It is 30 years since the job came open. Thirty years since a still-redheaded Arthur Godfrey left behind his title of Mr. Morning Radio in Washington and graduated to New York.
WTOP-AM, a variety station back then, did not lack for potential successors. But no one was betting the rent on a 33-year-old staff announcer named Eddie Gallaher.
True, he had been born here. True, he had the butterscotch voice and the goes-down-easy temperament. But the bulk of his career had been spent at baseball play-by-play in Tulsa and Minneapolis. Was this truly the man to magnetize Capital Commuters?
"I don't know myself," said Gallaher. "But I knew I had to try. I went to New York and cut an audition tape with Tommy Dorsey's piano player. And . . . ."
And he hasn't had a good night's sleep since.
If Arthur Godfrey was the dean, Eddie Gallaher has long been full professor and department chairman of the 6 to 10 a.m. slot on Washington radio.
Ticking off birthday greetings and horoscopes, giving away steak dinners and albums, handing off to newsmen and traffic helicopters, Gallaher is an institution at WASH-FM. And he is far more dynamic than most 63-year-old institutions have reason, or stamina, to be.
But surviving in the brutally competitive morning drive-time radio world is a matter of more that energy. "Talk is fine - if you have something to say," Gallaher says. From quick funnies, to turf builder ads, to rock and roll trivia, Gallaher has plenty to say.
Wait a minute. Rock and roll trivia? A 63-year-old man gossiping about The Bee Gees and Linda Ronstadt?
"I didn't believe it myself at first," said Mike Kavanagh, WASH's morning newsman (and Gallaher's junior by about 3 1/2 decades).
"He sticks out - and at the same time he blends in," Kavanagh said. "He wasn't my image of the contemporary FM radio man at first. But look at him. He's a legend."
Gallaher does not profess to like the "adult contemporary" rock music he plays. "At home," he says, "I have a dirty habit. It's called reading."
Nor does the profess to like everything about FM, espically since his early reputation was forged on AM. "A lot of times," he says, "people who don't listen to FM ask me, 'Hey, what are you doing these days?'
Above all, he does not profess to be perfect. "I've been late a few times, although not two hours late, when my alarm clocks didn't work. And it took me years to learn to work this thing," he said, waving at his bewildering console of dials and buttons.
But Eddie Gallaher oozes Washington, and it shows.
Unlike so many local deejays, he would never pronounce the first half of "Chevy Chase" like the car. He would never call the county just east of here "Prince George." Since Truman, he has rooted for the Redskins, golfed at the Congressional Country Club, eaten at the restaurants he plugs and bought his Pontiacs from the same dealer.
Although he is best known for his morning work, Gallaher's radio credits include 10 years as play-by-play announcer for the Redskins, and about that many as host of a mid-50s, late evening WTOP program called Moondial.
The show was strictly for the sentimental. It opened with a tape of a cascading glissando on the harp. Perry Como or Nat King Cole, at their soupiest, would follow. The show would be even money to be laughed off the air today, "but it was awfully popular," Gallaher said.
Less popular, for Gallaher, was WTOP's decision in 1969 to switch to its present all-news format.
Gallaher hung on for a few months, "but I wasn't a newsman and I knew it. It just wasn't my bag." He will mark his ninth anniversary at WASH this fall.
Gallaher in his studio is neither hysterical, nor sleepy, nor sickeningly show-bizzy. His baritone only lilts when the cues in his notebook full of ads tell it to.
He has three major quirks. he always broadcasts standing up ("Gets me pumped up"). He always jolts from a cup of lukewarm coffee while records are playing, to smooth his throat. And he often smokes cigarettes as he talks, to ruffle the throat's ridges just a little.
Besides his sign-off trademark ("It's nice to know so many nice people"), Gallaher's stock in trade is one-liners."It's not a sin to be rich," he told one recent Friday audience. "It's a miracle." A few tunes later, he was laying down the definition of an optimist: "A guy who expects the candy bar to be as big as the wrapper."
But retirement? Don't mention the word to Gallaher. Not if you like to see Irish eyes smiling. This flash at the thought.
"Retire? Re-tie-urr? I'd not, same as my golf game," Gallaher said. "I'll go till I'm 80, as long as they want me."
An interloper is about to ask another question, but quick as a flash, Gallaher's attention has turned elsewhere. With the sixth sense of experience, he can feel his record ending. At exactly the right instant, he is turning toward his boom mike.
"Four minutes to nine, and we got a nice, nice day for ya. The news is next. Right now, a little hustle with Van McCoy."
Now he can turn back. "Retire?" asks Eddie Gallaher. "Only when I can't do it any more. And I'll be the first one to know."