"You are sitting in a virtual Mount Rushmore of Philadelphia broadcasting," Larry Kane crowed yesterday, scanning the packed dining room of the Bala Golf Club.

The retired news anchor, emcee for this event, was right, except for one thing.

The finely formed heads, not yet turned to stone, bobbed and babbled like those of youngsters. The mouths moved fast, as you'd expect with a lot of talk-radio types in the room.

And the memories? They could have filled the golf course outside.

There was Sid Mark, at 75 still tall and lean, a giant of Philadelphia radio who made Sinatra a Delaware Valley specialty. And Lew Klein, 81, a co-owner of Gateway TV and executive producer of Dick Clark's American Bandstand. And enough on-air and behind-the-scenes TV and radio talent to start a first-class network.

They all came together at a special celebratory luncheon of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia to honor the late dean of Philadelphia talk-show hosts, Frank Ford, who died in March at age 92.

Born Eddie Felbin - he took "Frank Ford" from a onetime client, Frankford Unity grocery stores - Ford grew up in Philadelphia and began his career as an announcer. He eventually worked under almost every set of call letters in town, bought a station himself (the old WDVT-AM), and retired in 2000 when his last outpost, WWDB-AM (860), switched formats.

Colleagues gave him credit for pioneering interactive talk with radio listeners when technology made that possible, becoming a legend in Philadelphia broadcasting. One by one, speakers rose to the lectern in the spirit Ford exemplified - sharp-witted, fun-loving, humane.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," began Dom Giordano, a good friend of Ford's and a major talk-show host himself on WPHT-AM (1210). "Frank Ford helped to invent talk radio."

Giordano confirmed Kane's introductory remark that "Dom Giordano would not be here if not for Frank Ford," talking about how Ford helped him get into the business and prosper. Addressing himself, it seemed, to the 12 young Pioneers scholarship students in the room, he advised: Find a mentor, maybe even here at lunch.

"You gotta be lucky," Giordano remarked. "You gotta bump into a guy like Frank Ford."

Next came a Florida call-in from Ford's partner for more than a half-century, Shelley Gross, with whom he and Lee Guber founded the Valley Forge Music Fair and other entertainment businesses.

In moving remarks, at times expressed directly to his old friend "Eddie," Gross talked of Ford's openness to everyone ("His busy mind had no place for pettiness") and his enterprising spirit ("I choose to believe he's off developing some new scheme") despite the pressures of a "long reign as king of nighttime radio."

"No one with Eddie's joie de vivre could ever die," Gross said. He closed, poignantly, by promising his pal that "I'll be joining you soon" and adding, "Our partnership will continue forever."

Could anyone follow that? Mark managed it. "I had the best of both Franks," he quipped, telling how Ford, in the mid-1950s, wrote a fan letter to the boss of his first station, helping him build his on-air career. When Mark's time slot followed Ford's later on, he said, Ford always left some callers on the line, just in case.

The generosity didn't end there. Once, Mark recalled in another of the anecdotes that kept lunch going from noon past 3, Ford arranged for the young disc jockey to introduce Benny Goodman at the Academy of Music.

"I am never introduced by local disc jockeys," the famed clarinetist told Ford.

"Benny," Ford replied firmly, "if he doesn't introduce you, you're not going on."

That kind of loyalty came up repeatedly yesterday, as did little-known aspects of Ford's career. Klein, for instance, said "Eddie" was a pioneer of TV weather news in the United States in the 1940s.

Finally came a woman who knows something about long reigns - Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, Ford's wife of 32 years, whose 18-year tenure makes her the longest-serving district attorney in city history.

Glowing in a bright purple dress, she had been greeting old friends throughout the lunch in the upbeat spirit that ran through the event.

"You know," she began with a big smile, "if Eddie were here, he'd be having such a good time."

She talked about how Eddie became Frank without ever stopping being Eddie, that "Jewish kid with the big nose from Logan" who once lost a schnozzola contest to Danny Thomas.

When she and her husband met Pope John Paul II, she said, Ford immediately tried to pull the pontiff into a casual chat about their mutual friend Eddie Piszek ("You're a friend of my friend Eddie!"), the founder of Mrs. Paul's foods.

Abraham confided that she had paid Ford's endless parking tickets while he thought she was "taking care" of them as district attorney. She pooh-poohed their age difference (24 years), saying "age is irrelevant" when you find your perfect partner. She lauded his courage in backing Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal, who became the first openly gay talk-show host on his station.

Finally, as district attorneys do, she summed up: "He was such a terrific guy."

Contact staff writer Carlin Romano at 215-854-5615 or cromano@phillynews.com.