Sunday, November 8, 2009

Spook


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.

22 comments:

craigcorbin said...

When I was a little boy, probably under 6, a woman who lived above us named Knott was on Spook's TV show. This would have been around 1954-55. I recall palying in the front yard on E. 15th Ave. in Columbus when Spook brought the woman home a few times. I don't remember her name and Knott was her morther's name, who she was living with.

Katherine said...

My parents were best friends with Marylyn and Spook Beckmann. My father, Jim Packard, and Spook covered the Livingston Ave/ James Rd corner for the charity newsies for many years. Iit was such fun to visit that corner each year because Spook had a way of making everyone he met feel important. His fans would come to his corner to buy a newspaper and hopefully get the chance to speak with him. Spook made time for everyone. I admired Spook Beckmann and I thought his wife was beautiful.
I babysat for his children, Debbie and Tracey. I'd love to know where they are today. Katherine Packard White

Chris Johnston. said...

Katherine: Thank you for your comment.

I have no idea about Debbie. I understand Tracey was and or is currently in the printing business in the Columbus area.

Yes, Spook was that type of individual. He didn't know a stranger. Everyone was made to feel they were a lifetime friend, even though they may have just met for the first time just moments ago.

Marilyn was a great singer and entertainer too.

As I have continued to do research on Columbus' radio past, I'm back in the days of Spook's first work for WTVN then his move to WVKO. I didn't know he had worked there for a year or two beginning in 1961. Spook had some down years, but he always seemed to land on his feet. That's a tribute!

I didn't know Spook well. Only worked with him for a short time. But what little time we had together, I will always treasure fondly.

Michael said...

I knew Spook when he was working at the Columbus-Springfield Dinner Theater.

In 1976 (I think), Ed Graczyk and Players Theatre of Columbus re-staged their popular production of the musical "Minnie's Boys" (about the Marx Bros) for the Dinner Theater. I was recruited to play the piano in the small combo (piano, bass, and drums) that accompanied the show. It was a great show and the place was packed every night for about 6 weeks.

Spook would do a 20-30 minute monologue each night between dinner and the show. It was vintage Spook--mostly ad-libbing about current events, interviewing audience members, and kidding around, with a few tried-and-true jokes thrown in. It was different every night, and we got as big a kick out of him as the audience did.

Toward the end of his monologue each night, we three musicians would sneak in and take our places at the side of the stage. Spook would always make some snarky comment and go right back to what he was saying. But he'd end up by introducing each of us by name (which he just started doing one night without being asked). When he got to me, he'd often say "and here's the best little piano player west of Altoona". I got such a kick out of that--I still think of that sometimes when I sit down to play, and chuckle.

One night in the green room, I was chatting with Spook and thanked him for his little nightly compliment. He said, "You know what? My wife Marilyn has sung with bands all over the country. And she says she's never heard a musician who's had a better feel for the music than you do. We both think you're great." I thought I would die. But that has stayed with me all these years and still means the world to me.

I know Spook wasn't real happy in those days--sometimes he's sit in the green room looking like he wished he was anywhere else (and he probably did). But he did love that particular show and said as much many, many times. He always told the audience they were "in for a treat". And no matter how down he was, when he went on for his monologue, he brought it--and didn't quit til he had everyone in that audience laughing and smiling ear-to-ear.

I thought Spook was great, and I'm proud to say I knew him, even if only for a couple months. He certainly gave me a gift I've never forgotten, and any time someone mentions his name to this day, my heart warms and I smile ear-to-ear.

John said...

Spook's car sales "career" was in Pataskala. I worked with him at Dave Smith Ford. Great guy!

John said...

I was privileged to work with Spook during his "career" in car sales. (In Pataskala, by the way.) He really worked hard to learn the business and make it work for him, but always seemed frustrated. No matter how bad his day may have been, he always had a kind word and a positive outlook.

Eric said...

I remember listening to Spook in the late 70's after getting my first radio. I was 8 or 9 at the time and I lived out in Pataskala. I remember when he was giving a Superman Pinball machine away (The first Superman with Christopher Reeve was being released at that time). I think there was some sort of scavenger hunt involved. I also seemed to remember a Champagne and Beans club? Is this right? Anyway, my dad always smoked cigars and had a chance encounter with Spook at the cigar shop on Broad street, not far from DCSC. I guess Spook liked a good stogie too. My Dad said that he spoke with Spook for a few minutes and that he was a real nice guy. I think Spook had a special van too, although I never saw it myself. The funniest thing I remember is Spook losing his cool a bit when a young girl called him up and wanted to request "Do you think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart. He had a few choice words about why he was not going to play that. I don't think he cared for that type of music too much... But I have all good memories of Spook, I am saddened a bit by really how little is available about him on the internet. What a talent and what a life...I can still hear his voice today.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, Spook referred to alcohol as "poochie gravy".

jeff schillinger said...

