I was 10 when I first heard Ron Chavis on a new thing called FM radio. My friend Tina and I were strongly influenced by older
siblings and what was going on in general around us in the world. The Viet Nam war played out nightly on tv; FM music was the
soundtrack to our coming of age. People like Ron, Jessie and Little Jimmy Roach gave us bright ideas that it might be more fun
to play music than to be child psychologists, teachers or nurses, etc.
When I was in college as a psychology/media student, Ron and Steve Downes were on WYDD and none of us wanted on air shifts
or to read news at the college station up against them. In Atlanta a few years later, I heard him there, then back in
Pittsburgh on WAMO. His voice was always so easy to pick out on radio or tv ads.
For about 14 months in 2004-05, he brought his nightly show to a little mountain station in the sticks 5 minutes from here. He
started out playing ballads and love songs, but blended in some guitar songs from his AOR days and blues-- in particular, Roy
Buchanan and Boz Scaggs/Duane Allamon got my attention. We talked and he started to play Pittsburgh artists such as Jill
West, Bobby Wayne and Erin Burkett. I continued to give him bizarre and funny news stories and then wrote this following
article on him. After it went to press, he asked me to write a book with him and, regretfully, I had to decline.
Recently, I had to go to Texas, jumped into a rental car and instinctly turned on a radio. Without changing a station, I heard
that familiar voice. There he was...The Nighttime Dog. The fine people of Texas are fortunate to have him. We miss him
here in the sticks outside of Pittsburgh............
By Julie Toye, for The Herald Standard
Legendary Pittsburgh radio personality Ron Chavis' audience continues to grow since he returned to the airways weeknights to host "Nightflight: The Original
An internationally known voice on radio, television, and non-broadcast items like Sony Play Station, Chavis does not simply come on nightly and bid his
listeners a quiet good evening at 9 PM on WLSW FM 104.
Each show starts in grand Chavis fashion, with his dramatic trademark opening resurrected from his days on WAMO FM. He discloses being born in the
basement of a steel mill and baptized in the Monongahela River.
Chavis tells his listeners and that he's one of the last of the original Pittsburgh DJs and lets them know that they are tuned into the continuing saga of the
adventures of his nom de plume, The Nighttime Dog. His monologue fades to the start of his Smooth Jazz theme music. On most nights, an introduction by a
sexy female voice and comedic exchange between the two follow.
Meanwhile, Chavis is alone in the mountain top radio station studio with his black lab dog, Easy, talking over breaks in the female's pre-recorded introduction.
Often at the start of his shift, he has already worked a busy day at his internationally recognized media company, mowed 4 acres or spent some of the day at
the gym. He refers to his air shift as his relaxation time.
'Nightflight' takes off with a mix of Smooth Jazz and R&B Ballad material that starts off mid to up-tempo and winds down to slow, romantic songs from the
genres as the late night hours unfold. Chavis has no set format and strongly emphasizes that there is no such thing called "programming" involved. It's not
uncommon to hear a slow jam by rock artist Jeff Beck or a Gospel cross-over artist like Smokie Norful, that somehow magically fits into the Nightflight
In between songs, Chavis is quite comfortably at home talking about his day, items in the news or the songs and artists he plays. It is easy to understand why
an area university professor tells his media students to listen to Chavis to learn their craft.
"This is a living, organic show, never exactly the same from day to day," Chavis explained. "But that doesn't mean there is no logic or pattern to what I am
doing. I'm setting a mood, creating an ambiance aimed at an adult audience, who can't find what I'm delivering anywhere this side of San Diego. The Nighttime
Dog is the Delilah After Dark for people 35 Plus."
As long as the music "deserves to be played" within his selected musical genres, he features songs that are sometimes little known by major or even local
artists. Chavis said that WLSW owner Stan Wall allowed him the "freedom from behind the microphone" that motivated him to return to radio and set his
sights on an ambitious goal to take his show to syndication or world wide web/internet radio.
It's impossible to predict which specific tunes Chavis will play, beyond the show's trademark song base of popular ballad and smooth jazz on any particular
night. But on a recent Friday night, he opened with Joe Cocker's "Leave Your Hat On."
The night before he opened with The Williams Brothers' "Cooling Water," and liked the chart-topping R&B Gospel song so much that he played it twice in a
row. He recently saw the group's video on television and picked up the CD the next morning to feature the song for his audience. He gets that enthusiastic
about good music when he hears it.
