I recently wrote about AM Radio’s demise, fueled by WABC going all talk and Howard Stern’s departure from WNBC to greener pastures at K-Rock and national syndication. While all this was going on…. I decided to get more involved. AM Radio had been a hopping medium since way back when… in the old days Rayburn and Finch were the big morning team that all those cool cats listened to. This makes me want to address an issue and the topic of today’s audio clip …. (now also available on my pod cast which is up and running. But I have no idea how to set it up to be subscribed to so for now, you gotta tune in through here!)
Since New Year’s GSN has been running “That 70s hour” a series of back to back Match Game episodes that airs weeknights from 11pm to 12am. They have a feature showing Gene Rayburn chatting with an off camera interviewer… but it was the last interview Gene ever did.. And he just doesn‘t look too hot. My thought is, if they don’t have a better interview to show.. as a public service I will offer this interview I did with Gene in the summer of 1990.… Does any other blog provide this kind of fun stuff? Click play to hear it (or you can also click the little icon at the left of the title) and while it loads… read on!
Who woulda thunk that 17 years after starting on a little AM station, I would be futilely attempting to pod cast on the internet?
Things were taking off in the on air department as a newscaster. In the late summer and fall of ’89, I worked briefly at a dumpy little AM station in Central NJ that is no longer on the air. It had a little nebbishy guy working as news director. He was a nice harmless fellow, but despite being a newscaster for many years, he just couldn’t write as fast as me, and he couldn’t grasp the point of a news story and why it was relevant to our small minyan sized audience of drug addicts who were hanging out at the nearby methadone clinic. Grasping and relevance are very important in the news business! This was a bit sad since I was new to the bizness and he had been there for many many years and aspired to be an anchorman on WINS.
The highlight there came on my very first day. I got a call at about 6am from the news director telling me that a small single engine plane had crashed into the backyard of a home in Edison. Off I went and for the next 4 hours I anchored live reports from there describing what the heck was going on. And, this was my first day on the air! I was so new that back then, there were no cell phones, and I had to go to some lady’s house to call in my reports while I looked out the back window as workers pulled the poor pilot’s body from the wreckage. I didn’t want to run up the nice lady’s phone bill so I called in my updates by calling collect, but once the receptionist arrived, she wouldn’t accept the call, because she didn’t know who the hell I was.. So I had to ask the operator to say it was a collect call from “Nate the new newsman live at the plane crash scene!”
Also very strangely, I have a picture of myself at the scene,… and for the life of me I have no idea where it came from and who took it! I came across it several years ago while looking through a stack of old pics so whoever got it for me… Thanks! See me pre-goatee in the lower right hand corner....
From there I went to Danger Spouse radio in Northwest NJ. He writes one of the funniest blogs in the universe. I used to fill in there every once in awhile. One day a newsman got suspended because he threw a tape recorder at one of the women there… and they needed one of their fill-ins to anchor some newscasts. Luckily for me, I took the call and I went to fill in for a few days. The guy ended up getting fired, and I kept filling in and filling in until I got the gig. First I was on in mid-days with Danger and then I was moved to afternoon drive at around the same time he went there. Danger was quite the character, breaking in and interrupting my newscasts in attempts to throw me off my game.. He once ran through my news booth naked while I was on the air doing the news.. Despite that we had many happy hours there.. and the truth is Tom is a true radio genius….
I also rented a 3 bedroom house that I shared with 2 of the djs. The owner of the house was this German guy who asked us to pay a measly 65 bucks a week…but since he was from Germany.. He was into punctuality! Since I was the shortest of the roommates.. Every Monday he would come looking for me bellowing…”Vere is the little guy? He owes me sixty-fiiiiive!” I’d show up for work Mondays, and that’s how I’d be greeted by my co-workers…”Vere is the little guy? He owes me sixty-fiiiiive!” I thought of using it as my Monday on-air signoff sort of like how Nancy Grace always says…”Goodnight Friend“ The house was fun to live in, even though one of my roommates made an audio recording of me singing in the shower, and then proceeded to play it on the air. I wasn’t too thrilled, and strangely enough he taped me singing a little song I had made up about his girlfriend. I guess for sixty-fiiiiive a week, you couldn’t expect soundproof walls!
