They keep 'in tune' with their audience

February 27, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

He's dined with Buddy Holly, met the Big Bopper, and been the inspiration for a hit song. And all because he took the easy credit in high school.

Jim Titus, disc jockey at WWMD and WJEJ in Hagerstown, said he got paid $1 an hour when he began spinning hits in Muskegon, Mich., in 1956. At that time, FM radio was in its infancy, and the 18-year-old Titus was already 6-foot-8-inches tall.

But fate had formed the disc jockey's strongest asset years before.

At age 13, he was making his newspaper delivery rounds on his bicycle when he was thrown after running neck first into a wire strung across the end of a driveway.

Titus said he couldn't speak for almost eight weeks. His voice skipped puberty.

"At age 16, I had a voice that made people think I was in my 40s," he said.

A whiz in speech class, he said he signed up for a radio course in high school because it was the "easy credit." He's been doing it ever since.


"Radio gets into your blood," said Titus, who has worked in formats ranging from news talk to classical to country.

The music lover said he has enjoyed them all.

"My tastes in music range from gut-bucket bluegrass to opera," he said.

Unlike the radio days of yore, disc jockeys don't have to adapt their identities to these varying formats, he said.

"Now, you don't have to be a hick to play country, or an erudite to play classical," he said. "It's important to be articulate but be yourself. That way, you don't have to remember who you're supposed to be."

Sometimes, though, fake names have their advantages.

A boss dubbed Titus "Tall Paul Page" at his second radio job in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The pseudonym stuck in the mind of Disney singer Annette Funicello, with whom Titus said he shared an evening. After that date, Funicello included Titus' radio name in a song of the same title.

While his career has been filled with such high points, Titus said he has also had a few embarrassing on-air moments- like the Spoonerism that struck him in 1956.

Named after a famous preacher who often transposed the letters at the start of words, Spoonerisms give new meanings to word phrases. For example, "a blushing crow," instead of "a crushing blow."

When introducing the song, "Seventeen," by musician Rusty Draper, Titus said he mixed up the beginning letters in the singer's first and last name.


But after 42 years in the business, Titus rarely makes those kind of mistakes. He said the most challenging aspect of disc jockeying is being entertaining without boring listeners.

"I don't like to talk 'em to death," he said. "But I try to be informative."

Titus said two career highpoints centered around informing listeners. While working in Cumberland, Md., from 1959 to 1968, he broke the news of the Allegany Ballistics explosion and a B-52 crash in Garrett County.

For the past 30 years, Titus has lived and worked in Frederick, Md. From 4 a.m. to 1 p.m., the WFRE and WFMD disc jockey was on the air, and helped produce the morning shows.

New ownership fired the veteran jock after Christmas, he said.

"It's all about the bottom line," said Titus, who had a job in Hagerstown within three days after his termination.

He said that when the Federal Communications Commission recently began allowing multiple ownership of radio stations, massive buy-outs and widespread syndication began to de-value experience.

Job security in radio has become a thing of the past, he said. Technology, while making the job easier, might lead to a gradual phase-out of warm bodies behind microphones, he added.

But he'll ride the air waves until that day comes.


Jay Young, WEPM, Martinsburg

Though his connection to sports clubs doesn't demand membership fees, he's paid his dues.

"Younger people don't want to pay their dues," said disc jockey Jay Young, of Martinsburg, W. Va., who is program director at WEPM-AM Sports Radio. "They automatically want to be Howard Stern," he said.

Young began his radio career at a Top 40 station in Chambersburg, Pa., in 1979. After spinning discs at stations up and down the Eastern seaboard, he said he was starting to "burn out" on radio.

"How many records can you introduce," he asked. "How many times can you say, 'Here are The Monkees'?"

Then Young found WEPM.

Talk Radio has "revitalized and rejuvenated me," said Young, who is on-air from 6 to 10 a.m. daily. He said he likes the challenge of piecing together a sportscast.

His show carries not only Baltimore Orioles and Ravens live coverage, but interviews, local high school and college games and such big events as the Stanley Cup and World Series.

Young said the popularity of local sports in the Tri-State area keeps the station competitive. And technology has made the job easier and more efficient, he said.

At the click of a switch, the voice of the West Virginia University Mountaineers' head coach tells how it felt to win a big game.

"The less I talk, the better job I'm doing," said Young. "The new technology lets the people who make the stories tell the stories."

Casey Brooks, WYII, Williamsport

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