Amsterdam really misses Phil Spencer Sr. He was the guy who transformed the WCSS Radio Station into an Amsterdam institution and maintained its standard of broadcasting excellence for three decades.
He was born Phillip Spalletta on Long Island on August 12, 1929. He grew up a rabid Brooklyn Dodger fan and attended Sewanaca High School, where he became a very good school-boy athlete. After graduating from Adelphi College, he started his career in radio as an announcer with a station in High Point, North Carolina. The station manager there told him his “Spalletta” surname wouldn’t play well in the south so together they came up with “Spencer” as his on-air name. When he told his father Joseph about the switch, the elder Spalletta drove all the way down to High Point to argue about it with his son’s boss, but to no avail.
He came north when he was hired by WENT Radio in Gloversville, where he met and married the love of his life, Francis Lomanto, in 1952. WCSS hired him as its sports director in 1958 and he was promoted to station manager soon thereafter. Phil Spencer Sr. was born for that job. He had a great eye for talent. Under his watch, the station hired personnel like Don Decker, Rip Rowan, Bill Pope, and Bill Saylor. That eye included an amazing gift for recognizing potential. He gave Lynch students Bob Cudmore, Chet Kukiewicz (aka Chet Curtis) and Todd Pettingill their starts in radio and made local guys like barber Joe Mason, beer distributor Bob Bartyzel and country band leader Dusty Miller radio legends within the station’s local market.
Spencer was also a consummate professional. He himself was outstanding on the air. He was a great writer, a great teacher and could sell advertising to any business in town. He was a consummate and shrewd businessman and he had an amazing knowledge of Amsterdam’s listening demographic. Its no wonder his reputation extended well beyond his hometown. Spencer was a respected member and one-time president of the New York State Broadcasters Association and he served on the Board of Directors of the National Broadcasters Association.
He and Fran had two sons. The oldest, Joe became my very first best friend when we were united as classmates at the old Guy Park Avenue School. He would follow his Dad into the broadcasting industry and was on his way to becoming one of this country’s brightest newscasters when he was tragically killed in a helicopter crash, while on his way to cover a workers’ strike at a Hormel Meat plant in Minnesota for ABC News in 1986. Phil’s youngest boy, Phil Jr. became one of my favorite local DJ’s. He hosted a popular rock show at his Dad’s station in the 1970’s and did an outstanding job anchoring WCSS’s local high school football games for many years.
I am witness to the fact that Phil and Fran Spencer were also amazing parents. They never missed one of their sons’ school or sports activities and whenever I visited their home, I was impressed by the level and scope of the conversations they had as a family. The Spencer boys were brought up to get engaged in the issues that impacted their lives and they both learned that lesson well.
After Joe died, Phil sold WCSS, retired from radio and got involved in local politics as a Montgomery County Supervisor, where he championed improved government efficiency and better value for taxpayers every chance he got. He also purchased a condo in Vero Beach, FL so he and Fran could winter there and he could watch his beloved Dodgers prepare for each new season at their Dodger Town spring training facility. In fact, he went and got a part-time job with a radio station down there that got him into the team’s press box and clubhouse, where he would regularly interview Dodger stars and up and coming prospects.
Every Christmas, Phil and Fran would return home from Vero Beach to spend Christmas with Phil Jr and his family. They did so again in 2005 and it was during that holiday visit that Phil Se suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 75.
A community’s media are good representations of its vigor and quality of life. When you’re visiting a small town for the first time, picking up a local paper or tuning in a local radio station is a great way of constructing an accurate first impression of its strength’s, weaknesses and character. When Phil Spencer ran the show at WCSS, we could be sure that first time visitors to Amsterdam who turned to 1490 on their car radio’s dial would like what they heard.
Phil shared his August 12th Birthday with this outstanding Amsterdam musician.