Dan Ingram, The Heen, The Hern, & The Evil Ox
Dan Ingram Woke Me Up the Other Day
I was listening to WABC-AM when he introduced the Seekers record I Will Never Find Another You by saying it was about a Scrabble player trying to spell the word "uvula." I was just dozing at home when I heard his intro and had a major Ingram chuckle.
That "other day" was in 1968, almost exactly fifty years ago. That specific chuckle, along with laughs, guffaws, chortles, gasps, and the occasional bout of wide-eyed astonishment wasn't my first nor my last. Dan Ingram's radio show was a mighty magic amalgamation of myriad marvels merged in majestic magnificence, with mirth, merriment, and melody*.
Sadly, Dan Ingram Won't Be Waking Me Up Any More
He died a few days ago at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at the age of 83.
I've heard it said that Dan Ingram was the best DJ of his era, and, not to put too fine a point on it, the best DJ ever. I've not only heard it said by others, I've said it myself. Many times. Maybe I'm biased, though. It was my privilege to have worked with Dan as his "engineer" in the halcyon days of radio, when WABC was the biggest station in the world. My tenure was as a "vacation relief" engineer in the summers of 1964 and 1965, and then as a full-time employee until sometime in 1968. Of the many hundreds of broadcast engineers who worked for the American Broadcasting company, I, an FCC-licensed but inexperienced kid of 20ish somehow found myself across the board from Dan and the rest of that crowd—Cousin Brucie, Bob Dayton, Herb Oscar Anderson, Bob Lewis, Ron Lundy, Chuck Leonard, Roby Yonge, and Charlie Greer.**
How did that come to be? Remarkably and miraculously, due to a minor incompetence. I had applied for the vacation relief job and was called in for an interview with the legendary Sammy Aed. He was interviewing me along with another guy, and he put us to the question: How good are you at splicing tape? The other guy eagerly avowed his superb credentials; I, having no inkling of the import of this question, averred that I had used a splicing block on occasion. Off to Network Radio for the other guy, and WABC Local Radio for me. Next thing I knew, I had not just a dream job, but the foundation for the remainder of my corporeal existence to this very day. Thanks, Sammy! Thanks, Other Guy.
Working With Dan
During my more-or-less five year tenure with WABC, Dan Ingram was the afternoon guy. Depending on my school schedule—Win Loyd, my boss and chief engineer was very accommodating—and the needs of the station, I would typically be the "board engineer" for between two and four hours per day, the rest of the time working with the news department, doing routine maintenance, taking union-mandated breaks, and occasionally napping under a console or doing a Nathan's run if I was on the night shift.
A radio station is a 24-hour per day operation; I was young and chronologically flexible, so I was often asked to change my work schedule with little notice. Hence, I could work with Dan or any of the others for days or weeks at a time, or even find myself out in New Jersey doing maintenance on the transmitter.
It would be fair to say that I enjoyed working with Dan the most. By far.
Big Dan Ingram and I were very similar in one respect. We're both big. About the same height and weight at the time. But Dan had the microphone, and all I did was push the buttons at his cue. He developed what I hope was an affectionate nickname for me: The Evil Ox. My nickname for him, if I had the same air access, might have been Mr. Ingram. I'm OK with humor at my expense (and expanse), and never filed a grievance as some of the older and more persnickety union guys might have done. (Perhaps that explains why we younger guys got most of the air shifts.) I accepted and reveled in being Dan Ingram's Evil Ox.
My nickname stuck until I left the station for a safer job, workin' in a defense plant. Dan used it on the air often enough that listeners grew familiar with it. I started receiving fan mail!
The cartoon above came in the mail to the station. I think it was actually addressed to Mr. Evil Ox. It's signed by Mr. C.J. Suggins, whose style appears identical to that of one L. Bartlett, below. Never heard from "either" one and neither name nor pseudonym has appeared on the occasional internet search. A talented dude (or dudette) nonetheless!
