Do the names Danny Hernandez or Bobby Valentine ring a bell? Danny was on WHTZ Z100, in New York, from May 1982 through April 1984. Bobby was on WPLJ 95.5, in New York, from August 1985 through November 1989. Well, both, in fact, were Ray Rossi. He was a great radio utility player that played all the positions, whenever the manager called upon him.
I was always aware of those three names and recognized that voice as being the same. It was in 1997 that I really became aware of Rossi when he was on WYNY Country Y107. First, he did Saturday mornings; then the afternoon show and, finally, morning drive after Jim Kerr left. Rossi was on the air right up until the station changed to a Spanish format in May 2002.
I've written in the past about the Great WNBC/WYNY Reunion that I held in 1994. After several requests, I added the "new" WYNY staff to the invite list and Ray was on it. What a thrill it was to meet, finally, this Rossi, who entertained me so well on my ride to or from work.
Let's fast forward to 11 September 2001. I'm driving to work at about 8:40 in the morning and, of course, I'm listening to Ray on Y107. All of a sudden, I hear Ray announce that a plane hit the World Trade Center (WTC); at that time, not many details were available.
When I get to work, I went to one of the stores that had a television set and saw the WTC in flames. When I got back to my store, the phone was ringing; and it was another manager telling me not to open. Then the mall announced that it close for the day.
On every 11 September since, I make it a point in one way or another to remember what happened and make Ray Rossi a part of it. He's the DJ that held it together for many of us that day, with hardly any resources to keep his listeners informed.
I interviewed Ray Rossi, in January 2013, holding it until the right time. With this being the 13th anniversary of the 9/11/01, I decided to put it all together. I’m sorry for the delay, Ray.
Matt Seinberg (MS) Why did you want to get into radio?
Ray Rossi (RR) Radio fascinated me. How can I put that? I was fascinated by how the DJs interfaced with the audience and music; how DJs can encompass the show with their personalities, with live reads, jingles, commercials and how the announced records in a certain way. Dan Ingram used pop culture references and sometimes they went over the head of the average listener. My other influences included Frankie Crocker, Bob Lewis and Dan Daniel.
MS What did your parents say when you told him you wanted to be in radio and not go into the family bakery business?
RR My father was supportive; he didn't want me to follow his example. I wasn't a very good baker and didn't have the passion for it.
MS How did you meet your wife, Lynn?
RR She was friendly with a mutual friend. I asked my friend if he could set something up. He did and Lynn and I had some conversations, went out a few times. After a while, I knew she was "The One." I explained how it was working in the radio, with moving around and such and she was supportive of it.
MS How did it feel, as a Brooklyn boy, to leave and get a job in Georgia? Did you feel like a fish out of water?
RR That was in the summer of 1977 when I got a job at 1000 watt daytime only station, WFPM in Fort Valley, GA. It was country in the morning and Top 40 the rest of the day. I did production, news, sales and, of course, afternoon drive, which I relished.
At first, I felt like the Joe Pesci character in "My Cousin Vinnie"; every time I see that movie, I think of myself. It was culture shock. They accepted me. I accepted them. I'm in my man cave now, and I have a plaque from the Jaycees from when I left.
MS How did you first start the "Rossi Posse?"
RR That was around 1990 and a school mate of my daughters said, "Hey Rossi, where's your posse?" It stuck, and I've used it ever since, mostly on the country stations because it fit the image there the best.
MS Do you still use “Rossi Posse”?
RR Most definitely.
MS We've met once, but I've been a listener a long time. You know I was listening to you on 9/11 and that we have a connection. You saw what I posted on Facebook and that meant a lot.
RR Yes and I appreciate that. We didn't have a working television in the station and our computer was only a dial up modem. I was able to check the Daily News website, but that was it. Jay Trelese, my traffic reporter, told me about the planes, but in a very matter of fact way.
Jay saw the second plane hit the tower and it was an, "Oh My God," moment. I put the station on automation and broke in with reports whenever I could. My former program director, Marty Mitchell, was at Thunder Country; he hooked up a microphone to WABC and we got reports that way.
I also put messages on the air from people in the city so their families would know that they were okay.
If you were to ask what all I said, all I did, I couldn't tell you everything that I said. I felt like I was there with my pants down, and I didn't have a lot to go on.
The next morning, we finally figured out to hook up the network connection, and I broke in with reports when I could, all the while doing my regular show.
I got a phone call that day from a firefighter who was a regular listener; he was crying. One of his friends was missing; he asked me to play "Beaches of Cheyenne" by Garth Brooks for his friend, whose nickname was Cowboy. I think his real name was Tommy, one of the hottest NY Firefighters in a vote.
We had his voice on the air. We recorded it during one of our WTC concerts. His family wanted a transcription of it. We happily provided.
MS Have you heard from other listeners who told you that they were listening to you that day and how does that make you feel?
RR I've had a number of people tell me that they were listening, and I had no idea how much of an effect I had on them. I'm remembering it from my perspective, wishing I could have done more that day with the limited resources I had at the time.
Let me ask you, what do you remember me doing? I don't remember much of what I did that day.
MS I was on my way to work. You came on the air and said that a plane had hit the WTC. You sounded shocked and there was an uncertainty in your voice of exactly what happened.
RR Since I didn't have any firsthand knowledge, I could only go on what Jay was telling me. Because of cutbacks at the station, we didn't have news director or staff and I was flying blind. The only television station I could pick up, in the studio, was Channel 41, which was in Spanish. I had no idea what they were doing.
To publish this today means a lot, only two days after 9/11. I spoke to Ray today, and told him this was finally coming out and why. I am proud to call Ray my friend and how much it means to me. He was happy that this was happening as well.
Part Two of the interview publishes next week.
We will never forget.
Click here to read part 2 of the interview.
Interview edited and condensed 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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