Jan Gabriel died from kidney disease at age 69. I remember he had the early evening shift at WJOB, and seemed to be on every night. He had a sense of "big city cool" but was always a local boy. To me, that was important. Chicago was the big market back in the '60's, with names like Dick Biondi, Barney Pip ("Turn into peanut butter!"), Ron Brittain, Larry Lujack, and more. The trouble was, they seemed to be so different to me. They spoke of "big city" events I would never go to, and sell products we would never see where we lived.
Chicago was about 40 miles North of where I grew up, but it could have been 1000. It was another world!
WJOB was more local, even though at the time, Hammond was a HUGE city in my mind also. Why heck, the Goldblatts store even had elevators, with men stationed inside to operate them!
This was amazing to me!
Gabriel represented the best in a small town radio DJ; just as good as the large market guys, but with a tinge of local flavor.
I remember the on the air contests he'd put on, and winning a record album on the show. Speaking to him on the phone (from a pay phone booth in downtown Hammond), and hearing that I had won, was the coolest thing I had ever done. It was my touch with celebrity!
In the late 60's, all the area stations did commercials for a local racing venue called "US 30 Dragstrip". It was Southeast of Hammond, just off US 30, hence the name. The commercials would begin with a manic beat, while the announcer would scream "Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAAAAAY, at Beautiful US 30 Dragstrip"! He would then go on to announce the stars that would be there (and there were many), from the "Little Red Wagon", to Art Arfon's "Green Monster Jet".
Being a normal teenager in the '60's, we read more hot rod magazines than textbooks. The siren call of the announcer was all it took to inspire us to head to the track. Later in life, I learned that the "SUNDAAAY!" announcer was in fact Jan Gabriel. I thought back to all the good times he brought us on the radio, and made a mental note to keep tabs on him. I felt a kinship with him, as he was a local boy, doing a job I always wanted to do.
Sadly, I never got the chance to go into broadcasting, choosing a career with the Post Office, and ultimately staying there for nearly 40 years. Over time, the changes in my life, the music, and the station's format, made me tune away from WJOB, but I never forgot Jan. I can still recall the sound of his voice, and how he sounded like a neighbor, not a stranger, speaking to me every night from the radio.
Later, I would connect with my past when I heard the song "On the Radio" by the band "Cheap Trick". It summed up my youth to a T, and ended with that same frantic DJ patter I used to hear. And when I hear it to this day, the one voice I always think of is that of Jan Gabriel.
Rest in peace, Jan, and thanks for a lifetime of memories!
It's on the radio...!