Blast from Your Past - Book 1, Excerpt 7: DJ Burt Sherwood

 Blast from Your Past - Book 1, Excerpt 7: DJ Burt Sherwood

LR note 09/23/23: Burt Sherwood had a rompin’ good time in the early days of Rock Radio broadcasting. Sadly, at the distinguished age of 95, Burt took his affable good humor to Rock & Roll Heaven, Thursday, September 21, 2023. As author of the Blast from Your Past books I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Burt in 2009. His entertaining stories are part of radio history in book one, Rock & Roll Radio DJs: The First Five Years (1954-1959) and two, The Swinging Sixties.]

Partial look at Burt Sherwood’s Rockin’ Radio career … he didn’t start out in popular music, but by late 1950s, WMCA/New York coaxed him in to their burgeoning new music format to be one of their "Good Guys." When talking about Rock Radio history, not many think of political intrigue … read on …

 How did I get here?!

Burt and Anne began their married life honeymooning in Miami. But WMCA apparently thought that 24/7 was not just for emergency personnel (remember those days?). “The station always wanted to know where you were,” said Burt.

“We’d only been in Miami two nights when I got a call. ‘Go grab a tape recorder from WFUN and go to the airport; you’re on a six o’clock plane to Havana.’ I said, I don’t have money for that, and what do I do with Anne? ‘It’s all taken care of—all paid for. Take her with you!’”

Now ladies, whether you’re old or young … be honest … although twelve miles of fine white beach sand is enticing, was or is, Cuba top on your list of honeymoon destinations? Away they flew—next stop, Varadero Beach, Cuba.

Fidel Castro was not a satirized political puppet in January, 1959. Considered a ruthless activist in the first years of the decade, his relentless efforts to oust the troubled country’s “provisional president,” General Fulgencio Batista, proved victorious. He rolled into Havana on January 8th as Commander-in-Chief of Cuba’s Armed Forces.

Hardly a fitting setting, you’d think, for a young American couple’s honeymoon. But Cuba’s casinos (built by American “controlled interests”) were a popular playground and just weeks earlier, The US and Batista’s Cuba had enjoyed a congenial relationship. Nothing to worry about, right? Talk about walking into a hornet’s nest.

“I get off [the plane], and a guy has a gun pointed at everyone getting off the plane. And like a big fool, I went over to the water fountain, and drank two sips of the water—I was thirsty! Never drink the water …

“Before I got sick, we saw the guards for Castro. They were killing people [yes, literally]. We talked with somebody for five minutes, and they’d take them out and shoot them.”

If anyone but Burt had said that I’d have written him off as a nutcase. But no sounds of disagreement came from the stalwart Anne—and you know wives will correct their husbands at any opportunity! (Although too critical ends in three divorces, like moi. Heehee.)

For Barry Gray’s news show, WMCA desperately wanted the ratings that history-making leading stories provide. So on his honeymoon, Burt became a field journalist. He spoke a little Spanish and they managed to bypass the guns safely, to settle in for a few days.

“Every night we broadcast back to WMCA and Barry’s show. Don’t know where those tapes are now,” said Burt. Apparently they conveniently disappeared shortly after airing.

When the Cuban government got wind of his broadcasts, reminisced Burt, “I was threatened by a well-known politician, to ‘leave it alone.’ He demanded I give the tapes to him.” Just like in a good spy novel, Burt gave him two blank tapes, and left the next day.

He eventually learned that the Cuban “mission” was a result of his passing acquaintance with Castro’s “26th of July Movement” compadres. The military group, named for Castro’s 1953 failed coup, had visited Barry Gray’s news show in New York recently, making a play for US sympathies, and they remembered Burt. His honeymoon in Miami was fortuitous—for them.

In spite of the brutal drama, Burt insists he and Anne enjoyed the adventure. Before they left Havana, one of the men who had visited New York rapped surreptitiously on their hotel door late one night. Expecting a threat, Burt and Anne were thankfully surprised with a chauffeured tour of Havana rarely seen by Americans.

WMCA’s Program Director, Ruth Meyer,* still says to Burt, “I owe ya two weeks.” (*Ruth Meyer entered Radio Heaven on January 21, 2011.)

Can you believe it?! International political intrigue—and you thought Rock & Roll radio disc jockeys were just a bunch of fun-lovin’ wild ‘n’ crazy guys stuck in a little studio behind a microphone! Didn’t think you’d learn anything serious in Blast from Your Past! did ya?! Dig it some more, when Burt rocks on, into the Sixties.



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