"Dandy" Dan Leonard Interview
He was one of the “Good Guys”-----the WNDR Radio “Good Guys”.
In the 1960’s, in Syracuse, New York-----“Dandy” Dan Leonard
was “the man”.
As a “D.J” on WNDR Radio his influence was considerable.
It would be on exaggeration to say he may have been one of the most powerful
disc jockeys in the Northeast, and on the East Coast for that matter.
“Dandy” Dan Leonard died on February 11 th 2002. He was 75.
In an interview conducted on May 17 th 1999, “Dandy” Dan Leonard
answered questions put to him about his radio career.
This interview has never been published before and stands as The Last Interview
of “Dandy” Dan Leonard that I’m aware of.
Q – I was talking to a guy recently who remembers
you quite well. His name is Morton Downey Jr. What do you remember about
A – I knew Mort Downey Jr. as ‘Doc’ Downey. He was WNDR’s
Morning Man for about 6 months in the early 60’s. ‘Doc’ was
the son of popular 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s singer Morton Downey
and Barbara Bennett, sister of actresses Joan Bennett and Constance Bennett. ‘Doc’ was
a recording artist in his own right and made two appearances at The Teen Canteen
at Three Rivers Inn.
Q – What year did you come to Syracuse? What’s
your background? Did you start off as the Program Director of WNDR or as
a Disc Jockey?
A – I came to Syracuse in 1952 after having worked on newspapers in
New York City and California and having served as Chicago Bureau Manager of
a Wire News Service. I went to WNDR as News Director, becoming a disc jockey
when the station switched to a Rock and Roll format in 1955. Later I was promoted
to Program Director and eventually to station Manager. I became a part owner
after I convinced management to purchase what later became WNTQ-FM.
Q – How’d you get that name “Dandy”?
A – When WNDR became a Top 40 station, the program director asked each
of us to choose a name for air purposes. Rolly Fowler became ‘Jolly Rolly’.
Ross Morton, now the track announcer at Finger Lakes, chose to be ‘Mad
Man’ Morton. Jack McNamee came to us from Albany and picked the name ‘Happy
Jack’. Russ Siragusa became Russ Syracuse. I thought ‘Dandy Dan’ sounded
just right for me, even having the name registered at the county courthouse.
Q – You promoted a Rolling Stones concert in Syracuse. Was that ’65
or ’66? As a promoter, does that mean you had to book the group, hire
the security, and print the tickets?
A – The Stones concert was in ’65, their very first appearance
in the States. The cost of the act would have been prohibitive had we not made
arrangements for two shows on the same day-----one at Cornell University, the
other at the War Memorial. As the Syracuse promoter I had to hire the hall,
arrange the security, print the tickets and most importantly sell the tickets.
Incidentally, the admission price to see the Rolling Stones at the Onondaga
County War Memorial was under $6.00.
Q – What rock stars of the 60’s did you meet
and what was your impression of them?
A – In my capacity as a radio personality, concert promoter and host
of the Teen Canteen, I became acquainted with an endless list of stars from
Sammy Davis Jr., Milton Berle, Jayne Mansfield, and Sophie Tucker to Paul Anka,
Johnny Cash, Connie Francis, Neil Sedaka, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, Annette
Funicello, The Beach Boys, The Grateful Dead, Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons,
Dion And The Belmont’s, Ray Charles, Diana Ross And The Supremes, Dick
Clark, Link Wray And The Raymen, Johnny And The Hurricanes, The Everly Brothers,
The Rascals, Jay And The Americans, to t.v. personalities Shelly Fabares, Paul
Peterson and Johnny Crawford. Freddie Cannon, The Marcel’s, Brian Hyland
and Neil Sedaka and others were among our houseguests when we lived in North
Syracuse and later DeWitt. The majority of these stars were ‘regular’ people
and I enjoyed their company. However, I did not take to The Rolling Stones.
Q – Besides being a Program Director, and a Promoter, you also managed
local Syracuse groups. Would The Monteray’s have been one of them?
A – I recorded a number of local bands and vocal groups, starting with
The Teen Tones, and the Dial Tones, and went on to Don Barber and the Dukes,
Sam And The Twisters, The Monteray’s, The Madison’s, and Jimmy
Cavallo And the House Rockers.
Q – How’d you find time to do all of that?
A - Busy people can always find time to do additional things.
Q – Was there ever a local group that you thought could’ve
made it to the Top?
A – I thought every group that I worked with could make it to the Big
Time. We had some excellent national record companies behind us-----MGM and
Swan among them, behind us, but, it didn’t happen.
Q – I heard that if you were in a band in Syracuse in the 1960’s,
and you didn’t have ‘Dandy Dan’ Leonard as your manager,
you couldn’t play places like Suburban Park? How true is that? Did you
have a lock on all the good rock dance halls in Syracuse?
A – Not true. Other deejays such as George Plavocos and Bob Dell had
their favorite groups. Club owners would have been silly to reject any band
that had drawing power.
Q – Was WNDR trying to get The Beatles to perform
at the War Memorial in Syracuse? I believe (disc jockey) Bud Ballou might
have been involved with that.
A – I know nothing of any attempt to bring the Beatles to Syracuse.
Only the late Bud Ballou would have had the answer to that.
Q – You would agree that being a disc jockey in Syracuse in the 1960’s,
were the glory years of radio wouldn’t you?
A – Yes. The 60’s were the fun years for Syracuse radio.
Q – How does it make you feel, to know that shock-jock
Howard Stern has the Number One show in Syracuse?
A – While I may not think much of Howard Stern, there are enough people
listening who do. That’s show business for you. He’s an entertainer,
although, he was not the first ‘shock jock’ to be heard on Syracuse
radio which had it’s share of local personalities, not syndicated voices.
I recall several more talented on-air personalities such as Joey Reynolds,
Pete Barry (‘The Dutchman’) and ‘Sweet Dick’ Birch.
Acts like Stern and Jerry Springer wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t
an audience for them.
Q – In the 1980’s you were a consultant to
a chain of California radio stations. Do you still do that? Why did you settle
in Carmel, California?
A – I left Syracuse in 1979 to become Vice-President and General Manager
of a group of stations in Salinas, San Luis Obispo and Ventura, California.
Q – When was the last time you were in Syracuse?
A – After the stations were sold, I moved back to Central New York, still
consulting the West Coast operation. I retired completely in 1990, and returned
to Monetary County, one of the garden spots of the world. I try to return to
Syracuse every summer.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved