W*O*L*D ~ Harry Chapin

Harry Chapin was an American singer, songwriter, and humanitarian. He recorded several hit records, campaigned to end hunger, was an Academy Award nominated film maker and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Chapin’s first formal introduction to music was while singing in the Brooklyn Boys Choir. It was here that Harry met Big John Wallace, a tenor with a five-octave range, who would later become his bass player and background singer. He began performing with his brothers while a teenager, with their father occasionally joining them on drums.

He originally intended to be a documentary film-maker, and directed Legendary Champions in 1968, which was nominated for a documentary Academy Award. In 1971, he decided to focus on music. With Big John Wallace, Tim Scott and Ron Palmer, Chapin started playing in various local nightclubs in New York City.

On Thursday, July 16, 1981, just after noon, Chapin was driving on the Long Island Expressway, in the left hand fast lane, at about 65 miles (105 km) an hour on the way to his concert. For some reason, either because of engine failure or some physical problem (thought to be a possible heart attack) he put on his emergency flashers near Exit 40 in Jericho, NY. He then slowed to about 15 miles (24 km) an hour and veered into the center lane nearly colliding with another car. He swerved left, then to the right again, ending up directly in front of a tractor-trailer truck. The truck could not brake in time and rammed the rear of Harry’s blue 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit, rupturing the gas tank and causing it to burst into flames.

The driver of the truck, and another passer-by were able to get Harry out of the burning car through the window and by cutting the seat belts, before the car was completely engulfed in flames. He was taken by police helicopter to the hospital where ten doctors tried for 30 minutes to revive him. A spokesman for the Nassau County Medical Center said Chapin had suffered a heart attack and “died of cardiac arrest” but there was no way of knowing whether it occurred before or after the accident. In an interview years after his death, Chapin’s daughter said “My dad didn’t really sleep, and he ate badly and had a totally insane schedule.”

Even though Harry’s driver’s license had been revoked at the time of the accident, for a long string of traffic violations, his wife Sandy did win a $12 million decision in a negligence lawsuit against the truck’s owners.

Chapin was interred in the Huntington Rural Cemetery, Huntington, New York. His epitaph is taken from his song “I Wonder What Would Happen to this World.” It is:

Oh if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man’s life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world

W*O*L*D

W*O*L*D” is a song written and performed by Harry Chapin. The song is about an aging disc jockey who travels the United States seeking happiness, which he believes he will find by following his passion for being a radio broadcaster, only to discover that his life, looks and voice have passed him by, which is alluded to in the song’s title. (WOLD) The song is sung through the point-of-view of a phone call conversation from the D.J. to his ex-wife only hearing what he has to say to her. The lyrics go on to reveal that perhaps we can never change who we really are and that what he had really wanted was the love and companionship that had eluded him in a previous failed relationship.

This hit song was inspired by radio personality Jim Connors, who is credited for discovering Chapin, and pushing his hit, “Taxi”, through Boston radio station WMEX, where he was the AM Drive time Host. After the debut of “Taxi”, Chapin sat in on a phone conversation Connors was having with his ex-wife while in studio at WMEX. This conversation led to a deep and personal discussion during an interview both on and off the air between the men. They talked about life, the business, marriage, divorce, happiness and all the troubles associated with being a DJ and the music business at the time.

This song was also one of the major inspirations for Hugh Wilson in creating the television series WKRP in Cincinnati, which ran on network television for 90 episodes from 1978 to 1982 and continues to this day in syndication.

Hello Honey, it’s me
What did you think when you heard me back on the radio?
What did the kids say when they knew it was their long lost daddy-o?

Remember how we listened to the radio
And I said “That’s the place to be”
And how I got the job as an FM Jock the day you married me?
It was two kids and I was was into AM rock
But I just had to run around
It’s been ages since I left you babe
Let me tell you ’bout what’s gone down

I am the morning DJ at W*O*L*D
Playing all the hits for you wherever you may be
The bright good-morning voice who’s heard but never seen
Feeling all of forty-five going on fifteen

The drinking I did on my last big gig, it made my voice go low
They said that they liked the young sound when they let me go
So I drifted on down to Tulsa, Oklahoma to do me a late night talk show
Now I worked my way down home again, here to Boise, Idaho
That’s how this business goes

I am the morning DJ at W*O*L*D
Playing all the hits for you wherever you may be
The bright good-morning voice who’s heard but never seen
Feeling all of forty-five going on fifteen

I been making extra money doing high school sock hops
I’m a big time guest MC
You should hear me talking to the little children
And listen what they say to me
Got a spot on the top of my head, just begging for a new toupee
And a tire around my gut from sitting on my butt
But it’s never gonna go away

Sometimes I get this crazy dream
That I just take off in my car
But you can travel on ten thousand miles and still stay where you are
I’ve been thinking that I should stop disk jockeying
And start that record store
Maybe I could settle down if you’d take me back once more

OK Honey, I see
I guess he’s better than me
Sure, Girl, I understand
You don’t have to worry; I’m such a happy man

W*O*L*D, W*O*L*D, W*O*L*D, W*O*L*D, W*O*L*D*

I am the morning DJ at W*O*L*D
Playing all the hits for you, playin em night and day
The bright good morning voice who’s heard but never seen
Feeling all of forty-five, going on fifteen
I am the morning DJ at W*O*L*D, W*O*L*D, W*O*L*D, W*O*L*D…

  • Audio from the 1974 album, Short Stories:
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About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

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