His lifelong romance with radio goes on. At 91, he’s still working. He wouldn’t call it work. A labor of love maybe. But he might even question the word labor.
His career in broadcasting and sales started 71 years ago. Fresh from World War II, Paul Howard heard a Pittsburgh radio announcer say a few words between songs and decided such cushy work would suit him just fine.
He wasn’t the best student in announcing school, but doors kept opening anyway.
A Pennsylvania native and one of seven children reared through the Depression, he made his airwaves mark as a DJ, manager, program director and salesman for Capitol Broadcasting’s WCAW and V100, later part of the West Virginia Radio Corporation and WCHS where he remains today.
Despite mounting health issues, he perseveres, working half days five days a week until time for treatment to mend malfunctioning arteries.
Induction into the West Virginia Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2006 recognized his long journey from a fresh-faced newbie who made 70 cents an hour for a nine-hour day seven decades ago.
Why stop now?
“I grew up in Pennsylvania, New Brighton. It was during the Depression. Things were very bad, but I think growing up with problems made me a better person. My dad was a carpenter. When carpentry didn’t work, he would go buy meat and put it in a big basket and walk around trying to sell it.
“In high school, I took a clerical course. Everybody else was taking college prep. I knew I wasn’t going to be going to college.
“In our senior year, the government was drafting seniors before they finished and taking them right into the Army. I was 17 and enlisted.
“I was assigned to Patton’s Third Army when he made his big surge across Germany. He would go into a German town, blow up a bridge, drop off six guys and keep on going.
“They eventually transferred six of us back to Belgium to the replacement depot. Then we found we were being transferred to the Far East. Wonderful.
“That’s when we dropped the bomb. The war was over. There was nothing to do. We had a lot of people in Paris and since I had a clerical background, they said they were sending me to Paris for about six months.
“I went home and sat around doing nothing. My mother was working at a grocery store handling the produce department.
“I’m listening to KDKA in Pittsburgh, and every 15 minutes one of the announcers would come on and say ‘You are listening to KDKA in Pittsburgh.’ I figured if that’s all they do in 15 minutes, what a great way to make a living.
“I wrote KDKA. Two announcers were starting an announcing school and wrote back for me to come to Pittsburgh. About 15 to 18 men showed up and no one was rejected. This was 1946.
“After 13 weeks, I was terrible. One of the guys going to the school with me, his dad was the superintendent of a lead mine in Flat River, Missouri, a little town about the size of Sissonville. He said they were starting a new station and had hired him as an announcer and were going to hire someone else and I should send an audition tape.
“The tape was a huge disc about 20 inches in diameter and I sent it out there, and it was terrible and they accepted me.
“I learned quickly there. One thing I learned was that I wanted to leave almost as soon as I got there. They had two announcers all week on the air from 6 a. m. to midnight — 18 hours. He worked nine hours and I worked nine hours for 70 cents an hour. That’s one of the reasons I wanted out.
“I was friends with the appliance store in Flat River. They had a Webcor wire recorder. I asked if I could go back in their back room and practice a little bit. I made an audition tape and sent it to a lot of people. I got a job at WTRF in Bellaire, Ohio, across the river from Wheeling.
“I had to go to Flat River on the bus. I was boarding with a very nice couple. When I left, he knew I would take the bus. He said he hated to see me going and he had an old car in the garage and if I could fix it up, he would be willing to sell it. It was a Stanley Steamer!
“I was there from 1947 until about 1960. I met my wife Cassie there and we were married for 55 years.
“In 1953, WTRF-TV went on the air and everybody on radio was offered a chance to be on TV. I did sports, but not very well. After six months they came around and said I wasn’t working out, that I was going to have to choose radio or TV. Somebody in management decided I had a face made for radio, so I went back across the river and I’ve been in radio ever since.
“I’m in my 7lst year of being in radio. Radio was really big. I was with WCAW and V100, which was Capitol Broadcasting. Our big enemy was WCHS.
