A Birthday For My Career

Having Q102 in my AOL profile in 1997 is almost solely responsible for where I am now.

I’ve been trying, and failing, at #500wordseveryday. I fear I may struggle to keep this under 1500 words. I’ll do my best to properly acknowledge this time in my career but also keep the story moving and interesting. Keep up. Here, we, go Joker GIF.

Jay Towers, Q102’s midday DJ and Music Director was doing some AOL profile searching in the fall of 1997. Mine noted my favorite radio station that I’d grown up listening to, 102.1. Q102. Because this was before anything streamed, I missed that station as I was away at Towson University for my C level freshman (and only) semester in the suburb of Baltimore.

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#tbt from 2000. #radio #dj #00s #aughts

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Jay messaged me and thanked me for listening.

I decided to transfer to Temple University, home in Philly. Where I had transportation. As opposed to being affixed to campus.

Sorry, if that was a sudden pivot. I want to keep this moving.

I reached back out to Jay and told him I was going to school to be in radio, and in February of 1998 – back when dinosaurs and CDs roamed the earth – I began a faux internship at Q102!

I didn’t sign any papers nor did I need anything on school letterhead. I just began showing up to 2 Bala Plaza in Bala Cynwyd, PA – the media hub of the Philly region – and started putting away Jay’s CDs after the songs played, and got him lunch from the snack place on the first level. If that doesn’t make it MORE official than it was, nothing would! Suck it Temple broadcasting and comm advisors!

I also met the Program Director. The frightening and laconic morning host who I listened to for years, Glenn Kalina. He was tall and broodingly referred to me as Aaaaaaaaaric. Which was like eight A’s more than my legal name actually had.

I read trade magazines, ‘fired’ buttons on the control board, listened to Jay conduct music calls and business, watched the day to day operations of a radio station and learned more in a tiny period of time than I would have if I’d stayed all four years at Temple to get into radio.

I also pulled a CD out of the player seconds after it began playing – on the air. NBD right? It was in the middle of a station contest called 10 In A Row Or $10,000. Woops. “Technical glitch.” Catastrophe and internship termination averted!

Over the summer I was going to the station everyday, for about 4 or 5 hours to hang with Jay. You may find this shocking, but people liked me. Diego, the super famous stunt guy and AM cohost, Bartel, the cool guy that hosted all the clubs (remember him), and production and sales people all over the building welcomed me. I was Jay’s guy, and people knew and respected that. They liked him a lot.

Apparently, and to my surprise and even horror, Glenn liked me too. He hired me to be a board op slash producer. The 21 year old that almost caused a $10,000 mistake was IN. And, I think, probably making more then per hour, than I am now at Cumulus. I specifically recall  Jay saying he made sure to get me more than the least amount possible and Glenn was cool with that.

Fuck. It’s 500 words and we have 19-plus years and ALL of the full time jobs to get to.

Maximum warp to the spring of 1999.

Jay moved back to Detroit where he’d had a ton of success on 93.1 DRQ a pop/dance station. He told me to sit tight and he’ll try to bring me out.

The clock was ticking with Barry (my dad) who’d seen my 0.0 Fall ’98 grades thanks to going to the radio station everyday – not class – beginning in October of that year. “Six months, get something in radio, or back to school.”

We will skip the bizarre hotel sexacapades and radio debacle in Saginaw and get right to Detroit, June of 1999.

I was a part timer at 93.1 DRQ! Had I mentioned I never wanted to be ON THE AIR? I liked all the picking of songs and playlist scheduling that I learned from Jay at Q. I wanted to do that! And I did. But I also had to be on the air…and run the board for Jay’s very early morning show when it was on location – someplace usually warm and tropical – and for various other live events.

Tic Tak. What? Mark Allen DRQ night guy. He, who essentially created a decade of radio acolytes and rip off versions of himself. Myself included to a (successful?) degree. He taught me how to break rules, how to correctly engage an audience over the phone, how to titillate within in reason and how to pitch Creed – Higher up 7% so Scott Stapp sounds like a soprano. In short, Tak taught myself any others (Stick, Ol’ Dirty, Limpy, Big Bob + Mikey, etc) how to be emotionally compelling. And that in radio is how you became truly successful.

At times, Alex Tear, our Program Director hated it. To paraphrase, I don’t need a bunch of Tak’s running around here. I think most of us were able to balance what Tak was preaching while still making sure Alex kept us on the schedule. To this day Alex is still a valuable mentor of mine.

I was still part time. I had a load of DJ and club hosting gigs. I was probably making $60,000 or so a year, most of it under the table.

In September of 2002 both of the above ended. I made a salary of $25,000 and was full time! WPYO, Orlando’s Party Station 95.3 Party. Bartel was the PD, and he courageously hired his Philly brethren to cohost the morning show with Gloria Johnson. We called it the Party Playhouse. Best place I ever lived. It was not the best place I ever worked. A lot of that was my fault. Being a stubborn, indignant 22-23 year old was the impetus behind that. I did make a LIFELONG friend, who you may recall me mentioning before, DJ Jake!

