Dave Covey knew he was coming, and he didn’t go to school that day because of it. He’d been tipped off by a friend at WWSC that the Federal Communication Commission was on to him and his fellow Glens Falls radio pirates who, for three years, had been illegally bringing rock ’n’ roll to the Hometown USA airwaves from an unfinished basement at 10 Wait St.
But when the shiny, black sedan with the FCC logo on the door pulled up to his grandmother’s home and the FCC official rang the doorbell, it became very, very real.
“That day stopped my heart,” Covey said, vividly recalling that May 22, 1964 afternoon that spelled the end of WTMV 650 radio.
The 50-something-year-old agent, Frank Spencer, was stern and serious. He told Covey that the FCC was working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Albany office and he began asking him all about the station’s equipment, its broadcast schedules and its crew.
“ ‘I’d like to talk to them all,’ " Covey said, recalling Spencer’s words. “ ‘Are you going to make me ride around the city and find each one of them or are you going to be a nice guy and go get them?’ "
So the calls went out and Covey said he drove and picked up some of his fellow pirates and drove them back to his house to hear their fate. Others made there way to the Wait Street home with their parents.
The transmitter Covey made from a train transformer was gone by then, ceremoniously dumped hours earlier into Hedges Lake where Covey’s family had a camp, but the dossier the agent held from the investigation had names on it.
The accomplices, except for Mark Griffin who couldn’t be found, then got to hear their fate from Spencer. Pete Cloutier, a regular WTMV DJ who is still in radio 54 years later, remembers the encounter as scary.
“He told us anything could happen within a period of a year. You could go to jail, you could be fined, it could go on your record — the whole nine yards. I think it was basically to scare the crap out of us so we didn’t do it again,” he said.
Like the real thing
Before the FCC shutdown, WTMV radio — broadcast from Covey’s makeshift transmitter that used a cable running from the basement window to an adjacent tree as an antenna — was a daily beehive of activity.
On any given weekday, Covey and his crew of half a dozen or so classmate DJs would scurry from school into the basement either through the front door or through a set of Bilco doors and begin spinning tunes from two control board turntables, two reel-to-reel tape recorders and a microphone — also built by the mechanical wizard.
Despite the advent of rock ’n’ roll and now the Beatles and the British invasion, Glens Falls stations were playing Perry Como and Patty Page, not the new music kids wanted to hear, group members said.
So they did.
They’d take half-hour shifts, play tunes from 45s they had bought or from the reel-to-reel tapes they used to record songs from an Albany station that was playing modern stuff — when it came in clear enough to record.
“If you’re going to be a pirate, you might as well steal everything,” said a laughing Cloutier, who five decades later still has a morning show on WCKM with Dan Miner. “We just lacked the hat and eye patch.”
The station picked up even more steam after they started sliding mimeographed top 10 lists of tunes they were playing through the vents of lockers at school. They also started taking requests over the phone, which kids loved.
And like a real radio station, they’d read news — from The Post-Star — and give weather updates and sports scores. Griffin, whose voice can still be heard doing commercials on the radio, said he was a main news guy on Saturdays.
And the more they did, the more kids tuned in, from as far away as Hudson Falls, Fort Edward and Moreau, though the signal was reportedly picked up as far afield as Rhode Island at times.
The DJs all had fake names, because using their real names on an illegal pirate station would have been stupid, they said.
Mark Griffin was the Golden Moose, named after the wrestler Golden Moose Shlok.
Covey was “Keed,” he thinks as an exaggerated version of “Kid.”
Dave Monroe was “Slim Nelson,” who said it was “probably because I was a chubby kid,” and his brother Jim Monroe was “The Stomper.”
Cloutier was “The Bug,” and though he couldn’t remember why, Griffin said it was because the front of his Fiat looked like a bug.
Oh, and WTMV incidentally stood for “Wild Times Music Vendors,” which Covey cringes at now, saying at the time it seemed cool, “but by my standards now was very uncool.”
