Monday, December 28, 2009

Bill's Rules for Radio

A dear colleague asked if I had anything I could say to a young woman who wanted to get into radio - "other than 'DON'T.'" So I came up with the following and realized it may apply to to other areas as well. Here goes:
1. Breaking In: Do anything you can, and this means offering to work for nothing (for a while). I wrote jokes for a DJ for free for three months. Then a producer quit and since I seemed to know what I was doing (I went to Emerson College) I was hired to take his place.
2. Start Local: It may be tempting and even possible to start at a network but I suggest you start at a local station. Networks exist to service local stations and once you know what a local station needs you'll have a leg up on lots of people.
3. Learn Everything: Be a jack of all trades. Technical stuff, writing, news gathering, commercial production even (gasp) sales. They're all intertwined, especially at the local level, and once you know where your talents lie you'll be able to move on. And since you'll know a bit of everyone's job people will like working with you.
4. Be Nice: You're going to work with all sorts of personalities, some of them kind of strange. I think there are more egos in local radio (it's the big fish in a small pond syndrome) than in networks...but that's not always the case. Jerks do seem to rise to the top now and then but there's always a target on their backs. Nonetheless, a good rule is to treat celebrities like real people and treat real people like celebrities. I got more scoops from security guards (be extra-nice to them) than any publicist.
4. Don't Panic: Equipment will break. Computers will go down. Guests will not show up. A good producer says "okay" and moves on. There is nothing cooler than that. Screaming does nothing positive. Crying is not productive either but it's OK in private after the crisis is over. It might even help.
5. Ask Questions: If you don't know about technical stuff or procedures it's perfectly acceptable to ask someone else. You might even make a friend or two. And if anyone asks you something you don't know the answer to it's OK to answer "I don't know." Don't make stuff up. It's bound to bite you in the butt.
6. Always Have A Back-Up: This is the first thing I was taught by a veteran NBC tech on my very first internship. Need a microphone? Bring two. Got batteries? Bring extras. Know how to get to the location? Have an alternate route.
7. Be On Time: When you're supposed to go on the air you go on the air or you're fired. No one is going to wait for you. Leave early. Wear a watch. Radio is run by the clock.
8. Get A Life: Know some things besides radio. My hobbies (fencing and cooking) have actually made it easier to interview people. I've been able to make some interesting connections during interviews. Oh, and if you do interview anyone - listen to what they're saying. Don't just move on to your next prepared question. Even if there are no radio-related uses for your hobbies they'll make you a more interesting person and will help you keep sane when things start to suck. And they will.
9. Help Someone Else: Even the competition. Chances are you'll need help some day and you'll be grateful when someone returns the favor. Do watch out for those who always ask for help - they're being unprofessional and leaning on you, and they'll never return the favor. Those people you don't need but they're the exception rather than the rule.
10. It's A Business: And business in America is screwed up. Management decisions will make no sense. You'll want to mouth off but be careful who you spout off to. You often have to grin and bear it. Then you go home and have a drink. If craziness continues you may have to move on. But just know that it's a screwed up business these days and the inmates are running the asylum.

I hope some of this makes sense. Good Luck!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lovely Laid-Off Christmas

"Lovely Laid-Off Christmas" is my very own and very timely song parody. Listen to it on my friend Jeff Young's site, which is

Lovely Laid-Off Christmas

"Lovely Laid-Off Christmas" is my very own and very timely song parody. You can listen to it on my friend Jeff Young's site which is
Give it a listen and let me know what you think!

Friday, November 13, 2009

What I've Learned So Far...

I've got a birthday coming up. So it's time to sum up all my knowledge.

1. There's a very thin line between being a "cool old guy" and being a "creepy old guy."

2. I'm part Italian, part Irish and part French Canadian. So I eat with the Italians and drink with the Irish. I haven't figured out the French Canadian part yet.

3. Two things I swore I'd never do but did anyway - 1) Go into radio. 2) Get married.

3. If I can find a woman who'll agree to our wedding song being "Lawyers, Guns and Money" I'll remarry.

4. Be they child substitutes or (in my case) the girlfriend experience, pets are wonderful companions. But if you think you need a chimpanzee you're nuts.

5. Once a weasel, always a weasel.

6. Not having kids has worked out very well for me. But if you look at #3 you know things don't always end up the way I've planned.

7. As Jim Morrison once said, "you cannot petition the Lord with prayer." As my recent experience seems to prove.

8. Getting along with my ex-wife is something I'm proud of.

9. The lower down the food chain the tastier the food. I haven't met a bivalve I didn't like.

10. It's time like these when I appreciate my friends.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More Dead Celebrity Stories

My last post got such a positive response I decided to come up with a few more:
I may be partly responsible for Wolfman Jack's death. One morning before working a satellite tour with him I asked him if he wanted anything to eat. "A doughnut and a coffee with cream and three, no, four Equals" he replied. A week later he was dead of a heart attack.

