By: Jenny B. Davis
When it comes to radio, he has the most recognizable voice in the Metroplex. Or maybe it’s the laugh. Yeah, definitely the laugh. It sounds like one of those air compressor hoses you use at the gas pump. And when he really gets tickled, you would swear that someone had just punctured a snow tire. But the best part about that laugh is that all of us have been able to listen to it on WBAP for exactly 35 years this February. The best way to honor his career is to recount some of the numerous stories that came from it.
Born in Fort Worth, Hal Jay fell in love with radio at an early age. He developed his skills when he moved up to live with his dad, who was a radio host in Liberal, Kansas. A few years later, he came back to Fort Worth and chased down the love of his life, Ann Jolly. They were married in 1973, and Hal took a job with a radio station in Memphis, Tenn.
Before long, Elvis became an acquaintance, so when the King got sick one week, Hal came up with a radio promotion. He had listeners sign a giant get well card before he and a few other guys from the station headed over to Graceland to give it to him. Vernon Presley, Elvis’s dad, let them in the gate and went upstairs to fetch the King. While he was gone, Hal noticed that Elvis’s mother’s pink Cadillac appeared fairly unattended in the garage, which made sense seeing as how Gladys Presley had been dead for almost 20 years. Hal then took it upon himself to write a helpful message with his finger on the back windshield. Vernon finally returned, claimed that his son was too sick to see them, and Hal and the others left.
The next day, a hopping mad Vernon Presley called screaming, “The King wants to know who wrote 'wash me' on the back of Mama’s car. Nobody but the King touches Mama’s car.” Hal decided to man up. He said, “Vernon, I can’t lie. The program director did it.”
Hal Jay in studio at WBAP
Not long after, Hal decided it might be best to take that job offer from another radio station back in Fort Worth. He stayed there for six months before accepting a better offer from Warren Potash, the general manager of WBAP. Potash wanted Hal to be the program director. Hal took the job, and things seemed to be going well for him in that capacity, until he decided to do an air check on a very popular evening host one night. He didn’t recognize the voice coming over the radio, and couldn’t even understand it. He rushed down to the station, threw open the studio door and discovered a substitute host. Hal quickly got on a first name basis with the man because most gas station attendants usually have it embroidered on the front of their shirts. And his difficulty communicating probably had a little something to do with the 16 empty beer cans on the console. Turns out the regular host had offered him a case of Budweiser if he would sit in for a few minutes while he consoled a very sick voluptuous friend at a nearby motel.
The next day, Hal tried to fire the guy but Warren Potash wouldn’t let him. Hal was frustrated and thought about quitting. But Potash was partial to talent, and he also knew that Hal would be more valuable on the air. He offered him the vacant morning show job, and Hal jumped right on it. His first hire was Dick Seigel to cover traffic from the helicopter. Later came Steve Lamb to handle sports. Their antics became so popular that they started pulling morning and afternoon shifts for the next 13 years. Some of their off-air antics were even better.
One morning, Hal accidentally picked up Ann’s car keys on the way to the station. She had to be somewhere early that morning so Hal promised he’d get them right back. Ann waited in the living room until she heard a loud noise over the house. Ann ran outside to find a helicopter hovering less than 100 feet over the back yard. Dick Seigel smiled at her, held out his left hand and dropped the car keys right in the pool. Dick always thought Ann was waving her right hand to thank him, but one finger was much more prominent than the others.
Hal Jay with his family. "She's my life," Jay says of his wife Ann.
But what most people remember from the last 35 years are the characters Hal created including Sam from Sales, Willie Landum, Rusty Springs and Dr. Ben Golfin – all voiced by the incredibly talented John Hanson. In later years, the equally talented Eric Harley voiced other characters including pilot Steve Lightning and the psychic, Mystic Chuck. Every morning, Hal and longtime producer Sean Chastain would write bits for these characters and many others. They were as funny or funnier than anything on late night television.
Of course, what really makes Hal unique is, well, Hal. At 6’ 6”, he not only stands out, but is also one of a handful of people that instantly makes everyone feel better when he walks in a room. That’s why it’s such a privilege just to work with him. His only downside over the years was that he didn’t pay attention to his health. Exercise made him tired just saying the word. But a real health scare changed all that. He now maintains his weight at a svelte 280 pounds.
These days, Hal is joined in the morning by two of the best - Brian Estridge as co-anchor and meteorologist Brad Barton. And with Marlee McCormack doing news and Steve still doing sports, there is not a better morning team in America. For Hal, the accolades over the years have been many. He was a shoo-in for the Radio Hall of Fame. But his real success comes in the three most important categories of them all. As a parent, a husband and a friend. Happy 35th, Hal Jay. Of all the characters, you are by far the best.
By: Jenny B. Davis