Bob Pantano would likely have found a way to do what he loves doing best — making people happy and showing them a fun time — even if the radio concept he created had only enjoyed a short shelf life, as he thought it might.
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Pantano graduated from Temple University in the late 1960s, then kicked off his professional radio career as a DJ during the dawn of the 1970s at WCAM in Camden, where another local legend, Jerry Blavat, began his career about a decade earlier.
“As well as doing radio, I was a club DJ from 1971 to ’79 during the heyday of the disco era, and I thought ‘What if we broadcast live from a nightclub?’,” says Pantano, a South Philly product and Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame inductee. “I thought the energy and atmosphere of a live dance party might translate well into a live broadcast, but I also thought it might work well only for a couple of weeks. Here it’s been going on for 41 years.”
Bob Pantano’s Saturday Night Dance Party started in 1977 and has earned status as the first and longest-running radio dance party in the nation, emanating from Philly’s WOGL 98.1 and being simulcast by WTTH 93.1 in Atlantic City and WEZW 93.1 in Wildwood Crest.
The party has called several hotspots home over the years, including the East Coast’s first legal casino, Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City. For the past eight years it has emanated from the Adelphia Nightclub in Deptford. According to Nielsen ratings that measure audience size, Pantano is also the top-rated Saturday night radio DJ in the nation for all demographics ages 25 to 54.
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Recently Pantano returned to the town where the dance party began prior to its radio roots, Wildwood, where his name is immortalized by bronze plaque on the Wildwood Avenue of the Stars sidewalk as well as on the Philly Music Walk of Fame. On Sundays starting 6 p.m. Bob Pantano’s Dance Party will take place at the newly completed Seaport Pier in North Wildwood.
“In all my years, I’ve never seen anything like like this anywhere in Wildwood,” says Pantano, 68, of the Seaport Pier. “It’s the most spectacular venue in all of the Wildwoods. It’s state-of-the-art entertainment with a huge dance floor, huge bars, and a live concert stage right on the Boardwalk overlooking the ocean.”
Since the summer’s start, Pantano has also recreated his Saturday night success on Fridays in Margate, albeit in a more low-key ambience. Pantano appears 8 p.m. at Johnny’s Cafe & Lounge, located in Margate.
“I’m getting into this new thing now that’s similar to dinner and dancing, where people come for dinner and stay for dancing,” Pantano says of Johnny’s format. “It’s not just for couples or married folks, but it does give couples a fun alternative to going out to a nightclub if that’s no longer their thing.”
Part of the key to not only surviving but thriving for more than four decades in the entertainment business is knowing how to interpret a crowd, says Pantano, and adapt from performing in a venue such as the Seaport Pier — which at 60,000 square feet can accommodate hundreds — to the more intimate Johnny’s Cafe that might hold a couple dozen.
“You’ll usually always see your regulars, but every night’s a new crowd and you kind of have to feel them out,” says Pantano, adding that he is now seeing third-generation patrons from his original audience at his shows. “I mean, you keep to the basic format, but you see where they want to go with it.
“The good thing about my career is that I’ve been able to evolve. Basically I started as a doo-wop oldies jock, then went into the disco era, and then I was able to kind of merge it all together and expand it going into the ’80s. That’s where we are today. I mean, look at all the music I can play, anywhere from the ’60s through the ’90s to a lot of good dance music that’s out today. Everybody has different musical tastes so you just try to give them the full package of what you do. Every night is a new crowd and a new experience.”
Pantano says he has no intention of scaling back on a schedule that has him performing as many as six nights per week.
“You just keep going and taking it day by day,” he says. “My motto is that I work like I’m 17 and keep moving forward. I love going to work, I love the people who come out, and I love to make people happy and show them a good time. As long as they keep dancing and coming out, I’ll keep doing it.”
T.J. Lavin hosted Nightlife at The Pool Harrah’s Atlantic City
Reality TV star’s from MTV’s hit series “The Challenge” and an American BMX Rider Thomas Joseph Lavin better known as “T.J. Lavin” hosted Nightlife at The Pool Harrah’s Atlantic City, NJ on Friday
Photo: Tom Briglia /PhotoGraphics