Radio Names

A Joseph Ross
Fri Aug 22 00:55:40 EDT 2014

On 8/21/2014 10:49 AM, Donna Halper wrote:

> But back to the changing of names: during the top-40 era, house names 
> were everywhere-- there were a plethora of overnight disc jockeys with 
> the house name "Johnny Dark" and I can recall several stations that 
> had a Dan Donovan. 

In 1985, when WROR had a Rock & Roll Revival weekend, Arnie Ginsburg 
joked that they were having a Dan Donovan convention at Fenway Park, and 
the one with the shortest straw would be there the next day.  The Dan 
Donovan who was there the next day told of coming up from Rhode Island 
and asking for a job at WMEX.  As an audition, Mr. Richmond decided he 
would go on that day as Dan Donovan. Apparently they liked what they 
heard because he got the job as Dan Donovan, and the guy who had been 
Dan Donovan was instantly transformed into Johnny Dark and got the 
overnight shift.

> Amusingly, even when the real name could have been perfect, some 
> station PDs or consultants insisted you had to change it:  Frank 
> Kingston Smith had a wonderful radio name (and that's his real name), 
> yet he was told to become "Bobby Mitchell" when he was a top-40 jock 
> for WRKO.   It was also a custom for announcers to have names that did 
> not sound ethnic, a concept also used in the movies for many years-- 
> Jack Benny (Benjamin Kubelsky) and Eddie Cantor (Edward Itskowitz) 
> were among the many who chose names that hid the fact they were 
> Jewish.  It was a time when anti-Semitism was still part of the 
> popular culture, so Jewish radio announcers were just about always 
> told to change to something that sounded vaguely anglo-saxon-- hence 
> "Bob Clayton."  The one exception I can recall was my cultural hero 
> Arnie Ginsburg.

Sometimes the names were just too long, such as Kubelsky.  Jack Benny 
originally performed in Vaudeville as Ben K. Benny, which also sounds 
vaguely Jewish.  But he heard from Ben Bernie, who also did a violin act 
as Benny did in those days, so he changed it to Jack Benny.  I always 
thought the surname Cantor was just as Jewish as the name Eddie Cantor 
changed it from.  Then there was John Sullivan, who became Fred Allen.

Isaac Asimov has written about how, at the start of his writing career, 
his editor at Astounding Science Fiction, wanted him to change his name, 
but he stood his ground and did well under his own name.

There's also a nice story that Annette Funicello asked Walt Disney if 
she should change her last name because it was so hard for people to 
learn to pronounce.  Disney, to his credit, replied, "But once they 
learn it, they'll never forget it.

Name changes still happen, and Jewish isn't the only ethnicity that 
creates issues.  The Thai science fiction writer Somtow Sucharitkul, who 
actually published under his own name for awhile, was told to change his 
byline to S.P. Somtow when he wrote a novel that his editors thought 
might break out and become a Best Seller.

A. Joseph Ross, J.D.| 92 State Street| Suite 700 | Boston, MA 02109-2004

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