10 Questions with ... Thomas Gordon "Tommy G"
June 26, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
After getting his B.A. in psychology, Tommy G decided, along with his brothers, to start writing and producing song parodies and comedy bits for radio. Working with those same brothers, Tommy G ultimately co-wrote a nationally distributed humor book, "The Celebrity Who's Who of Losers" (1996), co-produced a television show, "National Lampoon's Comedy Night School" (2004), and was the Associate Producer for a feature film "National Lampoon Presents RoboDoc" (2009), starring Alan Thicke, David Faustino and David DeLuise. The big radio break came in 1987 from Alan Colmes, then on 66 WNBC NY, who started using his parodies and bits. Tommy started on-air work in 1988 on Hot 97 NY, where PD Joel Salkowitz put him on the morning show as "The Commissioner," who went to local schools and did call-ins. He later moved on to Z100 NY as "The Dean," also doing call-ins as their school liaison. Eventually, after an on-air talk show host audition process, Walter Sabo and Andrew Santoro Jr. hired Tommy G to do late nights on America's most listened-to FM talk radio station, WKXW (NJ 101.5), where he was the only broadcaster in the history of NJ to receive the National 911 Hero Recognition Award for assisting police in saving the life of a lost, elderly resident through his live broadcast on one particularly frigid night. It was a great run, but after five years Tommy's late night show was totally eliminated from 101.5 due to budget cuts; Tommy set out after two years of looking for a job to build his own studio in his home so that he can broadcast unhindered and on his own terms while keeping operating costs down. Today, The Tommy G Show streams weekdays from 4-6PM via www.tommygshow.com.
1. First things first: What got you started in radio, and why did you go into radio in the first place?
Talk radio had always been a fixture in my house. My dad each day religiously listened to John Gambling in the morning and Jean Shepard at night. When I was a kid, we had this tape recorder that I would use to record my own little shows. So, one day, I auditioned for my college radio station and beat out some fifty other students competing for that slot. From then on, I was hooked.
2. Your new show is online only. What gave you the idea to go it alone and put the show online without a terrestrial radio?
I had been finding lately that listeners, especially younger ones with iPhones, computers etc., were not really seeing a distinction between terrestrial and streaming. They were just finding the content they enjoyed, and listening regardless of the medium. The same situation happened years ago with broadcast TV and cable, and now people don't necessarily care which is which; they just watch their favorite programming, whether it's on NBC or Bravo. The market grew so large, and became so accessible, with so many choices, that one channel could be easily changed to another, and then another after that. It's no longer cable versus broadcast, it's all just television. In radio, Pandora is getting millions of people used to streaming, and terrestrial stations are encouraging their listeners to tune in online. So it's really a no-brainer to get ahead of the pack now with Internet radio being installed in new cars. And cars were the last "safe zone" for terrestrial, so it would appear that the writing is on the wall. I offer live traffic reports with info compiled from loyal listener tips via phone, the New Jersey Department of Transportation cameras, and 511nj.org. My traffic reports are just as good if not better than what terrestrial offers. Weather reports are from data provided by the National Weather Service and a local blogger, Severe NJ Weather.
3. Describe the show you're doing now. How is it the same or different from what you were, or would be, doing on terrestrial radio.
What I'm doing now is faster-paced than when I was on terrestrial. Instead of one topic per hour, I present and expand upon the important topics of the day, and then take caller comments for the last fifteen minutes of each hour. We have six phone lines coming into the Telos phone system so that we can jump quickly from call to call. I have to say, the best part is that if a naughty word or phrase gets through our dump system, there are no more worries about being punished with an FCC fine. I now have the freedom to do my own on-air promotions, I took a bus load of my listeners up to see Jerry Springer in March at which one of them flashed Jerry her boobs. That created a social media buzz for the show, as well as giving us something to talk and laugh about for weeks.
4. One of the things that has been important in establishing the new show has been your use of social media to get the word out to your fans. How did you do that? What are the best ways to build and hold onto a social media following?
The game changers have been Facebook and Google. In the past, when an on-air talent left a station, it was hard, almost impossible, for their fans to find them again, let alone stay in touch. If I could stress one piece of advice, it'd be that you should build up your social media following now while you're still on the air. While I was on terrestrial radio, I worked hard to cultivate an enthusiastic base of listeners. Multiple daily updates on Facebook kept them wanting to come back, and Google helped them find me once I was gone. Every day, I spend time responding personally to my listeners' every wall post and answering their emails. If you show that you care about them, they will care about you, and, when you build it, they will come. So when I launched my new online show this past January, I just put the word out through social media, and poof, the listeners were there!
5. Now that you're up and running with the new show, what advice would you give those interested in doing the same thing -- what pitfalls should they watch out for, and what should they embrace about the different medium.
First, make no mistake: I treat this as a full-time job. I spend hours preparing material for each show, find and cultivate sponsors, manage my salesperson and producer, make personal appearances, emcee events, and personally mail out t-shirts to winners. In addition I make sure that the broadcast and computer systems are doing what they're supposed to be doing by testing them daily before we go live. And, if you want to play with the big boys, you have to match them in audio quality and present yourself visually as an equal to them. Get a professional logo and website built, get banners and t-shirts made... in other words, be prepared to spend money to make money. Building your own broadcast studio from scratch, with no engineer present, might seem challenging, but it actually wasn't all that difficult. Companies like Wheatstone, Telos Systems, Eventide, and Bitsizzle have great support techs who will talk you through something if you're having trouble. After your first broadcast as an independent station, you'll wonder how you ever lived with the pitfalls of traditional radio: management, the FCC, and getting kicked out the door without warning.
6. Who have been your mentors, inspirations, and/or influences in the business.
Talk Show Host: Alan Colmes; Programmer: Joel Salkowitz; Talk Show Host: Craig Carton; New York Times bestselling author, Gannett columnist and radio personality Bob Ingle who's on my show Fridays at 5p; and, for hiring and guiding me, giving me the opportunity of a lifetime at NJ101.5, consultant Walter Sabo and former GM Andrew Santoro Jr.
7. Of what are you most proud?
My supportive family, and then, after that, putting together and operating this successful and growing media corporation.
8. What do you do for fun?
Aside from the show, I like to train in various martial arts, and drive my Corvette.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without __________.
10. What is the best advice you ever got? The worst? What advice would you give someone starting out in the business right now?
Best advice? As Thomas Edison said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."
Worst advice? I was told "Don't start your own station," and I won't mention who advised it.
Advice to people starting out in the business? I would suggest they showcase themselves on YouTube, Facebook and other social media to build a following and sharpen their skills while simultaneously trying to get on any radio broadcast platform available. Entertaining and informing people will never go away; we just need to adapt to the changes in business and technology to deliver our message to the masses.