Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince and "Ron On The Radio"

Yesterday, along with the rest of the world, I learned about the death of Pop Music Icon, Prince.  

As I scanned social media and cable TV news stations there were plenty of tributes and remembrances shared by his peers in the music business and his fans. 

Anyone who has ever bought any of his albums, attended his concerts, or ever heard any of his songs has been touched by his talent to some degree. 

Although I am not a fan and can only count myself in the latter of those 3 connections, a Prince song is a musical reminder of one of my favorite times of my life. Here's my Prince story.    

In April 1984 I was in my early 20s and still living at my parents house in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. One of my life ambitions was to work as an on-the-air radio DJ.

A friend of mine, John Katinis, was working overnights on the weekends at a local FM station, Q100. I used to go and hang out with him every once in a while. He would let me use the station's production studio to tape my own music programs to play in my car. This really whet my appetite for getting into radio. 

Early in 1984, John moved from 3rd shift at Q100 to working Saturday afternoons at a small AM station in nearby Washington, NJ. When he found out that management was looking for someone to work weekend mornings he suggested I go apply for the job. 

A cassette tape with small samples of my in-studio recordings was my audition, I went to the WCRV offices. I don't really remember who I talked to or what was said, but I got the job. In hindsight I think just being a warm body willing to come into work on weekend mornings and  not looking like a serial killer was all I needed to get the job. But it didn't matter. I was totally excited. I had my first job in radio. I was going to be doing something I'd dreamt of ever since I was 10 years old. 

The station's facilities were in a converted residential home on the outskirts of town. The main studio was in a room at the front of the house with a picture window that looked out on to Route 31.   

I don't know what the exact power of the transmitter was but I do know that the signal barely reached my house just 12 miles away. My parents had to set their portable radio in a specific place in their living room in order to hear me on the air. 

It was on a Saturday morning in April 1984 that the "Ron on the Radio" program debuted. It would be on the air most weekend mornings for the next 3 years. 

I have so many stories about my time there. They include: having a blind program director who worked on the air, being scared by a stand up cut out of the group Naked Eyes and a dog doing his "business" in the middle of the sales office about 10 feet away from the studio door while I was on the air. Perhaps one day I will share the details of all of those incidents with you.  

Now let's get to the Prince connection. To do so, I have to take you into the on-air studio itself. I have found a picture to use as an example. Now this isn't exactly what WCRV's studio was like but it gives you an idea.

Even back in 1984 this was an "old school" studio. It had an antiquated sound board, a couple of tape machines that played self-rewinding tapes, and a couple of turntables The tape were officially called a "Fidelipac"  but to me it looked like a fancy 8 track tape. They were played in a front-loading machine. Here's a couple of pictures that show you what I'm talking about. 

This was in the days before computers, CDs and digital music. So the music I played on the air was on vinyl records. The format the station used was "45s". If you don't know what that is google it. 

WCRV's music format was a mixture of  contemporary pop and golden oldies.  We played most of the songs that were on the pop music charts. Some of the more popular songs were played more often in what is known in radio as the "hot rotation." 

In April 1984 the song sitting at #1 in that rotation was Prince's "When Doves Cry". This is what the 45 single on the Warner Brothers record label looked like. 

I have to admit that the song is not one of my favorites but it is mentally and emotionally connected to my early days as a radio DJ. So whenever I hear it now, I can't help but think of my time at WCRV 1480 AM, which later changed to it's call letters to WSRR.

Other songs that have that same connection for me are: "Take On Me" by AHA, Tina Turner's :What's Love Got To Do With It" and "Oh Sherrie" by Journey lead singer, Steve Perry. 

However, without a doubt my all-time favorite musical memory from my days at WCRV is discovering a Christmas time novelty song. It was a popular sound of the season back then and continues to be a holiday favorite, especially among Star Wars fans. "What Can You Get A Wookie For Christmas" is among the songs at the top of my favorite all-time Christmas novelty song list.

It's been 30 years since I first started working at that small station but in addition to the musical memories I still have a connection to some of the people I worked with there as well.

I'm still in contact with my friend, John, through Facebook. Occasionally, I hear Scott Wetzel, who was the sports guy at the station, when he hosts his own sports talk show on the Mad Dog Radio channel on Sirius satellite radio. That's a pretty good gig for a guy who came from such humble beginnings. 

So there you have the story of my personal connection to Prince. The world is sad at his passing but his memory will live on as does my personal memory of playing his 1984 #1 hit at my first radio job at a station in  Washington, NJ. 

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