By Brittany Rotondo
Buried behind a studio microphone in Bala Cynwyd, stands a towering voice of Philadelphia’s 102.9 WMGK. Andre Gardner raps about the latest changes in the music industry, conquering the business over a 40-year career and hanging out with Paul McCartney. “Very early I remember hearing and loving “Heat Wave” by Martha And The Vandellas and music has been running through my head 24/7 since age 5. I remember getting frisson, that feeling of electricity running up the back of your neck to your head when it first came out.” Gardner began his musical journey in the backwoods of Medford New Jersey and Shawnee High School. 1978, to be exact. And what a magical time for Rock and Roll. “The music I play now was what I was listening to in my formative teenage years. I was a top 40 kid until around Led Zeppelin IV and everything changed after that. My musical scope broadened in ways I had never dreamed of.”
What lay on the golden road for Gardner during this period was a budding radio career, spun seemingly around the Gardner Family. “My older brothers were huge influences. The oldest Gardner brother, Bill, was the first to get in radio in 1965 and carved out a very successful career in the biz. My other brother Alan was also in radio and is the musician of the family. -In addition to turning me onto incredible music, including The Beatles, he taught me some notes on the piano and guitar and got me started playing music as well.” The self-professed Beatle maniac has kept a healthy and active lifestyle on and off the air throughout his career traveling, bird watching, gardening, and sleeping, “not necessarily in that order.”
Disclaimer: Gardner is a full-fledged vegetarian and no strawberries were harmed during this interview.
Speaking of the Beatles, Andre hosts his Sunday segment Breakfast with The Beatles, which spawned from his WYSP days and fellow DJ Helen Leicht (Now with 88.5 WXPN) As Gardner puts it, “I was such a huge fan of Helen Leicht. She had the very first US Beatles-themed radio show of its kind, so she was definitely an influence! I wanted my show to be different, so I put together a show format that catered to both fans and über fans alike. Not too many obscure tracks, not too heavy on the hits – a real fine line to walk.”
One major highlight in Gardner’s career? “Definite dream-come-true material was sitting down one on one with Paul McCartney. For me, that would be pretty hard to top.” Though the chance encounters were rare, they happened several times. Once backstage at Veteran’s stadium with broadcast pioneer Ed Sciaky, another time was April 2002 and funnily enough, it was Gardner’s second day at MGK. Another live broadcast at the First Union Center, the now Wells Fargo Center, brought Andre (Hand chosen by Paul’s manager himself) backstage to the songwriter’s dressing room to do a face to face interview with Paul. “He was so down to earth. No air or ego at all.”
Can you hear the Ob-La-Di’s?
What course shaped throughout the next few years cemented Gardner in a career of in between radio stations across the country and in cities like Dallas, New York, Atlanta, and pit stops along the way including working alongside Howard Stern. Once and for all, X marks the spot and Gardner sits home on the hour with 102.9 WMGK and Beasley Media Group.
“These years at MGK are the best of my career. I’m working for a great, forward-thinking company that embraces technology and believes in radio, I’m surrounded by the most talented staff I’ve ever had the privilege to call colleagues and I’m having the time of my life!”
Detouring into taboo territory. What’s changed in the 40 years of Andre’s ascend into Rock & Roll? “Digital was the big game changer for the music business, and it wasn’t long before it affected radio. While I believe the record companies lost precious momentum in the late 90’s fighting the digital revolution rather than embracing it, radio learned a lesson from that strategy.”
Beasley Media Group acquired WMGK and sister station 93.3 WMMR in July 2016 and since has evolved into a multi-platform avenue, consolidating past, present and current, something that Andre points out, and “has really incorporated digital into our day to day business.”
Even Joe Bell, Vice President of Beasley Philadelphia, understands the importance of the airtime Andre exudes. “Andre Gardner is the energy that drives WMGK. His contagious enthusiasm for the station, the music and our audience inspires each of us every day!” Coming from the boss himself.
There’s a sincerity behind Andre and his broadcasting that’s kept him in the industry for nearly four decades and it’s not hard to miss. “ I refuse to call what I do ‘work.’ I don’t feel like I’ve worked a day in my life. It’s just too damn fun!”
Keep walking your Abbey Road, Mr. Gardner…
(Photo By: Tessa Marie)