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Kal Rudman, ‘the man who picked the hits,’ and publisher of the Friday Morning Quarterback, dies at 91

Uncanny at predicting hits, he was visited by Bruce Springsteen and other stars who wanted to know why their songs were popular or not. "I became extremely famous overnight," Mr. Rudman said in 1994.

Mr. Rudman and his wife, Lucille, try out the anchor chairs in a studio at the new media production center at Temple University that they funded.
Mr. Rudman and his wife, Lucille, try out the anchor chairs in a studio at the new media production center at Temple University that they funded.Read moreMICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer

Solomon “Kal” Rudman, 91, the longtime publisher of the popular Friday Morning Quarterback music magazine, a philanthropist, former radio disc jockey, pro wrestling announcer, TV talk-show guest, and self-promoter extraordinaire, died Tuesday, Nov. 30, of heart disease at his home in Cherry Hill.

Lucille Rudman, 91, Mr. Rudman’s wife of 63 years, and his partner in business, philanthropy, and life, died Thursday, Dec. 2, of heart disease at Virtua Hospital in Marlton.

Known affectionately by radio listeners and music lovers of all stripes for nearly 70 years as the “Man with the Golden Ears” and the “Round Mound of Sound,” Mr. Rudman first rose to fame in the 1960s and 1970s as an influential local disc jockey, and then as the writer and publisher of the Friday Morning Quarterback, an industry must-read magazine that offered advice to radio station programmers and predicted which songs would be hits.

It was his uncanny knack for predicting which songs would become hits — and which wouldn’t — that remained his calling card for the rest of his life. He published FMQB and several subsequent publications out of his Cherry Hill home for years and was visited there by Barry Manilow, Elton John, and other big names.

“It is impossible to overstate his influence as to what people heard on the radio,” said Chuck Darrow, a veteran entertainment writer. “For more than 30 years he determined what we heard.”

As his fame in the radio industry grew, so did Mr. Rudman’s footprint in other areas. He worked at Billboard and Record World magazines, and, thanks largely to his rich baritone voice and animated speaking style — he rapped and rhymed before it was popular — he was hired to do announcing and interviews for the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s.

He was also the music expert in the 1980s on The Merv Griffin Show and the Today show, and chatted routinely about tunes with Tom Snyder, Johnny Carson, and other TV talkers.

Later, after their fortune was made, he and his wife dived into philanthropy. They funded, among many other things, programs at Drexel and Temple Universities, contributed to the Community College of Philadelphia, and paid for special equipment and education opportunities for the Philadelphia Police and Fire Departments and other law enforcement agencies.

The Kal & Lucille Rudman Institute for Entertainment Industry Studies at Drexel and the Kal & Lucille Rudman Media Production Center at Temple are among the most highly regarded educational organizations in the country.

“They found great joy in sharing the fruits of their labors,” said David Boardman, dean of the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple and chair of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the nonprofit that owns The Inquirer. “You could see it in their eyes, especially when they met with the students.”

Until recently, Mr. Rudman also cohosted a radio show, Inside Medicine, with Joseph Fallon, an endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism specialist, on WWDB-AM (860). “He was so mentally quick,” Fallon said. “I would tell him about something medical we were going to talk about, and he would master it in minutes. He was a brilliant, good friend.”

Calling himself Kal “Big Beat” Rudman — “Kal” was his tribute to Philadelphia announcer Kal Ross — he kicked off his radio career in 1959 when he got a summer job as a fill-in disc jockey at WCAM-AM. While other DJs played records in a daily rotation that included dozens of songs, Mr. Rudman, knowing that his airtime was limited, instead played records he liked six or seven times in a row.

By doing that, he said, his records were drummed into the consciousness of his listeners faster than those of the long rotations. So they became hits faster. That cause and effect made music-industry executives from New York and Hollywood quickly pay attention to what Mr. Rudman was doing.

As for how he knew which records were destined for success, he said it was a “gift” and “in my chromosomes.” He once estimated that 90% of the records he predicted to be hits went on to be so.

“If it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention, it’s going to be a hit,” he wrote in a 2007 opinion piece in The Inquirer.

Asked why he named his publication the Friday Morning Quarterback, he said that he had to get his weekend playlist recommendations to the radio stations by Friday morning, and that to win the really big NFL football bets on Sunday, you had to know the scores of the games on Friday.

Born March 6, 1930, in Philadelphia, Mr. Rudman graduated from Central High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania, and a master’s degree in education from Temple.

He spent a year at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine but left to work a few teaching jobs during the day while honing his radio career at night.

Mr. Rudman was a stickler for grammar but not punctuality. He received many awards, was an honorary Philadelphia police and fire commissioner, liked to watch CNN, and did voice-overs on radio commercials for local politicians.

He usually had to dine out in small restaurants and sit in the back to avoid crowds gathering at his table. A people person, he gave money to strangers if he thought they would benefit, and served as a father figure to more than one of his friends.

Talkative and more than willing to share his opinions, he lectured reporters on how to write their stories about him, and interviewers often had to interrupt him to get him back on topic. He got so excited about one music project that he leaped onto his desk and waved his arms excitedly as the artist looked on in shock.

Asked why he never moved to be closer to the music industry’s big names, Mr. Rudman told The Inquirer in 1994: “The lights are bright enough in Cherry Hill. The truth of the matter is there are two diners here that are open all night. You can’t find anything open all night in New York. And L.A. is worse.”

Mr. and Mrs. Rudman are survived by their son, Mitchell, and other relatives. Mr. Rudman had a brother who died earlier.

Services have not been announced.

Staff writers Dan DeLuca and Mike Klein contributed to this article.