Woo-woo! For Boston radio listeners in the 1950s and ’60s, that sound meant only one thing — it was time for Arnie Ginsburg’s “Night Train” radio show on WMEX (1510 AM). In addition to the train whistle that earned Ginsburg his nickname (not to mention dozens of other sound effects) Ginsburg is best known for bringing his warm sense of humor to countless local radio spots — remember “Ginsburgers” at Adventure Car Hop and Pal Mal? — and Top 40 records to the Boston airwaves.
Starting at WBOS in 1956 before moving to WMEX in 1958, Ginsburg’s rise to the top of the Boston radio scene coincided with the cultural birth of the American teenager and the emergence of Elvis Presley, whose early rock ‘n’ roll sides made frequent appearances on Ginsburg’s shows. Unlike many disc jockeys at the time, he had total control over what records he spun, and often played the role of tastemaker, both locally and nationally. In 1964, he unintentionally birthed one of rock ‘n’ roll’s anthems — the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie”. As that band’s drummer Dick Peterson tells it,
“He put us on his show in Boston [which] had a huge following on the East coast. He put us on as the worst record. He had a contest every night – rate a record. If you won the audience vote as the worst record, you stayed on and took on the next worst record. And “Louie Louie” just won over and over to the point where it started becoming popular.”
Ginsburg’s Friday night Record Hops at the Surf Ballroom at Nantasket Beach, where he introduced Frankie Avalon, Gene Pitney and local garage acts like the Rockin’ Ramrods to Massachusetts audiences, remain fond memories for numerous New England rock ‘n’ roll fans.
After a brief stint on-air at WRKO in 1967, Ginsburg shifted to the business side of radio broadcasting, working in sales at that station before becoming General Manager of WBCN in 1970 and WWEL in 1972. His career came full circle in 1985, once again introducing a new generation of teenagers to rock and roll and New Wave when he and John Garabedian launched the music video channel WVJV-TV (“V-66, the Beat of Boston!”), mixing national acts’ videos with locals like Aimee Mann and Gary Cherone in hopes of competing with the nascent MTV.
In 2008, Arnie Ginsburg was deservedly enshrined in the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He died on June 26, 2020 from Alzheimer’s Disease.
(By Stephen Haag)