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Mad Mike: Oldies DJ made air waves sizzle

An appreciation

Wednesday, November 08, 2000

By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Mad Mike Metro was a guy who had several generations of Pittsburghers dancing on the tables. They greased their hair back and donned leather jackets. They met kids from all over the city and danced to crazy new records handpicked for them by DJ Mad Mike, who went on to become a music and broadcasting legend.

Those kids are grown-ups now, and a piece of their early '60s record-hopping youth has slipped away: Mad Mike Metro died Oct. 31, leaving behind a musical and broadcasting legacy that made a mark on many in the area.

The 63-year-old radio personality and oldies music collector was plagued by health problems that included heart disease and diabetes. The cause of death was an apparent heart attack. According to his wishes, there was no public viewing and funeral. He is survived by two daughters -- Michelle Shanley of Green Tree and Jennifer Caricato of Allentown, and five grandchildren.

Like his counterpart Porky Chedwick, Mad Mike was part of a pantheon of influential local disc jockeys in the '60s that included Terry Lee, Chuck Brinkman and the late Clark Race.

But while many of these worked at mainstream radio stations, Mad Mike and Chedwick introduced records that were more underground -- Chedwick with black artists, Mad Mike with wild garage bands like the Sonics.

"Mad Mike brought a lot of the underground sound to white culture," says Johnny Angel, front man of the oldies band Johnny Angel and the Halos. Mad Mike and Chedwick "were the ones that represented blue collar. They introduced us to music we would have never heard."

His real name was Mike Metrovich. The native Pittsburgher served in the Navy in the late '50s and was stationed in New York, where he became enamored with the new sound of now-classic acts like The Turbans, Big Joe Turner and Fats Domino.

When he returned to Pittsburgh in 1959, Mad Mike started hosting record hops, which drew kids from all over the area. The popular dances led to his first radio job. He started at WPIT-AM in 1964, and soon moved to what would be his radio home until 1972 -- a small Carnegie station called WZUM-AM. He later hosted oldies shows on WYEP-FM, WEDO-AM and WWCS-AM.

This year, Mad Mike returned to the airwaves to host an oldies show on WZUM (1590). After an ownership change, the former WPLW returned to its old call letters and Mad Mike was back where it all started for him. He launched "Nostalgia Music 2000," hosting an oldies show and gathering a group of other DJs -- many of whom grew up listening to him -- to host blocks of time he and son-in-law Pete Shanley purchased from station owner Michael Horvath. The shows expanded from weekends to weeknights, airing live from Pietro's Pizza Pub, which Shanley owns, on Banksville Road. A weekly Mad Mike car cruise there became a popular and nostalgic local attraction.

Fittingly, this weekend's oldies lineup on WZUM will include a tribute to Mad Mike. It starts at 11 a.m. Saturday, will be pre-empted by an afternoon Duquesne University football game and will resume at 5 p.m., and continue Sunday from noon to midnight. It will feature tributes and memories from the jocks he assembled to play oldies music on the station, including Big Ray Edwards, Little Boss Man, Fred Bohn, Johnny Angel and many others.

Johnny Angel calls him "my mentor." He knew Mad Mike for more than 30 years: As a teen, he hung out at the Mad Mike record hops at West View Danceland in the early '60s. "Mad Mike was definitely unique," Angel says. He was "a man with a mission" in terms of collecting rare and popular recordings.

Fred Bohn, owner of Attic Records in Millvale, attended his first Mad Mike dance at the age of 12. "I walked out a totally different person," Bohn recalls. "It was like nothing I had ever heard in my life. He searched from East Coast to West Coast for records. He had an ear. He could play a pop record by Frank Sinatra and follow it with some punk garage thing, and it fit."

"Music was always his life," says Pete Shanley. "Things like money didn't mean anything to him. He loved music and being on the radio. Those were the most important things to him."

Larry Berger, host of WYEP's "Saturday Light Brigade" worked with Mad Mike during the 1980s at WYEP. "He created a Sunday night oldies show that made all of our then-840 watts shine," Berger says. "While Mike's on-air style and talent are legendary in the Pittsburgh area, many may not be aware of the warmth, compassion and intelligence of this wonderful soul. Mike spent countless hours teaching local broadcasters, repairing equipment, tuning and troubleshooting transmitters, and befriending and helping people in need. He held a first-class FCC license and -- to those who knew him -- will always be remembered as a first-class broadcaster and first-class human being."

Although he spent his entire radio career here, Mad Mike's reputation among oldies fans and collectors is worldwide. He released a popular five-record series of oldies compilations called "Mad Mike's Moldy Oldies."

Two new Mad Mike CD compilations are scheduled to be released posthumously in the coming months: "For Lovers Only" and "Mad Mike At The Hop." Both are double CD sets.

Mad Mike was as comfortable working behind-the-scenes on the technical end of radio as he was behind the microphone: Over the years, he worked as an engineer at many stations around town. He even built the studio used at Pietro's for the remote WZUM broadcasts. Much of the equipment was vintage, including 1950s turntables that he refurbished.

Friends and family are glad that Mad Mike had a chance to return to what he loved in recent months. "He was ecstatic. He was able to live out his last days very happy," Bohn said. "If there's a rock and roll heaven, they got the best DJ they could have."

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