Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Boots Bell

Boots Bell in studio

Boots Bell at WNIO studio. Photo by and courtesy of Leslie Bell Redman

“Yes, indeed, doody-daddy. 

Have yourself a happy!”

Probably everyone who grew up in Youngstown in the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s instantly recognizes these words as the trademark phrase of radio personality Boots Bell. You would hear that rich, buoyant baritone voice and you could feel your spirits rising as you looked forward to him playing your favorite tunes or counting down the top 40.

Boots Bell uniform

Boots Bell in the army. Photo courtesy of Leslie Bell Redman

Boots Bell was born in Cleveland as Ralph R. Bellito on January 22, 1933. He was a Korean War veteran. According to a tribute given by Jim Traficant in the U.S. House of Representatives on October 7, 1993, Boots was wounded several times during that war receiving five bronze stars and a Purple Heart. Boots’ trademark cane came from his service, when he suffered a bayonet wound to the knee.

Boots Bell broke into radio in Fredonia, New York at WBUZ, under the same ownership as WHOT. He came to WHOT in 1959 and became part of a group of disc jockeys known as “The Good Guys” during some of the Golden Years of rock ‘n roll. In fact he was so popular throughout the region that he introduced the Beatles at their concert in Pittsburgh in 1964, broadcast live on WHOT. I remember him on the radio during the afternoons, welcoming us to the “Booter Scooter,” as he called the show. But his on-air persona was only a small part of the memories many of us had of Boots Bell.

Record hop

Boots Bell at a record hop. Photo courtesy of Leslie Bell Redman

If you were at one of the many record hops, or WHOT Days at Idora Park, or one of the fundraisers he emcee’d, you will remember his goatee, his pipe, his cane, big grin, booming voice, and above all, his flashy suits. Leslie Bell Redman, who, with her brother Chris, hosts a Facebook page full of old photographs of Boots Bell, shared this memory about those days:

“My Dad was not only a radio deejay; he was hosting record hops at Idora Park, local high schools or benefit events many nights a week. In those days, he carried two 45 RPM record boxes with him to all of these events, which contained all of the current Top 40 hits of the day. Of course, since the list of songs changed weekly, he had to stay on top of this so he had all of the songs the kids might request. After making a trip to Record Rendezvous each week, he sat at our kitchen table and updated his records in the box against the weekly Tunedex that WHOT circulated. In order to quickly identify the right side of the record, he would use a black Magic Marker and put his initials “BB” on the label. As records were discarded from the box, I would be standing by, hoping to get a couple of new 45’s for my collection. So every time I smell one of those black markers with the stripes on the shaft, it takes me right back to those simpler times. Thanks for those memories, Dad”

Boots Bell was also a communications instructor at Youngstown State, beginning in 1968. Many of us saw him walking around campus, always nattily attired. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, he was also on TV, hosting Dance Party on WYTV, and in the 1970’s a show called What Generation Gap? He continued to work on the air until his death, working at WNIO, WCFT, WNRB, and CD106.  He died on July 15, 1993 of a heart attack.

Many in Youngstown believe Boots Bell ought to be in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. For a period, there was a petition drive (now closed) with over 1300 signatures. So far, the folks in Cleveland haven’t seen fit to induct him. Cleveland may be the heart of Rock ‘n Roll, but Boots Bell was its voice, at least in the Mahoning Valley, and I would suggest, one of the most distinctive voices anywhere. Ed O’Neill paid tribute to Bell on the February 8, 2012 episode of Modern Family where he talked of a DJ, “Booker Bell,” who he listened to on drives between Youngstown and Sugarcreek. He even uses one of Boots catchphrases,  “I just rang your bell.”

By the way, you might be curious about the origins of the nickname “Boots.” I asked Leslie Bell Redman who wrote back: “We believe it was from him wearing copper-toed boots as a kid during the depression. It kind of stuck.”

Bell Family

Boots Bell with his children, Chris and Leslie. Photo courtesy of Leslie Bell Redman

Boots Bell really was one of the “Good Guys”–Purple Heart veteran, legendary radio personality, instructor, an inspiration to young people all over the Valley, and a supporter of many charitable causes. Perhaps the greatest measure of someone’s life is how he is remembered by his children. This story from Leslie Bell Redman, apropos of the holiday, says it all.

