Remembering my friend, Jay

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In 1994, I was working at Honey Radio.  Richard D. had a box full of jokes and show prep that he had collected over some time.  He recycled many lines and adapted them to make them current.  One day, while prepping his Top 12 at 12, I noticed a brown “newsletter looking” booklet.  The title of it was “One to One”.  I glanced at it and there was an article, some “this day in history” stuff, artist notes, and many one liners.  That was the first time I saw it.  It was 4 years later that I came to know more about the author of that publication, began to learn from him, and gained a wonderful mentor and friend.

WFBE – 1998

B-95 hadn’t been on the air too long when I joined the on air staff in 1998.  I was brought aboard to do mid-days.  Art Opperman was the Program Director.  During one of our aircheck meetings (when you sit down with a tape of your show and the boss offers suggestions and such), he heard a break that I had done and he liked it.  He told me it would have been better if I had edited it.  “Time matters” he said.  With that, he reached into his briefcase and handed me a few photocopied articles by Jay Trachman.  They were “Talent Tips” articles from “One to One” that he had been given by one of his Program Directors.

I remember he said to me, “This guy is good.  He knows his stuff.”  I did some research and found Jay’s number.  I explained who I was and asked about this publication.  We chatted about radio a bit and shared a few stories.  I immediately signed up for “One to One” and began applying the things in it to my show.  Art was right – Jay was good!  Each week a new tip, a new suggestion, and, of course, funny lines for the show.  I really felt that I was becoming a better on air personality because of the principles and ideas from Jay’s publication.

A year or two into my stint at WFBE, Jaye Albright was brought in as a consultant.  I remember telling Jay about this and he praised her for her work.  They had been friends a long time and she was on board with the same thinking as Jay.  Jaye was a joy to work with and we spoke often of our mutual friend Jay and the stuff from One to One.  Most DJ’s get a bit nervous at the thought of sitting down with the PD and consultant, but this was not the case for me.  I always found our chats very positive and beneficial.

In one of his weekly publications, Jay stated that there was a “rare opening for a rater”.  A rater was sent all of the comedy lines that Jay had written for that week.  The rater went through it all and rated each line – the best rated lines made it into the publication.  I jumped at the chance.  This meant that each week, after sending the rated material back to him (via fax!!!), we would then go over what he called “maverick items”, which were lines that were topical and wouldn’t keep another week.

I grew to look forward to those weekly chats with Jay.  It wasn’t like work at all.  It was a weekly chat with a good friend.  He often offered advice about a bit I wanted to do, helped me craft a promotional idea.  The more we worked together, the more we spoke to each other about our families.  I came to know his family, even though we’d never met, because of our chats.  He was a good friend.

Some of the most basic radio principles he taught me, I shared with my staff when I was a program director:  Talk to one person; Time Matters; Edit – Brevity is essential; Don’t lie to your listener; People bond with people; Be Yourself; and Entertain.  I will forever remember his definition of that -“If you make your listener feel something – whether you make them smile, make them cry, make them angry, make them think – then you have “entertained” them.”  THAT was one of the most powerful things I ever learned from him.

There came a point where Jay decided that he would stop publishing One to One.  His “family” of readers were sad about this and much of the final year’s publications had letters to “the editor” praising him and thanking him for all his hard work and advice.  It was a very emotional year.

I don’t recall if it was before he decided to stop publishing or shortly after, but I remember he told me that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.  It must have been before he stopped publishing, as I remember a few phone calls where he told me how tired he was from the treatments.

We spoke often even after One on One ceased publication, whether it was by phone or e-mail.  I am glad that I still can access the last year of One to One, as they remain in my inbox.  I also have a few of his final e-mails to me.  He still spoke of Will, Joy, his granddaughter Sophie and the rest of his family.  He always asked about my son, Dante’.  He loved hearing stories about him and shared Sophie stories with me.

Every January, I still get an e-mail reminder saying “Jay Trachman will be celebrating his birthday – send him a birthday greeting”.  I also get the Facebook reminder on his birthday on January 15.  I realized that Jay would have been 80 this year.  He passed away in November of 2009 at age 70.  What amazes me is that as I read some of these articles from 15 years ago, they still hold true.  Yes, the landscape of radio has changed a lot, but the “tips” are still good ones.  The comedy lines, however, are a bit dated.

There have been times over the course of the past 10 years that I have wanted to reach out to him.  I miss being able to bounce an idea off him.  I miss being able to ask him about the business.  I miss his guidance and his friendship.  As I think back over the many conversations I shared with him … I am thankful to have had such a wonderful mentor and friend.

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“World Radio Day” Thank You

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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?”

WKSG

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!

WFBE (B95)

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.

….in closing:

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!