Philadelphia radio giant Jerry Stevens dies at 85


Jerry Stevens, 85, of Chadds Ford, a Philadelphia-area broadcasting legend who helped create the sounds of four iconic radio stations over a long career, died Friday Jan. 10 of pneumonia at Chester County Hospital in West Chester.

As an on-air personality and program director from the 1960s to the 1990s, he made a name for himself in Philadelphia radio history, said disc jockey Michael Tearson, his protégé. “He was definitely one of the first, because he impacted four different radio formats,” Tearson said.

Mr. Stevens, who changed his name from Jerome Salvato to Jerry Stevens to make it more radio friendly, started out as a DJ in Gaum while serving in the Air Force in the mid-1950s.

After working as a DJ in smaller markets, he broke into Philadelphia Radio on WIBG, or Wibbage 99, the area’s original rock and roll station. He introduced local teens to the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Motown.

In 1968, he was hired as program director for WMMR-FM. He recruited young DJs and gave them free rein to what they played. The odds have skyrocketed.

“You couldn’t walk into a store in Philly without hearing WMMR,” said his wife, Ellen Stevens. “The music was just phenomenal.

“What Jerry did there can’t happen again on the radio,” said Tearson, who was hired as music director in 1970. “He gave those he put on the air the freedom to create , an open challenge to be tall. “

Among Mr. Stevens’ hires were the late Ed Sciaky and Mimi Chen, who is still on air in Los Angeles.

“This is the guy who hired me on Philly Radio at WMMR, which allowed me to make a big breakthrough into the major radio stations in the market,” Chen posted online. “Jerry was a maverick, advocating free form, being the first on new music and pro-jocking in letting us go wild on the air.”

Jonathan Takiff, one of the first employees of WMMR, said: “Jerry was a true genius at radio programming, talent scouting and a stylish aerial personality himself. With his policies released at WMMR, Jerry made Philadelphia one of the leading markets for discovering and creating new talent.

In 1976, Mr. Stevens created the “Fascinating Rhythm” disco format for WCAU-FM, which became very popular. In 1977, he joined the WMMR.

In 1985, WPEN-AM hired Mr. Stevens as a night DJ and for a Saturday daytime show called “Something Special”.

“It was known as a show of nostalgia,” said his wife. “He took them and ran with them, and that really took the ratings up.”

“He quickly made it the hottest show on the air as ‘Night Train’ with the ‘Club Car’ at 3 a.m. for nighttime shows,” Tearson said. “Her work energized the station to become the highest rated of its kind in the country.”

After the death of legendary morning DJ Ken Garland, Mr. Stevens took over the morning show for six years, ending in 1998. He developed a Wednesday article titled “Jerry’s Kitchen”. The station printed their recipes on WPEN paper and mailed them out. to auditors on request.

He retired in 1998. “Jerry was truly an incredible influencer, eliciting Philadelphians love, knowledge and support for new and emerging music,” Takiff said.

Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Stevens attended Catholic school there. He married Diane Tucker. Their son, Robert, died earlier. The couple divorced. She survives.

He married Ellen Stevens in 1989. They lived in Center City before moving to Chadds Ford.

When he was not on the air, Mr. Stevens watched television programs and read about the Second World War. He played golf and cooked. He had a sharp, sharp mind. “He made me laugh for 35 years,” she said.

Besides his wife, he is survived by his stepdaughters Debi Gordon and Dr. Jill Epstein; a grandchild; two nieces; a nephew; and a sister. A brother died earlier.

A noon visitation on Saturday January 18 will be followed by a Celebration of Life at 1 p.m. at Matthew Genereux’s Longwood Funeral Home, 913 E. Baltimore Pike, Kennett Square. The funeral is private.

Donations can be sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital via https://www.stjude.org.


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