Thursday, August 1, 2013

In Memory of the TL Sound

Growing up in the Pittsburgh market, I was exposed to quite a few first-class radio stations and an even greater number of excellent radio personalities. Of those I remember from my youth, several names come to the forefront and include the following:
  • WAMO’s Porky Chedwick
  • KQV’s Chuck Brinkman
  • WZUM’s “Mad” Mike Metro, and
  • WMCK’s Terry Lee.
I got word today that Terry Lee had passed away on Tuesday at the age of 70 from a long fight with lung cancer. Terrance Trunzo (as he was legally known), got his start in radio at WESA in Charleroi at the age of 16. After stints at WESA, Carnegie’s WZUM, and Canonsburg’s WARO; Terry was hired by WMCK in McKeesport in 1964.

Located at 1360 on the AM dial, the station’s 5,000 watt signal was a contender in the Pittsburgh market with a strong daytime signal. At night, not so much, as WMCK operated with a reduced power of 1,000 watts with a four tower directional array – still enough power to cover the boroughs east of Pittsburgh.

When WMCK became WIXZ, they became serious about competing with their biggest rival KQV. This lasted until WJAS became 13-Q and the Top 40 wars on the AM dial were on with 13-Q taking the lead Top 40 spot in Pittsburgh. Decades later, Lee would host a weekend show on WJAS.

It was during Terry Lee’s years at WMCK/WIXZ that he became the quintessential local media star and music entrepreneur. His years in the business went far beyond turntables and cart machines. He was a mobile deejay and his dances attracted teens from all over the area. Soon he turned his talents to concert promoting and the managing and producing local bands.

He used his forum at WMCK/WIXZ to promote some of the bands that recorded for his own labels: Sherry Records and Stone Records. One of the local bands he promoted and produced was named The Larks who he rechristened as The Fantastic Dee-Jays. During 1965 and 1966, The Fantastic Dee-Jays recorded one album and five singles that were only distributed in the Pittsburgh region. The Fantastic Dee-Jays even opened for The Rolling Stones when they played locally in 1966.

Along with The Fantastic Dee-Jays, Terry managed and produced the Arondies, the Swamp Rats, and the Racket Squad. He also was a night club owner and hosted a music TV show, “Come Alive,” on Pittsburgh’s channel 11 – WIIC. He would also have TV shows on KDKA-TV and WPGH-TV. When he left Pittsburgh for Phoenix, Lee hosted a syndicated radio program bringing the “TL Sound” to a national audience.

Over the years, he also owned several radio stations but had divested his interest in these outlets a number of years ago. In 2008, he returned to Pittsburgh audiences where he hosted record hops and hosted several radio shows. Lee was still performing up to several months ago until his lung cancer forced him to retire from the music scene.

I remember listening to Terry Lee during his evening shift at WMCK/WIXZ and can honestly say he influenced me to try my hand at broadcasting – a career that I had for 20 years. To honor TL, we leave you with a song he produced for The Fantastic Dee-Jays: “Love is Tuff” from 1966. Rest in Peace Terry – old DJs never die, they’re just potted down.

By the way, I must give credit where credit is due.  While I have my memories of Terry, many of the specific facts for this post came from a web page about Terry Lee on the Pittsburgh Music History site at The author gives a great amount of detail concerning the life and career of TL. Check it out. 

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