The Music Man
Between songs with longtime WMGK DJ and devout Beatles fanatic Andre Gardner
by Walter Ault

This quintessential Beatles fan was born too late to ever attend any of the legendary band’s live performances. He later made up for that by seeing Paul McCartney in concert an astounding 11 times and Ringo Starr twice.

He interviewed the two surviving Beatles a combined total of six times. He even traveled to Liverpool, England, where he saw the famous Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, and also sat in the room in McCartney’s former house, where McCartney and John Lennon wrote so many of the songs that are still beloved more than 50 years later. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this Beatles’ fanatic is the depth of his knowledge about the Beatles themselves, who he often refers to as “my boys.”

His name is Andre Gardner, best known for his work as a DJ with Philadelphia classic-rock station WMGK. For the past 14 years, Gardner has delighted and enlightened listeners with his cheerful on-air persona and love for rock ‘n’ roll. Apart from his weekday shifts from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., he also hosts a weekly Sunday morning show, “Breakfast with the Beatles,” which pays homage to the Beatles’ prodigious body of work: 300 songs, 17 No. 1 hits, a dozen studio albums—all in just eight years.

Although one might suggest he shares the same rarefied air as other Philly DJ greats such as Hy Lit, Harvey Holiday and Jerry Blavat, Gardner’s thorough knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll—including a seemingly bottomless reservoir of anecdotes about the Beatles—sets him apart from his peers. Gardner is a great example of why radio not only remains relevant but also continues to thrive.

“Ninety-three percent of people 12 or older listen to the radio at least once a week,” says Gardner, who lives in Wayne. “That’s amazing, especially considering all the young people out there who are so tech savvy. A lot of it has to do with the DJs, with their [outgoing] personalities delivering something special—something you can’t find anywhere else.

“To succeed in radio, you have to be real, now more than ever,” he continues. “When I’m on the air, I talk to the listeners like they’re all old friends. It’s like we’re all laying back and hanging out at my house. Another thing is the local flavor. Keeping that local connection is really important. That’s why WMGK collected 10,000 turkeys [as part of John DeBella’s “Turkey Drop”] on Thanksgiving. In other words, good DJs and good stations keep on top of local happenings, interact with local people and give back to the community.”

Gardner knew at a very early age knew what he wanted to do with his life and then, through sheer determination, charted a course to reach his goal. He chose not to attend college, simply because he was already doing what he loved—working as a DJ, then at WPST in Trenton, N.J.—by the time he was 16 years old.

One might consider this feat a testament to Gardner’s focus and determination, though he cites another influence that contributed to his early start in radio: the encouragement and support of his family, especially his father, Bill, an engineer, and Bill Jr., his older brother, also a longtime area DJ.

“It all started with my brother Bill,” Gardner says. “When I was 9 years old, he took me to WIBG where he worked and showed me around. I was truly amazed. A light bulb went off in my head. I said to myself, ‘This is for me. This is what I want.’

“I’m a radio guy; that’s all I am,” he continues. “Radio is my passion. It’s all I ever wanted to do, and it has worked out extremely well.”

When listening to one of Gardner’s WMGK’s broadcasts, it becomes crystal clear that he loves classic rock—a guitar-driven music genre that emerged from the album-oriented era of the late 1960s to the late ’80s, though rooted in the ’70s—which he describes as some of the greatest music ever made that “transcends generations.”

“Classic rock spotlights the best of the best,” he says. “One long-held belief was that it is a snapshot in time. … It started with the Beatles, followed by the British invasion and other groups inspired by the Beatles. It was a tremendously exciting musical style, with its popularity and many technological advances drawing more and more creative people to the genre and giving them more [musical] options than ever before.”

Gardner seems to most enjoy talking about his numerous encounters and interviews with many of the genre’s legends: Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Carlos Santana, Don Henley, Greg Allman and John Mellencamp, among others.

Unsurprisingly, Gardner’s fondest memories stem from interviews with one of the Fab Four. He characterizes one occasion, when he interviewed Paul McCartney in his dressing room in Atlantic City, N.J., as “the most daunting task I could ever have” because he was so terrified he would “say something stupid.” Of course, given Gardner’s talent and professionalism, the interview went well and he ended up enjoying the experience immensely.

Photograph by Beth Gardner