Occasionally, we get to know someone through someone else, and even though you have never met, a friendship of sorts develops. My friend Tony Simon, a fellow air checker that I have been trading with for over ten years, was working at WLYF-FM in Miami, FL in 1999 when the station celebrated its 30th anniversary. I asked him if he could get me a copy of the retrospective that they produced.
Tony put me in touch with Program Director, Rob Sidney. Over the course of a few emails and a couple of phone calls, Rob agreed to send me the air checks. When the three-CD set showed up a week a so later, I couldn’t wait to listen to the history of Lite FM.
Since then, Rob and I have kept in touch, and we were recently chatting on Facebook when I asked if he was interested in doing an interview for this column. He replied that he would ask the “high ups,” at Lincoln Financial Media for permission. A week or so later, we talked on the phone for over an hour.
It’s not often that anyone stays at one job for twenty-three years, especially in radio, but Rob has managed to it through hard work, respect and being able to change with the times.
Rob started in radio at the tender age of seventeen at WLPL-FM and WSID-AM, in his home town of Baltimore. We all know that once that radio bug bites you, there is no cure or antidote for it.
The funny thing, which Rob is the first to admit, is that he sucked. He kept working his trade and kept getter bigger and better jobs. Here’s a quick synopsis of his career; WLPS-FM & WSID-AM Baltimore, MD 1979-81; WYCR-FM York, PA 1980 and 1982; WNUR-MF Evanston, IL 1980-84 (college radio); WYST-FM & AM Baltimore 1981-83, 1985-86; WYEN-FM, Des Plaines, IL 1983; WUSN-FM Chicago, IL 1984-85 and 1986-87, WASH-FM Washington, DC 1988; WKDM-AM New York, NY; Chief Engineer 1986, KWLN-FM Osceola, AR 1987; WNGS-FM West Palm Beach, FL 1987-88; WAXY-FM Miami, FL 1987-90 and WLYF-FM Miami 1990-Present.
Matt Seinberg (MS) What did you parents say when you told them you wanted to be in radio?
Rob Sidney (RS) They encouraged me. Both my parents were professional artists, my mother being an elementary art teacher, and my dad being a graphic artist. I was very much into the visual and designing things. I learned how to do pretty much everything in print when I was in grade school. My dad thought it cool I wanted to tag along, read old copies of broadcasting magazines and play with magic markers.
I was a very self-sufficient kid, a no muss, no fuss kid. They never told me to go outside and play, or tried to push me to do things that other kids did.
MS Your first radio job was at WLPL-FM.
RS Yes, it produced some great products and terrific broadcasters, but it was a real shoestring operation. My dad was hired to design a new logo and asked them if they had a job for his kid for the summer, at age 15, going on to 16. I was on payroll for 25-hours a week, but worked more because I just hung out at the station.
I started out, literally, scraping labels off carts. I was so sick and tired of that I decided to just put scotch tape folded over and put the label on that. They thought I was the boy genius for coming up with that. I was just tired of scraping labels.
The Operations Manager, David Tate, came out with a new research department, and they sat me down and had me tabulate the numbers from the previous night.
When I saw the production room wasn’t in use, I went in and learned what I could about the equipment.
MS What was your first on air experience?
RS I filled-in doing the news on WSID-FM for Vicky Allen. Funny thing is, after they asked me to do it, they wanted an audition tape to send it to the corporate programmers. Then they needed a Sunday morning jock on WLPL-FM, 6 am to noon. I did that for about five months before they fired me.
MS What was your first thought when you did your first music show?
RS Keep in mind that I had done the news already on WSID-AM, I was confident and feeling cocky. The format was highly structured, so it was hard to screw it up. I just sounded like shit. The first song I played was “Rock ‘n Me,” by the “Steve Miller Band.” Whenever I hear that song, it takes me back to the dingy studio.
MS Do you still talk up songs in the car.
RS Yes and if I step on the intro, I’ll start it again.
MS What did you do after you fired from WLPL?
