Dec 10, 2008 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
After airing five nights a week since 1971 on WCNY-FM, Leo Rayhill’s “Sounds of Jazz” has been trimmed to a single one-hour slot on Sunday evenings, starting Jan. 4.
Rayhill, the former owner of a successful roofing and siding business, lives in Fayetteville with his wife Joan.
Another jazz-oriented program, Dick Carr’s “Big Bands, Ballads & Blues,” is being dropped altogether from WCNY’s schedule. Carr’s show airs from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturdays, and signs off for the last time on Dec. 27.
Carr, who resides in Manlius, has been airing his show on WCNY for the past 16 months.
The changes allow the local National Public Radio affiliate to strengthen its commitment to classical music, but several area jazz enthusiasts consider the cutbacks regrettable.
“When you take jazz off the airwaves, young listeners will not be exposed to it,” said Richard Ames of Fayetteville. “You’re now leaving a void.”
Ames is the president emeritus and founder of the Jazz Appreciation Society of Syracuse, whose board of directors met Monday Dec. 8 at the Fayetteville Free Library and drafted a letter objecting to the WCNY-FM schedule change. Ames planned to present the letter to the WCNY board of directors at its Dec. 10 meeting.
Syracuse Jazz Fest founder Frank Malfitano, said WCNY’s decision reflects a national trend.
“Jazz has been quietly fazed out of NPR affiliates all over country for some time now,” Malfitano said, “so this is not new, but it’s an alarming trend. It’s sad news for fans of Leo Rayhill, one of the greatest jazz broadcasters ever from this region. It’s really unconscionable.”
Malfitano lists Rayhill alongside the best jazz DJs in the country such as Willis Conover from Voice of America, Symphony Sid in NYC and Ed Love in Detroit.
WCNY-FM Program Director Peter McElvein defended the changes as part of the station’s renewed emphasis on symphonic and chamber music.
“The station is increasing its classical programming,” McElvein said. “We’ll be classical 24 hours a day (on weekdays and Saturdays). WAER is Syracuse’s jazz station.”
WAER-FM 88.3, another NPR affiliate, broadcasts out of Syracuse University.
A longtime Rayhill booster, WCNY-FM station manager Don Dolloff, retired in October after 34 years. “Don Doloff, who I idolized, is a good guy who has the best radio voice I ever heard, and he was very supportive of my show,” Rayhill said. “He came in and told me when we were doing well in the ratings, and he’d often join me on the air for membership breaks.” Doloff will be Rayhill’s guest next Wednesday Dec. 17.
Decribing the cutback as “a big shock,” Rayhill said he has never received a paycheck at the station. He donates both his time and records from his personal collection.
Rayhill’s playlists run the gamut from Dixieland to swing to bebop, and he often airs discs by local musicians. This past Friday Dec. 5, he aired a new recording by former Syracuse pianist Vinnie Falcone backing Steve Lawrence singing a tribute to Frank Sinatra.
“I always enjoy sharing the rare recordings I’ve got,” Rayhill said. “For instance last week I played a recording by Miles Davis with John Coltrane performing ‘Bags’ Groove.’ That’s very rare.”
“Sounds of Jazz” will continue from 6:05 to 7 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 31.
Rayhill, 80, started in radio during World War II as an undergrad at Hamilton College where he hosted “Just Jazz.”
Later, while operating his family’s home-contracting business, he debuted “Sounds of Jazz” on WQSR-AM in 1961, before moving to WPAW-AM and then WHEN-AM.
Over the years he has interviewed Louis Armstrong, Stan Kenton, Marian and Jimmy McPartland, Bobby Hackett, and “a very opinionated” Earl “Fatha” Hines.
Rayhill’s microphone has always been open to local musicians as well. He interviewed the Syracuse-born clarinetist Peanuts Hucko and Cortland’s pioneer jazz trombonist Spiegle Willcox. He airs recordings by local artists such as Maria DeAngelis, The Bear Cat Jass Band, Salt City Jazz Collective and has recently been spinning the debut disc from the CNY Jazz Orchestra, “Then Now & Again.”
The CNYJO ‘s drummer is Larry Luttinger, who doubles as executive director of the CNY Jazz Arts Foundation.
“It’s dismaying to hear about jazz programming being cut back in our area,” Luttinger said. “The art form deserves more attention and support not less, plain and simple. Leo has built a brand for half a century and has loyal followers. WCNY’s decision to downsize Leo’s schedule couldn’t have been economically motivated either, since he’s a volunteer.”
While Rayhill works for free, he also brings money into the FM station during its twice-yearly on-air membership drives. “Sounds of Jazz” raised more than $14,000 for WCNY this year alone, he said.
JASS board member Pat Carroll said Rayhill’s fund-raising totals have increased in recent years.
“His most recent effort was aided by several contributions from Ontario, Canada, by fans who hear his program via WCNY’s Watertown outlet,” Carroll said. WCNY-FM airs over 91.3 in Syracuse, WJNY-FM, 90.9 in Watertown, WUNY-FM, 89.5 in Utica and online at wcny.org.
Carr’s show, “Big Bands, Ballads & Blues,” focuses on big-band swing and vocal standards from the Great American Songbook. Carr, 74, has spent 40 year in radio, including managerial stints at large-market stations such as WNEW-FM in Manhattan.
Unlike Rayhill, Carr worked under contract at WCNY, and though negotiations failed to forge a new contract, he’s leaving the station with no regrets.
“I enjoyed my time on WCNY,” Carr said. “I had a long run with this thing, but everything comes to an end, even nice things.”
Though he’s disappointed by his loss of airtime, Rayhill echoes Carr’s sentiments.
“I love the people there at WCNY, and the listeners put their money where their mouth is,” Rayhill said. Station executives have made no overt promises about the security of Rayhill’s new Sunday time slot.
“I just hope I stay on a while longer,” he said.