No tired blood here: Mike Price (left) boogies down to “Transylvania Twist,” much to the delight of WSYR-Channel 9 news anchor Dan Cummings (right), during the July 9 retirement party at Onondaga Lake Park. Michael Davis photo.
Price was at the station just prior to its initial sign-on in September 1962 and has seen plenty of changes, from call letters (WNYS to WIXT to WSYR, as noted in the July 9 Joe Glisson cartoon) to studio relocations (from the former Shoppingtown digs, which was razed by fire in 1967, to swanky surroundings near Bridge Street). Even Price’s on-air personality morphed through the decades. Baby boomers still fondly recall his sublimely silly sawtooth Baron Daemon, the vampiric TV host for cartoons and creature features, while subsequent generations have embraced Price’s comical shtick as the human interest reporter for “Good News,” a Channel 9 News segment that has endured for more than two decades.
The long goodbye began on that morning’s installment of the gabfest Bridge Street, with plenty of clips and recollections. The show even had snippets of Price from the Jan. 1, 1966, The Bud Ballou Bowl, named in honor of the popular local deejay, although the bowl was a touch football game played in the Channel 9 parking lot! The guest of honor, however, got decidedly misty when the station christened the show’s broadcasting set as the Mike Price Studio.
Then came the 90-minute evening newscast that featured a live feed from Onondaga Lake Park, as news anchors Rod (don’t ever call him Ron) Wood, Carrie Lazarus and Dan Cummings took turns feting Price and his long career, with emotional stopovers such as Price’s 1991 activation with the Coast Guard Reserve during the Gulf War and his 2001 multiple bypass surgery. Aside from the Channel 9 celebs, among the many admirers who gathered lakeside were News 10 Now’s Bill Carey, raconteur extraordinaire Phil Markert, who worked alongside Price during Channel 9’s early years, and somewhere on the fringes, a guy who closely resembled former Syracuse Chiefs sportscaster Joel Mareiniss.
Meanwhile, one graying dork was weaving in and out of the perimeter in search of tchotkes and slices of cake. He was wearing a reissued T-shirt that he purchased several years ago at a shop next to the Channel 9 News Cone at the New York State Fair; the tee had a Baron Daemon caricature silk-screened on the back. (Full disclosure: It was me.) Another longtime fan held up a vintage 45 rpm single of the 1963 hit “Transylvania Twist,” still local music’s best-selling track, with its sleeve autographed that day by Price. “Fifty cents at Grants,” the music lover recalled of his long-ago purchase.
As he accepted the afternoon’s accolades, Price conveyed a Zen-like sense of relaxation that equaled Fred MacMurray’s easygoing manner in the old My Three Sons sitcom, although Price showed he was still enough of a cool ghoul as he spryly swung into an impromptu chorus of his hit song. Indeed, it was an eventful afternoon of twisting and getting all choked up, especially when Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney offered the surprise proclamation of Mike Price Community Recognition Day in honor of his decades as a broadcast institution. Price was quick to offer a poetic response—“Joanie Mahoney/ Her name’s not a phony/ It really rhymes/ And that’s no baloney” —and clearly, Eminem won’t lose any sleep amid such competition. Yet it was a heartfelt moment as Price told the crowd, “If it hadn’t been for all you folks, I would have had to get a real job.”
—Phil D. Rapper