Radio's Geller a "real loner"-still
By David Leeco
Thursday, September 6, 1990

Left to right: Kenny Riaf (writer), Simon Geller, Jud Wilson
(associate producer) and Henry Ferrini in Geller's NYC
penthouse. The reclusive "Voice of Gloucester" moved to
NYC after selling his radio station for a million bucks.
(February 1990 ©Henry Ferrini)

Sewell Hayes recalls that if you were listening to Simon Geller on the radio, "You'd always hear him flushing the toilet."

Bookstore owner Peggy Sibley remembers visiting Geller in the small Duncan Street apartment that doubled as his home and the studio for the one-man music station WVCA-FM.

Geller, she says, lived in absolute filth, and that no windows seemed to have been opened in many years.

Merchant Mac Bell describes Geller as a "tenecious Yiddish Yankee." Poet Vincent Ferrini calls him a "real loner in a city that understands loneliness."

And as auctioneer Michael March says, "Now he's gone. From a business point of view, it couldn't be allowed for one silly, eccentric man to have his own radio station."

Through the recollections of Geller's Gloucester listeners, filmmaker Henry Ferrini has fashioned a biography of the cantankerous, raspy-voiced announcer who for 24 years played classical music--over the airwaves.

Ferrini, along with Jud Wilson and Kenny Riaf, even traced Geller to the Manhattan apartment where he has lived since selling the station for a reported $1 million in 1988.

The film, "Radio Fishtown, " premiered during a small, fund-raising showing in Ferrini's Wall Street apartment/studio late last month. A public showing is scheduled for Sept. 16, and the filmmakers are hoping to get "Radio Fishtown" on public television.

"I'm very pleased with the way it turned out, it's a great little film," said Ferrini. "It gives you an idea of the things that affected the guy, how he became the way he was."

Early on in the 30-minute film, narrator Robert J. Lurtzema gives the basics of Geller's story: how he ran the station solo; how a Manchester corporation tried to take away Geller's license, only to be rebuffed by angry and loyal Cape Ann listeners; how Geller finally sold out to WBAQ.

Geller, in the film, offers some sketchy details of his life: how, as a Jew, he couldn't get into conventional radio in the 1940's; how he shunned advertisers on WVCA because he believed they wanted kickbacks; how he lived on $7 a week while running the radio station.

But it is left to the listeners themselves to fill in the broad outline of Lurtzema's narration and Geller's reluctantly given history.

"Simon had some interesting things to say, but the most interesting things were what people said about him," said Riaf, noting the filmmakers talked to more than 40 Cape Ann residents.

Local actor Michael McNamara gives us Geller's funereal voice with uncanny impression. Debbie Clark describes his appearance succinctly: "He looked just like his voice."

Many describe how Geller berated his audience, complaining about their lack of financial support and constantly begging for donation.

"He could damn us and excoriate us and say 'I hate you people' and we could say back to him: 'Yea, you spratty old bastard, we hate you too...but we love you,'" says historian Joe Garland. "He made us live with him and accept him, listening to him, absolutely totally on his terms."

And his audience did love him. Members of SOS (Save Our Station) describe their fight to help Geller retain his station after a Manchester company, Grandebank, tried to get the Federal Communications Commission to pull Geller's license.

To refute Grandebank's claim that Geller's lack of public service announcement and news did a disservice to his listeners, scores of Cape Ann people SOS packed an FCC hearing held in the city in 1979.

"He did have the support of his audience; that's what I think the opposition underestimated," says one of SOS's founders, Mary Benham.

The film doesn't even get to Geller until near the end. He is seen in his Upper West Side apartment in New York. His wealth has brought him little.

Nearly crippled by diabetes, as anti-social as ever, he tells his film biographers that he gets up every day at 6:30, stays in the apartment and watches television.

"I do nothing," he says.

In the end, Geller is probably described best by Garland.

"Perhaps the moral is there is a cage we're in that is more of our own making than we realize," he says.

"Radio Fishtown" will be shown Sept. 16 at 7 and 8 p.m. at the former Blackburn Theater Company's 8 Elm St. theater. A $3 donation will be requested at the door.

The film, by "Total Assault Televisions," was funded through donations by Gloucester people and businesses: Ten Pound Island Book Co., Bob Myers, Michael March, the Gloucester House Restaurant, Geoffrey Richon, Ron Senser, William Taylor antiques, the White Elephant antiques, Annette Duke and Gordon Baird. end