John Lyon on finding his way after WMAL ~
“For two years . . . I floated around . . . It wasn’t the same, what I’m used to all these years being here. Strangely enough, I connected with Montgomery County to work in the Victim Assistance Program. I was on the air at WGAY on a Sunday morning. . . I picked up this card and the card said, ‘Volunteers needed for the Victims Assistance Sexual Assault Program of Montgomery County.’ . . . put that one in my pocket. The next day I called the number on the card . . .”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town. This Andy Ockershausen, and what a pleasure and what an extreme, extreme happiness for Janice and I to be with the original WMAL Swingman. We call him The Swingman ’cause he could swing on every show on WMAL. John Lyon, welcome to Our Town.
John Lyon: Thank you very much. I’ve been looking forward to this.
Andy Ockershausen: I first remember that people said, “It’s not Lyons.”
John Lyon: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: John Lyon, and when he came . . . I was at WMAL. I’d been there so long I was part of the furniture or the fixtures. When John first came as a young man, but he left as an old man, but he never really left. I’m sure he’s got WMAL in his heart.
John Lyon: Oh sure. Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: Like we all do, John.
Channel 7 – Lyon’s First Audition in DC
John Lyon: It’s … I came here in 1967. Auditioned after three years at a station in Peoria, CBS station there. The odd thing about that was the guy that I replaced in Peoria was the same guy I replaced here. I’d been there three years and I said to the boss … His name was Bob Beneke, I don’t know if you remember.
Andy Ockershausen: I remember the name.
John Lyon: Bob Beneke. When he left here, he got out of the business. He went into some financial dealings and stuff.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, you were hired as an announcer, correct?
John Lyon: I was hired-
Andy Ockershausen: Not as a talent and not as a performer but an announcer?
John Lyon: I’m not sure now.
Andy Ockershausen: Well … That’s where … Jack Weaver and Frank started as announcers on WMAL.
John Lyon: Yeah. We had a TV audition, Channel 7 audition and Frank Ford maybe-
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
John Lyon: Was the Director-
Andy Ockershausen: He’s our guy.
John Lyon: It was me and like six other guys for this audition and I had to borrow some dough to come out here. I had to borrow money to come out here. I had four kids back in Peoria, that I said to the boss, “Look, I’ve been here two or three years now. I’m kind of getting to the end of the scale, you know?” I said, “Is there any chance you can give me some more dough?” “No, that’s it,” he said, “You’ve come to the end of the road.” He said, “That’s how we kind of do it here. We’re a medium-sized market.”
Andy Ockershausen: It’s a market price.
John Lyon: We got a chance to do a lot of stuff there. Did TV, nighttime radio program, and he says … I said, “Well, okay. I’ll be honest with you. I’m gonna start looking for work.” He says, “Okay, good luck.” I put audition tapes out to all the stations where I thought I could fit in, mainly in the Midwest ’cause that’s where I was.
Andy Ockershausen: Sure.
John Lyon: I went to WGN Chicago, WCCO Minneapolis –
Andy Ockershausen: Powerhouse.
Fate? – Lyon Intended to Work in Midwest, DC Never Crossed His Mind
John Lyon: KMOX St. Louis, WOW Cincinnati, ’cause I thought, “I know these stations and I think I could work there.” Well, I didn’t hear anything from any of ’em. Somehow a tape ended up out here in Washington, D.C. I had no idea where Washington D.C. was. I said, “Point to the east and keep going.” That’s what I did and I think it was Harold Green called me and he said, “We’re gonna have auditions”, on whatever the date was. I said, “I’ll be there.” I made arrangements and I went and got a few bucks together and came out here –
Andy Ockershausen: Were you married?
John Lyon: Oh, sure.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, you were?
John Lyon: I had four kids
Andy Ockershausen: Married … Oh yeah, that’s right. The babies were all born.
John Lyon: Four kids, yeah. I came out for the audition, we did a TV audition in which we stood in front of a camera down at Channel 7. Read a couple of commercials, ad-libbed whatever we could think of, and then after nobody said anything. Nobody said, “You got the job, we’ll call you”, nothing. Goodbye. It’s over. I got on a plane and went back and I didn’t hear anything for the longest time. I mean, like three weeks-
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
On Hearing the News of His Hiring at Channel 7
John Lyon: Four … I’m thinking, “They forgot about me or I’m dead on this deal.” I called, and I forget who I talked to. It may have been Frank. It may have been Harold Green. I don’t think it was him, though, and they said, “Well, wait a minute. We’ll get back to you.” I said, “Okay”.