I think I was only thrown off my game twice there. One early morning 7 AM newscast on the 4th of July I was filling in for the morning guy and either I had eaten something the night before that didn’t agree with me, or I was still physically sick from seeing Danger naked! I had already read the whole newspaper, and I was struggling to get through my newscast counting the seconds till I could get to the boys room and enjoy the legal notices and the auto sales section; the only parts of the paper I hadn’t read yet. I zipped through the sports scores.. and was wrapping up the weather and was all set to head out of there when just as I signed off, Bill the morning man flips his microphone on and says… “So Nate….” and proceeds to shmooze with me about some kind of silliness in a conversation that just wouldn’t end. I was this close to either telling him to just shut up, and begging him to just let me out of the studio. Finally the conversation came to an end.. And I don’t think I was outta that bathroom till the Macy’s Fireworks show started!
The 2nd time I got thrown off I was taping my weekend talk show with a woman about some topic that is long forgotten. The evening host was doing his show on the other side of the glass in the adjacent studio and decided to test my unflappability so he made funny faces through the window at me while I interviewed this woman. Through careful manipulation of my mic, I was able to control myself so the listeners couldn’t tell what I was trying not to laugh, but I kept smiling at the woman at inopportune times and she in turn started to feel giggly. I took a commercial break and explained to the woman what the dj was doing, and she didn’t seem too upset about it and the interview continued without a hitch.
Or so I thought. Fast forward to a few months later. My buddy Paul and I are at an event at a local restaurant, and a teenage girl comes up to me and out of the blue starts yelling at me! We were so stunned by this we thought it might be a case of mistaken identity. But she kept yelling at me, and then we realized what she was saying. She was mad because she thought I was laughing at her mother! Turns out she was the daughter of the aforementioned guest , and apparently the little giggle-fest was not as uneventful as I had thought.
One time on the show, we did a program about the Karen Ann Quinlan Center for Hope Hospice. The mother of a friend of mine was a big shot there and we did a very uplifting program with one of the women who worked there that was actually quite informative and very interesting. At one point during the taping, the guest used the term “joie de vive”, whereas I promptly stopped the show, and told her that this program was being broadcast in Sussex County and the people there didn’t know what that meant.
One cool thing about doing the news there was our competition WSUS (which is now actually owned by the same owners as our station) didn’t have an Associated Press wire machine.. But we did. WSUS’s newscasters used to listen to our newscasts and steal as much as possible. Their newscast aired shortly after mine, so I would listen to it just for fun to see how much they stole from me. One time they didn’t quite get the facts straight about a rather complicated story, so the next hour when I did my report, I stopped and repeated it, and then spelled it out very slowly informing my listeners that I wanted to make sure that the WSUS news department would be able to write the facts down accurately for their upcoming newscast.
At the time they were owned by a guy who wore a horrific toupee. One Election Day he was moderating local cable coverage and I made a wisecrack that I hoped the ceiling fans wouldn’t run too high since it might blow his wig off. According to a buddy who worked there, several staffers who were monitoring (stealing) my news stories heard this comment and started cracking up, not realizing that this gentleman happened to be standing nearby.
Sadly, the AM station went to some kind of half assed satellite service in late ‘94 and ultimately the whole staff of Bill, Frank, and Danger Spouse were let go. Also canned was Doug the weekend/fillin host who would later end up being sued on a very amusing episode of The People’s Court. It was quite a sad time there and I left the station shortly thereafter to take a part time job that was paying me more than the station paid me full time. I also was getting things going with my video productions, so the time was right. The only thing enjoyable about the new satellite format was the automated computer program had so many glitches that it would constantly screw up on the air because it couldn’t automatically jump from the Denver based dj’s “witty banter” to the programmed local commercials. As a result the same commercial would play repeatedly…., it would also knock itself off the air for long periods of time, along with many other kind of hijinks. I’m sure the squirrels that were still listening to this craziness got a chuckle out of it.
But once again, it marked another notch on the belt as the Grim Reaper came after AM Radio. I left my sixty fiiiiive dollar a week house and moved back to Central Jersey, where once again, it was time to find something entertaining on the now long forgotten side of the dial.
At a later date, I will address the declining quality of AM Radio from ‘95 to the Present Day. Next week Nate’s World of Words will celebrate Literacy Week! Stay Tuned!