One most of the popular voices on Pittsburgh radio for twenty six years was the dee jay with one name: Herschel. With his soothing cool voice he became one of the stars of Pittsburgh radio appearing first on free-form radio WYDD-FM 104.7 in the early 1970s. Leaving WYDD in 1976 he went to the biggest market in the country as the evening host and music director of jazz station WRVR in New York City where he broadcast to an audience of half a million listeners. Herschel returned to Pittsburgh in 1981 and became the mainstay of WDVE’s afternoon drive time for 15 years. Returning to jazz Herschel became the music director and afternoon host of WJJJ in 1996. Reinventing himself in 2005 he went to KDKA radio to host the weekend talk show "Car Radio". Over his long career he survived several sudden surprise radio formats changes.
Ellwood City Days
Andrew (Herschel) Venezie grew up in the quiet tiny mill town of Ellwood City, Pa. also the home town of singer Dominic Ierace (aka Donny Iris). Over a quarter of Ellwood's 10,000 residents were Italian immigrant families whose fathers worked either at the U.S. Steel "Tube Mill" or the Ellwood City Forge. On weekends they danced to the live bands at the large Sons of Italy Hall. They dined on rigatoni and great roasted chicken at the SOI. Venezie filled his time during his high school years restoring classic hot rod cars. In the early 1970s the second and third generation sons and daughters of Ellwood City's Italians either settled for a job at the Tube Mill or left to find fortune or fame in a bigger city.
Free-Form Radio at WYDD
Andrew Venezie began as an intern at WYDD FM 104.7 in New Kensington, Pa. in the early 1970s. Program director Kit Baron made Venezie a part ime weekend jock and he adopted the on air name of Herschel. He became a fulltime mid day DJ when Steve Downes became program director in 1974.
WYDD gradually converted from a mixed jazz / pop music format to a free-form progressive rock station in that era. The WYDD DJs were given the freedom to choose what songs to play. WYDD took chances breaking new artists and new music. It was an oasis of progressive rock in the Pittsburgh area. The WYDD DJs played everything including Kraftwerk, Brian Auger, Procal Harem, Yes, Tom Waits, Roy Buchanan, The Sex Pistols, and Springsteen. They dared to even to play music from Tri-state area bands. WYDD gave heavy rotation airplay to Rick Witkowski’s group Crack the Sky from Weirton, Diamond Reo from Pittsburgh, and to the Eastern Ohio based bands Glass Harp with legendary guitarist Phil Keaggy, Michael Stanley, and the James Gang. WYDD also aired the King Biscut Flower Hour and Dr. Demento in the mid 1970s. According to Steve Downes WYDD was one of the last great free form rock stations in the country. Also on the air at WYDD in that era were Jack Robertson, Ron Chavis, and Jim Deceasre and program director Steve Downes who also did an air shift. Herschel left WYDD in 1976 for the big time.
After Herschel left, WYDD changed to a Top 40 format in the the early 1980s going by the tags of "Y-104", "Power 105", and WNRJ "Energy 105".
Jazzing up the Big Apple
Herschel Venezie had made it out of Ellwood City and was on his way to fame in the big city. New York City’s WVRV-FM 106.7 was a full-time jazz radio station with a strong loyal following. In 1976 WRVR was purchased by Sonderling Broadcasting who wanted to change an urban music format. After strong protest from the New York City jazz community the format change was blocked keeping WRVR as a jazz station. Dennis Waters, who had been the program director of top 40 station WKTQ (13Q) in Pittsburgh, became the new program director of WRVR-FM. To broaden the appeal of the station Waters developed a new jazz format that was a predecessor to the “smooth” jazz format. The station played an equal mix of traditional jazz, progressive jazz, and R&B flavored fusion jazz that Waters named the Triple-Z format. Waters hired Herschel in 1976 to be the evening host of WRVR playing cool jazz on the New York airways from 7 P.M. to midnight Monday through Saturday.
WRVR introduced listeners to the R&B influenced music of Pittsburgh’s George Benson and Stanley Turrentine along with the recordings of the Crusaders, Lee Ritenour, Spyro Gyro, and Steely Dan. The station also played more progressive jazz of Stanley Clark, Chick Corea, John Luc Ponty, Flora Purim, and Gator Barbieri. Herschel became a popular voice in the New York jazz community and emceed jazz concerts in Central Park. In November of 1979 Herschel became the co-music director of WRVR-FM and selected the music aired on the station..
