Disc jockey Kelly Watts is semi-retired, but one would never know it.
Besides his Friday Class Reunion rock and roll oldies show on KRIM-FM, he can be heard weekday mornings on KMOG-AM.
"Radio is fun," Watts said. "You get to listen to music and talk on the air. What could be better? It's a show that I have wanted to do for years and years. I'm in seventh Heaven."
A few months ago, Watts added another dimension by doing on-air interviews with some of rock's all time greats, a feature he dubbed the Friday Class Reunion Legendary Artist Series.
He got the idea to do interviews with the original artists who pioneered rock and roll in a roundabout fashion.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, Watts knew many of the groups from the city's music scene. One of his favorites was The Vogues.
"I saw them perform over the years," he said. "Then a couple of years ago I ordered a CD by a group called The Vogues and I looked at the picture when the CD came in and I didn't recognize any of the people."
Although it had been 30-some years ago, Watts had once interviewed the group and he had seen them perform. He was puzzled. To his surprise when he flipped the CD over to look at the names he didn't recognize them either.
A smooth harmony-style group, The Vogues came out of the Pittsburgh Doo Wop era, peaking in popularity during the mid-60s.
Most people would recognize the song "Five O'Clock World" if they ever watched The Drew Carey Show. (It was used as the theme song for two seasons.) "Turn Around Look at Me" was another of their hits.
"I put the album on and listened to it and they sounded OK, but they weren't as good as the originals," he said. "I thought, someday I'm gonna follow up on this."
While sitting at his computer one night a few years later he googled Hugh Geyer, one of the original members of The Vogues.
"It directed me to a website for Chuck Blasko who was another original member of The Vogues."
Both Geyer and Blasko were still alive and performing, but were not allowed to use the group name they made famous because a former manager owns the copyright and promotes the group with none of the original members.
"There are a lot of fraud groups out there running around," Watts said. The Platters and The Drifters come to mind immediately.
So Watts sent Blasko an e-mail telling him he would be glad to tell his story on the air. Watts admits he was a doubting Thomas until one day his cell phone rang.
"Hi Kel, I'm Chuck Blasko from The Vogues," said the voice on the other end of the line.
They talked for 45 minutes about music and set up the radio interview. When Blasko had a family emergency he told Watts Geyer would take his place for the interview.
During the hour and ten minute interview Geyer told Watts a neat story:
"In the late 60s we were pretty hot on the music scene and we were performing in Washington D.C. and one of the people in the audience was Neil Armstrong. I go to meet Neil Armstrong, and he asked me for my autograph.
"Here I am this kid from Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania, playing to 6,000 people and I wanted his autograph."
Geyer still has the astronaut's picture and autograph hanging on his wall.
Interviewing old rock and rollers is so much fun because they are such nice people, according to Watts.
"I was talking to Jocko from Sha Na Na a couple of weeks ago. Jocko said, ‘The songs that we play in concert -- the fans sing along with. I can't see that happening with the music released in the 80s and 90s.'"
Watts played four cuts from Sha Na Na's new album while he was interviewing Jocko, and to the best of his knowledge that was the first time they had been played on the air. The CD had not even been pressed yet.
The group plans to make a video out of one of the new songs, "Cat in the P.T. Cruiser," utilizing some 400 cars from the Southern California P.T. club.
"You learn so much talking to these people," Watts said. One of the questions I asked Neil Sedaka -- now he is kind of unique in the business because he released ‘Breaking Up is hard To Do' as a fast song in 1962 and a slow song in 1975, and both times it was a number one hit-- did you write ‘Breaking Up' as a ballad? Neil said, ‘No, I wrote it as a do-be-doop song.'"
Sedaka was the most fun on the air so far.
The hardest interview he ever had was with a one-hit wonder band from the late 60s -- Question Mark and the Mysterious -- whose claim to fame was the song "96 Tears." Watts said they came to the studio stoned.
Watts first met Brenda Lee 40 years ago. He caught up with her again during her recent tour.
"She was babysitting her grandson while I'm talking to her," he said. "I could hear him in the background.
"Here is a lady who sold 125 million records and she's babysitting her grandson."
The positive response he has received from the old rockers has surprised Watts. When he asks why they're so happy to grant interviews, they tell him their music is not being played much anymore, but they still have a loyal base of fans who want to listen.
"One thing that surprised me a lot is that so many of the artists are coming out with new CDs," Watts said. "The Skyliners -- I listened to it the other night and it's just great even though Jimmy Beaumont is the only original member still performing and he has not lost his voice. Lenny Welch sounds as good now or better than he did back in the 60s. Danny and the Juniors have a new CD out. There's some really good stuff out there for DJs to play so these artists are not forgotten.
"I have always loved music. I am very fortunate that I grew up at the end of the big band era because I can appreciate it and I like a lot of it. My real interest in radio goes way back. I was probably 12."
Watts' grandad was a policeman in the little town (in southern Pennsylvania) where he was born. He was on duty one night at a dance in the town square and Kelly tagged along. A disc jockey from one of the stations nearby was spinning records. Watts said he knew he couldn't play music professionally, so he thought being a DJ would be a neat way to get involved in music.
A few years later, when he was in high school, he would go to local dances, get to know the disc jockeys and then hang out at radio stations -- always willing to empty the trash or buy the DJ a nickel Coke. He was getting hooked.
"At that time you had to have a license to be on the air. It was a fairly exhausting test. I bought the study guide at a local store, read it, went and took the test and passed it."
He thought he was ready for employment so license in hand he knocked on the door of the number one station in town, WMPT.
They told him to come back when he had some experience.
"I went home with my tail between my legs and my mother suggested that maybe I wanted to set my sights just a tad lower to start," he said.
Finally he found a station that would take a chance on him. WLYC had neither a great studio or good equipment but it was a beginning.
He started part-time while he was still in high school and the next fall he was hired full time. Some 18 months later he moved on.
The managers at WBPZ and WMPT (35 miles away) decided it was all right if he worked part time at both places. Watts' shift ended at 1 a.m. Saturday morning at one and began at 7 a.m. at the other.
WBPZ is still in operation. The WMPT call letters are now owned by a television station.
It used to make Watts sad to see the radio towers and some of the buildings of South Williamsport torn down. But not anymore, because the little radio stations in Payson make him feel like he's back home.
The Friday Class Reunion Legendary Artist Series with Kelly Watts on KRIM-FM begins at 2 p.m and lasts until 5.
Future guests include:
Feb. 17: Garry Peterson, original member and drummer for Guess Who, and Carl Gardner, founder of the Coasters
March 3: Dick Nicklaus of the Kingsmen
March 10: John Wilson, original member of Sly-Slick & Wicked
March 17: Carl Giammarese, original member of the Buckinghams
March 24: Sonny Turner, longtime member of the Platters
March 31: Lenny Welch as himself and Beverly Lee of the Shirelles