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Obituaries

Thom Morrera, Former WNEW-FM Jock, Passes Away

For a stretch from the late 1970s into the early 1980s, Thom Morrera was the overnight air personality at WNEW-FM. It was the height of WNEW’s and Morrera’s popularity.

Multiple sources confirm to FishbowlNY that Morrera died over the weekend. We’re told that Morrera died of complications from a massive heart attack last month.

Paul Cavalconte remembers his longtime friend and colleague, having worked with Morrera at three radio outfits, including Sirius.

“His many friends in the music and radio biz will miss him because he was so good at keeping up with people and being social and a gracious host,” Cavalconte tells FishbowlNY. “And also a committed mentor to many people. He earned the name ‘Father Thom’ as well.”

While playing the now-deemed “Classic Rock,” Morrera also spent time in management as the WNEW-FM music director. He returned for a brief weekend stint in the early 1990s.

Morrera’s voice was also familiar to New York Rangers fans as the team’s public address announcer for several years.

Cavalconte added on his Facebook page, “I will miss his candlelit holiday feasts, summer cocktail fetes, phone chats, e mail hits and most of all encouragement to take it all in stride.”

Morrera’s death marks the second passing of a WNEW personality this year. In April, Pete Fornatale died a short time after suffering from a brain hemorrhage.

Most Popular FishbowlNY Stories for the Week

Here’s a look at what FishbowlNY stories made the most buzz this week.

  1. Z100 Names New Co-Host (left) for Elvis Duran‘s Morning Show, August 10
  2. Fareed Zakaria Definitely Plagiarized The New Yorker, August 10
  3. New York Times Public Editor Says Lolo Jones Piece Was Too Harsh, August 9
  4. Clear Channel to Purchase WOR Radio, August 13
  5. Helen Gurley Brown, Iconic Editor, Dead at 90, August 13
  6. Kelly Ripa Gets $20 Million A Year to Act an Idiot, August 9

Keep up-to-date with the latest FishbowlNY news. Click here to sign-up for the FishbowlNY daily newsletter, bringing you our articles each afternoon directly to your inbox.

Most Popular FishbowlNY Stories for the Week

Here’s a look at what FishbowlNY stories made the most buzz this week.

  1. Bloomberg LP Getting Earful of Worker Complaints, August 3
  2. Lolo Jones: Media ‘Ripped Me to Shreds’, August 8
  3. Mayor Bloomberg Gets Confrontational with WPIX Reporter Mary Murphy, August 7
  4. New York Native, Composing Great Marvin Hamlisch Succumbs to Short Illness, August 7
  5. Magazines Suffer a Brutal First Half, August 7
  6. Cover Battle: New York Times Magazine or The Economist, August 2

Keep up-to-date with the latest FishbowlNY news. Click here to sign-up for the FishbowlNY daily newsletter, bringing you our articles each afternoon directly to your inbox.

WMCA Pioneering Executive and ‘True Gentleman,’ R. Peter Straus Dies

A key player in the growth of New York radio has died. R. Peter Straus was responsible for WMCA becoming one of the top radio stations in the country.

“I was saddened to hear of the death of R. Peter Straus,” former WMCA air personality, Harry Harrison, tells FishbowlNY.

Straus, whose first name was Ronald, had two stints at WMCA. He joined the family business in the 1940s. His father, Nathan Straus bought WMCA in 1943. The elder Straus had been director of United States Housing Authority under President Franklin Roosevelt, and a New York state senator.

After becoming an executive at the International Labor Organization, part of the United Nations, Straus returned to WMCA, alongside his dad, in 1958. A year later, he succeeded his father as president. Another memorable moment occurred in 1959, as WMCA improved its lineup by hiring Harrison. It would be the start of 44 years in New York for the “Morning Mayor.”

“GM Steve Labunski and PD Ruth Meyer transformed WMCA into the ‘Good Guys’ radio station, and it became a huge success in the 60s,” Harrison tells FishbowlNY. “All the staff appreciated the support and encouragement Peter always gave us. He was a true gentleman.”

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Noted Film Critic Judith Crist Dies at 90

Judith Crist had a rich career as a film critic. Older readers may recall Crist from her days as a Today Show contributor from 1964 to 1973. Others know Crist for her many years dishing out the best and worst at the movies for TV Guide.

Crist died today after a long illness. She was 90.

Crist’s work was featured in numerous publications throughout the decades. The Bronx native attended Morris High School, and began to carve out her career at Hunter College. Subsequently, she was named to the school’s Hall of Fame. Columbia University’s School of Journalism followed, where she got her Master’s degree and had been an adjunct professor since 1958.

Immediately after school, Crist worked for the New York Herald-Tribune. During her 22-year-run, Crist was the “point person” for all things arts and entertainment, including her first job as a film critic.

That led to another 22-year stint, this time at TV Guide.

Crist was the founding film critic for New York magazine, and served as film critic for the New York Post. She also worked on many weekly and monthly publications. She even returned to TV, providing film reviews on WOR/Channel 9.

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New York Native, Composing Great Marvin Hamlisch Succumbs to Short Illness

He was one of this country’s most decorated composer. Marvin Hamlisch died suddenly yesterday after a brief illness. No other details are available. Hamlisch was 68.

