Tag Archives: Jean Shepherd

“I’m This Kid See…”

Jean Shepherd was a brilliant story teller and best known for his holiday movie classic, “A Christmas Story”.

TBS plays it over and over each Christmas. The one with the famous warning “you’ll shoot your eye out kid”. That Christmas Story.

Shepherd wrote extensively for Playboy and authored a couple of books including “In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash.”

He did a nightly 45 minute program on WOR for almost 25 years.

The show was all talk with the exception of Shepherd playing the kazoo. Just Shep, the mike, his engineer and stories of the army, or his childhood in Indiana.

He was different. This was not the Cousin Brucie Show.

This guy talked right to you. He knew you. He understood the problems you were having as a kid, even gave you tips on handling bullies.

Word about the ‘guy on the radio’ spread around Roxbury High School in mostly hushed tones. “Wow you listen to Shep? Cool”.

We didn’t talk about him in the open. Shepherd was a secret known to only a ‘select’ group at school. Us.

‘Shepherd didn’t view himself as a radio man. He was a performer.

Shep’s radio work allowed him the financial freedom to perform for live audiences, usually at small clubs in the Village.

He had a true love hate relationship with radio.

Shep loved radio for its story telling power. As a medium though it was never good enough for him.

He hated that in radio you were only as good as your next program.

A writer could influence people with their work even years later. Television and movies gave you a video to play again and again.

But a radio show was gone for good. No re-runs, and no way to influence an audience in the future.

It bothered him that a Broadway Show could open to 500 people and still get a story in the New York Times.

But a great radio performance heard by thousands of ears got no outside attention.

Radio performers toil in obscurity.

This was the great Shepherd frustration.

Radio is also the content ‘vampire’. It requires fresh, new material in every show.

Forty-five minutes sounds like the easy, dream job. He made it sound so simple, and spontaneous.

But that 45 minute program sometimes took four or five weeks to create.

“I’m this kid see…” the words signaling a story was coming from the Shepherd childhood.

I’m not sure why I mention any of this except to say it is hard to be great on radio. Even harder to be remembered.

The Arbitron Ratings system requires you to be memorable. Until people meters are in every market, radio ratings will be driven by memory.

How memorable is your station?

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Posted by on May 17, 2008 in Radio programming


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Are You Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Recently I filled in for Joe Galuski on the WSYR Morning News program.

It was hard work.

So much for being told that radio is a lazy man’s profession.

Radio is content. Content requires preparation.

The morning show on WSYR starts at 5AM. Someone has to create the content that appears on the show. I found out fast that someone was ME.

One thing is certain, you can’t go on air at 5AM without doing a lot of preparation.

Our workday started around 3 AM.

Good radio requires constant preparation.

Gary Owens took notes into a little voice recorder whenever he saw something that might make a good bit on radio. He had files of material saved from the recorder notes.

The Jack Benny Show employed several writers and they wrote, then re-wrote the show over several days time. They re-wrote again after the Sunday morning rehearsal and sometimes re-wrote after the east coast performance . The west coast version was often different than the east coast show.

Jean Shepherd might take several weeks to write just one 45 minute show. He didn’t work from a script but instead had ideas, notes and names scribbled on paper. Shep’s thoughts were well planned and always knew how to wrap up when the theme music ended.

Each of these blog articles takes a couple of hours to write and re-write. Yet, they represent only 60 seconds of airtime if read on a radio show.

Gary Burbank put every bit through a process of writing, then re-writing, performing and editing.

Gary wrote early in the morning then arrived at the studio around ten. He wrote some more and recorded then edited in time for the show at 2pm and often continued writing at home in the evening.

The long time Cincinnati Personality Dusty Rhodes was the absolute best I ever saw at preparing a music show. He wrote every word for every break.

Dusty has notebooks filled with past shows all carefully scripted and organized.

No matter your style, careful preparation is key to success on radio. This is extremely important for the voice tracker who works in a world that is disconnected from your radio station.

Remember, many trackers begin their work from the disadvantage of not being in your station or city.

From my experience there are two kinds of voice trackers.

One will walk into the studio and just lay down tracks.

The other takes time to plan all of the breaks, creates great content and then goes into the studio to create a show.

Voice tracking is not easy work. It requires preparation and should make talent want to strive for perfection of content and performance.

Ask yourself some questions about your talent.

  • How much time are your trackers spending on each show? Are they doing a show or just laying down tracks?
  • Ask to see their show prep. It should be the same as if the show were going to be live.
  • Are you treating the voice tracker who works outside your station as a member of the staff?
  • How much help are you providing to your outside voice trackers?
  • Are your music logs loaded into the system several days in advance so the tracker can work ahead?
  • As Program Director be honest about your own show. Are you doing show prep or laying down tracks? What is your show performance communicating to the rest of your staff?
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Posted by on May 15, 2008 in Radio programming


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Keep Your Knees Loose

We ran into a neighbor and her thirty year old daughter at our favorite lunch spot yesterday.

