Category Archives: radio

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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Rock Radio, a Stopwatch, and Me

I had my first writing experience in 10th grade, a quasi-internship at WLIR-FM, a local rock radio station in Long Island,. WLIR and WBAB were the foundations of rock radio on the island. WLIR was the cool station. They played new music from the UK and songs you would never hear anywhere else. New York City radio had the major backing, but had to bend to corporate will. There was too much interference with the playlists. The radio jocks on WLIR played whatever they wanted. They were were cool souls, very accessible. I had phone conversations with most and held my own. I started hanging around the station. Opportunity knocked, and when they were looking for a few people to write public service announcements, I stepped up Scripting PSA’s is not as glamorous as you might think. I was shown to a closet sized space with a drab metal desk, given a stopwatch, and a bunch of news releases. It was my job to write PSA’s in 15, 30, 45, and 60 second increments. Anyone passing by in the hall would have smiled at my industrious efforts. I would recite the damn scripts repeatedly until the timings matched, depending on that stopwatch like a wanderer in the desert depends on her canteen. My status was kicked to the stratosphere when one of jocks read one of my scripts. I was almost famous, untouchable to the girls who used to shove me around the school halls. I liked that, almost as much as I liked being involved in the rock world. Soon, I joined the staff of the school newspaper and never looked back.

Copyright © September 28, 2007

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