They told me to be at the radio station by 4:30am, so there I was, alone, standing outside in the dark, staring up at the nondescript three-story building.
It was cold outside. Foggy. The office manager told me that someone would be there to meet me. I hadn’t yet earned access to the 4-digit security code that I’d soon learn was simply the building number.
As I awkwardly stood in front of the glass doors waiting for entry, a warbled voice shot out of the shadows.
I jumped out of my skin.
Wow, there was something I’d never been called before. I had no idea who was yelling at me or how to reply, so I remained silent. Besides, shouting back, “Ma’am, I’m just here to work 60 hours a week for the privilege of earning 3 college credits,” didn’t feel like a powerful or appropriate retort.
“MUUURR-DERRR,” shouted the voice again, this time more vehemently than before.
Thankfully, my new radio friend appeared and let us into the building, unphased by the verbal assault.
We exchanged brief introductions as we ascended to the third floor. We cut a right and then a left and were heading straight into the “main studio.” The ON-AIR light was not illuminated, and I received the first piece of advice of my radio internship, “If the light is on, make sure you enter quietly.”
“Should I just wait until the light is off?”
“No, no, no. By then, it will be too late.”
I had no idea what I was getting into. But for the kid who grew up pretending he was an announcer with anything that closely resembled a microphone, I was stoked to be “working” at a real working radio station. The 11-year-old me had come a long way from clutching a plastic microphone that transmitted my voice to the AM airwaves, proclaiming that I was the founder and host of W-S-E-X. Wasn’t I clever?
The first few radio days had me sitting in the studio observing the show. Next, I was running small errands as the show unfolded: fetching sound bites, grabbing breakfast deliveries, writing down factoids on scraps of paper for the hosts, and so on. Eventually, I elevated to playing a bit part on the ‘Little Morning Show That Couldn’t.‘ The hours were long, the talent was light, and the pay non-existent, but I was never in it for the money.
The two morning show hosts were constantly at each other’s throats. I was around 20 years old, and they felt MUCH older than me. In hindsight, maybe they were in their mid- to late-twenties? I quickly became part of the dysfunctional relationship triangle.
They were both bullies, just utilizing very different styles to attempt to conquer. I was their oops baby. None of these clowns would get away with their behavior in today’s world; It was a different time. But I’m not complaining, the lessons I learned about the world and work and myself were priceless.
But holy shit, what a cast of characters.
The General Manager with the crooked mouth, shrill voice, and red-hot temper.
The Operations Manager with a Boston accent who I only heard say the word, “Faaack.” Actually, not true; he did teach me how to wrap long audio equipment cords using my elbow, a tactic I still use today!
The Sales Assistant with the purple-painted nails, obsessed with a certain hair metal band…and blowing any staff member she could get near.
The Little Sales Manager who boasted about his big sexual conquests, including an illicit affair with the wife of a local car dealership owner, who, of course, was the station’s biggest advertiser. What conflict?
The On-Air Psychic who told my sister to keep an eye on her left ovary and that I would find success as a comedy writer. He did tell me that my grandmother was watching and that Rose was her name. But he might have just been playing the odds, because that was the only thing he was right about.
And my officemate, The Club Promoter who spit all over the handset of the phone we shared as he tried to string together a few washed-up artists to “headline” a station concert. This guy was so full of bullshit, but he was good for my confidence, “You can do better,” he would repeatedly say. “You could run this fucking place.”
Part of me believed him.
The one thing that almost everyone had in common was a willingness to put in the work. Making it in radio took long hours, and only those willing to make that sacrifice could get ahead. The field mainly attracted people who were not looking for work-life balance; they sought a lifestyle. I identified early on that the free concert tickets, attention from ladies, photo ops with bands, and other “perks” were not my thing. I’d rather work hard, give my all, and then go home and just live my life. But the experience of a radio internship was valuable and highly recommended.
My 6-month internship with the morning show came to an unceremonious end. On my last day, the hosts decided they wanted a McDonald’s breakfast to “celebrate,” and who better than me to be sent to the drive-thru. I remember thinking that it was the perfect way to end the experience, the lowly intern, fetching his own ‘thank you.’
When I returned to the Studio I learned that I had apparently forgotten to queue up an audio clip, and the host was incensed.
