A Philly Music Hero Takes a Fall

It’s really tough, when one of your major role models turns out to have feet of clay, a sordid secret.

Today, many  Philadelphia and New York–centric music lovers spawned in the progressive rock era are scratching  heads and drooping them low over the “bust” of Dave Herman in a government-steered sex sting operation that casts him as a would-be pedophile.

In the late 1960s,  identified just as “Herman,”  the guy  was at the forefront of  the album rock  revolution with an evening  show on WMMR called “The Marconi Experiment.”  He had great taste in music, a voice of God intonation, adding an air of class and importance to everything he said and played.

Herman would open every show with a poetic passage from Kahlil Gilbran  (“Arise my heart and lift your voice with music …”) intoned atop the dreamy  instrumental “Flying” from the Beatles. Then  away we’d go on a magic carpet ride with artists like Steppenwolf, Joni Mitchell,  It's a Beautiful Day, Cream, the Rolling Stones, the Animals . . .

This show did so well in the ratings and ad sales that WMMR decided to go free-form rock full time, giving up on the otherwise all-Sinatra format that had lingered from its' prior incarnation as WIP-FM. And it encouraged parent company Metromedia to  go deep with the new rock /folk/blues/jazz free form mashup  in other markets where it also owned FM stations, with Herman soon moving over to the prime time spot at sister station WNEW-FM in New York.

 (A couple years  earlier, the FCC had stipulated that jointly-owned AM and FM stations in major markets could no longer run the same programming on both outlets.  Prog rock, pulling in a young demographic and using low cost, fresh out of college kids as anti-talent, made sense  on several levels.)

The somewhat older Dave Herman influenced a lot of us young guys. Philly spawned Mark Goodman, one of the premiere MTV VJs  (and before that an ‘MMR air personality) posted yesterday that he was crestfallen by the news of the Herman bust. “He was the reason I wanted to be in radio: beware of heroes.”

South Jersey resident Michael Tearson, of Sirius/XM fame and now with iRadioPhilly, too, recently launched a show on the latter called “The New  Marconi Experiment” with “the full blessings” of the now St. Croix based Herman.  Tearson said this morning that  he’s keeping the  “re-branded” show  name but will drop the Gilbran/”Flying” opening he’d also copped in tribute.

Fox Radio News anchor Bill Vitka, another WMMR alum, called the revelation "a genuine thunder-f. If he's got one, I wouldn't mind hearing Herman's story. Otherwise it's shocking, sick and stupid. Almost as though he wanted to throw it all away."

 Herman was my introduction to the world of  professional radio, too. Then in college and writing  about music for an alt weekly called the Distant Drummer, I called him up one night  and requested he play a track from the brand new Jefferson Airplane album “Volunteers.” Herman  didn’t have it, yet and invited me to bring my copy over to the station, which I did. “What track should I play?” he asked.  I recommended the counter-culture-stoking march   “We Can Be Together.”

 Ten seconds later it was beaming out to tens of thousands of listeners. 

Wow, what power.

I forgot to mention the song contained the line “tear down the walls, mother f-ers.”  An edited version later made its way back onto the airwaves and became a big ‘MMR “turntable hit.”

I loved the whole process Herman introduced me to. Working the sound board, the mike, the turntables and cart machines, the level meters (already a gizmo guy) and much more importantly the immediacy of the musical connection  a DJ could make with the  listeners, lighting up the phone lines with their feedback. So much better than just touting an  artist in print,  hoping  people will  take your word for it.

The long and short of it is that Dave Herman later  introduced me to station program director Jerry Stevens.  I wound up working weekends at WMMR  for ten years straight  - at the time,  a longevity record since broken by Pierre Robert.

 So  of course I am forever grateful to Herman, in more ways than one.

And how sad am I, to see his legend and legacy tainted today?

Very, very sad.