Very few radio personalities have the ability to keep an audience entertained for as many years as John DeBella. In his open letter he stated “When I came to Philadelphia in 1982, I would never have believed that I could have gone as far as I have here. I’ve been blessed with a magical life and a career beyond my wildest imagination…and I have you, my listeners, to thank for that.”
In 1982 DeBella got a call from Charley Kendall, the program director of WMMR. When offered the job, DeBella said he could bring the ratings down in no time. That convinced Kendall that he had found the “wise ass” he was looking for.
That was the birth of the “Morning Zoo” at WMMR. DeBella and his sidekicks won over the Philadelphia market with things like the Louie, Louie parade, The undie 500, the DeBella DeBall, and Hawaiian Shirt Gonzo Friday.
At that point I hadn’t even met John DeBella. That’s even though unknowingly John DeBella was following me.
He was hired at WMMR after I had left the station to work in Pittsburgh at WPEZ. Soon after I left WPEZ, John was hired to do mornings.
Soon afterwards I worked at WYSP when John was at WMMR. When he left WMMR and went to WYSP, I had already left and was at WMGK.
Finally, we were on the same station together. We worked together for many years. I even did a lot of filling in for John on the morning show when he went on vacation.
Doing mornings at a radio station is a lot harder than it sounds. You just don’t roll out of bed and show up five minutes before airtime. There’s a lot of preparation before and after the show.
That means getting up in the middle of the night when most of your audience and family are fast asleep. You are sleep deprived, but you must be funny and alert.
It also means missing a lot of things that most people take for granted. In order to be coherent in the morning you must sleep at odd hours. That again means missing out family time.
In making his announcement, DeBella said he wanted to spend more time with his family to try and make up for some of that lost time. Unlike some who may use that as an excuse, John really meant it. I knew exactly what he was talking about when he said you must give up some much of your family life in order to do your job. Even though you love your job, it can be very hard on you.
During his 21 years at WMGK, John DeBella showed he was more than some self-indulgent, “wise Ass” radio personality. He showed how he cared in many ways from his Turkey Drops to help feed the hungry, His Dog Walks to help his canine friends, the Veteran’s radiothons to help out neglected vets, John was there.
He also did little things that people don’t even know about. Like the very nice note he wrote to me when my father died. Included was a very nice donation to my father’s requested charity.
It takes many things to be on the air for many years in a major market. It takes even more to be selected for the honor of having your name on the Philadelphia Walk of Fame and the Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame.
While many of his fans are very sad to hear that he is leaving, they should be happy for him that he is leaving on his own terms. That is something that doesn’t always happen in “Show Business”.
Stay on the bright side and enjoy your retirement, John. You earned it.