William Hahn, 89, fixture in Boston broadcasting
By J.M. Lawrence
Announcer William H. Hahn Jr. broke into his regular radio programming on April 12, 1945, with the news that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died.
“You just can’t conceive of how dramatic that was because I’d never known another president. It was like God was dead,” Mr. Hahn recalled in an interview with The Old Colony Memorial newspaper of Plymouth.
For Mr. Hahn, the 1940s were the beginning of a Boston broadcasting career that spanned more than 50 years and scores of interviews with leaders and celebrities. At the dawn of the television age, he used the new medium to broadcast shows from around New England for the Yankee Network, including a three-part series on John F. Kennedy, who was then a young congressman before he ran for US Senate in 1952.
“Bill was just an amazingly kind person,” said Duncan MacDonald, who cohosted an afternoon show with Mr. Hahn in the 1950s on WNAC-TV. “He was truly interested in other people. He wanted to get the best from the person on the program.”
Mr. Hahn, who moved into broadcast management and was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2009, died of sepsis Nov. 15 in his Quincy home. He was 89.
Born in New York City, he contracted polio as a boy and wore a leg brace. He rarely discussed his limp and never considered himself disabled, according to friends and family.
“He was a kind, brilliant, sweet, tough man, and by toughness I mean you had to be tough to survive at the highest levels of broadcasting for 50 years,” said newscaster Ted O’Brien, who met Mr. Hahn in 1974 when O’Brien arrived from Minneapolis to become a reporter on Channel 7.
MacDonald was grateful for Mr. Hahn’s depth of knowledge when they interviewed guests. MacDonald, a Texas native who came to Boston television by way of New York, sometimes was stumped by references to local politics.
“He would leap in and help me. He was always thoughtful, always helpful,” said MacDonald, who lives on Martha’s Vineyard. “He didn’t need to be the big boss, the important one.”
By the 1970s, Mr. Hahn was vice president for public affairs at Channel 7. WNAC battled the FCC to keep its license amid an investigation of its parent company and ultimately lost, signing off in 1982.
“He was the point man in the battle to keep the license and he fended it off for years,” O’Brien said.
Mr. Hahn had another talent, one that was unusual in the television industry: He was a bee charmer.
When a large swarm was discovered on Beacon Hill along Bowdoin Street one spring day, Mr. Hahn left his nearby office and sprang into action.
“People were running around and didn’t know what to do,” O’Brien said. “Bill got his gloves on and his mask, walked up the hill, and removed the bees and everyone got to go home. The wheels of state government did not have to grind to a halt.”
Mr. Hahn harvested bee hives at his home for many years and gave away “Hahn’s Honey” as holiday gifts, his family said.
He was fascinated by insects as a boy, growing up in Rockford, Ill. In high school, he became an Eagle Scout and a champion debater.
He considered studying entomology when he was awarded a scholarship to Harvard College, but instead majored in American studies and graduated in 1945
Mr. Hahn began working in radio at the college station at Harvard and got a job at the Yankee Network.
In June 1945, he married Elizabeth Berry. He had met Bette while working at the Yankee Network in Boston, where she was head of the transcription department.
Mr. Hahn’s father had saved up his gas rations so that for their honeymoon they could go joy riding around Chicago in his car, according to the family.
The Hahns had four children. Mrs. Hahn, who had a long career in real estate on the South Shore, died in 2008.
The couple hosted parties in their Quincy home, where broadcasting figures with “deep, onerous voices” filled the house, recalled their son Alan of Portland, Ore.
Mr. Hahn often spent late nights hand-splicing tapes of interviews and putting the edited reel-to-reel tape back together. For broadcasting, Alan said, “it was definitely the stone age.”
Mr. Hahn’s list of interview subjects included actor/singer Gene Autry, baseball legend Jackie Robinson, and the Three Stooges.
After interviewing John Kennedy in 1952, Mr. Hahn discouraged his wife from inviting him over for dinner because he found him “too low-key.” Mr. Hahn’s family said he delighted in telling that story to his Harvard classmates at their 25th reunion.
A service has been held and burial will be private for Mr. Hahn, who in addition to his son leaves two daughters, Amy of Edgartown and Pamela of New Jersey; another son, William II of Roslindale; a sister, Barbara Conklin of Hanover, Ind.; five grandchildren; and four great grandchildren.
In his early radio days, Mr. Hahn was known for his show “Breakfast with Bill,” and later hosted popular shows including “The Answer Man,” “Tello Test Quiz,” and “Around the Town.”
