PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Jerry Blavat, a Philadelphia radio institution known for more than 60 years around the region as the “Geator with the Heater,” has died. He was 82.
Blavat spent his life playing and promoting the music that he grew up with on the streets of South Philadelphia — music that helped create his legacy.
"He championed the artists that commercial radio back in the day really ignored,” said Bruce Warren, program director for WXPN, where Blavat has hosted a weekly hour-long Saturday night show since 2006.
While there has been a lot of change in the radio industry over the years, Dave Skalish, Engineering Manager for Audacy, Inc. and longtime friend and consultant to Blavat, said the Geator never struggled to keep up, but kept some old-school habits.
“Jerry was really hip on technology,” Skalish said. “He would record his shows every day digitally on a computer – he had a state-of-the-art studio that he worked with and he always changed with the times, but he could never pull himself away from magnetic tapes.”
“He had cart machines that he used every day and we had a hard time keeping those things working because they don't make parts for those anymore.”
And, perhaps the one thing that set Blavat apart from the rest of his era was his ability to make everyone in the room feel like a star. That was the case starting in the ’50s. Blavat started as an “American Bandstand” dancer, loyal to original host Bob Horn but eventually worked with Dick Clark.
He started turning up on local radio stations, and eventually, local TV with a guest shot on the ’60s sitcom “The Monkees.”
His book, “You Only Rock Once: My Life in Music,” laid his history — the good and the bad — open. His record hops in the ’60s for “yon teens” turned into “beyond teens” after he opened Memories in Margate more than 50 years ago. The 50th anniversary celebration of "American Bandstand" in Philadelphia in 2007. Chubby Checker does the twist with Kathleen "Bunny" Gibson, an early dancer on the show, as Jerry Blavat and Connie Francis (both center) watch. Photo credit Al Schell/Courier-Post Stewie Stone, Jerry Blavat, Bobby Rydell, Bill Boggs and Danny Aiello attend the Bobby Rydell "Teen Idol On The Rocks: A Tale Of Second Chances" book release and birthday party at Patsy's Italian Restaurant on April 25, 2016, in New York City. Photo credit Bobby Bank/WireImage
And, he called stars friends — Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles and more. Through it all, it was his love of music that drove him. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.
Blavat kept up with personal appearances, many of them for charitable causes, and promoted oldies concerts until his health recently forced him to slow down. He had to cancel a show at the Kimmel Center earlier this month.
Blavat was known to bike through Center City regularly, even as he kept up a radio schedule on commercial and public stations few could match. Jerry Blavat is seen outside Fox 29 on his bike on Nov. 16, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo credit Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images
Blavat always spoke of playing “from his heart, not a chart.” And Warren explained he held true to that to the end.
"The other phrase that he's kinda known for is, 'Keep on rockin' because you only rock once,' and with his passing, he will continue to rock because of the legacy that he left."
Disclosure: Audacy owns KYW Newsradio, with engineering overseen by Dave Skalish.
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