The Washington Township resident attributes his long-running success to the music, what he calls “his brand.”
When music changed with the decades, Pantano was still playing the dance hits of the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s four times a week in local nightclubs and on his weekly radio show, the Bob Pantano Saturday Night Dance Party.
“It’s a brand of music that I’ve established,” Pantano said. “I never wavered from it. I never went with the trends of music.”
As a matter of fact, he said fellow disc jockeys even have a “Bob Pantano” section in their repertoire.
“We’re playing the greatest music ever made,” Pantano said. “The music is the secret.”
That secret has given Pantano a unique success. The dance party celebrated its 35th year on Feb. 18 and is known as the longest-running radio show in America, Pantano said.
The show currently airs on Saturday nights on 98.1 WOGL “Oldies 98” CBS Radio in Philadelphia and 96.1 WTTH “The Touch” in Atlantic City. Each week, he broadcasts live from Adelphia Nightclub in Deptford.
The disc jockey, 62, went to the weekend dances as a student in Philadelphia. He said his show was born out of his decision to keep his peers dancing.
“What I did was, I took the concept of the dances at the high schools and I took them to the clubs,” Pantano said.
He said his crowds are bigger than ever. Partiers that join him are anywhere from their mid-30s through late 60s and then some.
“These people grew up with me,” Pantano said. “This was a dancing generation.”
Pantano moved to Washington Township from South Philadelphia about 27 years ago after he married his wife Debbie. She accompanies him to most of his gigs.
The couple also has a home in Ventnor. When he’s not spinning records, Pantano said he loves to “chill out” down the shore.
He studied radio, television and film at Temple University, but before he even graduated he had a disc jockey job at WCAM in Camden in 1971.
His career grew from there and he hasn’t missed a Saturday night live broadcast in more than three decades, despite blizzards and venue fires. And while the locations — whether the clubs or radio stations — may have changed, not much else has.
“His warmth and sincerity and honesty and many good deeds pour into the microphone,” said Kal Rudman, fellow disc jockey, local philanthropist and publisher of a music industry trade magazine Friday Morning Quarterback.
Not only did Pantano follow in Rudman’s footsteps as a prominent figure in local radio, the disc jockey also has a lengthy list of projects that he supports.
Pantano is on the board of directors of Variety-The Children’s Charity, which helps children with disabilities. He also is an honorary deputy police commissioner as the master of ceremonies of the Hero Plaque Program in Philadelphia, which commemorates the heroism of Philadelphia police officers who’ve lost their lives in the line of duty. And he is the host of the annual Hero Thrill Show, which benefits the families of fallen police officers.
His charity also extends to Washington Township as well: Pantano is a key driver of the Church of the Holy Family’s Primavera Festival, now in its fifth year. The annual spring event is a fundraiser for Pantano’s parish, where he’s an active member.
He serves as the host and lines up the entertainment for the event, which is attended by 300 to 400 people each year. Guests get that signature Bob Pantano dance party, as well as live band music and a taste of local restaurants that come to offer specialties from their menus.
Fellow parishioner and festival volunteer Domenick Renzi said Pantano’s support has contributed to event’s success.
“There’s kindness to him and that’s special right there. He’s a personality that’s been around for 35 years, but he’s also just a regular person,” Renzi said.
Having a local celebrity as a member of your parish is kind of exciting, Renzi said. But he quickly added that Pantano blends in well with other parishioners. When needed, Pantano jumps right up and takes the collection as an usher at Mass.
Not bad for a guy who can be heard on the radio around the world. Today’s technology allows his show to be simulcast in real time on AOL radio and CBS radio.
He gets emails from fans as far England, Italy and from U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq who are able to enjoy some sounds of home by listening to his show, he said.
“I love my job, I love to go to work — the fun of it,” Pantano said. “Every night is a new crowd and a new experience.”
– E. Janene Geiss / Photos by Jodi Samsel