My earliest childhood memories of listening to radio (were) in the late 1940's. I focused my listening on the presentation of programs, the announcers and commercials. What we call formatics. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had a super fascination with formats and programming.
I would key in on the shows opening music and the announcer. I remember noticing that there was always a buffer, bumper or dramatic sting of music as they "switched" between different elements. This was powerful exciting stuff that would cause a rush as it painted pictures in my mind. I wanted to do that!
Early voices I remember and will never forget were Johnny Olson and Don Pardo. I would later be able to work with both those fabulous guys. WOW! Pretty unbelievable stuff for a kid in Des Moines, Iowa. By age 9 I was a regular hanging around WHO in Des Moines. I could do that as Don Palmer, one of the owners, was a golfing buddy of my dad. I much preferred my trips over to KIOA because they played records and took request. They had DJ's with stacks of wax and other cool talk. I would go home and practice doing "my" show on my Dad's Stenorotte dictation machine. I would have my little 45 rpm record player next to me so I could actually do a "show".
In 1954 we moved to Pennsylvania and I hung at WLAN in Lancaster, PA. 1955 - 1956 was the real magic year with Elvis, Fats Domino, Laverne Shirley and Chuck Berry. I had a hot 16 year old sister and would use her as bait to get me into the WLAN studios so I could watch Guy Barry the local DJ. I was also spending a lot of time at Stan's record bar. By 1957, WSBA in York PA. was the "Mighty 910"--- with a full line of jocks around the clock. I had to be pried from the radio. Something I will never forgret happened 1957. My sister Sue took me to Hershey Pennsylvania and my very first Rock N Roll concert. Her's too. It was magic. A cool sister and Rock N Roll!
Funny deal happened in 1960. I was visiting my grandparents in Phoenix and I heard KOMA In OKLAHOMA---"The 1520 Line". 50,0000 watts booming in from over 1000 miles away. This was it! I had discovered that I had always listened to distant stations at night, but nothing had ever captured my attention like this. Station jingles, exciting DJ's. I wanted that. I would go on and do other radio, but I wanted "my own" BIG 50,000 watt station someday, so that I could paint my pictures on it's canvas. I heard things in my head.
There was much to do. I had to be part of this! That little kids still hears and sees things in his head, but today I can take all that I dream and all that I have accomplished and put those marvelous thoughts and ideas into a "New" medium, the Internet.
My first paid job was staff announcer for the Christian Admiral Hour, broadcast at 12 noon daily from the Christian Admiral Hotel in Cape May New Jersey. The right Reverend Carl McIntire would spew the gospel along with hate and bigotry with his side kick, "Amen Charlie". I got this job because "someone" did not show up on time and I just jumped in and did it. I was a Bell Hop at the Christian Admiral and had always hung around the Radio quarters watching the shows, so when I had a "chance"---I knew my lines by heart. I sucked up real good to the "Reverend" and he let me be his fill in announcer on his 20th Century Reformation Hour, then syndicated on hundreds of stations around the country. My grand mother who listened to the "reverend" and sent him a dollar bill everyday was soooooo proud of her grandson. The reverend later went to jail for tax fraud. I moved on.
I had been spoiled working for the "Reverend, as I had a "board technician" and not a clue as to how to run equipment. I knew I would be good on radio. After all I heard it in my head didn't I???
In 1964 I went to WMID in Atlantic City. Hey for a beginner it was a pretty fine gig. Humble Harv Miller who would later go to KHJ was there, Stevie Boom Boom Cannon who would go on to work "everywhere" was there and a very nice man Harry Newman was the PD. Man he was good. He later went to KBIG and was very BIG in Country at KLAC in Los Angeles.
God gave me a good voice and a line of bullshit, so I talked my way in. They gave me an audition and the key here was that the audition was handled by the Production Manager Jay Marks who "ran" the equipment. Harry liked my tape and I was Hired to do afternoon drive. My only problem was, I never told anyone, I had no knowledge to operate the board, turntables or cart machines.
