By: Greg Gulas
Read Part 2
Growing up in the late 1950’s, throughout the ‘60s and into the early-1970’s, radio was my generation’s mode of entertainment and WHOT 1330-AM, along with their sister station, back then known as WRED-FM 101.1, was the signal that whet our entertainment appetites.
Their rock n’ roll format fulfilled our musical tastes and the disc jockeys that spinned the vinyl we so yearned to listen to seemed like a “Who’s Who” conglomeration of talent that other stations could only envy. ‘Our’ station included legendary jocks “Boots” Bell, Dick Thompson, Johnny Kay, Smoochie Causey, George Berry and Big Al Knight, among others.
Area Hill’s Department Stores carried WHOT’s weekly “Fab-50 Tunedex” so we could see where our favorite songs ranked that particular week and which song was trending upward in case we decided to purchase that 45 RPM. Newer on-air talent, guys like Jeff Kelly, Bob Popa, Smokin’ Bill Cannon and Thomas John replaced the jocks that brought us Elvis and the Beatles, segueing to new music formats that included the likes of Blue Oyster Cult, The Who, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, just to name a few.
Also, among that new group of talented on-air personalities hired by the station was a local guy named A.C. McCullough, an East High graduate all set and ready to make a name for himself with the station he grew up listening to, a guy who would eventually outlast all of his on-air predecessors.
McCullough, 76, passed away on February 11 but his 52 years on the radio were a dream come true for the proud Golden Bear who grew up listening to HOT-FM 101, then was entrusted by management with the keys to their airwaves to bring music and joy to those who tuned in to his show – he most he recently served as the station’s morning host along with Kelly Stevens, a pairing that lasted since 1989 – as they began their day.
When talking about HOT-FM 101 and Youngstown, Ohio radio, invariably the conversation gravitated to WHOT’s morning show, particularly A.C. Listeners loved his delivery and his knowledge of the music industry while co-workers appreciated his dedication to the station and area for the six-plus decades he reported to work.
Thomas John, who also spent over 50-plus years in radio and was at the station both on the air and behind the scenes as well as in management-promotion positions, shared on his Facebook page recently an early photo he took with AC, Walter Smith, Jerry Starr, Bob Christy and ‘Smokin’ Bill Cannon when all served as official ‘bell ringers” for the Salvation Army.
“It was one of dozens of times that I joined A.C. on radio promotions from the old Half Price Sales and Hot Days at Idora Park to Summer at the Canfield Fair,” John proudly said. “It was the early ‘70s and things weren’t as stable as they are now. I remember we rode the Christmas float that day before getting to the parade grandstand and it took a turn onto an almost deserted side street heading toward Market Street. Jerry, Bob, Smoke and I were laughing about riding in the parade for no one, but there was actually one person, alone and standing in the doorway of the bail bondsman office. We were laughing and then we noticed that Walter and Ace were ducking down into the truck bed out of site. It really brought home the issues for the guys who were the pioneers of blacks in media.
“A.C. was at HOT about a year before I got there in ’72 and was doing afternoons, following Boots Bell in the morning. He lived right up the hill from our Blaine Avenue studios in apartments on Route 422 in Campbell so we hung out at his house on occasion. We also played together on the Good Guys basketball team. Basketball was not part of his skill set! What it was, it was the ability to go with the flow musically and I think in the end that’ll be his legacy.
“NOBODY sticks at the forefront of current music successfully for 50 years and ever loses music cred for a second. He still CARED about the new music decades after the rest of the people in that picture had moved on, either musically or otherwise. The 12 year olds in 1973, ’83, ’93, 2003 and ‘13 all listened to him before school in the morning and took their musical cues from him. After I was COVID’d out by iHeart in 2021, I ran into him and asked if he thought about retiring and he said exactly what I always thought, ‘Retire from WHAT! Talking to thousands of people on a daily basis and introducing or reminding them of the music they loved? And then going to concerts to watch from backstage or helping raise money for Children’s Hospitals? Not exactly road work.
