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Albert Petrak - 1926 - 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014

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Albert Petrak, self styled as “Old AP”, a long time WCLV air personality from 1972 to 2003, has left us. He died Wednesday, January 8, at the age of 87, following a short illness.  He is survived by sisters Joan Mansell and Jane Petrak of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, and brother Paul Petrak of Florida, and by Michael DeSavoy, his certified caretaker and companion of the past decade or so.

Albert’s first job in radio was for KYW-FM, now WMJI. KYW-FM was owned by Westinghouse Broadcasting, and Albert was the only announcer on the station. He voice tracked the classical music on to rolls of tape, which were played on the station’s automated system, then bicycled to other Westinghouse FM stations around the country.

Albert made his debut on WCLV in 1972, and then left to work for a year at WQED in Pittsburgh, then at WITF in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and at a classical station in New York, which was owned by an Episcopal Church. The call letters escape me.

He was the first WCLV announcer to be assigned to a regular shift, - First Program. Prior to this, following the philosophy of a former station where I worked way back in the mid 20th Century, WFMT in Chicago, WCLV announcers were not considered personalities but conduits to the music being presented.  Announcer’s shifts were rotated, evening, afternoon, and morning.  But in time, it became apparent that AP and First Program were made for each other, so he became the regular host of the 6:15 to 9:00 AM show.

Yes 6:15, because Albert took the Shaker Rapid to work and the first rapid got into Terminal Tower, where our studios were then located, at 6:10AM.  So AP would rush up to our Penthouse East studios on the 15th floor and turn on the transmitter.

AP was a free spirit, often ignoring the dictates of the program manager – me. There was a rule that no sopranos were to be aired prior to 9:00 AM.  AP regularly broke this regulation. I would send him a memo, which he would then gleefully read on the air.

He was known for using the Bouree from “Terpsichore” by Michael Pretorius as his theme. He had 32 versions of the Bouree, including a vocal version, “Ding Dong, the Witch’s Dead,” from “The Wizard of Oz.” He would rotate these versions at the top of the hour on First Program.

Before WCLV, he served in the US Navy, employed at a record store in the Arcade, and then by Discount Records on Euclid Avenue, located where the BP building now stands. He left WCLV in 1989, to open a record store on the West Side, later moving it to the Pavilion Mall in Beachwood.  He had an immense knowledge of recordings. You would ask him, “What is the number of the Epic recording by The Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell of the Walton Partita for Orchestra?” And the answer would come immediately, “BC 1054.”

He published a Guide to a Basic Record Library, first for LPs, and then for CDs.

He was a rabid enthusiast for piano rolls and was involved with an organization that worked to preserve the rolls.  He owned a Duo-Art roll of George Gershwin playing the piano part of “Rhapsody in Blue.” And he arranged for a Duo-Art piano to be taken to Severance Hall, where WCLV and the Orchestra’s audio technician of the time, Vlad Maleckar, recorded the roll, sent it to New York. There, Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the Orchestra, with the George Gershwin piano part added to the Orchestra. .

AP’s ashes will be scattered on the beloved farm in Pennsylvania where he grew up.

Albert Petrak, 1926 to 2014. Colleague, good friend, imp. He put his stamp on the characteristics of WCLV that will continue.  AP - God Speed.

Robert Conrad

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