Behind the Radio Curtain: “To Live Any Other Way Was Nuts!”

THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I HOPE TO RELEASE IN THE NEAR FUTURE.

Over the years I was often asked, “What’s it like to work in radio?” Well it’s an unusual job and one not many folks have. It was more complicated than it looked or sounded. Booking guests, thinking up ideas for show bits and finding content the listeners want to hear takes a hell of a lot of work. It’s like a duck swimming on a pond; you see it gliding along the water, smooth and easy yet below the surface that duck’s two webbed feet are paddling away like crazy. You don’t just pop on a microphone at 5 a.m. and start goofing off and improvising. Maybe some people do, but I never worked with any of them.

Still, I never minded the work because radio was a labor of love that never felt like labor. It’s fair to say that 95% of the time I woke up on show days thinking “We’ve got this guest coming in today and I have great audio from TV last night, plus there’s our contest that’s going well, I have an idea for a listener call-in segment, and I haven’t even opened a newspaper yet.” In other words I COULD NOT WAIT to get to the radio station and make things happen.

EXTRAS, FREEBIES AND GUESTLISTS

Seeing movies, concerts, ballgames and being out at local clubs was how my time  away from the station was spent. Since we talked about these things on the air, I was able to deduct lots of expenses on my income tax forms. Also, newspapers, books, magazines, cable TV and cell-phone bills, all got written off as I carefully tracked my expenditures. I used to joke that my whole life was a giant tax write-off. Cost free concert tickets were a great perk. I got friends of mine and ladies I dated into plenty of shows and special events. The “He’s So Cool” factor might be the kick for some but I enjoyed the convenience. No standing in line for anything plus VIP parking made life easier. If a freebie that I wanted wasn’t offered, a quick phone call would be made and usually it was, “Yes, we can put you on that guest list. No problem.” Looking back on all the extras that were there for the taking, I think of Ray Liotta talking about the gangster life in “GoodFellas” when he said, “For us, to live any other way was nuts.”

IT’S SHOW BUSINESS FOLKS

I didn’t clash with air personalities often. Some could have overstated egos but I tried to avoid making a big deal out of that in the interest of harmony and getting the best product on the air. It’s a business. Like Jay Mohr, playing agent Bob Sugar said in “Jerry Maguire”, “It’s not show friends, its show business.” Radio people, like musicians, are a different breed of species. If you ever get radio show hosts, producers and programmers together at a bar or restaurant, that gathering is guaranteed to be a marathon of laughs and tight camaraderie. It’s usually a combination of the opening scene in “Reservoir Dogs” where the conversation ran from the meaning of the song “Like a Virgin” to the merits of tipping or not tipping waitresses and the opening scene of “Broadway Danny Rose” with all the veteran comedians commiserating about their careers. Call it “Reservoir Broadway Dogs.”

Big John Howell and I used to sum up having a career in radio by saying, “There’s no heavy lifting.” True enough. To put it in ‘prepare to use the seven second delay button language’, WORKING IN BIG CITY RADIO WAS A FUCKING BLAST!   The best comparison I can give you is it was exactly like “The Larry Sanders Show” except we weren’t on TV. THAT is it in a nutshell. You get heat from bosses to boost ratings, consultants tell you what things you do that are good and what sucks, you deal with sales people and their pitches and hair brained promotions, there’s the battle for guests, creative bits that are hopefully entertaining and the fragile egos and insecurities of the talent.   So if you never work in radio but want to know what it’s really like, just think of the onstage and backstage happenings of “The Larry Sanders Show.” Hey now!