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JOEY REYNOLDS, A PIONEER OF SHOCK RADIO

"Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella ... But Don't Get a Mouthful of Rain"
By Joey Reynolds
Red Brick Press
171 pages, $24.95

Joey Reynolds was the godfather of shock radio. Maybe, just maybe then, the Buffalo native was the forefather of Howard Stern.

"Long before Stern and all those morning zoos, there was Joey Reynolds, a wild animal disguised as a Top 40 disc jockey," Ben Fong-Torres, former senior editor of Rolling Stone, has written. "Just by being himself, he helped pave the way for free form and shock radio."

Reynolds just released his autobiography, "Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella . . . But Don't Get a Mouthful of Rain." It's a chatty, preachy, self-serving and entertaining confessional.

The old shock jock may have helped invent trash-talking radio, but Reynolds is not enamored of Stern.

"He stands for a certain something. I refer to it as "humiliation,' but many refer to it as entertainment," Reynolds writes. "If humiliating someone is entertaining, then he's entertaining.

"I was guilty of that sort of adolescent approach to comedy when I was younger -- when I myself was an adolescent."

Reynolds, whose life and career was once fueled by booze and dope, is now a born-again Christian sitting at the right hand of a microphone.

His writing is mundane and reads like verbatim dictation off a tape recorder, but the book is still a fun read, especially for locals. Baby boomers may remember when Reynolds dominated rock radio in Buffalo during the mid-1960s at WKBW 1520 AM.

Those who want to hear Reynolds in all his rock jock glory can catch him tonight at 6 when he teams up with his childhood pal, Danny Neaverth. It's part of the WHTT FM 104.1 annual radio reunion.

Today's Reynolds is a far cry from the crazy Joey who broke hit records, insulted guests, pushed language and civility to the limits and drove station managers up a wall.

After four decades of addiction, divorce and the life of a radio gypsy, Reynolds apparently has found his place hosting a nationally syndicated all-night talk show from WOR radio in New York.

"I've made a living of running off at the mouth," Reynolds writes in his book. He describes the state of radio today and his role in it this way:

"Most of the FM shows come from the crotch and the AM shows end up in the White House. I'm trying to do mine in the living room, for a cross section of listeners."

Reynolds believes his brand of talk radio is a throwback to the old Top 40 format: something for everyone. It is, in a way, like the old "Ed Sullivan" show. That program would feature rock acts, vaudeville performers, circus acts, comics and a variety of entertainment. Reynolds tries to provide topical conversation to a cross section of listeners.

It all began in Buffalo where he was known as Joey Pinto. The early part of the book details his family, including his father, a Golden Gloves fighter who settled for a job in the steel plant and later ran a place called Joe's Diner.

Young Joey ran into problems and lasted barely a year at Bishop Timon High School in South Buffalo. "The priests gave me a hard time because I wasn't disciplined," Reynolds writes. The turning point came in 1956, when Reynolds, Neaverth and a few others took over the PA system at the Babcock Street Boys Club.

Joey was a born ham and once intoxicated by the power of the microphone never let it go. A few years later he landed a gig at theold WBNY, where a program director named Arnie Schorr told him:

"You can't use the name Pinto. It's too ethnic. You need a white bread, all-American, household name, like Reynolds Wrap. Joey Reynolds. That's it."

Reynolds was a natural hustler, promoter and hell-raiser. He worked his way up to WKBW while still in his early 20s. Hometown fame couldn't last, and it all ended for Joey one night at the annual Variety Club Telethon.

Reynolds, who despite big ratings was making a paltry $300 a week, was miffed about being put on the telethon in the middle of the night. Reynolds had a couple of drinks and then was doing radio interviews with celebrities at the event, including mimic Frank Gorshin.

He asked Gorshin to do an impression, but the comedian refused. Reynolds kept badgering Gorshin, and finally the two exchanged heated words. Reynolds blurted out that Gorshin and other stars were getting "10 grand" to be there and taking too much of the money that was supposed to go to charity.

A station executive heard the interview, was incensed and fired Reynolds, who was escorted out of the studio by security, as he writes, "like a criminal."

"The next day I went back to the station to get my things. On my way out, I took off my shoes and nailed them to the station manager's door with a note: 'Fill these.' "

For the next three decades, Reynolds would bounce from city to city and job to job. He worked in radio, television, movie promotions and the record business. The money was good, and the lifestyle was fast.

"I also had a lot of freedom off the air. Too much freedom. I drank a lot of scotch and smoked a lot of pot and (had) a lot of girls. I went drinking every night after I got off the air."

Personal redemption came nearly two decades ago when Reynolds began attending AA meetings. "I was sick of the results -- the hangovers and the blackouts."

Reynolds drops big names throughout his autobiography of the people he has known and worked with, including Stern, Wayne Newton, David Letterman, Howard Cosell, Tom Cruise, Regis Philbin and Larry King.

These days, it's a new Reynolds, at peace with himself and his guests, his listeners and his family. He claims it's due to spiritual peace he has found after he somehow lost it during his childhood in Buffalo.

"I ran far and fast away from the priests at Bishop Timon High School. Well, I eventually returned to the church.

"Bouncing from radio station to radio station, drug to drug, and bad attitude to worse attitude has made me pretty appreciative of the friends, fans and fellow Christians (not to mention God) who have stuck with me over the years."

It sounds like Joey Pinto has finally grown up.