June 15, 2022
Philadelphia Hometown Hero
“When you can take a horn or piano or guitar and make it sing, you tell stories of who you are. There’s a niblet of a story in the music—who loves me; who didn’t love me; my likes or dislikes—all encapsulated on the two to three-minute solo. It is part of you, whether you know it or not. It’s an accumulation of your time.”
Philly’s musical past and thriving cultural scene made it the ideal place for jazz to flourish, especially in South Philly, where longtime jazz radio presenter Bob Perkins was born. Jazz clubs dotted South Street during his youth, drawing some of the most dynamic musicians of the time to perform there. As Philadelphia’s longest-serving radio jazz host, Perkins is retiring from his daily duties at 88 years old.
It is not hard to have heard BP with the GM — that’s Bob Perkins with the Good Music — on WRTI over the airwaves if you have been driving along the Avenue of the Arts or huddled at home listening to the radio on your side of town. He is audio comfort food for many and his engaging style and extensive knowledge of jazz have made WRTI 90.1 one of the nation’s premier jazz radio stations since 1997.
In a statement in the spring of 2022, Perkins revealed his decision to retire from daily broadcasts.
“After 57 years in media, 25 of those years spent at WRTI, I am now into my 88th year, so this is a good time to retire from full-time hosting at the station and reflect on where I’ve been, with whom I’ve talked, and what I have learned over the decades as a newsman, editorial writer, and jazz music host, and see where that leads me,” said Perkins. He is currently writing a memoir and creating a podcast about his experiences working with jazz bands, musicians, and legends.
Born in 1933, Perkins developed an interest in jazz early in life. Being the youngest in a family of five, he recalled his older brother playing jazz albums and then grilling him on its supporting personnel. He lived on the same block as the legendary Heath Brothers and skipped school only once: to see Dinah Washington accompanied by pianist Beryl Booker.
“I just love the music,” said Perkins. “I love jazz musicians and the people who play it because to me, it’s magic. When you can take a horn or piano or guitar and make it sing, you tell stories of who you are. There’s a niblet of a story in the music—who loves me; who didn’t love me; my likes or dislikes—all encapsulated on the two to three-minute solo. It is part of you, whether you know it or not. It’s an accumulation of your time. I think Charlie Parker said, ‘If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.'”
Asked who his favorite Philadelphia jazz artists are, he responds with a laugh: “How many do you want?” Continuing, he mentioned John Coltrane, Benny Golson, Larry McKenna, Lee Morgan, and Denise King, adding, “And the list goes on, but right off the top those are some of the great artists I have been privileged to play on the radio.”
Perkins played an essential role during the golden age of radio in the latter part of the 20th century. From 1964 to 1969, Perkins broke in as a DJ and announcer in Detroit at WGPR-FM before moving to the news at WCHB-AM, then as program director for its FM affiliate. His career path, thankfully for the region, brought him back home to Philly. In 1969 he joined WDAS-AM/FM as a broadcast journalist; two years later, he became News Director and afterward Editorial Director. His distinctive voice and influential editorials became iconic for a growing FM and AM operation at WDAS over 19 years between the 1970s and ’80s.
A multimedia journalist, Perkins produced notable audio documentaries, authored articles for several publications, and co-hosted a jazz show with Toni Nash on Channel 57 that featured musicians from the Delaware Valley area. From 1988 to 1997, he served as the host of a popular jazz program on Saturday nights on WHYY-FM before moving to WRTI.
His achievements and contributions to Philadelphia jazz have been recognized with numerous honors and awards, including a bronze plaque on the Walk of Fame along the Avenue of the Arts.
Several of Philadelphia’s elected officials have honored him, including Philadelphia Mayor John Street, the Philadelphia City Council, and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame inducted him into their hall of fame in 2003.
When Perkins announced that he would be retiring at the end of June 2022, fans posted tender compliments and farewell messages on WRTI’s social media pages.
“BP’s dulcet tones introduced me to so many incredible singers and instrumentalists and expanded my jazz horizons,” wrote Sharon Schatz. “Listening to him could be a warm blanket on a wintry night, a cooling breeze in summer, bright flowers in spring, or leaves of red and gold in the fall. BP has graced us and enriched us. We are indebted to him. BP—enjoy being retired!”
“BP with the GM” will always revolve around jazz — and he will always be genuinely grateful for the discerning ears of his listeners who treat his favorite genre with reverence and respect. His legacy reflects the spirit of the region and is a worthy tribute to jazz.
“Listening to him could be a warm blanket on a wintry night, a cooling breeze in summer, bright flowers in spring, or leaves of red and gold in the fall. BP has graced us and enriched us. We are indebted to him.” —Sharon Schatz