G e a t o r !

A Tribute to Jerry Blavat

"The last bastion of doo-wop culture in a McDonald's world."

Jerry Blavat about 1965


The Geator The Geator:  An Appreciation

"The last bastion of doo-wop culture in a McDonald's world."    These words were written about Philadelphia, but they apply equally to Philadelphia's legendary radio personality Jerry Blavat -- The "Geator with the Heater," the "Boss with the Hot Sauce."  The unique DJ, still going strong and now as much a Philadelphia institution as a cheesesteak or the Academy of Music.
Jerry Blavat Since 1961 the Geator has done it his way,  playing a different kind of music -- different from what was playing in other cities and even from what other DJs were playing in Philadelphia. Over the years that approach has maintained its consistency and the purity of its focus.

Decades after other stations shackled their DJ's to a limited playlist and a tight, canned format, Blavat plays what sounds good to him from the Geator Gold Vault of classic doo-wop, acapella, motown and Philadelphia area dance hits of the fifties, sixties and seventies, interspersed with his encyclopedic knowledge of the music, its writers and the performers. What holds it all together is the unique on-air personality of the man himself.  

On radio for decades, Jerry Blavat long ago transcended the medium.  Describing him as a "radio DJ" is like describing Abraham Lincoln as a politician from Illinois.  Today he's a true cultural icon of the City of Brotherly Love, as recognizable a symbol as Independence Hall or the Liberty Bell.

In Philadelphia, everyone smiles when they hear the Geator.

 

"The Geator is barely in control. Johnny and the Hurricanes' "Sheeba" crescendoes in the background, and Jerry Blavat cannot contain himself. His feet twitch convulsively, spasms rock his wiry body, and his high-collar white cotton shirt is already drenched with sweat. But it's his mouth that commands attention, a gaping abyss that emits a nonstop stream of yowls, groans, gurgles, and barely decipherable syllables. 'Come on, South Philly,' he hisses, swallowing air in gobs like a man who has just done fifty push-ups. 'Come on, come on, West Philly, come on, South Jersey, come on, yon teen agers everywhere. Hit that thing now. Hey, hey, ho, ho. Let me say greetings and salutations. Welcome to the biggest of all big-time ones. Once again, yours truly, the Geator with the Heater and, of course, everybody here, swingin', tick-tock-rockin' with the big time Chez-Vous tower of power. The toughest dances in the entire world! Let's kick it off the big time, Du-Ettes -- 'Please Forgive Me' -- oooohh!'  For Jerry Blavat, in 1966, a night at Upper Darby's Chez-Vous has just begun."

-- Joe McEwen, The Catalog of Cool (Gene Sculatti ed. 1982)
 

Now hear the Geator, circa 1966, introducing his Guess What? record album.  

All audio on this site uses the free RealPlayer.  You can get it here.


Radio On the Air with The Geator

"I grew up listening to him. He has his own AM radio station and he still plays old records and talks a mile a minute and pounds his desk with his fist and screams. He's amazing. He's my hero. I started listening to him on AM radio when I was 8 or 9 years old and he played the craziest shit. My dad was just appalled."
 --   songwriter and performer Ben Vaughn

Born and raised in South Philadelphia, Jerry Blavat started in show business at the age of 13, jitterbugging on the original Bandstand show on WFIL-TV, hosted by Bob Horn (Dick Clark's predecessor).

His foundation has been radio.  He got his start on January 15, 1961.  Scheduled for an hour broadcast on WCAM from a local club, a snowstorm shut down the club and the city.   Jerry made his way to the WCAM studio in Camden with the rock & roll records he had danced to as a teenager and played them on the air as the snow fell.  Kids started phoning in.  No one else could make it to the studio, so Blavat played his favorites, rapped and reminisced all night until relief arrived in the morning.  The station's general manager, Bud Hibbs, proclaimed it a smash.

