A legend of local radio

Published 9:30 pm Wednesday, March 11, 2015

By Frank Roberts

There was Marty Robbins, one of country music’s best known, best-loved stars. His fist was clenched as he approached the hapless disc jockey. He was ready to squeeze Joe Hoppel’s neck.

For half a century, Joe was THE country music DJ in Tidewater. Invariably, after each concert, he went backstage to yack with the star and get his picture taken with him.

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Robbins, who was quite a character, began with the characteristic pose and then put his paws around Hoppel, squeezing tight. Joe gasped, realizing it was something different from the regular shots, and he loved it.

Joe has been a good, good friend for half a century. Come concert time, he was onstage doing the introductions. And, there I was in the audience with notebook and pen, taking notes for my review.

Both of us graduated from the School of Radio Technique in New York, a couple of northerners heading below the Mason-Dixon Line. Joe is from Pennsylvania, and I am a native New Yorker. We weren’t there at the same time, but both of us got jobs immediately after graduating.

He came to Portsmouth, and I went to Vineland, N.J.

As every area country music fan knows, he became a fixture on WCMS, and I became an honorary member. I was invited to all their gatherings, and even to Nashville when they had something going on there.

One time, they sent a limo to my house and returned me there after the event.

All of that, courtesy of two of the nicest people, Marjorie and George Crump, owners of the radio station.

For many years it was the only station in the United States that played country music full-time, and Joe became a leading personality in our neck of the woods. Leaving our woods for another, he became a member of the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall Of Fame.

He is deeply honored, but such accolades do not swell his head. He is a Mr. Nice Guy type, always smiling, always upbeat. His morning show was constantly high-rated and, often at a concert, he gets at least as much applause when he steps on stage as some of the performers.

Then there is Joe Hoppel, author. Five years ago, he wrote a coffee table-sized book, “People I’ve Met — Things I’ve Done.”

If you enjoy country music, you will find a ton of fascination and fun in its 235 pages. I particularly like the dedication on the inside cover of the copy he gave me: “To Frank — a good guy and a good friend from way back.” What’s not to treasure?

The preface, by the way, is courtesy, Bill Anderson.

Joe gets around. He has done telethons and judged the peanut butter sculpture contest at Suffolk’s Peanut Fest, to mention just a couple of items.

Joe made the national scene — on “Hee-Haw” no less. They used to host deejays from across the country, and there was hayseed Hoppel in the cornfield, part of a bad joke. He still hasn’t seen that bit.

The deejay, a prostate cancer survivor, has something else to brag about. That rascal had dinner at Reba McEntire’s house.

Honestly, I didn’t mean for this to read like a commercial but, like most writers, I get carried away writing about someone I know so well and like so much.

Might as well go all the way: If you want a copy of “People I’ve Met, Things I’ve Done,” it will cost you $22.95, and that includes shipping. The address is JH, P.O. Box 64802, Virginia Beach, VA 23467.