When I was growing up,my family listened to Spook's AM radio program in the late 50's. Do you remember his "ALL POOPED OUT CLUB" ? We were all card-carrying members. I still have my official APO club card, signed by Spook himself! He was very funny and always entertaining.

Chris Johnston. said...

Jeff: Yes, I remember the All Pooped Out Club. There are a number of "Spookism's" out there. I was unaware of his work in morning radio until I started doing some additional research. I think he started a club at that time called the "Cotton Pickin' Chicken Pluckers" club. Spook was a master.

Anonymous said...

Spook sold Fords in Westerville, Ohio with my dad. It was Lou McGuire Ford. The building is now Allens Coins.

Kat Rankins said...

Spook & Marilyn were dear friends that stood up for my husband, Lindy & I when we got married. Marilyn was a tremendous singer & Spook was a riot. He was always "on". I miss them both but have many wonderful memories of our times with them.
Kat Rankins

Anonymous said...

I worked at WTVN with Spook in the 50s, until 1962 when I moved to Hawaii. He was innovative, but always had a problem with the engineering side of radio...often starting a record with a whooomph sound. Great gift of gab. Too pooped to pop was a big hit. hundreds of people wanted his membership card from his afternoon DJ show. We weren't close, but I always admired his ability to talk about anything and everythingl. I think I remember he was a former member of the Marine Corps. I was in the Air Force but worked at WTVN for 5 years, nights and weekends,mostly in a deejay role.
Farewell, Spook. Jim George

Chris Johnston. said...

Jim George: thank you for checking in. I remember seeing your name in the radio grids and wondered whatever happened to you. Would love to exchange emails at johnstonteam@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Yes, Tracey owns S. Beckman Printing Co. in Gahanna. Debra is married to Tiney McComb, CEO of Heartland Bank.

Anonymous said...

Back for a short update. WTVN radio had some interesting people working on the air during the middle to late '50s to 1961 when I worked there. Great music. Lotsa sports. And Spook's PM show was sold out. Couldn't squeeze in another commercial, for sure. He handled it well with his gift of gab and his audience stuck with him. He could talk with anyone. I switched to print media including newletters, newspapers and magazines and traveled all over the West Pacific including Vietnam and Australia to name just a couple, writing articles by the dozens until retiring in late 1989. The WTVN years were fun and have stayed sharp in my memories all these years. Jim George

www.ChocolateProperties.com said...

Spook was an American Original. The best version of what any salesperson could ever wish for, ever. Always a gentleman, always looking for the high road. My family knew Spook through his radio shows and Charity Newsies (my dad, Robert Y. Dienst was also a long time "Newsie" and Spook was a friend and champion of our family business, Beulah Park Race Track in Grove City, Ohio). If you ever can, get a copy of Spook Beckman's "Whacky World of..." Spook is greatly missed.

Kat Rankins said...

In searching for Spook's first wife's name I found that he had a son from his first marriage that became a famous artist. Interesting. I miss Spook & Marilyn. They were quite the pair. Kat Rankins.

Anonymous said...

In the 50s my parents rented a cabana in the Aquamarine Cabana Club on the east side of Columbus. It had an Olympic sized pool with a high diving board. Spook and his family had a cabana next to ours. We spent many summer weekends there in our lounge chairs, soaking up the sun and chatting with others around the pool. Everyone looked forward to Spook's arrival, as he always livened up the conversations.

Anonymous said...

In the 50s my parents rented a cabana in the Aquamarine Cabana Club on the east side of Columbus. It had an Olympic sized pool with a high diving board. Spook and his family had a cabana next to ours. We spent many summer weekends there in our lounge chairs, soaking up the sun and chatting with others around the pool. Everyone looked forward to Spook's arrival, as he always livened up the conversations.

Bob Dienst said...

Spook was one cool cat. He could sell ice to the Eskimos and then do it a second time & they would feel that they took advantage of him. He was also one of the kindest nicest guys around with a fun twisted sense of humor -- he found the humorous truth in almost any absurdity. He was simple the greatest to be around. When he walked into the room he made you feel that you were the greatest. That's a really rare gift. I tip my hat in your direction (up and down). Best to your family members and friends, Bob M. Dienst (formerly of Beulah Park fame) hiding in Abq., NM, "eating beans on a beer budget".

Chris Johnston. said...

Bob: thanks for the comments. Spook was what you wrote and more. Truly was one of a kind.