Night Flight; Musical Memories from Detroit’s WJR 760 AM

There was and is something magical about radio. When I was a boy it took me by plane at night to far away cities thanks to WJR 760 AM in Detroit.

Before entering my teens it was a big deal to sleep on the porch all night. It was the fifties in Lima, Ohio. Few people stayed up past 11:00 PM. We lived on a corner house and a street light was the only illumination to the neighborhood. I don’t remember anyone walking the streets after sundown. No one had any business being out that time at night!

There is something magical and mysterious about being awake when everyone else is asleep. The pace and rhythm to life is different. It’s like seeing a town from a ride on a train; it is an entirely different perspective of the familiar.

I liked to lay and listen to the radio. Night radio and the music was different also. It was a voice meant to keep one company, not to entertain or sell something.

In the fifties WJR 760 out of Detroit had an all-night broadcast called Night Flight. When I think about it, it was really corny. It started out with an announcer saying that we were about to go to a city and we were cleared for take-off. All we had to do was relax and listen. For example the announcer might say we were on an all-night flight to Austin, Texas, a city of … and so on through out the night. So and so is from Austin… As he spoke you heard the sound of a prop airplane engine in the background as if just outside the passengers’ seating in a DC 3. The announcer kept you informed of weather conditions back in Detroit, the cities flown over, and what to expect when you ‘arrived’ in Austin.

Music was the main feature of the programming and your radio simulated flight. I wanted to hear rock n’ roll, but the music of Night Flight was meant to relax. They played a lot of Sinatra, Crosby, Cole, Cloney, The Ames Brothers, and Garland.

One night I got a little crazy. That happens during sleep deprivation. I stood and did close-order drills in the street in front of our home to the tune of The Ballad of the Battle of New Orleans.

About these ads

42 Comments

Filed under My Music

42 responses to “Night Flight; Musical Memories from Detroit’s WJR 760 AM

  1. Yeah, a real rebel without a cause.

  2. Roger Scribner

    Sorry I missed Night Flight. But my brother, Ronnie, and I put a transformer onto a car radio and listened to Tigers’ baseball. We heard Norm Cash’s out-of-the-park home runs, Jake Woods’ in-the-park home runs. And we never tired of Ernie and George. So much has been made of Ernie’s career. But our favorite was George Kell. Next I was soothed by the constant voice of J.P. (Joseph Priestly) McCarthy. Maybe it is no coincidence that the world seemed to topple after his untimely death. His interviews were interesting and human, not political and savage. I miss his daily intro, “thank you, God, for this sun-drenched morning.”

  3. Don

    In the early 50s I was in the army in korea,I was only 18 and missed home,I bought a zenith transoceanic radio and used to listen to night flight just about every night,it made me feel like I was home,I still have the radio it it stillworks, now I miss night flight

  4. Mike Andrews

    Captain Jay Roberts was the man behind the mike on Night Flight in the 70’s. It was real radio, not the garbage that we are all subjected to now. The music was great…..even for a kid that was just 18 at the time. It motivated me to get into radio. Sports final on JR….then Night Flight 76….jet service…now leaving WJR. I can still hear it today….yet it was over 30 years ago. Consultants came in and wrecked radio…..but its not too late. Satelite radio is failing…..why pay for radio. Station owners must get back to the way radio was…..local….with personality…..people are just waiting. You drove your listeners away with syndicated programs….and you lost your audience. We are still out here…..the time has come.

  5. Richard O. Gasparini

    I was a little younger than Mr. Andrews, above – early high-school age, I’d say – and it was around 1963 or thereabouts in Windsor, Ontario. I had a small crackling AM radio in my room, next to my bed and if I kept the volume very low, I could listen to Night Flight 760 on WJR into the small hours of the morning without my parents ever being aware. I’d be tired and exhausted for school next day but it didn’t matter; I was enraptured with the program, the concept, the music and, of course, Jay Roberts himself. I was seduced by a spell which might well have been sorcery had I not been such a willing captive. He was what I wanted to be; he was what I had to be – there would be no other option: Roberts was the beginning, the middle and the end of who I would become. Even then I knew my life would never be complete unless I could be an all-night radio announcer just like him.

