Veteran D.C. broadcasting executive Andy Ockershausen admits that he had no idea what a podcast was when his wife suggested that he start doing one. But give the man a break. He is 87, after all.
And he’s a quick study.
“It’s broadcasting where you don’t need a radio,” Andy said of podcasts. His, called “Our Town,” started last month. Two 30-minute episodes are uploaded each week to ourtowndc.com. Each is like a little time machine, with the dial set anywhere from 1975 to 1995, when we were at Peak Ockershausen.
I first heard the words “Andy Ockershausen” in college in the 1980s, when I worked as a delivery driver for a photo lab. It sounded like something from a children’s game — Olly olly Andy Ockershausen! — but in fact was the name of the general manager of WMAL, which in the 1980s wasn’t the nest of right-wing screechers that it is today but one of the city’s loveliest AM stations.
I wasn’t really in WMAL’s demographic, but our delivery vehicles didn’t have FM radios, so I tuned in to such 630 AM personalities as Harden and Weaver, Tom Gauger and Trumbull and Core. I came to appreciate their gentle humor and sense of community and local history.
Andy has those qualities, too. He’s a D.C. native, a graduate of Eastern High School who went on to the University of Maryland and American University.
It was Andy’s older brother, Harry, a lawyer at the Federal Communications Commission, who set him on his career path.
“In the ’40s he said, ‘The future’s going to be radio and television,’ ” Andy remembered. A neighbor put Andy in touch with someone at WMAL, which at the time was owned by the Washington Evening Star newspaper. (The Washington Post owned WTOP back then.)
“They hired me as a page,” Andy said. “I learned the business by starting at the bottom.”
He got more advice from Jim Gibbons, a famed local broadcaster who did Redskins play-by-play on WMAL, the sort of in-front-of-the-microphone job Andy aspired to. “He said to me, ‘Andy, I’ll tell you about this business. You can be in sports — and that’s great — but the secret to success in this business is sales. Sales is where the action is.’”
So that’s what Andy did, eventually heading the station’s business operations. He spent 36 years at WMAL. It’s where he met his wife, Janice, she of the podcast-prodding. Andy left WMAL in 1986 for a long stint at Home Team Sports/Comcast SportsNet.
Now, he has the podcast, which is produced under the auspices of Janice’s PR company, Best Bark Communications. It’s heavy on the people Andy rubbed shoulders with over the years, Board of Trade types and local sports and entertainment figures. Each is a blast from the past.
I got a kick out of Andy’s interview with Bill Regardie, who ran an eponymous business magazine that had a style and sass that seems to be missing these days. The idea, he explained to Andy, was to treat D.C. businesspeople as “big shots.”
Regardie was notorious for taking a baseball bat to his art director’s office, after the staffer kept missing production deadlines. (Regardie later helped get him a job at Rolling Stone.)
I also enjoyed the interview with D.C. restaurateur Tony Cibel, who started out running a gas station in Takoma Park, then worked for a relative who owned a chain of children’s dance studios before getting into the liquor and restaurant business. An early Cibel success was the Dancing Crab, which attracted Redskins players every Monday night.
Invited to open a Dancing Crab at the soon-to-debut Washington Harbour, Cibel said, “We can’t put a crab house in here, with all those fancy apartments. The smell would drive people out. How about a great seafood restaurant? That’s how Tony and Joe’s started.”
The worst customer at Tony and Joe’s? Cibel said it was William Shatner, who announced, “I don’t want anybody to talk to me.”
Ted Ward, vice president of locally headquartered insurance giant Geico, talked about why they came up with the gecko mascot: People kept mispronouncing “Geico.”
Andy seems to know everyone in Washington, and he appears to be inviting most of them on to his podcast. At some point he asks them the same thing: How did they get their start? How did they become successful?
Well, Andy, what about you?
“It sounds like a cliche, but I do believe that it’s hard work,” he said. “And hard work when it has a connection with timing is usually very successful. People who work hard and get the timing right, good things happen to them.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.