Bits & Pieces from my Radio Career

I spent over three decades in the Milwaukee radio industry.  I dropped out of college after my first semester, (Winter/Spring, 1973), and got a full time job at A O Smith.  I also took some lessons on radio. I would spend an hour in the “On Air” studio, playing music, reading news and commercials and learning the technical aspects.  I was instructed by Gene Johnson, a Milwaukee Legend in radio.  If you live in the southeastern section of Wisconsin, (and are an old fart like myself), you may remember the old commercials for Great Lakes Drag Way……SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!  He’s the dude who did those commercials for years.

I am going to take a quick turn here to explain about my early days of drug use.  I had resisted smoking pot all through high school.  A lot of the other students were “heads”.  My best friend had his own car and he’d fire up a doobie every morning on the way to school.  He tried his best to get me to try it, but I just …….. I think I was afraid to.  BUT….I finally broke down in the summer 1973.  I called my best friend one night and told him I was ready to give it a try.  He came over and gave me my first ounce of pot…..for free.  That was like a whopping $15.00!

I had always been rather shy and found it uncomfortable to socialize with people in large gatherings and where there were people there I had never met.  When I started smoking pot, it got even worse.  For the first 30 minutes after my first high of the day, I experience heightened anxiety.  It takes me some time to adjust to the change in consciousness.  Now, as a child, there were 3 things  I wanted to be/do during my life.  Those three things were: 1. Being a radio disk jockey.  2: Being a Psychologist.  3: Becoming the director of a Symphony Orchestra.  I’ve accomplished two of the three.  Not too bad.  Anyway, when people asked me what I wanted to be I would usually answer with being a DJ.  A lot of people said they couldn’t see me being a DJ because I was so quiet.  And I kind of thought the same thing.  But I made the decision to go for it.

I decided to take a road trip with a friend of mine.  The point of the trip being my search for a job at a radio station.  We headed up to Hurley and spent the weekend there.  We were all set for the week.  A quarter pound of pot, plenty of beer, a couple bottles of Jack Daniels, some reds, white cross, blotter, etc.  That Monday, we began our trek.  I don’t remember much about the trip.  But I know we stopped at over 10 radio stations.  The last stop was in Watertown, Wisconsin.  They had a part time opening available.  The Program Director had me read some news copy and a few commercials and hired me on the spot.  I should add that I had hair halfway down my back along with a beard.  I definitely gave the impression of being a “hippy”.

I worked there for about 6 months and then a full time opening became available.  I had been making some pretty good money at A O Smith.  I would be taking a very big financial loss to take the job.  But I simply had to do it.  Things were tough for while.  I even worked a part time job driving one of those restaurants on wheels….Chuck wagon.  After about a year of working full time in Watertown, I heard about a part time opening at WZUU in Milwaukee.  I sent in my tape and resume and I got the job.  And with that, I began my Milwaukee radio career.  I’ve worked at quite a few stations here.  WLPX, WQFM, WBZN, WJZI, WKLH and 1 or 2 others along the way.  When I returned to college in 1986, I continued to work full time doing a morning show at WBGK.  When that station fired the entire on air staff, I took another morning show gig at the “New Age” station, WBZN.  Once I completed my college studies, receiving a MS in Educational Psychology, I spent the next 15 years working in the Mental Health field.  I was a Case Manager, working with adults who had been diagnosed with a severe and persistent mental illness.  All the while I was doing that, I was also doing one or two weekend air shifts at Milwaukee’s Classic Rock station, WKLH.

In 2001, I decided I had had enough of the bureaucracy crap and I handed in my letter of resignation.  Five minutes later, I was taken into my supervisor’s office where they fired me.  They said they felt my paperwork wasn’t done as timely as it should be.  No problem.  In fact, it saved my life, (I received unemployment for 26 weeks).  I left mental health because I wanted to get back into radio.  It took me 11 months to finally find a radio gig.  Unfortunately, the position was for a time pig, ( sales).  I had to take it because I was dying financially.  As luck would have it, two weeks after I started, the Program Director was fired.  This opened up a new opportunity.  They promoted the Music Director to the PD position, (he and I are old buddies).  He was able to convince management that I would best serve the station as the Music Director.  I also did the afternoon drive time shift.  My favorite aspect of that job was the local music program I produced and hosted.  This radio station was doing the “Smooth Jazz” format, “Smooth Jazz…WJZI….Milwaukee”.  Milwaukee has a decent Jazz scene.  Actually, it’s better than decent.  We ran promos on the air asking local jazz musicians to submit some of their material.  I received a ton of unbelievably great music.  Although the show ran from 6 – 8AM Saturday mornings, it was quite popular.

In January, 2004, I was diagnosed with Chronic Hepatitis C.  The treatment is a form of chemotherapy.  Very nasty stuff.  But you can read about that on my Hep C page.  Long story short:  The station’s General Manager, Bill Hurwitz, told to take 2 weeks off to allow my body to acclimate to the meds.  On the day of my return, Mr. Hurwitz called me into his office and informed me that the station was making a “change”, and that they felt I wouldn’t “fit in”.  He handed me a legal document, a Termination Agreement.  (I should mention that I was on the Family Medical Leave Act at the time).  This agreement contained a clause stating that I would not seek legal recourse for being terminated.  If I didn’t sign the agreement by a certain date, I would lose all benefits I had coming.  Stuff like vacation pay, severance pay and other sundried items.  I could have taken it to court, but I needed the money.  By pointing out to Mr. Hurwitz that I was on Family Medical Leave, I was able to get him to agree to cover my COBRA for the duration of my treatment…….48 weeks.

*****WARNING******  Don’t work for Bill Hurwitz.  His wife or mother, received an Arbitron Ratings Diary.  Arbitron ranks the radio stations in Milwaukee.  And stations base their sales rates on the Arbitron Ratings.  It is illegal for family members of anyone working for a radio station to fill out and return an Arbitron Diary.  Hurwitz thought it was hilarious and ensured that everyone in the building at that time, heard his vocalization of his family member’s reception of an Arbitron Diary.  The Sales Manager at the time, Tracy Northrup, also had a friend or family member who received an Arbitron diary as well.  I contacted the FCC and informed them of what had happened.  I’m assuming nothing came of it.  But Bill Hurwitz isn’t a legend in Milwaukee radio.  Bill Hurwitz is considered to be a  terrible boss.  The only way to move up under his management is to kiss his dairy air.  Are you familiar with the term “Penis Envy”?

Do I sound angry?  I don’t mean to.  But anyway, this page is where I’ll be posting any old newspaper articles, videos and/or mp3s that I dig up.  Thanks for letting me rant a little bit.    : )  Peace!  Jeff

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One Response to “Bits & Pieces from my Radio Career”

  1. WAY TO GO JEFF !!!

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