"So came to be the Geator with the Heater, keeper of the flame and coolest of the cool."
-- Nick Tosches, in Vanity Fair magazine, December 2000

Calling himself "The Geator with the Heater," Blavat began broadcasting regularly, first from WCAM (1310 AM) and later from WHAT (1340 AM) in Philadelphia.  By 1963 his show was also heard in Atlantic City and Trenton, while off the air his "record hops" attracted thousands every week to venues like Wagner's Ballroom and the Chez-Vous.

In 1966 Jerry returned to WCAM while hosting TV's Discophonic Scene,  which increasingly occupied him through the late sixties.  In April 1972 he became one of the first on-air personalities on oldies WCAU-FM (today's WOGL), doing a Sunday night show from 7 to 10.  In the mid-seventies he was heard on WFIL  (560AM) on occasions like New Year's Eve.  He returned there as a regular in the fall of 1983, hosting Sunday nights and weeknights Monday through Thursday, when WFIL returned as "Famous 56" (after a disastrous experiment as a country station).  About 1987 Jerry moved to "Philly Gold Radio" WPGR (1540AM), which became "Geator Gold Radio" in April 1992.  

Following the demise of WPGR in 1995, Jerry brought Geator Gold Radio to WSSJ (1310) in Camden, then in January 1999 to WNJC (1360) after 'SSJ changed to a Spanish-language format.  In the mid '90s the Geator Gold network also included WTTM (then 920 AM) in Trenton and WQVL (1600 AM) in Dover, Delaware, serving Cape May County, NJ.

Today Geator Geator Gold Radio is heard over WBCB 1490, WVLT 92.1 FM and WTKU 98.3FM. On Saturdays, you can hear the Geator's Rock & Roll, Rhythm & Blues Express on public radio WXPN 88.5 FM in Philadelphia & South Jersey. The show is simulcast over 104.9 in the Lehigh Valley, 88.1 WXPH in Harrisburg and 90.5 in Baltimore.

To the delight of Jerry Blavat fans everywhere, the weekday shows on WBCB, WVLT and WTKU and the Saturday show on WXPN can be heard live over the internet. You'll find the links below in the Hear the Geator  section of this page.

Also, you can listen any time to the most recent shows from WXPN. You'll find the link under Archived Shows below.  

Through the years Jerry has continued his club appearances around the Philadelphia area.  He appears at his own club, Memories, in Margate, NJ, every weekend during the summer.    

The wildest aspects of his patter and performance have mellowed since the early days of the Chez Vous and Wagners, but they retain the distinctive Geator character. 

Jerry Blavat was one of the radio greats honored by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in April, 1998.

Radio honorees at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998
left to right: Jack Armstrong, Pat O'Day, Dan Ingram, Jack Gibson, Red Robinson, Jerry Blavat, "Cousin Brucie" Morrow, Martha Jean "The Queen" Steinberg, Joey Reynolds, Erica Farber - Editor of Radio & Records magazine, Porky Chedwick, Denny Sanders, Hal Jackson, Dave "Mickey" Marsden, Scott Muni, Art Laboe, Dick Biondi, Arnie Ginsberg.

 

"Fads come and go, but the Geator never changes. He could give Henry David Thoreau lessons in being true to yourself.  To yourself, and your friends and your music ... "
 --   Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky - 4/18/1989

 

In an interview taped May 1, 2000 for the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's Pioneers in Broadcasting series, Jerry discusses his career and tells how he came to be known as "the Geator with the Heater." You can see it at the Broadcast Pioneers' website if you have the free RealPlayer.


The Music The Music

"Rock & roll the way God meant it to be."   

For anyone who listens to '50s and '60s music on a conventional "oldies" station, tuning in to the Geator is like moving from black-and-white to Technicolor.

Blavat played "oldies" when the term itself was new, in the '60s becoming the first disc jockey in the country to play music from the '50s. He played songs no other DJ played, digging out obscure oldies, often the flip sides of releases he liked better than the "A" side, and making them local and national hits -- some for the first time, for others all over again.

