Hy Lit, 73, one of Philadelphia’s pioneer disc jockeys, died yesterday at Paoli Memorial Hospital of what his son termed “bizarre complications” after a knee injury.
Mr. Lit was on hand for much rock-and-roll history as it played out in Philadelphia. He played Rolling Stones music early on and accompanied the Beatles to the city in 1964.
A dashing figure with a face for television, he also hosted dance shows on WKBS in Philadelphia and a New York station. Another longtime fixture in local radio, disc jockey Jerry Blavat, last night called Mr. Lit’s death “the end of the era for personality radio.”
INQUIRER: HY LIT, PHILLY RADIO LEGEND, 1934-2007
A Hard Night’s Day
Forty years ago the Beatles came to Philadelphia. And nothing would ever be the same.
Philly Beatlemania begins with a riddle on a cold morning in December 1963 in the gray wake of the Kennedy assassination. Hymon “Hy” Lit--aka Hyski, aka Hyski O’Rooney McVautie O’Zoot, the No. 1 jock on WIBG, the city’s AM powerhouse — walks out to his car. On the windshield is the letter “B.” What in the sam-hell is this? The next day there are two letters on the windshield: “B” and “E.” Day after that: “A,” followed by “T” the next day.
Every morning another letter — placed by an enterprising Capitol Records promo man, Hyski suspected. By the end of the week, the message on Lit’s windshield is complete: “THE BEATLES ARE COMING!”
Fast forward a few months. It’s February 1964 and WIBG jocks Hyski and Joe “the Rockin’ Bird” Niagara, the two biggest names in Philadelphia radio, are knocking back complimentary beverages at a swanky “Meet the Beatles” cocktail party at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Disc jockeys and concert promoters from across the nation have been flown in to rub elbows and trade japes with the Fab Four. Hyski staggers out of the cocktail party with one thing on his mind: getting the Beatles to Philadelphia.
The next day he calls up William Morris, the Beatles’ booking agency, and asks what it will take. Twenty-five thousand dollars, they say. Hyski doesn’t even blink. He’ll be there tomorrow, he says, with a certified check. Thank you, Mr. Lit, says the booking agent. The Beatles will be on your doorstep Sept. 2.
Within weeks the Beatles appear on Ed Sullivan, which commands a Super Bowl-sized viewership, and seemingly overnight America falls hard for the Fab Four.
Tickets for the Philadelphia date go on sale in May, starting at $2.50 for the nosebleed seats and topping out at a whopping $5.50 for the floor. Convention Hall’s 12,037 seats sell out in 90 minutes. A mini-riot ensues when word of the sellout reaches the scores of ticketless Beatlemaniacs still in line. Hyski will be hit up with so many won’t-take-no-for-an-answer VIP ticket requests that when all is said and done and the Beatles have left town without even saying goodbye, he’ll be out $5,000.
In fact, the whole Beatles thing will turn out to be a really big headache, baby. What with the suits at the station giving him guff about that stunt he pulled on a Bulletin reporter who was writing trash about the Beatles fans the day after the concert. Hyski gave out the reporter’s office number on the air and told listeners to call him up and scream in his ear.
The Bulletin guy complained to his boss, who then turned around and gave Hyski’s boss an earful when they were out on the back nine together. At which point the bossman comes back to the clubhouse, calls up Hyski and tells him he’s off the air for a couple of days. No pay.
And on top of that, Hyski’s getting static from the local 7-Up guy, one of the station’s biggest sponsors, who had been demanding exclusive pouring rights for the concert. Hyski told Mr. 7-Up he didn’t need this crap from some glorified soda jerk and cordially invited him to shove it. “You ever heard of water?” said Hyski.
Well, the station brass wanted to suspend him for that too, but Hyski wasn’t having it. He was untouchable, and he knew it. He reminded them that he took a bullet for the team back in ’58 when the payola shit hit the fan — off the air for a year! — and now he was done taking bullets. He wasn’t interested in going on another “vacation.” You suspend me again and I resign, he told them, and the Beatles go with me. And that was the end of that, baby.
TIME: Hy Lit’s 6-10 p.m. shift on WIBG once earned an astounding 71 percent of the radio audience. Those are, I dunno, dictatorship numbers — about 10 times what the highest-rated show in any market (drive-time news, Howard Stern, Opie & Anthony) can pull in today.
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Mentioned on page 53 of this report is one Jerry “The Geator With The Heater” Blavat…
According to the report, in 1984 Blavat tried to put a mob hit on his arch-rival, Hy Lit…
‘Cuz that’s how Philly radio used to roll, yo.