Hosts gain fame using aliases
One local radio personality received part of his well-known moniker from a love of trains as a child. Another adopted her alias to fit into the station’s format.
Their actions aren’t unusual. Most radio personalities don’t use their real names while on the air.
“This trend started in the ’50s as radio grew in popularity and became more competitive. A post-war economy was booming, and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll played into the hearts of America. Repeat after me: ‘Show biz,'” said Max Volume, a northern Nevada disc jockey.
Wolfman Jack (Robert Weston Smith) was one of the first disc jockeys to use an air name that became a household name, said Dr. Drax, president of the American Disc Jockey Association.
“That was not his real name. Using a traditional name like Bob Smith sounds like a news guy. Rocking with Bob Smith doesn’t sound so good,” Drax said.
“Radio disc jockeys like to use stage names. It’s an ‘I’m so Hollywood moment,'” Volume said in an email.
Volume, whose real name is Glennn Bailey, came up with his air name after a fight with his girlfriend.
“She came in while I was listening to Iron Maiden and shouted, ‘Why is it always on max volume?’ I looked at the stereo and then realized ‘max volume’ was on every car and home radio on earth,” Volume said. “Absolutely no one would remember Glennn Bailey. Everyone would remember ‘Max Volume.’ Glennn Bailey sounds like a creekside pub or a retirement community.”
Tom Casey, retired radio personality and known to many as WTAJ-TV weatherman, said disc jockeys want a name that is euphonious – pleasing to the ear.
Casey credits his grandfather for his air name. His given name is Tom Streb.
“Casey was my nickname. When I was a little kid, my grandfather called me Casey Jones because I was a choo-choo train kid. When I worked in Augusta, Ga., and South Bend, Ind. I just went by the name Casey, I was Casey in the morning,” he said. “Most people still call me Casey when they run into me, and that is what I prefer. Most everybody but my wife, she calls me Tom, when I hear Tom I know to ignore it!”
Roger Corey, air personality at WBRX-FM, Altoona, a 44-year veteran of the local airwaves, got his air name from a cousin.
“My cousin Corey who lives in Virginia was born with a handicap and spent a lot of time in the hospital when he was young. I had never seen a stronger kid; he inspired me so much I named myself after him,” Corey said.
Charles Kenneth Whetsel Jr. (Charlie Weston on WFBG-AM) changed his air name while attending broadcasting school in Pittsburgh in 1971.
“I changed it to Charlie Kenneth, which was my first two names. I didn’t like that one either. I’m not sure where Charlie Weston came from. I know that I wasn’t comfortable with a name that didn’t end strongly. Whetsel-l-l-l-l just tapers off, but so does Kenneth-h-h-h-h. Weston stops. But I was most interested in changing my first name. My family called and still calls me Chip. That worked for ‘My Three Sons,’ but not so much on radio,” Whetsel said.
Sean McKay, best known for his days as an air personality on WFBG-AM from 1972 to 1998, presently does the mid-day show on WKMC-AM.
McKay, whose real name is Robert Jerome Puffer, has used several air names over the years.
“In 1961, I started out as Jerry Puffer. In 1964, I went to Jerry Kaye. When I moved to Bismarck, I used Gary Stone. When I came to Altoona in 1969, Tom Richards was program director at WRTA, He said I can’t use Gary Stone because there was a guy named Bill Rock in the market. Tom said there can’t be a stone and a rock in the same market,” McKay said. “I liked to listen to a guy on KOMA-FM in Oklahoma City named Sean McKay and liked the name so I took it.”
Don Runk didn’t think about using an air name when he started working overnight with Commander Tim Burns at WVAM-AM in 1969.
“I read his news at the top of the hour from 1 to 5 a.m. Then that question came, what’s gonna be your air name? I hadn’t thought about anything, but Don Runk, and he explained that I needed an ‘air name’ so I wasn’t getting crank calls from people,” Runk said.
Runk, whose real name is Donald Edward Earl Girard Runk III, and his co-workers came up with suggestions and settled on Don Girard (his Catholic confirmation name).
All of the air personalities at Froggy 98 (WFGY-FM), Altoona, use unusual air names.
“Our station is a ‘concept station,’ the station name embodies a particular theme. ‘Froggy 98’ was meant to have a fun, sort of ‘amusement park on the air’ feel, a place where everything is ‘frog-themed,’ as well as extremely memorable,” said program director Donna Dunkle Himes, whose air name is Polly Wogg. “Top of mind” is extremely important in radio; we want everything about the station to stick in our listeners’ minds. Announcers and characters with unusual names are certainly more memorable and recalled more easily.”
Dick DiAndrea, who retired in 2013 after 53 years on the air, never used an air name.
“When I first started at WTRN-AM in 1960 I used my real name because they wouldn’t allow me to use Chuck Roast,” DiAndrea said. “My name just went along with the music. I never gave it a thought to change my name. I was proud of my heritage and my family name so I kept it. Some people are not thrilled with their last name.”
Most air personalities said they use an air name to protect their privacy.
“I was living at home, and we didn’t have an unlisted number, and I
didn’t want people calling me at home,” Corey said.
Using an air name can have some advantages.
“Sometimes when people found out you were an air personality (DJ,) some doors opened more readily than others, and people warmed to you a little quicker,” Runk said.
There can also be disadvantages.
Runk recalls staying on the air for 66 1/2 straight hours doing a fundraiser in 1972 and after the event was taken to Mercy Hospital for some rest and relaxation.
“The problem was my family, relatives and friends, who called asking about the condition of Don Runk, were told I wasn’t there. Of course, they went a little crazy, calling all the hospitals and police, trying to find out what was going on. Well, Mercy Hospital was doing this as part of the event, to make sure I was all right after the broadcast, but they signed me in under Don Girard, and not Don Runk, so the people at the hospital, didn’t know whom they were talking about, when they called,” Runk said. “Fortunately, the Altoona police got it straightened out, and those who needed to find me, found me.”
Runk also said his future wife didn’t know his real name when he proposed.
“During our whirlwind courtship, it never occurred to me that I had never mentioned my real name, until we had been dating over a month. When I asked her to marry me, she was a little let down that she was going to become Patty Runk, and not Patty Girard,” said Runk, who today is underwriting director for the Flagler College Radio Station in St. Augustine, Fla.
Local air personalities don’t feel they are living with an alias.
“Many radio people are identified in public by the sound of their voice. That has certainly happened to me, so, trying to escape the public eye by having a different radio name doesn’t always work. I think sometimes that people who change their name for radio are maybe those who have a different on-air persona than they may have when they’re not on the air, and it’s just a way to get into character,” Himes said.
“It is not an alias, it is just an identification of sorts,” Casey said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.