Monday, March 06, 2006

Ennui Killed The Radio Star

A 25 year old Weasel (in sunglasses) 18 months into his radio career.

Weasel at the end, after the stations were mercifully sold.

Until last Thursday, I had played at radio on and off for 8 years. For a while I yelled and played rock music for a living, and more recently I have done it as a hobby with our local community station, WRFR. At the start of the year, WRFR had one of its periodic burst of energy, with new committees being set up to take the station forward and so on. With my previous life a matter of public record, it wasn't long before I was asked to get involved with the admin side of things (something I had promised myself I wouldn't do even though my career- broadcasting and non-profit admin/management- lent itself well to the needs of the station). I ummed and ahhed about it; did I really want to essentially add another four hours or so a day to my day job in the name of my hobby? No, because I'm a coward and the task in front of the station is daunting.

Professional radio was fun 48% of the time. The rest of the time, when I was off air or not writing cute little jokes or playing with new CDs, was enough to turn me from the trim, carefree lad in the first picture into an overweight chain smoker with persistent heartburn. I never had the drive to try and see if I could keep at it; frankly I've always felt that the rise of Clear Channel et al made that career field somewhat odious and I enjoyed being willfully obscure a little too much. My time at WRFR was great because all I had to do was write cute little jokes and play with new CDs. Two hours a week on a Thursday night, suitably obscure so that nobody was turning off "Must See TV" to tune in, and a chance to make a continually shifting mix tape; it was a real treat. Nobody really listened, I could fart about with stuff that made me laugh, I wasn't under orders from management to interview anybody, and finally and most importantly, I wasn't management in any sense. I didn't have to hold anyone to account. I didn't have to fret about ad revenue. I didn't have to deal with the lunatic egos of DJs. I could play all the Bowie songs that made me smile and I could crack gags that made myself giggle. I didn't care if anybody else liked it.

As the reform juggernaut began to gather pace at WRFR, I reluctantly agreed to take part in a couple of committees and I learned the depth of the challenge ahead for the station. Suffice to say, both my broadcasting and non-profit circuits were overloaded by the herculean task of kicking the station into some sort of sustainable shape. So I decided to quit. And with that, I decided I had to fold my show. Ethically, could I still sit in the studio for my show every week knowing that all around me folks were working to try and implement changes that I was qualified to help with in many ways but I chose instead to do nothing but play? "No" is the correct answer, if you were wondering. Besides, my show wasn't coming up to my standards. I wasn't really doing anything new from when I started out in 1997. The same format, the same sort of gags and riffs, the same persona projecting the same exagerated eccentricities; I could see it rapidly losing it's lustre and decided to jump before I pushed myself.

And then tonight I got this email: "My wife and I heard you on the radio last week on WRFR and I have to say we haven't laughed that hard in years! Do you sell any CDs or audio tapes with your segments?" I suspect a plot by station management to get me to stay.. Seriously, I was really touched: I suppose this shows that I'm going out on top. I also saw that Charlie, whose show I followed, had put up a nice post about my departure. If you are interested, there are samples of some of our handover conversations over at Chas Radio.

I do have regrets. Small ones but regrets nonetheless. I've done the right thing though. And who knows? Maybe a comeback is in my future. The mediums are multiplying and the technology is getting cheaper. Perhaps alter ego #1, Elvis Parsley, will ride again in all his vainglorious idiocy.

Oh, and keep listening to Charlie; 5-8pm on Thursdays. He rocks, in an entirely insanely unhinged brillant sort of way.

8 comments:

Mondale said...

I want to do Test match special with you. Or at least a commentary on a game somewhere, somehow, sometime.
Preferably five or six hours of self indulgent waffle with something going on in the background.
And cake.

weasel said...

Being management, I once put myself on the roster to do colour on two state championship soccer games because I could. I got to fulfill a lifetime dream at the final whistle of the boys' game by giving them the "there's people on the pitch.." line. I got to use every cliche in the book that day.

Cricket though; now that would have to be the perfect job in sports broadcasting. Travel to exotic climes, eat cake, and gab for 8 hours about whatever comes into your head while seated in an agreeable armchair.

Listmaker said...

long live elvis parsley. those mp3s are a lot of fun.

weasel said...

I accidentally blew up a comment from RPS, which was nice about me I'm going to re-post it:

"...the radio star....

Definitely the finest red-headed English early-morning DJ radio star I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. AKA “The Natural.”

