Herb Oscar Anderson (HOA) didn’t spend much time in the Twin Cities, but he made a big impression, and went on to a huge career as one of the biggest DJs in New York. I tracked him down in Florida in 2013 and we had a wonderful phone conversation. Thanks to the Pavek Museum for some of the following information.
Herb Oscar Anderson was born on May 30, 1928, in South Beloit, Illinois. His mother (both of HOA’s parents were Swedish) spoke very little English, and when his father passed away, young Herb was sent to the Odd Fellows Orphan’s Home in Lincoln, Illinois. He eventually relocated to Wisconsin, where he wrote for the Janesville Daily Gazette.
In 1949/1950 he was hired by KSTP, but his tenure was interrupted by a three-year stint in 132nd Air Corps Wing out of Des Moines. Performing and/or organizing USO shows were included in his duties.
In 1954 he returned to KSTP, where he wanted to get into TV. They didn’t give him much to do, though: working overnight, he sold Bibles that glowed in the dark and such: “Better than a test pattern – or is it?” One source described him as a “utility man,” ready to jump in anywhere.
Someone at WDGY liked him, and he was hired away just as the station was moving to a Top 40 format. Herb kicked off the new format on February 6, 1956. Herb told me that they did the Top 60 songs at first, with a heavy emphasis on the personalities of the DJs. In three months the ratings of WDGY went up 365 percent! His obituary in the New York Times says that he was known as “235 pounds of genial joviality.”
Radio historian and fellow WDGY DJ Jim Ramsburg characterized HOA as a “very nice guy, surprising nervous on the air. He begrudgingly played the ‘Morning Mayor’ routine, which we stole from Eddie Clarke at our sister station, WHB in Kansas City.” At WDGY he began to sing along to Lawrence Welk’s instrumental, “Champagne Time,” and came up with his “Hello Again” theme. “Hello again, here’s my best to you. Are your skies all gray? I hope they’re blue.” He even recorded the song. Writing lyrics to instrumentals so that he could sing along to them became one of his trademarks.
THE CONTEST CRAZE
To kick off WDGY’s new format, owner Todd Storz and his P.R. staff dreamed up a myriad of crazy contests where listeners could win big bucks. (See the 1956 Contest Craze.) One contest involved a check that was hidden somewhere in town. The disk jockeys didn’t know where it was, but people assumed they did. Herb reported getting calls at home from guys with menacing voices who offered to “split it witch ya” if he told the guy where it was. He was genuinely afraid of these guys and happy when the contest was over!
Herb shook up the Twin Cities in the Fall of 1956 with “Oscar Socks” – convincing high school girls to wear knee-highs of one design on the left leg and a contrasting design on the right. Girls at the brand new Park High responded in droves, but Principal Edward Foltmer suppressed the fad promptly. “We’d be opposed to any distracting influence at school,” he explained with a cautious smile. “We can’t allow bizarre clothing.” A bag lunch protest last Friday, with many girls wearing black and spurning the school’s hot lunch, followed. Boys at St. Louis Park High came to the girls’ rescue. “The boys wore their shirt tails out in protest after we weren’t allowed to wear Oscar Socks,” student Elaine Smedberg said. “But the administration made ‘em pull the shirt tails in. So the boys hiked up their pants, wore them around their ribs. Then a week ago, about 15 boys peroxided their hair.” Next morning, “the kids hissed the principal and started singing ‘Chain Gang’ in school,” other girls reported (not the Sam Cooke song). This event was reported in the Minneapolis Star, but not in the St. Louis Park Echo.
Anderson was interviewed in the Echo on October 24, 1956. “Andy”’s familiar greeting was “Hi ya gang, it’s a lovely day today.” He said that WDGY’s Top 40 lists were more in tune with actual popularity, since they were based not just on record sales but juke box plays and requests from various establishments including hotels and night clubs. His favorite pop singers were Elvis, Eddie Fisher, and Fats Domino. He, his second wife Terry Krikoff, and son Johnny were new residents in the Park. Other children were Herb Oscar Anderson II and daughter Carla.
Top 40 doesn’t necessarily mean rock ‘n’ roll – he told me that he basically played MOR for the housewives (my notes say “schmaltz,” but I don’t know if that’s his word or mine). I asked him if he liked that kind of stuff and he said he did.
GET THAT GUY OUTA HERE!
HOA was so popular that the competition at WCCO wanted him gone, so it was arranged that he be offered a job at WBBM, a CBS station in Chicago, with terms that he couldn’t refuse. He left Chicago on July 8, 1957. From there he went to New York: first to WABC, the top rated Top Forty station in New York in 1957, then to WMCA in 1958, and back to WABC from 1960 to early 1969, where he was the “Morning Mayor of New York.” It was his work in New York that he is best known for.
Herb made some records, which are available for listening on YouTube – he wasn’t allowed to play his own records on the air. His post-Twin Cities activities also included a show in Turkey, recording tapes for TWA, English pirate radio, and performing an on-air audition for a Broadway show (Robert Goulet got the part).
When I talked to him he was on the air on Sunday nights on a station in Florida, loving every minute of it.
Herb Oscar Anderson passed away Sunday, January 29, 2017, at the age of 88. His son, John James, who played Jeff Colby in “Dynasty,” reported that he died in Bennington, Vermont, near Hoosick Falls, New York, where he had a home. The cause of death was kidney failure.
Here’s a site with a nice Profile of Herb Oscar Anderson by Scott Benjamin.