Chavis is a walking musical history book whose chapters range from a vast knowledge of the music heard on his show to music not included on air, such as the
'straight-ahead jazz' and rock genres, that he worked with in earlier stages of his career.
Having grown up in a home that deeply treasured music, Chavis was a natural at 18 when FM rock was born to deliver the music on air. Chavis' first radio job
in 1970 was with ABC Radio's fledgling, WDVE, in Pittsburgh, where he worked late nights after his day job at WQED TV. He was floor director for a
number of locally produced television programs, including "Newsroom" and "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."
Chavis' current day show mirrors his ability to choose the songs as he did in 1972 when he left WDVE and took his deep voice and his good ad lib and at ease
speaking ability across town to the 'freeform' rock station, WYDD FM. Ratings for his afternoon show there soon beat WDVE's afternoon programming.
Former WYDD Program Director and DJ Steve Downes referred to those long ago days as "radio Camelot in Pittsburgh." The one common denominator that
he, Chavis and the other on air staff had was "an overwhelming love for the music, and the view that what we did on the air, every day, was an art form unto
At WYDD, Chavis was christened by fellow station DJ 'Mad Dog' Doug Malone as 'Rockin' Ron', a radio name that still sticks today along with his Nighttime
Dog handle. He joined a group of talented on air personalities such as Downes, Mitch Fuchs, Bill Bruun and Malone who today are recognized as some of the
very best in Pittsburgh FM radio's rich history.
"Rockin' Ron was in my view, the quintessential FM jock and someone who had a major influence on my career," said Downes, who now works at WDRV, a
major market Chicago station, after hosting the nationally syndicated 'Rockline' program in the mid 90s.
"He was a rebel and an artist. His charisma was obvious in person as well as on the air," Downes said, as he described an unforgettable scene at the Stanley
Theatre 30 years ago. Chavis brought out a stool, sat and chatted to the audience as if he were in his living room to introduce the Jefferson Starship.
"I was so impressed with his 'performance' that night that I think of it every time I've gone on stage since then," Downes said.
Jimmy Roach of Froggy FM calls Chavis "one of my favorite guys" and recalls when they worked together at WDVE.
"It's pretty amazing to watch women when they hear him open his mouth. I've got a pretty deep voice, but Ron makes me sound like a 5th grader," Roach said.
After WYDD, Chavis found himself living and working in Georgia, gaining "number one ratings" at the Atlanta powerhouse WKLS FM. Next stop was
Seattle's major rocker, KZOK FM, where he stayed until he returned to the Pittsburgh area after a fire destroyed his mother's home here. For the next 7 years,
he worked different jobs in Christian broadcasting, journalism and some radio programming at WAMO AM before starting Pittsburgh's first 'Quiet Storm'
program on WAMO FM in late 1987.
In addition to advocating for a return to radio of quality music lost with all the corporate station buyouts and monopolies, Chavis also found himself in the
midst of two racial discrimination cases against former radio station employers. He then found himself in a possible position to advocate for racial equality in
broadcasting. After winning a $250,000 settlement against WRRK and settling out of court with B94, he advocated for black DJs relegated to overnight and
weekend radio shifts.
"I attempted to right the national shame by crusading on behalf of black announcers who haven't had the good fortune I have in breaking the color barrier in
radio," Chavis said.
In Pittsburgh, the world famous birthplace of commercial radio at KDKA in 1920, he believes that there have been only three other blacks besides himself
working desirable fulltime radio shifts at stations playing non-urban/R&B formats. "Eighty-five years of discrimination is too long and ugly a show," he stressed.
Chavis said he started to conduct research in the 1990s and discovered the situation is historically the same in other radio markets across America. He received
help from a University of Pittsburgh statistics professor and an attorney from the nation's capital to bring the issue into the national spotlight. Disappointment
soon followed when the FCC dropped its requirement for stations to report the numbers and positions of minorities on staff.
"This meant there was no way to gather official statistics," Chavis explained after the FCC reversed its reporting requirement policy. He would be a happier
man if more qualified blacks and minorities were hired fulltime for more weekday or weeknight radio jobs instead of weekend or overnight shifts.
Chavis would also be a happier man if his show makes its way to syndication or onto internet web radio. Radio industry data obtained by this writer show that
ratings for his time slot have dramatically increased since his show premiered on WLSW last fall.
