Jerry Blavat and Bob Perkins, veteran Philly DJs, reach milestones with spirit intact

Jerry Blavat, 73, hosts "Jerry Blavat/Great Voices of the '60s" at the Kimmel Center Saturday.
Jerry Blavat, 73, hosts "Jerry Blavat/Great Voices of the '60s" at the Kimmel Center Saturday. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 22, 2014

Philadelphia radio DJs Jerry Blavat and Bob Perkins consider what they do a calling. Each speaks of his passionate connection to the music as a priest might speak of his religion.

On Saturday, Blavat, the 73-years-young king of rock-and-roll, doo-wop, and soul, commemorates last week's 54th anniversary of his first-ever radio show with "Jerry Blavat/Great Voices of the '60s" at the Kimmel, starring Gary U.S. Bonds and South Philly's Bobby Rydell.

On Sunday, the Somers Point Jazz Society celebrates Perkins, dean of Philly jazz radio, as he observes his 80th birthday and 50th year in the biz. The tribute, at Clancy's by the Bay, will feature Tom Angello and his quartet.

Both Perkins (of WRTI-FM) and Blavat (heard on Sunny 1100 AM, Cruisin' 92.1 FM, and WXPN-FM's physical and Web stations) talk about their careers with the enthusiasm of teenagers.

"When I went on the air and played the music I danced to as a kid, I was in another world," says South Philly's "Geator with the Heater." On Jan. 15, 1960, a snowstorm shuttered his WCAM-sponsored platter-spin at the Venus Lounge on Broad Street. Undaunted, he hauled his 45s to that Camden station and went on-air all night, spinning and talking music. "No matter how sick or disappointed," he says, "when I get behind that mike, I go into my own world."

He has shared with affectionate listeners since. They came to his hops, and they flock to his appearances (that's how he makes money: Blavat says he's never been paid a dime to do a radio show). "I could be on my bike or driving the Geatormobile; people stop me."

Perkins, the South Philly-born "BP with the GM" ("Bob Perkins with the Good Music"), began his on-air life in Detroit, by accident.

"I went to an insurance company downstairs to get a job, but the building had a radio station, WGPR-FM, upstairs," Perkins says. He got the downstairs job, but ditched it for the radio job, "despite the fact that the downstairs job would have paid me five times more. I loved the music. . . . It was the divine hand or dumb luck that I wandered into a station and got a job like that. I would not be able to walk right in without formal training and within one month be blabbing on-air now."

After establishing himself on Detroit radio in news and jazz, Perkins returned to Philly in 1969 and became WDAS-FM's news/editorial director while hosting a jazz show at WHYY-FM. As of 1997, Perkins landed at WRTI-FM.

Change has come to radio, music, listeners, and listening habits. Perkins muses on Philly's onetime love of jazz: "Clubs like Pep's and the Showboat used to have Monday matinees that were sold out, as well as booking top acts for two weeks straight." He believes that the Internet and other media distractions helped kill the jazz audience. "Jazz is cerebral music," he says. "If your mind is wandering or your thumbs are pumping away at your phone, it's hard to concentrate."

Don't get Blavat started on programmers and market research. "With a million songs out there," he says, "why would you want to stick to just the most popular songs from, say, Little Richard or Chuck Berry?" He says stations ranging from WIBG (back in the day) to Sirius XM have offered him decent deals, if only he could cut short his patter and stick to a preapproved playlist. "I can't do it," he says. "That's why I've always done my own thing." He likens what he does to talk radio, where an audience connects with a host's style and subject matter.

"I created a persona that spoke to the music, to those out there late at night, in love and in heartbreak," he says. "People want to hear me talk. People love that I connect the dots."

Perkins has warm appreciation for those throwing Sunday's tribute to his career. "Jazz radio is something I have never made any great money at," he says, "but is something that could not have made me happier. For that, I have fans like the Somers Point folk, who tell me every day that I can never go away."

For Blavat, the chance to give artists and friends like Bobby Rydell a show backed by a 22-piece orchestra and eight string players with fresh arrangements of their biggest hits is as important as pleasing his audiences. "I want everyone - the artist, the crowd - to have the time of their lives," he says. "I am."


PHILLY DJ GREATS

"Jerry Blavat/Great Voices of the '60s" is 8 p.m. Saturday at the Kimmel Center, 301 S. Broad St. Tickets: $41-$100. Information: 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org.

"Bob Perkins Celebration - 50 Years in Broadcasting" is 1 p.m. Sunday at Clancy's by the Bay, Maryland and Sunny Avenues, Somers Point, N.J. Free. Information: 609-927-6677, www.spjazz.org.

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