Spotlight

Bill McCann Wants to Make You A Sandwich

By Paul Miller, MA '21
Bill McCann, a white middle-aged male, smiles while wearing headphones and posing behind the audio board of WCDB 90.9FM radio.
Spotlight

Bill McCann Wants to Make You A Sandwich

By Paul Miller, MA '21
Photographs by Paul Miller
Bill McCann, a white middle-aged male, smiles while wearing headphones and posing behind the audio board of WCDB 90.9FM radio.
For nearly four decades, Bill McCann has been behind the mic at WCDB 90.9FM. His program, "The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz," is a mainstay of the station and carries a loyal listenership that stretches across the country and beyond. (Photo by Paul Miller)
Bill McCann, a white middle-aged male, smiles while wearing headphones and posing behind the audio board of WCDB 90.9FM radio.
Bill McCann, a white middle-aged male, smiles while wearing headphones and posing behind the audio board of WCDB 90.9FM radio.
For nearly four decades, Bill McCann has been behind the mic at WCDB 90.9FM. His program, "The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz," is a mainstay of the station and carries a loyal listenership that stretches across the country and beyond. (Photo by Paul Miller)
Spotlight

Bill McCann Wants to Make You A Sandwich

By Paul Miller, MA '21
Photographs by Paul Miller
For nearly four decades, Bill McCann has been behind the mic at WCDB 90.9FM. His program, "The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz," is a mainstay of the station and carries a loyal listenership that stretches across the country and beyond. (Photo by Paul Miller)
Spotlight

Bill McCann Wants to Make You A Sandwich

By Paul Miller, MA '21
Photographs by Paul Miller
Spotlight

Bill McCann Wants to Make You A Sandwich

By Paul Miller, MA '21
Bill McCann, a white middle-aged male, smiles while wearing headphones and posing behind the audio board of WCDB 90.9FM radio.
For nearly four decades, Bill McCann has been behind the mic at WCDB 90.9FM. His program, "The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz," is a mainstay of the station and carries a loyal listenership that stretches across the country and beyond. (Photo by Paul Miller)
Spotlight

Bill McCann Wants to Make You A Sandwich

By Paul Miller, MA '21

When Bill McCann was a kid, jazz meant two things: spending time with his father and breaking bread.

"My dad was a big 'jazz head' … he liked to go see jazz," McCann says of the New York City firefighter and father of six kids. Tagging along with dad to revel in live music came with an added perk. "Typically, when you go see jazz, you're going out to eat," McCann says. "It was a great combo of going out, the fun of being with my dad and grabbing a bite to eat. As you can tell, I don't like to eat," he says putting his hand on his belly.  

It's classic McCann: wry, self-deprecating and approachable. So, it comes as no surprise when the longest-serving DJ on WCDB-FM 90.9 uses a food analogy to describe his passion for playing jazz.

"You can make your own sandwich and it's good, but if someone else makes the sandwich for you, it's somehow a little better," says McCann during his Saturday morning shift. "You can play your own jazz records at home, but having someone play it for you, it's a little better."

For jazz lovers, it doesn't get any tastier than Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. That's when McCann drops in behind the microphone to host his long-running and popular show, The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz, where he's been serving up musical morsels since 1985. This year, WCDB (preceded by WSUA 640AM in 1963) celebrates 45 years as an FM station. McCann has been there for 38 of them.

"Wherever the muses take me, that's where we will go!"

Each week, McCann builds his sonic sandwich from scratch using a rolling suitcase stuffed with hundreds of CDs pulled from his personal collection of thousands. He stacks them in random piles as he prepares, but he always starts and ends with the same song, a toe-tapper from The Woody Herman Big Band called "Things Ain't What They Used To Be." It's the bread in a lovingly assembled hoagie of great music: a layer of crisp Tony Bennett, a juicy slice of Sarah Vaughan, a schmear of Count Basie and a sprinkling of Art Blakey.

Sure, it might be easier to have all that music digitized into a device that he could just plug in and let play, but for McCann, there's no fun in that. He prefers to "zig and zag" based on what he's feeling in the moment. He calls the show his "weekly four-hour therapy session."

"If I planned the show in advance and then came in here and played it as I planned it, then that's a job," he says while reaching for a disc. "Ten minutes ago, I didn't know I would play this … I've got to be spontaneous." That spontaneity and McCann's easygoing personality account for the show's decades-long success.  

