WDVE’s Sean McDowell signs off: ‘Thank you’
Sean McDowell is off the air.
The longtime, legendary WDVE disc jockey broadcast his final show Wednesday from the Marriott Pittsburgh City Center, across from PPG Paints Arena prior to the Queen and Adam Lambert concert.
McDowell took to the airwaves at 3 p.m. and signed off for the last time at 7 p.m.
“This radio station will always be a part of the fabric of Pittsburgh,” he said in closing out his last shift. “WDVE. I grew up listening to it. The calls always mean so much in here each afternoon, guys, whatever we’re talking about. Thank you. 102.5. WDVE.”
His final song: “Hot ’Lanta” by the Allman Brothers Band.
Fans stayed an hour after the broadcast to meet and take photos with McDowell.
“I am so grateful, so overwhelmed,” McDowell said. “I had no idea I meant so much to so many people. I heard from people who have listened to me for years and that their parents listened to me.”
McDowell, who turns 64 in October, said he chose now to retire before people started saying: “He should have gone out.”
He plans to relax and travel with his wife, Cindy, who has been his biggest supporter, always understanding of the commitments to the radio business. He said he also “will spend some time just listening to the radio.”
Throughout the day, McDowell was joined by the likes of Mayor Bill Peduto, disc jockey Jimmy Roach and beloved local singer Donnie Iris. Roach said after the interview that radio has very few “personalities” anymore.
“Sean is a rare talent,” Roach said. “He’s just got it. You can’t teach what he has. He makes everyone feel like they are his best friend. He called me last year before he had his heart surgery and asked how I was doing before mentioning anything about his surgery. That is the kind of guy Sean McDowell is. There is nobody better. He’s the best I’ve ever heard.”
Iris said McDowell is the sweetest man in the business.
“No question,” Iris said. “He is also an encyclopedia. If I can’t find it on Google, I ask Sean.”
Just after 3:30 p.m., Peduto joined McDowell on the airwaves to read a city proclamation.
“In the beginning, times were tough,” Peduto said. “Often a single slice of Mineo’s pizza was all he had to keep him going.”
McDowell, laughing, interjected: “That’s right.”
“And whereas after working at diverse, regional radio stations, Sean’s fortunes changed when he landed at WDVE,” Peduto continued. ” … where he proceeded to keep several generations of Pittsburghers entertained and enlightened with his endless knowledge of rock music history.”
The mayor concluded: “Now therefore be it resolved that I, William Peduto, mayor of the City of Pittsburgh … do hereby declare July 31, 2019 ‘Sean McDowell Day’ here in our most livable city of Pittsburgh.”
McDowell was appreciative: “I don’t know what to say, Mr. Mayor.”
— 102.5 WDVE (@DVERADIO) July 31, 2019
McDowell announced his retirement May 14.
During his tenure, he’s watched the industry transform from turntables and vinyl records to a computer system where — with the touch of a button — one can change songs, artists and genres.
His father Al McDowell, a broadcast pioneer and Pittsburgh icon, wanted his son to be a journalist. The elder McDowell thought radio was too cutthroat and too down and dirty.
But the lure of radio was strong for Sean McDowell. He got his first radio job at WYDD in New Kensington, but was fired after two years when a new program director said the station was going in a different direction.
He then worked at WYTK in Washington, Pa., for a year but left to sell cable television door-to-door for five months before getting a job at FM 97. He worked there from 1981-1993, before settling in at WDVE.
During the broadcast McDowell took a call from Steelers owner Art Rooney II who thanked the DJ for his years on the airwaves. He was then presented with his own jersey — No. 41 — for his 41 years in radio.
Stan Savran and Guy Junker stopped by to chat with McDowell. Sports television hosts Junker and Savran also did a radio show and worked with McDowell. Ed Traversari and Rich Engler also made a visit. The two music promoters brought the biggest and brightest stars to Pittsburgh to perform and met McDowell through those productions.
Bill Cameron, WDVE production director, said he was in awe when he first met McDowell.
“He was such a legend,” Cameron said. “The more I got to know him the more I saw he was the nicest guy in the world. When he goes on vacation he buys my mom a gift for when he returns home. I will not only miss him; I will miss his presence. It is so hard to describe losing someone so good.”
Anthony Alfonsi, vice president of marketing and promotions for WDVE, said he has been fortunate to work with the “great voices of Pittsburgh,” among them McDowell.
“He was a student of music,” Alfonsi said of McDowell. “He always dug deep in his research. I am glad we had the last show here because it was a party atmosphere. There was an ambiance, a cool vibe about seeing all the fans here.
”He definitely went out on top.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, [email protected] or via Twitter .