Why I Love Radio

iStock_000011799429XSmallI recall when I was a freshman at Rutgers College in New Brunswick in 1970, I found out in one of my first days on campus that there was a student radio station. I rushed over and “joined” immediately. I didn’t have a clue was I was going to do for the station but I wanted to be a DJ. To me, it was a really big deal. I love radio (still do) and when I grew up in Springfield, New Jersey, I created my own top 20 list each week, and  changed the list each Tuesday evening when WABC did likewise. So when I saw there was an opportunity to work at a “real” radio station at Rutgers, I jumped at the opportunity.

The Rutgers station call letters were (and still are) WRSU. At that time the station was AM-only which broadcast only into the Rutgers dorms. Not your ratings powerhouse and hardly a clear channel 50,000 watt flamethrower. No matter to me—there was a studio, turntables, microphone, cart machines, the whole deal.

After going through training in how to operate the equipment, talk up to the songs, que the records, etc. I did my first air shift for one hour on a Sunday morning at 8am in December 1970. I remember being terrified, but exhilarated. In retrospect I have no idea why I was scared since I suspect the listening audience at 8am on a Sunday morning was “modest”. In fact there may have been no audience! Again, no matter. I was now a disc jockey.  My first song on my first air shift was We Gotta Get You a Woman by Runt (Todd Rundgren). Obviously that song will always have a special meaning to me. My radio career was launched.

During my senior year, WRSU went “FM” (ooooooh) at the 88.7 frequency and now my mother could listen to my air shifts as well as those of my college buddy, Mark Chernoff. Years later Mark made it big in radio management and is currently VP Sports Programming at CBS Radio and Operations Manager at WFAN/New York. But as Mark would readily admit, his first air shift was substituting for me at WRSU. My career led me to marketing but Mark took the harder route into the radio biz.

In the 80s Mark was the PD and morning jock at rock station WDHA in Northern NJ and while he was there, he hired me to do overnights on Friday night (actually Saturday morning) which I did for a year. After giving up overnights since it was crushing my weekends, I continued to work at WDHA for several years doing fill-ins, long after my buddy Mark was gone to New York. I was thrilled to work at WDHA to play records, talk, give the time and temperature, play commercials, including live reads (I always like those and wanted to give advertisers their full value) and dispense musical wisdom, what little I had. I loved “talking up to the records” and picking my own records within the construct of a loose format. I had my stable of top of the hour hard driving tunes–Wang Chung/Everybody Have Fun Tonight, Eurythmics/Would I Lie to You? and Fixx/One Thing Leads to Another were some of my top of the hour faves.  I had a blast.

I was never really good as a DJ,  but I loved it and it was thrilling for me to be on-air. The concept of being paid to play rock & roll records was mind boggling, at least to me. If I recall correctly, my pay at WDHA was $6 per hour for doing a 4-hour overnight shift. Thankfully my “day job” was at BBDO/New York as a senior account guy on GE, Polaroid and other accounts, and my pay at BBDO exceeded $6 per hour.

As I listen today to mostly homogenized rock radio, the spontaneity of selecting the songs and thinking of clever patter is mostly gone from the industry. It’s a shame because that’s the part of the industry I miss. However, in my case, less talk and spontaneity was better since I was no real talent. But I will never forget the thrill of queuing records on the turntable, and then pressing play while introducing the next tune.

And for my radio friends in the Strumings reading audience, I am still available for overnight shifts. Yes, I know my queing skills are no longer needed.

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