My Failed Career as a Radio Jock (The Gasp Heard ‘Round New York)

I loved my transistor radio. It was black and silver, smaller than my hand, often hidden away in my pocket or attached to my ear. I listened to the tinny sounds of my favorite tunes through the postage stamp sized speaker. As I remember, the power players in New York City were WMCA’s Good Guys, WINS’ Murray the K,, and the jocks at WABC. They had personality. These jocks became more than the connection to the music; they transcended it. Cousin Brucie, Murray the K, Frankie Crocker, Harry Harrison, Jack Spector, and Dan Ingram were the ones who had style, a rhythm, the banter. Something.

FM changed everything. These deejays played a different tune and were a breed apart from their AM counterparts. I listened to WLIR-FM, a local station, and jumped at the chance to hang around the studio. When I wasn’t rewriting PSA’s for the jocks, I’d watch them cue up records and talk on air. I then landed at WYNY-FM. The jocks worked in a semi-automated system. The mics opened for a minute or two and were turned off automatically. I marveled that the jocks filled the space perfectly; they never were cut off early or ran out things to say.

One of my favorite deejays was WNEW-FM’s Alison Steele, the Nightbird. Steele began her nightly broadcasts with a poetic invitation, “..come fly with me, the nightbird.”. I did and listened to Renaissance, King Crimson, Babe Ruth, and wonderful new sounds from the UK. I idolized Steele and wanted to be an FM jock, too. I also listened to WPLJ-FM’s Jim Kerr. He had listeners come in once a week and play deejay for a Beatle hour. When Kerr moved over to WPIX-FM, I got myself an invite to host one show. That week I prepared a playlist and scripted my on air commentary. I thought my opening and closing songs, Good Morning and Hello Goodbye, respectively, were nothing short of brilliant.

I made it to the studio on time and toured around with Kerr and newscaster/jock Bree Bushaw. After pulling the albums from the station’s library, I returned to watch Kerr and Bushaw on the air. When it was time for me, I was handed a pair of headphones. I plugged them in. 30 second to go. I began to get nervous. After all, this was a big New York station. Lots of people were listening, including all my family and friends. I arranged to have an air check of this colossal event. A five second countdown, the red light went on, the mic was open, and the thousands who tuned in heard a strangling sound. It was me trying to get a word out. I gamely pressed on, but didn’t dare look at Jim or Bree in the eye for the rest of the hour. When I got home I tossed that tape in the garbage, along with any idea of pursuing this as a career choice.

Years later I met Alison Steele at a radio conference. I told her my radio story and she laughed. She graciously listened to my rehash of her trailblazing. We had a bit in common besides a keen interest in rock and radio; we both loved cats. Alison Steele lost her battle with cancer in 1995. She was a class act who left her mark and a true inspiration for me.

Copyright © October 01, 2007
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6 responses to “My Failed Career as a Radio Jock (The Gasp Heard ‘Round New York)

  1. Hey Abbey,

    I’m not sure if you came across my Phil-zine my accident or if we know each other, but I came across your site a week or so ago when you linked my blog to yours. I enjoy your writing and thus far have enjoyed your biographical highlights. Anything that ends a little bittersweet is good by me. I especially enjoyed this one. I have no idea how I would fare being a radio jock, my fear would be that I would run out of things to say. As far as acting goes, improv is not my best skill.

    Anyway, I look forward to checking in and seeing what more you wish to share.

  2. Hi Phillip,

    So glad that you found your way here. How did you manage to do that?

    I almost forgot about my big moment in radio ’til I needed a topic for the blog. Oh, the horror of it. Haha.

    I took a long break from the writing process. It’s nice to return. Thanks for letting me know that you liked reading my entries. It keeps me going!

  3. I remember Alison Steele making “guest appearances” on the Howard Stern show. I guess that would have been the WNBC years. She always seemed to be a good sport about it, from what I remember.

  4. She was a class act and wouldn’t let someone like Stern get her riled up. I was at The Bottom Line, a club in NYC (now closed), at Steele was in the audience. A fan approached and was acting real weird, almost like a stalker. Steele handled the situation. I was very impressed.

  5. Awwwh, what a great account of a horrible moment. You died, but did a Lazarus, soldiered on and are still here to tell the tale.
    Sounds like you got a very lucky break a bit too soon, Abby – nerves are such a bitch where performance is concerned. Will email you about my own block later on (I’m a bit shy).

  6. Genevieve, Astoundingly, I went on to experiences as a news announcer and writer. Always came back to writing, though, and finally stopped fighting the muse.

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