Dennis Elsas Celebrates 50th Anniversary on New York Radio

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Mick Jagger and Dennis Elsas (Photo: Dennis Elsas Archives; used with permission)

If you were listening to New York’s highly influential WNEW-FM just after midnight on July 11, 1971, you would have been introduced to Dennis Elsas. Raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, he cut his teeth at the campus station at Queens College and then got his first paid on-air job at a suburban station.

Now he’s celebrating his 50th year in radio, all in New York. On Monday, July 12, 2021, Elsas celebrated his 50th anniversary on New York radio with his shift that day on WFUV.

“I grew up loving rock ‘n’ roll, and rock ‘n’ roll radio,” he tells Best Classic Bands. “I listened to the DJs playing the songs and never imagined I would ever be one of them.”

Elsas “graduated” to the big time when he was hired by WNEW-FM’s legendary Program Director, Scott Muni, as a fill-in disc jockey. He soon got a regular weekend slot and became the station’s Music Director. His first 25+ were spent there, with its memorable “one oh two point seven” frequency on the FM dial. For decades, the station was so influential that record labels and A-list stars would routinely allow the station to premiere their new recordings on its air.

Dennis Elsas and Elton John (Photo: Dennis Elsas Archives; used with permission)

Elsas quickly developed a following among listeners and the station eagerly moved him to more prime slots on weekends, before he settled into his longtime 6-10 p.m. shift on Mondays to Fridays.

Over the years, he’s interviewed a Who’s Who of rock stars, most of whom would arrive in-person to the station’s midtown studios for an extended chat. These legendary on-air discussions included Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Elton John, Paul Simon, Grace Slick, and dozens more, including Mel Brooks.

Since Best Classic Bands began in 2015, we’ve published many of his interviews as The Dennis Elsas Conversation, including ones with Bill Wyman, John Fogerty, and Gregg Allman.

He’s one of the best interviewers and we asked him how he prepares. “I think I’m able to make people feel comfortable,” he says. His mantra includes: “Be overly prepared and remember that in most cases the person you’re speaking with wants to talk about a new project. So let them do it,” he says. “Be patient. Don’t interrupt. Listen to them. And then you’ll find just the right opportunity to get some great stories out of people.”

Dennis Elsas and John Lennon (Photo: Dennis Elsas Archives; used with permission)

While on the air on ‘NEW one Saturday afternoon in 1974, Elsas was visited by John Lennon. They had met a few weeks earlier at the Record Plant recording studio as Lennon was finishing up his new album, Walls and Bridges. Elsas invited him to the station to talk about it.

“He was there to promote Walls and Bridges,” he recalls. “In the back of my mind, I’m thinking I want to ask him about the Beatles but I’m not sure if that’s okay. Did I have a master plan? No. It was all in ‘real time.’ But I recognized that I’ve got to start with the new album.”

The discussion quickly turned into two hours of rare Beatles’ memories, speculation on a reunion, and candor about his immigration fight. “Lennon even took over as DJ, playing some favorite, obscure 45s he’d brought with him, reading live commercials, and giving the weather reports,” says Elsas.

Listen to Part 1 of the interview

As one would expect, Elsas developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the music and the artists of the era, and offered insights and stories of countless legendary recordings.

As the station’s owner and management changed, so did its format and on-air staff. Fortunately, in 2000, Elsas joined the on-air staff of New York’s WFUV. And ever since, he’s been hosting the 2-6 p.m. shift on weekday afternoons at 90.7 FM, introducing his audience to a broad range of artists.

Not surprisingly, the stars have kept on coming for interviews: Roger Daltrey, Ringo Starr, Judy Collins, Richie Havens, Bill Wyman, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Clarence Clemons, Julian Lennon, and Robert Plant, among them.

On July 27, 2020, Elsas marked his 20th anniversary on WFUV as he entertained his listeners with his “greatest hits” of interview clips and memories from his years on the radio.

Says Elsas: “I’ve been so fortunate to meet so many new artists and listeners over the past 20 years at WFUV, and reconnect with so many more from my days working at WNEW-FM.”

Listen to Elsas’ 20th anniversary on WFUV special here.

In 2004 he joined Sirius/XM’s Classic Vinyl (Channel 26) and can be heard every Saturday and Sunday sharing his classic rock knowledge and memories with a worldwide audience. When Sirius launched the exclusive Beatles Channel (18) in 2017 he became the co-host of the Beatles Fab Fourum, a weekly live talk and call-in show. Guests have included Paul McCartney, Giles Martin and Ringo’s All-Starrs.

“When I was involved in creating the radio station at Queens College in the ’60s, I never would have thought that 50 years would go by and I’d still be playing rock ‘n’ roll records on the air in New York,” he says. “In the 20th century, I’m known for my career on WNEW-FM. In the 21st century, I’ve transitioned to public radio and satellite, playing everything from Phoebe Bridgers to the Beatles.

“I once said to [fellow radio legend] Cousin Brucie: ‘I’m the result of all of your voices,'” referring to the disc jockeys of his younger days. “And he said, ‘I hope I’m the loudest!'”

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Greg Brodsky
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  1. Beatle Barb
    #1 Beatle Barb 8 July, 2021, 08:22

    The article is fascinating!

    Reply this comment
  2. Michael
    #2 Michael 9 July, 2021, 21:43

    Love the article. Listened to Dennis & crew back in the early & mid 70s. Awesome career.
    Dennis would probably agree with me when I ask – please please do an article on the Nightbird, Allison Steele!

    Reply this comment
  3. CCT
    #3 CCT 17 July, 2021, 00:46

    WNEW 102.7FM, when radio was still an art form. Dave Herman, Scott Muni, Dennis Elsas, Pete Fornatale, Carol Miller and many others. great people providing great memories.

    Reply this comment

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