Magic in the Air: Bob Craig reflects on his 60 years in radio
In June 2023, I’m observing — no, I’m celebrating my 60th year in radio broadcasting. And this is my mini-memoir of my love affair with it and the journey I began as a child of the ‘50s in Boston, and wound up in Philadelphia. In so many households back then, the radio was always on. What fascinated me was how all this music could come out of such a small box-shaped object. After all, the 78-rpm records we had were about the size of the radio speaker. Yet, there seemed to be an endless supply of music.
Where and how was this all happening? Who was playing this stuff? Hitmakers of the early ‘50s like Les Paul, Mary Ford, Jo Stafford, Frank Sinatra and Miles Davis. I wanted to be part of this. No question.
I spent my early teenage years visiting and hanging out at radio stations. You could do things like that back then. I became friends with a DJ who invited me to spin his records at a station on Sunday mornings. I was ecstatic. Now I saw how the whole thing worked. After high school, I smooth-talked my way into a part-time job as a control board studio engineer at Boston’s 50,000-watt powerhouse WBZ. This was the Summer of 1963. My first radio job, with pay. A few of the DJs there were patient enough to teach me a few announcing techniques — not the least of which was helping me diminish my Boston accent. There was a lot to learn. And where better than a small station in the White Mountains of Littleton, New Hampshire?
After six months of bucolic quaintness, boarding house living, and barely affordable meals at the Mountain View Diner (hell, I was making $50 a week), I was on to my next adventures, with stops in central Massachusetts and Eastern Connecticut. It was there in Norwich that I spent four years sharpening my announcing and programming skills. By around 1970 I was ready for a bigger market, and it was time to move on. Hartford, here I come.
WDRC was exactly that. Play the hits and have fun. It was like going to work at the National Lampoon. I was known as the guy on the radio that recommended weird lunchtime suggestions. My next stop in Hartford was a tighter, more formatted Top 40 station, WPOP, in 1975. When the station changed to all-news, I landed a part-time DJ gig in Boston at WHDH. Another station I grew up with that played what we call “adult contemporary” hits.
Back in Hartford, I was formulating ideas for a special album “soft rock” format. Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Billy Joel, and the like. I finally convinced the owner of a low-rated “beautiful music” station to let me put my ideas to work.
So on the first day of Summer 1976, we put WWYZ (The Natural 92) on the air. And boy, did it take off. We became a highly listened to, highly rated station within months all over Connecticut and beyond. Three years later, I accepted an offer to program Philadelphia’s WMGK, the station best known as “Magic.” In April of 1979 I arrived and was given the keys to the kingdom. The music updated, the format realigned. And what happened truly was “Magic.” We were No. 1 with adults through the 1980s.
When the ‘90s arrived, I shifted over to our sister station WPEN, “The Station Of The Stars.” A mix of wonderful music from the Great American Songbook. Then a few years into the millennium, a change in format. And that’s when I arrived at WRTI, where I’ve happily called home since 2005.
WRTI has offered me the unique opportunity to program and share the music that has held a special place in my life. Where else could I play a mix of jazz and songs from the Great American Songbook? It’s what makes this radio station unique. As long as I’m willing and able to do so, I’ll continue doing what I love to do.
As I look back on my 60 years in radio, I can truly say that I’ve lived my childhood dream. Oh, and let me add: I’ve never worked a day in my life.