Things were squirrely barely a year into being at PYO. Bartel left for Dallas and Gloria wanted to stab me. There was a cascade of potentially life altering poor social decisions. Then, I made possibly the most geographically questionable move in radio history. From Orlando to Saginaw, just as winter was settling in.

Best group of people I worked with. Worst place I ever lived. Why did it feel so much colder and snowier than down 75 in Detroit? Why was fashion and lifestyle like 5 years behind everywhere else?

This was the locale where my Bipolar, the depression and anxiety unveiled itself for all to endure.

August 2005 my best friend and WIOG Saginaw Program Director, Brent Carey, says we need to talk. And to see him as soon as I get home from my excursion back home to Philly.

Anxiety levels have gone hypernova.

He’s taking a job at WTWR, Tower 98-3 in Toledo (but in Monroe) with Cumulus. At the time they had a troubled reputation for a lot of edict driven – and very questionable – programming decisions. I drove to Monroe and thought NOPE.

Brent eventually convinced me it was the right move. It was! We beat the snot out of 92.5 KISS FM in about five months. Then in the tenth month or so, Brent got fired. We did things mostly our way and won. Much of corporate America doesn’t like that. After a face to face with the man in power, who’d come to Toledo and summoned me down from Monroe, on 9/11/2006 I was fired. Corporate ‘Merica!

This wasn’t awful. I’d been working, hard, and moving around often for seven years. Should I still be doing this!?

Jasmine and I moved home to Philly to find out.

Some of this is going to be familiar to some of you so I’ll hurry this up.

Applied for a job at B104 in Allentown. They were a veryveryveryveryveryveryveryvery unhip and unconventional top forty station. No way they’d hire someone with my format background and possibly raunchy aircheck tape. They’d pass it along to others in the Clear Channel chain of stations where I’d be a better fit.

They offered. I accepted.

I commuted one hour each day/way from Philly to Allentown from November 2006 to June 2007. A therapist I was seeing suggested ‘trying it out’ with a three month lease somewhere. It turned into a lease that ended in December of 2011.

Meantime, I was allowed and encouraged (with great autonomy) to transform B104 into a more modern station, achieve a dream goal of doing sports talk radio with the inexorably aggravating but gifted Bob Holder (and the tireless Eagle Jeff!) and make scores of lifetime friends and connections. From in-the-building coworkers like Mandy, Mike, Christine (heart emoji), and on and on, to industry friends like Joe Daddio, Julie Kubacki, and more.

Boredom had set in though. I like creating things, not necessarily the monotony of maintaining them.

BACK to Detroit, with much thanks to Jay (and Michael McCoy), to WDFN. It was the station that created sports talk radio in the Motor City. It had been ignored and mistreated, but I was given the chance to breathe love and passion back into it.

Not sixty days into my time back in Detroit, just after I’d delivered my vision for the station, like a quarter of the programming staff was fired. Sad face emoji.

That was the spark that set off the most depressing months of my life. So much so, that in June I discovered people had vacation days given to them by the company (I liked my job too much to use them before) and I needed them to vanish, for an entire week. No work, no phone, no email. “Eric, are you alive,” Kreger and Doug must’ve wondered.

Shit, coming up on 1500 words.

Mercifully, I was let go, along with many many others, in early December of 2012.

As I walking in the door to my Southfield apartment, before Diddy could even get in the air to greet me, Nathan is calling me inviting me to work at KISS FM in Toledo. Wut? How’d he even know I was let go? I barely knew.

Let me think about it. Radio did me dirty again, and I’m not sure if I can keep on in this relationship.

Well, Toledo.

All that stuff happened that you probably have followed (THANK YOU), and here we are. Yeah, same guy in Detroit nabbed me again. We are NOT going for the hat trick. I know not to go Kim Jung Un on bridges, but I also know which ones not to cross anymore either.

Just because I’m not currently working full time doesn’t mean I’m not still in radio!

Something I read from this radio consultancy blog over the summer has adjusted my perspective moving forward with my twenty-plus year career; treat your employment as a partnership! It doesn’t mean denigrate or dismiss your employer but absolutely be sure that they recognize your value. I have been successful, I have shared my knowledge and passion with scores of people wanting to be in the business, I even came to enjoy being on the air(!) and gotten decent at it on certain days with the right amount of coffee. I am fucking really good at what I do.  

Most importantly, I have made me, me! And I’m proud of who and what I’ve become and how I truly believe I have positively affected others who have been a part of my life. Especially the really patient people. I owe you all a drink. Water. Cuz it’s a lot of you!

AOL may be dead and gone, but without it, and Jay, I may be just finally exiting school debt working at a JOB. Fuck that!

Another couple people that MUST be acknowledged and I’m sure I’ll still have forgotten too many. PJ, Jeremy, Nickypooh, Puddin’, Geddes, Wodi, Matt Jewish, Steph, LC, Aaaaaaaaaron (both), Melburto, Bob Burke here, DJ Tommy Nappi, Howard Lesnick, Jon Lewis, Rich Lewis, Collllllllla, Nasty Nick Roddy, Grooves, TL and more and more. 

Oh, Cumulus Detroit has invited me to do some morning show fill in next week here. I will be competing AGAINST Jay LOL.

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