RADIO DAZE

I’ve always loved radio. As a kid growing up I would listen to it all the time: news, sports, music, the CBS Radio Mystery Theater and even the Metropolitan Opera! Anything and everything that came across my red AM radio transistor radio was fair game.

I remember exactly where I was when the radio in my father’s basement informed me that Roberto Clemente had died in a plane crash. I remember the first episode of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater that captured my imagination in the dark of my bedroom. It was called “The Black Room” and was about a man who was thrown into a room completely devoid of light. He was expected to go mad as all of the others had. But a tiny mouse had found its way in and the man shared his meager ratios with the creature. He survived because of companionship.
And so radio was never far from my mind. Even when I was in the Army, especially while I was overseas in Okinawa, Japan, the Armed Forces Radio was an oasis of “home” in a desert of Japanese words and music.
So it was no surprise that when I went to college I volunteered at the radio station, WPSU-FM, and NPR affiliate. I started as a DJ on the Saturday night 10pm-2am Molten Metal Show. Ozzie, Sabbath, Metallica, and Dio were largely my playlist. I then moved on to host and produce the Monday-Friday noon-1pm show “Midday Magazine,” which was a mish-mash of various NPR shows the station would download off the satellite feed every week. Finally, I found time to write and direct three original radio dramas for a show I called “The University Radio Theater.”
A friend of mine back in those days, (now Tucson Arizona radio personality) Jonas Hunter, asked if I would fill in on the overnight shift on the local classic rock station on Memorial Day. No pay, but… So I did the show and soon Jonas got me on the staff as a part time disc jockey on WQWK-FM. For me, it was the big time! I was on the air for two years either doing the overnight shift on Friday and Saturday nights or the 6am Sunday morning slot. As you can infer, I was never so sizzling hot that I was put on the air when most people were listening… I was solid, competent and reliable. Yes, I was always on time and that kept me in radio. But I was having a ball and took whatever I could get.
I remember that whenever it snowed, it was my job to shovel the sidewalk in front of the station (during an on-air shift, mind you!). I learned which were the longest songs in our music library and if I had to shovel a lot of snow I would reach for the Iron Butterfly vinyl album and cue up “In-A-Godda-Da-Vida” on my trusty turntable. The next 18 minutes and 36 seconds were spent outside with a snow shovel. Still, I loved this job!
After graduation I moved onto to a small Adult Contemporary station near my hometown, WPSI-FM. I only worked there a short time before moving to Los Angeles to focus on an acting career. The only memories I really have of that station consist of various Taylor Dayne songs… broken up by WIlson Phillips songs…
So I figured that while I was trying to get my acting career off the ground, I might as well look into doing some part time middle-of-the-night shift in Los Angeles. I knew the competition even for such minor shifts is fierce. C’mon, this is LA! So it was not a surprise that I couldn’t break into the radio scene here, but I do clearly remember my only radio job offer…
A religious themed station in Long Beach, KGER, was looking for someone to “run the board” during the overnight shift. All of their programming was satellite fed and only required basic monitoring and an understanding of how to keep the output levels from running into the red. Easy. I had over three years experience at that plus more (although the snow shoveling skill was of no use now…). The interview went well. I was offered the job… no pay for the first two weeks. They wanted to “try me out” first. SAY WHAT? Feeling that a Commandment was being violated, I protested. “Surely my time is worth at least minimum wage, isn’t it?” A shrug that said, “If you won’t do it, someone else will.” So someone else got to do it!
That’s how my radio career ended. Sure, I’ve been on radio stations as a guest on some of the biggest radio stations around (WOR New York, KDKA Pittsburgh, KLBJ Austin), but every time I hear Ozzy or Dio, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” or heaven forbid, Taylor Dayne– I flash back to the control room and some of the happiest times of my life.
I’m just saying…