Andy Ockershausen: You’ve heard that before.
John Lyon: Yeah, I’m ready to go tuck it in somewhere. It wasn’t too long after that that I got a phone call, and I forget who told me, but they said, “Oh, nobody told you you got the job.” I said, “Oh really?”
Andy Ockershausen: Was it a summer relief? Or was it a regular gig?
John Lyon: It was a regular gig. They didn’t have summer relief … When I came here, they didn’t have summer relief guys. They had one guy who did everything.
TV Announcer During the Week | Radio on the Weekends
Andy Ockershausen: Well, with that we hired Trumbull as a summer relief from the Army Band, but he got a job. He stayed here. You were different, you were hired as an announcer.
John Lyon: I was hired as a TV booth guy because it was me, George Wilson, Trumbull did some of that down there, Johnny Batchelder, remember him?
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, very well.
John Lyon: Sure, well, where he was like the big . . .
Andy Ockershausen: Safeway Theater. He was great.
John Lyon: He was king of the hill. That’s what we did down at Channel 7. We had regular shift. On weekends I had a radio shift. I filled in for everything. We had a noon news program. I remember John Criswell, Mal Campbell-
Andy Ockershausen: You really bring these old names back. This is in the ’60s.
John Lyon: This is in the ’60s. Forget who the weatherman … Louie Allen was the big weatherman down there at that time.
The Swingman – A Special Talent
Andy Ockershausen: He did his whole business in our studio. He was doing weather forecast for shippers way back, way back … What’s the best way to go somewhere you go don’t get into a storm? He was there to ship all over the world out of the WMAL studio or offices on Connecticut Avenue. Louie showed me the whole scene, but that’s away from … John was hired because believe it or not, Ken … Ken Hunter, I’m talking to our technician-
Ken Hunter: I’m over here. I hear you.
Andy Ockershausen: ‘Cause of his talent. He could do something that was very rare, and thank God the station and the people recognized it. He could do a lot of people, and that was what we needed. We needed somebody like the bench, right? When Harden and Weaver were away, you just couldn’t dump that audience on somebody else that had no understanding of the people or the market. You had to understand who you were talking to and John had that unique talent to understand … He was John Lyon, but he was talking to Harden and Weaver listeners.
John Lyon: That’s right, that’s right. That was the whole secret. That especially came true when you worked for Felix.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my God.
John Lyon: Felix was … Felix Grant for those of you who are-
Andy Ockershausen: Felix Grant.
Lyon Had a Knack for Knowing Talents’ Listeners
John Lyon: Wondering who we’re talking about … Was like the King of Jazz radio, not-
Andy Ockershausen: Before there was Jazz.
John Lyon: Not just Washington D.C., everybody … All the musicians around the world knew who Felix was. I loved filling in for him because I’m a Jazz guy really at heart from Chicago and went to all the clubs and everything. That was a big . . .
Andy Ockershausen: You provided the same mood that Felix provided. The mood.
John Lyon: That’s what you want to do, though. You can do your own thing, but you want to keep the flavor of the guy –
Andy Ockershausen: Felix’s listeners-
John Lyon: You’re filling in for.
Andy Ockershausen: We had a guy visit us, I’ll never forget, from out of town and he said, “I’ve been Washington for a week and I’ve been in four or five or six cabs and everybody’s got Felix Grant on.” Most of ’em were people of color cab drivers, all listening to Felix ’cause he had Jazz.
John Lyon: Well, they loved him because Felix knew what he was talking about.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Count Basie Called
John Lyon: In this very studio over here, I was on the air one night for Felix. He was gone for a couple of weeks or something. I was on the air and the phone rang and I thought, “Well, I wonder who’s on the phone?” I picked it up and it was Count Basie calling from a cruise ship somewhere in the world. I don’t know where he was. Just calling up to see how Felix was doing and he had some extra time and I thought, “Wow, this guy-
Andy Ockershausen: Isn’t that amazing? That was Felix’s popularity. Oh, it was incredible. People … John, there’s so many signals now you can listen to, but then nobody was doing what we were doing and that was catering to an audience. That’s what … The audience wanted Felix at night. It was a mood. Following him with people … who like Bill Mayhugh was sleeping. He probably was, but he carried part of that mood, but he changed it. He became then the only guy you could hear at night was Billy Mayhugh. That was John Lyon when he did Mayhugh.
John Lyon: Felix and Mayhugh, I think were musicians’ best friend in this town. Nobody had better … Were more loved than them and they returned that love, too, for all these local events.