During a roundtable interview for "Village of the Damned" a colleague asked Christopher Reeve if his equestrian hobby was dangerous. Reeve literally knocked on wood (a table) and said "I haven't had any accidents yet." Needless to say this was the ironic soundbite I dug up the day after his horrible accident.

I remember telling Ed McMahon that my father, like Ed, is a former Marine. After several hours of working he remembered. "Tell your Dad 'Semper Fi" he said on the way out the door.

A few weeks before doing a satellite tour with Richard Harris I was part of rountable interview where he told us he had started drinking again. Just one Guinness a day he said. When the day came for the satellite tour it was snowing heavily and I snuck out to a deli and bought him a bottle figuring he wouldn't be able to get out to a pub. When I presented it to him he smiled and said "you're a true gentleman." A year or so later during another rountable interview I asked him if he thought his early days as an actor with the likes of Peter O'Toole and Peter Lawford would make a good film. "Oh no" he said, "nor will I write one of those tell-all books. All of the women we slept with in those days are grandmothers now. It wouldn't be fair."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Speaking of the Dead

Soupy Sales' death got me to thinking about all the showbiz types I've met who have since passed on. I met Soupy briefly in New York in the mid 90's when I had to engineer a satellite interview he was doing with a Washington DC based show. He was late and being a live-show TV pioneer he was upset and embarrassed. I assured him the show was taping and it was no problem. But he was still nervous so he told me jokes all morning long. They were silly jokes but the fact that he was telling them to me, and me alone, was a thrill.

Buffalo Bob was a TV pioneer I met in Boston when I worked at WBCN. Bob has finished his interview but wouldn't leave until everyone had their autographs. Classy guy.

Yet another one was Bob Keeshan, aka "Captain Kangaroo." I told him how I heard Hawaii had become our 50th State on his show. As we parted he said "We will meet again." I had a feeling he didn't mean on this earth.

I interviewed Charlton Heston at the Mark Hotel one labor day years ago. I called him from the lobby and he was surprised because he thought the interview was a "phoner." But he told me to give him a few minutes and meet him in his suite. We would have to keep the conversation low he said because his wife was sleeping in the other room. There his was, the guy who played Moses, in his t-shirt pouring me coffee. I normally don't drink coffee but I wasn't going to refuse. I didn't want to get into politics or 2nd amendment issues but I told him how my grandfather hunted squirrels for dinner during the Great Depression. Heston told me they were good eating. We chatted quite amiably and he told me how he march for equal rights and great stories about Ben Hur and his stuntmen. Without being asked he signed a copy of his memoirs for me. Then, weeks later we met again when he came up to our studios for an interview with David Brenner. He recognized me and when I made a stupid joke he pretended to slap me in the face. Just a joke, but the kind of thing the papparazzi would have been all over.

Anne Bancroft was beguiling. We were doing roundtable interviews for "Up at the Villa" and were told to tell her "who you are and where you're from" meaning what media outlet you worked for. But the first person said I'm Robin and I'm from Brooklyn." That was met with "Well I'm Anne and I'm from the Bronx." Her warmth was apparent right away. When I said "I'm Bill and I'm from Brainree, Massachusetts" she replied "Birthplace of John and John Quincy Adams" without missing a beat. Later she showed us how she played characters of different ages. Her hair was died black for younger roles but she flipped it up to show the grey roots underneath that allowed her to play older. If you watch the movie version of "The Producers" look for a scene where Max Biallystock goes into an apartment building. The list of residents on the mailbox includes one "A. Bancroft." This was a tiny tribute to her after she passed away.

One of the younger actors who passed away was Brad Renfro. He was thrust into the spotlight in "The Client" and during the roundtable interviews fidgeted in his seat without saying much. He was 12 at the time and it was to be expected. I did a one-on-one interview with him for "Tom and Huck" a year later. The publicist said "don't expect much" as I entered the room. He looked uncomfortable so I told him, "look, I just need one or two soundbites so just tell me about what it was like working on the film and who you enjoyed working with. Then we can just hang out for the rest of the time without telling the publicist we're finished." That's what we did and when the publicist came back he told her "This guy was the best of everybody."

