The passing of two television icons in the past two weeks got me thinking about my early working career in broadcasting. Dick Clark and Mike Wallace were not only significant fixtures in their respective worlds of rock and roll music and television news, they were also important figures in my early years of development as a broadcaster.
Dick Clark’s career brought back quite a few memories to me. In the many tributes to the American Bandstand host, we read such things as “America’s oldest teenager” attached to the legacy of the man who looked so young for so many years.
The phrase “king of the deejays” resonates with me, for I was one of those folks who played records on the radio for a few years while in college. And like many of the people I knew during that era, Dick Clark personified what I wanted to be.
Let me take you back to 1976 and AM radio station WBRV in Boonville, New York. The station manager had just hired me to fill a Sunday afternoon on-air shift. My only experience was from my college radio station.
That first afternoon was a little shaky, but the adrenaline that kept me going solidified my desire that my future would be in broadcasting.
For three years, I worked at the station on weekends and summers while getting my college degree. I took every shift that was offered to me.
I would be asked for take on a shift most holidays. Vacation shifts needed to be covered and I jumped at the chance to fill in where needed. I did every conceivable type of radio broadcast from music and news, to grocery store grand openings and county fair live remote shows.
I survived an ownership change, usually a time when new managers decide to clean house. I survived because I worked cheap. I never earned more than minimum wage while on the air.
I even tried selling radio time one summer when the new owner assigned me a list of accounts that had not been on the radio for some time.
His regular sales staff had all but given up on these businesses. I would be the station’s last attempt to get them back on the air. I won a few of those businesses back as advertisers.
During that time as a radio announcer, it was the work of another television personality that captured my imagination. While never a big fan of CBS 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace’s style of barging in journalist, I was keenly aware of the power of television news and embarked on a journey that would lead me to a local newsroom upon graduation.
I interviewed for a television job while studying for my finals. I returned to the radio station for about a week after graduation when the television job was offered. TV news would provide my career path for another fifteen years.
But it was that radio station in a small town that set the whole thing off over three decades ago. I often think of the times I had working in what I call community radio.
The announcers were part of the community. The programs had a true local feel as everything from church services to graduation ceremonies were broadcast to an audience who really tuned in to learn what was going on in their towns.
Deejays were not only disc jockeys, but also reporters of lost pets and readers of obituary announcements. They operated equipment as complicated as an audio mixer console, and as simple as a gas powered lawn mower.
A lot has changed over the years as the broadcasting business evolved, expanded, and divided audiences. It was a business I thought I would never leave, and now after thirty-plus years, I’ve had three separate careers.
There were lots of things I liked about radio and television such as the recognition, the almost instant feedback from audiences, and the chance to help people especially in times of an emergency when a radio or television might be the only link someone might have with the rest of the world.
No job is perfect. In broadcasting, the hours were often horrible and the pay at the smaller stations made it easy to want to look elsewhere for something else.
But I take satisfaction of knowing that I enjoyed community radio during those few short years. And maybe, I helped a few people along the way.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.