His name was Dana Jones and he was the original disc jockey when radio station WBEC (Berkshire Eagle Company) signed on the air in 1947. I wasn’t even born until 1952.
In this picture, Dana is holding his news copy between his teeth, while he cues up his next record, adjusts the volume on his control console and begins his morning radio program.
I got to thinking about Dana on this Labor Day weekend, because growing up, a new school year for me, always began after this holiday weekend.
Dana Jones would have twenty years of radio broadcasting under his belt before I would finally meet the man I grew up listening to on the radio. That happened when WBEC’s management approached the Junior Achievement organization in Springfield, Massachusetts about creating a JA radio company. I interviewed for, and was selected to be a part of this new Junior Achievement service-oriented educational learning experience in broadcasting. We would broadcast every Saturday morning over AM1420 WBEC, and that’s how I finally met Dana Jones.
Dana was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 14, 1922. His family moved to West Stockbridge, Massachusetts in the early 30s and in 1940, Dana would earn his high school diploma from Williams High School in Stockbridge.
When America was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, Dana would enlist in the Army and served in New Guinea, the Philippines and Morotai rising to the rank of sergeant. In the 50s, he enlisted in the Marine Reserve.
WBEC Signs On-The-Air
When Dana left the Army, he first went to work in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at its largest department store, England Brothers, but with a voice destined for radio, he was hired away by the Berkshire Eagle newspaper to anchor mornings on its latest media venture; radio broadcasting.
When WBEC went on-the-air on March 25, 1947, Dana Jones was the first voice heard, and he would anchor its morning show until 1980.
Dana did news, weather, sports, interviews with visiting dignitaries and politicians, remote broadcasts, farm reports and even hosted a children’s show called “Storytime.”
1950s in The Berkshires
In the 50s, if a family in the Berkshires owned a television, the only TV station they could receive was the General Electric Company television station out of Schenectady, New York. WRGB was one of the very first TV stations in the world, tracing its roots back to a GE experimental television station founded in 1928.
GE’s television station didn’t begin its broadcast day until 4pm in the afternoon and Pittsfield’s major daily newspaper, The Berkshire Evening Eagle, came out each day around 4pm, so when you woke up in the morning, if you wanted to know what had happened while you were sleeping, it would be the radio that would bring you up-to-date.
Every school day morning at 7:45am, Dana Jones would say “Good morning boys and girls, it’s story time,” and for the next fifteen minutes families would be treated to stories about Wilber the Whistling Whale, Johnny Appleseed and many other stories that showcased radio’s “theater of the mind.”
When snow covered the Berkshires in white, those tubes on the radio could not warm up fast enough to tune in and hear what schools would be cancelled that day on the account of snow. It would also allow kids more time to listen to Dana Jones and his “On The Sunny Side of the Street” music show that came on after mom’s got their kids off to school.
The Life of a Morning DJ
Dana Jones rose every morning at 3am. Monday through Saturday, he would arrive at the radio station at 4am, where he first would turn on the transmitter to warm up its tubes, go through the Associated Press teletype for the latest news, weather and sports, and write and record the comedy bits that would be a part of his radio show featuring two iconic characters he had created; Grampa Crabgrass and Uncle Ephraim. Sign-on was 5:30am.
On Saturday mornings, my mother got up early and drove me out to the radio station by 6am where I would sit in the studio with Dana while he did his radio show. Our Junior Achievement company members usually arrived by 8:30am and I would then join the rest of the JA members to prepare our weekly sixty minute 11am radio broadcast.
Every weekend, I couldn’t get to the radio station early enough, to be enveloped in all things radio, and will always be grateful to both my mother and Dana Jones for catering to this high school kid’s passion to be on-the-air.
Seems Like Old Times
While radio had paid for my college education, it had not been as kind to Dana having been shown the door at both WBEC and later at the Berkshires first radio station WBRK, becoming very discouraged about the radio business.
I remember sitting at his kitchen table and putting together the deal to hire Dana, a man I so respected and admired to become the morning anchor on my new radio station.
I was launching a new radio format on 1110AM WUHN in Pittsfield that would feature Al Ham’s “Music of YOUR Life” big band and standards type of music, the very songs that Dana played when he began his radio career as a disc jockey. I wanted Dana to do everything he excelled at, including his comedy routines with Grampa Crabgrass and Uncle Ephraim. My vision for mornings on this radio station made Dana’s eyes light up and he got excited about radio once again.
I would leave Pittsfield to take over as general manager of WIIN/WFPG in Atlantic City in 1984. Dana continued working at WUHN until 1988 when the station’s owners decided to change its format to something that would appeal to a younger audience. Dana would retire from radio broadcasting at age 66.
He died at the age of 83 of a heart attack on November 25, 2005.
He was a gentle giant in the industry and in person, and he possessed a voice that was undeniably Dana Jones.