WLUW 88.7 founder Sammy “Doc” Danna had a tradition of giving informal awards to outstanding broadcast students at Loyola. Danna passed away Feb. 23, but Loyola alumnus and former WLUW station manager Tony Compton said he’ll always be remembered for his “Sammy Awards.”
The ceremonies recognized outstanding students in the program and were held in Danna’s cozy 250-square-foot office overlooking the intersection of East Pearson Street and North Wabash Street, Compton said. Packed in that small corner office was a large desk and a sofa along with lots of books and photos. He also had a cappuccino machine and a small refrigerator.
However, it wasn’t only the awards that were memorable.
“It was the experience of probably violating the fire code by having too many people in his office and bottles of Asti Spumante … in these gold champagne glasses that he never had enough of,” Compton said.
Danna died of probable hypertensive cardiovascular disease, according to Warren Lee of the Ouachita Parish Coroner. He passed away in his hometown of Monroe, Louisiana at the age of 84.
Danna got his bachelor’s at Northeast Louisiana University and studied post-graduate at Louisiana State University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and University of Missouri. Danna also got a Masters of Divinity at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
He’s survived by his siblings, Theresa Coco, Tony Danna and Betty Gilreath. He was the oldest of five children, his sister Gilreath said. Gilreath, 66, is the youngest sibling, and she didn’t grow up alongside Danna, but she always remembered him as hardworking — even as a kid.
Danna was an altarboy and would walk the at least mile-long path to and from church, Gilreath said. He didn’t waste any time and worked diligently — always typing on his typwriter — even during school break, she said.
Christmas was his favorite holiday, and he never missed it, Gilreath said.
“He said no matter where he was in the world … he always came home for Christmas,” she said. “He may have missed other holidays but he always made it home for Christmas.”
Danna was first hired as a professor at Loyola in 1969. He founded WLUW — Loyola’s student-run radio station — in 1978.
WLUW’s debut was grandiose — the first song to grace the airwaves was the theme to “Star Wars,” according to current station manager Eleni Prillaman.
The radio station started out on a block schedule dedicating chunks of time to different genres of music along with some news segments, according to Loyola senior Vice President and chief financial officer Wayne Magdziarz.
Magdziarz was a first-year student at Loyola when WLUW launched and was its station manager until 1991.
In the station’s early years, Danna had his own show dedicated to classical music called “Baroque Festival,” Magdziarz said. Magdziarz said he remembered Danna’s show was silent on the airways one day because of a small human error. Danna’s show was moved to the start of the day’s schedule, and Magdziarz said the broadcast didn’t go entirely as planned.
“He was a bit mystified because he always had a very small but loyal follower of listeners that tuned into his program, and I walked behind the console and I looked at it and he forgot to turn the transmitter on,” Magdziarz said. “So he was essentially doing this radio show for himself.”
Compton said Danna was an insightful, knowledgeable, passionate communications professor and a great conversationalist.
“Whether we were having a cup of coffee or glass of wine or dinner, he loved good food and good company and he was a friend to everybody,” Compton said. “You could have a conversation with him … and the time would fly. … An hour over a cup of coffee never seemed to be enough time.”
Compton worked with WLUW as a student and went on to be its general manager from 1990 to 1993. During that time, Danna worked closely with him, and both had the same vision.
“We shared one common aspect between us, and I’m humbled to say this but our priority of course was the student experience — the student learning experience,” he said.
Compton said Danna enabled students’ success regardless of their endeavors because he helped them become effective communicators. In the classroom, Danna was an agile improviser, sharing lessons through his own anecdotes and stories and also giving out lots of handouts to students, he said.
Along with WLUW, Danna was behind what was the oldest and largest college radio conference — The Loyola Radio Conference. The three-day long conference ran for more than 20 years, Compton said. Along with keynote speakers and networking, the conference included the Marconi College Radio Awards, named for wireless broadcast pioneer Guglielmo Marconi.
Those who knew Danna remember him for more than radio. He was a religious man and a Franciscan Deacon at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Chicago. He was an active man always working out and was often seen around with his gym bag, Compton said.
He was also a world traveler, Gilreath said. Danna especially loved going to Italy, she said. He would often come back with beautiful souvenirs including beaded necklaces and wooden music boxes, she said.
After 43 years at Loyola, Danna retired in 2012.
WLUW hosted an alumni takeover for the station’s 40th anniversary all month February, inviting Loyola alumni involved with it to be on air again.
“It was pretty much his students that came back the week before and the week of his passing,” Prillaman said. “So many of them reached out to me … and said this couldn’t have been a better way for us to celebrate him.”
Danna worked hard his whole life and helped many people, Gilreath said.
“Sammy never wasted time on this earth,” she said. “He always gave of himself and used every ability that God gave him to develop. When I think of Sammy when he died I think of the Lord saying to him ‘Welcome my good and faithful servant.’”