When John A. Gambling took over his dad’s radio show, America still liked Ike. Elvis was waiting for his draft notice. The Chicago White Sox were playing in the World Series.
On Friday, John A. retired. Eisenhower is dead; Presley’s supposed to be dead, and the White Sox may be coming back from the dead. But John A.'s son, John R., becomes Gambling generation No. 3 to be host of the local morning radio show as it wraps up its 65th year.
“You could always turn on the radio and find old John, young John, or in-between John,” saidJohn A., who took over in 1959 from the show’s founder, his father, John B. Gambling.
“If people wake up and hear about problems--a strike, a war, assassination, whatever--they turn us on and know the world hasn’t come to an end. Their world has some continuity.”
“Rambling with Gambling” has been a Gotham fixture since the Roaring ‘20s, outlasting a dozen mayors, 11 presidents, Billy Martin (five times) and three wars.
Their show is not typical Big Apple. In a city known for Ed Koch’s abrasiveness and George Steinbrenner’s arrogance, the Gamblings provide a quiet morning introduction to what is going on.
“I firmly believe that the last thing listeners want to hear in this controlled mayhem is more noise, more confusion. There’s enough of that in their own kitchens,” said John A., 60, in explaining his theory of broadcasting.
The Gambling family’s introduction into the radio business offered no indication of the dynasty to come.
John B. Gambling was an engineer at WOR-AM in 1925 when he subbed for the regular announcer on a morning calisthenics show--there were no aerobics back then. John A. officially took over the show 34 years later, with his son John R. joining him in January, 1985.
Eighteen months ago, “The Guinness Book of World Records” proclaimed “Rambling with Gambling” the world’s longest-running radio show, after its 20,000th broadcast.
John A. cites that, along with a 30th-anniversary broadcast from Madison Square Garden, as the highlights of his career. Gambling says he will miss the camaraderie of the crew doing his show, along with the loyal listeners who have kept his ratings high through the years.
“We have an opportunity to touch millions of lives. You’re never quite sure how, but you hope you do it in a positive way,” said John A. “Every once in a while, there’s feedback, and you find out how you touched someone. That makes it all worthwhile.”
In addition to longevity, there has been innovation: The Gamblings are credited with providing the city’s first radio newscast, first helicopter traffic report, and its first school-closings bulletin.
There are additional Gamblings waiting to grab the microphone down the line: John R. has three sons. Much to John A.'s dismay, they are named Andrew, Bradley and William--although he is quick to point out that they all have the middle name John.
“The really marvelous part is the passing of the baton along to my son,” said Gambling. “And he’s got a few of his own waiting in the wings.”