“He came from an era when radio was perceived as your best friend and nobody made you feel more like he was your friend than Bill Hahn,” said media historian Donna Halper, an associate professor of communications at Lesley University. “People just got comfortable with him.”
Mr. Hahn finished his career in radio. He became vice president for special projects for WRKO in 1982 and hosted an early morning interfaith religious panel show called “Talking Religion” for many years. Guests included rabbis, priests, and imams.
Mr. Hahn had hopes that broadcasting might help the worlds of politics and religion better understand one another, but was often left disappointed when the medium wound up fanning the flames, his daughter Amy said.
“He used to say that the First Amendment is both a blessing and a curse,” she said.
(Courtesy Boston Globe. J.M. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com.)
MBHOF Now on Social Media
The Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame is now on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (@MassBcast-HOF). We’d love it of you take a moment to like us on Facebook and join any Group Discussions on LinkedIn.
Updates on Inductees
Bob Lobel, long-time WBZ-TV Sports Anchor (famous for the line, “Why can’t we get players like that?” and warning viewers of upcoming low-lights of a local team’s loss) is back on the air on WCVB-TV with his former long-time competitor, Mike Lynch. Bob is part of Mike Lynch’s Sunday night show “Sports Center 5 OT.”
We are saddened to note the passing of two Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame Inductees:
George Capalbo was one of the nation’s most respected broadcast engineering executives. He was Chief Engineer for WRKO at the time of its launch as a Top 40 station in 1967. He is credited by then-GM Mel Phillips with putting together a state-of-the-art broadcast facility for television and radio from scratch at 7 Bullfinch Place in Government Center, and with developing WROR-FM’s automation system. In 1973, he was promoted from Chief Engineer of the Boston Radio stations to Vice President Engineering for the RKO Radio Division nationwide, supervising seven AM stations and seven FM stations in major markets including New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.
George passed away peacefully on November 8th with his family at his bedside. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
Bill Hahn spent over 50 years in Boston serving the broadcasting industry. While attending Harvard he worked at various Boston radio stations to pay for his tuition. In 1943 he joined the Yankee Network and hosted “The Answer Man,” “Breakfast With Bill” and several others.
When television came to Boston in 1948 Bill hosted hour-long show from the Boston Public Library, Museum of Fine Arts and the Peabody Museum at Harvard. He introduced John F. Kennedy to television when he ran for the US Senate in 1952.
Later in his career he set the standard for public service shows at RKO General stations across the country.
Bill Hahn passed away on November 15th after a prolonged illness. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Broadcast Veteran Don Kelley to Succeed Art Singer at Helm of
Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame
Longtime broadcaster Don Kelley of Wellesley has been elected president of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame (MBHOF). He succeeds founding president, public broadcasting veteran Art Singer of Newton, who served for seven years.
An accomplished programmer with more than 40 years in radio, Kelley spent 22 years as Vice President of Programming at Magic 106.7 FM in Boston. He was the original program director of the first “Mix” station in America, 106.5 FM in Baltimore, and also programmed stations in Philadelphia, Syracuse and Worcester.
The MBHOF works to honor the Massachusetts broadcasting industry’s most noteworthy members, commemorate their singular achievements and meritorious contributions to the broadcasting profession, and preserve their work for future generations.
“I’m honored to be elected president of the Hall of Fame and look forward to helping it extend its influence and educational mission to current and future broadcasters alike,” Kelley said. “Art Singer did an outstanding job growing the organization from its inception, and I intend to build on that foundation.”
Kelley has been honored with a “Station of the Year” Marconi Award from the National Association of Broadcasters and a “Radio Active” Grammy Award from the National Association of Recording Artists.
He has also worked as a consultant for stations in Washington DC, Detroit, Philadelphia and other markets, and has done international work in Ireland, Spain and Japan. A native of the Boston area, Don began his radio career at WMRC in Milford MA and became morning host and Program Director at the age of 20.
Kelley’s Massachusetts radio experience includes stints at the Boston College campus station, WMRC/Milford, WOCB-WSOX/Cape Cod, WGTR/Natick, WMAS AM-FM/Springfield, WFTQ/Worcester, WBZ/Boston, and WMJX/Boston. As a Program Director he holds a national record of hitting the #1 rating in 55 Arbitron Books, 45 of them in Massachusetts.
Inductees to the Hall of Fame are honored at an annual luncheon, but other than a permanent exhibit of informational plaques in the arts center at Massasoit Community College, there is no publicly accessible archive of material on the history of radio and television broadcasting in Massachusetts. A goal of the MBHOF is to identify relevant records, tapes and documents and make them available in an archive to students, teachers, historians, communications writers, and other interested individuals.