“My parents split when I was 13, so after that Dad was only in our house through the radio waves. However, he made sure Christmas was special, even if he wasn’t physically there to enjoy it with us.  When my brother and I got up on Christmas morning, we went to the back door and opened it, to find a cassette tape that had Dad’s handwriting on the label. When we popped it into the cassette player, there he was, that booming voice larger than life. He went on to tell us where the first clue was for our annual scavenger hunt. The clues were then spread all over the neighborhood, strung together like holiday lights…. maybe in the crook of a tree or on the neighbor’s fence. Finally, the last clue would take us back to the house, where our big gift was always awaiting us. I still have a little vanity chair that was my big gift one year, and I use it each and every day. The coolest part about this story is that no matter whether it had snowed the night before or not, Dad NEVER left any evidence of footsteps as he spread the string from clue to clue. It is still a mystery to this day how he did that.”

As I wrote this post, I listened to this YouTube clip of Boots on the air on January 1, 1973. It is amazing how something like this can take you back 45 years in a flash. We lost Boots Bell 25 years ago, but to tell his story is to keep the memory alive of one of the most distinctive personalities of the Mahoning Valley. Perhaps it is best to “sign off” as he would.

“Yes, indeed, doody-daddy. 

Have yourself a happy!”


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top 10

This is the time of the year where people are posting all sorts of Top Ten lists for 2015, and so I thought you all might enjoy seeing what were the top ten “Youngstown” posts in 2015, based on number of views. I will just give the topic for each post without the “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown”. Each topic is linked back to the original post. Enjoy!


The Open Hearth Bar on Steel Street, Photo by Tony Tomsic, Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library

10. Neighborhood BarsWritten on the occasion of the closing of the Boulevard Tavern, I reflect on how bars were a rich part of the fabric of neighborhoods in Youngstown.

9. PierogiesOne of the staples of Friday night dinners during Lent. Numerous churches in the area sold them as fund-raisers.

8. SleddingI posted about a number of the places I went sledding growing up and you added memories like “Suicide Hill.”

7. The Three “F’s” of ChristmasJust posted. If you didn’t see it, can you guess what they were?

WHOT Good Guys6. WHOTDo you remember the Good Guys, who we not only listened to on the radio, but met at dances and WHOT days at Idora Park?

5. Brier Hill PizzaYou know you are from Youngstown if you know what a Brier Hill pizza is. I throw in some history and videos in this one!

4. Boardman RollercadeA favorite hangout for many of us growing up. Many of you shared memories of the Kalasky family who ran the place.

3. Front PorchesYour response to this one surprised me! So many shared memories of sleeping out on porches on summer nights or watching TV on the porch.

2. The Cookie TableAnother of those “you know you are from Youngstown if” kinds of things. Most people, other than those from Pittsburgh, don’t even know about this tradition, and nobody does it better!

And the top post of 2015, drumroll please….!


Kolachi or nut rolls. By Hu Totya (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

1. Kolachi. We love these nut rolls, even though it takes a lot of effort to make them. And consistent with last year, a food post was the top post once again. We do love our food if we are from Youngstown!

I’ve loved interacting with so many of you on Facebook or on the blog. You’ve made writing about our home town such a blast. Happy New Year!


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — WHOT

WHOT Good Guys

Classic “Gangster” Poster of the WHOT Good Guys

“Yes indeedie-doodie-daddy.”

You know you grew up in Youngstown in the 60’s or the 70’s if you recognize that classic greeting by disc jockey Boots Bell on WHOT, the home of rock and roll in Youngstown during those years. Boots Bell not only was popular on the radio and at local dances but was also a communications professor at Youngstown State during the years we were in college.

Boots Bell was part of a team of disc jockeys collectively known as “the Good Guys” and included at various points Johnny Kay, Jerry Starr, Allen Scott, Johnny Ryan, “Big Al” Knight (the “all night” disc jockey), Dick Thompson and Smoochie Causey among others during this period.

Early mornings I would get up to Johnny Kay reading school lunch menus and shave and wash up to the upbeat tunes coming over my transistor radio. My wife remembers her mother turning him on just in time to play the Monkees “Day Dream Believer” at full volume with the line, “cheer up sleepy Jeannie” (her middle name is Jean and this was mom’s way to try to get her out of bed!).

Many of us would go to bed at night listening to “Nights in White Satin” with those haunting closing lines “breathe deep the gathering gloom”. In between, during the day, we would listen for the “cash call” amounts and try to be the right caller to win the jackpot. We would listen for the top 40 tunes each week and the top 100 countdown at the end of each year that seemed to take a good part of the day.

