10 Questions with ... Don Harrison
May 20, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
WHCN/Hartford (1990-1993), WBCN/Boston (1993-1999), Y107/Los Angeles (1999-2000), KXFX & KVRV/Santa Rosa (2000-2005), WKBU/New Orleans (2005-2006), WTPA & WGBH/Harrisburg (2006-2009) and Slacker/San Diego (2007-2014)
1) What led you to a career in radio? Was there a defining moment that made you realize "this is it"?
It'd be amazing to say I was born to do this, but the reality is I sucked at everything else. I couldn't play baseball like my hero Fred Lynn and wasn't sexy enough to be a rock star. The "this is it" moment came when I had a stoner rant about why Sammy Hagar was the blond woman that ruined Van Halen. For some reason, my stupid-ass friends were captivated by the psycho-babble. I talked about revoking Sammy Hagar's poetic license for writing lyrics like "only time will tell if we stand the test of time." Insisted the Side Show Bob hairdo and red jumpsuits made him look more like a rodeo clown than a rock star. And concluded with five reasons to hate Van Hagar: Why Can't This Be Love, Don't Tell Me What Love Can Do, Love Walks In, When It's Love, and Can't Stop Loving You. Dumb-ass friends applauded. I said, "Shut the fuck up; pass the bong before you wake up my parents," but I knew I was on to something.
2) If you were just starting out in radio, knowing now what you didn't then, would you still do it?
Yes, I love radio but nothing in life is perfect. Manage your expectations and focus on the positive. Radio is very cool -- play music for a living and make a positive impact on the lives of your listeners. However, the game has become too corporate and as a result there are too many cooks in the kitchen, which spoils the soup.
3) You spent some quality time at WBCN/Boston. Care to share some of your best moments from that experience?
Aerosmith took over WBCN as guest DJs and afterwards we went to their new club, Mama Kin on Lansdowne Street. I'm chatting with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry and suddenly in the middle of a huge man hug/bromance. Killed a few a beers, feeling no pain. I look to my right to see who was on the receiving end of the love, and it's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant -- in town for the Page/Plant tour. My producer kept whispering in my ear, "Do you see who we're standing next to?" After he says it 8,000 times, I respond with, "Yes, I fucking see who we're standing next to!" Robert Plant clearly heard me. I said to myself, "Harrison, remind me later on to cut your balls off," which everyone heard because at that moment the music in the club had suddenly stopped. Steven Tyler found this especially amusing. Yeah, it was real funny, dude. Laugh it the fuck up.
I snuck some kind bud into a show in Boston and made the mistake of sharing my stash with Lenny Kravitz. He proceeded to smoke all of my weed backstage and mack on the women I was hitting on. "Thanks for bogarting the blunt, you smelly bastard!"
Pearl Jam rocked a show at Great Woods. The Boston Garden had just been torn down and I knew Eddie Vedder dedicated a room in his house to old architecture. I grabbed a brick from the Boston Garden and presented it to Eddie. He was very emotional because of all the history with the Boston Garden. Eddie Kung Fu gripped a hug that went on for too long. It got kind of weird and we made out. Then I dry humped his leg, the kind-of sloppy boot sex that had to be cleaned up with bucket and squeegee. So, we're cool now.
4) You were also in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. I understand you dealt with some very difficult circumstances during that event. Please elaborate.
I remember an engineer running into the Bayou air studio and telling me to leave the room. As I walked towards the door, the window in the studio shattered. Equipment was sucked out of the room - papers, monitors, headphones and parts of the board. One of the stations in our cluster was still on the air so I volunteered to stay behind because it was the only outlet for information. People were unable to contact the police or fire department and I took calls from listeners needing help accessing the roof, diabetics without insulin or folks who just wanted talk to somebody about their home being crushed into a pile of scrap wood. The radio station was located near the Superdome and after a few days the National Guard escorted us to a heliport because they could no longer protect us from an angry, desperate mob gathered at the dome. However, when we arrived at the heliport, the helicopter didn't have permission to land and new coordinates were required. Apparently GWB was flying overhead, surveying New Orleans. Two guys from the National Guard and myself went back to the radio station through the angry mob and made a phone call for permission to land the helicopter. That walk through the angry mob was very scary. People were throwing stuff, threatening us. I thought we were going to get stabbed a few times, but we made it out alive. The spookiest part was flying in a helicopter very low to the ground and seeing the catastrophic damage done to the great city of New Orleans. There's no guidebook for a situation like Hurricane Katrina and it had a profound effect on me. Sounds a little corny, but that experience made me want to become a better radio professional and a better man.