Andy Ockershausen: Every organization had their own and the military organization had their own band, but in addition to that, there were people playing gigs all over Our Town. No matter where it was, they were WMAL listeners because they knew they would get what they wanted. They weren’t getting something different. It was Felix and Bill. Bill milked that leading right into the morning show, which was so important. We had the only reporter on the street, John, as you know. You were here. Now everybody’s got ’em all over, but we had a guy on the street with a camera, worked for 7 and us.
John Lyon: Larry Krebs.
Andy Ockershausen: Larry Krebs. He was a big part of the overnight show.
Filling in for Talent Sometimes Had Its Challenges
John Lyon: He came out one night … We had a storm … We had some pretty good storms while we were down at this location here on Jenifer. That was … We were filling in for Harden and Weaver that week and we had a storm and a half. I don’t know how much snow came down. Larry had to come out in his car because … I don’t know if he had a four-wheel drive vehicle or something. Getting me out of my house and climbing over four feet of snow to get down here.
Andy Ockershausen: Where were you? Around Four Corners or something? Were you way … I think you went to Farnham you said.
John Lyon: No, I was out in Kensington.
Andy Ockershausen: Kensington?
John Lyon: Yeah. I’ve been to –
Andy Ockershausen: Nobody could get out that night.
John Lyon: Nobody could get out, but he –
Andy Ockershausen: Krebs did.
John Lyon: He came out … He got me and delivered me, ’cause he was quite a guy.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, you lived through the years … Remember the WMAL Police Helicopter. We had to send it one time to pick up … He talked about that sitting right in here, did we not?
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andy Ockershausen: Mark Russell was doing something with Felix on Sunday –
WMAL Helicopter Transport
John Lyon: Oh, sure.
Andy Ockershausen: And the helicopter brought him downtown. He never forgot that. He said, “Who else in the world would do that?” I said, “Well, nobody else had helicopters.”
John Lyon: Yeah. Captain Dan we had, and we had-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my God.
John Lyon: I forget all the other guys. We had a guy in Chicago named … He was a police officer named Len Baldy, worked for WGN and-
Andy Ockershausen: That’s where we picked the idea up. I listened to that and I said, “The secret of this program is the cop. We gotta have a cop.” Remember Lieutenant Clint Humphries?
John Lyon: Sure. Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: He started out as a sergeant, we got him promoted, but having a cop up in a helicopter was very important in those days. I said we learned it from WGN. It was a great idea.
Well, we’re talking to John Lyon about the old times and the good times, and let me tell you, John, these are the good times right now. This is Our Town, this is Andy Ockershausen.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Any Ockershausen, brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
No One Who Listened to WMAL Didn’t Know John Lyon Although Many Mispronounced His Name
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen and Our Town. I’m talking to my mind a legend in Washington broadcasting, ’cause he was all over WMAL. Nobody could say they hadn’t heard of John Lyon, and matter of fact they’ve called him Johnny Lyons, I said, “No, there’s no ‘S’ there.” He had –
John Lyon: Yeah, I have to teach my grandchildren that. My grandchildren, with the last name, I said, “It’s always no ‘S’, okay? Or the ‘S’ is silent.” It’s always been a problem.
Andy Ockershausen: John-
John Lyon: Not a big one.
Andy Ockershausen: All the things you did for WMAL standout, we call you The Swingman because when Tom Gauger did his daytime, you had the ability to pick up on what Tom was doing. A lot of people would listen to … From out of town would listen to WMAL and say, “What is it these people are doing? They don’t sound alike. They don’t have a thread. They’re all different.” My answer was, “Yes, they are different. Their audience is different and they cater to that audience.” Fortunately, they had people that care. They cared about everybody.
John Lyon: I don’t think in the history of local radio that there were too many stations like this one. They had an absolute –
Andy Ockershausen: The country.
John Lyon: Love affair with its audience.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, absolutely.
John Lyon: Embraced them and included them in stuff that we did here, and they just fell right in with us.
Felix Grant and Hijacked Plane Incident
Andy Ockershausen: They made us, John, and you being able … The ability to be The Swingman was not only a smart move … I think we fell into it ’cause of your talent, but it was a money saver. We didn’t have to go hire somebody. That guy that we wanted to do Tom Gauger was here. His name was John Lyon. When Felix Grant was ill or the time he got caught in Brazil, hijacked his airplane and you were doing the show. There were so many great things I can remember.
