Backstage and on the stage
at the famous Uptown Theater in North Theater
Born in Georgia on Friday, May 11, 1927, George Woods (known to everyone as Georgie) was a top R&B jock and became a true legend in every sense of the word.
At 25, Woods received his first broadcast job (12 midnight to 1 am) at WWRL (1600 on AM) in New York, New York. As Georgie would say, “so nice, they had to name it twice.” That job lasted only a short time. “Maybe three months,” Georgie Woods laughed. “I went to WHAT (Philadelphia) on January 7, 1953,” he said.
The City of Brotherly Love would be his broadcast home for the rest of his half-century career. WHAT Radio, at that time, was owned by Broadcast Pioneers members Billy & Dolly Banks, both inducted into our “Hall of Fame” in 2004.
In 1956, Georgie Woods moved to the station that most would remember as his broadcast home, WDAS, owned by Broadcast Pioneers member (and former Broadcast Pioneers’ Vice-President), the late Max M. Leon. Many sources report that the date of Woods first going to WDAS was 1955. However, Georgie's first WDAS contract has been located and the start date is 1956, not 1955.
In 1957, Woods led the nation by breaking a new record by former gospel singer (The Soul Stirrers) Sam Cooke. The song was “You Send Me.”
A couple years later, George nicknamed a recording artist, “The Ice Man” because he was “so cool on stage.” That was Jerry Butler. In 1962, Georgie Woods started playing on WDAS a “new” group called “The Beatles.” The song was “Please, Please Me” on the African-American owned label, Vee-Jay (the same label Butler recorded for).
Two years down the road, in 1964, Woods coined the phrase “blue-eyed soul” referring to The Righteous Brothers. Six years later, the term got heavy use for the Osmond Brothers’ hit, “One Bad Apple,” when the group sounded very similar to the Jackson 5.
During the era of the Righteous Brothers (early sixties), George was known as “Georgie Woods, the man with the goods.” Later, when “the man” took on a different meaning, he changed it to "the guy with the goods."
In the spring of 1966 , Georgie and WDAS management had a dispute. One day Georgie was on WDAS and the next he was back at WHAT Radio. The Banks family took back Georgie Woods, a super star in the Philly market. Woods recalled, “I stayed there for several years until just after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.” While there, George was on the air from 6 to 9 pm, followed by Jerry Blavat from 9 to 11 pm. During his stay at WHAT, they would take requests. You called a special number and the caller's voice was recorded. This was in the 6 to 7 pm hour. After 7, the requests were played introduced by a recording of the caller themselves. Other WHAT disc jockeys at that time included: Eddie Castleberry, Scott Taylor, Billy Foxx and the mighty burner, Sonny Hobson.
George became a political activist. Always interested in civil rights, Woods thought the time was right for a political run for citywide office. He sought a seat on the Philadelphia City Council and this displeased Dolly & Billy Banks a great deal. In the spring of 1968, Georgie Woods returned to WDAS where he would stay until the fall of 1990 when he again returned to WHAT, then under the ownership of Cody Anderson, former WDAS General Manager with Bob Klein, also a former General Manager at WDAS.
Broadcast Pioneers’ historian and former Operations Manager for WDAS, Gerry Wilkinson thinks back to 1978. “It was about this time that George’s show turned from music to a talk show. George comes across as your average Joe, but he’s brilliant. He can talk with you about anything and he always did his homework.”
At that time, the late seventies, the ratings for music stations switched from AM to FM. While WDAS-FM numbers were climbing (the number one music station, general market, in Philadelphia by 1980), WDAS AM’s ratings were tumbling. “Management thought that a talk format for George would do the trick,” said Wilkinson, and it did. Talk show host Georgie Woods saw his ARB numbers double. Before leaving ‘DAS, Woods would end up the AM station’s Program Director.
In the fall of 1979, the WDAS stations were sold to Unity Broadcasting of Pennsylvania (owners of the “National Black Network”). Bob Klein, WDAS’ General Manager for 3 decades retired with his assistant, W. Cody Anderson taking over the reigns as GM. Ten years later, Cody purchased WHAT (Bob Klein was a consultant for Anderson) and Georgie Woods moved back to radio 1340, WHAT on Monday, September 10, 1990. George was on 10 am to 1 pm following Mary Mason who returned to WHAT just the week before from WCAU. He left WHAT in 1994 and started playing music again on WPGR, Geator Gold radio when Broadcast Pioneers member Jerry Blavat owned the station. Blavat was inducted into our Hall of Fame in 2002.
But Woods wasn’t just a radio personality; he also hosted his own dance party TV show for several stations in town, first starting with Channel 17, WPHL-TV in late 1965. A couple years later, the program moved over to WIBF-TV, Channel 29. It lasted for another several years after Taft Broadcasting took over, re-naming the call letters, WTAF-TV.
During the late sixties, Georgie Woods ran for Philadelphia City Council and won, only to have it taken away from him in a recount. However, it wasn’t just a run for political office, it also meant no radio income for the best part of a year. He had to go off the air because if he remained, the radio station would have been required to give free equal time to his political opponent even though George was just playing music.
However, Woods was an activist much earlier. He was totally involved in the civil rights movement. During the hectic sixties, he led 21 buses of area residents southward to March with Dr. Martin Luther King in Alabama and later Washington, DC.
