How many individuals in America can claim the following: Being a teen dancer on American Bandstand when the show was aired from Philadelphia, and years later as a DJ, meeting the Beatles backstage at the band’s first American concert in Washington D.C. during February 1964? The only person that I know who fits this bill is Jack Fisher.
So just who is Jack Fisher? Born in Wilmington, Fisher is most prominently known as a premier DJ with WROV 1240 AM Roanoke, Virginia during the golden days of Top 40 radio. I consider the legendary WROV announcer to be among the “Mount Rushmore” of radio personalities who worked in the Roanoke radio market during the 60s and 70s.
I first met Fisher almost 46 years ago when I worked for WROV during 1975. I reconnected with him earlier this month and interviewed Fisher via phone from his current home of Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Fisher was born in Wilmington, Delaware and was involved with a variety of athletic sporting activities during high school. He also loved listening to rock ‘n’ roll, dancing and attending concerts. His first taste of glory came during Fisher’s teen years at a TV show called Bandstand in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
During the early 1950s, WFIL TV in Philadelphia broadcasted a live daily program called Bandstand. During 1956, Dick Clark became permanent host of the program and in 1957, ABC picked up the show for its television network. Clark’s show was renamed American Bandstand with ABC’s distribution of the program for a national audience.
Within the first year of ABC’s takeover of American Bandstand, the show had a national teen dance contest. Fisher was a regular dancer on Clark’s TV show, and he entered the dance competition with a partner. The couple placed 4th place in the national dancing event.
The radio career of Jack Fisher started in the early 1960s at a small station in Georgetown, Delaware. Next up, Fisher moved to Portsmouth, Ohio and honed his skills at a bigger radio station. In late 1963, Fisher landed a major market job at Top 40 WEAM 1390 AM Washington, D.C.
On February 11, 1964, the Beatles performed their first American concert at the Washington Coliseum. Each of four DC Top 40 radio stations sent one of their DJs to emcee this debut Beatles show. With Fisher being the newest DJ hired at WEAM, he was “stuck” being the station’s representative for this historic concert event.
WEAM DJ Jack Fisher got to meet the Beatles backstage prior to this legendary first American concert. Fisher told me during our phone conversation that John, Paul, George and Ringo were all respectful to him. The Fab Four were also friendly to the other Washington DJs and media members before they embarked on stage for their DC show.
Obviously, meeting the Beatles was the most memorable event of Fisher’s employment in the DC radio market. Less than a year after starting at WEAM, Fisher was let go by the station. While searching for DJ jobs in major markets, it was actually in Roanoke, Virginia where Fisher finally found a permanent home for his radio career. In November 1964, Fisher was hired at work at WROV 1240 AM.
WROV dominated the Roanoke radio market. The station was small in radio power: transmitting only 1,000 watts in the daytime and 250 watts at night. Even though WROV’s coverage area was only 25 miles wide, the station totally controlled radio listenership within the Roanoke Valley.
Starting on the 7 pm to midnight DJ shift, Fisher quickly became one of WROV’s most beloved on-air personalities. Early in 1965, Fisher moved to the afternoon slot (2pm to 7pm) and he continued in that capacity for the next seven years.
One of the first bits that Fisher created after coming to WROV was a big promotional campaign to have the Beatles perform a concert in Roanoke. According to the WROV History online website, “Fisher embarked on a campaign to bring the Beatles to Roanoke. Though several local businessmen were eager to sponsor the event, it never came to be. But, the attempt gained Jack much notoriety in the market.”
Below is a WROV aircheck of Fisher making a phone call on air to try and speak to George Harrison of the Beatles. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.
For a short time period in 1966, Fisher was paired with another popular WROV DJ Fred Frelantz and the two announcers shared co-hosting duties with an afternoon show. The “Fisher & Frelantz Fling” team were a dynamic duo: complimenting each other well, writing humorous skits and creating memorable parodies on their daily radio show.
From the WROV History website and Pat Garrett: below is a Jack Fisher/Fred Frelantz aircheck of the fictitious beautiful downtown Bonsack Christmas parade. Fisher and Frelantz are the emcees for this “event.”
The Fisher/Frelantz duo were also heavily involved within the Roanoke community representing WROV at numerous events. Between the two of them, they emceed nearly every music concert that was held in the Roanoke Valley during the mid to late 60s.
WROV sponsored concerts were normally held at one of two locations during Fisher’s first years employed by the station: Victory Stadium or the Salem Civic Center. During our phone conversation, Jack shared with me the most notable shows that he emceed were Paul Revere and the Raiders, James Brown, the Temptations, the Beach Boys, Wilson Pickett, Glen Campbell and Herman’s Hermits.