When he first brought his show to WLSW, initially he took calls from upset fans of the oldies tunes that previously were played in his time slot. He appreciates
that many of those people stuck around and gave him and his show a chance. He receives quite a bit of email and phone calls from listeners, usually quite
positive in nature about the job he does and the music he plays.
"I'm very proud to have him on board," said Wall, WLSW owner. He said he would welcome the opportunity to have Chavis' show go to internet web
broadcast while WLSW remained the flagship station for the web cast.
"The station has taken off. Every night his show is more popular. He has a nitch all of his own. He has a great show, different than anything out there. He is
professional from the word go," Wall said.
At age 53, Chavis would like his business, Chavis Sterling Media Partners to continue to thrive and one day perhaps have his son, London, work with him. As
the voice of Bowser, Pittsburgh's auto dealership giant, Chavis has made about 500 radio commercials for that businesses' eight franchises and has voiced all of
its television commercials since the affiliation began in 1987.
"He's a very creative person," said Gary Bowser, Jr. The auto store owner said that he gives "bullet points" to Chavis that list details he wants included in the
commercial. In turn, Chavis writes the script for the commercial and hires recording artists to make occasional jingles. Bowser said that Chavis can easily make
revisions in his home studio to a commercial should the auto manufacturer later announce mechanical or promotional changes.
Outside of this region, Chavis has made over 100 commercials in England and Ireland and recently narrarated a television infomercial for diet aid Stacker
3XPLC. His voice is heard on several radio stations from Texas to Europe in the form of produced station identifications, sweeps and promos. Chavis has
performed commercials or promotional ads for M&M Mars, David Copperfield, Daimler Chrysler, Sunkist Soda, Western Star Trucks, Napa Battery,
HealthSouth and Sheridan Broadcasting to name a few.
society's founder and president and WDUQ jazz radio announcer, has only the highest regards for Chavis.
"He's a hospitable and dedicated person and one you can always depend on," Mowod said. He relayed the story of how then WAMO AM Program Director
Chavis came into the Mowods' downtown Pittsburgh restaurant in 1986 and left to walk across the street to the station to successfully get his old radio idol,
Mowod, a job.
"If it weren't for Ron, I would have never got back into radio," said an appreciative Mowod, the recipient of many impressive awards for broadcasting
excellence and community arts recognition and the first host of JazzWorks, a syndicated network serving public radio stations.
Besides Mowod, Chavis has no difficulty giving credit to those who have influenced, supported or encouraged him. He said that the late tv news anchor John
Roberts of WQED's "Newsroom" provided him with valuable advice on how to approach the microphone in 1969-70.
"I worked the "Mr. Rogers Show" during this same period. Fred Rogers viewed a TV tape demo of me and encouraged me to pursue a career as TV talent,"
Chavis said. He also credits freelance announcer Bill Hamilton, formerly of KDKA and "The Rege Cordic Show," for encouraging him in the mid 1980s to
leave radio and pursue voice work.
"I recorded a radio commercial with the late Rege Cordic himself in 1991, who encouraged me to visit him in Los Angeles and pursue national commercial
work there. I did not, but encouragement from both those giants gave me confidence and a new dream," Chavis said of his decision to seriously pursue
freelance announcing and to found Chavis Sterling Media Partners.
Besides learning from Wolfman Jack, Porky Chedwick, Brother Matt, Sir Walter Raleigh and Howard Stern, Chavis received perhaps the wisest direction from
Dwight Douglas, former WDVE radio programmer.
"He gave me a piece of advice I've passed along to dozens of budding radio announcers in all these years since: pretend you're talking to just one very good
friend on the radio. When you've mastered that, the thousands of people in the audience will come to see you as just that," Chavis explained.
From the long ago night that Downes recalled, when Chavis with such ease introduced the Jefferson Starship, through today, Chavis puts all the advice he
received and everything he since has learned into practice to pull it off as The Nighttime Dog. He strongly maintains a solid reputation as a skilled and
spontaneous radio artist, amidst a sea of announcers cuing the same 50 songs daily waiting for listener focus groups to allow a new song to be added or an
overplayed song to be removed from the playlist.
Larger audiences which could result from internet web cast or syndication could only be as lucky as those listeners who live within this six county wide range
of WLSW's broadcasting signal. Those within range of WLSW's signal have real radio as an alternative when Chavis and his dog Easy are at work.
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