Jay Michael, as the first number 1 rated disk jock in Pittsburgh during the 1950s, the host of a weekly television dance show, and a promoter of popular record hops was one of the early pioneering promoters of Rock. Before Rock N Roll, R&B, and Doo Wop became a national crazes in the mid 1950s Jay Michael was playing “race music” in 1952 on WCAE-AM 1250 in Pittsburgh. Jay, along with Porky Chedwick and Mary Dee of WAMO and Cleveland’s Alan Freed, was one the small group radio DJs to play music by African American artists on mainstream radio. Porky Chedwick and Mary Dee began on WAMO in 1948. Alan Freed began his Moondog Rock'n'Roll Party show in Cleveland in 1951. Little Richard released his first records in 1952 and Bill Haley's "Crazy Man Crazy" became the first rock and roll song to enter the Billboard charts in 1953. In 1954 Doo Wop took off and "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Rock Around the Clock" became hits. Billboard Magazine announced in June of 1954 that Jay Michaels added a daily R&B segment played records with a beat from 4:30 to 5 PM daily.
Dick Clark copies Jay Michael
Eager to copy the success of Jay Michael, Philadelphia radio station WFIL sent its young DJ Dick Clark to Pittsburgh to learn from Jay Michael. In Dick Clark’s autobiography, "Rock, Roll & Remember," he wrote "They sent me to Pittsburgh to sit in a hotel room to listen to a DJ named Jay Michael For three days, I sat there listening to Jay Michael play the hits." Clark returned to Philly telling his bosses who could imitate Jay Michael’s style and asked them to let him play ‘race’ records by African American artists. Dick Clark’s radio show became a hit in Philadelphia and he became the host of a local afternoon teen dance show called Bandstand in 1956. The ABC Television network made American Bandstand a daily national show in 1957.
As the Doo Wop recording scene took off in Pittsburgh in the late 1950’s Jay Michaels promoted the music of many Pittsburgh area artists on the radio, at his record hops, and on his record label Cindy Records. He promoted the music of the El Venos, the Smoothtones, the Orlandos, Mickey Toliver and the Capitals, Johnny Jack, The Five Crowns, the Dynamics, Bobby Vinton, and others.
WTAE-TV Channel 4 went on the air for the first time in Pittsburgh in September of 1958. Jay Michael became the host of WTAE’s weekly teen dance show “The Jay Michael Bandstand” in 1958. He presented both local and national artists on the show. Among the national performers Jay Michael presented were Fats Domino, Bobby Rydell, Sam Cooke, Brenda Lee, Johnny Preston, Desi Arnaz, Eddie Fisher, Andy Williams, Eydie Gorme', Debbie Reynolds, Jeff Hunter, Jerry Vale, Dorothy Collins, The Platters, Orlando's, Vaughn Monroe, Julius La Rosa, Tab Hunter, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, The Ames Brothers, Sophia Loren, Connie Francis and many more. His show pioneered the way for the TV dance shows of Clark Race and Terry Lee in the 1960s.
Jay Michael was known to his many fans as "The Jay Bird" the voice of friendly persuasion. With baritone voice and his calm style the tag line of his radio show was "Relax With Jay Every Day".
Jay Michael was born Joseph Michael Civette in Cleveland Ohio on November 8, 1923. As a boy he contracted and recovered from Polio. He graduated from Maple Heights High School and attended the Case Institute of Applied Science and the Cleveland Institute of Music. Jay began his career in radio working as a file clerk at WGRM in Cleveland. Jay married Evelyn Ann Di Orio in Cleveland in 1950 before taking a job with station WPIT in Pittsburgh. According to Billboard Magazine Jay left WPIT in July of 1952 to become a DJ on WCEA-AM 1250.
Relax with Jay Everyday
As the big radio networks CBS, NBC, and ABC and their big stars Milton Berl, George Burns, Jack Benny and Arthur Godfrey moved their entertainment shows to television in the early 1950s, radio stations had to come up with new ways to fill their airways. They gradually replaced national network shows, live music, quiz shows, and soap operas with local radio personalities who played popular music records. The first radio DJ to become a star was Martin Block with his show :The Make Believe Ballroom". He played records making believe he was in a hotel ballroom with live bands.
WCAE which was an ABC Network station hired Jay Michael in 1952. When WCAE lost it's ABC affiliation in 1955 Jay became a star. Jay was on the air from 1:15 PM to 7 PM daily. He divided his show into three segments. The early afternoon hours were targeted to house-wives and a special segment for shut-ins. During the late afternoon from 4:30 to 5:30 he aired Rock and R&B music for teens. He ended the show with a segment for families.
