Saturday 01 Oct 2016

Radio State of Mind
Matt Seinberg

I've been involved, with radio, since 1976. I made many friends over those many years. I'm the one that makes sure radio doesn't forget where it came from and how good it was.

I hope those who read this column will realize radio can once again be meaningful, given the right opportunities and circumstances. One of my laments is radio no longer has a training ground for good, young, up and coming talent. I know one person that persevered over the last several years to make it work for her.

Her name is Wendy Wild. What makes Wendy special is that she started as an intern at WBLI-FM on Long Island. She did fill-ins and got a full-time job in Connecticut. When WBLI-FM called again, offering her a full time shift doing nights, she came back to Long Island.

I met Wendy when visiting my friend and fellow air check collector, Al Levine, at WBLI-FM. Wendy was getting ready for her show, which ran from 7 pm to midnight. I heard her on the air previously, but never put a face to the voice. Finally, the opportunity arose to link voice to face.

Wendy is far from your typical 20-something Long Island woman. She's driven, talented and has more hobbies and outside interests than I can count. She is a trapeze artist, which is a hobby, not a job. I have never met anyone who performed on the trapeze because they wanted to.

When WBLI-FM lost its mid-day host to another station, in 2005, Al Levine went from afternoons to mid-days. Wendy took over afternoons.

Talk about a career boost. It lasted until March 2006, when WBLI-FM hired a new mid-day host. Al and Wendy went back to their former shifts.

You know the old saying, "You can't go home again?" For Wendy, it was a demotion. She's not alone; many DJs experience the thrill of prime time and can't return to late nights.

In June 2006, Wendy got the chance to join WKTU-FM, New York City, for part time work and fill-ins. Talk about hitting the big time! She also did some fill in work for WHTZ-FM Z100 as well. During the last week of April 2010, WKTU-FM promoted Wendy to the mid-day shift. Congratulations Wendy, you deserve it. To me, this shows that someone at Clear Channel, which owns WKTU-FM, has a nose for talent and knows how to use it.

These days, at least for me, radio is boring. There is nothing compelling on radio, any more. Sure, I enjoy Jim Kerr on WAXQ-FM Q104.3. I met Jim when he came to New York from Chicago, in about 1975; he did WPLJ-FM. Kerr did mornings when WPLJ-FM was "New York's Best Rock." I still have that neon logo poster, in front of my computer, to confirm it.

Today, the music on Q104.3 is boring. The same classic rock songs aired, in short rotation. I know this because I participated in several of those music-testing sessions held over the years.

The station hired a research firm that culled their client list looking for the right male demographic. The researcher asked me to participate in a session. I was paid $75 for three long hours. I listened to music hooks and rated each on scale of 1-to-1: one bad, ten the best.

We were given wireless transmitters, with knobs, to rate the songs. If you liked a song, you turned the knob up. If you didn't like a song, you turned the knob down.

Some songs, such as "Stairway to Heaven," "Roundabout" and "Freebird" were automatic zeros to me. If I ever hear those songs on any radio station at any time, I quickly change the station. These songs are definite turn offs, for me.

The rationale for the research sessions was simple. Find out what music the station demographic likes and play it ad infinitum. Who cares if the repetition bores me to tears, while driving, and I crash the car.

At the last session I attended, three years ago, I almost fell asleep listening to those hooks. I was so bored! Don't get me wrong, I love classic rock, but I have to have some variety. It's like eating the same sandwich at each meal: gets old fast.

I mentioned Al Levine earlier. Al is a great Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) DJ. He's among the best CHR DJs. What most people don't know about Al is that he is a big air check geek, like me, and has collected air checks since he was a kid in Connecticut.

Al does afternoons at WBLI-FM. He's been at the WBLI-FM for more than ten years. Few of us hold a job for ten years, let alone a radio job. If you are talented, you will always have a job.

My opinion is that if Al wanted to move to another station, he wouldn't have any problems getting a job. When you work for a great man, such as Program Director (PD), Jeremy "Don't call me JJ" Rice, why move? He's also the assistant program director, and hires and trains new baby DJ's. To me, that's another fun part of the job, developing new talent.

I'm constantly ribbing Al to give me a shift, even on an overnight show to show I can do CHR. He shakes his head, and tells me to talk to our friend Keith Allen at WBZO-FM B103, which is an oldies station. I hope and believe that one day Al will just throw his hands up in utter frustration and say okay, just so I stop bugging him about it.

Come on Al, just one shift! I'll work for air checks!

I want to put excitement and personality back into radio, which I truly believe is missing from most stations. How many times an hour do you actually hear a DJ talk anymore on most stations? On most Adult Contemporary stations, a DJ may crack the microphone three or four times an hour and talk for 20 or 30 seconds, if they are lucky, saying the call letters, time, weather, liners and mentioning any contests that may be running.

In what I call the "good old days," of radio, those same 20 or 30 seconds let the DJ add their personality to the mix, of commercials, music, weather and traffic. Now, it's read the liner cards, which the PD or consultant wrote; then shut up. If anyone tried to muzzle "Big Ron" O'Brien, Jackson Armstrong, Robert W. Morgan, Dan Ingram or Charlie Tuna, they would probably get a look that would say, "Leave me alone and let me do what I do best, entertain the audience."

That to me is what is most important in any medium. Entertain the audience. Any author knows that if his or her book is boring, no one will buy it. If a television show is not engaging, no one will watch and the show vanishes from the schedule. The same goes for radio. If you don't give the audience a reason to listen, they won't.

That reason can be anything from big contests giving away concert tickets or money. More important, the music is the voice of any station, while the DJs should be the faces. Unfortunately, most stations don't want the DJs to be the stars and inject their personalities into the format.

If a DJ is good enough to work within the format and still inject some of themselves into it and engage the audience both on and off the air, they have done more than their job. Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are several ways for a good DJ to connect with their audience.

I'm not talking about up mindless updates, saying what they are doing just for the sake of writing. Write about a station event, contest or what they are doing to involve themselves in the community or a cause. That is the way to stay connected to your audience and make yourself relevant.

If you stay relevant, please your audience and employers, you will always have a job. It might not always be where you want it to be, but at least you receive a pay cheque.

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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