Behind The Radio Curtain Pt. 2

Here’s another excerpt from my book “Raised on the Radio” which I look to release later this year.  There’s lots of work that goes into putting on a personality based morning radio show and here’s a glimpse at some of that.

The morning hours I worked most of the time had me arriving downtown to pick up newspapers and start the show prep around one a.m. each weekday. I quickly acclimated to those hours and enjoyed working in solitude until the rest of the show members came through the station doors a few hours later. Plus, I rarely dealt with any traffic problems going to or coming home from work.

Working in the early a.m. hours meant no traffic.

STAYING ON TOP OF THINGS

I was always on the hunt for show material, reading three newspapers cover to cover seven days a week along with magazines like People, Time, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly. (This was pre-internet days)On weekends, I would often come to the station for a couple of hours to edit audio tape and set up other plans. Coming up with show ideas was a constant and the collaboration of these ideas with others was one of the best parts of being in the business.

Here’s an example of looking for things to cover on a show. During a Bears home game against the Packers on a Monday night, some guy jumped from an end zone aisle seat to catch a football that was kicked through the uprights. The problem was where he jumped from was way up in the stands and his drop to the ground was about fifteen to twenty feet! He leaped to his side and caught the ball in mid air then landed safely on the concrete below that led to the player’s tunnel. It was crazy to see! The Monday Night Football announcers were commenting on it and they interviewed the leaping fan. I wrote down his name and info then called the guy to get him on the air the following morning. People talked more about this ball catching jumper than the Bears game and we had him on the air before anyone else did.

Here’s a screen shot of the Bears fan who leaped from the stands to catch a ball kicked for field goal.

When Michael Jackson talked about having the rare skin lightening disease Vitaligo on a prime time network interview, guess who was leaving messages that night on the answering machines of local dermatologists? I had to set up an interview so our listeners could know more about this skin affliction Michael claimed to have. That’s what it takes to be on top of things.

Michael Jackson claimed to have the skin disease Vitiligo.

Remember when Pee Wee Herman’s alter ego Paul Reubens was charged with indecent behavior in a porno theatre? I quickly called and recorded the theatre’s phone message telling the plot of the movie shown there that week. Whatever your listeners are hearing and talking about, you need to be all over it ASAP. You need to OWN things and soon your show will have the reputation of being the place to turn when cool stuff is happening.

A radio producer also has to be a jump or two ahead on coming trends so that when those trends reach mainstream popularity, you’ve got your show already covering it. I was always pretty good at this but there’s one big craze from TV I missed the boat on.

It was during the late spring into the summer of 2000. I got network calls each week asking if we wanted to talk to stars of this brand new weekly TV series and I would pass. My CBS contact person was shocked. “Are you SURE you guys aren’t interested?” I calmly said “Yes, it’s nothing to us.” Every week, the same answer, the same “No thank you.” So what new big deal was I blind and deaf to? A little reality show called “Survivor.” It was off my radar and I wasn’t catching on to the buzz that grew red hot. Finally, when they got down to the last four contestants I woke up and we joined in on the “Survivor” craze, a little late and behind the curve.

The initial craze of “Survivor” was a trend I was late to catch.

Being behind the initial wave of “Survivor-mania” isn’t the worst of mistakes. It’s not like I passed on signing the Beatles or Taylor Swift to a record deal but it was a miss. I also never thought the Celebrity Reality TV show thing would become an American phenomenon. Watching shows like “The Osbournes” and Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie’s “The Simple Life” I figured these stars knew we were all laughing AT them. Guess what? They didn’t give a shit! The paychecks cleared and those imbeciles got richer. In more current times, the Kardashians craze is something I NEVER would have predicted. I couldn’t fathom that kind of narcissism, idiocy and shallowness becoming so popular. I was definitely guilty of giving the American public too much credit for having class and brains.

I never would have forecasted the popularity and success of the Kardashian goofs.

 

A Peek Behind the Radio Curtain Pt. 1

“Raised on the Radio” excerpt: Selling air time! Here’s a segment from my book on those who pump money into radio stations by selling commercials for big money. I knew some fine sales folks however some names have been changed to protect their identities and me from having drinks thrown in my face.

THE SALES STAFFERS

The Account Executives (A.E.s for short) or sales staff, have the responsibility of getting clients to buy air time so the company can make money off the commercials and we can all have jobs. In my day, selling radio airtime was a high pressure gig, constantly looking for new clients and more money from their current ones. With the advent of the internet, social media and other ways to advertise, a radio sales job is no doubt even harder today. Many AE’s I knew were heavy drinkers. Part of it is the pressure of the job and part of it is the schmoozing of their clients done at bars, clubs, lunches, ballgames, concerts and radio station events. One sales guy I knew died in a horrific one car highway crash after a long night of drinking. More than a few sales people I worked with were in A.A.

WKRP Sales Guy Herb Tarlek

I was usually the first person an A.E. approached about a client’s wishes to get their product extra coverage on the morning show. Whenever possible, I played ball to help the sales team but sometimes things just didn’t fit. Occasionally I had to tell a disappointed sales pitcher, “It’s just not right for our show.” Being the conduit between sales promotions and the air talent, I got good at doing a little dog and pony show for visiting clients. “Yes, we can do this and so and so loves this product and we’ll give you a good shine.” There were times we were prostitutes for sales buys but I always thought of us as being high class, high priced call girl prostitutes and not streetwalkers.

I had some favorite sales workers. One A.E. named Veronica nicknamed me Mickles Pickles and she understood the reasons why we could or could not put her clients into a morning show prize giveaway.

During my time at Q-101, I used to often talk music with a sales guy named Dave. Dave’s brother Jim was playing in a bar band at the University of South Carolina. He told me their group’s name was and I said with a name like that, I hope they get a hit song some day. It turns out Dave’s brother was Jim ‘Soni’ Sonefeld, drummer for a little group called Hootie and the Blowfish. A couple years later, these guys became mega-stars as they sold millions of copies of their “Cracked Rearview Mirror” album. Lead singer Darius Rucker went on to have a second big career in Country music.

Hootie & the Blowfish. (I worked with the drummer’s brother)

At WLS an A.E. named Paul had Poplar Creek Music Theatre as a client and he would go nuts when Larry Lujack asked me to do on air reviews of concerts I saw there. The shows were usually strong but getting out of the crowded Poplar Creek parking lots was a nightmare. Larry would ask about my post show exit and I told the truth. This sales guy would get pissed at me but Larry had my back on this and said Paul the A.E. was out of line. I told Paul to tell Poplar Creek to build more lanes in their roads so I can get out of the place before midnight. See? Problem solved.

Sales people are a hungry bunch. They were always on the look-out for free eats. Radio stations get lots of free food dropped off in hopes of getting some on air mentions. One time Subway sent a six foot sandwich to a show I worked on. When word got out that a long sub was in the morning show office, half a dozen sales folks filed in and devoured the sandwich in a matter of seconds. It was like those videos where you see a water buffalo wading into the Amazon River and being eaten alive by a school of piranhas. The sandwich was served on a long wood two by four wrapped in aluminum foil. When the sub was gone I told one A.E. who came late to the scene that the wrapped plank was a giant chocolate candy bar. Her eyes got as big as hockey pucks until I told her I was kidding.

There was an air personality who relayed to me a tale of riding an elevator with a chesty account executive. She told him about her recent breast lift. Then without provocation, she pulled up her blouse and exposed her newly improved bare boobs! So the sexual improprieties can swing both ways. After hearing this story, I could never again talk to this sales woman without having the thought of her flashing those cans running through my head. I hope my sly smiles didn’t give me away.

Hey lady, keep your boob lift between you & your plastic surgeon!

One Account Executive stood out as extra attractive and it was hard to figure out why she wasn’t married as she was in her early 30’s. I’ll call this A.E. ‘Wendy’. One Monday, a jubilant Wendy came to work showing us her beautiful new diamond engagement ring. Her boyfriend proposed the previous Friday night. A co-worker turned to Wendy and said “So now you have to plan a wedding date, book a church, the reception hall and…” Wendy interrupted this person in a matter of fact way, waved her hand and said “Oh, that’s been done already. I took care of everything on Saturday.” With this, my comment that made it around the station was “I don’t want to say Wendy was dying to get married but she DID have the caterer on speed dial.”

Another account executive, we’ll call ‘Maggie’, came to me looking for help in getting her a date with actor Esai Morales. A date! Sure Maggie. You see besides producing a morning radio show I had a side business pimping dates for women who want to hook up with Hollywood’s hot young actors. Esai Moraels played the brother of Richie Valens in the hit movie “La Bamba.” He also starred in other shows and Maggie wanted this dude bad. She asked me to get Esai’s contact information so I located an address for his manager. Next, Maggie decided to make a video of her explaining a little bit about her background and why she thought they would make a good couple. Folks, I am NOT making this shit up. How do I know about the homemade date seeking video? Because I was the schmuck who worked the camera as Maggie made her pitch! That’s how! Esai Morales’ people did receive the mailed video and said he was flattered by her interest, but he was already in a committed relationship.

Actor Esai Morales (Sorry Maggie, he’s taken!)