I’ve always enjoyed listening to 50,000-watt, clear channel AM radio stations at night.
Since childhood, I’ve tuned those stations in once the skies go dark over Arkansas. They allowed me to escape my bedroom in Arkadelphia and travel in a figurative sense to what seemed like exotic places.
I would, of course, listen to Harry Caray and Jack Buck broadcast Cardinal baseball games on KMOX (thank goodness the Cards are moving back to their old home at 1120 AM next season after five seasons over at KTRS, 550 AM; the Cardinals had called KMOX home from 1954-2005).
I would listen to Larry Munson call Georgia football games on WSB, 750 AM, from Atlanta.
I would listen to the great Cawood Ledford (with Ralph Hacker at his side) call Kentucky basketball games on WHAS, 840 AM, in Louisville.
Late on fall Saturday nights, as I returned home from Ouachita football games, I would listen to the Iowa Hawkeye replays on WHO, 1040 AM, in Des Moines (“Dutch” Reagan’s old station).
I would listen to various programs on the famous Chicago AM stations — WGN, WBBM, WLS.
And there’s WOIA, 1200 AM in San Antonio, “the sports leader for the great Southwest.”
But, in my opinion, the greatest radio station of them all is WWL-AM, the Big 870 from New Orleans. No station better reflects its city, its state and its region.
I would listen to John Ferguson broadcast the Saturday night LSU games (“Hi everybody from deep in the bayou country”). For a time, Ferguson broadcast both the Tigers on Saturday and the Saints on Sunday. When it turns dark and the Saints are playing, I still turn down the television sound to hear Jim Henderson on WWL.
When my father and I would head duck hunting before dawn on a Saturday, I would tune into WWL to hear Frank Davis (and later Don Dubuc) talk about hunting and fishing.
I wrote in an earlier post about that late 1979 trip to New Orleans to see the Razorbacks take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1980 (Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide won a second consecutive national championship that day). One of the thrills of the week leading up to the game was calling into WWL and talking to a man I’d been listening to for years, Hap Glaudi.
I’ll never forget making that call from my room at the Marriott on Canal.
“Hello to Rex, the king of Carnival,” Hap said as he went to my call.
Glaudi had started his career in the newspaper business at the old New Orleans Item and reluctantly moved to television when WWL-TV was in its infancy. He later added radio to the mix. The voice of this Jesuit High graduate just dripped with that old Nawlins sound.
When WWL-TV aired a program to celebrate its 50th anniversary a few years ago, morning anchor Sally-Ann Roberts remembered Hap this way: “I remember an old car. That’s what I remember of Hap. Hap was a person who didn’t have to put on any pretensions. He was exactly what he appeared to be on the air. He had a very common touch. … He drove that car, and I think that said a lot about him. He didn’t need to put on airs or try to keep up appearances. He was just naturally New Orleans.”
After Saints games, Hap would host a call-in show called “Hap’s Fifth Quarter.”
After Hap died in 1989, the station continued to call the show — now hosted by Buddy Diliberto — “Hap’s Fifth Quarter” for a time.
Then, the man they knew as Buddy D became a legend in his own right.
“Though Italian, Buddy D must have had some Cajun blood blended in there, too,” longtime New Orleans sportswriter Bill Bumgarner wrote on his blog earlier this year. “Much like our imports from Acadiana, Buddy loved to laugh at himself. As any Cajun will tell you, the best Cajun jokes come courtesy of fellow Cajuns. Buddy D was no fan of political correctness. Buddy was to proper English what Bernard Madoff was to trust, what FEMA was to governmental efficiency. … Hap and Buddy lived during the era when professional boxing and horse racing thrived, and each loved them both.”
Bumgarner went on to write about returning to New Orleans after covering Saturday night LSU football games in Baton Rouge: “Following player interviews and a postgame chat with LSU’s late coach, Charles McClendon (an Arkansas native from Lewisville), the return home usually got us back to Metairie about 1 a.m., a perfect time to stop by Buddy D’s sports lounge near Clearview and Veterans. A first timer might expect to see the engaging Buddy D greeting and chatting with the fans. Some nights, yes, but not on Saturday.
“More times than not, Buddy D would be perched on the bar, his headed sandwiched between two large transistor radios, with a third radio sporting an earplug. Meanwhile, thanks to one of the area’s first satellite dishes, Buddy would also watch as many as two West Coast games. It was nothing to see him attempt to monitor five games at once. Perhaps — just perhaps — Buddy had some greenbacks riding on those games.”
Buddy D’s full name was Bernard Saverio Diliberto. He was born in August 1931 and died in January 2005. He began working as a Times-Picayune sportswriter in 1950 while attending Loyola and moved to WVUE-TV in 1966. In 1980, he moved over to WDSU-TV.
After he started hosting radio talk shows on WWL, Buddy became known for referring to callers as “squirrels” and having regular callers who went by names such as Abdul D. Tentmakur and Dr. Kevorkian. When the Saints went 1-15 in 1980, it was Buddy who began calling them the Aints and came up with the idea of fans wearing paper bags over their heads during games in the Superdome.
He said: “When you go to heaven after you die, tell St. Peter you’re a Saints fan. He’ll say, ‘Come on in. I don’t care what else you’ve done, you’ve suffered enough.’”
Buddy D vowed to wear a dress and walk down Bourbon Street if the Saints ever made it to the Super Bowl.
When the Saints did indeed make it the Super Bowl last season, the Times-Picayune ran as altered photograph of Buddy D in a dress. On Jan. 31, thousands of men in dresses, led by his WWL successor and former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, paraded from the Superdome to Bourbon Street.
Hap Glaudi and Buddy D were indeed two WWL legends. It’s too bad they weren’t around to enjoy the Saints winning the Super Bowl.
Ron Brocato, another veteran New Orleans sportswriter, had this to say about Hap on his blog: “Glaudi was a Jesuit man. He earned his tuition betting on a winning longshot at the Fair Grounds given to him by a bookie. I should have been as insightful when I had to attend a local public school because my family couldn’t afford the $13 a month tuition at St. Aloysius. Glaudi was no marginal student. He worked his way through Jesuit and Loyola. Before becoming sports editor of the Item, Hap was the featured prep writer.”
As for WWL, the station began on the Loyola campus as a laboratory for wireless technology. Before the Jesuits at the school could operate a radio station, they had to receive permission from the Vatican.
WWL-AM began broadcasting as a 10-watt station from Marquette Hall on the campus on March 31, 1922. A piano recital was the first program to air. By 1924, the station had 100 watts of power. It was up to 500 watts by 1927 and 5,000 watts by 1929.
The station reached 10,000 watts in 1932 and 50,000 watts in 1937. WWL has been affiliated with the CBS Radio Network since 1935 and has been at 870 on the dial since 1946. Loyola sold the station in 1989 in order to build up its endowment. Entercom Communications has owned WWL since 1999.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, WWL became the tie back to the entire Gulf Coast for hundreds of thousands of people who had fled the area. It gave them the information they needed to stay connected.
The station never went off the air. When announcer Garland Robinette was showered with glass after the windows blew out in the studio, he kept talking from a closet. WWL went to 24-hour coverage of the hurricane’s aftermath for weeks in what I consider one of the finest performances ever by an American radio station.
You should tune into 870 AM if you’re driving to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl and keep it on when you’re in the city.
It’s truly one of the world’s great radio stations.