    Fast forward a few years to the launch of CKWW-AM in Windsor. This was my moment. The stars were properly aligned. I rode the vectors as if I had known they would always be there for me. In fact I became the host of “Music Till Dawn” (sponsor; Craven A and Craven A menthol cigarettes) even while I was still in my last year of high-school. And, yes, just like Roberts, I had the good fortune to be able to feature music by Sinatra, Andre Previn, Norman Luboff’s Choir, George Shearing and many other fine artists of the day.

    Life has its twists and turns and I wound-up becoming a lawyer for many years, now retired from the practice of law and currently a College professor. But it was Mr. Roberts and his Night Flight program who were my first and most enchanting inspiration; who, as I lay there, head on my pillow in the darkness, were the sparks igniting the flame that burned into my heart and soul the will to follow my dreams.

    Thank you, Mr. Roberts.

    • Thanks for taking the time to share this significant portion of your life. It is those secret moments that enrich us. The ones that are hidden and just waiting to be told. Please take time and share this, if possible, with a much larger audience. It is worthy of doing so.

    • Thank-you for the decades-long reflections. Words enriched by life’s challenges and ruminations.

      • Thanks for adding to the conversation. It is amazing how many people liked the broadcast and remember it with such fondness. Makes one wonder why it doesn’t still exist. Perhaps we’re all getting a little old and need our sleep..

  6. Dave Scott

    As a kid in small town Northern Ontario in the 70’s, I would tune in to all the higher powered AM stations at night in the search for jazz. I found WEBR, WHAM and of course WJR. The latter being the most intriguing, eclectic show I’d ever heard. When I attempted to explain it to people, I was often at a loss for words. It wasn’t a jazz show per se. It was not shmaltzy ‘easy listening’ music. It was relaxing. A mix of show tunes, vocals, jazz…I still don’t know how to describe it. Suffice to say, it left me with pleasant memories of those years. As Mr. Gasparini noted, it was worth being a bit tired the next day. A fair trade for such great entertainment. One of the reasons I did a search tonight is that I have, for years, been more than curious to know both the beginning and ending theme songs for the show.If anyone happens to have that information, I would be thrilled.

    I’ll even share my e mail should anyone out there know the answer to that question.

    challengerpilot@hotmail.com

    • Thanks for the read and reply. It seems like many stations in the 60s did the same WJR did. They played music like that. Perhaps what you are saying is they did not play anything that would appeal to teenagers, yet I listened. It broadened my appreciation for other forms of music. For rock music there was always CKLW.

  7. Dave Scott

    It’s half an hour after I wrote my last comment…it’s still awaiting moderation. Well, with a bit more searching, I was able to answer my own question and will now post my results should anyone else would like to know the theme songs for the show. Opening: Love is a Fabulous Thing. Closing: Cherchez La Femme. Both from the album Love is a Wonderful Thing. Artist is Les Baxter. Available on iTunes. Just bought it! Cheers everyone.

    • Thanks much. It appears you replied while I was fast asleep. I now live in the Mountain time zone. I’m two hours behind the “real” world.

      • Quincy Leslie

        I could not edit my earlier comment. I re-listened closely to Les Baxter’s Love is a Fabulous Thing on Youtube and now agree: yes that is the original theme. I always thought is was so subtle and beautiful, esp. the plucked lower note (cello?) strings.

      • Thanks for sharing this. I’m certain other readers will appreciate it.

  8. Mark Smith

    I listened to the Captain all through the seventies, even though it wasn’t “cool” for a teenager at that time. Jay Roberts had a soothing, all-knowing, relaxing voice. He obviously knew a lot more than I did, so I learned a lot from him. One night-it must have been 1980-81- he wondered aloud on the air how the Central Michigan University football team had fared that day. I immediately got out of bed and phoned him. He picked up!!! I told him I was a student at CMU and informed him of the score. He was very gracious. He was happy to hear that a college student was listening to him, and he even asked me to contact his daughter who was a student and lived in a dorm at CMU at that time. I told him I would. It would be a GREAT story if I was able to report that I called her, but, alas, I was too shy to be so bold. In the intervening years I have regretted that I didn’t call her.
    Tonight, on WJR, I hear Alexander Zonjic testify that he got his big break in Detroit when Jay Roberts played his music on WJR 30 years ago. God Bless Jay Roberts!

