Dominic Massa, an enthusiastic chronicler of New Orleans history, tells the story of New Orleans radio in his new book, the sequel to his examination of the city’s TV scene.
Published this week, “New Orleans Radio” is Massa’s follow-up to 2008’s “New Orleans Television,” also published by the Charleston, South Carolina-based Arcadia Publishing.
“Chronologically, I should have done it the other way around. I did it backwards, radio after television,” said Massa, whose day job is executive producer and special projects director at WWL-TV. “But being a TV person, the TV history came a little more naturally to me.”
Beginning with the 1922 founding of WWL, New Orleans’ first radio station, the book’s 127 pages and scores of photos run through the 1980s.
Massa found historic photos in private collections and at the archives of Loyola and Tulane universities, the Louisiana State Museum, the Historic New Orleans Collection and the New Orleans Public Library.
“I love that the books that Arcadia does are a place where all of the things that people may have in their various collections are compiled,” Massa said.
Massa’s private sources included longtime local radio personality Bob Walker. Known as the Oldie King, Walker has spearheaded the New Orleans Radio Shrine at neworleansradioshrine.com since 1999.
Walker, Massa, Ed Clancy and “Pal Al” Nassar will discuss radio in New Orleans at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, at Garden District Books. Massa will sign books at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30, at the Jefferson Parish East Bank Regional Library.
Another radio veteran, Bob Murret, host of WWOZ-FM’s Wednesday night rhythm-and-blues and oldies radio show, “Rare on the Air,” steered Massa to radio figures he may not have found otherwise.
“Bob oozes New Orleans culture and history but things that aren’t necessarily on the beaten path,” Massa said. “He knows people who people who know people. Bob was the one who said, ‘Hey, you should include this person.’ ”
Because he’s just 38, Massa relied on archives and the memories of others for information about WWL’s Dawnbusters troupe (1937-1959), 1940s WNOE radio star Bill Elliott, Vernon “Doctor Daddy-O” Winslow (the city’s first African-American disc jockey) and early rhythm-and-blues proponent “Clarence “Poppa Stoppa” Hamann.
“I wish I’d been around years ago to hear it myself,” Massa said. “But all of the stories that I’ve heard from people have always piqued my interest in these broadcasters.”
During his own 20 years in broadcasting, Massa has met such latter era radio people as “The Real” Robert Mitchell and WTIX-FM’s still-on-the-mic Bobby Reno.
As early as the 1970s and ’80s, Massa said, radio people were envious of the careers, popularity and influence that their famous predecessors in the medium had.
In the 1950s, for instance, Winslow, Hamann, Ken “Jack the Cat” Elliott, James “Okey Dokey” Smith, Larry McKinley and others were free to play whatever music they chose to play. Their choices included recordings by local artists. Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Smiley Lewis and many others benefited from such citywide exposure.
“If someone had a record and he walked into the station, a DJ would play it, if it was good enough,” Massa said. “And if the listeners liked it, he’d play it more. You can’t do that now, unless you’re WWOZ.”
Local DJs working at locally owned stations, Massa added, “had a role in Crescent City culture and musical culture. And when the music got popular in New Orleans, it spread. Other stations picked it up. ‘Hey, this is working well in New Orleans. Let’s pick that up and play it.’ ”
Massa, who’s worked in television since his graduation from Jesuit High School, confessed that he, too, is envious of the radio and TV stars of yesteryear.
“The media landscape is so fractured now,” he said. “There are so many choices. But radio, as a medium, is still great. There still is something that you can only get from radio, that you can’t get from television. It’s that immediacy and connection with the audience.”