29 years ago next June, I first drove up the New Jersey Turnpike from suburban Virginia (Falls Church to be exact) and checked in at the Meadowlands Sheraton Hotel. By the time I got there, it was after 11pm, so I went to my room on the 26th floor and started to get ready for bed. I turned on the bedside radio and discovered it was tuned to 100.3MHz...the radio station where I was supposed work. The guy on the air went by the name Jammer and to put it mildly, I was stunned. This guy was rhyming and jiving as much or more than the music and it sounded amazing! I sat listening to him interact with listeners, every break an absolute gem, as I stared out the window at Route 3, filled with traffic, whizzing by even at midnight, and wondering how my life could have taken such a wonderous turn. I was going to be on the air at one of the most legendary radio stations on the planet. I was going to be a co-worker of this Jammer cat, one of the most talented jocks I'd ever heard. I didn't get to sleep until well after 2 that morning.
When I got up, I turned it on and listened to the station again to hear a guy I knew well, Scott Shannon. Scott had been my PD at WPGC in Washington, DC a few years before and had covered more than a few shifts himself while there, so I figured I pretty much knew his schtick. I was wrong. As I sat down to room service, it really cranked up with an extended talk break with two, no three, oops...no, make that four, wait...five other people? Some guy named Ross Britain, a woman named Claire Stevens, another guy with the unlikely name of Professor Jonathan B. Bell were all there with Scott and someone they called Mister Leonard. It all seemed so wildly random and confusing at first. I kept waiting for the inevitable train wreck, but it never came. After less than 3 minutes, I could hear the choreography between the voices, like an incredible broadway show with not one mis-step...and this Mister Leonard dude was freakin' funny!
A car picked me up in my double-breasted suit and small valise (complete with headphones) at 10 and rolled over into Secaucus for my first day at the Z100 plant. It was about as impressive as a trailer park, which is to say...it was not. Up the elevator to the 5th floor in my spiffy suit where I met with Steve Kingston, the Operations Manager. Somewhat short in stature, Steve was a giant in the industry. I had already worked for him three other times; at the aforementioned WPGC, at B-94/Pittsburgh as a voice and at B-104/Baltimore doing mid-days, the slot I was headed for in New York. As he walked me down the hall, here came Scott Shannon in the opposite direction, wearing cut-offs and a paint-stained sweat-shirt, cracking with, "Who dressed you Foxxy? Your mom?" We talked for a minute about our time in Washington and he finished with, "I just got done talking to more listeners in New York than ALL of the people in DC." 3.5-million people? Listening to ONE radio station? I found out later that he was very close to the truth. What a mind-blower.
It was at this point that my story gets twisted. I had already quit my job in Baltimore, my fiancé was getting our house in Virginia ready for sale and Steve Kingston had offered me mid-days on Z100. Between the time Steve had told me to practice saying Z100/New York and my arrival the night before, the current mid-day personality, Susan Leigh-Taylor had accepted Scott's offer of an extended contract. Suddenly, I was out of work. But Steve didn't even blink. He took me back to a small production studio and told me to work there until he could figure something out. At both WPGC and B104, I had been the de facto production director, handling commercials, sometimes promos and everything else that played between songs.
For the next year, that's all I did. For the next year, I fell deeper and deeper into a love of production. JR taught me how to use the giant 2-inch tape, 8-track machine he called "The Beast." He showed me how he used MIDI to control sound effects and music through his Jupiter keyboard and I slowly fell under the hypnotic spell of IMAGING! So much so, that the following June, when Susan Leigh-Taylor decided she wanted try her hand at programming in North Carolina, Steve came to my dinky little studio and said, "It's time." I turned around and said, "Um, no. This is what I want to do."
I don't think he ever forgave me for turning down mid-days at Z100. He was convinced it was a match made in heaven. Eventually, JR Nelson decided it was time to move on, so just a few months later, I moved into his somewhat larger studio with "The Beast," and really started to do the work I was meant to do.
Since then, we've had 3 different homes; the first in Secaucus, the second on the waterfront in Jersey City and finally we made the big jump into lower Manhattan at the old AT&T building (which was the American terminus of the first Trans-Atlantic Cable.) Each time we moved, my studio got a little nicer and better equipped. We made the complete transition into digital audio workstations with the move to Jersey City. Prior to that, it was an analog world with china markers, razor blades and editall blocks. (Don't ask.)
