I guess it never ceases to amaze me that there is pretty much a day for everything. While everyone knows that it is “Fat Tuesday” (the day to eat those huge overstuffed donuts), I was reminded that today is World Radio Day. I was thinking about one of my deceased radio colleagues last night as I watched a movie and was going to blog about him today. In thinking a bit more on this, I figured “Why not give props to those who played a significant role in my former full time career?”
Jim McKenzie: I guess I start with Jimmy – after all, he is the reason I decided to get into radio in the first place. I spent many hours working in a boat marina as a 17 year old kid. Music on the radio, the contesting on the radio, and the radio personalities are what helped me pass the time on both busy and slow days.
Jim did the midday show and he always sounded like he was talking to you as a friend. He was loaded with music facts and stories. I never felt like I had his talent, but I certainly felt with the proper direction, I could do what he did.
Paul Christy: He was the program director and morning show host. He is the man responsible for giving me a chance – and ultimately my big break. I started off interning (yes, working for nothing) while I was in high school. I worked in the news room and then eventually helped out with the morning show. Eventually, Paul had me run his Saturday morning show – a show which was recorded on reel to reel on Fridays (kinda like today’s voice tracking). I would interject the live weather report, sports information, and lottery numbers.
Paul was in a pinch one night and asked me to do the overnight show. I was scared to death. I told him I hadn’t done a whole who before and asked for direction. Bluntly, Paul said, “Don’t worry about it. Answer the phones. Play the songs. Be yourself and have fun!” That was it. I must have done ok, because they ended up letting the overnight guy go and I was asked to fill in “until further notice”, which ended up being a good year or two before big changes came to the station.
Johnny Molson: John did the evening shift when I got to Kiss-FM. He was funny. He could ad-lib. He was one of the most creative writers I have ever known. He knew how to use radio to create the “Theater of the mind”. He was instrumental in my learning to think out of the box, engaging the listener with words and sounds, and how to use a good “drop” (more on this later).
In the 30’s and 40’s, The Golden Age of Radio was full of shows that allowed listeners to use their imaginations. They pictured what Amos and Andy, The Lone Ranger, and Superman looked like. Each person imagine what Jack Benny’s old Maxwell car looked like and what fell out of Fibber McGee’s closet because of the use of “sound effects”. John knew how to incorporate things like this into his show. One example I will never forget is when he would “hit” one of our staff members on the head with something. Chaz was often the target. John would simply throw something at a cookie sheet hung on the wall, which made it sound like he was being hit.
Today, John remains a good friend who is working in the creative services department of his current station. He produces some of the most creative and powerful commercials and gets results for the sponsors. Our friendship is one that has lasted nearly 30 years.
WHND – Honey Radio
Before I say any more, let me say that working at WHND was not work at all. It was like play. We had so much fun. Anyone who tuned in and listened to this station could tell that the DJ’s were having as much fun as the listeners. Honey was the first “Oldies” station in America. I was honored to work here and honored to work with everyone here.
Richard D. Haase: Richard D. remains to this day one of the guys who offered me some of the most amazing advice. I was probably a big pain in his ass. I was always asking him something. I had this want and need to be better. I wanted to be the best. I was forever asking him to listen to my show tapes and offer criticism and advice, which he did always.
One of the things I learned from him, was the importance of talking to one person. To create the illusion that it is just me and you listening to our favorite songs and hanging out together. I understood what he meant, and began to drop phrases like “everyone”, “all of you”, and “out there”. He also connected me with a mentor who would take that premise and continue to grow into a better personality, the late Jay Trachman.
Richard’s show was full of “benchmarks”. Poor Richard D’s Almanac (This Day In History), The Off The Wall Record (a rare song that he played each day), and “The Top 12 at 12” (His countdown of the top 12 local songs from a specific year). He also featured many characters on the show that were sometimes referred to and never heard (another gimmick of old time radio).
His show was also filled with insanely bad jokes. I often kidded him that even Milton Berle (who was known for stealing others jokes) wouldn’t touch his stuff. He often poked fun of the other DJ’s on the station, which I found to be a unique way of cross promotion.
There were many days that we’d sit in his office and talk about radio, computers, and life in general and we’d laugh until tears rolled down our faces and our sides hurt. Richard was a legend who had been on the air for many years, a far cry from being young! Yet, when we worked together, we were like a bunch of elementary kids laughing and hooping it up.
Rob Main: This is the guy who I mentioned as the beginning of this blog. Rob was a guy who used to work with Bill Stewart, Ron Tavernit, and Jon Ray doing the morning show. He was a master of voices. He did, in my honest opinion, the best Elvis “speaking” voice of anyone I have every heard. He also did a spot on Charles Bronson and Mohammad Ali. What was great about him was that he also did other original voices, which became characters on the show as well.
Shortly before Honey Radio left the airwaves, Richard gave us the opportunity to work together on the air so that we could create a good demo tape for a morning show. Those final weeks were some of the best memories I have in the business. While there was always a “roadmap” of what we wanted to do….he would often break in as a character and I would just follow along for the ride. It was some of the most insane moments of radio ever.
