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'Famous 56' Staffers Reunite, Maybe For The Last Time

by KYW's David Madden

PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) -- 50 years ago, a Philadelphia radio station changed format. Six months into the "Pop Explosion," "Famous 56" took over the region for the better part of the following decade.

Those who have worked at WFIL get together every now and then to reminisce. One of those occasions took place at the Manayunk Brewery Saturday night.

Like any other reunion, this was a time to rehash old stories and maybe embellish on them just a bit. And those old stories are getting harder to tell with every passing year.

All but one of the original "Boss Jocks" of 1966 are gone now, and the station's been through four owners over that time and too many format changes to count.

Philadelphia native Dick Fennessey played pop music, country, and oldies at the station, and keeps his hand in the business, weekends at KOOL 98.3 down the shore.

"If you can still be on the air today, being with all the mergers and the way they're voicetracking and everything, just to be on the air is a great thing," Fennessey told KYW Newsradio.

WFIL Dick Fennessey
Former WFIL "Boss Jock" Dick Fennessey. (credit: David Madden)

A few dozen people showed up, travelling from as far away as California to attend. The reunions were once organized as a labor of love by radio salesman Tom Monaghan. Engineer Mel Klawansky helped out, and eventually took over the effort after Monaghan passed away. For him, it is a labor of love.

"WFIL was the only place that felt like family," Klawansky recalled. "We all loved each other. We never went to work. We went to play. We had a great time and we kicked butt."

WFIL Mel Klawansky
WFIL Engineer Mel Klawansky. (credit: David Madden)

The on-air battles with rival WIBG were the stuff of legend, and some "Wibbage" staffers eventually worked at WFIL, including the late Joe Niagara and Don Cannon, as well as New York based talk show host Joey Reynolds.

Today, WFIL is a religious station. The owners of the station, Salem Communications, also own the old WIBG, now conservative talk WNTP. They're now both housed in the old WIBG studios on Ridge Pike in Lafayette Hill.

Several KYW staffers spent time at WFIL in addition to this reporter. Lauren Lipton, Al Novack, Lynne Adkins, and Steve Nikazy did news there are various times.

But no matter when, or how, you were employed there, the family took you in as one of their own. And that is so rare in this business these days.

But this is likely the last reunion of this group of broadcast veterans. Klawansky says he won't organize the next one, because it's getting too difficult to pull off.

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