John Lyon: We finally got him on the phone, too, and he was so terrified. He was quite a guy, but he had some frailties, I’ll say that. To say the least, but much admired by all of us.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, you had your musicians and listening to you and you were a local musician with your own gig, but one of the things that WMAL was noted for was paying attention to the public and to the audience.
John Lyon: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: Our audience loved Christmas Eve at The Kennedy Center.
John Lyon: Oh, yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Just incredible.
Christmas Eve at the Kennedy Center – a Gigantic Affair
John Lyon: That … Now, where else would you have an opportunity to be on stage at the Concert Hall at The Kennedy Center for at least a four-hour broadcast on Christmas Eve? It was a gigantic affair, and I imagine even worse to have to put together, Janice said-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: We had 600 performers at minimum. We had about four or five different set changes and it was free. The money went to The Salvation Army, so it was a fundraiser for The Salvation Army. It was beloved every year and we did it for … Started off … Actually, I was telling Andy, it started off in Union Station. Gauger did one show in Union Station and then for some reason we got into a conversation and it developed into The Kennedy Center where it was such a big hit the first year. It was a gift to the community and that’s how we really talked about it. It was a wonderful event, and I remember you and your grandson, that little … What’s his name, Matthew?
Lyon Grandfather Grandson Duet
John Lyon: Matt, yeah.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: A little … Sweet little guy and you had him up singing a song with you. It was wonderful. You had taken it over. You did Crafts for Christmas with Baltimore Benny –
John Lyon: That’s right.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Ed Walker.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, he had his own show. The Lyon and Walker Show. A staple of WMAL. Two talented people doing a show. We would take you off of that show if somebody went on vacation ’cause you had to do ’em. That was what … Having that ability, John, is an amazing talent.
On Filling In for Talent :: Variety of Work was Good, Schedule Not So Much
John Lyon: Well, I liked the variety, but I tell you, the schedules were really tough to try to go from –
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, I know-
John Lyon: Getting on at midnight and then the next morning at six o’clock. I mean, there was a thing called turnaround, which was a few shekels they threw in the pot. It was all-
Andy Ockershausen: You did it, John.
More on Christmas Eve at Kennedy Center – Charlie Byrd Played Christmas Carols One Year Just for the Asking
John Lyon: Oh yeah. Yeah, I don’t know how I did it, but I did it. Back to that show just for a second, The Kennedy Center Show was absolutely wonderful and I’ll never forget one of the highlights for me was to get Charlie Byrd to come down and play some Christmas carols. He … I’d seen him somewhere and I met him in Annapolis ’cause he lived there and worked over there-
Andy Ockershausen: He was Felix’s buddy.
John Lyon: Felix’s buddy and we asked him and I thought, “Well, I don’t know if he’s gonna do that.” Oh, he took right to it. Said, “Oh, sure, I’ll be there.”
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, good.
John Lyon: He just loved that.
Maura Sullivan | Chester Petranek | Norman Scribner
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Maura Sullivan-
John Lyon: That’s right.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Christmas Eve in Washington, we had her one time. We always had Chester Petranek. He did the Montgomery County Youth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. We also had Norman Scribner-
John Lyon: The Choral.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Yes, from the Washington Choral Arts Society, and it was a big deal. It was a production that we worked on all year long. It was fantastic and we used all the talents of all our personalities and –
John Lyon: We had … Oh, I’m sorry, go ahead.
Andy Ockershausen: John, you were such a … You were the glue that held it together, but Janice worked like a dog on it. I listened to all those shows for all those years, but the groups that would come in, we’d have almost every high school wanting to be on the show. They’d bring their chorus, their whole group downtown and they’d provide the school buses. These kids would show up, and like you said, to be on the stage at the Kennedy Center. A big, big deal for singers.
City of Fairfax Band Continues Tradition for Over 25 Years
John Lyon: Nothing like it. Just as a little lagniappe, a little extra on the Christmas show, Tom Hill, who was then conductor and leader of the City of Fairfax Band, they were with us all those shows. That show continues. I’m still doing concerts-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Oh, wow.
John Lyon: With the City of Fairfax Band, two a year. One in the summertime. It’s a kids’ –
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Oh, that’s great.
John Lyon: Concert we do outside, and the Christmas concert at Fairfax High School. We’ve been doing it for … I don’t know how many years. Over 25 years I guess.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a great, great well-known group and we talk about that all the time about how these high school kids love to help us and nobody got paid. It was all charity.
