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With the final words, “Thanks for listening,” Steve Todd Davies dropped the mic Friday on a radio career that spanned 45 years, the past 38 at the same station in the Lebanon Valley.
It was a bittersweet moment for Davies, who is retiring as one of the most recognizable voices in the county.
He retires from a career, not a job, that spans more than four decades to spend more time with his children and grandchildren. (His wife, Carol Davies, who is also well-known in the community as the department director of the county’s Area Agency on Aging, will follow Steve into retirement on June 2.)
“Our health is good at this point and we decided that we wanted to try and be more involved in our children’s lives and our grandchildren’s lives,” said Davies, “and, really, the only way you can do that is to free yourself up a little bit.”
Known professionally as the “Frogman,” Davies was the host of The Morning Splash on Froggy Valley 100.1, the county’s local country and western radio station. But he was more than just a radio disc jockey, he was a community ambassador.
His “Officer Friendly” broadcasts were a way to give back to the community and provide a forum for law enforcement officials to share issues of concern with local listeners. He estimated that between 20 and 30 officers appeared on that program over the years.
“I’ve always supported local law enforcement and I offered Officer Friendly as a platform to discuss whatever issues, timely issues, they felt were necessary to share with the community,” said Davies. “For example, one of the last broadcasts we had discussed the noise level in car audio systems. We also covered ordinances, how the ordinance applied to community members.”
Davies was afforded the opportunity to have a farewell tour, of sorts, these past few weeks, including a community reception at the station on Thursday morning and afternoon.
The day began with a catered breakfast and later a picnic-style barbecue lunch with pulled pork, chicken legs and quarters and all the fixings was served to attendees. The reception also gave well wishers – many of whom came bearing gifts – the chance to share a laugh, reminisce about fond memories and say their good-byes.
Of the many gifts he received – including a personalized Hershey Bears hockey jersey with his middle name (Todd) and the number 45 (for the number of years of his career) on the backside – there was one gift that touched him deeply.
“We have a dining room table full of gifts,” said Davies, during a telephone interview on Friday afternoon. “I didn’t have the energy to start going through them yet, but from what I saw yesterday, one of the gifts that struck me and probably made me a little emotional was the two wooden plaques from the Lebanon Police Department.”
Davies said Stefanos “Goose” Goumas, a Lebanon city police officer whose hobby is woodworking, made the two plaques. One recognizes his Officer Friendly program, while the other depicts Davies at the microphone with the words “Steve Todd” carved at the top of the plaque.
“He did both of them in his basement woodshop,” said Davies. “One he did in recognition of the (community service) program and the other he did out of the kindness of his heart.”
As his last on-air shift approached, Davies wanted to go out on a high note, so he planned to play what he called “work-related, last-day-of-work and goodbye songs that, for some, could be considered to be tear-jerkers while others would be fun to hear.”
“Everyone expected me to play, ‘Take This Job and Shove it’ by Johnny Paycheck and I did, but I prefaced it by saying, ‘I don’t feel this way about my company but I do have to play it today,’” said Davies. “There’s also a great song, what I wouldn’t call one of his huge hits, by Johnny Cash called ‘Oney.’”
“Oney” is a song about a factory worker’s retirement day, where he laments about his years of long hours, exhausting, backbreaking and thankless work, and frustration in dealing with a micromanaging boss.
Davies added he got to play about four or five work songs every hour during his last five-hour shift. Those songs drew reactions from listeners and Davies said it was a lot of fun to have that experience.
It was the last song he played, Davies’ swan song, if you will, that elicited the most emotion.
“The last song I played today was the one that really struck me – and I played it last on purpose – and it’s a song by Brad Paisley called ‘Last Time for Everything,'” said Davies. “I had been trying to come up with the perfect last song to play and after listening to the lyrics, it really struck me and I thought it was perfect. Again, I got a lot of reaction to that one, too. It really struck a lot of people.”
As the 10 a.m. hour loomed on the clock and Davies was preparing to say his final goodbye, he said he had (production director) Johnny Tuscano in the studio with him by design.
“I needed a distraction,” said Davies. “If I was in there by myself with that final song and had too much time to think about it, I was afraid I would get too emotional on the air. So, Johnny was in there as kind of a distraction. Actually, we had a nice little conversation. I hired him years ago out of LVC (Lebanon Valley College) and he was one of the – no, he was the best hire I ever made.”
Approaching his final on-air comment, Davies referenced one of his long-standing, on-air traditions.
“I sort of wrapped it all up by saying what I had been saying for years, and that was, ‘That‘s it for today, but join me tomorrow morning anytime after 5 o’clock, I’ll be here. Well, tomorrow, I won’t be here, so I’ll just say thanks for listening.’”
Those parting words ended a career that began at WCBS in Latrobe in 1978. Davies said he worked there a few years (he believes it was three) and then at WCVR in Randolph, Vermont, for a time before moving here 38 years ago.
Davies’ career was exceptional for his longevity at the Lebanon station, and not much jumping around before it.
He only had three jobs in 45 years, the last spanning the past 38 years in Lebanon County. “I’ve only had three jobs – and even that is a rarity in radio,” added Davies, who noted how frequently people in the biz change jobs.
Born and reared in Berks County, Davies said his desire was to always come back to his native home.
“I was very, very familiar with the territory and the nature of Pennsylvania Dutch country. When living in Vermont, we targeted Pennsylvania,” said Davies. “We were looking to get back to Pennsylvania, and there were a number of openings here. When I read it in Broadcasting Magazine, that WLBR and WUFM, at that time, had an opening, we looked it up on the map, it sounded good to us, so I applied.”
During his career, the biggest change he’s witnessed has been the move to digital broadcasting.
“First and foremost, the biggest change is in technology,” said Davies. “We used to have two turntables, a microphone and an audio board. Commercials were on tape. People now in radio aren’t disc jockeys, everything’s digital. Back then, you had an obligation to do something every 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Fast forward to now: everything is digitized – the music libraries, commercials, everything is on a computer.”
Davies replied, when asked, how he took bathroom breaks when he was the only DJ in the studio during those golden days of radio and a new song had to be spun every few minutes. “That would require you to play a four-minute song,” he replied, with a laugh.
Davies said what he will miss the most is being on air but added he will relish the ability to establish a normal sleep cycle after many years of rising at 2 a.m. to start those early-morning shifts.
“Achieving a normal sleep cycle – that starts on Monday morning,” Davies replied when asked about retirement plans. ‘We have some trips planned (to visit their children) for this summer. Some other small trips. I plan to do some things around the house.”
Having been a prominent figure for nearly four decades, Davies’ legacy is firmly entrenched in his service to the community. He wants to be remembered, however, for two things he always tried to incorporate into his broadcasts.
“My approach has always been to be positive and to be local,” said Davies. “I hated it when I would listen to other radio personalities make fun of someone or rip somebody. I guess that’s entertaining to some people, but I always hated it. I would mention local people, mention their birthdays or their anniversaries, and that’s how I would like to be remembered.”
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