Is The Pressure Getting To You? Radio's Connection To The Cuckoo's Nest
September 2, 2014
In 2004, after eighteen years in radio, I had landed my first on-air job in Los Angeles at KYSR, when it was Star 98.7. Angela Perelli was the PD at the time, but she was about to have a baby, so Chris Patyk did the hiring, and after two phone interviews, he brought me in for weekends and fill-ins.
At this time I was almost five years beyond my last job in radio, since I was fired from B97 in New Orleans as PD at the end of 1999, and that many years hanging in the balance can certainly play tricks with your head.
And it did.
Full disclosure: During this time, I was having incredible success as head of sales and Top 40 promotion at All Access Music Group, but when it came to strictly the radio side of my career, I was beginning to lose confidence in my abilities and from that, I was starting to display obvious signs of anxiety, nerves and low self-esteem.
SWEATING LIKE ALBERT BROOKS IN BROADCAST NEWS
At Industry functions, I was exhibiting shortness of breath, and then I began sweating uncontrollably, and once that started, it wouldn't stop, and I often found myself in a bathroom stall attempting to fan myself off, or to simply hide so I wouldn't have to deal with seeing anybody I knew, or wanted to know.
And right in the pocket of this time, Chris Patyk hired me to represent Star 98.7 on air, a position that never posed any threat to me up until this time. But with my new found self-doubt, I was ready to sweat through many weekends of air shifts, and I did. Towards the end of my time there, I began losing my voice halfway through my shifts, a result of all the pressure I was putting on myself.
This was a new low for me.
At the same time, Bruce Logan was hiring a PD for 96.1 The Beat in Charlotte, and while they had a lead candidate - who didn't work out because he couldn't get his personal baggage in order - it allowed my greatest skills to be recognized.
IT WASN'T BASKETWEAVING, BY THE BY
Since the earliest days of my career, dating back to 1985 as an intern for WBBM-FM Chicago, I had been able to read the lay of the land, from a competitive standpoint, like Tiger Woods used to be able to read the green to make an incredible putt; and while B96 was calling Bruce Springsteen, the Eurythmics and John Cougar Mellencamp core artists, music had shifted, and the only thing that spelled this out was the inability for them to increase their ratings.
Jo Bohannon was the PM Drive talent and Music Director for B96 at the time, just before he and Eddie Volkman teamed up for AM Drive, and JoBo asked a very pointed question about music, for which I had a fast answer.
Jeff Kapugi and I programmed our college radio station together at that time, 88.1 WCRX, from Columbia College Chicago, and while we got to take a lot of chances on music, because we were a college station, there was one song at that time that was out-performing all the others, according to the audience we catered to with our 100 watt stick.
So, when JoBo asked, "What song are we missing on B96?" My retort of 'Conga' from the Miami Sound Machine probably sounded like a left field response, and an uneducated guess from an intern who didn't know much, since no one knew who they were, for the most part, at that time. But as '85 turned into '86 and B96 was forced to play the song due to its obvious growth and sales explosion across Chicagoland, the sound of that song on their playlist changed the station's entire dynamic, and while it was still years later before B96 would find that Rhythmic pocket that guided them through many successful and dominant years, I had begun seeing a clear lay of the competitive landscape.
TEA LEAVES, MINDS AND OTHER THINGS YOU READ
So, almost twenty years later, Bruce Logan flies me to Charlotte to interview for the job with Clear Channel at 96-1 The Beat, and if there's one city I could read like a fifth grader reads One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, it was Charlotte, NC.
Bruce and OM Morgan Bohannon had insisted that the station was nothing more than a flanker, to tear down numbers from WNKS and WPEG, but I saw it so clearly that I took the job for a low salary with some pie-in-the-sky bonuses.
It was right on time, too, because my neurosis had reached an all-time high, and getting the job in Charlotte allowed me to stop sweating at industry events in LA, and instead, sweat at industry dinners in Charlotte.
I left Star 98.7 with about 15 CD airchecks of my time on the air there, but because of my self-esteem, I didn't listen to them, and in fact, I'm surprised I even kept them; as the memory of that time, alone, was enough to make me want to curl up in a corner, rock back and forth and ball.
ELBOW GREASE WASN'T THE ONLY AVAILABLE LUBRICANT
The nerves and sweating issue seemed to only affect me, as the little flanker radio station became a real player in its first 90 days on the air, and it stayed that way through my last date there in January of 2009 when 1200 or so of us Clear Channel employees got to watch Obama being inaugurated from the comforts of our own homes.
In a recent article, I talked about how a man I never met, and still haven't, Gene Romano, was the sole reason why I got the job with CBS in New York City, and that's where I went after being downsized. You can read that story here.
And from New York, where I stayed in programming for three years, I saw an opportunity to return to Los Angeles, but the year was now 2012, and it had been eight years since I left Star 98.7 with ring around the collar and pit stains on my shirts. And since the job was an on-air gig, I had to find a way to get a demo, since I hadn't been on the air as a jock since that time.
So, no matter how difficult the memories of that era were, I began combing through the CD airchecks from Star, and within the first three discs, I had enough good material to make a demo.
THE FRUIT OF THE GLOOM
In spite of its aged content and music, my phone rang, and what the PD and consultant liked about the demo was the uncanny ability to tell a story in a short amount of time, and to guide phone calls into radio gold. In time, from a demo made from an era that sits as one of the hardest times in my life, I was able to beat out hundreds of applicants and land solidly - almost thirty years after my radio career had begun - in a job in PM Drive in LA and Orange County.
From January 2013 to this past July, I was able to put on the highest numbers in PM Drive for KFSH since their launch in the early 2000's, and while I truly give all that credit to God, I would be lying if I didn't admit that getting there, utilizing fruit from a time in my career that I didn't know bore any, helped to heal the last edges of my neurosis.
In the next couple of weeks, I will share the thing that restored the most confidence back into my life and into my career, and without being sappy, I can share that it IS love. A young woman who had been in my peripheral vision for eight years, whispering positive thoughts into my life… until I stopped thinking she was just being nice, and instead started believing that she was telling me the truth.
She changed my life. I married her.