Nevertheless, it's never been just an "oldies" act. Blavat's taste has been consistent over the years, with a preference for harmony, acapella, rhythm and soaring vocal performances. There's always been room in the Geator's repertoire for new material that satisfies those preferences. Jerry Blavat was the first Philadelphia disc jockey to break such songs as "Sherry" by the Four Seasons and "Twist and Shout" by the Iseley Brothers. While much of what comprises the "Geator sound" is rooted in the '50s and early '60s, with generous representations of rhythm & blues, doo-wop, Motown and high-energy dance numbers, something that came out yesterday makes the cut if the Geator thinks it has enough "soul" in it.

 

It had been hell during the Beatle reign, when there had been much pressure to get on the bandwagon.  "But I sensed that it just didn't have enough soul for my kids.  The Stones, yes, the Beatles, no.  So I'd go up to Fonzo's Restaurant and the upper-class kids would say how come no Beatles and I'd say it's just not my schticklach, not my groove, not for my kids.  So I finally gave in and played a few, and I got bombarded by phone calls saying 'Geator, what you doing, man?' "  -- Bruce Jay Friedman,  Saturday Evening Post  (1966)

The Geator describes his music as "a part of my body" and reminds his audience that it's played from the heart, not from a chart. He takes the time to talk about the artists and their records. All of this has made him a rebel against the system of "format" radio, where tightly controlled disc jockeys may play only material from a playlist drawn up in the station's business office and are forbidden to make any original comments.

Blavat has never lost touch with the music or his audience. It's an audience whose tastes he shaped and one that has grown over the years, as the Geator has introduced several generations to the sound he has made the musical signature of Philadelphia.


Geator Riffs Classic Geator Riffs

"For those who grew up there, Jerry Blavat's arcane, machine gun prattle only seemed normal, a natural background for the raucous dances and frenetic Motown grooves that served as background music to everyday teenage life."  --  Joe McEwen


Archived Shows Hear the Geator!

Archived Shows
From this website's audio archives, here's the Geator:

Check back as this site adds more archived Jerry Blavat programs.


The Geator's Rock & Roll Rhythm and Blues Express


Rock radio author and historian Dale Patterson has audio of a Geator show on his must-see Rock Radio Scrapbook website.


Ron Turner, keeper of the WFIL flame at Famous 56.com, has the Geator live from Memories in Margate in 1986.


On his Classic Philadelphia Radio website Kris Erik Phillips offers a rare on-air clip of Jerry "back in the day."


At Reelradio.com Ben Fong-Torres, author of The Hits Just Keep On Coming, a history of Top 40 radio, shares the Geator Gold Radio Demo tape.


Jerry discusses his approach to the music in this interview with Bob Davis of Soul Patrol at the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Awards in 2001.


Geator Gold Radio

 


TV Video Geator

Jerry's Place/WFIL-TV promotional photo The Geator's weekly TV show Discophonic Scene debuted on Philadelphia's WCAU-TV, channel 10, in March 1965.   It featured many of the artists Jerry had come to know as road manager for Danny and the Juniors in the fifties, such as James Brown, Martha and the Vandellas and Marvin Gaye.   Discophonic Scene was the only place the Supremes appeared on Philadelphia TV.

"He is a personality," wrote Murray Dubin in the Inquirer.  "You understand why the WCAU show was a hit, big enough so that WFIL, on the other side of City Line, offered him a daily show ..."

The move to WFIL-TV, channel 6, came in January 1967.  Now called Jerry's Place, the show appeared 5 days a week.  WFIL, an ABC affiliate, was owned by Walter Annenberg's Triangle Publications, which syndicated the show coast-to-coast in 42 markets.  

Performances on Discophonic Scene and Jerry's Place were live, not lip-synched, imparting to the program a higher standard of professionalism than its competitors.  That, together with the youth and distinctive personality of its host, sustained the show's popularity for several years after the demise of the other teen dance shows of the time like Shindig and Hullaballoo.  "Blavat was the master of excitement," the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine said about the show in 1972, "and he generated it through the camera."