John Lyon: That’s right.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: We had tried to resurrect that. Johnny Holliday had called and he said he was talking to I think Father John Enzler, and he said, “We were trying to resurrect this to bring it back for a charity for the Catholic Church.” We approached the Kennedy Center about it. We talked about it. We talked about the opportunity and for some reason it didn’t work out, but it’s always been at the back of my mind –
Andy Ockershausen: It’s sitting right around. It’s still simmering.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Yeah, because it’s such a great gift to the community.
Andy Ockershausen: The other thing that we had … We discovered so many talented people by doing that, too, that have since gone on to other locations. The best part about it was the staff loved it. Our guys were not making a lot of money. A lot of people could have left WMAL for more money, but they loved what they were doing. I know that they tried to hire … I know that they were really after Chris Core at WTOP and Trumbull. They wanted to do something with them but I said, “No, no. We ain’t losing them.” Of course, you know Frank and Jack got a lot of people roaming after them. Took ’em to New York a couple of times. They said, “We’re happy. Why do we want more money. We can’t make us happy.” They did it.
John Lyon: The joy of working here for all those years was reminded … I grew up as a radio –
Andy Ockershausen: Peoria.
John Lyon Found Same Tone at WMAL as His Favorite Radio Show in Chicago
John Lyon: Real fan in Chicago, that’s where I grew up, though. That was the laid back Midwestern style that you heard on the air all the time. On GN and MAQ, LS, and it was The Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club.
Andy Ockershausen: Good morning Breakfast Clubbers.
John Lyon: Yeah. Godfrey when he was not such a mean guy … I mean, he really was-
Andy Ockershausen: Network radio.
John Lyon: Yeah-
Andy Ockershausen: It was wonderful.
John Lyon: Yeah, and that’s what I grew up with. That’s what I was able to get into for that golden period that we had here. It was exactly perfect for what I was –
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, WIND, too-
John Lyon: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: And Powerhouse Station, Westinghouse.
John Lyon: Yeah. Howard Miller, Wally –
Andy Ockershausen: Howard Miller –
John Lyon: Phillips –
Andy Ockershausen: Him for years. Well, John, of all the people that you worked for and all the times, is there anything that stands out other than the can of beer and you using the “S” word … I mean, other than that, it was pretty … We were very bland in some ways. I don’t think anybody ever heard anything off-color as a schtick. It might have been a slip, but we didn’t do off-color.
John Lyon: No. No, no, no.
Andy Ockershausen: None of our people.
John Lyon: No, it was a different country back then.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s correct.
John Lyon on the “S” Word On-Air Slip
John Lyon: It wasn’t so mean. There weren’t all these divisions and fights going on and stuff. I think people heard that coming from our air and subscribed to it. They were … As far as the “S” word’s concerned, I know it’s famous here. That was in that studio.
Andy Ockershausen: It wasn’t swing.
John Lyon: No, it wasn’t swing. It was in that studio right behind Janice there, and I think Kyle Burt was the engineer on duty at the time. You know who was standing in the control room when I said it? Him, Andy. I looked up and I thought, “Oh, man. Did I really say it?”
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: That’s it for me.
John Lyon: I figured out … He was just like … He was cool. He didn’t say anything.
Andy Ockershausen: It happened.
John Lyon: It happened.
The Gross National Product and The Gross National Parade
Andy Ockershausen: It happened with all our guys, but the fact is that you could do something extraordinarily well in your own name and when you had The Gross National Product, your band playing in the community and we decided that we heard about the Doo Dah Parade in Los Angeles, so we sent Sherrie Sandy, and … What’s the other young lady-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Suzanne Duncan.
Andy Ockershausen: Suzanne Duncan. We sent ’em to Los Angeles to view this band and how they put it together, I mean the parade, and came back. We came up with something called The Gross National Parade, which was gross. It was a play on words, but it was a fun parade and you were a part of it. The City just responded. We packed M Street, Downtown Washington.
John Lyon: Yeah it was.
Andy Ockershausen: On a … It was great. On a Sunday. All that talent, I loved it.
John Lyon: Yeah. I think it was the only time … We had the band in the back of a pickup truck.
Andy Ockershausen: Yes you did.
John Lyon: We had a generator so we could –
Andy Ockershausen: A speaker-
John Lyon: Have the bass player, the electric bass. I was telling you earlier, I think we played Foggy Mountain Breakdown for about four miles because people could hear us coming.
Andy Ockershausen: We started at 18th Street in Downtown Washington and ended up in Georgetown at the bottom of 32nd Street with a big huge party on the lot. We had college bands begging us to put their front bands in our parade.
