Local radio pioneer Frank Ford - who over the decades worked for just every station in town - died today from complications of a stroke at Vitas Hospice at St. Agnes Hospital in Philadelphia. A longtime Center City resident, Mr. Ford was the husband of Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham. He was 92..
Although Mr. Ford was also a musical-theater impresario, he was best known as one of Philadelphia's first talk-radio celebrities. His last gig was hosting a daily show with WWDB-FM before it switched to an all-music format in 2000.
"Frank was my mentor," said radio personality, Sid Mark. When Mark, who hosted music shows, had to do a talk show in the 1970s, Mr. Ford gave him good advice. "He told me, 'When you get stuck, there are three topics that will always light up the phones - "Will Social Security be there when I get old; Nobody can tell me where I can walk my dog; and "Why can't two parents take care of all the children and all of the children can't take care of the two parents."
Mr. Ford grew up in Logan as Eddie Felbin and graduated from Simon Gratz High School in 1934. As a student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1937, he worked at WHAT-AM as an announcer for $15 a week and car fare.
After graduating from Penn in 1939, Mr. Ford ran a modeling agency called "Eddie First." Later, when he had a radio gossip show called "Hollywood According to Hoyle," he took the moniker "Eddie Hoyle."
How he got the name Frank Ford is another story. In 1946, he had a job selling radio time for a radio station, and one of his clients was Frankford Unity Grocery Store. The store wanted a music program, and Mr. Ford figured that he could pick up extra cash by hosting the show.
To sweeten the deal, he took the moniker "Frank Ford." The program lasted 10 years, and the name stuck.
"I wonder what my name would be if the sponsor was the Piggly Wiggly stores," told the Daily News in 1995.
In the 1950s Mr. Ford was an announcer on WPEN-AM when the station asked him to take over for a late-night talk-show host who had moved to New York.
He took the job, and eventually became one of the first radio personalities to implement technology that permitted dialogue between callers and the on-air host. (Previously the host had to repeat what was said, because listeners could not hear callers.)
Known for his liberal views, in 1959 Mr. Ford won an award from the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission for informing the public "on many issues of inter-group relations."
Over the years his guests included Abbie Hoffman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sugar Ray Robinson and controversial comedian Lenny Bruce - who became a friend.
While hosting a talk show on WPEN-AM in the early 1970s, he did several interviews with Ira Einhorn, the local hippie guru who killed girlfriend Holly Maddux in 1977, and was later convicted of her murder.
In 2002, Mr. Ford told The Inquirer that Einhorn "stank even then," as though he never washed.
In 1985, Mr. Ford became one of the bosses, he bought WDVT-AM, and held the station until it closed for three years.
During his tenure at WDVT, the station became the first in Philadelphia to broadcast a gay-oriented program. It was hosted by Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News.
After retiring from radio in 2000, Mr. Ford ran an advertising agency, Reinhart Productions, that made and placed radio and TV ads, for several years before retired for good.
Mr. Ford first met the future Philadelphia district Attorney when she was growing up.
As a young girl, Abraham - who is 24 years younger than Mr. Ford - helped take care his ill father. Whenever Mr. Ford's mother wanted to go shopping, Abraham was called to sit with her husband.
And when she was a teenager, Mr. Ford got Abraham a job at the Valley Forge Music Fair, which he had founded in 1955 with partners Shelley Gross and Lee Gruber. The first show, "The King and I," opened in a tent in the summer of 1956. The partners eventually erected a theater on the site.
And as a college student Abraham babysat Mr. Ford's daughter Deirdre from a previous marriage.
In the 2002 Inquirer interview, Mr. Ford said Abraham was considering going to medical school, but he talked her out of it. He told her: "You ought to be a lawyer. Your forthright. You've got a big mouth. You talk well. You're smart."
They married in June 1977. By then she was a Municipal Court judge and he was hosting talk shows on WFLN-AM and WWDB-AM.
"I'm interested in her work," he told The Inquirer a few months after the wedding. "I'll wander over and just walk into her courtroom and sit and watch. Professionally, she's very direct, considerate."
Abraham was a Common Pleas Court judge when she was elected District Attorney in 1991.
"I told her not to run because she'd be giving up tenure - she was a judge - and taking a large pay cut," Ford told the Daily News in 1998. Although Abraham called Mr. Ford the smartest man she knew, she didn't take his advice.
After she was elected, he was supportive. He bragged about her cooking and claimed she made chicken soup just like his mother, but it was Mr. Ford who got up at dawn to make breakfast when Abraham became district attorney and had to be in the office at 7 a.m.
"No wife could have a better cheerleader and supporter than Eddie," Lynne Abraham said in an interview today. "He wanted everything good for me and was selfless even when I was working 6 a.m. to 10 p.m and on holidays. He didn't want anythig to impede my doing the best job that I could." Abraham said her husband regularly attended her press conferences until becoming ill in October.
Mr. Ford and Abraham traveled all over the world, she said, including to China, Japan, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. He was a foodie and enjoyed art, architecture, dance and opera, she said.
"Frank did everything with such zeal," his wife said, His accomplishments, she said, included producing concerts for entertainers as varied as Benny Goodman and Renata Tebaldi; making a TV pilot with Dr. C. Everett Koop called Seniority; and manufacturing cars. Mr. Ford briefly owned a business reproducing classic Jaguars. "He was remarkable," Abraham said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Deirdre Wild, Mr. Ford is survived by two grandchildren a great-grandson; and his former wife, Dorothy Smallwood.
A funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Joseph Levine and Sons Memorial Chapel, 7112 N. Broad St., Philadelphia. Burial will be in Haym Solomon Cemetery, Frazer.