As New York City’s only 24 hour jazz station WRVR was very popular among jazz fans in the capital city of jazz. Things were going great with the ratings until Sounderling Broadcating sold WRVR to Viacom in 1980. At 10:00 AM on Monday September 8, 1980 a truck arrived at WVRV loaded with canned country music tapes. The jazz music library was hauled away. The staff including the program director was informed for the first time that the format was being change to country. At noon the first country song was played. Jazz was banished from WRVR. Listeners were outraged. There was no advanced public notification of the format change. Hundreds of angry listeners protested in front of Viacom’s Corporate Headquarters in Manhattan. Eighty thousand listeners signed a petition that was presented to the FCC demanding the restoration of Jazz music. The FCC denied the petition and allowed the station to change its call letters to WKHK “Kick 106.7 FM." Herschel and the rest of the on air staff left within a few months of the format change.
A four set CD of Herschel’s shows on WRVR has been released and is available on the web.
Back in Da Burg Rock'n on DVE
Herschel came back to Pittsburgh after he left WRVR. He was hired by WDVE in early 1981 to replace Bill Securro. Herschel took over the DVE afternoon drive slot. He was back playing "superstars" classic rock in the "Burgh". In 1987 when program director Greg Gillesphie left WDVE Herschel became the interim program director. He managed the station's playlist and staff schedule until new PD Gene Romano was hired. Herschel remained on the afternoon drive time slot until 1993 when WDVE shifted its line-up. Sean McDowell, former WYDD and WRRK announcer took over the afternoon slot. Hershel replaced Jack Malloy in the evening slot and Malloy moved to the overnight time period. Hershel left WDVE in January of 1995. According to program director Gene Romano there was a “mutual decision not to renew his contract”. Max Logan took over the 7 p.m.to midnight shift. Herschel’s 15 year stay at WDVE was over.
Getting to The Point
It did not take long for Herschel to get back on the air in Pittsburgh. Tex Meyer general manager of WZPT-FM hired Herschel based on his popularity with Pittsburgh rock music fans. WZPT had converted to an all 70s rock hits format in 1994 and was competing directly with WDVE and WRRK for the classic rock audience. Herschel became the morning host of WZPT-FM (The Point) on Monday April 31, 1995. Herschel spun the mandated playlist that restricted him to playing the warmed over hits of Bachman Turner Overdrive, Boston, the Electric Light Orchestra, Kansas, Queen, Rod Stewart and Billy Joel.
The '70s format improved the Point’s share of the 25- to 54-year- old audience, but only slightly improved the overall market share. Impatient with the ratings progress and facing strong completion from WDVE, the Point changed its format again in October of 1995. Classic Rock of the 1970s was out. The station was now calling itself "Y2K OK" with a sound for the approaching new millennium, the sound of the adult contemporary hits of the 1980s and '1990s. It was the same playlist used by WBZZ, the Point’s sister station. Instead of coming up with an original format for the new millennium the management of WPTZ choose to mimic the format of Pittsburgh's other adult contemporary Mix stations: WPHH-FM's Mix 96.1's, WSHH and WLTJ.
On October 5th of 1995, WZPT announced that Herschel was being replaced by Banana Don Jefferson from WBZZ. Only 5 months after he started at WZPT Hershel again became the victim of another sudden unannounced format change. WZPT Operations manager Keith Clark said the station wanted a “high-profile” host for the morning show. Two years later in January of 1997 Banana Don was out of a job as WZPT made yet another format change.
Tired of the local radio format wars Herschel found a new line of work in December of 1995. Following his interest in restoring vintage hot rod cars he took a job as an auto salesman with the Wright Automotive Group in Wexford.
Back to Jazz at WJJJ
Radio beckoned and Herschel’s car sales career was short lived. In August of 1996 Herschel was back on the Pittsburgh airways playing smooth jazz as the afternoon host of WJJJ-FM 104.7. Herschel was back where he started from in 1976. WJJJ was the station formerly known as WYDD. Since he left WYDD the station went through many format changes. It was Top 40 WNRJ in 1989, beautiful music WEZE in 1990, Christian talk WORD-FM in 1991, country "104.7 The Rebel" WXRB in 1993, active rock 104.7 The Revolution WNRQ in 1994. The station last known as modern rock WNRQ became smooth jazz station WJJJ when it was purchased by Secret Communications in June of 1996 from Entercom. As Secret already owned alternative rock station WXDX-FM (The X) it converted WNRQ to jazz.