“A.C. was A.C…on the air and off. He loved the Browns and he loved being on the radio. I really hadn’t seen him much once we stopped meeting every summer in adjacent tents at the Canfield Fair but when I did, he was the same old Ace. Self-deprecating and effortlessly funny.”
Canfield native, Jeff Kelly, was also one of WHOT’s “Good Guys,” worked with McCullough for years while establishing a 46-year friendship with his colleague.
“I was done at Ohio University in 1976 and came back to town from my first broadcast job in Saginaw, Michigan after I secured my ‘dream’ job at WHOT, 1330-AM in July of 1977,” Kelly added. “I would get together with A.C. and Smokin’ Bill at Smoke’s mobile home in Lordstown. Like three amigos, A.C. did morning drive and was our station anchor. I did afternoon drive and Smoke, who had his growing evening fan club, did early evenings. The three of us would have lunch together once a week (vegetarian at that time for AC) and listen to many air check tapes of great radio personalities. Sometimes we would play racquetball or station baseball, until someone got injured.
“Those who we admired from around the country, we would study these guys, their styles, deliveries and learn from them. We’d marvel at the “theater of radio” and “steal” lots of bits and great stuff, which we would use for our local shows. For me, as long as I have known AC [46 years], he has always loved that part of radio business.”
John Batcho, known as “Mr. Sports” and also ‘Johnny B’ when on radio, said A.C. was a big influence on his 30-year broadcasting career.
“Listening to A.C. since childhood in the ‘70s, he had this special on-air presence about him,” Batcho stated. “It was smooth and consistent but never over the top. When the stations began to merge around 2000 or so, I got to know him working across the hallway and he didn’t disappoint. Always smiling and ever so humble, you’d never know this guy had attained as much success as he had. The amazing thing to me was not just his longevity of 50-plus years but his Top-40 format is a challenging one as that type of music has evolved substantially during his era. Through all the changes, he was still hip to their younger skewing audience, not to mention the fact he did most of it in morning drive which is to roll out of bed every morning and 4:30 a.m. and an hour later entertain thousands. It was no easy feat. I was fortunate to not only know him but play golf and spend time at a week-long radio event with him in New Orleans. I always made sure to let him know the positive influence he had on my own 30-year career.”
A.C. was always out in the community and along with Kelly, his morning co-host, became a staple during Homecoming Week at YSU, later serving as emcee’s for their annual parade.
“It has always been a YSU Homecoming tradition that we partnered with A.C. & Kelly, whether it was early morning welcoming them on campus to broadcast their Hot-FM 101 Morning Show, live, or most recently having them emcee our parade along Fifth Avenue,” noted Carrie Anderson, YSU associate director of Student Activities. “A.C. was always welcoming to our students and interested in updates at YSU. It was always fun to hear him share stories about his experiences in radio and he always cared about you as a person, taking the time to truly listen. When talking with both A.C. and Kelly on the air, it just felt like a natural conversation with two people who genuinely wanted to know about you and your upcoming event. He will be greatly missed and it is heartbreaking to know we lost him way too soon. I will be forever grateful, however, for all the memories and for the opportunity I had to get to know him as a colleague and friend.”
Ken Brayer taught at East High School in the 1960’s and worked for The Vindicator during his collegiate years at then-Youngstown University.
“Mention A.C. in this area and everyone knew who you were talking about,” Brayer said. “A.C. McCullough was an institution, a proud East High Golden Bear who always made time to share stories with his fans. “One of the most upbeat on-air personalities, he changed with the music times. You could easily tell he was a genuine music lover. He joins the ranks of local legends and radio-TV personalities like Tom Holden, Don Gardner, Dick Thompson, Dan Ryan and Boots Bell. A.C. will be missed by all!”
Teena Kovach is a 1970 graduate of Campbell Memorial High School, later graduating from Youngstown State University’s nursing program. She speaks for the many students of her era who used A.C. as an informational and entertainment sounding board during their scholastic and collegiate days.
“I remember back in the day driving to YSU, listening to A.C. on WHOT 1330-AM and the great music he played, as well as his informative talk,” Kovach added. “He was radio’s best and will be missed by all. Rest in Peace, A.C.”