Dan Ingram, the beloved disc jockey and voice of New York radio over a five-decade run, has died, according to reports, including by WCBS/101 FM, where Ingram had worked until his retirement in 2003. He was 83.
Long Island-born and raised, Ingram spent most of his career at WABC/770 AM during an era when AM radio commanded both listeners and cultural clout. Many New Yorkers were first introduced to The Beatles through "The Dan Ingram Show," heard for many years from 2 to 6 p.m., while Ingram and WABC's other so-called "All Americans" -- Ron Lundy, Harry Harrison, "Cousin Brucie" Morrow -- were New York-area icons and household names. For a time, Ingram was the most popular DJ in the United States and commanded as much as a quarter of the listening audience here.
With a style that was fast and fluid, Ingram also introduced an element to New York radio -- the wisecrack -- that branded each of the thousands of Top 40 songs he played with his own unique personality. Rather than simply spin a song, he'd occasionally talk over it, too, especially if the song was well-known. And in a rush of words that covered everything from the weather to the station call letters, he'd talk during the song's introductory bars before cutting out just as the first verse began. Ingram's so-called "talk-up" was widely copied during an era when most people heard popular music for the first time on AM radio.
Born in Oceanside in 1934, Ingram's parents were both musicians. His interest in show business began when he'd accompany his saxophonist father to sessions. After attending Hofstra University, Ingram joined a radio station in New Rochelle, but as he later recalled, "I worked there for two months in 1953 and I got a paycheck that bounced. When I went back to the sales manager, he thought it was terrible that I dared to challenge him, and there was an altercation after which I was either resigned, or I quit." After that, "I ran around to stations on Long Island and walked into WALK in Patchogue" where the station manager "still believed it was 1934, and was playing Benny Goodman. But he listened to my tape and signed me [to start] on New Year's Day, 1954."
Ingram later joined Connecticut stations WNHC in New Haven and WICC in Bridgeport .Those jobs led to the big breaks -- DJ jobs in Dallas (KBOX) and St. Louis (WIL), where he boosted listenership and his own profile. He was hired by WABC in 1961.
With Ingram as its star DJ, the station's longtime programming chief, Rick Sklar, launched a format of "only the biggest hits — rock, pop and Motown — in an up-tempo atmosphere sustained by high-octane disc jockeys," according to longtime Newsday radio columnist Paul Colford. "The catchy jingles came to be as memorable as the songs, and much-hyped contests, such as an annual principal-of-the-year election [that] hooked teenagers.
Ingram's style was perfectly matched to Sklar's format: Loose, fast, funny and go-with-the-flow, wherever that flow might lead either Ingram or listeners. In 1965, Ingram led 10,000 Beatles fans who had gathered outside the studio on a sing-along of the station's indelible jingle ("seventy-seven . . . double-uuu-ABCCCCC!!!!") On Nov. 9, 1965, Ingram was on the air just as a blackout struck New York. As lights flickered in the studio, the song he was playing -- Jonathan King's "Everyone's Gone to the Moon" -- also began to slow down. As it ground to a halt, Ingram quipped "everyone's running at half speed here, including me," and "the equipment [in the studio] reads 'Signal Corps, 1902.'"
Ingram was the most popular DJ during AM radio's ascendancy in the '60s, while his popularity waned as FM's increased in the following decades. Nevertheless, when Ingram and Ron Lundy spun their last record on May 10, 1982 -- and WABC got out of the music business for good -- longtime fans lamented "the Day the Music died."
Ingram went on to build a national following as host of CBS Radio's "Top 40 Satellite Survey," then, as "Oldies" formats established a beachhead, he joined CBS in 1991 where he remained until retirement in 2003.
During a career retrospective at the Museum of Television and Radio in 2001, Ingram recalled that one of his most vivid memories from WABC occurred on his last day: "I got a letter, neatly typed, and in the middle paragraph, this person wrote that 'I was a battered child, and one day, standing on the Brooklyn Bridge with a transistor radio, you made me laugh, and I didn't jump.'
"Maybe that's what made it all worthwhile."