A ‘Tripp’ Down Musical Memory Lane

Jun 07, 2017

Harry E. Rogers III, better known as “Tripp,” has worked for radio stations in major media markets such as New York and Philadelphia. But for the last three years, he has felt very much at home with WBNJ-FM (91.9), located on Route 9 in Barnegat Township.

The station, which first went on air in 2010, has an “adult standard” format. Or as it says on its promos, “playing unforgettable favorites.” Songs played range from the 1940s to current. The set list could go from Billy Eckstine to Billy Joel, or Michael Bolton to Michael Buble, the Four Aces to the Four Seasons. Some of the genres covered include soft rock, jazz, swing, country, blues, doo-wop, soul, R&B, Broadway and novelty tunes.

The variety certainly suits Tripp, who said his nickname came about because he is the “triplicate.”

“When I was in college, almost everyone was listening to FM,” the Barnegat Township resident said. “But I always liked top-40 AM radio rock.”

Rogers first became a part of WBNJ in 2013 when he was hired to do “the Music Yearbook,” an hour show that kicks off on the first Saturday evening of each month from 8 to 9, with several encore performances during the week. The program highlights the top 10 songs of the current month during a specific year, along with looks at news events, movies and other cultural happenings within that year.

Tripp, who turns 58 on June 21, also does a special edition of the yearbook in tribute to a late musician.

“Unfortunately, I had to do a lot of those since last  year,” he said. “I think I did six in the first four months of 2016.”

Recording artists who died that year included David Bowie, Prince, Glen Frey, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Merle Haggard, Frank Sinatra Jr., Bobby Vee, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell and George Michael.

“I don’t think I know of any years when we lost so many,” said Rogers.

“This year in March, I did a tribute to Chuck Berry, who died that month,” he said. “And this past Memorial Day, I highlighted Gregg Allman,” who died May 27.

In January 2016, Rogers’ presence on the station increased as he became host of the “Unforgettable Morning Show” from 5:30 to 9 weekdays and then the “lunchtime oldies”  from noon to 1 Monday to Friday, and noon to 2 on Sundays. The lunchtime show evokes memories of listening to great AM radio stations like WABC in New York, which was one of his many stops in his nearly 40-year career.

“I get to play my favorite groups, like the Beatles, Beach Boys, Four Seasons and many others,” he said.

When he joined WBNJ, there were never any discussions about salary because WBNJ is a nonprofit radio station and all the staff is volunteer. Station co-owner Bill Clanton Jr., who is president and programming director, said WBNJ does not receive any state or federal funding, and is supported by underwriting from area businesses and donations from listeners.

Clanton and his wife, Natercia Clanton, also serve as on-air personalities.

“When we don’t have someone on-air, then we go with the computer,” he said. “I select the songs from a database of about 1,800.”

Because Rogers works on a volunteer basis, his “day job” is working as a computer salesman for Best Buy in Manahawkin.

“I get a lot of name recognition when dealing with customers,” he said. “They might say, ‘Hey, didn’t I hear you on the radio the other day?”’

There’s a good reason for him having a familiar name, since he has been part of the Ocean County radio community since 1988, when he began working at nights at WJRZ-FM. He started as a high school intern in his hometown of West Caldwell in Essex County, working for two men who later became well-known in the field, Bob Ley of ESPN and Bruce Beck of NBC4 New York.

Over the years, Tripp has been a sportscaster/news anchor and air personality on various stations including WFAN, WABC, WCBS-AM, NJ 101.5. WOBM and ESPN Radio in both NYC and Philadelphia. He was the outstanding graduate of the radio/TV department at Ashland College in Ohio in 1981.

“I started getting interested in radio because I was a big sports fan, and I thought I’d want to be a sportscaster,” he said. “But then I got to like the music end of the radio businesses. Unlike a lot of my classmates, I went through high school knowing what I wanted to do with my life.”

Rogers said he never had any ambitions of becoming a “shock jock.”

“I wasn’t into Howard Stern’s style,” he said. “I’m not on the air to yell at anybody or to try to be outrageous. Radio is very intimate. It’s just myself and the listener. I want to be their friend, whether they’re listening at the breakfast table, bedroom or the car.”

At WABC, he got a chance to meet one of the AM-radio icons, Bruce Morrow, aka Cousin Bruce. He’s still going strong at 81, hosting programs on Sirius XM Satellite.

“I worked for him when he ran some small radio stations in North Jersey,” Rogers said. “He’s a great guy, and he acts the same way in person as he did on the air. Very warm and personable. I still keep in touch with hm.”

Rogers sees a parallel between ABC and WBNJ.

“Like WABC, we appeal to many tastes,” he said. “Whatever the hits were, WABC played them.”

But he said WABC’s downfall started in the mid-’70s, when more people were tuning into FM.

“WABC also got heavy into disco, and they lost a lot of their suburban listeners because they weren’t into that scene,” he said. “Not long after that, WABC dropped music and went into all-talk format.”

Rogers said so much of today’s radio is corporate-driven.

“It isn’t so much how good you are, but how much you cost,” he said.

And as he found out first-hand, music stations are no strangers to changing their formats.

“One year they’re playing oldies, then the next year maybe it’s country, adult contemporary or dance music,” he said. “I can’t imagine anything like that happening here because we’ll play a lot of songs you probably won’t hear anywhere else on your regular radio dial.”

Rogers said at WBNJ, he has a great working relationship with the owners. He said Bill Clanton gives him some leeway in selecting songs for airplay.

“I get to pick the songs for my music yearbook show,” he said. “It reminds me a little bit of my days at WOBM when I hosted a ’70s show on Saturday nights.”

Rogers also produces the Saturday Night Special with Stephanie Rogers, his 21-year-old daughter. That program starts on the second Saturday of each month from 8 to 10 p.m. (until 11 during the summer) and, like his Music Yearbook, has several encore broadcasts. The Saturday Night Special could highlight a particular group/recording artist or a theme, such as a recent program featuring two bands or artists having a hit with the same song.

“I’m really having a lot of fun,” said Rogers. “I don’t see any reason to stop.”

Clanton is glad he feels this way.

“He has a real feel for what this station should sound like,” he said. “And with him being very well known in the area, it’s been a good fit.”

— Eric Englund


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