5) Congrats on your new programming position for WWSK (94.3The Shark) in Long Island. How long have you been in the chair and how are things going so far?
I've been in the chair for two months and we've already accomplished a lot in a very short period of time. The Shark has a new air staff and a new music test in the field. Dave Widmer is the market manager in Long Island and he's a bad ass. Dave's not just a boss, he's a friend and he lets me call him "dude." My first trend came out last week and The Shark is up in every demo and daypart. The Shark is very sexy and the recent ratings are just beginning to tell the story of a station that's about to own Rock on Long Island.
6) You recently re-vamped the on-air lineup at The Shark. Tell us who is working when and give us your take on the new staff?
I've been very lucky to work at legendary stations (WBCN) and major markets (Boston, Los Angeles), but The Shark might be the best group. Drew Kenyon is the morning guy. He's very funny and looks like a scary, crazy biker dude from Sons of Anarchy with 20 years of Long Island radio experience. Raven owns middays as the undisputed Queen of Rock. She worked at SiriusXM and WBAB. Raven is a superstar and I'm a stupor-star in afternoon drive. Rob Rush is the evening pimp and a rock & roll action figure. Rob's been on the Shark since it launched. I'm also very fortunate to work with Alissa Marti, the best marketing director on Long Island. She hates compliments but Alissa is very creative and hard working. Alissa's dedication makes other marketing directors look slow and stupid. Sean Lynch is the creative services director and a mad scientist with the production skills. Sean is very smart and really understands the Shark brand. One of the best things about the Shark is the Shark Girls. They represent The Shark at events and these women are the total package -- nice and beautiful. The Shark Girls are very attractive; they turn on Sharkaholics like the last lighter in a crack house. Even though I've only been in the chair for a few weeks, it's like family. We all love each other and hang out together after work. I'm honored to have these people on my team and proud to call them my friends.
7) How much new Rock music does The Shark play and how do you balance that with the Classic Rock on your station?
Fresh Blood is the new music show, with Rob Rush, on Sunday nights. Fresh Catch of the Day is a new music feature in the afternoon during weekdays. I'm hoping our latest music test opens up a few more opportunities for new Rock. The Shark only plays a few Hard Classic artists (Zeppelin, VH, Ozzy, GnR, AC/DC). Most of our playlist is focused on the '90s/2000s Rock.
8) What's your take on current music in the Rock format? Is it as good as six months ago, better, or about the same?
Shinedown, Seether, Avenged Sevenfold and Five Finger Death Punch are cool, but the format needs some rock stars and less faceless, passive bands. The Rock format in general sucks because the programmers have become a bunch of pussies or music snobs. Here's what destroyed Rock: PDs overly concerned with songs being too old. Or songs crossing over to Alternative/Top 40 - yeah, because younger people liking the music you play is horrible for the long-term success of your format. Dumb-ass Rock PDs like that needed to be kicked to the curb.
9) You were out of radio for a few years previous to this new position. How did being away from radio change your perspective on what you're doing now?
Working as a music supervisor in the film business and a music programmer for Slacker changed the way I use music creatively. Slacker utilizes an on-demand type of approach where the user has a lot more control, so you can't be limited to a 300-song safe list. In terrestrial radio, we get stuck in tiny boxes. The mindset of, "This is how we've always done things" is the wrong approach.
10) Finally, I know you're a huge Boston Red Sox fan. Are they going to win the World Series again this year?
I don't think so, but then again I started out with no hope for 2013. As a hardcore Boston fan I'd love to say, "Hell yeah!" However, the Red Sox have already dealt with some injury issues. Health won't really matter if we can't get consistent quality performances from the starting pitching staff or clutch hits when we have men in scoring position. The Red Sox have been wildly inconsistent over first 40 games of the 2014 season. They haven't lost more than three in a row and they haven't won more than two in a row. Yet, they are just a game-and-a-half out of first because the rest of the injury-depleted AL East is struggling as well. Go Sox!
What do you like to do to relax when you're not fully in radio mode?
I love movies and TV. Now I focus too much on sound design/music because of my experience as a music supervisor in film and end up annoying myself. As you know, I love fine wine and cigars. You and I have spent some quality time finding the perfect wine and cigar pairing. I'm also a huge fan of naked women and my penis.
You're stuck on a deserted island and you only have five CDs with you. What are they?
- Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street
- Van Halen - Fair Warning
- Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique
- Nirvana - Nevermind
- Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill