,” Gallagher said. “I called him back and said, ‘Look, I just had a call from Paul’s wife’ and OK, that’s how I got involved.”
‘Life is my script’
Now, every weekend Gallagher fools around on the radio and gives people their morning cups of Joe.
“First of all, you have to be somewhat prepared,” he said. “I try to prepare at least 10 minutes every day. If you do eight minutes or less, you’re in the wrong business.”
Another gag: Even WGY’s website has a little fun at Gallagher’s expense. Here’s how the station describes producer Andrew Moll: “In 2010, after an unspecified incident with management, he was forced to become the producer of the Joe Gallagher Show. He now spends his Saturday and Sunday mornings working tirelessly on his résumé.”
Gallagher doesn’t have too much trouble figuring out his own material.
“Life is my script,” he said. “I see things that go on, I jot down some notes and I try to bring out a little bit of the fun side of the things that we all face every day. And I’m proud to say this: I want to be family-oriented. I want to be able to have kids listen; my goal is for it to be entertaining. It’s never hurt the feelings of any one in particular person. I don’t like doing that kind of radio or television where somebody is the brunt of your joke. They suffer for that and there’s no need for that.”
He said Peter Rief, a former longtime WGY announcer and newsman, used to say the Gallagher brand of humor was an acquired taste.
“I think that’s true,” Gallagher said. “When I first came here, people would say, ‘I couldn’t stand you, I turned you off. But then I had a chance to listen again and I got it.’ I think you really have to take a moment to listen to understand what I’m doing — if, in fact, there is anything I’m doing. A lot of people have said that to me.”
Gallagher and Weeks
Gallagher said there are some similarities between his show and Don Weeks’ former program. Weeks, who sold a similar brand of good-natured lunacy on WGY’s weekday early morning show, retired in 2010.
Gallagher believes Weeks is the more creative guy.
“He was just a real gem on the air,” he said. “I think the similarities would be we’re both shy and it’s a theater of the mind type of thing. We do things to make people use their imaginations.”
Weeks returns the compliment.
“Joe is unique,” he said. “He’s created this on-air character whose grand plans and enormous self image is destined for disaster. His audience loves hearing how things go wrong for Joe. It’s relatable comedy. Joe can take a current event or an everyday chore like shoveling the driveway and spin it into a morning-long theme that gets funnier by the minute.”
Weeks said he and Gallagher are close on and off the air. Pranks and verbal barbs have been part of the friendship, and nothing is ever taken seriously. Weeks said people used to ask him if he ever got upset about the barbs and odd descriptions Gallagher sent his way over the airwaves.
“I always told them that Joe is one of the most decent and caring people I’ve ever known and one of the funniest,” Weeks said. “I consider it a privilege to call him a friend.”
Lowering of the bar
Old-school radio is OK with Gallagher.
“I think it’s good to keep that standard,” he said. “I feel bad that standard kind of left. It used to be guys would go into a tavern and they’d talk and sometimes their language would get rough, but at home it never happened. Now it seems like TV has taken that standard bar and gotten rid of it. . . . They don’t know what’s appropriate and what’s not anymore.”
Gallagher has never worried much about audience size. Some people might be sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but he believes people with families are up early and preparing for their weekends. He thinks he might be able to help them with their plans.
“When I’m on the air, I’m doing something for whoever’s listening. It could be five, it could be 1,000,” he said. “I hear enough feedback from people, I know there’s a number of people listening. It’s funny, the feedback you hear is, ‘Oh, I’m glad you don’t do political. People want to wake up, I think, and those who are up want to unwind, they want to relax, maybe have a laugh, get the latest news and information and maybe win a prize. They find out through some of our interviews what’s going on, maybe there’s an event they can go to. That’s what we’re geared to do, keep it very light, keep it family-oriented.”
It’s more than just Joe. News announcers John Craig and Diane Donato are also in on the act, which begins at 6 and runs until 10 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday. So is producer Moll and newsman Mike Patrick. Bob Graves from Faddegon’s Nursery, television writer Jay Bobbin and investment advisers Dennis Fagan and Chris Fagan are longtime weekend guests who were initially recruited by Cassidy.
Joe is more than just mornings. He’s worked on two of WGY’s big charity drives, the WGY Christmas Wish campaign and the WGY Miracle Weekend Radiothon for the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center.
Gallagher is happy with the early mornings. He’s also happy to occasionally lay on a little ham as people prepare their scrambled eggs at 8 a.m.
“People will say to me, ‘Hey Joe, I listen to you on the weekends and I like listening to you,’ ” Gallagher said. “I’ll say, and I really mean this, ‘Thank you. I really truly thank you for taking your time to listen.’ I’m not giving a lot of baloney, I mean that. Over the years, you learn that they don’t have to listen to you, they don’t even have to come up to me. But they do, and these are the same people who are contributing money to the radiothons. We thank them; they really make everything happen. Without listeners, we don’t have much of a station.”