“What are you letting it all go to shit on your last day?” he asked, frothing at the mouth.
After six months of insane work and going out of my way to make him and his partner look so much better than they were, I was deeply offended by the comment. I didn’t care if I was writing a bit for the show or grabbing someone a snack, I took my job seriously–always.
My killer work ethic paid off. Once my internship ended, I was asked to join the show full-time, to the tune of $14,000. As I eased into my producer role, I was occasionally asked to do small bits on the air. I developed a fake high-pitched laugh to help add some dimension to the show. On several occasions, I hosted game show bits, live events, announced the local weather, and took part in the on-air shenanigans. While I wasn’t blessed with the best radio voice, if I had the confidence at 20 that I did at 30, I could have done more with my childhood passion. So that’s the lesson, kids: when you’re 20, flex like you’re 30. I eventually parlayed my audio know-how into audio gigs and a successful podcast, but more on that at a later date.
My bit parts seemed to have gone well, so someone decided it was time for me to go next level, and I was coerced into developing a character, which was nothing more than Greg T. The Frat Boy lite. I would go out on the road and interact with our listeners. Among my “stunts,” pumping gas and stripping an item of clothing off each time a passerby honked their horn. There was also another bit where I would run up to cars holding a turkey jammed with stuffing that contained tiny pieces of paper listing prizes. Before leaving the station that morning, I plugged the bird with Stove Top and held it under the hot water spigot connected to the coffee machine. When testing to see what the experience would be like for listeners, I jammed my hand inside the carcass and promptly scalded my entire hand.
I attribute my willingness to partake in such stupidity to Larry Hoff, who at the time, was a staple on morning TV here in New York. Whenever people asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I’d think of him: great energy, well-spoken, and a willingness to take on whatever wackiness ensued. Sounded like a career to me!
The Station Van is a character of its own in this story. The unspeakable and sordid details of what certain employees and interns did inside do not have a place on this blog. But I will share one of my few experiences with The Station Van, and it was a solo adventure. I had drawn the short straw and was tasked with driving the van out to Greenport–the absolute end of Long Island–a healthy two-hour drive, where one of our “jocks” was hosting an event.
I had plans to be out in Montauk for the weekend, but I felt that I couldn’t say ‘no’ to the gig. I also couldn’t say no to my girlfriend’s family. So a plan was devised. I’d take The Station Van to the end of the North Fork while my GF took her car to the end of the South Fork. And once my work was done, I’d drive from Greenport to Montauk and satisfy all parties.
What’s the point of sharing this story? I’m not sure. But it felt like some Rite of Passage to drive the van to the end of the island, set up some AV equipment, and then have the DJ dismissed by all the douchebags getting off their boats to enjoy some clams. I can tell you the date, too: Saturday, August 22, 1998. I only know that because it was the day of a massive oil spill on the LIE, and I got out ahead of it. My GF, not so much. She spent her afternoon in standstill traffic.
The truth about radio station appearances at events is that they are pretty sad and lonely. For the most part, people either want to file a music grievance (“Can you guys play something other than Iris?”), or more likely, snag some free merch. To this day, when I see a radio station tent pop up in front of a big-box retailer, my heart breaks a little for all involved.
My biggest mistake during my radio station tenure did not come at the hands of The Station Van, but it did come at an “event.” The station was hosting a New Year’s celebration and I was asked to attend in a non-work capacity. And to the early-20s-me, that meant a rare opportunity to let loose, blow off some steam, and take advantage of a rare perk.
Well, that was the first and last night I ever drank Black Haus (blackberry schnapps, blech!).
I can count on two hands the number of times in my life that I drank to the point of sickness. Ridiculousness. And this my friends was one of them. I’m not sure if it was the dry humping of the venue’s centerpiece statue or throwing up out the comped limo’s window, but my actions, on my “personal” time, got me summoned to the General Manager’s office (aka – Crooked Mouth).
General Manager tells me to “come in” and proceeds to stand up and close the office door.
I can immediately tell something is wrong by his tone. Mind you, at this point, I had only heard rumblings that morning that he was not happy to learn about my New Year’s behavior. But I feel indigent, how dare anyone tell me how to behave on my time.
General Manager slowly walks back to sit behind his desk.
General Manager stares at me. He’s pretty intimidating for a small guy, but I don’t blink.