The crew would entertain the locals from about 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays, with a longer run on Saturdays.
“We did it with integrity,” Covey said. “If some of the DJs were not doing their job properly, I’d get on them. I was serious about it. I wanted to be a broadcaster.”
And the basement also became a fun place to hang out for classmates who didn’t have much, if any, airtime.
Wally Hirsch, longtime owner of Binley Florist, said he didn’t do many shows and wasn’t involved in the FCC thing but loved the music and hanging with his friends.
“I was just there for the fun of it, to get caught up in it,” he said, adding that all of it centered on the music.
They’d walk into the basement, and if the makeshift “On-Air” sign was on at the top of the stairs, they’d know to avoid “potty mouth” or being too loud, Dave Monroe said.
A future celebrity was part of the group, too. Virginia “Gini” Eastwood was a regular in the studio and in 1966 had a top 100 song called “With the World at My Feet” for Tower Records. She would go on to party with Led Zeppelin and star on Broadway and in the movie “Pick-up,” which has attained a cult following and is being re-released.
“She was pretty nice looking, so the guys liked when she was there,” Hirsch said with a chuckle.
Eastwood, who lives in Florida now and is writing a book, said she was often asked to do weather — with a twist.
“They asked me if I wanted to be their weather girl. I’d hang out there and then do a sexy-voiced weather report,” she said, laughing at the thought.
But sometimes there’d be dead air, the result of Covey trying to boost the power of his transmitter — leading to things “blowing up” — requiring another run to Ray Supply for vacuum tubes, capacitors and resisters.
It also went dark sometimes because the transmitter was tied into a light socket and controlled by a switch upstairs. Occasionally when his grandmother, affectionately known as “Gommy,” didn’t like something that was said on the air, she’d flip the switch and kill the show for the day.
Griffin recalled offending her one time with a fake commercial.
“This portion of the show was brought to you by the make ‘em fit casket company,” he said, reciting the commercial in his best pitchman’s voice. “I got the biggest yell out of that one. She yelled down immediately. ‘I don’t want to hear that sort of thing again.’
“Probably hit home a little bit,” he said with a laugh.
Covey said he eventually rewired the transmitter’s power source, taking control away from Gommy.
As the weeks went on, the station was running so smoothly and getting so popular that local business owners were asking the legitimate local stations how they could advertise on it.
“That’s where the problem came in,” Cloutier said. “And the position on the dial was very close to 610, which was the Civil Defense channel.”
Griffin believes someone at WWSC ratted them out, but several of the pirates said someone from Jenkins Radio in South Glens Falls was the culprit.
In their blood
It’s not surprising that Covey, Cloutier and Griffin spent years in the radio business long after the death of the pirate station. All had an early, inexplicable passion for the airwaves.
Covey, as a young boy, was diagnosed with a blood disorder that required weeks in the hospital in Albany and culminated with the removal of his spleen. But from his hospital room, the 7-year-old Covey marveled at the WPTR radio tower he could see out the window.
“It was magical to me how the signal got from the tower to the radio,” he said, channeling his former self’s curiosity.
That early wonderment led to his first pirate station at Hedges Lake in the late 1950s, using an over-the-counter Lafayette intercom-type transmitter that plugged into a turntable and would basically broadcast just around the lake.
It was the perfect precursor to WTMV.
Cloutier and Griffin, best pals as kids, discovered their love of radio together, sometimes sitting in on shows as young kids at WWSC, or WSET, then located on the second floor of The Queensbury Hotel.
Griffin tells about walking into the second-story WWSC studio on Warren Street as a 9-year-old — drawn in by the stack of big records out front that was propping the door open — and being told by a newscaster that he could watch the show if he stayed quiet.
He relived the moment, saying he was struck most by the microphone and the fact that his family back home could be hearing the voice of the man sitting in front of him on the family radio.
“It was like a miracle. All those voices I’d heard on kitchen radio were alive and I could see where they were coming from,” he said.