“Don Kelley is the perfect individual to lead this effort to celebrate the past, present and future of broadcasting in Massachusetts,” said outgoing president Singer. “I congratulate him and wish him well in this important endeavor,” he added.
About Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame
The mission of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame at Massasoit Community College is to honor the Massachusetts broadcasting industry’s most noteworthy members, commemorate their singular achievements and meritorious contributions to the broadcasting profession, and to preserve their work for future generations. The organization conducts a nomination and selection process each year in order to induct individuals who through their life’s work have made major contributions to Massachusetts broadcasting and broadcasting in general. An induction and awards event follows. An informational plaque at a permanent exhibit at Massasoit Community College in the public space of the Arts Center represents each inductee. This space is open to the public for viewing during regular college hours. Over time a much more extensive exhibit is planned as well as a traveling version that can go to state colleges and other places of note. The Hall is working toward acquiring space so that it can begin to acquire and receive archival materials from broadcasters and other individuals across the state. This material – recordings, scripts, etc. – will be made available to students for scholarly work in the area of communication media and eventually in some form to the public at large. The Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame is an incorporated 501(c)3 organization.
13 inductees to be honored by the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame
Event tickets available now
Boston, MA (May 31, 2013)—Once again, the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame (MBHOF) has selected its Inductees. They are journalists, entertainers, and pioneers who have made a great impact on the broadcast Industry, young and emerging broadcasters, and communities throughout the State.
The Inductees are: Susan Wornick, news anchor and Consumer Reporter for WCVB-TV/Channel 5. A Natick native, she is a recipient of an Emmy, Associated Press and United Press International Awards; Ron Della Chiesa, one of the great voices of WGBH Radio and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, famous for Music America/The American Songbook, Tanglewood's Summer Festival, a true classical and jazz music scholar, and a recipient of multiple awards; Loren (Owens) and Wally (Brine), the morning host team for WROR-FM since 1981, David Mugar, former CEO of WHDH-TV, Channel 7 and the creator of the annual 4th of July celebration on the Charles River; Garry Armstrong, WHDH-TV, one of the first African-American reporters in Boston covering the Boston news beat for over thirty years; Chet Curtis, former news anchor and reporter, WCVB-TV and New England Cable News; Ken (Carter) Carberry, radio personality, pioneer and owner of WROL Boston, WCRN Worcester and WACE Springfield.
Additionally, the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame is proud to honor in memoriam: Walt Sanders, WBZ-TV, Channel 4, Jim Britt, Red Sox play by play announcer, Alan Dary, long-time radio host at WBZ and WHDH, Jack Campbell, founder of WPLM Radio, Claire Crawford, one of the few women in radio sales in the 30's, and Richard L. Kay, one of the founders of WHRB-FM at Harvard University and general manager of WCRB Radio.
The MBHOF is the only organization of its kind. Looking forward, we will continue to honor many more in the broadcast industry and highlight their extraordinary body of work. This year’s selection will be honored at the 7th annual luncheon event at the Quincy-Boston Marriott on Thursday, September 12, 2013 with host Jordan Rich. For more information and tickets to the event, see the MBHOF website at www.massbroadcastersHOF.org.
In Memoriam: Wilmer “Bill” C. Swartley, Jr (1908-2013)
Wilmer "Bill" C. Swartley, Jr., one of the pioneers of Boston television, passed away on Jan. 23, 2013. He launched WBZ-TV, New England’s first television station, on June 9, 1948 and served as its General Manager for 13 years. “It was clear to Bill Swartley television was the next thing and he wanted to make sure Westinghouse was ahead of the curve,” said Donna L. Halper, a broadcast historian who teaches at Lesley University. “He didn’t harrumph at the new technology. He had a very forward-thinking attitude.” She said Mr. Swartley and program director Gordon Swan “worked together to make sure WBZ-TV would be the first to go on the air in Boston and to ensure it would be at the forefront of good programming. And it was.”
Promoted to Regional Vice President of Westinghouse in 1954, he continued his executive roles at both WBZ radio and WBZ-TV until his retirement from Westinghouse in 1961. Bill was also instrumental in the formation of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association (MBA) in 1954, which, today representing over 200 over-the-air broadcasters in Massachusetts. He served as its first Vice President, and, after his retirement from Westinghouse, as Executive Director. He also was a past president of Boston Rotary Club.
