Sunday, November 8, 2009
Spook Beckman in his famous WCOL AM "Bumper Room".
What can you say about Spook Beckman? He was at the top. He was at the bottom. His fans loved him no matter what. His detractors had no love for him.
Spook came to Columbus, Ohio from Florida. He was born Frederick Beckman, but earned the moniker Spook because of his then shock of whitish blond hair. He spent time in the 50's at WLW-C television, hamming it up on local shows. He later became the afternoon host of WTVN radio, worked briefly at WVKO and soon back at WTVN.
He returned to WLW-C with a mid morning variety show called Spook Beckman's Coffee Club in January 1965. When the show ended in 1968, he returned to radio. His new radio home was WRFD where he hosted afternoons briefly and then worked in radio sales.
That began a bottom period. When Spook left WRFD, he worked the dinner theater circuit at the Columbus-Springfield Dinner Theater, sold cars for a Westerville Ford dealer and then began a radio come back. Slowly.
Spook was brought into WBNS radio briefly to host a Saturday afternoon show. Later, when radio station WRFD, searching for a format to return to it's former greatness, brought Spook in to WRFD to host a Sunday afternoon show featuring Big Band music. When Spook was brought on full time, I replaced him long term on the Sunday shift when my WTVN gig ended.
Spook's return to WRFD was in a word great. He brought a ready made audience. He also brought something even more important. A pocket full of ready and willing advertisers. While the WRFD program log often looked like a blanket of snow page after page, during Spook's show the page was full of advertisements to be aired. Often with Spook ad libbing the entire commercial from memory and with his personal touch. Spook's show was the corner stone of the radio's format, then known as the Unrock Station. Unrock was for the standards by Frank, Bing and Tony that were played hour after hour with Glenn, Benny and Artie and their big bands sprinkled in between. Spook was back to the glory years.
As a station promotion, a picnic was held on the spacious studio grounds. It was packed with Beckman fans. He created a fan club called the Years, Tears and Beers club. Something about the years for the memories, tears for the tough times and the beers for the good times.
Sadly for WRFD, Spook's return lasted only a few years. He was called away by WCOL radio who itself was going through a metamorphosis. When Spook left, the stations program log once again returned to looking like a blizzard had hit page after page.
WCOL offered him a showcase studio on East Broad Street that became known as the Bumper Room. Spook often refereed to his afternoon drive radio show as bumper to bumper time, capitalizing on bumper to bumper traffic in the afternoon.
When first arriving at WCOL, Spook's show consisted of playing contemporary music. What we often called chicken rock. Enough of today’s music to be current, but with the rockier, edgier songs absent from the play list. Spook fit that format,,,,,,well let's put it this way. Johnny Cochran couldn't have defended Spook and the music being played as a good fit.
That format however was on its way out, and Spook once again was in his element as the station moved the Music of Your Life Format. Where WRFD had tried with its Unrock version of the format, WCOL went with the Music of Your Life product. It was more complete in scope and depth, wasn't being played from scratchy records but rather recordings of the once famous and great songs and had a complete package to make it a viable format during those times.
To further its image in the market, WCOL employed some of Columbus once great radio personalities to anchor the disc jockey lineup. Coming from WTVN and later WRFD John Fraim anchored mornings from high atop the Leveque Tower, Joe Cunningham held forth in mid-days much as he did at WBNS. Beckman was in the Bumper Room with his unique flavor of entertainment and folksy charm and former WCOL morning man when the station was in its Top Forty heyday, Wes Hopkins, rounded out the line up in the evenings. While it lasted, it was the true stars of music coming to play on a station anchored by once heavy weight radio personalities.
I was never quite sure why the station moved from the format. Although never huge in audience, it was still quite widely accepted and had its fair share of the radio advertising pie. Maybe it simply cost too much to maintain, but the station pulled the plug and moved to a mostly syndicated talk format in the mid-80.
Beckman moved to country formatted WMNI. That move never felt like a good fit. Beckman seemed to be at his finest element at WRFD playing the Unrock and at WCOL with the Music of Your Life. Country music just wasn’t' Spook. But being the always professional broadcaster, Spook and his loyal fans re-emerged together at 920 on the dial where Spook remained until illness and death took him from us in November of 1986.
Looking back, it seems almost unimaginable that Spook's voice hasn't graced Columbus microphones in over 20 years. It seems just like yesterday hearing the microphone open and a commercial begins with the familiar "Hi folks, this is Spook for.......Know them for a lifetime".
Spooks generosity as well as creativity was also evidenced by his heavy involvement in local charities. Spook began the Secret Santa project in the 1950's to provide toys for children often left off Santa's list. He also was an avid paper seller for Charitie Newsies manning a post at James and Livingston for years.
Spook was always larger than life. His booming baritone voice, his fun personality, his ability to literally have listeners and advertisers eat out of the palm of his hand was a talent most radio hosts could only dream of.