He was SO good, that he would often talk to himself as two or three different characters! I was often the referee who had to come in and break up the squabble that the characters were having! We were two guys in the studio – but if you listened, you’d swear that there were 10-15 guys! It was amazing.
Rob was the one who took “drops” one step further. No show had a shortage of them. A drop is a clip from a movie or TV show that is played mid-conversation, in a sweeper, or as a way of trying to crack up the other person. He had stacks of drops. Many from popular movies like Shane, Robin Hood, The Wild One and others. Some of the drops were from other sources. Today, I can watch a serious movie and if a “drop” line comes up, I will start laughing because of an instance when it was used on the show.
Health issues led to an early death for my friend and I miss him a lot. I can hear him laughing with me though, whenever I hear a “drop” from Van Helfin, Alan Ladd, or Jeff Chandler.
WWWW (W4 Country)
Tim Roberts: There is a reason that Tim is one of the most respected men in Country Radio – because he is one of the best programmers in the country and he knows his stuff! Tim helped me to understand the importance of preparation. I can still recall the “Bit Prep Sheet” that he gave me. I remember him stressing to always have a “Feel Good” or a “heart” story to talk about. His direction expanded on the things I had learned about editing and creating a bit.
I was only a part time air personality for Tim. Yet, he coached me as if I were a full time talent. He respected my thoughts, and often asked me to think a bit more broadly. Create. Edit. Make it better. He got me to think about things that I could bring to the show that I may not ever have thought about. He helped me hone my delivery.
There is a reason Tim, and so many of the talented people who work under him have won awards – THEY DESERVE IT!
Brian Cleary: I’ll never forget my first coaching session with Brian. We submitted a show to him a week before. He wrote a critique and suggestions that were discussed at the actual session. I remember her handed me a piece of paper that had one of my bits typed out word for word. It was long. He even typed out the “uhs” and “ums”. He then asked if I had planned the break ahead of time. I said I had. He asked if I wrote it out, I said no – I had an outline. He then handed me a piece of paper with that same bit written out with red lines through various sentences, “uhs” and “ums” crossed out, etc. It was like getting a rough draft of a paper back from your English Teacher.
I remember thinking “Dude, you have way too much time on your hands”. However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized that it was a lesson in time. “Don’t waste your listener’s time” was what he told me. “Know what you are going to say”, “Know how the bit will end”, “Edit. Edit. Edit.” He was building on things that I really already knew, BUT he took it to a whole new level.
I remember after the first day we did our radiothon for St. Jude, he pulled me aside and told me “I’m so used to hearing the jokey Keith on the air, I wasn’t sure what to expect today. However, you did an amazing job and you really know how to get the importance of what we are doing to the listener”. I’ll never forget that.
WCEN (The Moose)
Joby Phillips: Whenever a new program director comes into the building, everyone freaks out. You never know what the plans are. It is not uncommon for the PD to come in and fire everyone and bring in their own people. Joby came in and taught me a lesson that I took with me as I went into management. “You are all here to do a job. I trust that you can do it. If I think we need to correct something or address something, I will. Do what you do best”.
In today’s society, we see micromanaging in almost every occupation. I truly admired Joby for this attitude. When I programmed my station, I had good DJ’s who knew what they were doing. I let them do their job. If there was an issue – it was addressed. Other wise, I left them alone.
In critiquing, both Joby and Brian always started out by pointing out your strengths or something good about the show they were going over with you. Then you went on to work on the thing that needed improvement. Positive reinforcement. Discipline when you have to and praise often.
A few others
Jay Trachman: What an amazing guy. He was the authority on One to One communication. His weekly tips were always something I took to heart and brought into the studio. He helped many personalities and sadly passed away before I could get him to do a critique session with me.
Jaye Albright: One of the reasons I loved working with Jaye, is that she believed much of what Jay Trachman believed. Her coaching sessions when I first began at WFBE were loaded with information.
Joel Raab: Joel is right up their with Tim Roberts. He knows country music. He knows the audience. He is respected in the business and is a class act. As a Music Director, I often found our weekly music calls frustrating. Music can be a passion. When you hear something that you think is amazing, its important to remember that not everyone feels the same way. Joel always was on the side of caution. He looked a music a bit different and it helped me to really think about songs more objectively.
Brian Wright: Brian was the last real consultant/coach I was able to work with before going in to the management end of the business. Brian’s laid back demeanor and wise observations and suggestions were of great help to me as I began to critique my own staff.
I have met some of the most amazing people throughout my radio career. I have had the chance to work with some of the best. Maybe we worked together, but didn’t mention you in this blog. Please do not be offended. I consider myself extremely lucky to have worked so many talented people. Maybe you worked in Sales, maybe you worked in Production, or maybe you were a member of the on air staff with me. Maybe you are someone who started as a listener, and are now a friend. If radio was the connection that brought us together – I am truly thankful for it…and you.
I miss doing radio full time, but I still enjoy the time I get to do it once a week.
Happy World Radio Day!