Broadcast Pioneers member Gene Arnold
Broadcast Pioneers Luncheon
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
From 1957 through the present, Broadcast Pioneer Member Gene Arnold has been involved in communications in one form or another. Coming from a career as singer, actor, songwriter and record producer ( named Rick Roman), by 1962, he had married singer Terri Hunter, and launched Worldwide Limited Records and Music Publishing. Songs written for her include “There’ll Never Be A Next Time,”“I Don’t Know How To Tell You,” and “I Think It’s Just About Time” with Russ Edwards. He also operated Recording Arts Studios at 212 North 12th Street, Center City with Alan Lee (San-Dee Records)and Paul Koppleman, producing and writing songs for locals The Tridels; (Broadcast Pioneer Member Mike Bove sang with them), The Good Guys, The Stylettes, and many more, as well as releasing items on Cameo-Parkway Records. Arnold has also written with the “Godfather Of The Sound Of Philly,” done by Vince Montana Jr.
Using a derivative of his own name, Gene Arnold began his radio career in 1966 on WEEZ (AM) after meeting (Broadcast Pioneers member) Ron Joseph. Arnold began hosting a talk program with a musical nostalgia twist. Together, he and Joseph soon moved to WIFI-FM in 1967, where they created the first afternoon drive oldies show in the market. They were making many appearances in the Tri-State area, and Arnold began being called “Giant Gene,” his trademark to this day.
Gene’s entry into progressive rock came when he forgot his oldies records one day, and. there was almost no choice for him but to play the albums left on the floor that no other DJ there wanted; (Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Big Brother and The Holding Company, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan etc). The listeners rang the phones off the hook That became the main ingredient for what he then called “Giant Gene’s Electric Scene.” He always advised his listeners to “get high on life and the music,” not drugs!” Gene was influential with youth in the community, and stressed a drug-free life at every turn. He was later named the Mayor’s Youth representative on drugs by both Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo and Camden Mayor Nardi, which may have been why he was asked to head a “Save The Electric Factory” group.
Ron and Gene then decided to share days on WIFI. Eventually they moved over to WCAM (AM), where sponsors like "The Electric Factory" were pleased that an AM station was playing their music. Gene went on to MC many rock concerts there. He also created the first “Be-In” in Fairmount Park, (which required getting a City permit, that his efforts on behalf of teens with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation helped), and was involved in helping to make many local groups popular.
He called his WCAM program “Giant Gene’s AM Underground,” and created “rap” lines so that teens could speak to him about their problems, the music, school, or whatever was on their minds. By late 1969, he MC’d many shows at the Spectrum, Convention Hall, College Campuses, The Main Point, and the Cherry Hill Arena. Jimi Hendrix, Chicago, The Guess Who, Frank Zappa, and Cat Stevens were among them. Arnold also wrote about music for The Daily News, The Distant Drummer, and (Broadcast Pioneers member) Mike Nise’s Music Box weekly newspaper, as well as being voted “handsomest DJ” by Discoscene Magazine, where he also did a music column along with the Legendary Hy Lit.” Arnold also hosted many telethons, and co-hosted “Different World” and “RJ and Company” on TV 29, and was a frequent guest on TV 17’s Dr. Shock program.
He later took “Giant Gene’s Electric Scene to WIBG (AM), and went to host talk-radio at CBS; WCAU (AM), where management felt a youthful approach would attract new listeners. He had stars from rock, movies and comedy that he knew call in, and those segments were very popular, and Gene once even had to leave the air to help Pearl Bailey who was speaking to him while having a heart attack. Jack Jones gladly filled in. While at WCAU with “Gene Arnold’s American Scene,” he got heavily involved in Earth Day, hosting a huge concert, and even had the propane car he drove there to show the crowd. As it ended up, talk radio was a very political atmosphere, which he didn’t enjoy.
Gene really missed the music, and his involvement with the groups and the youth who attended all of his activities, so he moved back to WCAM, where he combined his now much larger talk audience with rock music calls, and visits from his friends, like Nazz, The American Dream, Jim Croce, Elizabeth, John Phillips, Steppenwolf, etc. He also began appearing at a huge Disco in the great Northeast called “D’scene,” and had thousands of dancers a night sweating to the groove of a 100 foot long “moving-light” dance floor. His talent kept them dancing to every kind of music, including soul and rock, and then his historic “History Of Disco” programs written by his son Jody. That earned him entry into the "Disco DJ Hall Of Fame," where he was inducted at the New York Public Library for Performing Arts at Columbus Circle in 2006.
