A Tribute to Jerry Blavat
"The last bastion of doo-wop culture in a McDonald's world."
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.
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.
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.
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."
Now hear the Geator, circa 1966, introducing his Guess What? record album.
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 with its original host Bob Horn, who preceded Dick Clark.
Jerry Blavat dancing on Bandstand, June 30, 1955
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 took 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 can be heard daily on radio stations in the Delaware Valley, South Jersey and on internet radio. All stream live on the net and you'll find the schedule and links below in the Listen Live section of this site. On weekends the Geat changes things up a bit, with his Rock & Roll, Rhythm & Blues Express Saturdays at 6PM on Philadelphia public radio WXPN 88.5 FM and with The Geator, Frank and Friends, hosting the timeless Sinatra sound Sunday mornings 9 - 11 on WOND 1400 AM. WXPN's website for the Saturday program has archived shows for listening any time.
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
"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 DJs are limited to material from a playlist drawn up in a radio conglomerate's national headquarters.
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.
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
- A typical show opener consists of Geator rap over a medley of up-tempo selections:
Show opener - WFIL Philadelphia - 11/6/83
- In a variation of the show opener, the Geator kicks off the show over the introduction to
Martha and the Vandellas' Heatwave.
- In the Geator's repertoire of rhyming patter there's something listeners often call to ask him to do:
"Sixty seconds make one minute . . ."
- Only Jerry Blavat and Jocko Henderson can pull off stuff like this:
"I am the man ... with the plan..."
- The Geator signs off with his signature closing line:
"Keep on rockin' ..."
Hear the Geator!
- WPGR show opener 9/24/1992
- WIBG Philadelphia on 9/7/1977
- WPGR Philadelphia on 10/23/1992
(38 min.; partially scoped)
- WPGR Philadelphia - March 1992
- WPGR with Bob Charger - early '90s
Rock radio author and historian Dale Patterson has audio of a Geator show on his must-see Rock Radio Scrapbook website.
- WPGR - 2/15/93 at Rock Radio Scrapbook
Scroll down to "Jerry Blavat."
Radioman extroadinaire Ellis B. Feaster offers some rare clips of Jerry when he joined WCAU-FM in 1972.
- Show Intro WCAU-FM 98 Philadelphia - Jerry Blavat 1972
I heard the Geator's very first show on WCAU-FM back in 1972 and this sounds like it might be that first one.
- WCAU-FM Philadelphia Solid Gold 98 - Jerry Blavat - 1972
Geator Gold Radio - Listen Live
All Times Eastern
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 .
Starting in the sixties, with vinyl LPs issued by his own Lost-Nite Records and continuing through today with 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 Fan Club, 210 Locust Street, Suite 14G,Philadelphia, PA 19106. Also available are DVDs of his TV show On the Air with The Geator. 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:
- Discophonic Walk (1965)
- Back to School One More Time (1962)
- DJ Break (1962)
- Let's Love Again (1962)
- Tasty To Me (1962)
- GEATOR GAB by Jerry Blavat
The Geator's regular column in the New Jersey Free Press
- "The Number One Cat," by Bruce Jay Friedman
The Saturday Evening Post, September 24, 1966
- "The Geator's Seat," by Jerry Blavat
Record Beat magazine, February 15, 1966
- "Ben Vaughn: Ramblin' On," by John Everson
Illinois Entertainer magazine, July, 1997
- "The Geator Visits Miami," by David H. Citron
South Miami News, July 6, 1983
- "Jerry Blavat As Hot As Ever," by Donald L. Wilno
Asbury Park Press, March 25, 2000
- "Hipsters and Hoodlums," by Nick Tosches
Vanity Fair, December 2000
- "My Man, Pots 'n' Pans! Boss With Sauce Hits 40-Year Mark!" by Karen Abbott
Philadelphia Weekly, January 10, 2001
- "The Geator's Guys and Dolls" by Ed Condran
Philadelphia Inquirer, March 30, 2001
- "Old School Spinner: The Geat Still Rocks from His Tower of Power" by Tim Whitaker
Philadelphia Weekly, August 29, 2001
- "The Geator Heats Up" by A.D. Amorosi
Philadelphia Weekly, January 20, 2022
Links and More
Before sending you off to Linkland, a few last items.
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 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.
- Current Schedule of Jerry's Live Appearances
- The Geator's Facebook Page
- RADIO GREATS of Philadelphia and New York
- Rock Radio Scrapbook
- Famous 56 WFIL
- The Reel Top 40 Radio Repository
- The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
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!"
Text, design and other original content © 2000 - 2022 Bill Smith
This site first appeared March 12, 2000
Last update: September 29, 2022
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).