For many Philadelphians of the vinyl-record era, disc jockey George Michael was the undisputed boss of the "Boss Jocks" during his reign at "Famous 56" WFIL from 1966 to 1974.
"WFIL wouldn't have been the top-40 powerhouse that it was without George Michael, and broadcast radio will never, ever be the same," said WIP's Howard Eskin, who got his start in radio as an engineer for Michael at WFIL (560-AM).
Michael, who left his mark in Philly spinning rock 'n' roll 45s and later in Washington as a TV sportscaster, died Christmas Eve from complications of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. He was 70.
Though Michael left WFIL in 1974 to join WABC Radio in New York, he recently referred to Philly as "my heart."
"This is simply the greatest city in the world," Michael said last year, when he was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's Hall of Fame.
"I can now tell people that the city that has my heart, that I love from the bottom of my heart, has now made me a part of its history, and for that, I thank you."
Michael became a standout among sportscasters during his 28-year career at WRC-TV, in Washington, where he launched "The George Michael Sports Machine." His syndicated show pioneered the use of game highlights and became a model for ESPN and other sports networks.
In Philadelphia, Michael was the first rock DJ to talk up local sports. In between songs, he'd slip in the scores of high-school basketball and football games.
"George became an instant radio star by embracing two appealing subjects of the time - pop music and high-school sports," recalled broadcaster Larry Kane, who worked with Michael when Kane was a WFIL news anchor in 1966. "You had 'King George,' as he was called, spinning the 'hot hits,' and giving you the straight news from the gridiron through the sources of his vast personal reporting network."
Michael was one of the original "Boss Jocks," along with Chuck Browning, Jay Cook, Dave Parks, Frank Kingston Smith and Jim Nettleton. Just three months ago, Michael paid tribute to Nettleton, calling him "the smoothest of all," after he died at 69 of cancer. The team of "Boss Jocks" went up against the WIBG "Good Guys" - and prevailed.
"We were brought together as a team to beat the unbeatable," Michael recalled recently. "When I came here, [WIBG] had 56 percent of the audience. I was told by the man who hired me, 'You have nine months to become Number One. If you don't, you'll be fired.' "
WIBG went out of business in Philly in 1977.
Many broadcasters cited Michael's strong work ethic, "extraordinary energy" and one-of-a-kind talent for WFIL's success. Michael, who lived in Comus, Md., also rose to become one of the most recognizable figures on Washington television, winning more than 40 Emmy awards.
"He was intense," said Eskin, sports-talk-show co-host on WIP (610-AM). "He was a perfectionist. He'd yell at me, but I loved the fact that he yelled at me because that made me better. . . . I felt honored to work with him."
Michael is survived by his wife, Emmy-winning sportswriter Pat Lackman; a brother, Earl Gimpel; a sister, Jane Lettich; two children from his first marriage, Michelle Allen and Brad Michael, and two grandsons.