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The Mouth That Roared: Just What Suited a Radio Legend Most?
Broadcast pioneer Frank Ford made a name for himself -- literally. He was known to his parents and childhood buddies on the streets of Logan as Eddie Felbin, but he changed his moniker to echo the name of his radio talk-show's food-chain sponsor.
In reality, Ford's voice was never limited to the airwaves.
Feisty and forever outspoken, his actions often bespoke a man whose interest in community and communications was two-fold as he gave himself to whatever project came his way.
Beloved for his spunk and savvy street-smarts -- and those streets included West Philly; he was a University of Pennsylvania grad -- Ford was a mouth that roared with delight, in jobs that took him to radio stations throughout the city.
It was once said that he didn't change stations, he just had one very long mic wire that he transported along with him to each new job.
The mouth that roared was often riotous as well. Always good for a fun story, Ford could come up with anecdotes off-the-air and off-the-wall recalling his early days in radio. Or he could provide backstage banter that had him shaking his head about the musical theater business he co-owned, which crossed the Delaware in Valley Forge and onto other states.
He had a warm spot for up-and-comers, and I came into that arena and under his wing many years back when first breaking into journalism. While some in the business were stingy with advice, Ford generously replied: "What do you wanna know, kid?" and was on his way down a merry memory lane of stories.
The window into his heart opened onto a realistic view of what the world was -- occasionally, from his streetside window studio inside a bank on Walnut Street, where he broadcast and bade greetings to passersby.
He was always looking for new markets to conquer, which is why, late in his career, his small studio in NewMarket seemed oh-so-appropriate for a communicator who cornered the market on experience and excitement, no matter his age.
It may be said that at no time was he happier than being behind a microphone -- but then, that wouldn't take into account his pride over wife Lynne Abraham, whom he married back in 1977 when she was a judge, long before she became district attorney.
His heart also belonged to Israel, a topic he loved discussing on air, on his own time.
It was at WWDB-FM that the longtime Zionist was able to give voice to concerns for the Jewish state: In 1991, during the first Persian Gulf war, Ford was abetted by Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia board member Elliott J. Rosen, in putting together a trip and a schedule of interviews in Israel.
"Israelis are tough," Ford said at the time. "There is no question in their mind that they will be victorious."
Ford, too, was tough -- and victorious -- toughing it out and, ultimately, overriding changes in the broadcast business to make his voice distinctive. But it was his talent as a personable raconteur with a gregarious personality that helped define the man and win him friends.
Ford wasn't above taking a bus to events, and I joined him once on a bump-along journey up Walnut after a party. As we looked out the window during a time of particular hardship, he saw not the desolate streets, but a comeback for a city he loved and helped limn on radio.
How could he be so optimistic, without being Pollyannaish?
"Because," he said, the wit inherent in his laugh, "we got the light" -- and he pointed to the red ceding to green as the bus ambled on with a man aboard who couldn't be stopped.