I Used to Work for WABC Radio

By Regina Bartkoff

In the early ’80s I worked for WABC radio as a receptionist. I would answer calls and put them through to the salespeople in the rooms beyond the waiting area. I would be seated behind a big circular desk right in front of the elevators. The waiting room was painted in a mod ‘60s style with wild and bright orange and red colors. To my right were the offices and DJ booth for WABC radio, and to my left were the ones for WPLJ FM. All I had to do all day was mostly buzz the salespeople, guests, messengers, etc, into the interior offices, and best of all the DJs coming in to work.

One day one of the big bosses came out to tell me they would be getting a uniform for me. He would always be yelling at me for one thing or another, for pacing around the waiting area because I would get restless – “You have to stay behind your desk!” – and as for how I dressed, let’s just say I didn’t exactly have a corporate look going. I was about to argue, but I pictured how punked up I could make that uniform so I said, “Okay!” I think I had a glint in my eye because   he looked at me and said, “Never mind about the uniform Regina.”

Except for people coming and going I was basically by myself all day and I could just read. Sometimes I would press all the buttons on the big desk phone I had and put all the phones on hold for about an hour so I could concentrate better on reading plays. This was WABC radio, with I’m sure big deals going on, and a lot wouldn’t get through for that hour. I don’t know where I got the nerve to do that. It was such a great job!

As a kid I had always listened to WABC. I had a little transistor radio and I’d listen to it all the time, loving doo-wop and all the girl groups. I loved all of that most until Punk finally broke through and saved my soul. Now here I was, years later buzzing the DJ’s into WABC radio who were my heroes as a kid. Harry Harrison was a total sweetheart. One day I told him he looked like the Cat in the Hat and he laughed so hard. But he did! He had real long legs and he always strode out of the elevators with a big smile and a big hello. Ron Lundy, from Memphis, would actually say, “Hello Love!” to me every morning, exactly how he would say it on the air everyday as his show began. Dan Ingram was always crabby but at least he was consistent. 

There was the weather and traffic girl who came in everyday for WPLJ news. She listened in to some newsfeed, transcribed it and turned it in. She was always bright and cheerful and not much older than me. One day she called in saying she would be late and asked if I could do the report. It didn’t seem to be so hard so I told her yes. I quickly transcribed the newsfeed and gave it in. 

It turned out that the DJ, Jim Kerr, who was also pretty young, laid back and nice, went on the air saying, “I can’t wait to read you all the weather and traffic report today, this is the craziest report ever.” He went on to read while hysterically laughing at what was the completely botched  and mixed up thing I wrote. I was mortified at the time but the weather girl just laughed and said, “Well, I guess I’m not going to lose my job any time soon!”

The charismatic and handsome Zacherley (my favorite WPLJDJ) who was famous for being the host of tv programs in the 1950s and ‘60s featuring horror and monster movies. He called himself the ”Cool Ghoul” and would dress like an undertaker and various spooky characters. He would always pause on his way out to sit in a chair next to my desk and chat a little. He seemed like a thousand years old even then and was kind of strange and different and I had a little crush on him.

One day the fabulous actress Elizabeth Ashley came out of WPLJ with some of her people. I had her autobiography on me. It was well worn and heavily underlined, I was a big fan. I saw Agnes of God with her, Geraldine Page and Amanda Plummer. To this day all I can remember of that play is Elizabeth Ashley standing downstage in a tight red skirt, glamorously smoking on a cigarette with that glorious raspy voice and looking impossibly cool. I saw that she was just standing there in front of me while her people were talking so I got up from behind my desk and walked over to her and asked if she would sign my book. I never did anything like that before or since. She excitedly said, “Sure!” She flipped through the book and saw everything I underlined, looked at me and said, “Hmm, well read.” I could have had a conversation with her but I got intensely shy and embarrassed that I underlined everything and I couldn’t say a word.

The legendary sports broadcaster Howard Cosell would come in every day. He was a big, tall guy, huge! And he always said hello.

But one day Kris Kristofferson came walking out from WPLJ and I almost fainted. I think I just stared at him with my mouth open. He was real tall and lanky and really, really skinny. He walked over and sat down in that same chair Zacherley sat in, smiled, and said, “How’s it going?” I could barely stammer out a “fine, thanks.” He smiled some more. Then his elevator came, he got up, waved goodby and got into the elevator and disappeared.