03:14:35 am on
Tuesday 16 Jul 2024

Life After Radio?
Matt Seinberg

I know many people that work in radio. Most of those I know are DJs. Some I've known for over 30 years. Some are new friends. I feel compelled to write about what DJs call, "Being On the Beach." This means they are out of work, looking for a new job.

I just got off the phone. I talked to Bobby Jay, twice, today. Jay was long-time DJs at WCBS-FM, in New York City. He did every shift, at the station. What he did, he did with a style and flair all his own. For Jay, there was only one-way to do his job, the right way; he was happy doing it.

That happiness crashed in June 2005. When WCBS-FM flipped from oldies to the defamed and hated Jack-FM format, which had no DJs. Jay headed for the beach.

The fan outrage, at WCBS-FM, was enormous. Every media outlet, in New York City and across the country, covered it. The station never recovered.

Fans protested in front of the WCBS-FM studios, but to no use. CBS Radio President, Joel Hollander, became the most hated man, in New York City, for taking away their radio station. His infamy came for a few dollars saved and hundreds of thousands of fans lost.

Bobby Jay lost his job as a DJ. He told me WCBS-FM is the only station to fire him. His radio career lasted 41 years.

What is Bobby Jay doing, today? The answer is nothing. He is on the beach. He moved to North Carolina, in 2009, that's where his family lives. He couldn't afford to keep two homes. New York City is an expensive place to live and North Carolina is a long commute.

Jay was part of a singing group called, "The Teenagers." After two original members, of the group, passed away, Sherman Garnes, in 1977, and Joe Negroni, in 1978, Lewis Lymon joined and Bobby Jay began filling in, with the group. About 1993, Jay and Jimmy Caster joined, officially. Jay left "The Teenagers" in 2009. At the height of its popularity, the group billed as "Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers"; its biggest hit was "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."

Jay also hosted parties, dances and various promotional events. Such work is typical for DJs. Those events dried up when Jay no longer had the public ear.

Jay is not lazy. He sent out demo tapes and called stations in North and South Carolina, Nevada and any other city or state where, he thought, he might get a radio job. You'd figure a DJ, with his talent and experience, wouldn't be on the beach for long.

He didn't hear from 99% of the stations he contacted. Jay managed to get through to one General Manager (GM), who hemmed and hawed, but didn't want to talk. I'm guessing that GM thought he couldn't afford Bobby.

It is now almost 5 years since he left WCBS-FM. Jay still does not have a full-time job. That is sad, as he could be a useful asset to any radio station. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and the talent to back it up.

That he was part of music history, in "The Teenagers," gives him extra value for a radio employer. Remotes and appearances, backed a station, are doubly attractive. The radio star and the music star combine to bring much attention to the station.

The out-of-work super jock, who can't find work, shatters me. Jackson Armstrong, after he left WMQX-FM, in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 2003, never found another full-time job. He was still at the top of his game, when he left WMQX-FM.

Armstrong was among the top ten DJs, of all-time. Supposedly, he's the second most air checked DJ after "The Real Don Steele." Radio students, today, listen to Armstrong air checks, from the 1970s and go "Is that great radio or what?"

Armstrong had to accept voice tracking the afternoon show, for WKBW-AM, in Buffalo, New York. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he worked, live, on WKBW-AM, with an audience that reached from the Rockies to Bermuda, the Arctic to Florida. He voice tracked WKBW-AM for two years and likely received minimum wage.

No station felt Armstrong was worth what he asked or fit with what the station was doing. The creative rarely mix, well, with the steadfastly mundane. When extreme styles collide, the chance of finding a job is nil.

Unfortunately, radio today is full of compromise. On-air talent feels their pay is too low, not reflective of their worth. Station management feels it grossly overpays the on-air staff. How ridiculous is that? The way station management treats the air talent, today, is disgraceful.

How about this favourite trick of many stations, today. A station fires a full-time personality. Instead of hiring someone new, all shifts lengthen by an hour. No one gets a raise. Each DJ works another 5 hours a week, without pay. Let any other employer try that and their state labour board would be all over them as bears on honey.

I know unemployment. It's not fun. The first two weeks feels like a vacation, but after that it's a living hell.

The significant other is hounding you to find a job. The kids are driving you crazy. You tire of watching television and surfing the web. Laundry and house cleaning are chores you don't want.

Worst of all, there is no outlet for your creative juices that used to flow, daily, from your mouth to the microphone and out of car radios and headsets. Now that was fun. That fun is over and what do you do, flip burgers.

Corporate radio is to blame. Let's blame the vampires, say, Randy Michaels, at Tribune, in Chicago, for making all the stations sound the same. He used to run Clear Channel, now he oversees what was once the best radio station in the Mid-West, WGN-AM.

Let's blame the beanies for unrealistic budgets. Let's not forget Bill Clinton and the FCC for deregulating radio, first. This caused the unholy mess.

While we're at it, let's give a big raspberry to the computer manufacturers and software companies for making their products so good they can replace people!

Is there life after radio? Not if you're over 50, talented and know your worth. Radio was fun and sure beat flipping burgers, but at least the burger joint pays you for extra hours.

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.

More by Matt Seinberg:
Tell a Friend

Click above to tell a friend about this article.