Hamlisch is one of only a handful of people to win the “Big Four” awards–an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony. The air gets even more rarefied when a Pulitzer Prize is included (Richard Rodgers is the other).

Hamlisch, according to wikipedia, grew up in New York City to Viennese Jewish parents. By five, the child prodigy began emulating the piano he heard on the radio.

In 1951, he was accepted by the Julliard School Pre-College Division. He was seven at the time.

His first job was as the rehearsal pianist at Funny Girl starring Barbra Streisand, which came to Broadway in 1964. The two would become life-long friends.

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Al Brady Law, Acclaimed Radio Programmer, Personality, Dies

Today’s breed of radio listeners is likely unaware of Al Brady Law. But Law had three stints in New York radio from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Law died Monday of a brain tumor in a New Hampshire nursing home. Reports put his age at 67.

His work was varied, from air personality to programmer. His start in New York took place as WOR-FM evening jock in 1969.

A year later, even though he bolted for Miami, Law was heard filling in on WWDJ, primarily on nights.

After some work in Denver, Law was back at WWDJ on a full-time basis. This time, he was like a player/manager in baseball. Law was named the station’s program director, along with his air work.

Now that management was agreeing with him, Law wanted more.

Following the short gig at ‘WDJ, Law appeared at WXLO where he was hired solely as the “99X” program director.

However, Law’s dual hats would return in a big way at WNBC Radio. In 1974, he was named a joint assistant program director and air personality. Later that year, Law took over as program director but only briefly before resuming his APD/weekend air work. He remained at the NBC flagship until 1976.

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Saying So Long to Sherman Hemsley, Whose Big Break Came on Broadway

Hemsley and Jeffersons co-star Isabel Sanford

Before he became part of sitcom lore, Sherman Hemsley was part of the Broadway scene.

Beginning in 1970, Hemsley was a member the musical Purlie. Although it was only a supporting role, it ultimately led to the role of lifetime.

Early in the show’s run, there was buzz backstage that a major Hollywood producer would visit the cast.

That producer was Norman Lear, who was on precipice of greatness with All in the Family set to debut the following January.

Lear’s appearance followed Melba Moore and Cleavon Little winning Tony Awards for Purlie on April 19.

As Hemsley told the Archive of American Television in 2003, he didn’t expect Lear would have any interest in the young actor.

“I was just sort of new, and happy to be there,” Hemsley recalled. “I figured he didn’t even notice me. I figured he noticed me, but he was coming to see them. I wasn’t as nervous as I guess I should have been.”

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Remembering Screenwriter Nora Ephron, a New York Treasure

Meg Ryan "fakes it" for Billy Crystal at Katz's Deli in "When Harry Met Sally"

Nora Ephron was a screenwriter and director with New York in her blood. And it coursed through many of her films as well.

Perhaps her most famous piece of New York City movie making was When Harry Met Sally. Ephron wrote the script for the Rob Reiner classic Billy Crystal-Meg Ryan romantic comedy. The famous “orgasm” scene where Reiner’s mom says, “I’ll have what she’s having,” took place at Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side.

The Big Apple proved a popular backdrop for the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan vehicle — You’ve Got Mail. Ephron co-wrote and directed the movie, in which Ryan discovers that Hanks has been her secret crush all along when they meet at Riverside Park. The film uses numerous New York locales, including Zabar’s, Gray’s Papaya, and Cafe Lalo.

Of course, who could forget the duo meeting at the Empire State Building for the Sleepless in Seattle finale?

Part of her last major hit, Julie and Julia, was shot in Manhattan, featuring the blog to book to movie story of Julie Powell as she attempted every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

Ephron lived, during her college years, at 110 Sullivan Street, between Prince and Spring Streets.

She died yesterday in a Manhattan hospital of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia. She was 71. Her son, Jacob Bernstein, a contributing writer at Newsweek Daily Beast, announced the news of his mother’s death to The New York Times last night.

Warner Fusselle, Brooklyn Cyclones, Veteran Baseball Announcer, Dies at 68

Courtesy: brooklyncyclones.com

Longtime sportscaster Warner Fusselle died last night of an apparent heart attack. He was 68.

Taking a page from his idols Red Barber and Ernie Harwell, Fusselle was another southerner to call baseball games in Brooklyn when the Mets single A affiliate debuted in 2001. He was scheduled to be at the mic for a 12th straight Opening Day next week.

“We were fortunate to have the best radio announcer in the sport working for us,” Cyclones GM Steve Cohen tells FishbowlNY. “He lived and breathed Cyclones baseball.”

He only missed a handful of games from the “Catbird Seat,” a phrase borrowed from Barber.

And it was the “Ol’ Redhead, as Fusselle told The Brooklyn Paper in 2004, that made him want to follow in those legendary footsteps.

“Red told me all these stories about broadcasting in Brooklyn, and when I heard about baseball coming back to Brooklyn, I wanted to see what it would be like to broadcast in Brooklyn, and so I applied for the job.”

“I think we were just fortunate to get Warner between gigs,” Cohen says. “I always thought he should be doing radio at the major league level.”

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