Mr. Swartley was born in 1908 in North Wales, Pa. He graduated from Cornell University in 1930 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and played violin in the university orchestra. He kept playing violin until months before his death, sometimes taking requests for tunes he performed over the phone for friends. He joined Westinghouse in Pittsburgh in 1939, and he served as General Manager of WOWO in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, before coming to Boston to work for WBZ in 1940. He served in World War II, as Major in the US Army, returning to WBZ 1946.
In Sep, 2010, at the age of 102, he was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. At the induction luncheon, Mr. Swartley put his walker aside as he entered the ballroom. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, Halper recalled. “This guy was old school,” she said. “He had deep respect for radio and he had a deep respect for television. It wasn’t one or the other. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Mr. Swartley, a longtime resident of Newton and Nantucket, Mass., died of heart failure Jan. 23 in a hospice in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. He was 104. His wife of 70 years, Eleanor died in 2007 at the age of 95. He leaves his daughter, Ariel, and granddaughter Austen Rachlis.
A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. April 27 in the chapel at Newton Cemetery.
In Memoriam: Paul Benzaquin (1922-2013)
Paul Benzaquin was a giant of Boston talk radio, bringing the skills of a veteran print journalist to the electronic media. Primarily remembered for more than twenty years as a talk radio host, including stints with each of Boston's major news/talk stations, he also pioneered the idea of broadcast journalism, delivered pungent on-air commentaries, conducted probing interviews, and enlightened his audience with cogent analyses of the issues of the day. He was one of the original radio provocateurs - always fair, but with flair!
He began his media career in 1948 as a newspaper reporter and feature writer for the Boston Globe, where he wrote for 12 years. While working for the Globe, Benzaquin wrote the definitive history of the 1942 fire that destroyed Boston's Cocoanut Grove nightclub, HOLOCAUST! Fire in Boston's Cocoanut Grove, published in November 1959.
As a result of radio and television appearances in publicizing his book, he was invited to join the staff of WEEI. He went on air during the hurricane of September 1960 with the late Howard Nelson on a program called "LISTEN!" Benzaquin wrote the equivalent of five columns of news and features each day for this program, which stayed on the air for three years. During Mr. Benzaquin's unusual stint as an on-air writer/reporter, WEEI program director Ken Ovenden searched for a phrase to describe Benzaquin's unique combination of covering, writing, and broadcasting a variety of material each day. Ovenden created the term "Broadcast Journalist," which was first applied to Benzaquin, which has since become a standard reference of the industry.
Benzaquin replaced the late Haywood Vincent on an afternoon talk show when Vincent left WEEI to go to the old WNAC. The two went head-to-head for nearly a year. The ratings clearly gave Benzaquin dominance of the afternoon drive time audience, staying in that position until 1969. He simultaneously wrote columns for the Boston Herald from 1964 to 1969.
In June 1968, he achieved the dubious distinction of being one of the first hosts to be suspended by a broadcast employer for using profanity as a comment on a caller's opinions. He went to Chicago for a year as host of a late night television show for the ABC network, returning to Boston to host a show for Channel 7 and resume his afternoon radio talk show on WEEI.
In 1973 he joined Dr. Burton L. White at Harvard Graduate School of Education to become a public educator for the Harvard-Lilly Program for Parent Education, an endeavor to teach parents how their children learn during the first three years of life. For this work Benzaquin recruited a "stable" of babies in Marshfield. He wrote 172 radio broadcasts on child-raising as a result of watching these babies grow and learn.
From November 1976, he had a nearly unbroken run of thirteen years in Boston talk radio on WBZ, WITS, WHDH, and WRKO. He "retired" in 1989, but returned for another run on WRKO from 1992 until May 1996, then turning his talents to free-lance writing. He was also a pioneer in the field of classified personnel broadcasting. As the host for "The Classified Express" and "Hi-Tech News" on television he assisted people seeking employment. Benzaquin's last major effort was his book The Gifted Grandparent, a guide for first-time grandparents to help them understand, motivate and stimulate their grandchildren to reach their highest potential. In 2007, Mr. Benzaquin was among the first to be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Mr. Benzaquin was a graduate of Quincy High School and a candidate at the Unitarian Ministry at Bangor Theological Seminary. He served with the 37th Infantry Division during World War II, saw combat on the island of Bougainville, and was a part of the invasion of Luzon in the Philippines. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
Paul was a man who talked through most of his life; he ended the conversation on February 13, 2013, at the age of 90. He died peacefully, with his family at his side, in Duxbury Massachusetts.