RIP Mark Mitchell, Local Radio Host

I never met Mark Mitchell, so it’s fair to say I didn’t know him. But in a way, I kinda did. Welcome to the radio game.

Mark Mitchell, “Double M.”

Mark Mitchell, one of two on-air names used by Mark Wurzburger during a long career in radio, was for the last four years the morning host on my local radio station, WMTR-AM (1250 AM). He had been off the air since February, and last week he passed away from cancer.

His friends at the station, and others who did know him, say he was one of the good guys. They will be offering more details and memories as they salute him this Monday, April 12, on the WMTR morning show.

I’ll miss him, too, because he made radio feel like an entertaining conversation. Equally impressive, he was a radio professional who wasn’t afraid to sound local.

That’s a tricky mix, and the “local” part isn’t considered a compliment everywhere in the radio biz these days.

Me, I love it. I grew up listening to local AM radio, and it’s still a refreshing alternative to slick syndicated shows that could be coming from anywhere.

Mark Mitchell didn’t do anything radical on the radio. He bantered with his team, which included Christin Marks, Steve Pelletierre and Bob “T-Bone” Williams, and played WMTR music, which is classic oldies.

He did the radio basics well, which is harder than it sounds. He kept it moving without blasting you out of your seat, and the humor never made you hope the kids weren’t paying attention. Mainly it felt like a show that was coming from the same place you were listening. Local news, local weather, local traffic, local references, local ads. If there were two feet of snow or the temperature was going up to 98, they’d be talking about it.

Mark Mitchell sounded delighted to be talking with us on the radio. Yes, that’s how traditional radio professionals are trained to sound, but a whole string of posts on the WMTR site and the New York Radio Message Board say yeah, that was him.

His bio on the WMTR site says he started wanting to be on the radio around the time he started listening to the radio. His on-air debut came at WSOU at Seton Hall, where he was program director his senior year and he worked with, among others, Pete Tauriello — a WMTR colleague who himself has become a dean of traffic reporters for New York area radio stations.

Like most folks in radio, Mark Mitchell got around. Besides WMTR, he worked at WERA and WMGQ in Jersey, WFAS in White Plains, and WCBS-AM, where he did sports. He worked at Total Traffic. He did commercial spots. He worked at WRFM in New York and when it switched to soft-rock WNSR in 1986, he was the only jock who was kept on. He stayed there for another decade.

Also like most folks in radio, he adapted to the station’s music. At WRFM, he did the Saturday night Sinatra show. But he subtly suggested more than once on WMTR that coming back to vintage rock ’n’ roll suited him fine. WMTR is one of the handful of broadcast stations that still plays ’50s and ’60s hits, and that was clearly his era. He wrote on the WMTR website that his dream car was a 1965 Buick Riviera Gran Sport with the 425 cubic inch Wildcat V-8.

His other faves included vintage Mustangs, “Buzz Buzz Buzz” by the Hollywood Flames and Cape Cod potato chips. I knew I liked him.

Local radio and stations like WMTR-AM have some serious challenges these days — prominently including the fact that a lot of their audience is “legacy listeners” like me, meaning old people.

That made it a delight to know a WMTR and Mark Mitchell were still there — because he never made it sound like an exercise in nostalgia, but a lively way to brighten today.

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”

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