Another young one was Aaliyah who we interviewed for "Romeo Must Die." She was known for her singing and this was her first acting role. She told us of her hopes saying where she wanted to be when she turned 30. An older journalist was besotted with her which was a good laugh. When she died the following year I cut the interview into soundbites and gave them to CBS News Radio as a favor. The next morning I awoke to Aaliyah's suddenly ironic soundbite about where she wanted to be when she was 30 on the CBS World News Roundup.

One of the oddest things in the world is to cut up an interview into soundbites after a person has died. It's sad to hear them breating and full of life. And if you liked them. you're careful how you cut up their soundbites, wanting to give them their due.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The All Crying Baby Airline

My job search has hit yet another snag and it's time to get creative. So I was thinking - how about an airline that only has infants as passengers? There's already a pet-only airline and while that one is for the benefit of the animals, my infant-only service would benefit adults who would no longer have the screaming banshees to contend with alongside all the other indignities of modern travel.

The cabins would be lined with cribs that have tiny seat belts inside and there would be one or two adult attendants - deaf or hearing-impaired who would see to the little tykes.

I could just imagine the cabin announcement. "Hi kids, this is your captain speaking. I'm the underpaid adult who makes the airplane fly. We're going way up in the sky where the birdies are. But if you see any birdies let me know...and then crawl up into a tiny ball. I want to thank your parents for fobbing you off on KinderAir for our non-stop flight from New York to Los Angeles. Our in-flight entertainment will be a Barney episode that plays again and again - just the way you like it. And for today's meal you have a choice of mashed-up peas adults wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole or chicken nuggets made from goodness only knows parts of chickens. In case of emergencies little masks will come down into your cribs. Put them on your face or just stick the air tubes into your mouths and suck away. In case of a crash landing a big fun slide will come out and you can go weee all the way into the arms of waiting rescue personel. But don't worry about that stuff, just lie back, drool and enjoy your flight."

I could be the next Richard Branson, though I wouldn't waste my profits trying to set hot-air balloon records - heck I could hire nut jobs who want a reality show to do that.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Last Job in America Filled

(New York) U.S. Department of Labor officials confirmed Friday what most of America had pretty much surmised: the last job in the country has been taken. The position, a minimum-wage security guard at a New York city office building has gone to Hector Gomez, 23, of Queens, who told reporters he was "thrilled beyond words."

"It's a power trip," said Gomez, "I only have a G.E.D. and these guys who have Harvard MBAs and stuff have to see me before they can get in the building."

His bosses at Superior Security and Auto Rentals admit filling the position from over 600,000 applicants was easier than they expected. "Anyone with more than a grade-school education was overqualified" said CEO Jerry Sinclair "and anyone who was over 25 is basically too old" he added. Sinclair said Mr. Gomez's chief advantage was that he had only been arrested once, and was dating Mr. Sinclair's daughter, "which should make him easier to find."

Meanwhile, Americans continue to hold out hope that something would open up somewhere. Lines formed in Syracuse NY when a popular fry cook at the downtown McDonalds failed to show up for work Friday afternoon. Managers disbursed over 500 job-seekers telling them the fry cook merely had the flu. Some in the crowd refused to leave in hopes he had swine flu rather than the garden variety influenza.

At the Department of Labor official were less enthusiastic about employment possibilities. One official, who asked not to be identified told reporters the agency was looking into rumors an Arby's in Canada was expanding its midnight to 8am shift but there was little else.

This was way too easy to write - Bill

Friday, October 2, 2009

I'm In My Own Personal Zombie Movie!

"Zombieland" is now out in theaters and you should check it out if you're in the mood for a comedy. I saw it a few weeks ago and it got me to thinking. My life is a zombie movie. In fact anyone who is unemployed (or underemployed) is in their very own zombie movie too. And not as the hero - in fact we're all pretty much undead as far as the rest of the world is concerned. The "living," or more accurately, the employed, shun us. Try getting someone who talked to you about a job a while ago to call you back. Mentioning your employment status kills all party conversations, that is, if you even get invited to parties any more.

Not that we're running around bleeding at the mouth but a recent trip to the Department of Labor had me wondering if some of the people there were about to lose flesh off their bodies. Footage of unemployed people in TV newscasts has us looking bad enough though. But fear not people - we don't crave the fleash of the living. So far the Entemann's Bakery Outlet store here in Queens is sufficing very well.