Gene then was tapped to use his talents and creativity to become Creative Director at The American Agency. His ideas built huge chains from smaller local businesses like Deb Shops and Listening Booth; tripling their size and profits with copy and sounds aimed directly at their target markets with his expertise. Arnold’s “Magic Clothes For Girls Like You” for Deb and Joy shops, and “Get The Truth At Listening Booth” trademarks brought his marketing business chain after chain of youth-oriented national clients. He partnered with his multi-talented singer-wife, Terry in operating the business, and creating many of the voices and jingles used to promote their clients. They moved into automotives as well, at one time having over 25 Delaware Valley dealerships and regional groups as clients, as well as a major Las Vegas Casino who tapped them to introduce their new Casino in Atlantic City. It’s estimated that Gene has voiced over thousands of radio and TV spots, including the famed TV Guide and Brazil Contempo nationals, ‘Lifecall” (Help I’ve Fallen and Can’t Get Up”), and many spots for KYW Newsradio clients acting as their creative department. Gene also voiced Melrose Diner spots for Broadcast Pioneers member Les Waas. He has also narrated many film projects including top-secret Military films.
Merry Go Round fashion stores was a perfect match for the pairs talents, (and rock and soul music connections). They innovated their “Store For Stars” campaign just as disco was breaking big, and grew the chain to almost 3,000 stores nationally, handling grand openings and promotions for every location. Merry Go Round sold high-fashion men’s hats, and Arnold called the hit group“Men Without Hats” and gave the then Number One group hats while the kids danced to their huge “Safety Dance” hit in Malls across the South, using a a super-successful radio contest to promote each event. Gene even got Frank Sinatra to agree to meet the winner of his “Magic Contest” for Deb Shops if he was the star the winner chose. Passing on Sinatra, the teen chose the group “Foreigner.”
In 1980, Arnold created "Gene Arnold’s Superstar Concerts," anchored at Philadelphia’s WZZD. The program ran on stations across America. Deb Shops and Merry Go Round were natural national sponsors. Today, rebroadcasts were (and are) played on his website, www.giantgene.com, and www.soul-patrol.net. Arnold was honored with the American Legends In Black Music Award, and is also in the Philly Radio and TV Hall Of Fame, and is listed among the Disco DJ Pioneers, a Euro-Disco publication.
He connected with Michael Jackson when Merry-Go-Round had thousands of genuine leather duplicate “Thriller” jackets left over, and while the Victory Tour was the exclusive property of Pepsi for a Million Dollar fee, Arnold got the OK to promote Merry Go Round as “The Company With A Heart” and got free TV and radio promos for their efforts in every city, personally providing the jackets and tickets to the concerts to terminally ill children and taking many backstage to meet Michael, his brothers, and band. To this day, Gene and Terry remain very close with Michael’s personal drummer and percussionist, Jonathon “Sugarfoot” Moffett, who accompanied them to many hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses across America.
Gene was hurt in an auto accident in 1988, that left his creative senses and sharp marketing acumen virtually gone, and Terry operated the company from thern on.
Gene is now popular on the Internet, again due to his son Jody who told him “everybody in LA loves Philly music, so get online and play yours.” Broadcast Pioneers member Dave Skalish, a good friend, was kind enough to help restore some of his programs digitally, and they can now be heard on his site with updates. His “History Of Disco” series is heard on hundreds of websites around the world.
A new song by the longtime ASCAP writer written with his wife and Russ Edwards, a Grand Ol Opry (and Philly favorite) Country and Folk standout. The song is dedicated to fighting back from any injuries or disabilities. It’s called “I Won’t Quit Now,” and Edwards' path back from a similar accident as Gene’s has produced this gem of a CD entitled “We Call Them Cowboys.” Gene’s appearances on “The Cartoon Network” and in a new rock video for “The Maine” are current projects, along with background work in the films “The Nail,” and “No Boundaries.”
Terry and Gene enjoy their 8 grandchildren (and 4 more honorary), traveling frequently to auditions or make casting calls, and spend months in Los Angeles annually at “Villa Rio,” their Porter Ranch hideaway. Their son Jody,(also a “Disco DJ Hall Of Fame” member for his writing and disco production efforts, lives in LA with his wife and young son, giving the couple even more reason to spend Spring in California.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Jerry Klein
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