Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Piece o’ Cake, Dave

I grew up in a suburb of Boston in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the more important things then was to listen to the radio on a snowy morning to see if school was cancelled, and I thereby became a habitual listener of WBZ-AM. ‘BZ was an AM radio juggernaut in a time before radio stations became so narrowly focused on one demographic or one format or one style of music – “newsradio”, “talk radio”, “sports radio”. The station’s 50,000-watt signal, on a clear night, reaches something like 38 states (all the way to Wyoming, reportedly) and several Canadian provinces; if I’m driving south on Interstate 95 from New England, WBZ still powers its way onto my car radio in broad daylight all the way to White Plains, before New York City’s “1010 WINS” starts to overwhelm it.

And during the early 1980s, a time a lot of folks consider a golden age in Boston radio, the morning drive-time DJ crown was worn by Dave Maynard.

Maynard was considered a Boston radio legend, even while he was on the air. And he was on the air in some form for nearly 50 years. Yesterday, he died of Parkinson’s Disease, at his home in Florida, at the age of 82.

He was the afternoon drive-time DJ on WBZ in the mid-1970s; in 1979 he moved to the wee-hours talk-radio shift. As a junior-high-school student then, I listened to WBZ on weekday mornings, partly to check for snow days, but also increasingly to check into the news, and of course reports about my beloved Boston Celtics. At that time, the morning radio DJ’s job was to be the genial host and moderator of a cast of characters including The News Reader, The Sports Guy, The Weather Guy, and the Traffic Guy in the Sky, as well as the musical portion of the program. Yes: news, weather, sports, traffic on the 3s, and at least three or four pop-radio hits every half-hour. That format was where I first misheard the lyrics to “Stayin’ Alive” and many other 1970s disco and soft-rock classics.

WBZ’s morning DJ through the late 1970s was a gentleman named Carl DeSuze, whose older, distinguished voice was (in my estimation) just a little too pompous for the gig. In 1980, station management made the decision to move DeSuze to afternoon drive-time, and moved Dave Maynard to the morning commute – and “Maynard in the Morning” was born. For eleven years, “Maynard” was the top-rated radio program in its time slot (challenged gamely and humorously by WHDH-AM’s Jess Cain, but ultimately to no avail!).

Maynard was a headlining radio host who nonetheless allowed his sidekicks to get the punchline, to be the funny one, to be The Show.

The weatherman was New England meteorology legend Don Kent; later in the “Maynard in the Morning” decade, AccuWeather’s Elliot Abrams took that role, providing perhaps the only scripted “set-piece” humor the morning show ever utilized – everything else, funny or serious, was entirely organic and in-the-moment.

His traffic reporter was “Joe Green In The ‘BZ Copter”, in the days when the traffic reporter was neither the now-requisite statuesque blonde, nor standing in a TV production booth surrounded by monitors showing highway webcam images. Green was in the air, every morning except in truly stupid weather.

Maynard’s news reader was veteran reporter Gary LaPierre – whose far-western-Massachusetts hometown of Shelburne Falls was a regular source of Maynard punchlines, and who commented this week that Maynard could make “anybody laugh at any time” and would do “whatever he could” to break up the more serious Kent and LaPierre. “He would walk into the studio and I’d start to giggle,” LaPierre said. “I’d have to lock the door to keep him out.” On more than one morning, neither I nor my parents could remain standing, we were laughing so hard – because something had struck Dave Maynard and Gary LaPierre as so funny that THEY obviously couldn’t stay standing up either. I vividly remember a stretch of 30 seconds one morning that wasn’t dead air in the usual sense of a radio station broadcasting no sound at all – it was dead air full of two guys who had stepped away from their microphones, trying to keep the sounds of their mad giggling off the airwaves. A desperate and futile attempt at professionalism and dignity.

Also taking part in the more-than-occasional silliness was sports reporter Gil Santos (who was the television voice of the Boston Celtics during the Larry Bird championship era, and is currently the radio voice of the New England Patriots). Recalling Maynard’s wit and comic timing, Santos said yesterday that Maynard was “never afraid” of allowing his on-air teammates to emerge with the punchline. I remember hearing Santos and Maynard getting into back-and-forth exchanges over the course of a morning, or a week, or sometimes longer, beating to death any number of running jokes. A single word uttered by one of them could set the other to fits of barely-controllable laughter. Maynard’s affectionate nickname for Santos and his warm baritone voice was memorable enough that, even now, if Santos’ warm baritone voice comes over the radio or TV and I’m in the same room as my mother, we’ll look at each other and say, “hey, it’s Ol’ Honey Lips!”

Interestingly, in the early 1980s, morning radio DJs in Boston chose the music that they played on the air. Station management had very little to do with that, and corporately-driven surveys, statistics and demographics studies had nothing whatever to do with it. In an interview this week, WBZ news reporter Don Batting said, “It was very personal for [Maynard], and people loved what he was playing.’’ Aside from Ron Della Chiesa and his “Music America” afternoon program on WGBH-FM public radio, Dave Maynard was the Boston media personality who got me listening to big-band jazz (of all things to find on late-20th century AM radio): when he came on the air at 5:30 every morning, the first thing he did was play a recording of Steve Allen’s “This Could Be the Start of Something Big”. Don’t think we’re likely to hear that on morning radio again any time soon.

Gary LaPierre said of Maynard, “He was one of these guys on radio that always wanted to include the people around him. … He was always willing to take the back seat, make himself the butt of jokes.” He starred in a series of nearly two dozen TV commercials over the course of eight years, which promoted the WBZ radio morning show and won two Gold Medals at the International Film and Television Festival in New York City, as well as a New England Emmy Award. They included guest cameos by the likes of boxer Marvin Hagler and Boston College quarterback/legend Doug Flutie, and could be counted on to include two things: Maynard blundering comically into great peril, and his punchline, “Piece o’ Cake!”

Maynard did two important things for radio broadcasting in Boston: he made it sound easy, and he made it sound fun. Beside, he sounded like a decent guy whose company one would probably treasure, on-air or off-. His colleagues have offered testimonial in the last day or so to that effect. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only 14-year-old kid who heard him do his thing and wondered what it would be like to be a voice on the radio one day.

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February 10, 2012 - Posted by | celebrity, entertainment, Famous Persons, media, news, radio, television | , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for the memories. I grew up listening to this too.

    Comment by Steve Robinson | February 15, 2012 | Reply


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