Herschel served as music director of the WJJJ, reprising his role at WRVR. Bob Studebaker, Sara Lockard, and David Jaye were also hosts at WJJJ. The station aired relaxing smooth jazz that could be listened to in the background at work. The playlist included songs from Kenny G, Stanley Clarke, The Rippingtons, Sade and Anita Baker. But the station did not air the music Pittsburgh jazz artists like Kenny Blake, David Budway, and Johnny Costa as did the traditional jazz station WDUQ. With its smooth jazz WJJJ offered a unique sound for the Pittsburgh market making it a quick ratings success. Its listenership almost doubled from a 1.7 share to a 3.2 share in one year. In the target 25- to-54 group it was ranked 4th in Pittsburgh with a strong 6.7 share. But by January of 1997 the format was wearing out. WJJJ slid from eight place in total listeners to 11th.
While Herschel was at WJJJ, the station changed ownership a dizzying five times. In October of 1996 Secret sold its Pittsburgh stations including WDVE-FM, WXDX-FM, WDSY-FM and WJJJ -FM. In 1997 WJJJ changed hand 3 times. SFX acquired Secret Communications also picking up WTAE-AM and WVTY-FM in the deal. SFX sold all of the stations to Capstar Broadcasting Corporation who in turn sold all of those stations except WTAE to Chancellor Media. Clear Channel acquired Channel Media in October 3, 1999 to amass 850 radio stations in the U.S.
At 2 PM on May 24, 1999 WJJJ dropped smooth jazz to play the "Jammin Oldies" format featuring greatest R&B hits of the 1970s. Midday host Sarah Lockard and afternoon drive host Herschel were tossed out with the jazz records. A victim yet again of a format change Herschel ended his string of 24 continuous years on radio.
Program director Michael Frohm told the press that there was a big demand from the public for the music of the Spinners, the Jackson 5, Earth Wind and Fire, and Kool and the Gang. “Jammin Oldies” was a canned format used by Chancellor Media in other markets and they wanted to bring it to Pittsburgh. Clear Channel acquired Channel Media in October 3, 1999 taking control of station Y2K. After the Jammin oldies lost steam, Clear Channel changed the call letters to WPGB and converted the station to all talk in January of 2004. The station that brought Pittsburgh great rock and jazz since 1967 became the home of the conservative talk shows of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity Show.
Herschel Returns to Radio by Car
Herschel returned to radio in April of 2005 as the host of a Saturday afternoon KDKA talk show. KDKA program director and former WDVE co-worker brought Herschel back to radio. Entitled “Car Radio” it ran from 1 to 3 PM. KDKA promoted the Car Radio show as Pittsburgh's first stop for information on new cars, used cars and NASCAR. Herschel was a life-long car nut who worked on cars, sold cars and exhibited restored vintage cars. KDKA billed him as the “go-to guy for car information.” The show’s webpage exclaimed. “He not only knows what a camshaft is, he can also dial it in.” On the show Herschel talked about his test drives of new models, gave advice on how to fix four-barrel carburetors, and discussed the latest Nascar results. Herschel’s guests were mechanics, dealers and vintage car collectors. The show was nominated for an Achievement in Radio (A.I.R.) Award in November of 2006. Car Radio aired on KDKA into 2007.
In April of 2007, CBS Radio, the parent of KDKA announced that it was converting Pittsburgh station K-Rock 93.7 to an all talk format "93.7 The Zone" and changed the station’s call letters to WTZN-FM. The format of the station was to be “Man Talk” featuring Opie and Anthony, Scott Paulsen, and right wing comedian Dennis Miller. As part of the “Man Talk” theme Herschel's “Car Radio” show was moved to The Zone. The show renamed “Car and Radio” aired from 8 A.M. to 9 A.M. on Saturdays. It was sponsored by the popular Wexford Starlite Car Cruise organization. But yet once again it was Déjà vu all over again for Herschel. His show was canceled in another sudden format change. With no announcement of a format change on Monday, October 1, 2007 at 10 AM the talk shows stopped on WTZN. The station aired Christmas music for a week. The following Friday the station re-launched with the dated Top 40 format of old station B-94. On November 27, 2007, WTZN switched its call letters to WBZW-FM. The B-94 format was short lived. On February 15, 2010, CBS Radio dropped the B94 format for sports talk. The station became “Sports Radio 93.7 The Fan"
Deal Me In
Dealt out of radio, a casualty of radio’s incessant format change insanity, Herschel took on a safer career bet. He became a casino card dealer. In an 2008 Pittsburgh Post Gazette article Herschel’s career as a blackjack dealer at casino-themed events hosted by Talent Network of Coraopolis was profiled. Herschel deals cards and teaches the rules to novice gamblers who bet with chips, (not real money) at private parties. He became involved wih the Talent Network through his wife who is a vice president of the organization. In the article he said: "The bottom line to what we do is that it's fun." He is free from the worries of the next format change.
Herschel came to the internet airwaves in 2010 when he recorded a series of sports interview podcasts with Steeler announcer Craig Wolfley.