Radio disc jockey spins silver record
While working his first radio job at WARO in Canonsburg, James “Jim” Morgan remembers looking out the window of his ground-floor recording studio and seeing a cow wander by. He chuckled to himself and thought, “There goes one of my listeners.”
The 69-year-old radio man will be celebrating 50 years in the industry in May.
The McKeesport native and Uniontown resident recently looked back on his career, how it has changed and what plans he has.
He explained that his childhood record collection and his love of listening to the radio were a couple of the main reasons he entered the business.
“I always liked music growing up,” said the WMBS employee. “And I always dreamed of being on the radio.”
After attending Carnegie Institute of Technology for one year, Morgan decided it was not the right fit for him, claiming their mentality was too abstract.
After that, he took a job making $5 a day at a scrap-metal dealer in Pittsburgh. But according to Morgan, he was not cut out for the heavy lifting. As a result, he got a stockroom job in a local grocery store.
His first look into radio occurred in spring 1963 when he worked at WARO in Canonsburg. WARO, a religious-based radio station, is where Morgan aired his first commercials, advertising hymn booklets.
After a year at WARO, he was hired by the now dismantled WZUM in Carnegie. In 1965, he moved on to his current station, WMBS in Uniontown and, after a hiatus, returned in 1979. During his time away from WMBS, he worked in radio in Atlanta and even got a commercial truck driving license. But none of those jobs stuck.
After returning to WMBS, he has worked there since.
For the past 10 years, his main responsibility has been airing the morning show, which starts at 6 a.m. and includes America's Best Music (adult contemporary), local news and sports.
“I'm a one-man band here in the morning,” he chuckled.
Before doing the morning show, he was involved in play-by-play sportscasting for the Uniontown school districts. However, at age 50, he considered the sportscasting too much of a strain on his workload.
Morgan has faced other changes while working in the local radio news sector.
Many of the stations, he explained, dropped their ties to local news and became network news stations. WMBS, on the other hand, still serves the Uniontown community, with help from The Associated Press and Metro Networks news wires.
“Local news is a No. 1 priority for WMBS, and I am quite content with that,” he said. “It just takes a little bit of digging.”
The evolution of computers has also challenged Morgan. Although he considered them a bit intimidating a first, he now admits to depending on computers.
Instead of manually slicing reels of audio film and having to change cassette tapes, Morgan can edit audio with a few mouse clicks and change a song with one keyboard button.
“I couldn't have it any other way,” he said.
When asked about retiring, the radio veteran explained that he recently cut back his hours and workload to just doing the morning show four days a week. However, he has no plans to retire.
“I may be considered semi-retired because of my hours, but I am still here,” he said.
Morgan and his wife, Nancy, have been married for 34 years and have six grandchildren.
Morgan said one of the main reasons he's stayed in the business for so long is because he never let radio define him. He has and still considers it a job and nothing more.
“I'm one of a team,” he said. “And I learned quickly not to get a big head or ego from it.”
Andrew Hesner is a freelance writer.