“Thinking Out Loud” co-host first “cracked the mic” in 1957
By Scott Robertson
One of the most important skills for a radio DJ isn’t knowing how to talk. It’s knowing when to stop talking. The best DJs know how many seconds long a song’s instrumental lead-in runs before the lyrics start so they can finish their intro just a beat before the singing begins.
Dave Hogan, who began his radio career in 1957, says the time has come for him to stop talking and let the music play on.
This Friday, 57 years after “cracking the mic” for the first time in rural Western North Carolina, Hogan will sign off for the last time as a full-time radio personality.
The co-host (with Carl Swann) of WJCW’s “Thinking Out Loud” morning program is signing off and heading back to North Carolina.
“This Friday morning will be the last time Tri-Cities listeners will hear my voice on a regular basis,” says Hogan. “And I say on a regular basis because I’m apt from time to time to call in aggravate Carl Swann.”
Hogan has been a fixture in Tri-Cities radio virtually since arriving at WJCW in 1977, having been hired by James C. Wilson (whose initials JCW, remain the basis for the station’s call letters today). “I said the first words that were broadcast from this building when it was brand new, back in 1977,” remembers Hogan.
Back then, commercials were either read live or played off individual tape cartridges called carts. Songs were spun on 45 RPM records. AM radio ruled the airwaves and FM was home to little more than public broadcasting.
Over the course of Hogan’s career, FM rose to dominance in music radio, AM became home to talk radio, syndication became the rule of the day and carts and 45s gave way first to CDs, then to satellite-fed hard drives. Now, Hogan plays commercials with a finger-tap to a computer touchscreen.
“Well, you either adapt to change or you become extinct,” says the 73-year-old Hogan from his studio chair. “When I started, the old-timers – the people who then were the age I am today – all said, ‘Radio is dead,’ because radio then was transitioning from soap operas, comedy shows, dramas and westerns like ‘The Lone Ranger” to music. The old-timers then talked about how radio had been ruined. Some of the old-timers today say the same things. But I think you’re always going through a transition no matter what business you’re in. You just have to adapt.”
Seven years ago, Hogan adapted his way from music radio to talk. Many radio personalities have had difficulty making the change from song spinner to radio raconteur over the years, but not Hogan, who understands talk radio hosting is as much about listening as it is about talking.
“Experience is a great teacher. When I was just a kid in Murphy, N.C., about a year into my career, the station where I worked had a two-hour show called ‘Party Line.’ This was back in the day when a lot of areas of the country still had the old-fashioned party lines. So the radio show was just that. People could call in and talk about anything they wanted to. If they had lost a dog or their livestock had wandered off the farm, they could call in. If they were having a garage sale, they could talk about it. If they wanted to say hello to a neighbor, anything went. So when I got into talk radio in the 2000s, it was not new to me. I had experience from 1958.”
Those who thrive in radio, says Hogan in retrospect, are the individuals who remember the importance of the listeners and the advertisers. “I worked years ago with a man who went by the name Farmer Russ on the air. He taught me the importance of the listener. Even when listeners are calling you about mundane sorts of things, radio is a personal thing to them. There was one time when he was sitting at his desk off the air and his phone rang. The caller asked if he knew when the next bus left town going to Chattanooga. Most people would have said, ‘Gosh, I don’t know. Call the bus station.’ But he said, ‘Hold on, I think I have that information.’ He put the lady on hold, called the bus station on another line, got the departure time, then got back on the line with her and said, ‘Thank you for holding. The bus leaves at such-and-such a time.’” That lady always had a personal connection with the station, and businesses crave that kind of connection with customers.
“One thing that’s been important to me that I don’t think enough people in our business focus on is the commercial aspect of radio. I learned right from the get-go that our sponsors and advertisers make all this possible. I have always tried to go overboard in making sure our advertisers get their money’s worth. Many of my advertisers have been with me for years. They have become not just advertisers but good friends.”
And it’s the friends he’ll miss most when he leaves radio, says Hogan, from the listeners and advertisers to his partner, Swann, to the staff at the station. “I’ve worked with some wonderful people. I’ve had such joy in this business. The people I work with now are some of the very best in the business. And they’re optimistic about the future, which makes it hard to leave. But it’s time.”