While most people celebrated the nation’s 235th birthday, quickly a radio icon marked a milestone over the weekend.
Dan Ingram is widely considered the greatest Top 40 DJ of all-time. That’s the consensus of critics, fellow broadcasters, and most important—listeners.
For the 40-something crowd and older, Ingram was appointment radio each afternoon on 77 WABC. He took fans through the heyday of Musicradio in the 1960s and 1970s, and stayed with the station until the music died in 1982. (He and dear friend and colleague Ron Lundy were the last voices heard before WABC flipped to talk radio.)
While being raised in Brooklyn, Charles Hollon idolized Big Dan. Even though Hollon, 42, isn’t in the business, Ingram made an impact on his life.
“For an only child growing up in Bensonhurst, the small toot-a-loop radio that was won on Wonderama, was his world,” Hollon says. “The guy who came on everyday at 2 p.m. with some odd drum-based music that he spoke over was a must.”
After stints at big-time rockers KBOX in Dallas and WIL in St. Louis, the Oceanside, New York native and Hofstra graduate was hired by WABC and the Dan Ingram Show was born on July 3, 1961. (Ingram began filling-in three days earlier)
He was an instant hit with ad man and audiences alike.
“[He] was more than a DJ. He spoke to me,” Hollon tells FishbowlNY. “He spoke to the adults. He spoke to the advertiser, and he did it all in sometimes less than 30 seconds.”
Ingram was a master of the “talk up,” the art of speaking over the intro to a song before the words would come on. For Ingram, it was all about pushing the envelope with a quick wit and impeccable timing.
There was another level to Dan’s genius. Ingram’s son Chris, morning host on WVOS in the Catskills, told Fishbowl in December 2010 that there was rarely any preparation for the elder Ingram.
“I think most of what he did was off the top of his head,” Chris Ingram says.
For those factors, Ingram was so beloved by his millions of fans. Whether hiding their transistor at school, listening at work, or providing the perfect soundtrack during the weekend at the beach—he had the pulse of the public.
“He came everywhere with me—the summers, the winters, the big test in school,” Hollon says.
Ingram was also a comfort, in times of crisis, long before dealing with 9/11. He could be counted on to help the to city endure two blackouts (1965 and 1977) during his tenure at WABC.
Ingram, fittingly, was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007. However, for some inexplicable reason, “Big Dan” has yet to be enshrined in the New York State Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
In September, Ingram will celebrate a birthday that will remind New Yorkers of his long connection to their lives. He’ll be 77—W–A –Birthday –C.