Cloutier and Griffin also both spoke fondly of two DJs at WSET, who when they were a little older allowed them into the studio to see how the control board worked and had them help with radio promotions at the Rialto Theater.
After the death of WTMV, and the year of purgatory they were placed in by the FCC, Cloutier had an idea to get back on the air. He knew kids were hungry for the music they played on WTMV, and he went to WWSC pitching a rock ‘n roll show for Saturday nights, a normally dead time on the station.
His initial partner was going to be Griffin, but he had enlisted in the Air Force and was on his way to boot camp, hoping to get into Armed Forces Radio. So Cloutier asked Covey to be his partner and WWSC officials gave them one hour — if they could sell ads to support it.
The “Saturday Night A-Go-Go” show, with a new concept request line — like they had done at WTMV — was an instant hit and was quickly extended to a four-hour show.
“It would jam the lines up. It was incredible,” Cloutier said, adding that the show would continue on for 18 years and lead to numerous battle-of-the-band events and live music shows.
Decades in radio
Cloutier is the only one of the 73-year-old pirates to remain in radio. His current gig, a morning show with Dan Miner on WCKM, has been on the air for nearly 22 years.
In the years since WTMV, he was a professional photographer, too, but always had his hand in radio, including being instrumental in bringing countless musical acts to the area, from Gary Lewis and the Playboys in 1965 to the Guess Who in 1977 and countless Summer Jam events.
He looks far younger than his 73 years — and acts much younger. His pace, both his speech and walk, show no sign of slowing, and he’s clearly proud that he’s the lone remaining pirate.
“I don’t have any plans for retirement,” he said, adding that he’s up at 2:15 every morning to do the show. “A lot of people who retire, I see them and they look all beat up. I feel if you keep doing what you like, you’ll be fine and dandy.”
Covey went on to create a bit of a radio empire, including starting WCKM at the urging of Cloutier in 1994 and buying WWSC and WYLR, which would become WCQL. His dream of getting into radio was fulfilled ten-fold.
These days, he manages a condo association at Hedges Lake and said he’s having as much fun as possible working on “anti-aging by dining and dancing to rock ’n’ roll with friends, boating, kayaking, swimming and riding my Harley Electra-Glide.”
Griffin never got into Armed Forces Radio. Despite intentionally trying to fail a Morse code exam to achieve the goal, his efforts backfired and he actually scored a 97, he said with a laugh, sealing his fate as a code specialist.
He later worked at various retail establishments, including the Joy Store and Scoville Jewelers, before reconnecting with Covey to sell ads, do live-remote broadcasts and voice-overs for a decade before Covey sold his stations in 2006. His voice can still be heard on the air doing commercials for Glens Falls Hospital.
Dave Monroe, the only other of the pirates to get into radio, didn’t pursue it initially, but was also sucked into the fold by Covey as a live sports broadcaster for a decade in the ‘90s and early 2000s, doing mostly basketball games.
“He coerced me into trying it,” Monroe said. “And I loved every minute of it.”
Other longtime area radio personalities speak in awe about the Glens Falls rock ’n’ roll radio pioneers who started the pirate station. Miner, who has been on the air for 35 years, said Cloutier, his partner, was broadcasting on the pirate station before he was born and people still reference WTMV just about every time the duo is out in public.
“The impact that short span had really started a whole movement in the city,” he said. “For me, it’s amazing. It’s 2018. And people still talk about it like it was just yesterday.”
He said he realizes he works daily with a local radio icon, and he relishes it.
“We have a blast, but it’s cool to work with someone who loves what we do as much as I do,” he said.
Jackie Donovan, a radio personality on WNYQ who has been on local radio for 24 years, said she’s amazed at the maturity and intellect of the teens back in 1964 who gave local kids the rock 'n' roll they wanted — from a grandmother’s basement.
“They were high school kids not coming home to play video games, but to run a pirate radio station,” she said. “I can’t imagine the adrenaline that went through their veins when they finally got on the air.
“I’m jealous I wasn’t there with them.”