RIMERSBURG – As powerhouse rock and roll radio station WDVE celebrated 50 years in the Pittsburgh area this past weekend, one local teacher got to relive his roots as an up-all-night rock DJ.
“I don’t think my students even know or care about my past life,” Union High School history teacher Ken Gibbs said Monday while recapping the past Friday evening’s festivities in Pittsburgh to celebrate the golden anniversary of one of the region’s most well known radio stations.
Now a mild-mannered teacher who occasionally fills in on the school’s morning announcements, and who operates a greenhouse and kettle corn business on the side, Gibbs spent the late 80s and early 90s on the air at WDVE, mostly working the night shift where he built up a following among the All Night Animals.
A native of the West Deer area near Pittsburgh, Gibbs said his interest in radio developed after he won a contest at WDVE during his senior year of high school and got to be a DJ for a day at the rock station.
“That was huge,” he said. “It was just so much fun.”
Gibbs moved on to West Virginia University where he initially majored in veterinary science, but it was the university’s newly installed radio station that attracted his attention.
With the audition tape he made a year earlier during his one day at WDVE, Gibbs said he felt confident he would be able to go on air for the college station.
“They didn’t hire me,” he said. “I was devastated.”
Gibbs served his time working in the radio station’s music library before finally getting a chance to go on air.
After college, Gibbs moved on to a small radio station in Morgantown, W.Va., before moving into the Pittsburgh market at rock station WYDD in 1985.
“All I wanted to do was radio,” he said, noting that he moved to Los Angeles for a time, but couldn’t get in the door at any radio station there.
It was then that a friend of his was hired at WDVE and called Gibbs to let him know about an opening at the station.
Gibbs started at WDVE part-time in 1987 and moved to full-time the next year.
“I was the youngest person they ever hired full-time,” he said. “It was amazing.”
While the late night shift was his main stomping ground, Gibbs said he filled in occasionally for Herschel in the afternoon slot.
Gibbs said he was fortunate to work with a number of Pittsburgh radio legends, including Jimmy Roach, Scott Paulsen, Jim Krenn and others.
And those weren’t the only legends Gibbs found himself around in those days.
“I did a lot of concerts in those days,” he said. “They would want someone from WDVE to come out and bring the band onto the stage.”
“I worked all the venues: Syria Mosque, The Decade, Civic Arena, Star Lake,” Gibbs said. “My biggest night had to be the Monsters of Rock Tour at Three Rivers Stadium. The headliner was Van Halen and the place was sold out. Walking on the stage was amazing.”
Other acts he introduced included Lynryrd Skynrd, Robert Plant, Metallica, Yes and more.
Gibbs said the nicest people he met backstage at the shows were Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, and Bon Jovi.
Despite the great times, Gibbs said he and the other on-air personalities knew that radio was changing and that oftentimes, stations would make wholesale changes in their talent. In talking with Herschel one day, Gibbs said he mentioned that he might go back to school to get his teaching degree, and that the veteran broadcaster gave him the advice to always have something to fall back on in case the radio gig didn’t last.
And it didn’t. Gibbs said that with the next contract change, he and others were out at WDVE, and he was back in school to get his teaching degree.
Now, a teacher with 14 years under his belt at Union, Gibbs said it was fun to revisit the past after being invited to the WDVE’s 50th anniversary celebration last Friday night.
“There weren’t any egos there,” he said. “It was a very unique family reunion.”
One person Gibbs said he had a chance to meet at the event was Allen Shaw, a radio legend who was part of the early days of FM radio. Shaw was the one who took Pittsburgh’s fairly new rock station KQV-FM and assigned the newly renamed WDVE with the “DVE” call letters, because they were the letters of “dove” which fit right in with the peace and love music movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“I miss radio,” Gibbs said as he headed off to teach his first class of the morning. “But it’s a whole different business now.”