This Local Music Lover Changed the Face of Modern Radio
Valhalla resident Bill Winters turned his lifelong love affair with music into a storied career, affecting the lives of countless students.
Winters and a small portion of his 10,000-plus record collection. Photos by Stefan Radtke
After a few minutes with Bill Winters, you’d swear you were speaking with an old friend. Maybe a college roommate or a pal who lived in your neighborhood growing up. Winters, who moved to White Plains from Manhattan at age 10, has a storytelling style steeped in nostalgia. Throughout his life, the communications professor at Westchester Community College and current Valhalla resident has had one continuous love — music, a passion that became his profession, as well as a hobby that’s lasted a lifetime.
For as long as Winters can remember, he’s always had a thing for music, citing The Beach Boys as his favorite band, having seen them a few dozen times. “I also love radio,” he says. “I just loved locking myself in my room as a kid and listening to guys like Barry Gray, John Sterling, Bob Grant [radio personalities in the 1950s and ’60s]. I went to Stepinac High School and wasn’t into sports, so radio was a big part of my life.”
When Winters was 11, he had a paper route and had one purchase on his mind: a transistor radio that was for sale in a shop window on Post Road in White Plains. “I would go by and just look at it, so I saved up and bought it,” recalls Winters. “I thought I was the coolest kid in the world. I was the only one who had it!”
An only child, Winters grew up watching his mother collect 78-rpm records, and he was following suit soon after, buying the 78 and then the 45 of the same recording. “Macy’s had a music department, and I still remember my first record: Clyde McPhatter’s ‘A Lover’s Question,’” he recalls fondly.
Today, Winters estimates his record collection to be somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 (no, that’s not a typo). They’re stored in closets, a utility room, the garage, a small closet under the stairwell, all alphabetized and categorized by musical genre: jazz, rock, movie soundtracks… you name it, and Winters has it covered. But it’s not a profit thing. You won’t find Winters on eBay, selling off his prized possessions. For him, it is pure enjoyment, a link to his past. “I listen to everything, and I collect because I like the music,” shares Winters. “I love coming across a record in a bin and finding something I’ve always wanted.”
That love of music prompted Winters to pursue a career involving the airwaves, and he went to Westchester Community College and then NYU to take some courses in radio. After working at White Plains radio station WFAS on weekends — and after a few by-chance meetings while being in the right place at the right time — he made it to the big leagues, becoming a radio engineer for WMCA’s “Good Guys,” a Top-40 radio program in New York during the 1960s and ’70s. It was there Winters got to work alongside some of the biggest names in radio, on-air personalities he had listened to as a child.
“I have many memories of my dad with his records,” says his son, Bill Winters II, a multi-award-winning director of photography and cinematographer with more than 20 years’ experience in the film-and-TV industry. “I will never forget when I was a little kid, and he showed me some of his rare albums. He got a lot of promotional copies of records [at WMCA] that only people in the business had access to. The Elvis Presley Christmas album is one of his prized possessions that comes to mind. I also remember him showing me the plastic insert adapters that allowed me to play a 45 on my regular-sized record player.”
“I’m asked all the time, ‘When are you going to retire? I reply, ‘Whenever I wake up and don’t want to go in.’ I love it.”
For the past 44 years, Winters has been a mainstay at Westchester Community College, starting out as the head of the Video Services Department and later taking over the Media Services Department. It may seem a guy so devoted to radio would balk at that profession, but for Winters, a number of factors weighed in: being closer to home to raise Bill II with wife Dolly, normal hours, holidays and weekends off. Plus, the college had a brand-new FM radio station, WARY-FM, where he has remained the faculty adviser for more than 40 years.
So, Winters made a career change and has taught courses in Television Production, Radio Production, Announcing, and Mass Media. With no communications or media departments when he got to WCC, Winters created the original syllabi for TV Production 1 & 2, Radio Production and Announcing, and was a member of the committees that formed the communications curriculum and communications department as it is today. He has been teaching full-time in the communications department since 1992.
“I’m asked all the time, ‘When are you going to retire?’” says Winters. “I reply, ‘Whenever I wake up and don’t want to go in.’ I love it, didn’t expect it at all [working at WCC], but the students challenge me.”
Living in Valhalla since 1971, even Winters’ place of residence has a bit of irony. “I can remember as a kid, we had just moved to White Plains,” he shares, “and a friend of mine’s family had a boat at the Kensico Dam, and we‘d drive up the Bronx River Parkway, and I‘d see that giant dam. I wondered if I would ever see that dam again, and wouldn’t you know, I live in the same town!”
He and Dolly, whom he met when he was 19, while on a bowling team for which her father was the coach, can’t get enough of Westchester and are frequent diners at Rivertown restaurants like Harvest on Hudson in Hastings-on-Hudson, RiverMarket Bar & Kitchen in Tarrytown, and X2O Xaviars on the Hudson in Yonkers. Winters also has fond memories of the Westchester County Center, remembering when that was “the place to go. I learned how to shoot a bow in the basement of the County Center,” he says. “There were hay bails and targets down there. There was always something going on at the County Center back in the day.” You’ll also find the couple at the movies, making the cinema a bit of tradition. Their first date was to see a movie, in 1964, Captain Newman, MD, starring Gregory Peck, and for the past 25 years or so, they have enjoyed a movie date-night every other week.
In addition to records, Winters is also a train enthusiast, and some of his most vivid memories are of riding the rails as a youngster. Every weekend his family would visit his grandmother in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and take the A train from his apartment on the Upper West Side. “I would stand in the front car and look out that front window and pretend I was driving,” says Winters. “I was always wondering where the tracks went; where do they go?” He says he has ridden on every line in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Metro-North; he still has a few left to ride on the Long Island Railroad, but he says he’ll get there. After all, it’s in his makeup to keep the good times rolling.
Bill Smyth is a freelance writer and editor living in Westchester County, and over the years has interviewed a wide range of interesting personalities such as the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Maria Bartiromo, and Naomi Campbell.