2020-06-29 17:15:18 UTC
Arnie ‘Woo Woo’ Ginsburg, DJ whose ‘Night Train’ show ruled AM radio in the ’60s and ‘70s, dies at 93
By Bryan Marquard Globe Staff,
Updated June 27, 2020, 6:49 p.m.
His radio show’s sound effects were unmistakable: bells, horns, a squeaking, squeezable carrot, and a handheld trio of pipes whose train whistle toot gave Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg a nickname that was unforgettable.
His speedy voice — several pitches higher than radioland’s chorus of commonplace baritones — was equally memorable, as was Mr. Ginsburg’s self-deprecating presence as he punctuated his opening moments with funny noises:
“And a frantic, friendly, Friday night in Bostontown. Old Achin’ Adenoids Arnie Ginsburg — Woo Woo for you-you on the ‘Night Train’ show. All set with all the tops in pops.”
Famous to baby boomers throughout New England in the 1960s and ’70s on WMEX-AM, he was 93 when he died Friday in his Framingham home.
Mr. Ginsburg, who had Alzheimer’s disease, was one of the last links to an era in Boston radio when a single disc jockey could shape musical tastes and social outings of teens and young adults throughout New England.
In the late 1950s and early ’60s, he hosted a Friday night record hop at the Surf Ballroom at Nantasket Beach.
His on-air promotions, meanwhile, sent listeners to Adventure Car Hop in Saugus, which served a “Ginsburger” on a 45 rpm record. On certain nights, anyone who said “Woo Woo Ginsburg” to the waitress got a second Ginsburger free.
He was part of the region’s music history, too, introducing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones at concerts in the early 1960s when the British invasion reached New England’s shores.
A famous photo shows Mr. Ginsburg smiling and sitting calmly amid leaping screaming teenagers as the Beatles took the stage for their first Boston concert, at Boston Garden, on Sep. 12, 1964.
Mr. Ginsburg also was among the DJs who initially gave airtime to songs such as “Louie, Louie,” which as he noted became “practically a national anthem.”
“I was one of the first to play it,” he told the Globe in 1988, “so it kicked off in Boston.”
He engineered radio broadcasts before becoming an unlikely radio star, and after stepping away from full-time announcing years later, Mr. Ginsburg worked in programming, management, and other positions at stations such as WRKO, WWEL, and WXKS.
At the latter, he came up with the call letters for what has been known since as KISS 108.
“He’s a legend,” said Richie Balsbaugh, former longtime owner of KISS 108. “Everybody in Boston broadcasting knows Arnie Ginsburg.”
Because Mr. Ginsburg worked for so long in every aspect of the business — on-air, sales, engineering, and managing — “I think Arnie by far is the king,” Balsbaugh added. “He was like Mr. Radio.”
John Garabedian, who hosted the national “Open House Party” show for three decades, was a teenager writing for his high school newspaper when he interviewed Mr. Ginsburg.
In the mid-1980s, Mr. Ginsburg helped Garabedian launch V66, a local music video station.
“He was one of a kind, one of those unique individuals who were without peer,” said Garabedian, who as a boy had been among Mr. Ginsburg’s legions of fans. “There was nobody like him. He was a true original as a performer.”
Mr. Ginsburg even made the leap from the airwaves into fiction as a character in the novel “It,” by Stephen King, who grew up in Maine listening to WMEX.
In King’s book, a character has two connections to rock ‘n' roll: “American Bandstand” on TV and “WMEX out of Boston at night, when the air had thinned and the hoarse enthusiastic voice of Arnie Ginsburg came wavering in and out like the voice of a ghost called up at a séance.”
The younger of two brothers, Arnie Ginsburg was born on Aug. 5, 1926, and grew up in Brookline, a son of Paul Ginsburg, a Russian immigrant who was in the millinery business, and Sophia Charak, who had been a concert singer.
In an interview with Dean Johnson for the Music Museum of New England, Mr. Ginsburg recalled being fascinated with radio from when he was first old enough to listen, building his own radio from a kit as a boy.
Mr. Ginsburg graduated from Brookline High School and decided to skip college. He was already engineering radio broadcasts and had his own consulting business.
He was at WBOS-AM when the station decided to switch from foreign language programming to rock ‘n' roll in the mid-1950s. A manager offered Mr. Ginsburg a morning show with the title “Get up with Ginsburg.”
Not a morning person, Mr. Ginsburg replied: “Well, I want to do ‘Go to bed with Ginsburg’ and do the evening show. And if it’s going to be real rock ‘n' roll, it’s going to have a younger audience who’d be doing homework.”
On air seven nights a week with what he ended up calling “The Night Train Show,” he was a hit, shrugging off news breaks with the kind of humor that defined him once he jumped to WMEX.
“I’d say on my show, ‘Well, it’s 9 o’clock and time for the news. If you want to hear the news, tune to 1030, WBZ,’ " he told Johnson.
Mr. Ginsburg added that at the time, radio announcing “was still a hobby with me, I still had other stuff going on, but it got bigger and bigger.”
His taste in music helped his popularity soar. He said the first record he played was something by Elvis Presley, with whom he was impressed. “I said, ‘This is something good,’ " Mr. Ginsburg recalled.
In the late 1950s, Congress began holding hearings to investigate payola — record companies paying DJs and radio programmers to promote songs. Mr. Ginsburg was among those summoned to Washington, D.C.
He testified that he received about $4,400 over 2 ½ years. Mr. Ginsburg considered the payments “tokens of good will” from the companies and told Congress that he “had not agreed to play any special records.”
The episode didn’t derail his career, which flourished in New England, where people always asked about his nickname’s origin. In his early years, Mr. Ginsburg welcomed fans who stopped by the studio and sometimes he let them read commercials on the air.
“One night, someone walked in the studio and said, ‘Arnie, that “Night Train” theme is really good, but I’ve got something you should use on your show,’ " he said in an interview posted on YouTube.
That fan handed him a “woo-woo” whistle that sounded like a railroad train, which became his signature sound effect in addition to launching his nickname.
In 2016, he married his longtime companion, Carlos A. Vega, who is a professor of Spanish at Wellesley College and is Mr. Ginsburg’s only immediate survivor.
Mr. Ginsburg had moved full time in the late 1980s to Ogunquit, Maine, where he had spent summers since boyhood. He and Vega also traveled extensively around the world, including more than 20 times to Spain.
“Arnie was always an ideal traveler: always flexible, always patient, always anxious to just observe people and if possible reach out to them,” Vega wrote in a tribute. “And, wherever he went, people seemed to reach out to him. They seemed to just want to be near someone that emoted such understated good will.”
That reflected Mr. Ginsburg’s presence on air, where “he was fun and happy and uplifting,” Garabedian recalled.
“Arnie was one of the smartest broadcasters I ever met,” Balsbaugh said. “He accomplished more than anybody in broadcasting in Boston.”