Georgie also hosted so-called “Freedom Shows” at the Uptown and Nixon Theaters to raise money for civil rights activities. George became well known hosting the great shows of ten acts at the Uptown. On one show one could see: Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, Deon Jackson, the Monitors, Tammi Terrell, The Artistics, The Poets and more.
One of the bus captains on that trip was a young 23-year old college student from Cheyney State College, Ed Bradley (of 60 Minutes fame). Bradley had previously met Woods when Georgie visited the mostly black school. Georgie Woods allowed Bradley to “hang around” the station and run errands. Later, Bradley was doing news for WDAS until 1967 when he moved to New York City.
A few years ago, Bradley said, “I remember the first time I heard Georgie Woods on the air as a teenager…. I heard him say same time tomorrow and I set up the radio the next day at the same time and waited to listen to Georgie Woods…. Many years later I went to work there…. It was my first experience in broadcasting. I cut my eyeteeth as a journalist at WDAS and I think in many ways if WDAS hadn't been there for me, I wouldn't be on 60 Minutes today.”
On Wednesday, July 21, 1993, the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network dedicated a mural featuring Georgie Woods. It’s located at 5531 Germantown Avenue (at the corner of Germantown and School House Lane). Just a few months before, on Friday, May 14th, the City of Philadelphia proclaimed “Georgie Woods Day” to honor the broadcast legend.
Georgie Woods was also very supportive to the Philadelphia community. For decades, every year WDAS and their air personalities would get donations of thousands of turkeys for the city’s poor at Thanksgiving and Christmas time. George was part of the WDAS Charities organization, which put on charity shows to aid the area.
Georgie Woods and WDAS' General Manager Bob Klein organized many benefits over the years. Their last charity gala was in 1979 to benefit Coretta Scott-King's "Martin Luther King Center For Social Change." Many people in the city have credited Georgie Woods, Louise Williams and Jimmy Bishop and WDAS with directly being responsible for preventing rioting in the streets of Philadelphia after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
WDAS suspended all regular programming in an unprecedented move by Bob Klein. Louise Williams held down the first marathon shift while organizing her gospel library for use by all the other jocks. News people, civil rights activists from Philadelphia and across the country appeared or phoned in constant reminders of Dr. King's teachings of non-violence. The week long memorial is mentioned in a letter to Bob Klein by King confidante Andrew Young. For years after the assassination, WDAS constantly reminded our residents of Dr. King's non-violence philosophy and aired his speeches. In 1969, George and WDAS urged the population of the area to turn in their guns. Many hundreds did so and Woods was credited with making Philadelphia a safer place to live.
Gerry Wilkinson said, “I vividly remember George’s morning drive program. He had his signature cowbells (long before Dr. Don Rose) and just acted crazy but he was a very smart, concerned person.” Jerry Wells, Production Manager for WDAS, thinks back to his early days at the station a quarter century ago. He says: “George once told me, you Ota do whatever you have to so that at the end of the day, people remember you, even if it means acting like a nut.” Wilkinson remembers, “George loved to sing the old spiritual, Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep every morning. It was always done differently, sometimes in harmony, depending on who was around the studio at the time. It was the best part of the show for George was the star, not the records.”
Gerry also recalls: “I remember the era and ‘solid’ was in common usage. One morning, George said ‘salad’ instead of solid. He immediately came back with ‘potato salad.’ Somehow, it stuck and became part of the show. I was in the air studio one morning when Broadway Eddie (of Broadway Eddie’s in Camden) was there. He said to George that Woods should make a recording called ‘Potato Salad.’ He did and it became a top ten record at the station. Eddie produced it and writing credits were given to both Eddie and George and arranged by Vince Montana (of Philadelphia International fame). I clearly remember one of the rap lines, ‘don’t eat chicken on Sunday! It'll put a hole in your soul!’”
Almost two decades later, in 1988, Georgie Woods marketed his own line of “Potato Chips” through a South Philly company, C & S, Inc., which claimed to sell over 3 million bags a year. Whether there is any connection to the “Potato Salad” craze of two decades before is subject to debate.
On Tuesday, November 12, 2002 Georgie Woods was presented with the March of Dimes Achievements in Radio (AIR) Award and on Friday, November 18, 2005, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia was proud to induct Georgie Woods into our “Hall of Fame.”
George lived a couple blocks from the beach on the east side of the Sunshine State. He said, “"I might be in Florida, but Philadelphia will always be my home." On June 18, 2005, Georgie Woods passed away. He's buried here in the Delaware Valley, surrounded by the community and the people he loved so much.
When we were talking with George, he told us a funny story that he swears is 100% true. The details are this:
Many years ago, he was hosting a fantastic rhythm and blues show at the Uptown Theater. It was loaded with stars. A husband promised his pregnant wife that she would get to see the show. However, she was ill with a cold for most of the show’s run and missed everything. There was one last show and the couple went to see it. Well, as luck had it, she went into labor and had the baby in the basement of the Uptown. Mother and child were fine. The girl’s name? Georgette.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Written, compiled and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
Video stills originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Ed Cunningham
From his WHYY production, "More Things That Aren't There Anymore"
Stills used with the permission and authority of WHYY-TV
© 2009, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
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