Tom Lamaine's path in the world has been a circle.
He started out growing up and loving life in Atlantic City's Northeast Inlet. Now he's back as a mostly retired guy, living and loving life in the Northeast Inlet.
In the years between, Lamaine's circle got pretty wide at times. It took him to California after he finished Holy Spirit High School in 1957, back when the school lived in the Inlet, too. Lamaine planned to go to college in California, but changed his mind at the last min-ute and headed back east to Fordham University in New York.
After that, his circle touched the sky when he spent a few years as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot. He finished flying and headed home to Atlantic City, where he got back into radio - a little hobby he'd picked up as a high-school kid, broadcasting Holy Spirit football games on WMID-AM after he broke his leg and couldn't play himself. Back in town as an adult, he was on the air and behind the scenes at WOND-AM and WMGM-FM when a vacationing radio executive heard him and offered him a job on Philadelphia's then-giant WIP-AM.
Lamaine made the leap across the Delaware River, and his years as a WIP disc jockey started a career that included time doing TV broadcasts of the Philadelphia 76ers' NBA basketball games, a job that sent him wandering across the country again. It also led him to doing sports reports on the news for KYW-TV in Philadelphia - which in turn led to him becoming a weatherman for the station.
Lamaine says that weather gig started when KYW's lead weatherman went out of town to cover a hurricane, and the boss figured Lamaine was the logical backup - since he needed at least a little weather training to be a pilot. Lamaine remembers doing sports on the 6 o'clock news one night, then going back on the air at 11 as the weatherman.
But when the station asked him to switch full-time to weather in the 1980s, he agreed on one condition: They had to send him to classes to learn more about the subject. Lamaine went to Drexel University for a degree in atmospheric science.
He stayed on the air as weatherman until 2009. Then he retired, which let him spend a lot more time in Atlantic City - and showed just how small a circle Lamaine's life has really been. Because now his home is on the very same block of New Hampshire Avenue where he grew up, just a couple of doors from his parents' old address.
And speaking of small circles, he's also back on the radio in Atlantic City, doing a once-a-month version of Tom Lamaine's Memory Lane, a show he started here in the 1960s. Lamaine is on the air the first Sunday night of each month on WTKU-FM 98.3 - owned by the same company that owns his old local stations.
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Of course, nothing really ever stays the same. Joe and Mary Lamaine's old house is long gone, and they moved out to Absecon in the 1960s. Their oldest son, now 73, lives in a brand new house up the street, built partly with funding by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
"I got the first house on the block," Lamaine says, sitting in his living room and telling the story of how his circle took that turn right back to his roots.
He was helping host a charity telethon at Showboat Casino-Hotel when he took a break to walk around the old neighborhood. When he got to his block, he saw a sign saying new houses were on the way there. Lamaine told the developer he'd buy one - if he could get exactly the one he wanted.
Then, Lamaine says, he was so happy the started telling friends back around Philadelphia he was getting a shore house. They were excited for him too.
"People would say, 'Where are you buying - Avalon, Stone Harbor?'" he remembers. "I said, 'No, I'm going to Atlantic City.'"
Some of them thought he was crazy, but Lamaine says he used to promise his parents he would move back to the old neighborhood some day. And he loves his hometown - although he only lives in the city part-time, because his wife, Donna, still works back in Philadelphia. Their other house is in Riverton, but when Lamaine was raising his two kids, home was still in Atlantic County, on the mainland in Egg Harbor Township.
When he's in the Inlet, Lamaine stays busy "trying to do my part to save Atlantic City," he says - if he's not enjoying the Boardwalk or hanging out on his favorite beaches.
He's on a CRDA advisory committee and the board of directors at Historic Gardners Basin. He's vice president of the First Ward Civic Association and vice chairman of the city's Boardwalk Committee, headed by longtime WOND talk-show host Pinky Kravitz. Kravitz, who's also a columnist for The Press, remembers Lamaine from his old days on local radio as a young guy who "kept the station jumping and alive. He was always willing to do things and help out."
Kravitz likes that Lamaine enjoys what the city offers - "He's a frequent flyer on the jitneys" - and likes that Lamaine sees Atlantic City's potential.
"He's very outspoken, and he has become very much involved in the city," Kravitz says. "He's concerned about Atlantic City's future, and he's invested in it, by buying his home here."
Dave Coskey is president of Longport Media, which makes him Lamaine's boss at WTKU-FM - Kool 98.3. Coskey has known his veteran DJ for decades, since they both worked at the 76ers together. But Coskey, 53, knew of Lamaine much longer than that - because Coskey grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, listening to Lamaine on WIP.
Coskey says he was a Lamaine fan, but "when I was listening to Tom Lamaine's Memory Lane, I had no idea Tom was from Atlantic City, and that show started here."
They both laugh about a breakfast meeting - at Lamaine's Inlet neighbor, the famed Gilchrist Restaurant - where Coskey recruited Lamaine to bring his old show back to its old home.
"I said, 'What part of retirement don't you understand?'" as Lamaine recalls the conversation. But the then-new radio executive stayed after the talent, because "when we rebranded KOOL in 2011, I thought it would be cool to go back to its roots," says Coskey, who prides himself on being a history buff.
Lamaine finally agreed to do the show - but his condition was he needed two old-school turntables for his collection of 33-RPM records. Coskey invested in his new kid at the station by finding and paying to refurbish the old turntable technology - in an increasingly digital radio universe.
"Tom likes to say, 'If you're out there wondering whether I'm really playing vinyl or not, just listen to the scratches,'" Coskey reports.
Dean Tyler, now of Brigantine, is Lamaine's old boss from decades ago at WIP. But the two have stayed in touch - and Tyler says they can actually see each other's homes across Absecon Inlet. Tyler also laughs about Coskey luring Lamaine back on the air.
"I never heard a disc jockey so excited about a couple of turntables," says Tyler, who's retired from years in Philadelphia's radio wars. "But Tom is probably the best guy I've ever worked with as a human being. He's just a really decent guy."
Tyler mentions several big-name DJs from another powerhouse Philadelphia station, the old WIBG - or "Wibbage," in its 1960s heyday.
"They were all high-maintenance, and they all worked for me. Tom was always very easy to get along with - he made good suggestions, and we got along as a good team," Tyler says.
But radio is just a small part of Lamaine's life in Atlantic City. He has other ways to have fun - he really does like the jitneys, and the restaurants, and the casinos, and the entertainment, including some stars he got to know personally from all those years on the air.
"I always tell my wife, 'Sooner or later, anybody we want to see is going to come to Atlantic City," Lamaine says.
And sometimes, people come back to Atlantic City - almost like they're following a circle.
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