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Broadcasting out over the waves

Veteran broadcaster Dick Robinson combines his liveaboard lifestyle with hosting a radio show

Veteran broadcaster Dick Robinson combines his liveaboard lifestyle with hosting a radio show

A Nancy Wilson tune spilled softly out of the stereo speakers, and a scented candle flickered in the main salon of the 70-foot Hatteras motoryacht Airwaves. The yacht owner, radio personality Dick Robinson, walked in a few minutes later, breathless from a hectic morning of errands but upbeat and ready to talk about music and boating.

A broadcaster most of his life and a longtime boater, Robinson a decade ago took his syndicated show on the water. He cruises on Airwaves throughout the Eastern Seaboard and Bahamas, visiting various ports and broadcasting from a custom-designed, high-tech radio studio aboard the yacht.

Robinson’s two-hour radio show blends music and interviews of artists like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, Vic Damone, Keely Smith, Ann Hampton Callaway, Jack Jones, Cleo Laine, Diane Shuur, Michael Feinstein and Diana Krall. “It’s a way of remembering a simpler time,” says Robinson, during the recent interview aboard Airwaves at Essex Island Marina in Essex, Conn. “You can’t get that kind of music anywhere else.”

The show, “American Standards by the Sea,” is carried by stations across the United States, Europe and in the Bahamas. The show also can be seen and heard on .

“My bit is having fun,” says Robinson, 67. “Where else can you spin records and get paid for it?”

Originally from Boston, Robinson started off as a disc jockey and later made his mark in Connecticut, where he owned several radio stations (including WDRC and LITE 100.5). He also founded the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in 1964, which is the nation’s oldest and largest group of communication schools. There are campuses in Boston, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia and Connecticut.

Robinson 10 years ago decided to spend his semi-retirement years cruising. “So much can be done by satellite, there’s no reason not to,” says Robinson. “I’ve always been into boating. Instead of doing a show from home, I decided to do it from my yacht.”

“It’s just been a very tranquil way of spending down time,” he adds.

Robinson, who has been boating since 1960, was a sailor in his earlier years and then later owned powerboats. For his cruising needs, he selected the Hatteras because it has ample space, including a spacious salon for entertaining. Yet, the vessel is not too big to handle. It draws 5-1/2 feet so it doesn’t require a deep-draft slip.

“It’s like an old shoe,” Robinson says of his yacht — roomy, comfortable and familiar. “I’ve had it for 10 years and it suits our needs.”

Robinson gives a tour of the yacht and proudly points out his display of celebrity photographs that lines the walls of his studio, located in the companionway. Robinson is photographed with artists like Bennett, Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Steve Allen, Ray Charles and Tormé. There are also photos of Robinson with Walter Cronkite, Norman Schwarzkopf and Paul Newman, and other celebrities.

The boat is powered by two Detroit 1271 engines. “If you treat them right they keep working,” says Robinson. The vessel is not equipped with bow thrusters because, “A guy that’s worth his salt doesn’t need a bow thruster for a 70-foot boat,” he says. While Robinson is a capable seaman, he also has a professional captain aboard.

Robinson spends winters in West Palm Beach, Fla., but the remainder of the year he lives aboard Airwaves. One of his favorite ports of call is Essex, a small New England village on the lower Connecticut River. He visits frequently. “This is the most beautiful area,” says Robinson.

After the tour, Robinson settles into his on-board studio and plays a CD of his most recent radio show, featuring an on-board interview with actor and singer Al Martino (he portrayed singer Johnny Fontaine in the movie “The Godfather”). Much of the interview was done in the galley where Martino cooked dinner for Robinson and crew during the show’s segment, teaching the proper techniques for good Italian pasta while also talking about music.

A few minutes and a few chuckles later, Robinson pops the Martino interview CD out and rifles through his music collection. He pulls out a few CDs made by young, contemporary musicians who are embracing the classic style. Robinson snaps his fingers to the beat of Michael Bublé, Jane Monheit and Jamie Cullen (music critics have dubbed him Sinatra with sneakers). “People are swooning again,” he declares, his signature radio voice resonating throughout the small studio.

While he is partial to American classics, Robinson says he “digs” all kind of music, except rap. “I don’t understand dysfunctional lyrics,” he says. “Rap and crap is all over the place.”

In addition to his radio career Robinson is a philanthropist, donating his time, talents and yacht to various charitable and non-profit organizations. He helps organize fundraising balls, and often donates dinner cruises aboard his yacht as a raffle prize. Some have paid in the neighborhood of $20,000 for a short voyage.

Robinson is president of the American Heart Association, vice president of Ballet Florida, on the board of the American Cancer Society, Angels of Charity, Palm Beach Pops, and Alexander Dreyfoos School of the Arts. He was co-chairman of the Mental Health Ball and Salvation Army Gala. Other organizations include Red Cross, Boys and Girls Club, Friends of Abused Children, Adopt-A-Family, Children’s Home Society and Bascom-Palmer.

The interview draws to a close as a television crew arrives to film footage for an upcoming show. Before saying goodbye, Robinson again praises his boating lifestyle, and vows that he will continue broadcasting from Airwaves for years to come.