Oh, and I must apologize for not writing sooner. Frankly I've been in a bit of a funk and kind of turned inwardly for a while. I didn't want to subject anyone to those thoughts. But a good zombie movie lightened me enough to write this piece.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful

The Dogs Days of August are upon us and several of my friends have told me they're becoming depressed. In times like these it helps to count one's blessings. So, with apologies to Ian Dury, I present my "REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL."
1. They finally named a hurricane "Bill."
2. It's tomato season.
3. People who do the hiring will be ending their vacations soon.
4. I'm only hearing about Michael Jackson every 10 minutes instead of every minute.
5. George W. Bush has nothing to do except clear brush.
6. The relative I'm about to ask for a loan hasn't been laid-off.
7. Local businesses I depend on such as my pub, the bakeries and the butcher, are still in business.
8. Big budget movies with overpaid stars are flopping while "District 9," with no stars, made its production budget back in one week.
9. The media keep talking about a financial recovery and the country has this thing about self-fulfilling prophecies.
10. Renee Zellweger flirted with me - OK, I hear she flirts with everyone, but still....

OK, I've run out (and just in time). But feel free to contribute your own.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Drug Dealings

Being in my fifties, my drug of choice nowadays is an anti-inflammatory. Although I swear I got wacked out on allergy medicine the other night and saw that girl from the Disney Channel pole dancing.

I never had much truck with the illegal stuff - I'm paranoid enough. But a recent story on CBS News had me thinking about the prescription drugs I take. It seems the Administration is trying to cook up a deal with the pharmaceutical companies in order to save the Obama health-care plan. This is what my dealings with "Big-Pharma" have been like:

Back in the days when I had a full-time job I had two prescriptions. Lisinopril, the generic form of Zestril, for my high-blood pressure and Liptitor for my cholesterol (to treat a pre-existing love of bacon).

At Duane Reade with the insurance (Cigna) co-pay a thirty-day supply of Lisinopril costs $10 and a thirty-day supply of Lipitor was $30. Not bad really, or so I thought.

Then I lost my full-time job and with it my insurance co-pay. The price of Zestril went to $60 and Lipitor was $175. For one month's worth. Even the people at Duane Reade were aghast.

I had heard Pfizer was giving free medications to those who have been laid-off so I found their website and applied to the "Pfizer Maintain" program (as in "maintain your reliance on our drugs). I was accepted and they quickly sent me a 90-day supply of Lipitor for $0.

Soon thereafter I went to see the doctor and she poo-pooed Lipitor and put me on a generic statin called Simvastatin instead.

So I went to The Rite Aid pharmacy around the corner from my apartment (Duane Reade's long lines were worsening my blood pressure) and they told me the 90-day prescription for both Lisinopril and Simvasatin would cost me about $165. But then they took mercy on me and gave me a Rite Aid Prescription Card. With the card a 90-day supply of both medications was $35. Repeat - 90-days worth of both for $35.

So my question is: How much does this stuff REALLY cost?

And does the Administration really want to deal with these weasels? Obviously they are pumping us and the insurance companies (not that I have any love for them) for every buck they can get. These pills must cost pennies to make - if that.

P.S. Upon hearing that I had lost my job my doctor insisted on giving me a tetanus shot - perhaps she's concerned I'll be dumpster-diving soon.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What If We Marched on Washington?

I'm wondering what would happen if all of us fifty-somethings who are unemployed (or underemployed) were to march on Washington. "Three Days of Peace, Love and Free Prostate Exams"? Perhaps. I can see the Fox News graphic now - "Malcontents March!" Rush Limbaugh would be calling all the middle-aged, ample-bellied participants "communists" though I hope Bill O'Reilly would look at our group with its receding hairlines and think "there but a multimillion dollar contract go I." Rachel Maddow would be on our side but she'd envy our suits and haircuts.

The sheer number of middle-aged unemployed people means we'd break the Guinness world record for "Most Porta-Potties Assembled for One Event" and it would be pretty cool to be part of a world record.

It would be a logistical nightmare. The biggest thing I've ever planned was the Exorcism of Fenway Park in 1992 with Father Guido Sarducci (see us in the HBO documentary "The Curse of the Bambino"). It eventually worked, but it took 12 years. Today's unemployed don't have that much time.

These times being what they are I could actually see someone trying to line up corporate sponsorship of the event. I don't think "A.I.G. Presents the Unemployed March on Washington" would fly but no doubt some company would see the opportunity to reach so many boomers. Most likely Big Pharma would step in with "The Viagra Working Stiffs March on Washington" or something. I hope it's not Cialis. I don't understand their advertising. Who would set up a heavy bathtub when they're right next to a lake? I understand erections cause us to do strange things, but really...

But I digress. Humor aside, it's time something happened to shake up Washington. As Frank Rich points out in today's New York Times most middle-class people think they "got punk'd" by Obama. The banks are back to paying bonuses and holding onto all the money we've been denied for years. Not much has changed in the world for the rest of us.

