So radio and TV icon Joe Franklin died this week at the reported age of 88 (I don’t believe that for a second). Joe was a real character and I met him a few times while working alongside him at the legendary WOR Radio in New York.
Fr. Paul Keenan’s show often preceded Joe’s and I remember that Fr. Paul, who brokered time on the station, was having a hard time coming up with the funds to keep his show on the air. (Editor’s note: Time brokering is when someone pays the station to host a show and they in turn, sell to their own advertisers, much like late night TV infomercials). He considered cutting back and only brokering a half hour, but Joe Franklin told him, “Oh Father! Don’t do that! This is a time to expand, not contract!” The advise was well-heeded and Fr. Paul ended up adding a few more sponsors and buying more time on the station.
Sr. Mary Beata Gerrity was a frequent guest on the television show, an Irish folk singer who often made the rounds at various Irish events and was known as the “Singing Nun.”
Joe Franklin was a true character. If you did something for him, you might find a “Classic” TV Guide in your mailbox the next day as a thank you. Or something else twice as bizarre.
And speaking of bizarre, you’d never know who you would find up in the studio. Rarely, would I have to be in the studio on the overnight (when Joe’s show aired on the weekend). But I was up there once and it was crazy. You never knew who would show up. One night Billy Crystal came up and not far behind him was a random drag queen with a shopping cart full of his (her?) stuff who proceeded to offer me some chinese food.
I politely declined.
One of the biggest surprises that I found during my time at WOR was that Joe actually did that overnight show live. He almost never recorded it when it would have been very easy for him to do so. I once asked him why? His reply was quick: “I dunno. Keeps me outta trouble. My other big problem is that I’m making too much money.”
But the two stories (both similar) that takes the cake for me were the following:
You see, Joe thought that he was a little bit of a bigger star than he actually was. So one day, my colleague, who I’ll call, Steve, was working with Joe on an interview he needed to record. At the end of the taping:
Joe: “Ah! Stevie, you’re the best! The best! (Everyone was the best to Joe) Stevie, what’re you doing tomorrow?
Steve: “Nothing. Why?”
Joe: “You wanna take your wife to a Broadway Show?”
Steve: “Well, I’m not married, but sure, I’ll go with my girlfriend.”
Joe: “OK! Two tickets. Phantom of the Opera. The tickets will be waiting for you at the Box office.”
So Steve went down there….WITH A DATE….and….there…were…no tickets…waiting…for…him.
A second colleague that I’ll call Forest, was asked by Joe what his weekend plans were:
Forest: “Eh, I gotta paint my house.”
Joe: “You need paint! You go right down to Martin Paints and mention my name and they’ll give you all the paint you need!
So Forest did. And the guys at Martin Paint had never heard of Joe. (Martin Paint, in fairness sponsored Joe’s TV show for a long time–but that was about 10 years ago at this juncture). They laughed Forest out of the store. So Forest went back to Joe who was enraged!
Joe: “WHAT!? YOU GO BACK DOWN THERE TOMORROW! I’LL MAKE A CALL!”
Nope. No paint then either. Forest was crazy enough to go back the third time before Martin Paint threatened to put him on some kind of “we don’t do business with this guy” list.
But despite all of his craziness, Joe Franklin was a great guy and a very nice man to all who he encountered. I don’t think I ever heard a mean word said about him. I thought this video from the past with Gilbert Godfried summed up Joe’s character well. Rest in peace, my friend.
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