My mother and father used to tell a story about me that took place at our family home in Jacksonville, Florida. I was 6 or 7 years old and they say that I cut off part of my grandmother’s broomstick, attached it to a base and sat out in the backyard “broadcasting” with this makeshift microphone. I would describe the traffic going down Atlantic Boulevard toward the beach, making up stories about the people in the cars and what their plans might be for the day. That was back when radio was … well, it was all we had. When my family told this story, they would usually include the words, “George just likes to talk.”
There were only four things I ever considered doing for a living. I was either going to be a radio announcer, a sports writer, an actor or an airline pilot. I absolutely loved radio – still do.
My brother and I shared the same bedroom, and I would take my radio to bed and listen to boxing matches. I would score the fight in my head based on what I was hearing and then become furious if the judges didn’t score it the same way. My brother would holler out to my mother, “He’s doing it again!” I would make a kind of tent out of the bed and I’d be under the covers with an old Silvertone – a tube radio that would need time to warm up. Those tubes would start glowing and throwing heat, which would help keep me warm in the winter.
We moved to New York when I was in the 4th grade. Dad was a Marine engineer with the Moran Towing Company in Staten Island. My mother and father were very good about taking us to places like Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden and the Statue of Liberty. You can just imagine how exciting that was for a boy who loved radio – there I was in the heart of radio. To see live radio shows take place as they were going out to millions of people was an amazing experience.
Looking back, I think my father’s career influenced my decision to join the Navy. During the Korean War, I became a Navy Medic after going through the training program at Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Illinois. The U.S. Navy led me directly into broadcasting.
I was stationed at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in Texas in the early 50s. Some of the wounded arrived from Korea and they would stay there until they were hopefully well enough to go home. To keep the wounded entertained, an Electrician’s Mate and myself built a carrier current radio station. We had a console and some turntables to play transcription discs. I’d even interview nurses and give the menu for the day. This operation was funded by the Admiral, who loved the idea that we were broadcasting just to the wards. At least that’s what we thought. One day some people called to tell us they were listening to our show in downtown Corpus Christi. We were a little concerned that the F.C.C. was going to come after us – the U.S. Navy’s pirate radio station!
After Texas, I was transferred to the University of Tennessee ROTC setup in Knoxville and that’s when I started hanging around the local radio stations. You hear about “gym rats” – people who hang out at the gym all the time. I was a “radio rat.” I would roll out of bed and go to the station for the day – it became second nature. They couldn’t get me to leave!
I went to a school called School of Radio Technique in New York City. All of my instructors were NBC employees – the best of the best. I was formally trained at Radio City. During the day, I worked on Fifth Avenue at Dell Publishing and went to school at night.
I had a bunch of different jobs on the side. I cleaned monkey cages at the zoo, I worked at a grocery store, and I also worked as an usher at the Paramount Theatre for movies and shows. Eddie Fisher played there. Sinatra played there. You learn quickly when you’re an usher. For example, couples up in the balcony would sometimes become – how can I put this? – amorous. I learned to turn my flashlight off.
Sometimes, I would show up early at Radio City and I’d go down below NBC where they had a bowling alley. One day, there was a guy there who told me his name was Buddy. I noticed Buddy was usually a bit “lit” if you know what I mean. After bowling against him three or four times, I discovered that I had been bowling with Buddy Rich – the great drummer. He was performing at the Paramount at that time.
I was on the air as a disc jockey in New Jersey at this time on WWBZ and I knew the chief announcer at NBC. I went to see him one day and told him that I wanted to do television. He said, “Look, this is New York. You can’t just break into TV here. You need to get out there and get some experience.” Between the two of us, we discovered that a radio/TV combo in Bangor, Maine called WABI was looking for a staff announcer, so I set up an interview and drove an old Chevy to Bangor to take an audition. I guess it went OK. I made it back to New York, walked through the door, and my mother told me that a telegram had arrived. It said, “We want you.”
