Longtime NY DJ Dave Herman Dies
(CN) - Dave Herman, a New York rock radio icon who was accused last year of attempting to transport a 7-year-old girl from New Jersey to the Virgin Islands to have sex with her, has died.
Herman, who hosted WNEW-FM's "Rock and Roll Morning Show" for 27 years, was rushed from the Essex County jail to University Hospital in Newark Wednesday night. According to his attorney, Marc Agnifilo, the former disc jockey died of an aneurysm of a major blood vessel near the heart.
"He was talkative, he was engaged, he was vibrant," Agnifilo said. "It's hard for a 78-year-old to be in jail. It's tragic that it had to end this way."
Herman, who retired to St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in 2008, was arrested in its airport in October. Prosecutors said they had stumbled upon Herman while looking for sexual predators in an online chat room.
Prosecutors said an undercover officer posing as the 36-year-old mother of a 7-year-old child engaged Herman in conversations during which he tried to arrange a sexual encounter with the girl.
At the time of his arrest, prosecutors said, he was waiting at the airport to meet the mother and daughter.
Herman pleaded not guilty, was denied bail and was transferred to New Jersey. Agnifilo acknowledged the case would be long and difficult, but maintained his client had been duped in an undercover sting.
Herman, born in Huntington, Long Island, was the son of Rabbi Mayer Herman, who led The Mosholu Jewish Center, one of the largest congregations in the Bronx.
"My mom told me I was fascinated by radio before I could talk," Herman told a Courthouse News reporter during an interview for a book about the history of rock radio.
"The first voice that I remember hearing on the air was Martin Block [widely credited with being radio's first disc jockey] and I believed the Make Believe Ballroom, which Block utterly fabricated, was a real place with a crystal chandelier where grownups would go to dance."
Later, Herman said, it was William B. Williams, who succeeded Block as WNEW-AM in New York's biggest star, who got him "totally hooked" on radio.
"It was the way he spoke, his enunciation, and I hung on his every word he said between playing the records. In fact, over time I said his sign on, 'Hello, world, this is William B Williams' so often I finally was able to imitate him perfectly."
"It was because of him that I vowed to myself to someday be on the radio," Herman said.
Another New York radio icon gave Herman his first on-air exposure in the mid-1950s.
Murray Kaufman, not yet known as "Murray the K," the swinging disc jockey who dubbed himself "the Fifth Beatle," was hosting a middle-of-the-road pop music show an hour a night each week night on WMCA-Am in New York, and two hours on Saturday night.
During the second hour of his show, Kaufman invited members of his studio audience to be part of his "Record Review Board," passing judgment on new releases. One Saturday night, Herman and a high school friend were picked to appear on the show.
Afterward, Herman said, Kaufman complimented him by saying he had "a real kind of way with the microphone ... you ought to think about going into the business."
"I said I've wanted to go into the business since I was 5 years old and he really helped me, putting me in touch with certain people to study," Herman said.
The turning point in Herman's career came in 1964. At the time, Herman was working at a mom and pop radio station in Asbury Park, N.J., playing easy listening music for sunbathers on the Jersey Shore.
In the meantime, a child's summer camp his father and two uncles had established was in need of a new director.
"I was 27 and barely making a living in radio, and my dad suggested I drop my radio career, saying that if I did, he'd give me his ownership share of the camp," Herman said.
"I refused, but did offer to help out over the next two summers," he added.
And then, he said, the '60's happened.
"Up until 1966, '67, I was a serious jazz guy, and what happened was I suddenly found myself involved in a whole different lifestyle that was going on then; the antiwar movement, civil rights and so on, and I realized what a privilege it was to have access to the media, and that there were a lot of things that people needed to know about the war and all the things that were going down."
In a word, he said, the shift in perspective came down to "drugs."
"That's what was happening in 1966, 1967. That's the answer, as weird as it may seem," he said. "I don't want to make it sound like you'd smoke a joint or take a pill and turn on to rock, but there was a whole different lifestyle that was going on then.
"So I got involved in different things, in the counterculture, and I got exposed to rock and roll and said, 'Wow, why have I turned my back on this music?' 'Why didn't I - at the time, a self-admitted "serious" jazz guy - take it seriously?'
"So I developed this incredible appetite for this music and did nothing in any spare moment of time I had but go back and listen to the Beatles, the Stones, the Doors, and anything else that came out that was in the rock and roll vein."
Herman drove from Asbury park to Philadelphia and persuaded the pop-oriented FM station WMMR to give him a late night show. The result, which he called "The Marconi Experiment" was a free-form exploration of music and politics. Its success led to a complete overhaul of the station's format.
Free-form broadcasting in its purest sense was a forum in which disc jockeys personally selected the records they played and assembled sets of music off-the-cuff to set a mood and get at a larger meaning. Herman was far from its only practitioner, but he was among the first.
Two years later, Herman entered the New York radio market, joining the staff of what was then WABC-FM in New York. While there, he hosted the first radio concert by a then-unknown British performer named Elton John.
He was also responsible for changing the station's call letters to WPLJ, the initials for "White Port and Lemon Juice," an oldie that had recently been covered by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
Herman later jumped to WNEW-FM at the invitation of its general manager and guiding spirit Scott Muni, who hired him to do a morning show. It was, initially, a difficult courtship. Back in the early 1970s, night time was considered prime time on the FM dial, and the mornings essentially filler.
Herman said thanks, but no thanks, the first time Muni called, but when WPLJ decided to tighten its playlist and ditch its left-wing politics, the disc jockey was ready to switch stations, and the "Rock and Roll Morning Show" became a cornerstone of WNEW-FM broadcast day.
There, Herman became known for introducing such program elements as his "Old, New, Borrowed and Blue" sets, and for providing his listeners with a dash of "Bruce Juice," a bit of Bruce Springsteen, to start their day.
Throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s, Herman also enjoyed a lucrative career as a syndicated interviewer of rock and hip entertainment royalty, his subjects ranging from Bob Dylan and George Harrison to the Monty Python troupe, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Woody Allen.
In the process he also became a trusted friend to many of them. One of the stories Herman recalled in his later years involved George Harrison's inviting him and his then wife to stay at his home in England. Unfortunately, when the Hermans arrived, Harrison was on his way out the door, having unexpectedly been called to Los Angeles to do some last-minute work on his upcoming album.
Herman said he and his wife would find a hotel, but Harrison wouldn't hear of it and threw the disc jockey his keys.
"Some time later we got together for drinks and I asked him why he trusted us so," Herman said. "George's response was 'Well, if you'd taken anything, that would have been the end of our friendship, and as you didn't, we're now here enjoying this lovely bottle of wine.'"
Herman's last appearance on New York radio came just two days before he left for St. Croix, when he appeared on WFUV-FM's Mixed Bag as the guest of his longtime friend and fellow WNEW-FM alumni Pete Fornatale.
Herman's death came a week after federal prosecutors asked the federal court in Newark for more time to pursue negotiations of a plea deal.
On Thursday, May 29, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey said the office was moving to dismiss the charges against Herman, standard practice upon the death of a defendant.