The Herb Oscar Anderson Show
Herb Oscar Anderson, who was WABC’s morning drive-time personality from its inception as a music station in December 1960 until September 1968, said his career began to soar in the late 1950s as a result of being affiliated with one of the inventors of the Top-40 format and a promotion for young girls wearing knee-high socks.
Herb said while he was working at WDGY in Minneapolis, Minn., in 1956 it became part of Todd Storz chain of radio stations that had adopted the Top 40 format that Storz had helped discover.
Rock n’ roll was in its infancy and the format, which included heavy air play of the most popular songs, became a ratings hit across the country. At about that same time, Herb began promoting his “Oscar Socks.”
“They became very much in vogue,” he said during a June 27, 2005 phone interview with musicradio77.com. “We told the girls to trade knee-high socks with your girlfriend and wear a blue sock with a white sock.
“It caught on and I skyrocketed to number one,” he added. “I think between the new format and the promotion, the station’s ratings improved 350 percent in three months.”
The NBC affiliate had an impressive air staff that included future U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong of Colorado.
About 10 years earlier, almost right out of high school, Herb launched his radio career when he decided that he would have more fun as an air personality than writing a sports column.
Herb, who was 77 at the time of the phone interview for this story, said he started as a sportswriter at the Jamesville Daily Gazette in Wisconsin. The parent company also owned WCLO radio.
He applied for a position at the station, figuring that announcing a sports story for 30 seconds would be more fun than spending three hours writing his high school sports column for the newspaper.
Before long he landed a position as a singer and announcer at WROK in Rockford, Ill.., where he used Les Brown’s “Leap Frog” as his theme song.
In recent years, Les Brown Junior and his orchestra has performed on Florida-based cruises that Herb has served on as master of ceremonies.
Over the following years, Herb served for three years in the Air Force’s 132nd Squadron, and then worked as an air personality at WDBO in Orlando, Fla., at a chain of stations in Iowa and at KSTP in Minnesota.
The huge immediate success at WDGY prompted CBS, which had WCCO in the Twin Cities area, to get Herb out of the market by giving him a job at its Chicago station, WBBM.
Before long, he was hired at WABC in New York City, which was adopting a music format.
Herb then went on the ABC network and was part of a line-up that included legendary talk show host and game show creator Merv Griffin, actor Jim Backus and singer Jim Reeves.
Herb hosted a show and sang before a live band, but the show didn’t work out.
One day a short time later, he arrived at his home in Greenwich, Conn., and found a telegram from WMCA offering him a job at the 5,000 watt rock station. However, Herb said that the late Leonard Goldenson, the founder of ABC, told him when he left the radio network that he hoped that he would someday return. That happened in December 1960 when he rejoined WABC as one of the original “Swingin’ Seven air personalities as the station started its Top 40 format.
Herb did morning drive with a charming, calm delivery and lots of sweet talk for the housewives. At the top of the hour, he would sing, “Hello again, here’s my best to you. Are your skies all gray? I hope they’re blue.”
He said he wrote those lyrics after using Champagne Time by Lawrence Welk, which had been written by a member of the bandleader’s ensemble. He said that representatives of Welk’s show wanted to use that song as their theme and politely asked Herb if he would use another theme song.
“Even in 1960 I knew that we were going to do well, even though we had the network commitments” that sometimes interfered with WABC’s music programming he said. “We had a powerful signal and rock n’ roll was growing. But I never dreamed it would become as big as it did.”
By the early 1970s, eight million people a week were listening to WABC, making it the most listened to station in the history of radio. “I was Mr. Uncontrollable,” Herb said of his on-the-air presentation. “I wasn’t a rolodex disc jockey. “My purpose at WABC was to garner an adult audience for rock n’ roll, which was a form of music that a lot of parents looked down upon then the way that parents look down upon rap music today,” he said. “But I was used to that. I was always a station-builder. Every station that I went to was a dog.” Herb said, “In those days you had personalities. The person on the radio meant something to people.
“I always have followed the premise that I am a guest in someone’s home,” he added. “People on the radio sometimes forget that they are guests and they need to act accordingly.
“Shock radio has generated an audience, but you would generate an audience if you had an orgy in Times Square and held up signs over your head about it,” Herb said. “Don’t we, as a society, have more talent than that.” He said he didn’t put much stock in the ratings services.
“I used to take my own surveys,” he said. “The only service that did it right was Hooper because they would ask people what they were listening to at that moment. I would do the same thing by having my secretary call 30 telephone numbers and find out what they were listening to. The ratings services with all this business of having listeners keep diaries would usually catch up to our figures some time later.”
Herb was with WABC through Beatlemania, which he said the station was largely responsible for.
“They said that it was Murray The K being the fifth Beatle,” he said of claims by the late air personality who worked for many years at WINS and WNBC and hosted New York City television specials. “What really happened is that WABC decided to go strong with the Beatles.”
Herb also said the elimination of some of the network commitments on Jan. 1, 1968 – most notably The Breakfast Club and the nightly newscope – helped propel WABC to even greater heights since there were fewer interruptions in the music programming. However, in September 1968 he decided to leave the station.
“I went because I could no longer accept the music that was coming in,” Herb said. “I couldn’t accept the acid rock that was coming out.”
He moved to a ranch in Minnesota but returned to New York radio in the 1970s at WHN and then later at WOR.
Herb now lives most of the year in Hutchinson Island, Fla., near Vero Beach, and over the most recent years has spent more than 50 days at year as a singer and master of ceremonies on cruises. He spends his summers in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., where his daughter now operates the family sheep farm. He has done shows on RadioAlbany, an Internet radio service.
Herb and his wife raised three children, including John, who appeared during the entire run of Dynasty, the ABC Television hit series of the 1980s.
“The thing about radio is that in the right situation, there is a limitless audience,” he said. “If you fill a gas tank, you can only travel for so long. But a radio transmitter has almost a limitless number of people that it can service.”