Many radio listeners think on-air personalities simply walk into a studio, sit in front of a microphone, and flip a few switches and talk.
Longtime local broadcaster Wayne Cannon knew early on that being successful in the radio business would take much more.
“My thing was to become a successful radio announcer where I grew up, on the Eastern Shore. I really got dug into the community,” Cannon said.
Cannon, 68, retired March 31 after 35 years in the radio business, 20 years with WGMD Radio 92.7 FM, Resort Broadcasting.
He said WGMD is one of the most successful small-market radio stations in the country. “They have a formula that worked, and it’s still working,” he said.
“I found out years ago when I worked at WETT in Ocean City and had a morning show and started selling, that after the show I’d go to advertisers and say, ‘Hi, I’m Wayne Cannon,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, I heard your show today.’ That got you in the door,” he said.
Born in Salisbury, Cannon grew up in Delmar, Md., and graduated in 1967 from Delmar High School in Delaware.
“I had two goals. One was to get into broadcasting; I’d been interested in it since ninth or 10th grade. The other was to get into acting,” he said snapping his fingers for added emphasis. Cannon frequently uses finger snapping for accentuation.
He planned to go to the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts. “But Lyndon Johnson was president, and he had other plans for me. I knew I was going to be drafted, so I enlisted,” Cannon said.
After basic training at Fort Bragg, N.C., he was assigned to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, for specialized training.
When he arrived, Cannon said he told the assigning officer he’d really like to go into broadcasting.
“He said, ‘Well, that’s nice, but we don’t need broadcasters, we need medics.’ I tried,” Cannon said laughing about the moment.
“While there, I had orders for Vietnam. We were taking jungle training and learning how to take care of this wound and shrapnel wounds. I called mom and dad and said, ‘Well, I’m going to Vietnam,’ Cannon said. “Being a medic in Vietnam was not a healthy thing.”
He said after President Richard Nixon was elected, American troops were being pulled out of Vietnam and the war was winding down.
One day, soldiers were called into the company street for an announcement.
“ ‘The following personnel will not be going to Vietnam, but to Germany: Cannon,’ – I did cartwheels in the street. I served two-and-a-half years as a medic in Germany. Being in Europe was great. You could just get on a train and be anywhere,” he said.
In 1968, before enlisting, he had graduated as class valedictorian from the Career Academy of Broadcasting in Washington, D.C. “I went to broadcast school just to be around other broadcasters. People that wanted to do the same thing I wanted to do,” he said
On-air, Cannon had a standard go-to line he used to interject mildly sarcastic humor.
“What do you think, I’m from Guam?” he would sometimes ask. He said he doesn’t remember why he started saying it.
“Guam sounds funny. Guam just sounds funny,” he said laughing.
He worked at WSEA and WZBH in Georgetown, producing The Wayne Cannon Show and serving as operations manager, advertising sales and news director.
For several years, Cannon was Baltimore’s WBAL-AM Man in the Sand, reporting from Ocean City.
“That’s a 50,000-watt station. I’d tell them the price of crabs, price of gas, what’s happening at the convention center.”
Throughout the years, there wasn’t an on-air shift Cannon hadn’t worked. “I’ve done mornings, I’ve done midmornings, I did afternoons at WGMD and I was Captain Midnight at WWTR in Bethany Beach,” he said.
He said the captain’s audience was the beach bar crowd after closing time.
Cannon remembers the evening of December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was killed by an assassin’s bullets as he entered his New York City apartment building.
“When John Lennon died, that was my most emotional time of my 35 years in radio. I remember the story broke with Howard Cosell on Monday night football. We played strictly Beatles for 6 hours, taking phone calls with people crying,” he said.
Cannon worked with several radio broadcasters who had been in major markets such as Jack Renault who started as a disc jockey in Philadelphia.
“We worked together at WWTR. I’ve known him for years. He was a neat salesperson and a great radio announcer, great voice. Like many of us, he got into sales,” Cannon said.
He also worked at WGMD with Don Dussais, a former WGR-AM, Buffalo, N.Y., radio sports and newsman; Art Curley who had been a newsman in Philadelphia at WPEN; and Al Lavie who in the 1960s and ‘70s was Mutual Broadcasting System’s Washington, D.C. bureau chief.
Cannon’s radio commercial production experience spanned the era of vinyl records, tape carts and reel-to-reel tape, through today’s digital audio.
“We had to use a razor blade and cut recording tape, get it right, splice and tape it back together. Now, with digital, I could record a commercial at the Cottage Cafe, go home and email it to the station, and it would be on-air the next day. It’s beautiful,” Cannon said.
Cannon, a West Ocean City resident, has a long record of being dug into the community. While serving as president of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, he created the Spirit of Ocean City Award. The award honors an Ocean City entrepreneur who, while building, nurturing and promoting his or her own business, unselfishly and tirelessly promotes Ocean City.
In 1996, he received a commendation from the Delaware House of Representatives for ‘Outstanding Public Service through Broadcasting.’
He has also earned an International Lions Clubs Foundation Melvin Jones Fellowship for dedicated humanitarian services.
Clearly, Cannon is a busy man. Even so, he said from the beginning of his career, he set priorities.
“After my workday in radio, it was my family. A lot of times in radio, guys eat, sleep and drink radio. That’s why there are so many broken marriages. I loved radio, but I wasn’t consumed by it,” he said.
Cannon’s advice to young broadcasters: “Do something besides radio. Do your radio thing, nurture it, love it, take care of it, but have a life outside of broadcasting.”
Cannon met wife Christie when he was judging a Halloween costume party at the Fenwick Inn. “I told my best friend the next day I met the woman I want to marry.” Five months later they wed; that was 36 years ago. Cannon said he and Christie are active; they regularly workout at a gym and sometimes bicycle 25 miles and more.
The couple’s daughter, Amanda Cannon-Webster, graduated last month from the University of Baltimore School of Law, and son Jeff is a filmmaker living in Odenton, Md.
Although recently retired, Cannon said he’s already lining up jobs where he can use his talents.
“I wanted to do something to keep busy. I’m not one of those guys who is going to sit around in an Adirondack chair and watch squirrels bury nuts.”