Ed Baer had, and was, the kind of personality every radio station needs.
Baer, who was 82 when he died on New Year’s Day in Norwalk, Conn., from complications of pneumonia, also had a typical radio career in that he worked at enough stations to prove that was true.
He was on the air, mostly around the New York area, for more than 60 years. He was best known as one of the WMCA Good Guys in the 1960s, when scrappy little WMCA battled top-40 Godzilla WABC. He also hosted country shows, easy-listening shows, adult-contemporary shows, newscasts and sports-talk shows. He called horse races. You get the idea.
Ed Baer wasn’t the big name on WMCA, whose DJ lineup included the likes of Harry Harrison, Jack Spector, Gary Stevens, B. Mitchell Reed and Dan Daniel.
But radio stations, like baseball teams, don’t succeed because they have a couple of stars. Radio stations need pros who can keep listeners tuned in when the cleanup hitter isn’t batting, and that’s where Ed Baer — huge Mets fans, by the way — came in.
He was a radio professional, which may not sound as glamorous as Radio Star and also doesn’t pay as well, but is just as impressive an achievement.
The son of a soda fountain owner in Westport, Conn., Baer was studying marketing at the University of Connecticut when someone suggested working at the campus radio station might be useful prep. Baer liked it and when he transferred to the University of Bridgeport he landed part-time work at WICC, where he met another young aspiring radio personality who called himself Ray Taylor and later achieved a degree of success as Dan Ingram.
Baer did a stint in the service and worked briefly for KRAK in Sacramento before Ingram — now at WABC — helped him land a job at WMCA. It was 1961 and at 25, Baer was the youngest member of the airstaff.
He did news, weather, updates, fill-ins and all the other things that rookies do. He worked his way up to full-time shifts and stayed there 12 years, developing a smooth, relaxed on-air style as well as a tagline: The Ed Baer Affair.
When the Beatles played Shea Stadium, Baer was in the WMCA booth playing the recordings of the song they were performing. The difference was that WMCA listeners could actually hear the songs, whereas much of the Shea crowd, including the Beatles themselves, could not.
When WMCA switched to a talk format, Baer hosted a comedy talk show and sometimes a sports talk show. He moved to WHN as a country jock and later hosted adult hits on WYNY. In 1986 he moved to radio prime time, taking over from former WMCA colleague Joe O’Brien as the morning host on WHUD in Peekskill and becoming a Hudson Valley institution.
He left the morning show in 2000 and started doing “Pop Rewind,” a retro show that ran on WHUD until 2016. He also hooked up with Sirius satellite radio for several years, hosting a morning show for a decades channel and a weekend show for country channels.
He took a regular shift on the “Radio Greats Reunion Weekend” specials that WCBS-FM featured in the 1990s and 2000s.
“I love local radio,” Baer said when he retired from the WHUD morning show. “But I think that’s what all good radio is: a personal conversation with the person on the other side of the microphone.”
That conversation process, of course, is so much harder than it sounds. Mastering the basics of radio, the verbal skills and rhythm to introduce a Willie Nelson record or dissect the Mets’ bullpen, can be fiendishly difficult.
But when you can do it, like Ed Baer, you can stay employed for more than six decades in a business whose mantra is to keep your suitcase half-packed at all times.
Over those decades, as more radio stations began to operate with fewer hosts, hundreds of talented professionals have simply been unable to find an outlet.
Ed Baer did. He settled down in the Westport community where he grew up, and over the years surrounded himself with thousands of the vinyl records that tracked his career.
In a 2016 profile of Baer for 06880, Dan Woog reported Baer’s account of running into his old high school music teacher, John Ohanian, at the late lamented Oscar’s deli in Westport. (For the record, Baer started on clarinet and later switched to tenor sax.)
“I hear you’re playing all that rock ’n’ roll,” Ohanian told him. “I thought I taught you better than that.
“But I hear the money’s great.”
Ed Baer probably never got rich from rock ’n’ roll. Or from the radio. What he did get was an entire lifetime making a living from something he loved doing — in return for which he helped make several radio stations sound like good radio stations should.
Not a bad deal, all around.