On June 24, 2018, Dan Ingram died. He was regarded as the best Top 40 DJ of all time. Unknowingly and somewhat ironically, he was a role model for my broadcasting career. Despite being asked to write something for a tribute page. the following may not actually appear anywhere else. This degree of honesty is often too rare even for "showbiz" consumption! Virtually all of the comments about Dan's passing focused on what a wonderful guy and consummate professional he was. That wasn't the Dan I knew. But the story does have a twist...
Hello there – I'm Brian Wilson, of the nearly-famous Ross & Wilson Show (among others!) In January 1981, we were brought in from Z93/Atlanta to WABC from Atlanta to replace Dan Ingram in morning drive and hopefully play a part in the salvation of MusicRadio 77 WABC, the greatest station in the world.
History has recorded how well that worked out, and In my new book 50 Stories: 50 Years in Radio coming out later this year, you'll be able to read about the shenanigans that took place on the 8th floor of the iconic ABC Building as MusicRadio WABC died and TalkRadio WABC was born. Obviously, Dan Ingram played a big role.
So the other day, along comes a note from Matt Seinberg, honcho at Big Apple airchecks: Would I like to record something for the Dan Ingram aircheck tribute he's putting together?
My first reaction was Sure- why not? Then, in proper numerical sequence came my 2nd reaction. No – what for? Every freakin' compliment – including mine – about Dan had already made it on FB and, where it really counted: Alan Sniffen's MusicRadio77.com. For me to say anything more would just be redundant. Plus some of the other guys who had actually worked with us back then had already written really good pieces about their experiences with Dan. So what could I add – except maybe a different perspective – from the infamous "Not Chuck Dunaway interview". If you don't know the history of Dan Ingram as Chuck Dunaway, check it out at MusicRadio77.com
You know Dan was held in the highest professional regard. The DJs, DJ…master of the 6-second wit... the most imitated DJ in America…
Unfortunately, Dan and I did not enjoy the warmest, fuzziest relationship. From the first day I met him in the hallway outside Al Racco's office, it was all downhill from there. And when I say I met him, well -- that took all of about 2 seconds tops. No handshake. No eye contact, "Yeah right, good luck with your career" was all he said - and kept right on walking.
I gotta tell ya, I was blown away! Like some other WABC folks, I had grown up in North Jersey, and religiously followed the afternoon ritual of flipping on Dan Ingram right after high school let out and his show started at 3 o'clock.
Now, 18 years later and here I am working with him!
I won’t go into all the gory details. First, it's not cool to speak ill of the dearly departed. Second, things were very different back then. But – spoiler alert - everything turned out OK in the end.
And what you are about to hear was The End. But before that, you need to know, as Paul Harvey would say, The Rest of the Story.
I will assume you know about the annual WABC Rewound shows that ran on Memorial Day; unfortunately, they were discontinued some years ago. The theme for the 1998 show was a Beatles retrospective. I was invited to host the 5:30 -6p segment, after Scott Shannon and before Curtis Sliwa. Despite having to do the show from my home studio in Maryland, everything went great. Even the famous WABC reverb came thru!
The only downer-- there was no Big Dan in the line-up. Dan had a show over at CBS-FM and the suits at Black Rock wouldn't permit the legendary Dan Ingram to appear even on a briefly resurrected MusicRadio WABC.
Now knowing all this, during the last commercial break, Johnny Donovan comes on the IFB and says: "Hey Brian! We got Dan! You're gonna interview him right after this break. But you can't call him Dan Ingram! CBS wouldn't let him do it with his real name so he's coming on as Not Chuck Dunaway! OK? Two minutes…"
And that was it. The two of us were just gonna wing it 8 or 10 minutes till the top of the hour!
My problem wasn't noodling out how to do the interview, but how to deal with Dan? Like I said, we didn't have a great relationship at all when we were working together. So would he even remember all that crap? I sure as hell did – but maybe it wasn't as traumatic for The Greatest DJ Ever!
So except for a slightly shaky intro, I geared up to go a few rounds with "Not"; of course, Dan brought his A-game. Now Dan had a thing about playing people with big words and inside information to see just how much he could get away with - and whether or not you were able to keep up. So we played that game. When you hear some of my references to how much Dan got paid, these were the same lines I used on the morning show in 1981 cross-promoting Dan, now back doing afternoon drive -- and for which I got my butt chewed out big time by the PD: "Dan doesn't want you talking about how much money he makes". "Dan doesn't like it when you talk about his paycheck." "Don't talk about Dan being married." That didn't help the relationship or the atmosphere much - coming at a time when everybody was concerned about their ratings and the big rumor going around that WABC was going to flip to Talk. So with that history and with millions of people listening, came this spontaneously combusted chat fest with Not Chuck Dunaway and me. Here is how it went down Memorial Day, 1998:
The Happy Ending to all this came a few months later while Dan was being interviewed about his remarkable career and specifically about the1998 Rewound and the CBS fiasco and the idea to come on as Not Chuck Dunaway. At one point, he was asked: "Who was that guy who interviewed you?" And without a moment's hesitation, The Greatest DJ of All Time said "Oh that was Brian Wilson! Yeah, Brian Wilson. And I gotta tell ya, he did one helluva job. He was great."
So my best Dan Ingram memory is my greatest Dan Ingram regret – that we didn't get to know each other better at the time. We could have been a formidable AM and PM drive team. Who knows – we might have even become pretty good friends.
So now you know the rest of the story -- and at the risk of being redundant, radio listeners will never hear another one like Dan Ingram again. He was the best there ever was. Ever.
Thanks to Alan Sniffen's MusicRadio77.com and Matt Seinberg's Big Apple Airchecks for producing this tribute to BDI.