Many many memories — one that comes to mind immediately (which I will never forget) is the catapult attack (with diseased farm animals) on the Bangor Mall."

Anonymous said...

I saw you had commented in a blog made by Chas which referenced me. I get the impression that the two of you don't think much of my work. I already commented in his blog but whatever people think of my radio style, at least I am still hosting my show and didn't "quit." Maybe you and three or four other people at WRFR think I should quit, but I don't intend to.

It takes a lot of class to give your expert opinion on the quality of my show since you don't even know me. What business is it of yours? I have eight years in radio, just like you, even if it is only two non-commercial stations.

As for me not addressing this earlier, I never even saw that blog or your comment until last week when another DJ pointed it out to me.

My radio voice is no worse than several other people at WRFR. There are some folks there who spend a lot more time talking on the microphone than I do, including people with music shows. That is a fact.

The only reason I do a show is to promote bands I enjoy listening to. End of story. I am not there to be a star, a comedian or a Howard Stern clone like some people. I play bands who aren't getting spun on any other station. I've done that since day one.

As for people who think I suck, let them worry about their own shows before making witty comments about me. I've got better things to do than badmouth other shows or their hosts. I could easy enough if I wanted to, but I choose to keep quiet. Too bad more people at WRFR didn't mind their own business. It'd be a much better station.

Regards,

Will Matson

weasel said...

Will: calm down. You might have to learn how to take some gentle ribbing if you want to stay sane in this world.

For the record: I think your show is a valuable addition to WRFR (one of the few original things on it). However, your personal style of presenting is public property. If you don't like people commenting on your dry monotone and pedantic vocal tics, get off the air. And don't throw around your "experience" if you haven't seemed to learn anything from it. I'll put your years on non-commercial up against my time managing a successful commercial station chain any day of the week.

I have defended you against malicious attacks before, in public and in private, as well as against station VIPs who were hinting that one of the reasons they wanted a pro manager was to refine the presentation skills of certain hosts. However, I draw a distinction between ribbing and insult that you apparently don't. You need to become a hell of a lot less sensitive, young chap. Also, bear in mind that this isn't the first you have heard of this: perhaps rather than crying about it you might want to use some introspection and wonder why everyone thinks you sound so "distinctive".

People don't need to go to broadcasting school, copy an exisiting style (why does everyone cite Stern? Stern is annoying and played out) or sound like a commercial "Hey Mr DJ" idiot to be interesting on the radio. They should however have something interesting to say in a way and the ability to ever so slightly modulate their voice. If you want to promote bands without caring how your show sounds, perhaps you'd be better off with a newspaper column.

If you want to fight Will, bring it on. I'll post some old archives of my former shows and we can invite folks to listen to your show on the stream and then we can see if I know what the hell I'm talking about.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you think the show is a valuable addition. However, you and Chas are completely missing the point. I could care less if people criticize my show. My main gripe is where it is coming from. I don't think other WRFR programmers have any business criticizing other shows on the station. Whether or not you want to admit it, there are people on the staff who sound worse than you think I do. There are also people who mail in their programs by showing up, putting on a cd and letting it run for an hour. At least I work at it.

I've been at WRFR for nearly 5 years now and you don't see me criticizing other shows, regardless of what I think of some of them. Simple as that. It has nothing to do with me being sensitive. I just find it hard to believe people at the damn radio station don't have enough class to quit running their mouth other shows at the station. I think some shows at WRFR are lame and some broadcasters suck, just like me, but I don't go around broadcasting it to people. I have enough respect for the work that they do to leave it be.

How do you know what I've learned from my experience in radio? My show is a lot different than it was nine years ago when I was doing it at a college station. I'll give you tapes for evidence, if you like. As for your comment about me getting off the air, why should I have to apologize for tics or a monotone? That is how I speak off the air. Hey, public speaking is not my expertise. What do you want me to say or do? Sorry to disappoint you, chap.

Hey, I had a Cindy Brady lisp when I was five years old but I'm not apologizing for that either. Who are you to say who belongs on air at a volunteer radio station? I don't care what kind of experience you have or what chain it was.

Nothing you are saying is news to me. I am well aware that Barry, Joe, Phil and numerous other WRFR staffers have long criticized my program. They've openly bashed me for years and even tried getting me taken off the schedule a couple times. So what? I do the best I can. I don't go on air planning to tank a show or drive listeners away, like you and them seem to think. I sound how I sound. Some radio DJ's are good and some are bad. There are also people on commercial radio who have no business being on air. Go bother them. The difference is I am not getting paid, so I don't have to apologize for sucking on the air every week. I'm trying my hardest and I sleep well at night knowing that.