My original plan was to come to Bangor and stay here for one year. That was in 1953. My brother was the Program Director for WSCR in Scranton and he told me, “Get a year under your belt and get to a bigger market.” I decided I liked it here.
At first I was the country music announcer for the WABI noon-time show, and then I did sports in the afternoon. The first song I ever played on the radio in Bangor was “Your Cheating Heart” by Hank Williams.
When I arrived in Bangor, the most popular radio announcer in town was a man I later succeeded. His name was John McRae – he was the big cheese. My given name is George McHale and I thought my last name might be too close to his so I dropped the “Mc” and just went with “George Hale.” It didn’t have anything to do with “show-biz,” it was just easier to say and easier to remember. Later on, it became an asset because it gave me a little bit of a personal life.
When I walked into downtown Bangor for the first time, The Park Theatre was at the corner of the hill where WABI was located. I remember they had a sign on the theatre that read “Finest Talking Pictures.” I called my brother and said “Good Lord. They just got ‘talkies’ here!”
I married not too long after arriving in Bangor, and my kids were born here. We built a house in Brewer and I remember when my daughter Julie caught on that her father had a job that was a little different from most parents. I discovered that she was an entrepreneurial type when one of my neighbors let me in on what she’d been up to.
She had been putting little pieces of paper in front of me and asking me to sign them. She was about 8 – I didn’t know what she wanted them for – I just signed away and forgot about it. She took those autographs all over the neighborhood and sold them for a dime a piece. When I found out what was going on, I suggested that it might not have been a good plan.
In those days, if you were a broadcaster, you did a little bit of everything. On WABI, I did the morning show, the noon show, sports, TV - I even did the farm show. If you wanted to keep going in broadcasting, you needed to branch out and learn as many different things as possible.
Television was just beginning, and if you were on TV in those days you were somebody special. People treated you like royalty. You were like Elvis if you were on TV. There was a TV personality in town named Hal Shaw and people would run up just to touch him. These days, everybody is on TV – everyone’s a star.
When WABI moved to their current location on Hildreth Street, I interviewed Little Richard on my show. It was at a time when he had gotten out of the music business to become a preacher and it was absolutely the wildest interview I ever did. After I introduced him on the air, I should have just left the room because he took over. His real name is Richard Pennimen, and even when he was “off,” he was “on.” He’s always on. He told me how he had given up rock and roll to preach the gospel and he did it in a wildly entertaining way. The craziest interview I ever did.
One day in 1964, Dan Fulkerson, a man I had hired as a copywriter came to me and said, “I’ve written a song and I know a singer who wants to record it. Would you be willing to record it here at WABI?” So we came in at night to record the song. Dan was there along with the singer - a man named Dick Curless. That night, I recorded Dick Curless singing Dan’s song, “A Tombstone Every Mile,” on reel-to-reel tape in the production studio at WABI. If I remember correctly, that version was the first one to be released, and the tape was later purchased by Capitol Records who had Dick re-record the song with a studio group. I recorded the original version of “A Tombstone Every Mile” on 35 Hildreth St. at WABI.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always liked airplanes. Eventually, I became a part owner of two different airplanes. The thing about being a pilot is you need to keep your flying skills sharp, so I would sometimes take what I called the “$100 hamburger flight.” I would fly out of Bangor, land in Portland for a hamburger and then fly back to Bangor. It hasn’t been that long since I stopped flying planes. Flying is the sort of thing you either do a lot of or you don’t do it at all.
Once when I was in Boston, I heard a new radio program called “American Top 40,” and I wanted to bring it to Bangor. This must have been around 1970. At that time, the show had just started and they were only doing large markets – I think they were on seven stations. I called and told them I was interested in airing it here. A short time later, I was in my office one day when the phone rang and a man’s voice said, “Could I speak to George Hale? This is Casey Kasem.” He said he had heard me on the air while driving up to Baxter State Park to climb Mt. Katahdin. He assured me that he would try to make American Top 40 available for us and sure enough, they did. We were the first station in Maine and possibly the first small market station in the country to carry it.