Over the years I've had 7 or 8 General Managers (I've honestly lost count), 5 Program Directors and several company names on the letterhead. It started as Malrite Broadcasting out of Cleveland, Ohio, but went through Shamrock Broadcasting, AM/FM Broadcasting, Chancellor Media, Clear Channel Communications, iHeartRadio and, most recently, iHeart Media. (The last three are really all the same company, with different names.) As I sit here writing this, I keep thinking there was another one stuck in there somewhere, but I can't think of what it was.
I also had the absolute pleasure of getting to know hundreds of broadcast professionals who have all since moved on. There is literally no chance at all that I could remember all of their names here, so I'll only mention a few, in no particular order, with some of them pictured here. Patti Steele (an amazing talent who also happens to still be married to Steve Kingston), Shadoe Stevens, the legendary late Ernie Anderson, Jo Jo Morales (his mom calls him Brian Jacobs), Magic Matt Alan, JJ Kincaid, Elvis Duran, Jack Da Wack, Kid Kelly, Lisa Taylor, Joe Kelly (VO artist extraordinaire), Vic Caroli (you'd absolutely know his voice from MTV), Elliot Segal, the late Spanky McFarland, Steve Kingston, Scott Shannon, Tom Poleman, Sharon Dastur, Rob Miller, Frankie Blue, John Lander, Chris Jagger, Adam Curry (Yeah... the guy from MTV), Sean "Hollywood" Hamilton and Paul "Cubby" Bryant. The last two are guys I still see kicking around iHR/NY because they're both on WKTU. Oh, and remember that Jammer dude I talked about when I first heard Z100 live? When I finally met him back in the day, I was speechless. He was white! Almost painfully white, but I am certain beyond words, the world believed he was a street-savvy, inner-city black dude who could rap with the best of them. Every once in awhile, I'll catch him on Sirius/XM. He's not doing the Jammer thing any more, but Spyder Harrison still sounds amazing; smooth, polished and approachable like I can't believe.
Every one of these people and dozens of dozens more were amazing, talented people who made my time at the Flamethrower (and KTU the last few years) simply tremendous. Each of them had a major impact on my life and literally millions of listeners lives. We all had rough spots, usually creative differences, but in the end, we made magic.
So, why did I drop a letter of resignation on Friday the 13th of November 2015? It was time. Maybe even a little past time. After 28 and a half years of making magic, I've decided it's time to start teaching in earnest. To show the new young Turks how to make that magic. I've been threatening to write a book for at least 15 years, but never seemed to have the time to do it. Now I will. This website's purpose is two-fold; to promote myself to potential VO client stations and to be an outreach vehicle to budding young talent. Through the media, video and sound, I want to help them master creativity, which is not innate, but learned behavior, to understand branding and even comprehend music. Up to now, it's been a shadow of its potential because I never had the time. Now I will.
I've been writing a column in Radio And Production (RAP) Magazine for more than a decade and yet when I go back and read the articles, I feel like I've only scratched the surface. I really need to build a complete foundation for those willing to learn so they can understand the science of what we do, freeing them to truly make the magic happen. I'll continue with my column, but it will be subtley different in the future. I need to up my game a bit so those columns will really help guide someone past all the production mistakes I've made so they can achieve even more.
I'd be telling a bald-faced lie if I said I wasn't sad about leaving this job behind. Contemplating this decision has kept me up at night for weeks on end. It's been a wild and wonderous ride. I've gotten to know more famous people than I would have ever thought possible. I just about wet my pants when a certain extremely well-known music star walked up to me backstage at the first iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas and casually said, "Hey Dave!" I almost choked when two of the most famous rock stars in New Jersey stood on either side of me in the Men's room at the old Stone Pony and one introduced me to the other, without any prompting from me. (We didn't shake hands.)
I'll miss being at the center of the electrical storm that IS a creative session in the PDs office in New York City. I'll miss the jolt of seeing the numbers climb once again as the ratings are opened up in a staff meeting. I'll even miss the challenge of putting together a promo for a Z100 Jingle Ball lineup, filled with 15 or more of the biggest artists in the world...and then doing it all again every week for the following 7 weeks. More than all of that though, I'll miss the people. I'll miss our receptionist, Anita's hearty laugh every morning when I tell her a joke. I'll miss the comical run-ins I have in the hallways as each jock I pass tries to get their voice down lower than mine.
I'll miss all of that, BUT…I need to do this. It's time.
PS: THIS is Spyder Harrison
PSS: Apologies to the talented people whose pictures I showed here. Some of them are REALLY old and I'm sure a few of them are at least a little mortified.