Saturday 01 Oct 2016

Working in Radio
Matt Seinberg

In 1975, I decided I had to get a job in radio. Foolishly, nobody told me about radio. Luckily, almost no one wanted to hire me.

After years of listening to Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, Chuck Leonard, Bruce Morrow, George Michael, Pat St. John, Jim Kerr, and many more out of town DJs, I wanted to be a radio star as well. The new music television and video (MTV) deterred me not.

I stared in college radio, at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). I attended the New York Institute of Technology, in Old Westbury, New York, where I joined the radio station, WNYT.

WYNT wasn't your typical radio station. Listeners were in some campus buildings or tuned to the Q Channel, the "What's on Cablevision" channel, used by cable provider, in the Long Island and New York City area, to promote its shows. There were no open frequencies, AM or FM, for WYNT.

I had my own shows, on WYNT, for almost 3 years. Thanks to a friend, I found an internship at WGLI-AM 1290 in Babylon, New York. At WGLI-AM, I did what all interns do: bug the programme director (PD) for airtime.

Eventually, I got two weekend shifts and a pay cheque until I graduated college. WGLI-AM was a great training ground. I want to thank Dennis Moore for making it a great experience.

After graduation, I started mailing audition tapes and resumes to radio stations up and down the East Coast, of the USA. I heard from one station in Berryville, Virginia. Dozens of tapes sent, but only one reply, from WOOD-FM.

"Where is Berryville," I asked the PD, Steve Chambers. He said it was just outside Winchester. "Would I come to WWOO-FM for an interview," Chambers asked.

I left, for Berryville, early on a Saturday morning. Harry Chapin was on the radio, as I arrived. The song, on the radio, was "Sequel." We remember such moments, best.

If you can picture "Mayberry RFD," from the television show starring Andy Griffith, you know the town. Berryville was a lone stop light, an American Legion Hall and a Dairy Queen, all on Main Street. That was it.

I asked myself, "What the hell am I doing here?"

I found the radio station, on the edge of town. Chambers started the interview. We talked of my interest in radio. Why did I want to work at WWOO-FM? I wanted to be a star DJ. This was a place to start.

Steve asked me to do a live audition. I went on air, not using my name, but said, "This is not Steve Chambers!" I imagined the quizzical looks on the faces of listeners. "What'd he say, Peg? He's not "Steve Chambers?"

Steve then had me meet the station manager. They told me about the salary, $180 a week, about minimum wage. Shock and reality took hold and a cold chill swept over me.

I'm thinking, as I'm nodding my head, for no particular reason, "You want to pay how much?" My current job was paying me a lot more, but wasn't radio.

When I got home, the next day, I wrote Chambers. I thanked him for his time and interest. I declined the job.

In 2008, I found Steve Chambers on the web. I e-mailed him, relaying our story, adding some detail. He wrote back, admitting he didn't remember me. He said it was a good I didn't take the job: the station went off the air soon after.

A friend of mine, Charlie Ambrosia, was the PD of WBAB-FM in Babylon, New York. He had a friend, Malcolm Davis, who was PD of WNYG-AM, also in Babylon. Davis was looking for help.

I spoke, with Davis, on the phone, sent him a tape and waited. Nothing happened, no call, no job offer by snail mail. I forgot about WNYG-AM.

Months later, I get a call from Kathy Cunningham. She's the new PD at WNYG-AM and found my tape, in her desk drawer. "Would I come to WNYG-AM and do a new audition tape," she asked.

I was there in 15 minutes. I did the tape. Cunningham offered me AM Drive for $6 an hour. I'm thinking, "You want to pay me how much?"

Unemployed, at the time, and needing work, it was hard to say, "No," to Cunningham. My income, on unemployment benefits, was more than WNYG-AM offered to pay me. To this day, Kathy Cunningham refers to me as "the one that got away."

I gave up on radio as a career. I continued in sales and management. Radio and air checks are my hobby.

In 2004, I got the chance to host a show, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. A friend, Pete Salant, spoke well, of me, to his friends, Danny Lyons and Curt Hansen, at WEBE-FM. They hired me, part time, to host "Studio 108."

I did that shift for more than a year and had a blast. WEBE-FM and "Studio 108" was much fun. As all things radio, the show ended its run too soon.

Radio, today, is not the same as when I started. I had some chances, but chose not to take them. Similar chances no longer exist for anyone trying to break into the business.

In the old days, there were a great many small radio stations. Internships, in all areas of radio, existed, as did entry-level jobs. Today, an entry jobs or a rare internship is mostly in promotions, not programming, not on air.

Where are the minor leagues, now? Where does an aspiring DJ get his or her basic training? Those small, mom-and-pop stations are long gone. If such stations remain, programming means rolling syndicated, overseen by a local junior high school student.

Most likely, mom and pop sold the station to a radio chains. Chain's the right word for these companies, which confine radio. The transmitter, of the small station, went silent because it interfered with a major market radio signal, read that as more profitable, owned by the chain.

Today, PDs, assistant programme directors and music directors are not responsible for only one station. They're responsible for multiple stations. Only their pay cheque looks as if they worked only one station.

Do you want the job? Will you do as told, without question, in exchange for a smallish pay cheque? Can you live, going to bed each night, wondering what computer might replace you tomorrow and eventually, for sure.

From where will the next generation of radio talent arise? As the last generation of talent retires, from radio, or finds other work, who will replace these women and men? Once, there was a farm league, of sorts, to draw from, but no longer.

There's a seeming need for Dick Clark, Dan Ingram or, yes, Ryan Seacrest. College radio will supply some talent. Other new media may be a route into the mainstream for a few.

A co-worker recently said he'd like to work in radio. At 50 years old, he has no experience, only a strong wish. No station will hire him without experience: what a "Catch-22," no experience, no job and no job, no experience

Will corporate radio realize its mistakes? Will corporate bring back the men and women, it kicked out in exchange for short-haul profits? More to the point is would these women and men return?

The resounding answer to all three questions is, "No." It's all a bad dream, a nightmare or a day mare, and no one wakes up the shower alongside Patrick Duffy or Jay Leo. One day, we'll wake up to a blast of radio silence and wonder why.

Did video kill the radio star? Not likely, but corporate America did. At least we have memories, of "Big" Ron O'Brien, Jackson Armstrong and George Michael as well as air checks.

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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