WHOT Days Ticket courtesy of my wife

WHOT Days Ticket courtesy of my wife

The Good Guys were fixtures in the Youngstown community, taking there turns appearing at dances all over the area. I remember watching them play basketball against the teachers at Chaney High School. One of the most remembered community involvements of this group was at WHOT Days at Idora park, where there was a special admission to the park for the day and they broadcast live.

Youngstown was a rock and roll town with a garage band in every neighborhood. WHOT captured and magnified our love for this music during what many of us think was the greatest era of rock and roll–from Buddy Holly and the Drifters in the 50s through the Beatles and the British invasion to the psychedelic music of the Doors and Cream in the late 60s. I listened to all of these late at night with a headphone plugged into my transistor radio so that my folks would think I was sleeping (and indeed they learned to check because I usually fell asleep with the radio on and the earphone still playing).

Most of us grew up listening to WHOT on the AM dial at 1330. Later they had an FM station at 101.1 (still known as Hot 101 in Youngstown). Eventually the AM station moved to 1390, which later became WNIO.  But back in the day, all of us had our transistor radios or car radios tuned to 1330, which was the voice of rock and roll in Youngstown.

What were your memories of WHOT?



Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Remembering “Johnny Kay”

Richard "Johnny Kay" Kutan. Picture accessed from

Richard “Johnny Kay” Kutan.

“Johnny Kay” was the on air name of Richard Kutan, a long time resident of Youngstown, Ohio. I learned last night that he passed away on Friday December 5, 2014 in Marysville, Ohio, living near family. This is a loss that touches me personally. He was a mentor to me during my high school years and one who played a profound influence in shaping my faith.

I first heard of “Johnny Kay” in my middle school years. I would listen to him in the mornings on WHOT, our local rock music station while I washed up for school. In between songs by the Beatles or the Monkees, he would read the lunch menus for different schools in the area. At some point around then, he began attending our church. His sister, Louise Schenk had long been a member and was a woman of faith. I still have, and treasure, a copy of My Utmost for His Highest inscribed by her.

In the summer of 1970, he began hosting Bible studies at his home for teenagers searching for faith. I started going along with several friends. A few months before, I had made a commitment to follow Christ at a retreat but I was still pretty clueless as to what that meant. Those weekly discussions taught me what it meant to trust Christ in daily life and also the radical kind of love that was to be the mark of Christ’s followers.

Out of these weekly gatherings, the idea was hatched to hold an outdoor rally on the lawn of our church. Phil Keaggy, a musician with Glass Harp and several other local musicians who had come to faith played. Others were invited to speak about their faith. I was one who stood up–kind of my “coming out” day as a Christian in front of some of my high school friends. Johnny Kay was among those who spoke about what it meant to trust in Christ and how this could fill the place in our lives we were trying to fill with music, drugs, or sex. Many responded that day and the Bible studies moved out of Johnny’s den into the church.

Before we knew it, we found ourselves swept up in an awakening that was going on around the country, known as the “Jesus Movement.” Many of us would pile into cars and vans and do rallies at a number of the local high schools. Because I didn’t have a car, Johnny Kay often picked me up in his green VW Beetle enroute to these rallies and what I remember was his willingness to talk, listen, or pray with me about all the things I was wrestling with as a teen and a beginning follower of Christ. I remember how he listened when I talked about the pain of a break-up. He also challenged me to take steps of faith, most often in terms of being willing to speak up about my faith in school settings as well as at rallies. I’m still doing that and I think I owe that largely to him.

Our lives only intersected closely for about two and a half years. But I will always be grateful that he “had time” and challenged me in my faith. And what he did for me, I know he did for countless others over many years. I learned that he received the Victory Star Medal for his service as a radio operator in the Pacific theater during World War 2. He was buried with military honors. In later years he moved over to another local radio station. He was beloved in the community. Even in his retirement years he was the Director of Lay Ministry at the church where I grew up overseeing a food pantry and helping with efforts to create a community center in the church.

At one time, I think the DJs at WHOT were known as “The Good Guys.” There could not be a more fitting description for Johnny Kay. A member of “The Greatest Generation” who served with distinction, a voice that brought a smile to our faces as we were waking up each morning, a caring follower of Christ who took time with a rather “nerdy” teenager, and one who lived for others as long as he could. Johnny Kay was all that and more. I thank God for Richard “Johnny Kay” Kutan. Rest in Peace my friend.  I will always remember you.