Friday Without Frank

Sid Mark's "Friday with Frank" program leaves the airwaves

In 1960, I was eight years old and was just beginning to develop an interest in jazz. I had recently started taking drum lessons with the emphasis on jazz, and a cousin of mine hosted a jazz radio show on WRTI-FM, the voice of Temple University in Philadelphia.

Though the reception of WRTI was iffy at best, it may have been all of a ten-watt radio station at that juncture, by way of my percussion studies and the cousin’s radio show, I was primed for jazz.

One Sunday afternoon, while casting about the radio dial for the voice of my cousin, I heard some amazing music emanating from our family’s Motorola console. Looking back, it must have been Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton or Basie. The sheer bombast of it appealed to my young ears. After the song was over, a man came on the air and talked about what he had played. His name was Sid Mark and boy, did he have the voice of authority. This wasn’t WRTI.

My father, never a music lover, tried to be interested in what his kids were into. He walked into the den where I was listening to the radio, and heard Sid Mark identify the radio station as WHAT, then on the FM dial. When my father heard the call letters, he realized that the radio station was located pretty close to where we lived, in a Philadelphia suburb.

“Get in the car, son,” my father said.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“I’m going to take you to the radio station where they’re playing this jazz,” he answered. “You want to learn jazz? Go to the source.”

My late father, Charles Klauber, was intimidated by nothing. Perhaps that was because, as a youth, he was a pretty decent Golden Gloves boxer. Celebrities, from Buddy Rich to Sinatra to Sonny Stitt, loved the guy. My old man could get in anywhere, be it backstage at the Latin Casino nightclub, the then “restricted” Merion Cricket Club, and WHAT radio.

Dad marched me into the radio station, right past the guard—“My kid wants to learn about jazz,” he told the uniformed security man--found the studio, went up to Sid Mark and said, “My son is studying jazz. Maybe you could help him out.”

Then Charles Klauber split, not to return until the broadcast was over.

Sid Mark, and the special guest on his show that Sunday afternoon, both looked, to me to be about seven feet tall. I think I stayed in that studio for four hours, listening to the goings-on, and trying to look taller.

The special guest, by the way, was none other than Stan Kenton. Kenton asked me, during the course of the four hours, who I liked in jazz.

“Flip Phillips and Gene Krupa,” I replied with great enthusiasm.
“Good players,” Kenton politely replied, patting me on the head.

Given the math, I have known Sid Mark for almost 50 years. As a broadcaster, he has done more for jazz and for good music, in Philadelphia and nationally—and for a longer period of time—than anyone in the business. He’s been a jazz radio host, a darn good talk show host, and ran a series of under-appreciated, and likely under-funded, jazz television series on the local PBS outlet, titled “The Mark of Jazz.” He was a fixture at area jazz concerts and festivals as a master of ceremonies.

Like my father, Sid was intimidated by no one’s celebrity. For example, as the legend goes, Sid was the master of ceremonies at a Philadelphia jazz concert featuring Benny (“Mr. Warmth”) Goodman. It came as no surprise that BG wasn’t nice to anyone backstage, including Sid Mark. When it came time for Sid to announce Benny, he simply said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Steve Allen.” (Allen, of course, played Goodman in the ill-fated, mid-1950s biopic, "The Benny Goodman Story.")

Sid helped put Maynard Ferguson on the map, and after a few false starts, Bobby Darin, and plenty of others. He had no qualms about playing Maynard, Ray Charles, Ahmad Jamal, and then, Barbra Streisand. He let the listeners make up their own minds about who they dug. Directly or indirectly, he taught his audience about good music. I recall that he got a good deal of flack by playing Streisand—he was among the first to really promote her on the airwaves—until word came out that no less than Louis Armstrong said that Barbra Streisand was his favorite singer. It took old Satch to make it “okay.”

Though Sidney didn’t put Frank Sinatra on the map—though he sure helped sell a lot of Old Blue Eye’s recordings--the names of Sid Mark and Frank Sinatra will be forever linked, by way of Sid’s long-running radio programs, “Friday with Frank,” “Sunday with Sinatra” and the successfully syndicated “Sounds of Sinatra.”

They were close friends and they loved each other. Sid supported Frank without question or without condition. Sinatra treated Sid in the same manner. Sid has and had integrity. For example, I suspect that few have the Frank Sinatra collection of recordings that Sid Mark has, but he would never, ever play anything on his radio programs that was not commercially issued. I know that Mr. S. and his good offices appreciated that through the years.

But after almost 55 years, “Friday with Frank,” probably the most famous of Sidney’s shows, will be no more. Those in the biz were shocked when WWDB-FM, actually morphed from the original WHAT-FM, changed formats and dropped the Friday and Sunday shows several years ago. Without missing a beat--remember that these programs were tremendously popular and successful--“Friday with Frank” and “Sunday with Sinatra” moved over to WPHT-AM.

The Fridays have been tough for listeners, as WPHL is also the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, and those who tuned in when a Phil’s broadcast was scheduled had a hard time figuring when “Friday with Frank” would be on and when it wouldn’t.

The program wasn’t canceled for lack of support. The Sinatra programs had sponsors that were with the show for years, and potential advertisers, it’s been said, have had to be on the waiting list to get in.

It is a matter, one presumes, of demographics, with the presumption being that only older folks listen to Frank Sinatra—which is inaccurate—and that older folks don’t buy anything.

There are, however, certain things that should be left alone. A 54-year-old institution, for goodness sakes, should be allowed to continue until its natural end. But, as John ("One Step Beyond") Newland once said to Dick Cavett, “Show business? It’s a rotten, damned game.”

Word in the biz is that “Friday with Frank” will be replaced by yet another, call-in, talk radio show, as WPHL-AM’s catch line is “The Big Talker.” Another talk show. Just what radio needs.

In my brief communications with Sid about this, and listening to his comments on radio, he hasn’t sounded the least bit upset. He’s been doing this for years, the “Sunday with Sinatra” show remains as do the syndicated shows, so it’s quite possible that Sid Mark might relish Friday nights off after 54 years.

Then again, “Friday with Frank” may surface elsewhere in the Philadelphia area.

To me, Sid has been a friend, a mentor, and in his own way, quite the educator. I don’t think he’d ever think of himself as a teacher, but to thousands of us, we wouldn’t have known about Kenton, Maynard, Basie, Oscar, Darin, Ray Charles—or Frank Sinatra—without him.

He has always been candid and honest with me about the business and those within it, and has been of immeasurable help on a number of my writing and video projects through the years. To make this personal—because it is—I’d like to think that Sid Mark is proud of me.

The problem now, for me and for thousands of other “Friday with Frank” fans, is: what do we now do on our Friday nights?

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Bruce Klauber