In early September I was asked if I’d consider hosting a morning show in Atlanta. I said no. Morning radio was something I’d wanted to try my hand at in the ’90s when I actually lived there and worked for radio station 99X. It seemed like an unnecessary diversion at this juncture. Plus I’d have to leave New York and move to a city that has no water.
But we talked some more, and when I realized they’d previously been paying an enormous chunk of cash to a guy who I’d never heard a good word said about, I reconsidered. Not just for the cash, mind you, but it did seem like it could have potential for a lot of fun. I got excited about the idea of competing for listeners and spending my afternoons mulling over Arbitron ratings books. And best of all there was the chance I could hire my friend Mark and steal him away from his career as an airline baggage handler. That’s a dream shared by anyone and everyone who knows Mark.
In order to ascertain if the station management was on the same wavelength I drafted a six-page document called A DETAILED ANALYSIS OF THE CURRENT STATE OF MORNING RADIO AND WHY IT OFTEN BLOWS and sent it to them.
It contained thoughts on morning radio including:
The morning radio time slot has traditionally been staffed by radio professionals who, rather than being comedy-proficient or entertaining individuals, are often merely in the right place at the right time. Such as in the station break room when the General Manager strolls in and says, “Can you fill the morning slot, Karl?” The end result is that morning radio, which frequently aspires to be funny and entertaining, is often helmed by individuals who are neither funny nor entertaining.
This greatly diminishes the morning show’s power as a comedic juggernaut.
In it I discussed what makes morning radio blow. In my opinion, and the opinion of anyone with a functioning brain, that included such things as:
Zany sound effects.
Wacky prank calls.
One, two or three people heartily laughing into the microphone when nothing that was said in the last 70 minutes was remotely worthy of such laughter.
Attempting to emulate Howard Stern again.
I even did research, perusing Atlanta message boards for opinions on local morning radio shows. I found lots of opinions, and they weighed heavily on the side of Atlanta morning radio blowing. The one that sums it up the best – with a hint of misogyny – was this one:
“ALL Atlanta morning shows suck. Just play the friggin music, people; if I wanted to wake up to the sound of someone babbling incessantly I’d get a wife.”
I concluded my analysis with some opinions on what I believed would make a morning show enjoyable.
They read it, liked it, and it was determined that we were on the same page. So, I went down there and auditioned over the course of three nights. Two nights with friends from my improvisation days, and one night with Jimmy Baron, who put the 99X morning show on the map back in the day. That day ended, incidentally, when broadcast-megacorporation Cumulus bought the station and stabbed Jimmy in the face.
We had a blast doing the auditions. Not only that, but the programming director taught me stuff. I had made some assumptions based on what I thought I knew about commercial radio – assumptions he was quick to correct: Satellite radio was not a threat, as I had believed, as its market penetration and audience is tiny in comparison. The biggest threat to commercial radio, he told me, was mobile phones. If you don’t capture someone’s interest quickly, they call ma.
He also educated me on the science of morning radio – how the waking brain processes information, and what it needs at 6am as opposed to 9am. It was really, really interesting learning experience, and I love any learning experience that doesn’t have geometry in it.
Alas, Friday I received from him a very friendly voicemail informing me that they’d be going in a different direction with their morning show. I can’t say I’m surprised, as with me they’d genuinely be taking a risk – morning radio is one of the myriad arenas I’m untested in.
Though my wife was relieved to no end, I was disappointed as one is when one doesn’t get the part. That’s something I’ve gotten quite used to after years of auditioning for various things, but no matter how thick the skin there’s always a tinge of disappointment. However, I’m really disappointed for Mark because this means I will be unable to hire him away from his airline baggage career anytime soon.
I wish them luck and hope Atlanta gets an enjoyable morning show. And really, this is a win-win for me. If the show blows, I can simply gloat. And if it’s good, I can pretend they were influenced by call to ending dick jokes and celebrity impersonations. Only time will tell. And even then, someone will have to tell me how it’s going because I live well out of their signal range…up where the water is at.