Broadcast Pioneers Luncheon
Bala Golf Club, Philadelphia
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
He's the legendary Geator with the Heator; the Boss with the Hot Sauce; the King of Philly Rock & Roll. He's as much a part of Philadelphia as cheese steaks, Tastykakes, soft pretzels, and the Liberty Bell. He has been entertaining the Delaware Valley for over 50 years. He's Broadcast Pioneers member Jerry Blavat and is credited by many as inventing the "oldies" format.
As a dancer, radio and television disc jockey, performer, entertainer, producer, and nightclub owner, Jerry was born Gerald Joseph Blavat on July 3, 1940. He was raised in South Philadelphia and began his show business career at the age of 13 when he debuted as a dancer on the Original Bandstand hosted by Bob Horn. A few years later, at the age of 16, he became the road manager for Danny and the Juniors, a top Rock and Roll group of the late fifties. At the same time, he met Sammy Davis Jr. They became life long friends and when Sammy married his third wife, Altovese Gore, Jerry was his best man. Blavat became Don Rickles' personal valet in his early years and they remain friends until this day.
In 1960, he started his own radio talk show on WCAM (AM), in Camden, New Jersey. In September of that year, the South Philadelphia review reported that a new radio show would be broadcast live from the Venus Lounge at Broad and Reed Streets in South Philly. The paper said, "The name of the new venture is called the Jerry Blavat Show and features a South Philadelphia personality by the same name." Then on a snowy night in mid-January, pulling out a stack of records, he began entertaining listeners throughout the night, and the legend of "The Geator" was born.
In the mid-sixties, reports had his audience at a half million teenagers per month. Much of Jerry's broadcasts in the early days were done on reel to reel tape. Recording the program in his garage studio, the tapes played while Blavat made personal appearances. During this same time, Jerry's broadcasts were also added for a time to the program schedule of WHAT. On that station, Blavat stated that he only made $18 a week ($1.50 per hour). Most of his audience didn't buy it, but it was true. The real money was at the hops, not on the air. However, Blavat knew he needed the airwaves to promote the appearances.
In 1965, he produced and hosted his own TV show "The Discophonic Scene" on the CBS' Philadelphia outlet, WCAU-TV. From 1967-70, the show aired on WFIL-TV, Channel Six and was syndicated through Triangle Publications coast-to-coast in 40 markets.
When the British Invasion came along, Jerry never became part of it. He didn't like format radio, never participated in it and has always been his own man. In 1966, Jerry said: "It had been hell during the Beatles reign, when there had been much pressure to get on the bandwagon. But I sensed that it just didn't have enough soul for my kids... So I finally gave in and played a few, and I got bombarded by phone calls saying 'Geator, what you doing, man?'"
In April of 1972 he became one of the first on-air personalities on WCAU-FM, an oldies station. He was on Sunday nights from 7 to 10 pm. He went on WFIL as a regular in the fall of 1983, hosting Sunday nights and quite often weeknights, when WFIL returned as an oldie station with Harvey Holiday as Program Director. In 1987, Blavat moved to "Philly Gold Radio," WPGR. It became "Geator Gold Radio" in April of 1992 when Blavat purchased the station.
Until this day, Jerry is seen on many local and national TV shows. He had been involved with PBS on their Doo Wop specials working with the show's producer, T. J. Lubinsky. When the shows aired locally over WHYY-TV, Jerry Blavat was the area's host.
Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson, who produced "Jerry Blavat Presents The Legends of Rock and Roll" at WHYY-TV, along with some of the Channel 12 Doo Wop events said: "One day I stopped down at Jerry's studio while he was on the air. The broadcast still had 15 minutes to go when "Mama Geator" (Jerry's mother) showed up. That was the only time I ever saw his show ever take a back burner. He immediately went into a record (yes, he still plays those old 45's) and ran out to greet her pulling me with him. It was something special to see a 60-year-old man (at that time) being that devoted to his mom. He's a good guy. He worshipped his mom. To me that was a good trait to see in my friend." His mother passed away in December of 2001.
(left to right) Broadcast Pioneers members Frank Stone and Jerry Blavat
Chickie's and Pete's, Egg Harbor, New Jersey
Throughout his career, Jerry has appeared on "The Tonight Show," "The Mike Douglas Show," "The Joey Bishop Show," "The Mod Squad," and "The Monkees." Jerry Blavat has appeared in feature films including "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Baby, It's You," and "Cookie."
After WPGR, the Geator then built studios in Center City and currently broadcasts over five different radio stations throughout the Tri-State area as the Geator Gold Radio Network.
In April of 1998, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's "Hall of Fame" on Friday, November 22, 2002. On Monday, May 1, 2000 Jerry was interviewed by Broadcast Pioneers member Ed Sciaky on our webcast, PIONEERS IN BROADCASTING. You can view it in our video section and on our YouTube Channel. A more recent interview (done in February of 2016) is also on our YouTube Channel. This interview was done by Broadcast Pioneers member Mike Strug, a veteran broadcast journalist for decades.
He still owns his own nightclub called "Memories" in Margate, which has celebrated its 40th Anniversary a few years ago. Besides broadcasting five days a week, he works at various clubs most nights and casinos. While many refer to James Brown as "the hardest working man in show business," the title should belong to Jerry Blavat.
His autobiography, "You Only Rock Once: My Life in Music," was published by Running Press in July 2011 and has now been released in paperback. Plans are now underway to make the book into a motion picture.
Jerry Blavat's pages on this website are some of our most popular ones. We are always getting e-mails from people wanting us to put them in touch with whomever sells VHS/DVD copies of the old Blavat TV vehicles. Unfortunately, NONE of this material exists today. Many of the shows were live and never recorded. Others that were on tape, were broadcast and the tapes re-used. Remember that only television stations used videotape and the cost of a half-hour of tape was almost $500 (in 1965 dollars). They were re-cycled and used over and over.
Do you have audio (or video) recordings of any of Jerry Blavat's TV shows? If so, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia would love to have a donated copy for our archives. Have recordings of Jerry's radio broadcasts before 1990 (especially WHAT shows and early WCAM programs)? Again, we would love to receive a donated copy.
Jerry Blavat, who lives in Philadelphia, said many years ago: "I may not be the best jock in the world, but I've got my own built-in excitement meter." Like the Geator says: "Keep on rockin' 'cause you only rock once."
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Written, compiled and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
Top photo by Broadcast Pioneers member Bob Kravitz
Bottom photo by Barbara Farley-Stone, wife of member Frank Stone
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