Oral Histories

Monday, April 5, 2021

DJ airs request for nostalgic Big Ape recordings

Station's sounds played from local pools to bases in Vietnam

By Matt Soergel

Jacksonville Florida Times-Union USA TODAY NETWORK

"Honest" John Ferree just wants to hear his friends' voices again, the voices of his fellow disc jockeys at WAPE, the AM radio powerhouse that once sent their words ? and a lot of good music ? from Cape Kennedy to Cape Hatteras.

Ferree, a disc jockey at Jacksonville's Big Ape from 1967 to 1971, wants to know: Does anyone have any tapes from back then when WAPE was in its AM heyday?


In the 1960s, WAPE's disc jockeys often appeared around Jacksonville in the station's "Surf Kar." From left to right are Ike Lee, Danny Tripp (in the ape suit), Dale Kirby, Alan Sands and Jim Shirah. PROVIDED BY JOHN FERREE

He knows they might be out there.

After all, the station was remarkably accessible to fans. Listeners could come hang out, to make dedications or requests or to plunge into the station's honest-to-goodness swimming pool. And the DJs, in a goodwill gesture, would sometimes give them reel-to-reel tapes of shows to have for their own.

Ferree also knows that the Big Ape gave tapes to service members headed to Vietnam, an hour or two of music and talk to remind them of home. He often heard back that the tapes were played on the ships and from the loudspeakers set up in the camps on the ground.

Or perhaps someone has old recordings straight from the radio?

Ferree would love to hear them (reach him at his email roaddreamin@ gmail.com).

He's not looking to make any money from this, he said. He just wants to hear those voices again, to collect them on his YouTube channel, which he's trying to make a nostalgic stop for fans of the iconic AM station.

On a video asking for help, he explains why he's doing this.

"We can celebrate that amazing time back then, when we were all young and handsome and beautiful and brave, and rock 'n' roll was king, and the Big Ape in Jacksonville was loud and proud."

Ferree is now 79, living in Asheboro, N.C. After leaving WAPE, he was in radio for just another year before leaving. Nothing, he said, could be as much fun as the Big Ape, with its signature ape cry and its freewheeling DJs.

"It was just so open and informal, with the pool there and everything," he said. "It was a good drive for teenagers to get all the way out to Orange Park, but we took requests and they made dedications. It was a real bond with the listeners."

Ferree has found that interest in the radio station is still high. He's been interviewed by a filmmaker working on a documentary about the station. He was interviewed by the Jacksonville Historical Society for its planned music museum. And he recorded an oral history for the Jacksonville Broadcasters Association.

He finds that he's still remembered from his time with the station, even in North Carolina by people who grew up there and listened to the Big Ape over its 50,000-watt transmitter all the way down in North Florida.

Ferree has already collected some recordings of the old days on his You-Tube channel, heavy on nostalgia and storytelling (he even makes fun of his "scraggly mustache and embarrassing sideburns").

In one video, he tells how he and his fellow DJs met Jimi Hendrix (a "real nice guy") at a 1968 concert in Jacksonville sponsored by the station. Hendrix had opened in Jacksonville for the Monkees the year before, which did not go well (Hendrix scared the other band's fans).

This concert, he noted, went far better, and he and his wife watched it from the front row.

The WAPE videos have become a pandemic project for him, something to keep him busy during those long months.

And they bring back to him memories of the men who were on the air with him: Jim Shirah, Dale Kirby, Alan Sands, Ron Wayne, Tom Clark, Danny Tripp, Alan Facemire (of the Underground Circus, a psychedelic show) and others.

That was all 50 years ago, or more. A half-century. Some of his colleagues have died. He's lost touch with some. But he'd sure like to hear their voices again.

"It was just so open and informal, with the pool there and everything."

"Honest" John Ferree

Big Ape DJ

BIG from page A1 to A9

'Honest' John Ferree was a WAPE disc jockey from 1967 to 1971. PROVIDED BY JOHN FERREE

John Ferree, once a WAPE disc jockey, is seen in a recent screenshot from YouTube. PROVIDED BY JOHN FERREE

 Copyright (c) 2021 Jacksonville Florida Times Union, Edition 4/5/2021


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