“Four—Three—Two—One- /From Philadelphia, the city that pulsates with the beat and the rhythms of yesterday and today./It's time for the Geator with the Heater,/the boss with the hot sauce./Jerry Blavat./Sixty seconds make one minute,/sixty minutes make one hour,/twenty-four hours make one day,/and out of that twenty-four hours,/two hours is dedicated to the you teenagers/to the hippest show on the radio. So, without further ado/let’s carry on through now./ Five—four—three—two-one/ Blast Off!/Yon teenagers gather round, harken to the sounds I’m a puttin‘ down./Come on, baby, let the good times roll./Come on, baby, let them fill your soul. Come on baby, let the good times roll,/ roll all night long.”
—The intro to the Geator Gold Radio Show on Philly’s 92.1 FM.
It was the standard listening pleasure for Philadelphia and South Jersey teens around the Delaware Valley. All thanks to DJ Jerry Blavat, a true originator of oldies radios format (who passed away last month). It was an age of innocence when cool cats were hep and chicks were kooky and crazy. A different kind of animal argot, the jargon was hip to flip, only to dig the patois patter chatter that was going around to get down with it on the flip side. The kids who loved him were affectionately named, the “yon” teens by musical maestro, pied piper of song and dance, Jerry Blavat. He was known by his radio moniker on air persona sobriquet, The Geator. He’s got the beat for all you yon teens to move their feet. A colorful character who lived a storied life, Blavat’s history sounds like a fictional tale, but every part is true.
Early in his career, 1953, he debuted on the original Bandstand TV show. By 1956 he managed a national music tour for Danny and the Juniors. He was a valet for Don Rickles. Blavat, started in radio in 1961. A new kind of entertainer, the disc jockey, made the scene. The pic above shows young Jerry B. doing what he loved, spinning records and talking smack at his personal radio station set up in his home garage. In those days, you could broadcast from your house or from anywhere onto the AM radio dial, before FCC regulations. He hung out and befriended so many musical superstars, the list of performers is endless. Over a half-century in the music biz had its perks. Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Fats Domino and Little Richard were only a few who were Blavat’s friends.
Chess records, out of Chicago, put blues and rock ‘n’ roll front and center during the 1950s, along with Sun records In Memphis, pushing the rockabilly sounds of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. Heading over to Detroit’s smooth Motown Sounds, melding into Decca, Bell, Mercury, Capitol and so many other forgotten labels, made the 45 rpm discs reinvent the history of modern music. From the big bands of the 1940s to the boogie-woogie era that transformed popular music and culture. The controversial “race” records were the hottest platters around. Every week a new song flavor creation was climbing up the top 40 charts menu. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, James Brown, and the list of golden nuggets that kept growing and spreading across America. Live shows and rock concert extravaganzas were common. On one side of the aisle sat white kids, and next to them across the aisle were black kids. But when the show started and the music began playing, you couldn’t keep those kids apart. Everybody was jumping out of their seats and dancing together. It was controlled chaos and a civilized unruly Cultural Revolution was evolving.
Jerry Blavat was a South Philly son to the core. He grew up on the streets, made a name for himself as an impresario, a Peter Pan of rock ‘n’ roll. Bandstand and Doo-wop. Record dance parties at Saint Elizabeth church to a club on the beach boards in Margate, New Jersey called Memories, and big live shows at the Kimmel Center every year. Jerry played the oldies from day one, when he got snowbound one night at the local am radio station and filled in for the regular DJ. He had a box of old 45’s and played them all night over the airwaves. Those yon teens didn’t know what hit them, having never heard the songs, they fell in love with the music and the man spinning the wax. He had ties to the Philly mob, with jukebox distributors, pinball arcades, and radio station payola. He was also a chauffeur for knock-around Wise Guys. He was a music lover, not a fighter.
I first heard about The Geator listening to The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn on WXPN, out of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia’s alternative radio station. Ben Vaughn’s an American singer and songwriter and about as musically obsessed as Blavat, who Vaughn credits as a mentor with an equal encyclopedic knowledge of every song ever recorded and played on the airwaves. That particularly evening Ben and Jerry were reading the lost dedications and requests letters from yon teen fans unearthed and unopened until now dating back to the 1950s. It was like an archeological slice of Americana. I wrote a message to Vaughn asking him to sum up the late Blavat in a few lines.
He responded: “The Geator's excitement and generosity were 100 percent real. Right up to the end. When he heard a great piece of music, his immediate reaction was to share it with us. The last time I saw him was in his studio and he insisted I listen to the B side of “This Could Be Magic” by the Dubs. It was an uptempo song called “Such Lovin’,” and he played it REALLY loud. Twice!”
I have a house in Wildwood. I used to listen to Blavat on the way down to the shore on Friday nights after work 20+ years ago. I think it was on AM? He was broadcasting from Memories in Margate. He couldn't stop talking, he talked over half of the songs. It's hilarious that you call WXPN an "alternative" radio station. The real WXPN of the 1970s and early 80s was truly alternative. Reggae (saturday mornings?), Blues (saturday nights), Electronic+ (Diaspar on weekday evenings), Space Music (fStarsEnd on friday/saturday overnite), all kinds of classical music, world music (before that term was invented)...it had it all. The horrible thing they became (and still are) somehow exactly parallels the decline of this beautiful city (to me).
It is coming back to me. WXPN also had a weekly avant garde show (modern classical?) and I think there was a punk show (before punk went mainstream). I went to Temple in the 70s and our radio station was straight jazz, which was nice and there was a straight classical station too , but there was nothing quite like WXPN. Maybe it was what Jerry Blavat would have done if he had been born later.