  9. As a small business owner, my ‘night hours’ in assembling the pieces of fabric bags the ‘day crew’ had cut, I soared with Jay’s music, wisdom and companionship. The Night Flight communication, over the waves [pun intended] from WJR to Cleveland gave lift to the midnight hours.
    As a new Mom in 1967, I began my WJR listening career with the ‘day’ programming starting with the 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. daily live in-studio orchestra that preceded Carl Haas’ Adventures in Good Music.
    Truly: World-Class programming. Yes, God works with many hands and helpers! Jay Roberts, J.P. and Paul W. amongst those wonder workers!

  10. Jim

    Like most of you, I also enjoyed listening to Night Flight. My experiences were down in Alabama. I was an announcer on an FM rock station and once called and talked to Jay when he announced that our city, Huntsville, was the destination. He was very hospitable.
    I

  11. Keith Balon

    It was 1966 when the ritual began. The TV was turned off at 11:00. I went up stairs and took my shower. About 11:15 I turned on the radio, which would play for an hour, and crawled into bed. The dial was always set to 760, WJR, Detroit. I would listen to the weather followed by a sports report done by an excellent sportscaster who’s name I can’t remember. And then would come the fantastic opening theme to American Airlines, Music Till Dawn. It was special. As I recall, it was timpani drums that went from a soft beat to a crescendo of rich and beautiful sound which broke into the enchanting melody of “That’s All”. Having heard that, my day was complete. Sometimes I would drift off quickly and sometimes I would listen until the radio went off, to the melodic voice of Jay Roberts telling me where were going tonight.

    I have often tried to find the actual rendition of “That’s All” that was used for the opening theme of Music Till Dawn. Only recently, I was told there was a second version of Cy Mann’s “That’s All”, written, performed and recorded, especially for, and only for, Music Till Dawn. I was also told this special version of “That’s All” is no longer in existence and cannot be found today. I find this hard to believe, however, I have never been able to find, what I think, was the “real” opening theme to the program. I wonder if anyone can substantiate this or if anyone has the version I remember with the timpani drums in the opening bars of music.

    What I would give today, just to hear the first 15-minutes of any broadcast of Music Till Dawn with Jay Roberts, on WJR, Detroit!

    Keith Balon

    • What a wonderful memory. Night Radio in the day was a production, a work of art, It seems today it is dominated by commercials, weird claims, sightings, and conspiracy theorists.
      Yeah to have that all back for just fifteen minutes.
      When we think about it, it does sound a bit hokey, but aliens among us?
      Thanks so much for your comments and sharing your thoughts and memories.

  12. charlie

    The That’s All that they played at the beginning of the program might be a Jackie Gleason version that I found on You Tube. I’m not sure, though, because I haven’t heard it for almost 50 years.

  13. I heard one NIGHT FLIGHT in the late 1960s, and the Chicagoland area had Franklin MacCormack’s ALL-NIGHT SHOWCASE simultaneously, followed by Mike Rapchak’s / John Doremus’,and Jay Andre’s GREAT MUSIC FROM CHICAGO, all gone now, but the MUSIC OF THE STARS is heard each Sunday morning from 7 to 11 CT over WLIP AM 1050 and worldwide at http://www.wlip.com .Check Facebook and http://www.groups.yahoo.com .

  14. ruthdunn

    John bachelor is a boring show. How about. ALEX JONES

  15. Frank H

    Keener13.com presents a pretty good recreation of Night Flight every night at 10 pm.

    http://keener.dyndns-remote.com:8002/

  16. Jeff E.

    I was a college student in Toledo from 1967-1971. When I was studying for exams, I’d sometimes take a break and walk around campus, listening to Night Flight on my transistor radio. Jay Roberts soothing voice and great music choices always succeeded in giving me the boost I needed. And the American Airline ads fueled my wanderlust. What great memories..

  17. Harriet

    There seems to be an informal club of Night Flight listeners. When I was 9 I recieved a my first radio for Christmas. One night, after my parents went to sleep, and I was settled in bed with my flashlight and book, by happenstance, I tripped over the wonders of Night Flight, Every night thereafter, and with rare absences, I listened to music not heard around our house. I was introduced to Louie Prima and Keely Smith, Nat King Cole, Wayne Shorter, Fletcher Henderson and endless numbers of others. It was the beginning of a sublime musical education.

    • I appreciate your remarks. I was growing up when Elvis was king and so on, but Night Flight allowed me to be exposed to other types of music. Your experience is not so different than many others. Listening to overnight radio now days is incredibly mind numbing.

Blather away, if you like.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s