I found it interesting that when Herman’s Hermits first came to Roanoke for a concert, Fisher formed a bond with the band’s lead singer Peter Noone. Fisher and Noone stuck up a friendship and they continue to communicate with one another on a regular basis, 56 years after their first meeting in Roanoke.
The most memorable WROV event that Fisher participated in came during the summer of 1969. June is National Dairy Month and Fisher had lunch with a cow in the parking lot of Crossroads Mall in Roanoke.
Pat Garrett from the WROV History Online Website, describes Fisher’s event: “Jack arrived in a limousine decked out with a tuxedo, for his lunch with the cow. Jack remembers “A large long table was set up with the cow on one end and me on the other, the cow ate hay, I of course dined only on dairy products. Several thousand people attended this event.”
For almost 7 years, Jack Fisher was a prominent radio voice with WROV. By 1971, Fisher decided to switch careers. He left WROV to work for Brand Edmonds advertising agency. Even though Fisher no longer was employed by WROV, he left the station on good term.
Since Fisher was still in good graces with WROV station owner Burt Levine, he was asked occasionally to work some part time weekend gigs with WROV throughout the mid to late 70s. It was during one of these temporary gig jobs with WROV, that I first met Jack Fisher.
At WROV, I was hired to be a remote engineer by the Top 40 radio station. My responsibilities at the station included setting up equipment for remote broadcasts, running the soundboard and playing records, while a WROV DJ was in charge of announcing duties.
On Labor Day 1975, I was the engineer for a remote at Lowe’s and the DJ assigned to work with me was Fisher. It was a “solid gold holiday weekend” and I played all 50’s and early 60’s songs that day. I grew up listening to Fisher on WROV when I was younger, so it was a thrill being able to work with the legendary Roanoke DJ at that remote broadcast.
Into the 80s, Fisher continued to be associated with WROV with various assignments. By this time, ratings for the once dominant Roanoke Top 40 station had fallen and WROV owner Burt Levine hired two of his former DJs for help: Jack Fisher and Fred Frelantz.
Starting in March 1981, the dynamic duo of Fisher and Frelantz were back on the air at WROV: Hosting an “oldies” show once a month on Saturday afternoons. Fisher would begin the broadcast at 12 noon, and then Frelantz would join his DJ partner at 2 pm to close out the 6-hour show.
When Frelantz moved out of Roanoke in 1982, Fisher assumed hosting the once-a-month oldies show by himself. Three years later, Frelantz moved back to Roanoke and the “Fisher/Frelantz Fling” was back as a two-man-operation.
Unfortunately, the Fisher/Frelantz DJ partnership ended in June 1986, when Fred Frelantz died in an apartment fire. After this tragic death, Fisher once again hosted the oldies show as a solo DJ.
The WROV oldies show was continued by Fisher until he signed off for the last time on October 26, 1991. Below is an aircheck of Fisher’s final words on his oldies show. The clip is courtesy of the WROV History Online Website/Pat Garrett.
Once Fisher’s radio days had ended, he became involved in a project about American Bandstand. As the executive producer of the 1997 PBS TV documentary called “Bandstand Days”, Fisher utilized his knowledge about the dancers featured on Dick Clark’s TV show.
Nominated for an Emmy, Bandstand Days explores the origins, history and memorable experiences of dancers who performed during the Philadelphia days of American Bandstand. The documentary has footage of the TV show from 1957 and interviews some of the dancers from that era of the teen music program.
Jack Fisher has not slowed down during his retirement years. In 2016, Fisher co-wrote a book with Susan A. Sistare called “Blue Skies and Green Lights.” Fisher’s fictional account is billed as “a tale of music and magic of the 50s and 60s” and is loosely based on his real-life experiences with American Bandstand, the Beatles and radio stories about WROV Roanoke.
If you are looking for a light, easy and good read, I would recommend Fisher’s book. I enjoyed reading “Blue Skies and Green Lights” during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is available for purchased through Amazon.
One other activity that Fisher has been involved with since 2015 is teaching a class at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. As part of the Furman adult continuing education program, Fisher’s, “Music and Culture of the 60s” class explores how music and culture are tied together during the 60s decade. If I lived anywhere near South Carolina, I would love to take Jack’s course.
