As the ‘Morning Mayor of New York’ from 1959 to 2003, he hosted shows on WMCA, WABC and WCBS-FM, a singular trifecta.
Harry Harrison, a fixture on New York morning music radio, would wake his listeners “as gently as a whiff of fresh-brewed coffee,” one entertainment writer said.WCBS
Harry Harrison, the homey disc jockey who awakened radio listeners and accompanied them on their morning commute with a deep, mellow voice as the “Morning Mayor of New York” for more than four decades, died on Tuesday at his home in Westwood, N.J. He was 89.
The cause was a combination of multiple health problems, his daughter, Patti, said.
Mr. Harrison’s first radio program had played so well in Peoria, Ill., that in 1958, when he was still in his 20s, WMCA brought him to New York. He went on to become the only D.J. to broadcast, in succession, on three of the top music stations in the city. He was a WMCA Good Guy and a WABC All-American — the clubby team names adopted by the stations to brand their announcers — and a morning drive-time host for WCBS, 101.1 FM, until he retired from full-time broadcasting in 2003. (His death certificate said he died at 1:01 p.m.)
While some of his contemporaries harangued or interrupted guests or gratingly volunteered their opinions, Mr. Harrison would wake New Yorkers “as gently as a whiff of fresh-brewed coffee,” the entertainment reporter David Hinckley wrote on medium.com.
What distinguished Mr. Harrison in the highly competitive New York metropolitan market — even before the advent of shock jocks — was his folksy Midwest patter.
He would eclectically intersperse Beatles tracks with birthday greetings and listeners’ nominations for a “Housewife Hall of Fame.” He would deliver bromides like, “Stay well, stay happy, stay right there’” and “Every day should be unwrapped like a precious gift … that’s why they call it the Present.” As his signoff he would say, “Wishing you the best — that’s exactly what you do deserve.”
Mr. Harrison conveyed an authenticity, which, friends and colleagues insisted, was authentic.
“He was actually corny, and it came across on the air,” Vincent A. Gardino, a former colleague at WABC, said in a phone interview.
Mr. Harrison lived in the New York metropolitan area for most of his life and un-self-consciously characterized himself as “like most of the New Yorkers.” What differentiated him from fellow broadcasters, he unabashedly acknowledged, was his conventionality.
“I think the secret is that I come across as an ordinary guy, which I am,” he said. “I stayed myself on the radio, and my audience saw that I was like them and so a part of their family.”
Harry Harrison Jr. was born on Sept. 20, 1930, in Chicago to Harry Sr. and Mary (McKenna) Harrison.
In addition to his daughter, Patti, he is survived by his son, Patrick. His wife, Patricia (Kelly) Harrison, died in 2003. Two other children, Brian Joseph and Michael, died in 1996 and 2017, respectively.
Harry attended a seminary, intending to become a priest. But he decided to make broadcasting his career after spending nearly a year as a teenager glued to the radio while bedridden with rheumatic fever.
Once he recovered, he job-hunted from station to station until he landed a summer intern stint at WCFL in Chicago. He remained there eight months. In 1954, he joined WPEO in Peoria, where he became program director, hosted a show in which he began his morning routine, and transformed the station into the top rated in its market.
Word of Mr. Harrison’s success spread to WMCA, the David going up against the WABC Goliath, and the station lured him to New York, adding him to a lineup of self-styled Good Guys that included Dan Daniel and Jack Spector.
After several months, he joined WCBS, where he remained, playing oldies, until 2003. He then hosted a weekend program featuring music by the Beatles until he retired in 2005.
On April 25, 1997, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani proclaimed “Harry Harrison Day” in his honor. In November, Mr. Harrison was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
Every holiday season, he would recite his own version of “May You Always,” a Top-20 hit written by Larry Marks and Dick Charles and recorded by the McGuire Sisters. Mr. Harrison’s version ended with his signature sanguinity:
And sometime soon, may you be waved to by a celebrity,
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