Tuesday February 25th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL
I heard sad news from my friend Jimmy McHugh today that radio station WNTA in Rockford, IL has changed formats from news/talk to “classic hits” - and everyone who worked there got the boot from the entire on air staff to the producers. It’s yet another example of the cruelty of radio.
I’ve been through that scenario myself, and it’s sickening. It always comes out of the blue, but one day the boss asks to see the air staff one by one and the purge is on. Word spreads around the building, but it’s too late by then. Everyone gets their pink slips, and then it’s all an afterthought.
The people that get shown the door are out of the building within minutes, and the rest of those that kept their jobs feel sad - in a way - but also relieved that it wasn’t them. The radio guillotine can fall at any time, and few are fortunate enough to escape the blade at some point in a career.
This news really hit home, as I had done quite a bit of fill in work on WNTA the last couple of years and learned a lot. I was never a talk radio host before - at least not a news/talk station. I did my Sunday night paranormal show “The Mothership Connection”, but that was a different vibe.
WNTA had a current events format, and it forced me to grow by leaps and bounds from a radio standpoint like no other job I ever had. My first radio gig was a classic rock morning show, and I took to that immediately. I had music to play, and all I had to do was fill in the cracks. I was able to do that without thinking. It’s what I do. Talk radio is a different animal, and one that can bite.
The first hour I did it, I knew I was in for some growing pains. I’m fine with being the side guy and throwing in a smart ass comment when needed. That’s way too easy. I’m great at reacting to situations and adding a punch line, I’ve been doing it since grade school. Hosting is a lot harder.
Most people don’t appreciate just how frighteningly difficult it is to sit alone in a room in front of a microphone and just talk much less be interesting for eight to ten minutes. That can feel like eternity. I thought I was relatively witty and a quick thinker on my feet, but those first few feeble attempts to do talk radio were embarrassing. I flat out stunk, and I’m not too proud to admit that.
But without the chance to stink repeatedly, there can’t be growth. Everyone stinks at first in all creative and artistic endeavors, but those willing to press on and pay dues become masters of the craft. WNTA had a long standing staff of talented professionals, and I was fortunate to fill in for all of them during my tenure. I filled in on every shift, and it was an education. I respect them all.
Doug McDuff was the morning show host, and then there was Ken DeCoster, Mark Mayhew, Paul Youngblood and Dean Ervin. Every one of them treated me great, and made me feel like I was part of the station even though I was just filling in. Producers Howard Bailey-Murray and a guy I only knew as Tim were also easy to work with. My entire experience there was pleasant.
Jim Stone is the Operations Manager, and I feel sorry for him because he had to fire everybody as per company orders. He’s got a heart and is a great guy, and I’m sure it was no picnic for him to have to do that. It was sad news all around, but I wanted to pay respects to all those people for being so nice to me when I was there. WNTA will live on in my heart, and I wish them all well.
|I'm very grateful for the air time I had on WNTA in Rockford, IL. I'm sorry to see the station change formats, but that's radio. A whole staff of people lost their jobs, and my heart goes out to all of them. They're all talented and nice people.|