RS I worked at the White Coffee Pot Junior a few weekends, since my parents insisted I work while looking for another radio job.
My next radio job was at WYCR, and why they hired me there defies imagination and I worked real Top 40 for the first time and it was a lot of fun.
MS When did you realize you were getting good?
RS Roughly, five or six years in, I became comfortable with my own skin and my voice. The difference between my first and second gigs at WUSN-FM is the best example. I wondered the first time there, “Why did they put me on the air?” It takes time to come up with your own style.
MS At what age did you become comfortable with what you were doing?
RS I’m still not comfortable. I over prepare and I think it’s a result of the aging. I don’t want to forget what I’m going to do in the next break and I write everything down.
MS Who was your biggest influence in radio.
RS In programming, there are various people. David Tate, who has faded from our industry, was a brilliant radio person and strategist.
Lee Logan, the PD at WUSN who hired me sight unseen. When we first met, he opened up the envelope I had sent him. I realized he hadn’t even listened to my air check, yet!
I moved to Miami, hired by market-icon Rick Shaw, at WAXY-FM.
Dennis Collins, the GM of WLYF-FM, hired me and gave me the opportunity to advance this brand. A lot people gave me first shots. Dennis let me achieve my goal. I wanted to be a major market PD by the time I was 30. Five days after my 30th birthday, Dennis said to me, here’s your chance. It was my first PD gig, and my only PD gig for over 20 years.
MS Have you given others the same opportunities you received?
RS Absolutely, the prime example of that is our current afternoon traffic anchor, Brian Shine, who technically doesn’t work for us anymore. When Brian graduated from college at age 18, after being a paid intern for us, I decided to pay it forward and hired him for overnights. I believe that Brian is the best PD that hasn’t been a PD.
After being out of radio for a number of years, Brian got back in and was an assistant PD in Key West, but the money was awful. When the opportunity came up for an afternoon traffic anchor, I called Brian and told him about it, and that the pay was twice as much didn’t hurt. He said, “I’m there!”
Brian and I share the same passion about radio and air checks and, while he’s a young fellow, I think he has an old soul. Being able to come into work and be with Brian every day is a big plus. We’re like an old married couple who finish each other’s’ sentences. That’s a one joy of going into the studio when I have a boatload of other work to do.
MS What do you look for when hiring on air talent?
RS Experience does count, but it also brings bad habits, ways and styles of doing things that have to be unlearned. I’m looking for most is someone who is interesting, people who have an unconventional perspective.
Clever, interesting, intellectual women and men surround me. Ellen Jaffe and I have worked together for over 25 years. Gayle Garton has a degree in journalism and a background in news, was never a DJ before.
We just got back Kimba, after working at WFLC-FM for three years. She has a fertile mind. For now, she’s sitting out her non-compete until October, which is why I’m on the air. She is also our new assistant PD and is a treat to work with.
Our Creative Services Director, Dave Corey, has been with us since 1983. By all conventional standards, he should be thinking about retiring. Yet, he’s still looking for new and interesting things to do.
MS So you’re doing afternoons for now. Why are you doing it live instead of voice tracking?
RS Because a year ago, we transitioned from Media Touch to NextGen and I haven’t figured out the voice track module. There’s only about 20 percent truth to that. We pride ourselves on being live and local, as much as we possibly can.
We used to be live and local 24/7, then five am to midnight. About a year or so ago, a decision was made to adjust the staffing here. I was able to preserve a live staff from 5 am to 8 am.
I’m filling in on afternoons as a practicality, a cost saving matter. We’re paying her now to be quiet for 90 days. We believe in her brand so strongly, and her skills that she brings to her organization, and I couldn’t hire a part time to do that. You must walk the walk, and if we want to be live, we’re going to be live.
Frankly, I can’t think that far ahead to produce a show in the space of an hour. If I ask everyone else to bust his or her butt, then I have to not only set the example, but follow it as well.
Click here to read part two of the Rob Sidney interview.
Interview edited and reduced for publication.
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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