General Manager flies out of his chair like he was ejecting from a burning plane. “How fucking dare you. What the fuck is wrong with you, asshole? Like what the fuck! How dare you fucking represent this station like that with a paying client. You fucking asshole. ASSHOLE. What the fuck!”
Let’s be clear about something, I understand why he was upset. I understood a little bit back then and a lotta bit right now. But his anger level and tone was so far off the charts, so unprofessional, that it actually put me at ease, knowing that I’d probably never be subjected to a tirade like this again. It was a seminal moment, one where I had the awareness to understand what was unfolding in real-time, so I soaked it in.
“I’m sorry, I just——“
“I should fucking fire you right now. Asshole!”
“It will never happen aga—“
“You’re fucking right it won’t. If you ever, ever, EVER, act like that on my time or your time and I hear about it, you’re fucking DONE.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you!?”
I realize at this point I’m not getting fired. And that nothing I say matters. The man is red and filled with rage, and today, I am the victim of the outburst.
So naturally, a few weeks later, since I was clearly one of the most responsible people at the station, they put me in charge of the internship program. I took on the additional responsibility with pleasure, hoping that the lessons I learned early on would help others as they embarked on their radio journeys.
The first thing I would do when an intern interviewed with me were all the things no one did with me. I explained the expectations of the role, I shared the pros and the cons, I even pointed out where the bathrooms were. And then, if an intern started, on their first day, they knew the access code to enter the building and were warned that a couple of local protesters were not too pleased with an abortion clinic that was located on another floor. There was no need for a new generation of interns to be called “MURDERERS!!!”
For the most part, running the internship program was rewarding. But not without its challenges. Back in the days of minimal labor enforcement, interns were hoarded. After all, they were the cheapest labor available. So we had lots of ’em. Good ones, bad ones, smart ones, stupid ones, slutty ones, super slutty ones, and so on. I remember one dirty blonde intern was very impressed that I had my own desk (by this point I had graduated from sharing space with the club promoter). She always made it a point to come around to the side of the desk, slightly encroaching on my personal space. “Do you need anything,” she’d ask. “Anything at all?” The only thing I needed was to survive this job with as little drama as possible, so her advances were rebuffed.
My third-floor office looked down on the parking lot, and you’d be surprised at how much you could see. I remember thinking how appropriate that this intern had a purple car with zebra-lined seats and a Tweety Bird air freshener dangling from the rear-view mirror. The only thing missing was the license plate: EASYNY.
The view from my office provided some good laughs. People sure are funny walking from their cars into the building. From weird routines to off-putting gaits, it was always a hoot starting the morning watching station employees adjust themselves while clutching a cup of coffee.
One of the cool things about working at a radio station is getting to meet artists that you enjoy and respect. The first live artist I had to record was Eagle Eye Cherry, at the height of his one-hit-wonderness with “Save Tonight.” A bunch of staffers loaded into “Studio B” to watch the performance live. And it was Yours Truly responsible for setting up the mics and controlling the board.
My audio training at this point was no different than my internship orientation–non-existent. I was convinced that Eagle Eye sniffed out my producing naivety as he proceeded to sing about 10x louder than he had during warm-ups. As the performance unfolded, I knew Eagle Eyes was over-modulating, but there were no do-overs. This shit was recorded straight to Digital Audio Tape (DAT) and would be played on the station hundreds of times, and I’d cringe every time I was forced to hit “play.”
You learned quickly that most artists were grateful to be there, happy for the exposure. I shared some good laughs with 90s alt-rock acts like Shawn Mullins (sweetheart), Marvelous 3 (smart!), Sixpence None the Richer (humble), and others. I got to play a charity softball game with some of the New York Islanders’ greats, go backstage with Alanis Morissette, receive a bowling ball from the band Lit, and more. I point these things out because there were perks–I just never sought them out.
I also met some really good people. Talented people. I still hear their voices wherever I go–literally. These fine folks voice drive-time shows, advertisements, video games, and sporting events, all around the country. The connections I forged at the station, people who had a front-row seat to witness my work ethic (minus the Black Haus night), led to many opportunities. And while it wasn’t perfect, my time at the radio station was time well spent. I am grateful for the experience that helped me discover what I wanted out of a career.
My only regret? Not taking The Station Van more places.