A YEAR OF MORNINGS IN NEW YORK RADIO

February 8, 2014

I was given the morning show after a series of drug-related screw ups by long-time legendary morning host, Dave Herman.  Apparently, Dave would go to a show or event the night before his show, do the drug everyone was doing at the time, peruvian marching powder, and suddenly find it was getting close to the time he had to work.  To calm down enough to be able to talk, he must have taken some form of sedative.  One morning, he must have taken a strong one, and was slurring on the air.  Donna Fiducia was doing his news, and she was trying to remember something that she couldn't and said, "oh, it's on the tip of my tongue."  Dave responded in a very inebriated manner, "Oh...what-a love----ly---place to be."  

My brother heard this, and called me. My apartment was 12 blocks away from WNEW-FM.

"Hermit crab.  On a wing.  On a violent drug.  Get in as fast as you can."

I hurriedly threw on clothes and got to the station in about 15 minutes.  Dave said something about an inner-ear problem.  I looked down at the sheet where we wrote down what we played and saw that his writing was all messed up. Toward the end of his last song, a line went from the middle of the song title down to the bottom of the page.  I did the show and thought nothing of it.  It was the crazy 80's.

Shortly afterwards, I was asked to take over the morning show.  The powers that be, Mike Kakoyiannis, the general manager, Scott Muni & my brother all agreed that I should do mornings, keep Pete & Scott where they were, move Dennis Elsas out of early evenings and put in Meg Griffin in 6-10. Dave would then be on the air from 10 pm - 2 am, the time slot in which he became famous in Philadelphia for his show "The Marconi Experiment."  The overnights would be handled by Tom "the brick" Morrera.  

I could not refuse to take over the morning show, but I knew that it would be difficult.  Despite Dave having personal issues at the time, he had been doing the show for almost 15 years.  He was a legend, a fixture and a music lover.  He had many fans.  I asked him for permission to visit him at his home. He said yes.

I went there to explain that the show was nothing I actively sought.  I was asked to do it and did not see a way not to.  I needed to know that he would be alright with it and not hold it against me.  He said, "o.k.," but I knew he was struggling with it. I left feeling that I had done the right thing in a difficult situation.  It turned out that for many years, Dave forgot about the meeting.  It was only after I had spoken at a tribute to Scott Muni and re-told that story with Dave sitting next to me on a panel that he admitted he had forgotten about it and and that it was a blessing from Scott that I got to remind him about the respect I showed him.

Dave's style on the air was very mellow and gentle.  He started his shows by saying "Good-just-barely morning" with a slow cadence.  I was very different.  More energy and humor.  More uptempo music.  I figured if you had to wake up, you should embrace it and have fun.  This was the year before "the morning Zoo" at Z-100 took to the air with a similar attitude and that show was influential in taking the station from "worst to first."

To launch my show, the station took out an 1/8th of a page ad in the daily news with a hand-drawn picture of a baseball bat with hands up and down it.  It announced the whole new lineup of the station.  To say I was underwhelmed is kind.  New York City is the biggest radio market in the country. There are millions of advertisers competing for people's attention.  An 1/8 page hand-drawn ad in one newspaper meant NOTHING.  It wasn't even for my show only.  

My brother has written in his book that the radio station gave me the most advertising support than any other show in the station.  That is simply not true.  He must have felt guilty on some level, and, as he usually does, justified horrible actions with distortions.  I refer you to the web to find the television commercial that aired in support of his and Mark McKuen's morning show after he took over. The frequently aired television ad featured Richard & Mark in a take off on  "Miami Vice."  Mark McKuen & he modeled themselves after the popular television show to have a schtick.

Predictably, Dave's fans were aghast.  I was too rude...too loud...too energetic. 

At the same time, I was getting terrific response from other listeners.

I booked guest interviews.  I had interaction with Earle Bailey, who in addition to doing the news in the mornings, was asked to be the production director for the station (in other words, producing all of the on-air materials that weren't provided by ad agencies) and to be a weekend personality on-air.  Poor Earle was asked to do 3 jobs, starting at 5 a.m. during the week and leaving oftentimes around 7 or 8 pm, sometimes later.

We then came up with an idea to produce Finally Friday. Every Friday, Ray D'Ariano would join me on the air to add extra funny to the show.  We would book guests, like Joe Piscopo, Soupy Sales, The McKenzie Brothers (Rick Morannis & Dave Thomas from SCTV) and have so much fun. The last Friday of every month, we would do the show in front of an audience live from the Bottom Line.  For that show, we would have a live band play at 9 a.m.  Scandal (starring Patty Smythe) and Marshall Crewshaw are two artists who agreed to get up at that ungodly hour and play in front of an audience in the club and on the air.  

After six months of mornings, I was told that after every show, I would have to visit with my brother for him to review the show.  Then he would send me down the hall to our general manager's office.  My brother's sense of humor is quite different from mine.  What Ray and I would find hilarious, he didn't get.  I would often get questioned on it.  As anyone knows, explaining a joke is not funny.  It would always frustrate me to talk with him.

Then, I would go down to talk with Mike Kakoyiannis, and he would tell me something opposite of what my brother said.  He'd find the stuff funny that Richard didn't and the stuff that Richard did, he wouldn't.  Mike had a nickname amongst the people on the staff: "Ricochet G.M."  Bing bing bing...after the cartoon Ricochet Rabbit.  His philosophy was widely known as "Ready.  FIRE.  Aim."

I made a HUGE mistake by taking the show without agreeing to what to what I would get paid.  Consequently, Mike was paying me the Union minimum while I was on the air and my lawyer was "negotiating" with him. Negotiations were going nowhere.  I started an on-air campaign to "Give Dan-o a raise."   People started calling and writing Mike.  I think that might have been the last straw.

After a month of the torturous exercise of going from one office to the next, I was told by Mike one morning that from then on I would be seeing only Scott Muni.  The first morning I went into Scott's office, he started talking about the Yankees game the night before.  I finally asked him, "So what did you think of the show, Scott?"  

Scott said, "Your show?  Your show is fine. I just had to get you away from those assholes.  They were driving you crazy."  I could have hugged him.

For Christmas time, Ray wrote, Earle produced and we all acted out "Claws," a holiday treat for the whole family.  Each morning, for almost 3 weeks leading up to Christmas, an episode of the show would air for around 3-5 minutes.  To this day, I have a listener who plays it for his family every year as one of their traditions.  Dr. Pettrucco is his name.  There is no higher honor as a radio performer.

By mid-February, Ray and I started work on the next series of a show about a part-time private eye Radio host, "Mickey Spins."

It was in March that I was called into a meeting with my brother Richard.  It was supposed to happen at 5 o'clock, which gave me dread in the pit of my stomach.

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