"I tell people the show is about 10 lines of schtick and, you know, music," he says. The schtick works.  

It's not unusual for him to be stopped on the street by strangers who compliment the show or repeat one of his signature catchphrases, such as, "If that didn't get you going then you need to seek immediate — and I do mean immediate medical attention because you just might be dead." McCann admits that he softened that line during the COVID pandemic after receiving a few complaints. The show rarely generates any criticism except, McCann says, from his daughter who "gets annoyed" by the pregnant pause and showmanship flourish he inserts when delivering the station's call letters: "WCDB...Albany."

"That and a whole bag of hot potatoes, we're glad you tuned in here..."

McCann, a lawyer by vocation, remembers the early days when he endured a "very regimented" training process to become a DJ: written tests on the regulations of the Federal Communications Commission, producing demo tapes and undergoing an "engineering clearance" that simulated an on-air technical malfunction to gauge a trainee's problem-solving prowess.

"And if you passed that, then you came in and you had to do an on-air clearance," says McCann of the nerve-racking final test of taking over another DJ's show. After a couple of years of avoidance, McCann, then a 20-year-old junior, mustered up the courage and, in March 1985, finally passed his on-air clearance. He still has a cassette recording of that moment and, every spring, he gives it a listen.

"It's brutal," laughs McCann. "It's really funny to hear." It took time and plenty of practice to sharpen his skills behind the audio board — and it wasn't always smooth. McCann was once suspended for mistakenly using "some colorful language" while on air. "I thought the mic was off. It wasn't," he says. "The program director was in the record library and she came over and stood at that door [looking] like a ghost."  

After nearly four decades of broadcasts, McCann is a pro. He received the Jazz Hero Award from the Jazz Journalists Association in 2012, and, over the years, has shared with younger DJs hard-earned knowledge: how to execute segues, manage mood/tempo shifts, and build an audience. Despite the station's limited over-the-air reach, McCann's audience is vast with listeners stretching from Carmel, California, to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and even extending internationally, due to the station's online stream.  

For many listeners, spending the Saturday before Christmas with Bill McCann is a holiday tradition.  They're treated to the Jazz Christmas Show, McCann's special program packed full of holiday-themed tracks. Like his regular show, McCann's holiday program has only one recurring track: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Dexter Gordon's instrumental version opens the show, but it closes with a swinging rendition by the one and only Ella Fitzgerald.

"I listen to the show all day as I'm getting my baking done," says longtime listener, Terry Weinman, who discovered McCann and his show by chance 30 years ago.  "He has the best collection of holiday jazz music I've ever heard and his banter can't be matched!"

Loyal listener Terry Weinman embraces McCann during his 2023 Christmas show and brought him homemade treats. (photo by Paul Miller)

The holiday program is like a gift from McCann, one that he's delivered without fail for 37 years — and his listeners love it. They extend their holiday greetings, specifically, to him; they call to make sure they haven't missed their favorite track; they even hand-deliver homemade holiday treats to the studio — as Weinman did last year. When asked why she made the special effort to deliver baked goods to him on a day when the temperature was a frigid 7 degrees above zero, her answer was heartfelt and simple: "Bill McCann — he's the man!"

Bill McCann's 'Life Rules'
  • #1 - "Someday, you're going to be 'in a box,' so you have to live life today. I live life fully pretty much every day."
  • #2 - "If you don't ask, the answer is always 'No.' It doesn't mean it won't be 'No,' but you got to ask. I ask."
  • #3 - "Don't be a lemming.  Be your own person. Don't just follow the crowd."

"The Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz" is broadcast live on WCDB 90.9FM Saturdays from 8:00am to 12:00pm with a rebroadcast on Sundays from 10:00am to 2:00pm.

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Reader responses to
Bill McCann Wants to Make You A Sandwich

Bill McCann is great! I was a DJ for the college station in Middlebury, VT, so I know what he is facing when he sits down in front of the microphone. I listen to him when Bill Saxonis is on , so I learn a lot about Duke Ellington. Bill S. is great, too. I love his show. Keep it going - nice having "two Bills" for the price of one.

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Ed Vine

Thanks for such an engaging profile of the man who makes Saturday morning a highlight of every week. Thank you Bill. The music is wonderful. Your knowledge and choices of what to play bring it to life.

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Sue Updike Younger

Bill has always been a gentleman. Bravo and glad to hear he's still at WCDB.

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