John Lyon: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: It was so different, John. Like you said, it was different times then.
Halloween Remote in Georgetown with Ed Walker
John Lyon: We did a Halloween remote from Georgetown-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh yeah.
John Lyon: Me and Eddie Walker, and I remember it because the first year we did it we’d taken a cab downtown from here. We met here at the station then took a cab downtown and it was packed. It was just –
Andy Ockershausen: Wall to wall.
John Lyon: It’s probably still a pretty big deal.
Andy Ockershausen: It is. Huge.
John Lyon: The broadcast from it is nuts and we said, “Oh, we’ll do it but we don’t think this is a good idea.” We got … They put us fortunately into some bar, which was … We had a window and stuff. As soon as we got out of the cab, it wasn’t 40 seconds until somebody lifted Eddie’s wallet.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Oh no. Oh, I didn’t hear that.
Andy Ockershausen: Our Town.
John Lyon: Yeah, you can laugh about it now, but he was in the awfullest mood for the next three or four hours.
Andy Ockershausen: Poor guy in Our Town, Georgetown. Our Town –
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Yeah, that was on the corner of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, and I think at that time it was called Annie Oakley’s. It could have been. It was across the street from Nathan’s. It wasn’t that … The name of that restaurant or bar-
Andy Ockershausen: It wasn’t . . . We didn’t have sports bars then. It was just a music bar, right? There were a lot of music bars along Georgetown in those days, they’re now sports bars. We jumped on one of them. We did the Bartender’s Ball. John, we were involved in everything in Our Town-
John Lyon: I remember that.
Andy Ockershausen: And it really paid off. In the conversation with John, I can tell you that he led this parade ’cause he could do anything, and we didn’t overpay you either, did we?
John Lyon: No, no. Not at all. Not ever.
Andy Ockershausen: You paid us, and you paid us with your talent and we appreciate it so much.
We’ll be back and I want to talk to you about a couple of other things, John. This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen.
“John Lyon, who was one of the real, real important people to the success of WMAL.”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen and this is Our Town and having a wonderful conversation with John Lyon, who was one of the real, real important people to the success of WMAL. I remember he was the host of the Harden and Weaver 25th Anniversary Show at the Kennedy Center, which again, brought the whole world to see it. The whole world that we wanted. The President and the Vice-President of the United States participated in that show.
John Lyon: Yeah, that just shows you the … I would say quality, that’s not the right word, but you know what I mean. The influence that this station-
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
John Lyon: Had over the community.
Andy Ockershausen: The listeners.
On Heading Up Harden and Weaver’s 25th Anniversary Celebration
John Lyon: They want to celebrate with us. “Okay, we’ll meet you at the Kennedy Center. Where you gonna be?” “The Concert Hall probably. That’s the biggest one they got.”
Andy Ockershausen: We did it all.
John Lyon: It’s what we need, but sure. I remember being back there for something for Felix. It was an anniversary show or something.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: It was a We Like To Be In Washington D.C., or it could have been his anniversary.
Andy Ockershausen: I was there and he had … Anybody that was somebody, Dave Brubeck was the star.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Monte Alexander I think was there.
Andy Ockershausen: Monte Alexander. The guy with the trumpet –
John Lyon: Dizzy Gillespie.
Andy Ockershausen: Dizzy Gillespie, they were all there for Felix. None of those people got paid, John. Did you know that?
John Lyon: Oh sure. I was –
Andy Ockershausen: It was a free gig. You didn’t get paid either. I’ll never … I’ll tell you what year that would be, 1979. I remember it vividly. That show at the Kennedy Center with Felix. John, being part of WMAL, we’ve all been a part of your life, fortunately for you and for us. You had a terrible tragedy in your life in 1975.
John Lyon: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: Which was … Effected WMAL, too. I mean, we all … We couldn’t feel your pain, but we as a company knew it was a terrible, terrible situation you were going through.
Daughters’ Abduction – Lyon Family Always Grateful for Support They Received – “an impossible situation to comprehend”
John Lyon: Yes, I know that, and I’m always appreciative of the people who were supporting us because it was an impossible situation to comprehend. There’s even to this day, 1975, March 25th, two of my daughters were abducted from Wheaton Plaza and hadn’t seen-
Andy Ockershausen: The shopping center.
