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ABC RADIO ANNOUNCER ED SILVERMAN TALKS ABOUT ERNIE KOVACS
This collection of anecdotes from Ernie Kovacs' WABC Radio Days was gotten the same way that I get most tidbits about Ernie. As you saw if you've read my interview with Kovacs cameraman Bob Kemp, it seems that I always run into nice folks who know someone who knew or worked with Ernie.
A fellow comedian named Rob Blatt (a very talented man in his own right who I've had the pleasure to perform sketch and improv with) knows I'm a Kovacs fan. He used to work with Ed Silverman, who was the overnight news editor and news announcer during Ernie's tenure at WABC radio in New York City. Rob got Ed and I together via email. Thanks Rob!
I contacted Ed and said I would like to email him some interview questions. Well, much to my surprise and pleasure he went out of his way to email me some great anecdotes about his days around Ernie Kovacs, making my job all the more easy. I have posted these stories below, verbatim except for format corrections, and I sincerely hope you will enjoy them. Thanks Ed!
I want to give a quick background for those who might not be familiar with Ernie Kovacs as a radio personality. It is interesting to note that as a young man in the mid-to-late 1940's Ernie was first an actor, then a well known radio personality on WTTM out of Trenton, New Jersey (which became an NBC affiliate while Ernie was there), this leading to him being a humor columnist with "The Trentonian," AND THEN got his first television job at WPTZ, a Philco-Westinghouse NBC Affiliate out of nearby Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. So, Ernie had an extensive background in radio when he got his WABC show in the 1950's at the height of his fame. He was a great and innovative radio personality at WTTM, probably the Howard Stern of his time, someone who was easily identifiable and had his own set of stunts and gags, though he obviously could not do the material that shock jocks do now. He learned every aspect of radio from the ground up, which is what you had to do back then, not like today when they hire no talent robots and have a computer run the shows.
The genius of Ernie's early television shows on WPTZ, the most famous being "3 To Get Ready," is that they incorporated the best of his radio work combined with the new visual medium. Unfortunately no known copy of "Three To Get Ready" exists (its on the Museum of Television and Radios' top ten wish list) and I have never heard of anyone, including the Museum, having audio from Ernie's WTTM or WABC radio shows (if any of you out there do have segments, let me know). The one thing I have heard is a segment called "Star-Time," which were a series of five minute segments that ran on WNBC Radio in the late 1950's. They featured a variety of celebrities doing pieces on whatever struck their fancies. The ones I've heard with Ernie usually have him doing Percy Dovetonsils reading stuff like "Repunzel" in his own inimitable fashion. These are available for listening at the Paley Center For Media in New York City, and I suppose the one in Los Angeles as well.
According to the book "Kovacsland," by Diana Rico, WABC radio's live "Ernie Kovacs Show" premiered on May 30th 1955 from 6am-9pm. It ran every morning except Sunday. By the second year Ernie, who was 36 years old when he started the show, was making $95,000 a year. Big money for those days. Though it did require him to get up at 4:30am. The anecdotes below pertain to this show.
Oh, and by the way, Ed Silverman has sent me a scan of an original EEFMS (Early Eyeball Fraternal and Marching Society) membership card! This was a card Ernie used to send to his early morning TV fans. Scroll down to see it.
Just to clarify--I was the ABC Radio Network Overnight News editor at the time and did the sign on news and also supplied the Kovacs radio show with late news items. We broadcast from the third floor at 39 West 66th Street and Kovacs did his morning radio show from studio 1A on the main floor.
We struck up an interesting relationship and most mornings after the show I'd stand out front with him waiting for his chauffeur to pick him up in his Lincoln convertible. He always had these big, black Cuban Cigars and we'd light up at about 8AM and have a ball waiting for the pickup. Ernie was sponsored by Horn and Hardart (known more commonly as the 'Automat') who also had retail stores where you could pick up their pies and cakes and specialty foods. Kovacs would play havoc with the commercials, playing them for laughs rather than sales, and would rouse the ire of the station manager, Myrtle Tower, who would call in at 7AM, screaming "you can't do that"--but he did! (ED. NOTE: I'M ASSUMING THAT THE CHAUFFER MENTIONED WAS LONG TIME KOVACS DRIVER LOU PACK)
A lot of his material was written by his wife, Edie Adams, who would often call in to the control room with a fresh idea or critique while he was still on the air. Kovacs would say whatever came into his head at the time and worry about it later. This was during the time of the Suez Canal crisis and I was in the studio often to update the situation. I had a black beard at the time, and on one particular morning I was wearing a red shirt. As I entered the studio with a late news item, Kovacs took one look at me and screamed over the mike, "My God, it's the Yid from Port Said (pronounced 'sigh-idd,' to rhyme)." Naturally the phone rang off the hook as Myrtle Tower called in to tell him he couldn't say that. The "Yid from Port Said" became a regular morning feature for the duration of the crisis. So much for station management.
Getting back to Horn and Hardart. They always featured a different fresh fruit pie of the day--apple, cherry, blueberry etc. Kovacs' copy would be a straight read..."And the fresh fruit pie of the day, is Cherry." But not for Ernie. His sound effects man was one of the greats of radio--Keene Crockett--better known to his friends as Queen Crockett due to his sexual orientation which he flaunted. Keene loved a good put on just as much as Ernie. He had one of those little slip horn whistles, that you could make go Whoops, whoops, whoops.... So when Ernie would say fresh FRUIT pie, Keene would go WHOOPS, WHOOPS, WHOOPS. And when Ernie said "Cherry," Keene would double up on the WHOOPS and speed them up in a frenzy. Of course the control room staff and the guys in the studio would all break up and this would also go out over the air. Ten seconds later Myrtle Tower was on the air with her "You can't Do that!"
This was before Kovacs moved over to NBC (I believe) and started doing a regular TV stint. But that was ABC in those early days. Around the same time we had Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin on radio, but never exploited them and they went on to TV careers at other networks...
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