Obituary: Terry Lee Trunzo / Prominent and popular DJ in the 1960s and '70s
Aug. 27, 1942 - July 30, 2013
August 2, 2013 9:30 PM
Terry Lee in an earlier era.
By Adrian McCoy Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When former Pittsburgh radio host Terry Lee Trunzo returned to DJ an oldies show in 2010 at the Palisades in McKeesport, he was greeted with a standing ovation by more than 600 former listeners and fans.
"The reaction was just astounding. Everybody in the room stood up," he recalled in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview. "I can't tell you what it meant to me. I realized at that point how much the radio show meant to everyone."
Terry Lee (as he was universally known) and his radio show certainly meant a lot to generations of people who grew up in this area in the '60s and '70s. They remember listening to his show at night on little transistor radios or watching him make a grand entrance from a chauffeured limousine - dressed in a sharp looking suit - on his way to the record hops he hosted. One of those kids was Fred Bohn Sr., who is now the owner of Attic Records in Millvale.
"He was always 100 percent class," Mr. Bohn said.
Mr. Lee died on July 30 at his home in Bellville, Ohio, after a battle with lung cancer. He was 70.
He was a force in all areas of the music and broadcasting businesses -- as a radio and TV host, DJ, record producer, band manager, concert promoter and emcee, club owner and later in his career, as a radio station owner.
Terry Lee Trunzo was born in New Eagle and went to Monongahela High School. He originally wanted to be a musician, so he taught himself to play guitar and played in several bands in high school.
He started working as a DJ at teen dances at 16. That launched his radio career at the former WESA-AM in Charleroi, which was followed by stints at stations in Carnegie and Canonsburg. At 21, he joined the former WMCK-AM in McKeesport, which later became WIXZ (1360). That little station was the place where Mr. Lee really began shaking up the airwaves. His evening show was one of the most popular in the city throughout the '60s.
His signature "TL Sound" was a mix of R&B, soulful ballads and doo-wop. "Terry's sound was just unique," Mr. Bohn recalls, noting Mr. Lee's smooth radio voice and the echo chamber sound effects he added to the show. "He was known for his ballads, like 'This Is My Love' by the Beachcombers and 'The Stars' by the Ocapellos. He did so much for the music."
The "Music for Young Lovers" portion of the show featured slow romantic ballads. Wildly popular among teens, it provided the soundtrack for many a local young romance.
"Music for Young Lovers" came about by accident, his wife, Carol Trunzo, recalled. At the end of the evening air shift, he was tired and would play slower numbers to close out the show. It caught on among listeners and became an integral part of the "TL Sound."
Like Porky Chedwick and the late Mike ("Mad Mike") Metrovich, Mr. Lee was known for being among the first to play records that later became hits.
"He had a tremendous impact on the market," said Henry DeLuca, producer of the Roots of Rock and Roll concert series and manager of Pure Gold. "He was a major influence in the '60s."
His record hops at area venues drew throngs of teens. In 1966, he opened a club called Nite Train in West Elizabeth, which hosted both national and local acts.
In the late '60s throughout the '70s, Mr. Lee hosted dance shows on TV: "Come Alive" on the former WIIC (now WPXI) and "The Terry Lee Show" on WPGH and later on KDKA.
Mr. Lee also produced records and managed several local bands, including The Fantastic DeeJays and The Swamp Rats.
"He had these kids playing everywhere. They loved every minute," said Michael Joyce, former manager of the Palisades Performing Arts program in McKeesport "He was a big time celebrity. It was a big time thing."
Because of medical issues, Mr. Lee was turned down for service during the Vietnam War. But he would send tapes of his shows to the troops serving there. "Quite a few said how much those tapes helped them," Mrs. Trunzo said.
He moved to Phoenix in 1988 and helped launch the nationally syndicated Kool Gold oldies format, which carried his "Music for Young Lovers" program.
Later in his career, he owned and managed radio stations in Florida and Ohio.
In later years, his wife said, they would hear from former listeners. "Some are lawyers and doctors ... they come back and say how much he meant to them growing up, and still does."
After retiring from broadcasting in the '90s, he enjoying working on his farm in Ohio. "He loved growing things and raising cows and goats. No one knew that side of him," Mrs. Trunzo said.
When he came back to Pittsburgh three years ago to host the dance at the Palisades, it re-ignited memories among former listers.
"My phone never stopped ringing when we advertised that we going to have a Terry Lee reunion," Mr. Joyce said. They had to hold the line after 600 tickets were sold. "We could have sold a thousand."
That led to weekly shows on WLSW-FM and WJAS-AM, along with an Internet radio show. He continued to host dances here, including a regular sell-out event at Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Troy Hill.
Mr. Lee also released several compilation albums of songs he played on WMCK/WIXZ, featuring recordings from the shows.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Lee is survived by a son, Adam of Bellville, Ohio; a daughter, Paulina of Ashland, Ohio; a stepson, George DiDomenicus of Pittsburgh; a brother, Albert Trunzo Jr. of Fredericktown, Pa.; and two grandchildren. He also is survived by two sons and a daughter from a previous marriage: Jeffrey and Terry Jr., and Kimberly DeLeonibus.
There will be no visitation. A memorial service will be held at a later date.
Memorial donations can be made to the American Cancer Society.