By David Hinkley
ON THE radio, Peter Myers called himself
Mad Daddy, which by all evidence was truth in advertising.
He spoke in maniacal rhymes over the sound of
bubbling cauldron, cackling as he raced to the next rock n/
roll record or perhaps the next ad spot he had taken the liberty
of personally rewriting into a Mad Daddy-style rhyme.
Did you ever see a Martian beard?
The whiskers are purple and curly and weird
And two faces are harder than just one to shave
So the two-headed Martians just naturally race
For the cooler more comfortable shave they get
With push-button lather and blade by Gillete
Alas, by the time Mad Daddy got to New York,
1959, time was running out for his kind of radio.
BETWEEN THE unfold payola
scandals and a general fear this rock `n'roll thing had gone far
enough, radio stations were puling the reins on their disk jockeys.
For one thing, most of them could no longer choose their
own records, which in Mad Daddy's case meant growling
rhythm-and-blues and the more than occasional novelty tune.
Jocks also were encouraged to play more
music and spend less time talking, which diluted the
personality appeal on which much of postwar radio was based.
On many stations, the jocks were bigger
stars than the artists they played, a stature traceable in large part
to black rhythm-and-blues jocks like Jocko Henderson, Hot
Rod Hulbert, Dr. Jive and Willie Bryant. Their style was
picked up by white jocks right alongside the records they played.
That Pee Myers was a descendant of
Jocko was hardly surprising. The San Francisco-born Myers
had studied action as a young man at the Royal London
Academy of Dramatic Arts, and he knew all about learning from
the best. After London, Myers migrated to New York. But
he found himself on the second tier, a character actor who
worked regularly on TV but never got any indication producers
saw leading man potential.
One too many shifts in the toy department
at Macy's sent him back to San Diego where he landed a
radio gig. The work was routine. But a new wind was
blowing through radio now, as rhythm-and-blues started plowing
the ground for rock `n' roll. Ohio became an epicenter of this
new sound, and Myers got a gig in Akron, where he played a
wild mix of rhythm-and-blues he called "wavy gravy" many
years before the term resurfaced in San Francisco.
Myers would later say the "Mad Daddy" idea
came to him all at once, on a night when his desperation for a
career-making splash boiled over. Others say he had been
developing the character for years. However it happened,
it worked. By January, 1958, he'd been hired by WJW in
Cleveland. Six months later, rival WHK hired him away. Soon
he was the biggest thing in Cleveland, with a line of shoes
called "Batty Bucks" and fans lining the streets as he drove
around in a pink Pontiac wearing a black cape. Now he smelled
the big time.
AND IN June 1959 he got the offer to work at
WHK's sister station WNEW in New York with the chance of a
TV show on the side. He leapt. But there was one problem.
WNEW was not a rock`n'roll station. WNEW played
popular standards and featured hosts like William B. Williams,
who hated rock'n'roll. WNEW didn't want Mad Daddy,
rock'n'roll Pied Piper. It wanted Pete Myers, radio announcer.
Myers knew this.
But somehow he persuaded management to let him
do Mad Daddy in his evening slot, 8 to midnight. It will
bring you a whole new audience, he argued. Mad Daddy
debuted on July 4, and response was immediate. The station
received hundreds of calls with letters to follow, asking who had
lost his mind. Come July 5 then, Mad Daddy was gone. In
his place, 8 to midnight, was Pete Myers, radio announcer.
Frustrated but helpless, he spent the next four years
introducing Sinatra Records.