John Lyon: The shopping center. One was 10, the other was 12. Their birthdays were coming up the next weekend, and Easter was close by and they disappeared. We didn’t know anything until, well, almost last year when we had a group of cold case police officers from Montgomery County, five of them, maybe more, but the main ones uncovered some evidence and we brought this guy to trial and he’s in jail in Delaware and he’s gonna be in jail in Bedford, Virginia.
Andy Ockershausen: You had the support of not only your friends here and our public, our listeners, but Montgomery County really stood tall as I recall. They to this day I’m sure, it’s pride for them to know they never gave up.
John Lyon: They got a special award for that, and they just … We unfolded that just a few weeks ago at one of the Nationals games downtown. It was a big ceremony for them. John Walsh was in town. They had all kinds of people come in for them and give them this award. The unfortunate thing is even though it’s … Closure’s what you talk about all the time –
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, well –
There is No Such Thing as Closure
John Lyon: Well, that’s a bunch of … That don’t work. It’s not closure-
Andy Ockershausen: It never will close.
John Lyon: Because it never does. We’ve never found them. They’re still missing. We know what happened to them. It’s the worst of the worst.
Andy Ockershausen: They’re still missing, John, but you … Being part of this and seeing it … None of us could feel what you felt, of course, but there was a lot of love in this company that stood tall and I’m so proud of ’em. The county and the community and … They were helping. What can you do?
John Lyon: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s what we all went through. My Janice went through it more than anybody, how badly she felt and continued to feel. We love seeing you and Mary in life. You went on, you had two wonderful boys-
John Lyon: That’s true.
Andy Ockershausen: You never gave up and that’s such an important thing to remember, for everybody.
John Lyon: Yeah, yeah. They say, “Well, how do you do it?” I don’t know.
Andy Ockershausen: No, there’s no prescription for this.
John Lyon: You keep going. I know … This probably goes back to the “S” word, the famous “S” word-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: You can say it, John.
John Lyon: I know … I know I was affected very adversely about that whole thing, and I know I was not such a good guy in some situations back then-
Andy Ockershausen: Correct.
John Lyon: And I think it affected my career. I left here in 1990. I got canned in 1990. I was 50 years old at the time. I thought, “Well, what am I gonna do now? This is all I know how to do.” For two years after 1990, I floated around at different stations and was very unhappy. Just wasn’t … It wasn’t the same, what I’m used to all these years being here. Strangely enough, I connected with Montgomery County to work in the Victim Assistance Program. I was on the air at WGAY on a Sunday morning. We had little cards to read. We did public service announcements. They didn’t do many commercials over there, but it was still a very popular station.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Part-time Gig at WGAY Leads to New Career in Montgomery County Victim Assistance Program
John Lyon: Bob Chandler was the guy who hired me. He calls me up. He says, “Hey, we got a weekend spot open here if you want.” He says, “It’s a lot different from what you’ve been doing.” I said, “Well, that’s good. I’d like to do something. Get back in –
Andy Ockershausen: Get in front of your audience.
John Lyon: Get in there. I was over there for a while and I picked up this card and the card said, “Volunteers needed for the Victims Assistance Sexual Assault Program of Montgomery County.” I said, “That looks pretty-
Andy Ockershausen: PSA you’re reading –
John Lyon: Yeah. I looked at it before I read it on the air and I said, “That looks interesting.” I put that one in my pocket. I didn’t read it. I read something else about the Boy Scouts or whatever it was. The next day I called the number on the card and I said, “Hey, I heard your public service announcement yesterday on the radio.” I said, “I think I’d like to volunteer.” I talked to a lady named Nancy Jacobstein and I told her my name and she … She didn’t tell me, but she … She knew who I was you know. She
Andy Ockershausen: She read your name. Sure. She knows you.
John Lyon: I was a famous victim.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
From Volunteer to Part-time to Full-time in Victims Assistance Program, Retires After 20 Years
John Lyon: She says, “Sure, come on in for an interview.” I got … I did some volunteer and then they said, “Hey, in a couple of months we’re gonna have an opening for part-time victim assistant if you’d like to do it.” I said, “Geez, I don’t know. I’ve never worked in an office in my life. I wouldn’t know what to do.” She says, “Well, you become acquainted with Montgomery County crime victims and you go to court with them. You learn about the criminal justice system. We have opportunities for compensation for these people who get robbed and assaulted and whatever.” I said, “Yeah, that sounds familiar. That sounds like maybe I’d like to do that.” I did, I signed on for a part-time job and then on … I forget the date specifically, but anyway, shortly after that a full-time gig came up and I took it. For almost 20 years that’s what I did.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s the county, right.
