This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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Ed Walker, a Friend to Young Broadcasters
by Bob Bybee. © 2015
(From Radio Recall, December, 2015)
I began listening to WRC radio and The Joy Boys program around 1966, after Ed Walker and Willard Scott had already been on the air for over a decade. In 1969 my father and I began visiting them in the studio about once a week. We continued this habit until they left WRC and I left for college.
My dad was a radio engineer for the army and the State Department, so I already had an interest in electronics. Hanging out in the WRC studio, though, really confirmed that this was the career for me. There was a sense of pure enjoyment when we visited. My high-school doldrums melted away when Ed performed in a foreign accent, or when Willard kicked over the trash can to punctuate some clumsy character's entrance. The character's exit, of course, was often marked by Ed slamming his sound-effects door, cutting off the banter in mid-sentence.
The fun you heard on the air was real. It continued when the microphones were off. During music or newscasts, The Joy Boys were usually planning their next "bit," but never rushed, always in good humor. Sitting in the studio you often couldn't tell exactly whether the microphone WAS on or off, because the joking continued. On rare occasions it got a little more risqué when the mic was off, but even then it was tame compared to prime-time television today.
Willard often said it was Ed who organized and held the show together, despite being blind. So when Willard stepped out of the studio to put on his toupee and prepare his weather forecast for WRC-TV, Ed was left to keep everything running smoothly. At those times I would occasionally occupy Willard's chair and help out by making entries in the program log. (That probably wasn't even legal, and at the very least, management would NOT have approved!)
Ed knew I was interested and encouraged me to participate in small ways like that. I was once asked to ring the NBC chimes, live, on the air, during one of their comedy bits. Being nervous, I struck the first chime too early. Willard took it right in stride, laughed and said "not yet, you idiot!" It only made the skit funnier.
On another occasion, Ed tried me out as an announcer. He must have had some time to kill, because that night he set me up with a microphone and let me read a commercial. I wasn't on the air; union rules would certainly have forbidden that. But one of the engineers recorded it, and it was my first experience behind a real radio station microphone.
A few years later, I was paying some of my college expenses by working at my first radio job. I still do occasional voice work, for commercials, IVR systems ("press one for…") and books-on-tape. And I can trace all of that back to Ed's kind, encouraging influence.
I'd like to say that I was uniquely influenced by Ed Walker, but that wouldn't be true. His influence touched so many young people. After building The Joy Boys website, I started receiving emails every week from people who enjoyed Ed's shows, including The Joy Boys, his time at WWDC and WMAL, his TV work at WJLA, and of course his capstone, The Big Broadcast Over his career these shows must have had hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of listeners. A surprising number of these folks tell me that they entered broadcasting careers due to the kind encouragement of Ed and Willard.
Not every listener ended up behind a microphone, of course. But I think every listener's day turned out a little brighter after hearing The Joy Boys or The Big Broadcast. I recently received an email that summed it up quite nicely:
"I grew up in the Washington DC area and listened to The Joy Boys regularly. There is not enough space on this e-mail page to describe all the wonderful memories of listening to these wonderful radio artists. God speed."
For more about Ed Walker, Willard Scott and The Joy Boys, including lots of their comedy recordings, visit the author's website at www.thejoyboys.com.