by Lisa Schreiner
With radio outlets like Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio, it might seem that broadcast radio is falling to the wayside. Why be forced to listen to a DJ or commercials when you can listen to your favorite songs chosen by a computer? Because broadcast radio provides something to us that our smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc. cannot: a human connection. Though we’ve all grown to love our operating systems and devices, we will always crave that organic connection. It is far more entertaining to listen to a radio DJ talk up a band/artist/song rather than read the “info tab” in an app.
I sat in with Rocky, a radio DJ and rock n’ roll extraordinaire, who works at a Long Island classic rock station (WBAB, 102.3FM). Not only did he provide some great insight into the radio world, but he makes valid points on music in general; the past and where it might be headed. Here are some highlights from the interview and the 3+ hours conversation that we had; all while he worked seamlessly on the radio:
How did you get your start in radio?
“After graduating from Connecticut School of Broadcasting, I worked at (local station) WNYG. My start in radio was interesting. WNYG was part time, so I also worked at a station out east. I was this young kid on an old person’s radio station. What the bizzare part was, was that I didn’t relate to the music, I didn’t relate to the people. So I had to figure out how to do it. The first thing I started to do was talk about my folks, who were both gone. This one woman calls me up and she says ‘How come you don’t talk about your parents that much anymore?’ I said ‘Well you know, they’re gone and I just don’t want to.’ She says ‘No, no. You miss your parents right? Well my son moved away and I miss him, so every morning when you talk about your parents and I’m having breakfast, I feel like I’m having breakfast with my son.’ And I was just wowed.
I used to sit at night in my bedroom, in the dark, and watch that little red light. I knew that guy. He didn’t know me and I didn’t know him but we were friends because he was part of my night, every night. That’s the guy I try to be on the air because I know that there’s somebody on the other side of the microphone who may be alone or may just want a friend. It’s the coolest job you can have, in my opinion. There is a song by Queen called “Radio Ga Ga” and the first verse goes:
I’d sit alone and watch your light
My only friend through teenage nights
And everything I had to know
I heard it on my radio
THAT’S the reason I’m in radio. You know, I was that kid. I was that kid who sat there and was just really into it. I used to take my bicycle with my radio strapped to the back and ride here to WBAB and I would sit in the parking lot and listen and go ‘I can do that. I’m going to do that one day. I’m going to be in that room.'”
Do you feel like there is a decline in free play/broadcast radio?
“I don’t and I’ll give you a really good example why local radio isn’t on a decline. Last winter when it snowed like crazy, you didn’t listen to Pandora to find out what’s going on. When Hurricane Sandy was kicking Long Island’s ass, you weren’t listening to Pandora. You know what you were listening to? You were listening to me, because I was here. We ran this radio station on a generator during Hurricane Sandy. People were listening to their RADIOS, not their computers. They wanted to know what was going on and we were their only lifeline because most of the other radio stations on Long Island turned and ran the other way. They put the local news on their feed and they left. Christopher Lloyd, our program director said ‘We’re not going to do that, we’re going to hold Long Island’s hand through this. And we did.” So no, I don’t think there is going to be a decline. With Pandora (and the like), what it is, is it’s just a menu with a lot of choices. I’m not that threatened by satellite radio, I’m not threatened by internet radio. It seems that anybody with a computer and a bunch of songs and a program can be their own radio station now. You know what? I think that’s great because it sort of like you can have a bunch of chopped meat and a really good london broil. Both are going to give you that full feeling but you’re going to taste the difference. But when times get tough and there’s an emergency or there’s something going on in the world, you don’t turn to internet radio. You go to local radio.”
With rock n’ roll nowadays, it doesn’t seem like it’s as organic as it used to be. Do you feel rock is on a decline?
“There’s nothing that’s coming out now that’s original. What you’re seeing today is the falling away of the monarchy of rock n’ roll. What you’re going to have that’s left are bands like Fall Out Boy. There was all of these bands that were coming out like The Verve where people said “Oh these guys are going to be the next Rolling Stones!” They weren’t. Bands like Jet, where you’ve heard the tune before. There aren’t bands coming out today that when you see them, they take you somewhere. When you listen to Van Halen, you’re taken somewhere. I’m taken back to college. Bands today tend to borrow a lot from classic rock. It’s unfortunate. I don’t know where rock’s going to be when I’m dead.”
Sitting in the studio with Rocky and discussing everything from contest callers to Kanye (he made the best comparison I’ve ever heard, saying “Kanye West is to music what the Olive Garden is to Italian food. Sure, some people like it. But those of us that know better, don’t.”). Watching him work the mic with station identification spots, callers and song intros, it was easy to tell that Rocky is working his dream job. It didn’t matter if he was delivering the time and temperature or giving the audience a random, funny fact about the next band he was going to play, his enthusiasm matched that of someone twenty years younger than him, just starting out in the business. What radio needs is not a computer picking your songs, but more people like Rocky at WBAB. Someone who knows music and who is very much in tune with his listening audience.
Enjoy your Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio. No one is telling you to uninstall them from your tablets and phones. They’re great forums for music. Anything that allows people access to music whenever and whereever they want is always fantastic. Just remember to visit your friends working at the local radio station.
Thank you to Rocky at WBAB, for letting me invade his “office” and pick his brain for a few hours. Because of the wonderful world of the internet, you can listen to WBAB and Rocky anywhere you are!