Saturday 01 Oct 2016

Paul Cavalconte
Matt Seinberg

Every once in a while, there’s someone in a radio market that manages to get one job, much less multiple jobs and stay for over 28 years. The person we’re going to talk about today is Paul Cavalconte.

I became aware of Cavalconte when he did afternoon drive on WQCD-FM Smooth Jazz 101.9 in New York City. I had written to him during that time and asked him to do a site introduction for Big Apple Air Checks. Cavalconte kindly did. We stayed in touch and became fast friends.

When 101.9 changed formats to alternative WRXP-FM in 2008, I again reached out to Cavalconte, just to see if he needed any air checks, or had anything that he could add to the collection. The one thing he did tell me was that he was going to do weekends on WRXP, and I should be sure to record his first show, which I did.

After WRXP-FM was set to change formats, I contacted Cavalconte. I wondered what he planned.

As it turned out, the station was going to stunt using a “Hot AC” format. Cavalconte was going to do the morning show. Before that happened, Cavalconte recorded a last episode of, the “Vinyl Experience Show.” This was his way of saying good-bye to WRXP-FM.

For that last show, Cavalconte wove titles and music, as a tailor making a fine suit, using his words as thread to hold it together. The last show was his finest.

I recently talked to Cavalconte.

Matt Seinberg (MS) Where were you born and do you any siblings or children?

Paul Cavalconte (PC) I was born in Jackson Heights, Queens. No, I don’t have any siblings or children.

MS What was your first on-air radio job that gave you a salary?

PC: That was WZFM-FM, 107.1, in Westchester County, formerly WRNW-FM. I did pretty much every job there. I worked full time, Monday-to-Friday, from 1983-1993. In 1985-1986, I did a weekend overnight shift and fill-ins at the legendary WLIR-FM in Hempstead, New York. I consider that my first white-hot radio credit. Early in my early career, I had the chance to be a local hero.

At the same time, I was also working part-time at WNCN-FM, in New York City. Station management wanted a younger, hipper voice to introduce classical music. That was I.

WNCN-FM was a great place for a twenty-something to discover the finer things in life. The station was urbane, very New York, but casual, a jeans and sneaker approach to the symphony; great characters on staff there, men and women out of Woody Allen movie.

WNCN-FM was much like a Woody Allen vision of New York City in the 1980s. I had a great time in midtown Manhattan, connected to the culture and the last great era of New York, adult New York, before it became a theme park for tourists and kids.

MS Who were your radio influences?

PC I have always credited Alison Steele, the Night Bird on WNEW-FM, with teaching me how to find the music in the spoken word, to speak as if I was playing an instrument. Jonathon Schwartz, also at WNEW-FM, helped me learn how to think at the microphones as, say, a writer would. Jean Shepard, a New York City radio institution, was the best storyteller I heard on the radio growing up and my parents would reward me by letting me listen to him. Finally, Dan Ingram, of WABC-AM, was the quickest wit.

MS You worked at impressive radio stations.

PC When I was at WZFM-FM, I was working part-time at WNEW-AM; that was 1988-92. This is my proudest credit. I worked with some heavy radio hitters, such as Ted Brown, Al Jazzbeaux Collins and Jonathon Schwartz. Right down the hall was the legendary WNEW-FM, with Scott Muni, Dave Herman and Dennis Elsas.

From 1994-98, I worked at SW Networks, which was a partnership between Sony Music and Warner Brothers. SW had syndicated formats, Smooth Jazz and Classic FM, which played classical music.

During that time, from 1994-96, I did part time work at WDRE-FM, which was a sterile version of its predecessor, WLIR-FM, featuring 1990 grunge and digital recording. The format was right at home in the glass and white walls and hard linoleum floors of that studio.

MS Where did you go after WDRE-FM?

PC From 1996-98, I went back to WAXQ-FM 104.1 which had changed calls to WAXQ-FM, Q104, while I was gone and was now running a classic rock format. I did regular weekend shifts and much fill-in. I also worked SW Radio Networks. The best part of that was working with some old friends like Pat St. John and Carol Miller and, of course, Scott Muni.

MS You found a home in 1998.

PC You could call it that. I started part time at WQCD-FM and ended up working there until they changed formats to WRXP-FM, in 2008. From 2003-to-2004, I did morning drive. When the station went to the Chill format, in November 2004, the station flipped Dennis Quinn and me. Dennis was now doing mornings. I did afternoons. In August 2005, the station dropped Chill and went back to smooth jazz.

Concurrently, I was working for Sirius Satellite radio; that was 2001-to-2008. I hosted shows across many formats. It’s what we imagined how radio heaven would look; glass enclosed studio palace in the sky, with everyone you ever worked with or wanted to work with, roaming the hallways.

MS All through the changes in 2008.

PC On 8 February 2008 101.9 became WRXP-FM, the New York Rock Experience. The station rehired me for weekends and fill-in. My baby was the “Vinyl Experience” show, on Sunday mornings. I had more freedom on that show than most other radio hosts had with theirs.

MS Fast forward to 2011 and WRXP-FM again changes formats and owners.

PC Emmis Communications sold WRXP-FM to Merlin Media, which dropped the alternative format. The holding format was Hot Adult Contemporary, where I did a morning show, for three weeks, to hold the time slot until the All News was ready.

I was lucky. Merlin Media offered me a news anchor position, for weekends on the new WEMP-FM. I look forward to honing my skills. This is a new phase of my career.

I love this because it is a vocation. I love what I do. It’s better than just going to work to pay the bills and feed the fish. Radio has to put on a show and put on a listening experience that no other medium can put on.

MS If you weren’t in radio, what would you have done with your life?

PC In my youth, I was interested in science, but didn’t have the math skills. I always imagined going out to Africa and conducting safaris and research. I also thought about becoming a teacher, which is still possible. I could still do that, even while working on the air.

MS If the magic genie came by and said, “Paul, you have 3 wishes, what do you choose?”

PC I could wish to win the lottery, peace on earth and for all the tomatoes in my garden to be perfect. Let me stay on topic. First, that radio grows as opposes to vanishes and stays a storyteller. Second, that young people stay open to pop culture and allow radio to teach them and influence them. Third, music is something best experienced live and not an appliance experienced through the ear buds; women and men, I wish, should get back in touch with music, in a personal way.

In talking to Cavalconte over the course of a couple of weeks for this column, I came to realize he is a true renaissance man, with many interests and strong opinions on more matters than just radio and broadcasting. Once he puts his mind to something, Cavalconte gets it done.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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