 

"He started out as a dancer on 'American Bandstand.'   He was one of us, whereas the Wolfman was more of a father figure. The Geator was always right down there dancing with the dancers. He may be the only disc jockey that was a dancer. Usually the DJs were the guys who couldn't dance but loved music."  --  Ben Vaughn

 

From Ben Vaughn's documentary on the Geator, here are some of the rare remaining excerpts from Discophonic Scene and Jerry's Place.

 

 

In the seventies Jerry had a show on Philadelphia's WTAF-TV, channel 29.  From 1978-79 he appeared on WPHL, channel 17, with the show once again called Discophonic Scene.

His special, The New Discophonic Scene aired on WCAU-TV, channel 10, on April 22, 1989.

In 1992 Jerry began hosting "On the Air With the Geator," which ran locally on Philly-57 TV, nationally on cable's Nostalgia Channel and in syndication.   Now available on DVD!   In 1997 the Boss with the Hot Sauce began syndication with Backstage with Jerry Blavat.

The Geator has appeared on The Tonight Show, in episodes of The Monkees and The Mod Squad and in the movies Baby It's You (1983) and Cookie (1989). He also appears in the longform music video Rambler '65 about the making of songwriter and performer Ben Vaughn's CD of the same name

And although it's hard to believe of the same guy who once did the Guess What album introduction, in 1999 Jerry's status as cultural icon and Philadelphia institution became indisputable when he hosted on-air fundraising for Public Television. Since then he has appeared on the PBS fundraising event DooWop 50 in December 1999 and again on DooWop 51 in December 2000.

The Geator's specials on Chubby Checker and Martha Reeves (of Martha and the Vandellas) aired in January 2000 on Pittsburgh Public TV, WQED channel 13 .


records Discography

Starting in the sixties, with vinyl LPs issued by his own Lost-Nite Records and continuing into the eighties and nineties with cassettes and CDs, Jerry Blavat has produced a series of Jerry Blavat Presents compilation albums. Each one pulls a representative selection of the Philadelphia sound together around a certain theme.

Jerry Blavat CDs are available today from Geator Gold Radio, 626 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106-2310.  You'll find a list of currently available CDs here.  To order, contact Geator Gold Radio at 215-923-0550.

In addition to the compilation albums, the Geator made some 45rpm single releases of his own in the sixties.   One of them, Discophonic Walk, made for the benefit of a Catholic high school in Philadelphia, was recorded in the school's gym with the students.

Releases with the Geator as performing artist were:


records Articles


photosPhoto Gallery
The Geator in 1972
Visit the
Photo Gallery


Links Links and More

Before sending you off to Linkland, a few last items.

Acknowledgments

In August 1998 the producer of this site stopped by the Geator Gold Radio studio in Philadelphia for some CDs. From out of the office came Jerry Blavat himself. When I mentioned my interest in doing a Geator website, Jerry was kind enough to give me some photos, press releases and other background material that went into the production of this site.

Thanks to Jerry Blavat for his courtesy on that occasion and for his support of this website.

And special thanks to Keely Stahl for her contributions to this site since its appearance and for her kind encouragement.


Your Turn

Your contribution will make this a better site.  Comments?  Reminiscences about the Geator?  Share them with the webmaster!

 

Please tell me whether all or any part of your submission may be posted on this site and whether, if posted, it may be attributed to you.


Links

    Download the free RealPlayer to hear the great sounds on this site.


Thank you for visiting Geator!  A Tribute to Jerry Blavat.   Please visit again as the site develops.   Until then, as the Geator says at the close of every broadcast,

"Keep on rockin' -- because you only rock once!"  

The Geator about 1989


Text, design and other original content © 2000 - 2013 Bill Smith

This site first appeared March 12, 2000
Last update:  August 10, 2013

This website is not affiliated with or endorsed by any person or entity other than its producer.
"The last bastion of doo-wop culture  in a McDonald's world" is quoted from Joe McEwen in
The Catalog of Cool (Gene Sculatti ed. 1982).