Monday, July 10, 2017

Radio Days: Going On the Record With One Story

Marc Maron recently hosted comedian Jason Mantzoukas on his podcast (WTF). Jason has a number of credits and is cohost of the "How Did This Get Made?" podcast. During their conversation, Jason talked about becoming general manager of a radio station, being tasked to purchase $3,000 worth of records, and how it was the "best summer" he'd ever had.

Marc Maron (left) and Jason Mantzoukas
The anecdote brought back memories from my college radio days and I wrote a quick email to Maron. However I also wanted to share it more widely, so here it is:

I attended Queens College and on my first day, I went down to the radio station (WQMC 590 AM) and signed up for anything I could possibly do. I auditioned for a DJ spot and didn't make it, but became a newscaster and engineer for other people. Over the next two years, I became the "go-to" guy for sound editing on AMPEX mono reel-to-reel machines and dubbing pop songs onto
carts.

The station had security problems (i.e., no security). There was a sign-in book that was routinely ignored by everyone. Even when the station board passed an edict that if you didn't sign in, you would be suspended from your air shift, nobody signed in. INCLUDING the general manager, chief engineer, program director, and music director.

In the fall of 1984, Bruce Springsteen's BORN IN THE USA and Prince's PURPLE RAIN were huge on radio. But our DJs had to rely on old carts of the singles or bring in their own copies to spin.

We had no budget. Some of our staff visited WLIR on Long Island, under the premise of delivering some mail to former Queens College student and WQMC News Director - either Larry Dunn (Larry the Duck) or Mark "the Shark" Drucker. They thought maybe WLIR could donate some equipment that they had decommissioned. They returned in a state of shock - OUR dilapidated hardware was better than WLIR's ancient equipment.

Finally, on the verge of a DJ revolt from lack of current releases, I suggested we hold a bake sale. "How would be do that?" someone asked. "I'll bring a folding table from home, you buy some cookies from A&P," I explained. A group of people committed to buying stuff. On the agreed day, we set up shop for three hours, with no notice or permission from anyone on campus. We sold everything and made $200.

I was business manager for the station and technically that money should have been deposited into our account. But I said, "Come on." Two board members piled into my car and we drove to Sounds on St. Mark's Place. We bought 36 albums – rock, blues, punk, funk, and comedy (I did a one-hour comedy show every week with classic and original bits).

We brought everything back to the station and marked all the covers and record labels "Property of WQMC."

The general manager watched us, then borrowed the copies of Prince, Springsteen, and a few more in the top 10. He burned new carts of the hit singles. "Why?" I asked. "Now we have the records."

He just nodded at me.

I left feeling elated. In less than a week, we had engaged in positive change. As I walked out of the station, the DJ was spinning tracks from six different brand new used records we had just left in the record library.

Two days later half of them were gone, including Springsteen and Prince.

The general manager quietly put the carts of the hit singles in the live studio. He patted me on the shoulder and said, "You fucked up. You trusted people." He paused, then added, "You're not thinking about running for GM next year, are you?"
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