The Big Nyack
When rock-n-roll music was in its infancy, Maryland State College students would tune their radios north to a Salisbury AM station in the late 1950s to hear the Big Nyack spin chart-topping platters à la Wolfman Jack.
The Wolfman became a pop music and cultural icon, and “Nyack,” as it turns out, did A-OK, too.
Lower Delmarva's DJ was Maryland State student Roger Brown, who went on to renown in professional football, where he’s in that sport’s unofficial nickname hall-of-fame as a member of the “Fearsome Foursome.”
Before Brown, a 300-pound defensive lineman with the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams, terrorized legendary quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr on the gridiron, he was something of an airways entrepreneur.
The industrial arts major grew up in the Village of Nyack 20 miles north of New York City, where the new-fangled sound on radio during the “Happy Days” era enthralled him.
Before there was WESM, the National Public Radio affiliate on the University of Maryland Eastern Shore campus, an unauthorized radio broadcast emanated from Princess Anne. And Brown had a hand in it.
Brown and several enterprising classmates built their own transmitter using scavenged parts from a broken-down Rock-Ola juke box and bought new equipment from a fledgling mail-order outfit called RadioShack.
“I like to tell people now I majored in communications because that’s really what I did” as a college student, he said.
Brown estimates the signal could be heard within a mile radius of campus.
It wasn't on the air long. Nervous that the federal government might object to the institution being the host site of an unlicensed broadcast operation, college officials shut it down.
That didn’t discourage Brown, however. He found other outlets for his interest in music.
Using a pseudonym incorporating the name of his hometown, the Big Nyack latched on as a disc jockey at WICO AM, and then moved to a new station, WJDY, that played popular songs of the era.
When Brown arrived at Maryland State as a freshman in 1956, he remembers the school had about 250 students.
A favorite off-campus hangout was a juke joint called the Moon Glow, where he entertained patrons by spinning records. He also said he played clubs just up the road in Salisbury.
“It was a way to make a little spending money back then,” Brown said. “It sure was fun.”
Brown would go on to a stellar career as a professional athlete after graduating in 1960. A six-time Pro Bowl selection, he retired following the 1969 season and became a successful restaurateur.
One of UMES’ most visible and popular alumni, Brown is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
-- BILL ROBINSON