The daughter is happily employed but facing a lay-off, possibly as early as Monday.

She is clearly upset.

The lay-off is through no fault of her own. The company likes her and she them.

She feels betrayed like others in her situation.

“I gave this place my heart and soul and wanted to stay forever.” she said.

Now a reality check for all of us who are employees somewhere.

The average job lasts three years today.

‘Forever’ might not be in the cards no matter how much you love the work.

Companies change.

Industries change.

Hopefully you’ll keep changing too.

No one should want to do the same job, in the same place for thirty years.

My parents generation grew up during the high flying 1920s only to see things turn to Depression in the 30s. Next, they found themselves in the horrific World War of the 40s.

It’s no wonder they just wanted a stable job and a house in the suburbs.

The working world is not what it was even five years ago.

Peter Drucker said business is in a state of ‘perpetual white water’.

Things move quickly and unpredictably.

No company can guarantee your employment. It is up to you to guarantee your employability.

As Jean Shepherd used to say “keep your knees loose gang”.

Be a lifetime learner. Focus on networking and be thinking one or two jobs down the road.

What would you do if the company ‘downsized, rightsized or just outsized you tomorrow morning?

Here are excellent books about taking control of your work life.

  • Dan Miller “48 Days To The Work You Love”
  • Richard Nelson Bolles “What Color Is Your Parachute?”
  • Stephen M. Pollan “Fire Your Boss”
  • Dan Miller “No More Mondays”

My neighbor must think I’m a little nuts talking about how exciting it can be to lose your job.

But people who stay prepared usually do come out with a better situation.

Keep your knees loose.

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Posted by on May 11, 2008 in Radio programming


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Big Ron O’Brien and Great Talent

Ron O’Brien’s passing last week caused a flurry of activity on the web from people looking for information about him.

Ron was a brilliant talent. My favorite memories of him were from his shows on WCFL.

Radio is missing that kind of exciting talent today.

Granted we’re in a completely different era of radio programming than the great top 40 years of the sixties and seventies. There are few truely original talents on today’s radio.

In the ‘old days’, radio was full of characters and innovators.

Frankie Crocker was an early radio hero of mine. I first noticed him on WMCA and never heard his work on WWRL. But after hearing him on WMCA, I decided to see what RL was all about.

WWRL had an incredible talent line-up that included morning man Gregory, Jeff Troy, Jerry B, Al G, Hank Spann and the amazing Gary Byrd. In fact that might be one of the top five best talent line-ups of the era.

Gary Byrd was extremely innovative. He did rap, before anyone knew what it was.

There were so many others in that period.

Jackson Armstrong was a powerhouse jock on WKBW in a line-up that included Danny Nevrith and Sandy Beach to name just two greats heard there.

Armstrong’s fast pace was unlike any other fast talking jock at the time and he was very funny.

Dr. Don Rose combined funny and corny on WFIL. He was an excellent morning man for the time. WFIL had all-stars in every day part. It was the tightest top 40 station with amazing song to song production.

Bill Bailey at WAKY was another who could not be copied. His grumpy rants were hysterical. WAKY’s afternoon guy Gary Burbank was pretty incredible too. ‘Hall Of Fame’ talent on one station in little ol’ Louisville.

There were great jocks in lots of smaller and medium markets.

WARM Scranton was an outstanding station. Harry West did mornings and their whole line-up was solid.

WDRC Hartford, WNHC New Haven, WAEB Allentown and WEEX Easton all had excellent talent.

Almost every town had at least one outstanding station.

Top 40 didn’t have all the talent.

WNEW had an outstanding MOR line-up including the very funny Gene Klavin in mornings.

Jean Shepherd’s late night talk show on WOR got more buzz around Roxbury High School than Cousin Bruce did on WABC. Shep was different. He talked to you like the conversation was just between you and him.

Think about it.

These were high school kids listening to a talk show on WOR. It was your grandmother’s station, except between 10:15 and 11 each night.

KDKA had Jack Bogut in mornings who had a knack for keeping you sitting in the car until his ‘home movie’ was finished. Bogut was as warm and relatable a talent as you’ve ever heard.

Radio encouraged innovation in those days, because it had to.

The era of great radio personalities began as television was stealing the big stars from radio. That’s when Alan Freed, Mad Daddy and Jack Sterling became important. It was a new style, and total departure from radio of the 1940s.

We need that again.

I don’t mean we must find the next Alan Freed. We need the next era of innovation that will capture the imagination of the audience.

Maverick owners like Todd Storz and Gordon McClendon encouraged innovation. They loved big promotions, big talent, lots of excitement and loved taking chances.

I’m not sure either Storz or McLendon could tell you much about accounting.

They sure understood the audience.

No one sitting in the ‘big chair’ at any major radio group can make that claim today.


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