Philly Top 40 radio's Barbara Sommers dies at 64

Barbara Hayman, 64, of Gladwyne, a broadcaster who broke the glass ceiling for women as a “boss jock” in Philadelphia Top 40 radio in the 1970s and went on to become a voiceover artist, died Wednesday, March 14, of cardiac arrest at her home.

Camera icon Courtesy of the family
Barbara Hayman, known on the radio as Barbara Sommers

On the air, Mrs. Hayman was Barbara Sommers, known for her mellifluous voice and versatility behind the microphone.

At various times, she was an on-air talent at WYSP-FM., a morning show host at WSNI, a midday air talent and production director at Power 99FM Philly, an on-air talent at WMGK, and a boss jock at WFIL. Boss jocks were known for their excited, talkative on-air delivery.

The Top 40 style typically included a small number of records, heavy rotation of the biggest hits, and short jingles. Listeners of Power 99 may remember her signature, “I’ve got the power.”

In the audio clip above, Mrs. Hayman can be heard on Power 99 on Dec. 27, 1982.

Gerry Wilkinson, CEO of the Broadcast Pioneers and a broadcast historian, noted that there were other female disc jockeys before Mrs. Hayman, both here and across the nation.

“Barbara Sommers led the way in Philadelphia as the first woman boss jock,” he said. “She was on WFIL Radio back in the day when they were a rock and roll giant. Back then, women were not heard very much on radio. Some male station managers said, ‘A woman will be on this station over my dead body.’”

“She may not have been very high in height, but she was tall in stature. She opened doors so that other women could walk through. She led the way for future generations of women.”

Born Barbara Schneitzer in Boonton, in North Jersey, Mrs. Hayman was looked upon as a broadcasting talent right after graduating in May 1975 from what is now Rowan University.

She found part-time work on an overnight shift at WYSP. An initial plan to become a teacher gave way to a successful career in Philadelphia radio. Although the typical path to success in radio led from smaller to larger markets, Mrs. Hayman vaulted to the top here because of her knack for broadcasting.

“Barbara had natural talent, spontaneous humor, and a unique way she could deliver her message through the mic with a smile,” said radio executive Dean Tyler, who was Mrs. Hayman’s program director at WFIL. “These are traits that can’t be taught.”

Her husband, Wally, said she learned from some of the top men in broadcasting. “She studied them,” he said. “Despite being a woman in a man’s world, they took her in and accepted her as an equal.”

She put her quick wit to work behind the microphone. Once, while introducing  Dick Clark, she asked: “Dick…do you mind if I call you Mr. Clark?”

In another light-hearted moment, she described her hometown as “the town where Jackie Aprile Jr. was whacked” on the HBO series The Sopranos.

Her warm, memorable delivery translated well to the medium of television, her husband said.

Later, Mrs. Hayman was hired by KYW-TV for Check It Out, a teen-oriented weekly show that she co-hosted with KYW news anchor Jerry Penacoli. It aired on Saturdays. She also filled in for Nancy Glass as co-host on Evening Magazine with Ray Murray.

Mrs. Hayman and her husband married in 1989. After their son, Andrew, was born, she concentrated full-time on freelance voiceover work and helped her husband, a producer/engineer, manage a recording studio in Bala Cynwyd.

Some of the clients whose ads she recorded were Comcast, Independence Blue Cross, Willow Grove Park, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Zoo.

Neil Greenberg, a local creative director who recruited her as a voiceover talent, said, “She was at the top of my list. All I had to do was describe the character, and Barbara always delivered in a friendly and hilarious way.”

Her husband said that although Mrs. Hayman had overcome a heart attack and cancer in the last few years, her death was unexpected. “She withstood a lot, yet persevered, grateful to see our children grow up and succeed, and grateful to meet her grandchildren,” he said.

Mrs. Hayman often talked about her family on the air. “Her love of her family, her wish for them to succeed, and her encouragement for their intellectual pursuits were foremost,” Wally Hayman said.

In addition to her husband and son, she is survived by stepdaughter Ashley Robbe Hayman, and four grandchildren.

Memorial services will be private.

Donations may be made to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, c/o Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Foundation,  Box 781352, Philadelphia, Pa. 19178.

This article has been updated to reflect that Mrs. Hayman began her radio career in the 1970s and that she was a 1975 graduate of what is now Rowan University.