John Lyon: Yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re retiring from the county.
John Lyon: I retired when I was 70, which is eight years ago, so –
Andy Ockershausen: What a life, though. My God. That might have really helped you in a lot of ways. You had so much to give and you gave it. Again, we all lived with that. Nobody could live what you lived through and Mary. It’s impossible to explain it. Like you say, it never goes away. It’s always there and it always will be, but you live with it. We all felt it, John, and that’s a strange thing. It’s your notoriety is part of that, but that’s part of you.
John Lyon: I know.
Andy Ockershausen: We get all the baggage and we love it.
John Lyon: All the baggage, that’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: The shit word, we’ve heard that. We can’t –
John Lyon: He said that, I didn’t say that.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: You can say it on a podcast.
Andy Ockershausen: A podcast. It’s part of our culture, John. John Lyon, this has been so special to have you here in this place. It means so much to us and it made our lives … It’s made your life … Whatever you did at Montgomery County, they knew who you were, and that was so important. Please accept our love and we give it to Mary and to your boys. Both your boys are police officers, aren’t they?
The Lyon Boys
John Lyon: One of them … The oldest is a police officer, he’s gonna retire next year –
Andy Ockershausen: He can’t, he’s too young!
John Lyon: He’s 58.
Ken Hunter: Wow.
John Lyon: Yeah, Jay’s 58, and my younger son lives in Annapolis and he runs the marketplace there on the water thing. Right at the end of Main Street down there. They just reopened that a couple of months ago, he and two partners, so he –
Andy Ockershausen: You’re doing great, and Annapolis is exploding anyway.
John Lyon: Oh yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Everything is, John. Well, you’ve seen it. You’ve been here long enough to see what’s happened to Our Town. It’s grown, grown, grown. If you could go to downtown Washington, I hope you don’t have to get caught in that traffic. It’s high rise everywhere. There’s one on the river, both rivers. Just incredible.
John Lyon: They’re still building.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, it’s gonna happen –
John Lyon: Still building-
Andy Ockershausen: In Montgomery. Whatever happens with Amazon is gonna affect everybody, this whole area.
John Lyon: Well, that’s for sure.
Andy Ockershausen: John Lyon, I can’t thank you enough for being here and talking to us and making me get tears in my eyes thinking about the good … It wasn’t all good, but it was all WMAL.
John Lyon: Yeah, and-
Andy Ockershausen: That’s good.
On WMAL – “All these guys were just the greatest.
John Lyon: You don’t know how I appreciate the support, all the way from the top to the bottom and everybody in between who I worked with here. I’ve often said to strangers, I’ve said, “When I worked at that station, WMAL, it was the best people I ever met. Everybody, all these guys were just the greatest.”
Andy Ockershausen: Even the engineers. They had great people.
John Lyon: That’s right. I was trying to remember, I don’t want to slight anybody, and so I’m not gonna start naming engineers.
Andy Ockershausen: Now they’re technical directors, you know? I never asked you about Mike. Did Mike die?
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Mike McKay.
John Lyon: Mike McKay –
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, I thought –
John Lyon: Wow-
Andy Ockershausen: Told –
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: We see … I see Janet Wessels on Facebook.
John Lyon: Oh, wow.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: I see Bubblepot, Gail Granata on Facebook. Vicki Hill-
John Lyon: Bubblepot.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Yeah, it was … We all had nicknames –
Andy Ockershausen: Marge Kumaki, we saw her-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Marge Kumaki at Bill Mayhugh’s funeral-
John Lyon: Oh, and it’s so sad to see these guys die –
Andy Ockershausen: It is-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Frank Harden, Uncle Frank.
John Lyon: Oh, sure.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, you didn’t die, John Lyon. Thank God for that, and will you give our love to Mary and –
John Lyon: Always-
Andy Ockershausen: To your boys. WMAL will always be here for you, either Janice or I or Ken, somebody in our family. John Matthews-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Matthews-
Andy Ockershausen: They’re all WMAL. It’s a bleed.
John Lyon: Yeah, I get it. Thank you, Janice. Thanks, Andy.
Andy Ockershausen: Thank you, John. We love you.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Thank you, John –
Andy Ockershausen: Thanks for doing it.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: We’re so glad you’re here.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town, Season 4, presented by GEICO, our hometown favorite, with your host Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us a line with your comments or suggestions. See us on Facebook or visit our website at OurTownDC.com. Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director, and WMAL Radio in Washington DC for hosting our podcast. Thanks to GEICO, 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.