Being involved in sports was just something I knew would happen, although I thought I would be writing about sports instead of calling the games on the radio and TV.
Before I started doing play-by-play, they had me test the water by doing live commercials during the games. They hired all of the mobile broadcast equipment from RCA – we didn’t have anything to do games at that time – they brought a crew in.
I remember doing live commercials for the W.T. Grant store, and my first set of live commercials involved ladies underwear. I had an earpiece so I could hear the director, but the audience didn’t know that. So I started doing this commercial for ladies underwear and these comments started coming into my ear. I was talking about bras and panties and trying to make them sound like they were the greatest thing ever. So in my ear, while I’m trying to do this live commercial, I hear “Oh, I bet you look sweet in those panties, dear.” I started laughing – I just broke up and it was going out live! I had to say something like, “They come in pink and blue and brown,” and the voice in my ear would start up again, “Oh, you’d look lovely in the brown ones!”
Later, I made a suggestion that we start covering University of Maine football. They took me up on that and we began the tradition of covering UMaine football which grew into what it is today. I’m still involved in covering the games for television and I also do sports commentary every Friday on TV 5.
People still come up to me on a regular basis to talk about the tournament games. I covered high school tourney games for many years.
Sports have been a huge part of my life. I see myself in one of my great-grandchildren now and it scares me. He is exactly the way I was when I was a kid, except he has the internet and a Smartphone and everything else to keep up on sports.
I’ve been interested in politics off and on for my entire life, although I’ve never run for elected office. I can remember working on the first Muskie campaign, and I became friends with a lot of politicians –both Republican and Democrat. I interviewed Margaret Chase Smith and Senator Joseph McCarthy.
When they approached me about being part of a politically-oriented morning show, I wasn’t interested at the beginning. I finally told them, “I’ll do it, but I would like to keep my show on WABI.” I wanted to make sure that audience was served, so I would record my show on the AM station at around 5 a.m. and then go across the hall to do the FM show on 103.9. I did both for about a year and then they asked me if I knew Ric Tyler.
One morning, Ric came in and we did a test show. They put us in the room to record an audition and we started fighting immediately.
A few days later, Jeff Pierce (then operations manager) said, “That’s our show” and on Nov. 4, 2004, we started doing a program called “Maine in the Morning.” Later, I think I suggested that we change the name of the show to “The George Hale – Ric Tyler Show.” We were the two most recognizable names in the market so why not have our names in the title? That way, listeners would be able to identify one way or another and say “I’m with George” or “I’m with Ric.” My name appears first in the show only because I’m the oldest.
I really get along pretty well with Ric. Sure, we fight sometimes. I’m never going to change him and he’s never going to change me, but there are many times when we’re on the same wavelength.
People ask, “Do you really get mad at each other?” It’s never personal, but there are some stances he takes that I don’t like. And there are some positions that I have that he sure as heck doesn’t like.
I hear this question a lot - “When are you going to retire?” The only answer I have to that is, “Would you ask a successful photographer to stop taking pictures? What I do is me. When I get out of bed and come in here, I’m not working. I’ve never done anything in the broadcast business just for money – never. I’ve had some great offers to leave over the years and I didn’t do it. I’ve been happy here.
And there is also the fact that my wife passed away a few years back and I need a reason to get up in the morning.
You can be sure that there will come a time when my career will wind down. Will it come to an end? You’re damn right.
You need three things to keep going. First, you need to want to keep going. If you don’t want to keep going, you’re dead. Secondly, you need to be healthy enough to do it. I’ve taken pretty good care of myself so I’m lucky that way, but I also work at it. The third thing is, you need to have someone who wants you to do it. Now if you have those three things, you can go forever.