The fresh and edgy sound of a rock band from Liverpool not only changed American music, it also inspired a career in radio broadcasting for Jeff Levine, who heard The Beatles’ iconic tunes as an infant and knew what he wanted to do when he grew up.
But before Levine, formerly of West Babylon and Commack, became program director of WBAB /102.3 FM Radio, he would learn the trade through hard work and passion — starting as an intern in 1979 — and ascend the ladder to occupy the key slot in one of Long Island’s most popular media outlets.
Levine, who served as program director at WBAB and WLIR in the 1990s and was an executive at newspapers including Newsday, The Hartford Courant and the South Florida-based Sun Sentinel, died of cardiac arrest on Aug. 17.
He was 58 and living with his wife of 30 years and best friend, Joanne, in Pompano Beach, Florida.
“The 30-plus years we spent together were filled with amazing memories to last a lifetime,” she said. “We were soul mates and put on this earth for each other. The life we built together some couples could only dream of.”
How Jeff Levine rose to the top of his game was also the stuff of dreams.
“When Jeff heard The Beatles for the first time in 1964, he was 2 years old, and it changed his life,” said his son, Bryan, of Littleton, Colorado. “Radio became his life after that. He had his own radio station in his childhood bedroom, which broadcast to his neighbor’s room — until the friend’s mother ripped it out of the wall in 1977 when Jeff was doing his radio show to nobody but her. It can’t be overstated enough how important both radio and music were to him — and that The Beatles are the reason for it.”
Jeffrey Scott Levine was born in New York City, living in Queens and the Bronx and attending public schools until he, his mother and father moved to Kings Park, where he graduated from Park View Elementary School, Ralph J. Osgood Intermediate School and Kings Park High School.
He would go on to graduate from SUNY Oswego, where he majored in communications.
Levine got his professional start at WBAB in 1979 as an intern while attending the upstate university. He moved back to Long Island after graduation, and stayed with the company until 1996, becoming program manager.
“Jeff pushed himself and everyone else in a quest for excellence,” said Bob Buchmann, who was vice president at the station for more than two decades. “And that’s what made me happiest about awarding him the program director position. He was incredibly creative and loved the music we played.”
The station’s stock in trade is classic rock.
Paul Fleishman, former vice president of public affairs at Newsday and one-time general manager of WBAB, said: "Jeff was a rare blend of talent, smarts, boundless energy and a big heart. Through his passions for media, marketing and music he made a difference wherever he worked, and with the lives and careers of those lucky enough to work with him. His passing at such an early age is a great loss.“
Buchmann and Bryan Levine said Jeff Levine had a unique, if dry and sarcastic, sense of humor. One memorable anecdote came on the future Levines' first date, when Jeff Levine, curiously, asked the former Joanne Russo, then of Commack, about her SAT score.
She continued to date him anyway. That exchange came shortly after the two had met for the first time at the former Chevy’s nightclub in West Islip, when she, after spotting him working in the DJ booth, asked him to dance. To that inquiry, he replied: "Who, me?"
The couple married in June 1990. They settled in Commack, where they lived until relocating to Weston, Florida in 2003, and then to Pompano Beach.
“Jeff was the rock for everyone in his family,” Bryan Levine said. “Everyone knew they could come to him if they needed advice, and he’d give you the cold, honest truth about what he thought you should do … He was the best father a kid could’ve asked for. We had such an incredible father-son relationship.”
Besides his wife and son, Jeff Levine is survived by a daughter, Jennie Levine of East Northport; his parents, Ira and Harriet Teper of Port St. Lucie, Florida; a sister, Melissa Teper, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; a granddaughter, Julianna Scaduto of East Northport and a daughter-in-law, Caroline Levine of Littleton, Colorado.
The family is holding a virtual memorial for Levine on Friday.