At 2 PM I am looking through the glass at the newsman and I will never forget those words "W-M-I-D weather just ahead of Tom McMurray and Much More Music ". Well my ass was saved, because the news guy had a remote button that kicked the next record as he was talking over the opening bridge music as he was ending the weather. That was all part of the excitement of Top 40 radio. I had been watching for a few days, so I had some idea, but there was just no way I could keep up a hot Top 40 pace having the right carts and records all cued. Harry was a real gentleman, he helped me. After a few days I had it down (Somewhat!).
That weekend I was doing a Sunday Shift and was to "patch" in the Philadelphia Eagles football game. I was the ONLY person at the station. At the appointed hour I started pulling and replacing those "Patch" cords, stuff I still don't really understand, but they were similiar to and old telephone switchboard and served the same purpose. The bottom line is that I blew the station off the air. Hey this was not part of the deal, I was hear to do Rock N" Roll. It seemed an eternity, but someone came to my rescue, ran in and put WMID back on the air after being off for 15 minutes or so. The next day Harry had to fire me. He felt bad. Told me that I had to learn how the equipment worked. Harry did offer me weekends and I stayed on.
In a week, WOND our Competition offered me a full-time gig. Hey they had the NEW Pams series 27 Jet Set radio station jingles, there was no pausing in my decision . I became one of the WOND LAND Good Guys, we were also ALL AMERICAN'S too. Tall Tom LaMaine who later went to WIP took me in. There was this real cute blonde gal (age 15) who hung around the station and wormed her way into doing a teen age news show. I would talk to her and lust in my heart. Her name was Jessica Savich, who later was the Blonde Bomb Shell at NBC television news.
In a few months I moved to WRAW in Reading, Pa., but in November 1965 I got the Dream call to come to KRIZ in Phoenix where I did evenings as Captain Marvel. In 1966 I moved to Morning Drive and in the summer of 1966 was the Operations manager. 1967 I went to KBLL-TV in Helena Montana as the Sales manager. I knew I wanted to go places and figured that some TV, management and sales would help me some day. Within a month I was also the Program Director of the Station. Channel 12 was the only station in Helena. We were the NBC affiliate, but had the option to carry ABC also.
True confession to the people living in Helena at the time. You watched the programs I liked. I would pick Combat and I believe it was Hootennanny, others too and cancel what was on NBC. Bob Ruby who later was a legend in New Orleans radio was my partner in crime. He was the weatherman.
In 1968 I was hired by Norman Knight as his National PD. This is where I would learn to try different things. I built an incredible staff of talent at Knight from 1968-1970, taking many with me went I went to WBT and Jefferson-Pilot Broadcasting.
That dream of a BIG 50,0000 watt clear channel canvas had ALWAYS been with me. I was told I could "Produce" WBT. Its was my dream and I never met another peer who DID NOT want to program a BIG 50. There were only a handful and to get one was an honor and an experience so intoxicating that I have never surpassed it. The chance to "Turn" a BIG 50 from a losing position and make it number one with a totally new format was a rare, rare opportunity. Magic happened here! People, resources, timing they were all in place. I was just lucky to be the guy who put this station on the air.
That you were booming into 30 some states every night to show your "stuff" was part of the magic. It was an incredible responsibility knowing that you were influencing the sound of all the stations in small towns and all the "young" Tom McMurray's out there listening. I never lost sight of that. The power of a BIG 50 was awesome. While at WBT I would still look up and never see the whole place. It was just bigger than life.
I later opened Thomas McMurray Ideas and consulted many BIG 50's and many major market radio stations and media groups. Nothing could ever come close to the WBT experience. Nothing has. By 1977 there was nothing left for me to do. I left. I was at peace, I was happy. I had done what I wanted. I went out west and was a railroad engineer for Santa Fe, something else I had always wanted to do. Drive a train, blow the whistle and wave at kids. I briefly returned to radio in 1979-80, but it was just not fun anymore. There are reasons.
Remembering Captain Marvel