Right Place - Right Time
In 1956, Jim Hummel was a curious high school senior, and an invitation from one of his teachers led to a lifelong radio career that ended 51 years later.
As a senior at Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis, Hummel was doing well. He was a captain in the military school, an accomplishment that made his mother proud. His English teacher, Roy McCarthy, was moonlighting weekends under the air name of “Byron Scott” across the river at a small East St. Louis radio station, WTMV, and one day while the two were talking about McCarthy’s outside work, he invited the young man to come to the studios the following Saturday to visit.
Radio in the 1950s was making a transition from its glory days when networks provided the bulk of the programming. Now that television was becoming a more dominant medium, radio was remaking itself into a companion. In the case of WTMV, there was block programming, which meant that the type of program might change each couple of hours.
McCarthy was a good host that Saturday, showing Hummel what went on in a small station’s control room, but a problem arose for the announcer. The newsman called in and said he wouldn’t be able to make it for his shift. For the young Hummel it was kismet. McCarthy drafted the student to read a news broadcast, telling him he had 20 minutes to check the wire copy and assemble his script. Hummel later told Miami Herald reporter Kevin Baxter, “I didn’t blow a word - not a single word.”
The student’s on-air debut was followed by a phone call from the station manager asking who was reading the news. Hummel was hired immediately, and the station paid him $1.00 an hour to drive across the river after school to read the news.
“Just riding home that afternoon,” he told the reporter, “thinking about what had just happened. I was on the radio!
“People all over East St. Louis could flip on a little switch and hear me talking to them. I thought, ‘This is what I’m gong to do. Somehow. Some way. I’m going to do radio as a career.’”
WTMV’s block programming included shows by a couple disc jockeys. Robert BQ played rhythm and blues each night. Bob Farrell, Roscoe McCrary and Les Barry also had daily shows. For the most part, the jocks got to choose the music they played with a little help from program director Dan Stengel, and there were always requests from listeners.
Within a few months of his hiring, Hummel was given his own program after Farrell was fired. He worked seven days a week on his program and filled in wherever he was needed.
The WTMV studios on the mezzanine of the Broadview Hotel weren’t lavish, but to a 17-year-old, they represented the first step into a lifetime of radio. “Rock was just beginning,” says Hummel. “The bigger stations like KXOK and WIL were playing the hits.
“I would play all kinds of music, because we weren’t limited to a format. But this was just a small 250-watt station. My mom even had trouble picking it up at our home in north St. Louis.”
Somehow, some way, the young man did end up making radio his career. He left East St. Louis in 1959, and as he moved up in the radio business through Omaha and Denver, settling in Miami, Hummel’s air name became Rick Shaw. In South Florida, he became a radio legend, retiring in 2007 after working in the Miami market for over 45 years.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 4/2007)