Jeff Hill, a independent publicist friend of mine had a good point not too long ago. He said companies "cut out from the middle." The executives hung onto their jobs and laid off everyone who actually knew how to do the work. They kept the new, lower paid employees effectively telling them, "Here are your new responsibilities. Your pay is the same. Complain and you'll end up like the old people who trained you - laid off." I can't blame the kids. They're trying to make a living too. But try to get good service these days...that is, if you can afford to buy anything in the first place.

But wouldn't it be fun to see the look on the politicians faces when we all show up? Especially since there's election coming for many of them in November 2010. Al Franken, who has cracked only one joke since he came to Washington (not as many writers as he had in his SNL days that's for sure) would be hard-pressed to say something pithy.

And who would speak at the march? Jay Leno has already entertained the unemployed in several cities and since he has a new show to promote would probably be an easy get. Bill Maher and his crack team of writers would probably offer to fly in on a private jet or something but it would be better to get someone who isn't a wealthy celebrity. Maybe the Autoworkers have a men's chorus or something.

But something has to happen. Let me know if you want to plan it. Me, I'm good at coming up with slogans and stuff. And complaining.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Very Own Julia Child Story

"Julie & Julia" is now open in theaters and with all its publicity you've no doubt heard about it and stories about Julia Child. Here's a story you won't hear from enyone else.

Some 20 odd (and I do mean odd) years ago I was a producer on "The Big Mattress," a morning show on the soon-to-be-extinct WBCN in Boston. One morning I had to call Julia Child (I actually had her phone number!) and set her up for a phone interview she was going to do at the end of the show. She was very pleasant and gave me the details on the charity event she was plugging so I could write questions for the show's host, Charles Laquidara, to ask her.

I gave Charles a list of questions right before the interview and he was fine with all of them except one, which had to do with microwave ovens. "That's a stupid question!"

It was a nice enough interview but it went pretty quickly so Charles had no choice but to ask the question he hated: "So Julia, what do use your microwave oven for?"

She didn't miss a beat. "Well sometimes, when the newspaper boy delivers the morning paper and it's all wet, I pop it in there."

Everyone in the studio howled. The interview ended on an up note and I began to think I might be OK at doing interviews myself.

Friday, August 7, 2009

2 Things

Pork Neck Bones - not quite organ meat but they're within the underemployed person's budget. $1.64 and I broiled them in bbq sauce. They were quite tasty. As the saying goes: "The meat that is sweetest is closest to the bone.

And not too long ago at my beloved pub (Cronin & Phelan in Astoria) I sat next to Joe, one of the regulars. The first thing he said was. "If I pass out tonight I want one of those things, you know, where they don't try to bring you back?"
"You mean "Do not resuscitate?"
"You mean a 'DNR'?"
"Yeah, that's it, I'm giving you power...power of attorney."
Honestly, when was the last time someone who sat next to you at a bar gave you power of attorney? Luckily, Joe stayed conscious all night.

Two Positive Things After Being Laid-Off

Only working part-time has its upsides. But there are very few. Here's another short post friends. One thing is I've gotten to know my neighbors better - not to mention the postman and delivery people. There's my next-door neighbor who is from Morocco and taught me this elaborate handshake that involves a a double-cheek air kiss. He insists its what men in Morocco do. Then there's Ramon, a retired gentleman who keeps dozens of plants in front of his apartment building in order to keep busy. It's a splash of green in an otherwise concrete block. And there's Sol, a retired photographer who worked in the days before digital photography. Nice people. All older than me and they wonder if I'll ever find full-time work.

Another thing is organ meat. Yep, it's cheap eatin' friends. You can get two meals out of a $1.25 package of chicken livers. I'm lucky I grew up eating the stuff or I'd never develop a taste for it. Oh and head-cheese. It's a nice cheap luncheon meat made from a pig's head. When I was in school none of the other kids would trade lunches with me but now I know how to eat inexpensively. Vegetarianism is expensive. And back in my working full-time days the vegetarians called in sick more than anyone.

But those are the only two things I can think of right now. I told you this would be short. You can go back to looking for porn now. I know I will.

The World Needs Another Blog Like it Needs Another Baldwin Brother

So why am I doing this? Basically because I need a place to rant or at least get something off my chest without annoying people in person.

What will this be about? Being a M.A.W.G. (Middle-Aged White Guy). It's a term in William Gibson's book "Pattern Recognition." I'll be discussing my life in general, the media, and whatever else comes to mind.

Who Am I? A fifty-something guy who's divorced, underemployed (who isn't?) and covers entertainment for a large radio network on a part-time basis.

Why should I read this? Because frankly, you've been through every single on-line porn site there is and it's time to take a break kiddo. Besides, I promise to write briefly and you'll be back to boobs in no time.