Friday, July 31, 2015

Ed Henry

I have written about Ed Henry in the past, usually in January when his radio program, "The Polish Melodies Show", celebrated its anniversary. The program began its Sunday run in 1950 on WCNX-AM1150 in Middletown as a 30-minute blast of polkas, waltzes, and obereks, expanding to 60 minutes along the way (and 2 hours for a few years in the 1990s.) WCNX became WMRD-AM when Don DeCesare purchased the station in 1996, adding WLIS-AM Old Saybrook later that year.

Mr. Henry, as we politely called him, turned 88 this past March, 2 months after the show began its 66th year. And, he continued to show up at 9:30 a.m. every Sunday in bad or good weather until he passed away suddenly Saturday night July 18th. Ed Henry was buried last Friday in the Veterans Cemetery on Bow Lane after a High Mass at St. Mary of Czestochowa Church in Middletown.  I was asked by Jean Henry, his wife of 62+ years to deliver one of the eulogies (Mr. DeCesare gave the other.)  The text of mine is below.

In one’s lifetime, you may be lucky to meet 2 or 3 people who change your life for the better.  For me, Ed Henry was one of those people. I was born and raised in Middletown and our family listened to WCNX-AM1150 just about every day and, some days, from sunrise to sunset.  I first started paying attention to the voice that was Ed Henry’s on Saturdays when my sister tuned in to the Top 30 Show.  Soon, I was the one sitting close to the huge floor radio to check out this music I was beginning to enjoy.    To be honest, I did not discover the Polish Melodies show, which began its run the year after I was born (you do the math), until I came back to Middletown after college to work alongside my father in his business.  The small radio he kept in the store was always tuned to AM1150 and, on those Sunday mornings I helped with bookwork or washed the floors, we’d listen to Ed.
            I finally entered the wondrous world of radio one day in the fall of 1996 to do my very own show. Now the station had the call letters of WMRD.  Originally, my show aired at 2 p.m. on Sundays but I soon realized that was not the most opportune time for a Jewish music and culture program.  Owner and General manager Don DeCesare figured the only solution was to move the show to the morning and, to manage that move, Ed Henry would have to relinquish the second hour of Polish Melodies.  To my undying gratitude, he said yes without a question or a hint of annoyance.
            I soon became part of the Sunday Morning Crew and, even better, one of the Ed Henry Singers. Slowly but surely, I arrived earlier each week so that I could sit in at the beginning of Ed’s hour, creating sound effects, cracking wise and generally creating a friendly mayhem.  And, Mr. Henry loved it, the crazy voices, the head bump, the horse hooves, the chicken clucks….remember, I grew listening to AM radio in the 60s before it became innuendo and shock jocks and right-versus-left.
            Over the years, the crew of 2 Eds (chief engineer and unsung hero Ed Litos is the younger of the Eds) and me grew to include a former radio station engineer and Navy veteran Don Meno who became the Birthday Man – Once in a while, the entire Crew would go out to Sunday dinner with Bill Glynn, who had been station manager at WCNX in the early 1950s and, basically, Ed’s boss, along with Ro Badeau (Roland), who was Ed’s engineer before Mr. Litos took over. O, the stories Ed and Bill told.
            Here’s what I discovered about Ed Henry over the past 19 years. He never said a bad word about anybody, he loved his family (especially the grandchildren and now the great-grandchildren), he loved the United States, and he loved his radio show and especially his audience.  And that audience loved him right back. And, for a little station, Ed Henry had quite the coterie of grateful listeners over the years (even more became fans after Don D acquired WLIS in Old Saybrook).  Once we started streaming on the Internet, people who had moved out of state could now listen on Sunday morning and, even better, with On-Demand, people can listen 24/7.
            More than anything, you should know that Ed Henry liked to have fun on the radio. He celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, taught the Crew to sing “Stolat” and to applaud good deeds. He liked to sing along with certain songs, such as “I Love Everybody”, Bobby Vinton’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”,  “God Bless America” as well as the many Polish prayers he played through the Holidays.
            Yet, the two items that will stay with me more than anything is his sign-on “Is It Sunday Yet?”, ringing out of the speakers at high volume at 10 a.m. and, the ultimate memory, the song that closes the show every week.  Many of you already these words -  “I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to go home. I’m having too much fun” – I have to admit, I used to think that was a younger Ed Henry singing – “I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to go home, the band has just begun” – see, this 60 minute radio show was what Ed truly enjoyed, not that he didn’t want to spend time with Jean and his family, but – “I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to home, I’m having too much fun” – truer words have never been written or sung. By the third verse, “I” has become “we” and everybody in the building and listening on the radio is singing right along – “The whole gang is here. We’re full of good cheer/ Ohh, we don’t wanna go home!”
            That’s the essence of the Polish Melodies Show and its host.  We are having fun, Ed has filled us with good cheer, he has made us smile, made us laugh and, be honest, why you would want the party to stop?  When you look around, this world is rife with danger, loaded with sadness – let’s have a good time for an hour – the world can wait – reality is always in your face – let’s smile for a few minutes.
            That’s what I learned from Ed Henry. Savor your time on this planet.  Even as your body falters, stay young in your head, enjoy as much as you can, because, even though “you don’t wanna go home”, you have to. Even though what awaits you may be negative or intolerable, if you remember  “the whole gang is here” and will be every Sunday at 11 a.m., some of that “good cheer” may get you through the days and the week until it’s Sunday yet again.

            My friend, you’ve done quite a lot to make our world a happier place. Bless you and may Jean, sons Robert and James, daughter Suzan, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren be comforted that you brought so much joy to so many people for such an amazing number of Sundays!   Thank you for this honor. 
            Ed, rest easily among the stars.

(By the way, the show will continue for the foreseeable future with Chief Engineer Ed Litos and me co-hosting.)

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