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Icon at the Mike

The Miami Herald

April 8, 2000

 

By Neil Reisner

  It’s 5:30 a.m. and Rick Shaw, ready to rock and roll, adjusts his microphone and kicks off the soundtrack to a new day.

  “Well, good morning to you! Here’s more of the greatest hits of all time,” he booms in a gruff bass, releasing the mike button as Marvin Gaye and Tammy Tyrell belt out the first notes of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

  It’s a reassuring sound, Shaw’s voice, flying through the South Florida ether from oldies station WMXJ-FM (102.7) just like it has done from one station or another for the past 40 years come May.

  Forty years. Four decades in one radio market. Not quite a national record, but close.

  Shaw is the voice that has provided life’s narration for generations of folks once teens, now aged about 40 to 65. His is a regular guy’s voice, a voice that became part of the soundtrack for the good times of Beach Blanket Bingo and Little Deuce Coupe, and a reassuring constant during the turbulent times of the civil rights movement, the assassinations, Vietnam, Watergate.

  “I don’t remember what stations he was on. But Rick Shaw was always around,” says Jacquie Leflar, 43, of Pompano Beach, a bookkeeper with Carls Furniture. “He’s been part of South Florida ever since I was a kid.”

  Starting in 1960, first on WCKR (now WIOD-AM 610), then on WQAM-AM (560), Shaw made hits and made stars. If he liked a tune, it was played on the radio, at sock hops in high-school gyms and where the kids hung out - the Neba roast beef joint on 163rd and Collins or at Pirate’s World on the Hollywood/Dania Beach line.

  “He was the man. He was the show you wanted to get your records played on,” says Steve Alaimo, a Davie resident and onetime heartthrob singer himself (Every Day I Have to Cry Some) who hosted the afternoon rock show Where the Action Is.

  In America, only “Cousin Brucie” Morrow, who did his own South Florida stint in the early ‘60s and still spins oldies on WCBS-FM in New York City, has been around longer. He remembers Shaw, whom he was up against for a brief period:

  “One of the young upstarts, always ahead of his time, a little brash in those days. We were really allowed great freedom.”

  The jock with the signature Greek sailor’s cap arrived here in May 1960, via Denver, as Jim Hummel, a kid from East St. Louis, 20 years old. He came south to spin tunes for $250 a week - a darn sight better than the $1 hourly he made at his first job in Omaha.

  Alan Henry, WCKR’s general manager, who had always loved the name “Rick Shaw” decided that Hummel looked like his man. Later, a listener nicknamed him “Rikki Tikki” and the transformation was complete.

  His star-crossed adventures are near legend:

  How he moved to WQAM in 1963, when only that station and WFUN played rock and roll; how he hosted high school pep rallies and sock hops to build a following.

  And how, only a year later, ‘QAM had a 54 market share - at any given moment, 54 percent of local radios were tuned the station’s way.

  How he hosted Saturday Hop on WPLG-10 from 1963 to 1970 - and the Rick Shaw Show, an MTV-like show with video clips.

  How he introduced the Beatles to South Florida in 1964, when he was the first local jock to play “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and how, at a Beatles show in Jacksonville later that year, Ringo Starr offered to buy his gold, diamond encrusted ring with initials “RS.” How he introduced the Monkees at a local concert in which - bizarrely - Jimi Hendrix was the opener. How for two years he wrote a teen advice column in The Herald.

  How he became an on-air philanthropist, raising money for the MAJIC Children’s Fund, and how, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, he generated 42,000 letters from local youngsters to kids in Oklahoma City.

  “What a great time to start a career in radio,” he says. “What more can you have? There will never be another Beatles; there will never be another ‘QAM.”

  Shaw took a break in 1970, when he got fired from WQAM after his bosses decided a video production company he owned was a conflict of interest.

  Shaw denies that. It’s the only thing about which he seems bitter.

  “I did nothing but good for them,” he says. “I was personally responsible for them making, minimally, hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

  He got back to radio in 1975 on WAXY-FM, first on a weekly oldies show, then as program director and on-air personality, staying until 1994, when WAXY slid into the ‘70s “modern oldies” Big 106-FM (105.9). He landed at MAJIC a few months later.

  These days, Rick Shaw, who in many ways still resembles Jim Hummel - and because Shaw never legally changed his name, he is Jim Hummel - lives in a nice-but-not-extravagant home in Cooper City making a low six-figure salary.

  There he fills his life with Elaine, his second wife of 27 years, “Dugan,” the German Shepherd, and two cats, “Batman” and “Robin.” His diversions are the occasional dip in the hot tub and undercover cruises where hardly anyone recognizes Mr. and Mrs. Hummel.

  At home, one finds Shaw the WWII buff, who collects German guns and who is fascinated, perhaps because of his German heritage, with the degree to which the Fatherland descended into the abyss. He tears up again speaking of a scene in Schindler’s List when a German officer shoots a prisoner from a back porch perch.

  “The whole concept of sitting on your back porch and shooting human beings. How do humans do that?,” he says, shaking his head.

  In another corner of the house sits his one extravagance: a small home video-editing studio he keeps to indulge a passion - assembling still photos and old films and videotapes into tear-jerking, nostalgic videos celebrating friends’ and sometimes strangers’ weddings, births, bar mitzvahs and children.

  He tears up talking about how much he loves surprising people with these creations.

  Fact is, Shaw tears up a lot. It happens when he talks about the kids with whom he has done charity work, and on the air when he reads a tribute to retiring Dan Marino.

  “I’ve come to the conclusion that one of my roles in life is to make people cry,” he says. “I seem to have the ability to do that using music or video.”

  Over the years, Shaw has given out 32,000 trademark silver-plated pennies - they cost a nickel a piece - handing them to virtually every child he meets and to most of the adults. It’s a little piece of himself for the fans. He lives for the fans.

  “He’s one of those kinds of people who is on, really, 24 hours a day,” says Sean Hummel, 33, Shaw’s son, a lawyer in Washington, D.C. Another son, Rick, teaches English in a D.C. public school.

  “He’s not somebody who has a public and a private life. It seems like his whole life is public.”

  But that’s OK with Rick Shaw - he loves what he does.

  It’s not the music, though.

  He has heard every record he plays a zillion times - he’d go nuts if he listened to more than a few seconds of a song.

  It’s the technology he loves, the ability to assemble just the right sound bites, just the right segment. He’s thrilled with the notion that he can do it on a computer instead of splicing spaghetti strings of tape like he used to.

  It has been 40 years.

  Yet, standing alone in front of a microphone, Shaw says he still wonders about the fans. He wonders who’s listening - what they’re doing.

  “One of the strange things about radio is you never really know what people are doing with your product. That’s kind of neat. I play with that scenario and kind of roll it around in my head,” he says.

  “People have a preconceived notion about Rick Shaw. I hope its good. I try to live up to what I think Rick Shaw is all about.”

 

 

 

 

 

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