As I mentioned above, I spoke with Jack Fisher during a phone conversation earlier this month. After my interview with Fisher, I emailed the former DJ a list of six questions about important aspects of career and life experience highlights. Fisher’s responses to my questions are found below:
DJ Dave: What is your most memorable encounter with Dick Clark and your days as a dancer on American Bandstand as a teen?
Jack: “Bandstand was local TV show in Philadelphia from 1952 until it went national on ABC-TV in 1957, becoming American Bandstand. Dick Clark staged a jitterbug contest that was designed as a way to test the national TV audience response. There were many at ABC who thought a bunch of kids dancing on TV for two hours every afternoon would not work.
On the first day with in studio judges, my partner Dottie Horner and I won. There were 10 couples in a dance off over several weeks. Millions of votes by postcard came in proving that American Bandstand was a hit. Despite getting over a million votes, Dottie and I came in fourth.”
DJ Dave: Please describe what it was like meeting the Beatles backstage at their first American concert in Washington D.C. on February 11, 1964?
Jack: “The Beatles did their famous appearance on the Sullivan Show, Sunday February 9th, 1964. Two days later, the band performed their first live American show in Washington DC. I was doing 7 to midnight DJ shift on WEAM AM, the only 24-hour rocker in Washington. I along with 3 other jocks with other D.C. stations were invited to be at the concert.
They gave each of us Beatle Wigs and we stood at corners on the stage with the Beatles prior to the show. Backstage before the show we had access to the Beatles. Jack Alex from WEEL and I were talking to John Lennon, who said to us “we hope we can get two years out of this.” Knowing the fickle nature of the music business we replied “we hope so, it’s a tough business.”
DJ Dave: Working with fellow WROV Roanoke DJ Fred Frelantz must have been special? What made your broadcasting partnership flourish over the course of 20 plus years, until the untimely death of Frelantz in 1986?
Jack: “On the Fisher and Frelantz DJ partnership: This was a perfect pairing of two radio personalities. We instinctively were on the same page and we both were writers who created memorable bits. Just like the “Bonsack Christmas parade” segment we broadcasted together and is still talked about to this very day. Fred and I were just a great pairing. My friend and partner passed away in a fire during 1986. He was the best!”
DJ Dave: During the summer of 1969, you were part of a legendary DJ staff at WROV, working with Bart Prater, Fred Frelantz and John Cigna. Before leaving the station in 1971, you also worked with Larry Bly and Dan Alexander. How did a small station like WROV attract and keep legendary DJ talent during the golden age of Top 40 radio?
Jack: “1969 was a memorable year of course for music and news, men landed on the moon and of course there was Woodstock. The lineup that year at WROV was as good of a DJ staff that was ever assembled for the Roanoke radio market.
John Cigna, who came from 50k watt WOWO Fort Wayne, Indiana, held down morning drive. Fred Frelantz was doing mid days, I worked afternoon drive and Bart Prater had the 7 to midnight shift. Come on man, that was entertainment. Why did so many talented DJs like this lineup and later jocks like Larry Bly and Dan Alexander work at WROV? It was Burt Levine, the owner of the station. Burt spotted talent and let it happen.”
DJ Dave: What are two or three events, concerts or remote broadcasts that you participated in while working at WROV, that still are enduring or meaningful to you in 2021?
Jack: “During my full-time employment with WROV, I worked at most every event that was sponsored by the station. I had a great time with Beach Boys, Wilson Pickett, and let’s not forget the bomb with Tiny Tim! One of my favorites was the Temptations. After I introduced the Motown vocal group, bass singer Melvin Franklin took my microphone and thanked me for playing “My Girl” at the end of my WROV oldies show every week. That was special.”
DJ Dave: Can you tell me about the class that you have been teaching since 2015 at Furman University about the history of rock and roll?
Jack: “Currently I teach a class at Furman’s Life Long Learning class. THE MUSIC AND CULTURE OF THE 60S. During class time, I focus on a different year, discussing the music and major events that happened during that particular year. Each class demonstrates how music and culture influenced each other during the 60s decade.”
As I have chronicled highlights of Fisher and his important life events, it is clear he has woven a wonderful tapestry of living experiences within the rock and roll genre of music. Fisher’s stories of American Bandstand and the Beatles, as well as eventful radio DJ years with WROV Roanoke are fascinating, interesting and legendary.
Listening to WROV and Jack Fisher every afternoon when I was a teen still has a special place in my heart. I cherish and fondly remember Fisher as an excellent DJ during the golden age of Top 40 radio. Without a doubt, Jack Fisher remains a legacy within Roanoke radio history here in the 21st Century. Rock on!
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