RIP Herb Oscar Anderson, an Ella Guy Who Fit Into an Elvis World

01/29/2017 02:57 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2017

After a lifetime of hellos, it’s time to say goodbye.

Herb Oscar Anderson, one of the more unlikely personalities in the early pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll disc jockeys, took another piece of an era with him when he died Sunday.

Herb Oscar Anderson in his WABC days.
Herb Oscar Anderson in his WABC days.

Particularly to anyone who grew up around New York in the late 1950s and 1960s, HOA was part of what WABC, radio, music and the city sounded like.

His personal imprint was in many ways unusual, because when you think of early rock ‘n’ roll DJs, you think of Jocko, Dan Ingram, Scott Muni, Alan Freed, Hal Jackson, Cousin Brucie, Murray the K.

None of whom sounded anything like Herb Oscar Anderson.

Anderson came out of another era, a softer era where the music on the radio was big bands and the golden-age standards of Gershwin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Irving Berlin.

But in 1960, when the struggling WABC decided to bet its chips on rock ‘n’ roll, Anderson was hired by his friend Len Goldenson to do the morning show.

Anderson had done rock ‘n’ roll before, on smaller Midwestern stations and then on WMCA and WMGM. But he did morning rock ‘n’ roll, the kind that eased you out of bed rather than blasting you out of bed.

Today’s Morning Zoo style, it wasn’t. Anderson would come on the air singing “Hello Again,” an easy-listening melody that owed more to Lawrence Welk than Little Richard. He wished his listeners blue skies and told them how happy he was to be back in their homes.

Anderson sang even off the radio.
Youtube
Anderson sang even off the radio.

Singing was part of the HOA package. He was still serenading listeners a half-century later on his last radio gig, a long-running popular standards show on WOSN in Vero Beach, Fla.

His Facebook page has a video from the WOSN studio where he finishes a show by singing “The End,” a song popularized in the late 1950s by Earl Grant.

“He loved singing his signature songs,” recalls former WCBS-FM program director Joe McCoy, who brought Anderson back to New York for the station’s Radio Greats Reunion Weekends in the 1990s. “He was such a nice guy, full of life.

“I remember he and Charlie Greer palling around during those weekends. Herb would  pop in with each Radio Great DJ all weekend long. You could see how much he loved and missed radio. I always thought Herb would be a great talk show host because he was such a fabulous communicator and gentlemen.”

 The tunes Anderson sung on WABC stood in contrast to many of the records he played. But he said in an interview years later that he never saw a disconnect.

“I never thought rock ‘n’ roll was an entirely different kind of music,” he said. “Particularly in the early days.”

That would change by the late 1960s, as Scott Benjamin relates in his excellent Anderson profile at http://www.musicradio77.com/hoaprofile.html. Anderson told Benjamin he left WABC in September 1968 because he didn’t like the new, harsher sounds of acid rock.

But in the years before that, Anderson had made a comfortable peace with any gap between his own love of Ella and Sinatra and the new Beach Boys, Four Seasons, Motown and Beatles music he played for a living.

Back at the dawn of Musicradio WABC.
Back at the dawn of Musicradio WABC.

“That’s what a professional disc jockey does,” Anderson said a few years later. “On a station like WABC, you don’t come in play your own records. You present the music of the format in an entertaining, engaging way.”

It helped that he was doing a morning show, back when morning was the calm part of the radio day. There was news, weather, a bit of banter. Listeners were invited to join the Happy Huggy Bear Club.

That first WABC Musicradio77 lineup – with HOA, Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club, Charlie Greer, Farrell Smith, Jack Carney, Chuck Dunaway, Scott Muni, Bill Owen and Big Joe’s Happiness Exchange at midnight – was known as The Swinging Seven.

The amount of swinging varied widely from host to host.

But that’s what early rock ‘n’ roll radio was, and it mirrored early rock ‘n’ roll.

Just as the music was heavily laced with Pat Boone, Connie Francis, Brook Benton and other pop-style artists, the radio wasn’t all Dr. Jive and Mad Daddy. It included a lot of hosts who, like Anderson, came out of big band and smooth-talking radio.

HOA’s last radio stop.
HOA’s last radio stop.

That was sort of a dirty little secret, Anderson said years later – that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t just a teenage thing.

“WABC certainly wanted teenagers,” he said. “But I was doing a radio show for adults. I was proving rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t just for juvenile delinquents.”

Personally, he said, he learned to like much of the music he played, citing the musicality of the Beatles as an example.

Asked in the 1990s how he felt about contemporary morning radio, he gently sidestepped, saying it just wasn’t his style.

He did lament that much of commercial radio no longer gave DJs the freedom he had. It would have been hard, he said, if he had been told not to talk to his audience, or not to sing them a song.

“People like that,” he said. “It makes radio personal.”

“Whenever we hear ‘Hello again, here's my best to you’,” says McCoy, " it will make us think of our childhood mornings and will always make us smile.”

To hear some vintage Herb Oscar Anderson, check out http://www.musicradio77.com/index.html.

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