By: Art Vuolo
Honestly, I can’t remember the last time this space looked more like an obituary page than a radio column. But this has been a very sad week, and the local radio community is still reeling from the passing of two well-known personalities.
For longtime Detroit radio listeners, the name Paul Christy is certainly familiar. Born Paul Christides, he died of complications from Parkinson’s disease Monday. His son, Scott, hoped to bring his dad to the last Detroit Radio Reunion in September 2005, but even then he was too weak to make the trip from his home outside of Lansing.
Christy was last heard locally on the ill-fated, full-service WYUR-AM, which is now progressive talk WDTW-AM (1310). His career included WCAR, which is now WDFN-AM (1130); WABX when it was Top 40; and in the late ’70s, he was program director of WNIC-FM (100.3) and its AM station of the same name. Also on his résumé is the launch of oldies on WKSG-FM in 1984, where he was that station’s first morning host.
He discovered a young man by the name of John Huzar working out in Ann Arbor at WAAM-AM (1600) using the name Tom Michaels on the air. You know him today as Jim Harper, the popular morning man at WMGC-FM (105.1).
“I hope everyone remembers that Paul Christy actually invented the ‘soft rock’ format,” Harper says. “We used to call it ‘Rock ‘n’ Easy’ 30 years ago, and as a result of that creation, thousands of us in broadcasting have had a chance to hone our craft. He probably did more for the careers of Michigan broadcasters than anyone I can think of in terms of launching careers. He gave me my first morning show job and I am eternally grateful.”
Christy also hired a local guy with a nice voice by the name of Alan Almond, who’s still at WNIC with just a few punctuations in his 100.3 FM résumé.
Another radio icon who worked closely with Christy is Ed Christian, CEO of locally based Saga Communications. Christian was general manager of WNIC, which, at that time, had a beautiful music format and wanted to make it more “mainstream.”
“I was the architect and Paul was the draftsman who implemented the plan flawlessly,” Christian says.”
Outside of Detroit, Christy has impressive credits, such as flipping WLOL to Top 40 in Minneapolis, a stint at WEAM in Washington, D.C., and even working at Chicago’s legendary “Big 10” WCFL.
Andrew Ashwood, now running Fox Sports Network from Los Angeles, was the last DJ hired by Paul at WABX, when it was Top 40. He remembers that “Paul and his wife, Joan, even let me stay at their house in Huntington Woods until I found a place to live.”
Steve Schram, now manager of NPR WUOM-FM (91.7) and Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor, says, “I sat in the WNIC lobby all day once to interview for a job, and when he said, ‘We’ll have to re-schedule,’ I told him I’m not leaving until you hire me ... and he did.” Schram, under the name Steve Edwards, helped with the revival of Keener 13 when WNICAM became WWKR.
Paul Christy was a passionate broadcaster and he will be greatly missed.
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The very next day, popular morning co-host Rhonda Hart at Christian WMUZ-FM (103.5) died suddenly in her sleep at just 46 years old. She did the show on Monday, and late that night, her husband, Erik, found her not breathing. It’s still unclear as to the actual cause of death.
Rhonda’s name is familiar to WWJ-AM (950) traffic tipsters as a reporter for Metro Traffic Service for a number of years.
Former WKRK-FM (97.1) midday host Michelle McKormick worked with Rhonda in Grand Rapids, and says that “she was one of the first to welcome me to Detroit and was one of the warmest and nicest good souls I ever met.”
Rhonda Hart worked locally at WABX, WRIF-FM (101.1), WYCDFM (99.5), WOMC-FM (104.3) and WCSX-FM (94.7). Upon becoming WMUZ morning co-host with Jon Culbert, she was quoted as saying, “I am excited to join WMUZ, where I’ll have the opportunity to openly share my faith.”
Between Detroit and Grand Rapids her career spanned about 25 years.
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When last we met, I was headed to Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Chicago to visit stations and roll videotape on a number of major personalities. In Chicago, I had the honor of recording the entire “WLS Rewind,” an event where one of the most influential Top 40 stations of all time flipped from news-talk back to music radio for 18 hours on Memorial Day. It was truly a slice of radio history, and a DVD is due out soon.
This past week also found your radio reporter heavily on the go. I attended the Talkers Magazine New Media Seminar in New York City. Manhattan was a whirlwind trip with Broadway shows, a Guardian Angels dinner, a WABC alumni boat trip around the city with legendary DJs of yesteryear, and a chance to videotape the famous “Cousin Brucie” Morrow at Sirius satellite radio.
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Set your dial: Tom Wilson features the music of Johnny Ray at 6 p.m. today on WMUZ-FM (103.5).
And keep your radio on for Old Glory on Thursday, because it’s Flag Day.
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Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, June 10, 2007