After moving to Detroit in 1964, South Philadelphia native Bob Perkins applied for a job in insurance.
As he left the building after his interview, he saw a flyer from a radio station, WBTR, which had its offices two floors above the insurance company.
“My father would always listen to his radio, and I would listen with him,” Perkins said. “I was always interested, but never thought I would be as good as a lot of those guys.”
He applied for an entry-level job at the radio station and a week later was hired to work the control board. When he returned to the insurance company to decline their job offer, Perkins was asked disheartening questions: “Are you crazy? Do you know how much they are going to pay you?”
“I didn’t care though,” Perkins said. “I was following something I’ve always loved.”
About 60 years later, Perkins is still doing what he loves. Perkins is one of Philadelphia’s influential voices in jazz culture as the host of 90.1 WRTI FM’s “Jazz with Bob Perkins” show. On Oct. 19, he was inducted into the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame, on the Avenue of the Arts, for his lasting impact on Philadelphia jazz.
“It’s a true honor to have a plaque among names like John Coltrane,” Perkins said. “Something I never thought I would have.”
WRTI, Temple’s all-music public radio station, is a classical and jazz music source housed at the Entertainment and Community Education Center on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 15th Street.
Now 82 years old, Perkins opens each show with, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is B.P. with the G.M.,” which stands for “Bob Perkins with the good music,” a nickname he developed early in his career.
His office is decorated with a collection of classic jazz records, and he keeps with him a folder of photographs taken over the course of his career. The pictures show two visits to the White House — during one, he met President Jimmy Carter — while others show his interviews with the biggest names in jazz, like Wynton Marsalis, Nancy Wilson and Rufus Harley.
Perkins’s older brother taught him about jazz as they grew up during the 1950s, a time when the popularity of jazz was growing, he said.
“Everybody loved it and listened to it,” Perkins said.
Perkins got his shot at WBTR when the control board he was in charge of broke, forcing him to have to talk on air. He remembered his boss came in after and said, “I didn’t know you could talk like that.”
He soon was recognized as better than the hosts who were already on air, Perkins said.
“And I’ve been blabbin’ ever since,” he added with a laugh.
Shortly after, Perkins left WBTR for a station just around the corner where he was a program director before being called back to his hometown in 1969. He worked for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia for 19 years before he started at WRTI in 1997.
Perkins even covered news and jazz for a local newspaper when he returned to Philadelphia. He now writes for ICON, a music magazine in the city.
“I wanted to do it all,” Perkins said. “I would do one thing and wonder if I could try something else and I kept getting away with it.”
Coupled with his soft-spoken voice in the studio was his passion for jazz.
“In order to really enjoy jazz, you’ve got to truly listen,” he said.
Perkins said he remembers the days when everyone listened to jazz, when people would just slow down and listen to the music. He also recalled the nights when he could take a date to one of the premiere jazz clubs in Philly and not spend more than $20.
“Times have changed,” Perkins said. “It would be great if people could just slow down again and listen to the music.”
“I read about real jazz, Bob lived it,” said Terell Stafford, the director of Jazz Studies at the Boyer College of Music and Dance.
Perkins remains actively involved in the jazz community of Philadelphia. He hosts concerts at jazz clubs in Philadelphia and has worked as a microphone controller at jazz festivals in the city.
“He is such a soft spoken amazing guy,” Stafford said. “Without Bob Perkins, there wouldn’t be the jazz culture in Philly that there is today.”
Perkins said he was once “just a skinny kid from South Philly.”
“Never in my dreams did I think I would say something that people would really care about,” he added.
Patrick Bilow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.