Radio legend AC McCullough dies

Valley woke up with AC in the morning

Submitted photo / Cumulus Media AC McCullough, longtime Valley DJ for WHOT-FM (101.1), has died, according to station owner Cumulus Media.

A voice of the Valley has been silenced with the death of DJ A.C. McCullough.

McCullough, 76, was a presence for 52 years on local radio at WHOT-FM (101.1), owned by Cumulus Media. Generations woke up to his voice as the station’s longtime morning host, partnered since 1989 with co-host Kelly Stevens.

William E. Kelly Jr., vice president and market manager for Cumulus Media Youngstown, released a statement Saturday that said, “It is with deep sorrow we acknowledge the passing of our friend and colleague A.C. McCullough. No matter where you went, if you mentioned HOT 101, people immediately ask about A.C.

“He was a great talent who loved Youngstown and Youngstown loved him back. The Valley has lost a friend and a legend.”

Being a DJ always has been a somewhat nomadic job with many only staying in one area for a limited time. If their ratings were good, they moved on to a bigger market; if the ratings declined, they slid to a smaller one. That, coupled with changes industry-wide that have decreased the amount of local on-air talent employed by radio groups, made broadcasters like McCullough increasingly rare.

For the Youngstown East graduate, doing radio in his hometown was the perfect job.

In a bio he penned on WHOT’s website, McCullough wrote, “HOT 101 was the only station that I listened to when I was growing up, so being able to work at your hometown station, and make a career of it has been a dream come true.”

The fact that he had that longevity at a Top 40 station makes it even more impressive.

John Batcho, who was both a rival and a colleague of McCullough’s during his 30 years on the radio at WYFM-FM (Y103) and other stations as Mr. Sports, said, “Top 40 is an ever-changing format. Think of all the style changes A.C. went through — disco, arena rock, new wave and MTV. You have to remain hip to your audience, and he stayed hip for 50 years. For him to continue to have that impact all the way to the end is a sign that A.C. was still hip to it all, and the kids still liked him.”

McCullough remained relevant by staying passionate about music. In that online bio, he wrote, “First and foremost I am a music freak … If there is one thing that bridges the gap between ages, races and religions, it is music, and I am proud to be a part of the team that brings the best music on the planet to your radio.”

Fred Woak, better known as Fast Freddie during his 43 years on local radio at WNIO-AM, WNCD-FM and currently WYFM, said McCullough had been off the air for the last month, but his death still was a shock.

“Right to the end, he still looked good, he looked like he was in top shape,” Woak said. “With that white goatee and big pierced earring, he didn’t look like some old guy huffing and puffing along.”

In business with plenty of shock jocks and DJs trying to be more outrageous and louder than the competition, McCullough succeeded by taking a different approach.

“He was just a cool, laid-back, mellow cat and it came across over the air,” Woak said. “I think people really picked up on that, just his whole demeanor … His voice was unique, very conversational, and him and Kelly had this natural give-and-take, not a lot of fake laughter, a really nice conversational connection.”

“Tangled Up in Blues” host Cornel Bogdan, who recently joined Cumulus but worked for decades for rival Clear Channel / I Heart Media, said, “A.C. was the godfather of Youngstown radio for over 50 years. Do you realize the changes in music that man was part of? Through it all, A.C. was always there. He’s left a legacy that will never be equaled. Start sculpting his statue now and ready a spot on the square at downtown Youngstown.”

Woak said, “You have to give him his props for what he accomplished. I don’t think anyone will ever do that again.”

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.


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