I Love That Song / I Hate That Song
Dan was a man of precision, both in his hearing and his timing. You develop this when you work in radio; his hypertrophied and storied sense of timing allowed him to do to music what the best comedians do with their jokes: commit them with exquisite control of their impact. Dan was notorious for his ability to sync his record intros with the music. This led to some in-studio banter as well. I think it would be fair to say that he wasn't a big admirer of much of the music he had to play. He was a jazz/blues fan more than one of rock. Many's the time we'd be chatting and as a song was ending, he would make an offhand comment "I hate that song" and call for the mic, at which point, milliseconds later and on air, say "I love that song." Talk about faking sincerity! (I generally wasn't present when he recorded spots for ad agencies, but if you've heard many of his, I would defy you to calibrate his sincerity against his delivery.)
He had theories, often about subjects not normally aired. Deodorant was one—he was against stinkage, not necessarily moisture. Have I just "over-shared"? If not, how about toilet paper? He was an "up and over" guy; my installation preference involved a roll-polarity reversal. Of course he was right. Yes: I have over-shared. I know it's legally impossible to libel a person of the deceased persuasion, but I'll stop there nonetheless. Let's just say he was very, very careful to know when the mic was on. (I understand that in his later career there was an occasion on which the profanity delay didn't quite build up enough to prevent an f-bomb.)
Dan could be occasionally cranky or moody, but when he was "on," being in the studio with him was the equivalent of ten Ingram Flingrams during one afternoon show. Quite the privilege almost all of the time.
Dan came from a musical family, and was very well attuned to pitch as well as timing. He was noted for detecting a tiny pitch change in a record as the generators wound down during the great Northeast Blackout of 1965. Far more entertaining was a prank I played on him on April Fools day, (probably) 1975. We had just started making a product that could change the pitch of live material, and I took a little trip up to visit my buddies at WABC. May I connect this, please? Starting with a tiny pitch change on his voice fed into his earphones, I continued to drunken-sailor territory. Needless to say Dan handled it with aplomb and humor, and neither I nor my new product suffered the physical abuse to which we were arguably entitled.
Of course Dan was a bit of a prankster himself, usually at the expense of the poor guy reading the news on the hour. The "brief showers" story is legendary.
Animating the Heen and the Hern
The Heen and the Hern were real, but they were just gadgets. Dan's genius turned them into characters. I went through an electronic music phase in the '60s. After meeting Bob Moog in Trumansburg, New York, and being inspired by his approach to synthesis, I built a number of rudimentary instruments. One, a single-note synthesizer, used a keyboard from the conveniently located Schober Organ company. Another took advantage of the new integrated circuits to generate multiple octaves. WABC had a simple station identification "jingle" and I realized that by just programming a sequence of notes, I could recreate that jingle. Boring. But add a variable clock, tremolo, and extreme vibrato, it could make an infinite variety of station jingles. WABC paid for jingles, one at a time. Hmmm.
I brought it in to work and showed it to Dan Ingram. The Hern was born. Dan was suddenly talking to it, coaxing a strange conversation from it, and feeding it phreams, which I think he made up seconds after dubbing it the Hern. It did double duty as the "mad organist."
The Heen was a small handheld device that would make a series of random tones with enough of a frequency shift on each one to give it character. Just a toy, until Dan started talking to it on the air. I'm not sure I have an air check of that, but I'll try to find one. How he managed to turn that gadget into the Heen (his name for it, as was the Hern) with seeming personality is yet another example of his extemporaneous artistry. (Speaking of names, he pointed out that guys get "hisnias.")
Permission to Revise and Extend
I tend not to revise my blogitems, or, if I do, make clear that it's an update. But I spent hundreds of hours working with Dan and anecdotes keep popping into my alleged mind, usually accompanied by one of the humor-responses listed above. Why wouldn't I want to share them? Maybe this blog will find itself extended. Alas, there are unlikely to be any future-occurring anecdotes.
Many NYC radio people miss Dan Ingram, perhaps even as much as I do. If you want to share your thoughts or read the others, the excellent and extensive musicradio77.com site run by Allen Sniffen would be a good place to do so. If you're a glutton for spoken instead of written babble, the Gear Club podcast episode 6 and episode 7 have a few words from me about WABC and other personal history.
* I didn't make that up myself; it was a tag that was normally associated with Cousin Brucie. I'm sure he won't object if I re-attribute it here.
** All of whom with the pleasant exception of Bruce Morrow have died in recent years. I still listen to The Cuz on Sirius Radio in the car. I think he enters a stasis field when he isn't on the air, and by now may be in his late 40s.