“In ’59, I got a call from a guy from Akron about an audition and I went with them.
“Eventually, I came back to Charleston as general manager of WCAW. Then WCHS ended up buying Capitol Broadcasting.
“When I came down from Akron, Paul Miles was the manager and he said he was going to take over these two stations and we were going to be rock and roll. I was rock and roll in Akron, so he asked for help on what we should be doing. I wrote a five-page, single-spaced typewritten letter and he took it to the owner and said, ‘Here is your program director.’
“That’s how I got back into Charleston. I was just announcing. The sales manager was Norm Posen. He said, ‘Why don’t you get out of announcing? The money is in sales. Just go out with me and I’ll show you.’
“A big company then was Holyman-Huffman Appliances. When they had a sale, Norm would take off his salesman hat and work the floor selling appliances. He would tell people, ‘I don’t work here, but I can show you some of the things until one of the salesmen becomes available.’ That’s how I got into sales.
“WCAW switched to country music. I liked it very much. We got into being the announcers for concerts at the Civic Center. I had a long conversation with Loretta Lynn outside of her bus. I rode Charley Pride around in my ’88 Olds. He was extolling the virtues of the vitamins in Kentucky Fried Chicken. He was great.
“My favorite all time country song was ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’ George Jones was just wonderful.
“We had a couple of things called the Family Reunion at Watt Powell Park. The first one was with Mel Tillis. He was the headliner. We sold sponsorships and were able to lower the admission to $4. It was field seating.
“We gave away $50,000. We had a tub about 6 feet around filled with entries. Mel Tillis picked the winner. They read the name and the lady had left early to go to church up Campbells Creek. She got her money, but she had to go to church Sunday night no matter what.
“When I came to town about 1960, the studios and offices were in the Kanawha Hotel, which is no more. The big occasion was the JFK election. He was here many times and so was Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. JFK’s headquarters were right there in the Kanawha Hotel. We’d be coming back from lunch or something and there was JFK. That was really a good time.
“I had good health for about 88 years. I’ve had both knees done and all that, but I really got sick about two and a half years ago and they’ve done this operation on my arteries. I have to say something about the great medical help I have received. I’ve been in every hospital we have — Thomas, St. Francis, CAMC and over at the wound center.
“I came over to West Virginia Radio in 1993 as a salesperson. I took Norm Posen’s advice. Money is in the sales unless you have a great enough voice, and working against WCHS, you found out that they had great talent.
“I got into the West Virginia Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2006 with the inaugural class. There were so many terrific people so much better than I am, but I accepted.
“When I my wife died in 2005, we lived across from the Marriott at Charleston Centre Village. When I started to get old, my family said I didn’t need to live there by myself. They picked Edgewood Summit for me. There are 200 of us retired folks up there. They are so friendly and helpful. They make life a joy.
“Don’t tell the people at West Virginia Radio, but I think I would pay them to continue working. That is my life. I‘m here every morning at 8:30 and stay until noon when I have to go for treatment. Arteries won’t carry blood to my feet. I think that’s going to change and I will be able to contribute more to the success of our radio company.
“Radio is not dead. People still listen to the radio. Tell me one person has bought a new car without a radio in it. According to the latest survey, WCHS, V100 and our other five radio stations in this building have over 145,000 listeners every week. We have competitors, the newspaper, Facebook, everybody is taking advertising money, so it is harder to sell but we get results.
“Retiring has never entered my mind. I thank the Lord for keeping me around. My father died at 59, brother at 59, sister at 53, sister at 30. Mostly heart stuff. There are only three brothers of us left. There were seven kids, and this was during the Depression.
“I’ve had just as good a life as anybody could have. They say if you enjoy your work, it’s not work. I’ve always wanted to be an announcer and be in radio and that’s exactly what I’ve done. I just want a little bit more. All these people in this West Virginia Radio building are my family.”