The list reads like a Who’s Who of postwar America, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Dean Martin to Muhammad Ali, when everyone knew him as Cassius Clay.
But among the luminaries interviewed by Alan Boal, he particularly remembers one he missed.
“We got a tip that Dr. Martin Luther King was going to be at the airport,” Boal said, his authoritative voice providing an instant reminder for anyone who heard him during his half a century in radio and television. “Nobody knew about it. There was one photographer, I think, from the Press, but no other newsmen.
“So I prepared to interview Dr. King, and he said, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t do an interview. I have a very bad cold. I can hardly talk. But you can join me. I’m going to go to where I get on the plane.’ So I walked the whole length of the airport with Dr. King.”
Seated at the dining room table of his Upper St. Clair home, on the other side of the interviewing process this time, Boal was glad to reminisce about a broadcasting career that began when the vast majority of American homes lacked televisions and radio still was somewhat of a novelty in certain quarters.
For example, Beaver County – Boal grew up there, in Freedom – didn’t have its own radio station until WBVP in Beaver Falls took to the airwaves on May 25, 1948. Boal was among the first staff members, even though he was a University of Pittsburgh freshman at the time.
“I worked six days a week at WBVP while attending Pitt, commuting between Beaver County and Pittsburgh,” he recalled. “I was on the air at 3 p.m. and usually worked until 11, sometimes until midnight.”
Well-preserved black-and-white photos in his collection show him on location for remote broadcasts, holding a microphone to talk with people who must have been thrilled by the opportunity.
After the outbreak of the Korean War, he was drafted and sent to basic training at Camp Roberts, Calif.
“Most of the people in my training company went straight to Korea,” he recalled. “But I think it was because I spoke a couple of different European languages” – he’s fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian – “they assigned me to Europe. They didn’t have any particular assignment for me, though.”
He gained one after his commanding officer in Salzburg, Austria, learned of Boal’s experience in broadcasting, putting him to work with the Armed Forces Radio station KOFA, part of Austria’s Blue Danube Network.
After his discharge in 1953, Boal got his first Pittsburgh job, with Channel 2, then part of the soon-to-be-defunct DuMont TV network. Following another stint at WBVP, then at a radio-television outfit in Youngstown, Ohio, he landed a full-time position with KQV-AM in 1956.
“Those were the years when KQV was top-rated with the Top 40 format of music,” he said. “In 1957, the local owners sold KQV to the ABC network, and I was one of only three of the on-air performers who were retained by the new owners. I lucked out on that.”
Boal’s multilingual abilities – he was inspired to learn Spanish as a youngster after learning part of his ancestry is from Spain – once again worked to his benefit.
“When the Cuban revolution occurred,” he said about Fidel Castro’s 1959 coup, “I taped Cuban radio stations when I’d be home in the evening and get items of news interest, including a lot of Castro’s speeches. It would be in the background, and I’d be translating it. And I’d feed this to ABC.”
Suitably impressed, network executives promoted him a few years later to ABC’s Latin American correspondent and bureau chief, based in Miami.
“After I was with the network for a while, I didn’t like the kind of life a roving correspondent leads,” he said, especially considering he had a wife and two small children. “I was never with them. They were alone there in Miami, where they had never been before, and I got to see them maybe three or four days out of a month.”
Word of Boal’s situation made its way back to Pittsburgh, and the station manager at Channel 11, then WIIC-TV, offered him a job. A few years later, in 1968, he joined the staff at WTAE, which at that point had a TV and radio station.
His hectic schedule persisted.
“When I started at Channel 4, I was a street reporter, but I anchored on weekends. Many times, I worked seven days a week,” Boal said. “Also, at that time, I did morning anchor on radio. Then I’d go out on the street.”
Eventually, he decided to return to his roots and do radio full-time, providing news reports for Pittsburghers until he retired in 1997, the year of the demise of WTAE as a radio station.
KQV’s demise came last year when the station, one of the first few to broadcast in the United States – possibly the first, according to some sources – went off the air just before midnight Dec. 31.
But Beaver County listeners still can dial up 1230-AM to hear what Boal and company started at WBVP 70 years ago.