I do care about how my show sounds, so what is this drivel about how I "don't care" and should be writing for a newspaper? Sorry, man. Who am I supposed to write for? The Free Press? They are too busy syndicating a jerk like Dave Barry, who doesn't need the coverage, to let anyone local write for them. Like I told you before, that is my natural speaking voice so it isn't changing.

There is a difference between ribbing and insults, you say? Well, I knew that. However, there is also a difference between having respect for other people you "work" with and saying stuff that will only start trouble. Especially when I've never done a damn thing to you, Chas or anyone else at WRFR. Go ahead and name somebody who I've run through the mud.

Anything you can say about my weak broadcasting skills I've already heard before. I've always told people I am average at best. I've said that for years. So it isn't news to me.

Look at it this way. If every shitty Major League Baseball player or NBA player were to use your logic and "get out of the league" then who would be left to fill up their rosters? At any given job, some people are good and some people are bad. I know I am bad. Sometimes I can be pretty bad. I don't mind hearing it from listeners. I am at peace with this. However, I don't need to hear it from people at a station who are supposed to be on the same side and same team.

If people have a problem with my broadcasting, let them come into the studio and say it to my face. The only ones who ever have are Joe and Phil.

Regards,

Will Matson

Anonymous said...

About your challenge at the end of your reply:

The only one picking a fight here is you. I have no interest in hearing your old shows, so go ahead and feed your inflated ego by listening to your old tapes. Do whatever the hell you want with your old shows. They don't mean a thing today, except to your fading memory. I don't have a shelf full of my old radio shows because once I am done with a show, it is out of sight and out of mind. I don't live in the past and crow about radio shows from a few years ago, which you did at the end of your reply. I'm lucky if I record one show a month and that is only because people occasionally ask me for a copy. Maybe they post it on the internet to pick it apart or make fun of, like you'll say, but I'm happy to oblige them.

You're the one issuing challenges, not me. The only one in this conversation who is saying he is great is you. You trashed my voice and suggested, not once but twice, that I am not fit to be on radio. You are talking about how you want people to compare my show side to side. What is the point in that? To make you feel good about yourself because you are "better" than me? We play a completely different type of music and I intentionally avoid doing jokes on my show. It is a straight music show, pure and simple. I have to ask again. When did I claim to be better at broadcasting than you and issue a challenge or pick a fight?

You know, I wouldn't expect some arrogant Englishman to find my show interesting, so I don't have to take your advice saying I should get out of radio. The only people I care about liking my "Smash Alley" show are people who like 1980's hair bands, arena rock, AOR and some European melodic rock groups. You know, the type of stuff you probably make fun of. It is a niche program, not one that I am pitching to a huge audience. The music and playlist are what I build the show around. I'm well aware my voice and personality doesn't sell the show.

I have heard from plenty of people who like the show, even people who were total strangers and had no reason to lie. I let listeners (and musicians that I play) know how to reach me and hear from people fairly regularly. Whether or not they are bullshitting me doesn't make any difference, since most of the time I am reading this feedback by email.

Thanks for the advice about how to be an interesting DJ. You should save it for a guy who wants to be successful in radio and make it to the next level. Why would I want to be in commercial radio? They'd never let me play the music I like spinning, so I wouldn't be happy. I'm just at WRFR because it is a hobby and I love most of the music I play on my shows. I'm at the station for the right reasons, not just to pad my resume and try to get a job with Clear Channel. None of that matters to you or any of the VIP's at WRFR, though.

Your sensitive remark is wrong. I don't need a pat on the back or for people at WRFR to say they like my work. I prefer to be left the hell alone and not have people put down my hard work. It is damn rude to hear the junk that people from the station say about me all the time.

Just because people think I stink doesn't mean they've got to talk about it on internet blogs or sit in the WRFR studio and tell anyone who will listen that I suck. What are they expecting to accomplish? I plan on doing my typical show this Monday, even if an Englishman or station manager thinks it is dry and boring.

Freedom of speech allows you to criticize my show. However, I do have the freedom to reply and I don't have to like what you say. So why are you making me out to be a jerk for defending a radio show that I have been doing for nine years and has my name attached to it?

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