In July of 1956 Billboard Magazine announced that Jay Michael had the number one rated show in the Pittsburgh radio market. The audience for his show was larger than all of the other local and national network radio shows aired in Pittsburgh. He was the first ever disk jockey in Pittsburgh to draw an audience larger than the top the national radio shows. On Jay Michael Day a concert to honor Pittsburgh's number 1 DJ was held on August 29 of 1956 that featured Gene Vincent and Andy Williams. Even though it was for a jock from a competing station Porky Chedwick of WAMO and Chick Wilson of WBVP promoted the Jay Michael Day concert on their show. In December of 1956 Jay was voted "the deejay with the most 'Friendly Persuasion' in his voice" in a contest staged to promote the movie “It’s a Dreamer in Me.”
Nothing deterred Jay from doing his show. In 1958 while recuperating from foot surgery Jay broadcast his show from Monday through Friday from his room in the Presbyterian Hospital. Later in 1958 Jay took a week off from his local show to guest host a week of the nationally syndicated show the "Make Believe Ballroom". He was one of six local DJs chosen to replace the vacationing regular host Martin Block.
In 1959 Jay was billed as one of the WCAE Big Four along with Pete Shore, Jim O'Neill, and Bill Nesbit. Jay was also given a Saturday afternoon show in 1959 that aired from 2:30 to 6:45 PM leaving him time to get to his record hops.
He's the Tops with Record Hops
To promote his radio show and to earn extra income Jay Michael hosted record hops at schools and clubs throughout Western Pennsylvania. He sometimes did nine record hops a week. Jay played hit records and presented live performers. He competed with WJAS DJ Barry Kaye in booking national acts at record hops. Billboard wrote an article about Jay and Barry’s record hops in 1955 touting their success.
Seeing the success of the Pittsburgh record hops of Jay Michael and Barry Kaye, several record label presidents made a practice to attend the dances. They did first hand market research observing the teenage music fans. George Goldner was one the record company executives who attended Jay Michael's record hops. Jay struck up a business relationship with George Goldner in 1957. Goldner had founded Routlette records with Morris Levy and promoted the music of the Crows, The Flamingos, The Cleftones, The Shangri-Las, The Teenagers, The Chantels, Little Richard and Lou Christie. In March of 1957 Morris bought out Goldner share of four labels (Tico, Rama, Gee, and Roulette). Goldner used his proceeds to found several new labels Gone, End, Lyric, Juanita, and Cindy. He made Jay Michael a partner in the Cindy Record label which was named after Jay’s daughter Cindy.
Cindy Records released singles from several Pittsburgh area artists in 1957 and 1958. The releases included songs from Nick Anthony, Mickey Tolliver and the Capitols, (Millie & Rosemary, Cleo and the Crystaliers, the Vocaltones, the Dynamics, the Orlandos, Old Mac Donald and Blue Lights, the Three Vales, the Premiers. Jay Michaels aired the singles on WCAE-AM and promoted the groups at his record hops. But Golden never released their music nationally. He did not even send out review copies to music industry trade journals. Jay made money from the local Pittsburgh sales and Golden took a loss on the label. The Isley Brothers 1958 single “Don;t be Jealous”,the ninth release from Cindy Records, was the first Cindy release to be reviewed nationally. Cindy also released a single from Frankie Valli and the Romans in 1958.
The Jay Michael Bandstand TV Show.
Jay began his television career in 1954 as one of the alternating hosts of the Thrift Drug Store TV show on station WDTV (the forerunner of KDKA-TV). It was a weekly music show featuring musicians who were appearing at Pittsburgh nightclubs such as the Vogue Terrace and the Copa. Jay Michaels, Barry Kaye an Art Pallin rotated as hosts.
The Jay Michael Bandstand TV show began in 1958 and ran throughout 1959. It was a two hour show that aired from 3 PM to 5 PM every Saturday. Ricky Wertz,who later became host of the Ricki and Copper show in 1960, began as the Girl Friday on Bandstand. Del Taylor took over a host in 1960 when Jay Michael left Pittsburgh.
On Monday August 24, 1959 Jay Michael appeared as the guest host on ABCs national broadcast of the American Bandstand show substituting for vacationing Dick Clark. .
The pioneering days of rock and R&B ended on WCAE on May 28, 1961. WCAE changed its call letters fo WRYT and became a beautiful music station. Popular music returned to the station five years later when the station become WTAE-AM.
Leaving Pittsburgh around 1960 Jay Michael moved to a bigger radio market in Southern California. He became a popular voice in San Diego working on station KFMB, KPOP, KSDO, and KCBQ.
Retiring from broadcasting he spent the last years of his life in Las Vegas. He passed away on July 24, 2009 of natural causes.