440: Satisfaction - In depth
From the San Francisco Chronicle Web site April 20, 2000 -- by Sam Whiting.


SF/SACTO -- Russ "the Moose" Syracuse, a smooth and engaging voice on Bay Area radio for 30 years, has died at age 70.

   Mr. Syracuse died of heart failure Tuesday, leaving a late-night legacy that began when he was hired as a disc jockey at the AM pop music station KYA in 1962.

   He came from Buffalo and brought the nickname with him, expanded to "the Captain of the All-Night Flight on Super Freak 1260" when he was transferred from days to nights.

   The flight took off at midnight and touched down at 6 a.m, and along the way, Mr. Syracuse invented an irreverent free-form FM style before free-form FM radio came along.

   "He really paved the way for that kind of radio," said pop radio historian Ben Fong-Torres.

   It started during a period when an AM alarm clock was the height of teenage cool. To sneak in late listening, kids kept transistor radios under their pillows. They were rewarded by antics such as Mr. Syracuse suddenly deciding he was sick of an overplayed hit -- say, "Stop! In the Name of Love" -- and bomb it with sound-and-voice effects until the music came to a screeching halt.

   "The record would just die, and he'd laugh and go on to the next thing," said Fong-Torres. Mr. Syracuse also served as an on-air matchmaker, with the "Love Line," putting callers together and sometimes keeping the best prospects for himself.

   KOIT disc jockey Tom Saunders, who came out from Buffalo with Mr. Syracuse in 1962, said the Moose hated Top 40 radio but hated rock even more. "He was a '50s-style middle-of-the-road DJ," Saunders said.

   But when psychedelia took hold, Mr. Syracuse developed a spacey voice that was so convincing, he was hired as the emcee for the first Family Dog dance concert at San Francisco's Longshoremen's Hall in 1965. "They thought he was one of them," said Fong-Torres. "But he was a straight family man, and he told me he got high on pizza, hamburgers and chocolate milk."

   Mr. Syracuse was born and raised in Rochester, N.Y. He became a schoolteacher and served in the Navy during the Korean War. He started in radio in Syracuse in 1956, then moved to WKBW, a Top 40 station in Buffalo. One day he was late and barged into the studio half-dressed. A colleague said he arrived with all the grace of a moose. The description stuck.

   After five or six years at KYA, Mr. Syracuse left for short stops at KFRC and KNBR before settling in at KSFO in 1969. His all-night show led into Don Sherwood's morning show.

   By the time he retired in 1993, he had worked at KYA four separate times, at KSFO three times, at KFRC twice and at four other stations, including KMPX during the Big Band years.

   His last job was during afternoon drive time at KFRC, where he hosted a nostalgia show.

   After that, he became a photographer and held shows at his apartment at Steiner and Chestnut streets in the Marina District. He had a stroke in October 1997, and his health continued to deteriorate. He suffered from diabetes and a series of strokes. Two months ago, he was moved to a Sacramento nursing home.

   He is survived by five children, Tom Syracuse of Sacramento, Tracy Humble of Antelope, Kelly Syracuse of Sonora, Russ Syracuse of Oakley and Helen Rosario of Kerwin; four grandchildren; and a sister, Marie Patricelli of Rochester, N.Y.

Copyright 2000 SF Chronicle

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