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The Joe Martelle interview

Thursday, 13 December 2012

  • Author: "Radio Pro"
  • WEAT (Sunny-104.3)/West Palm Beach, FL - Morning Drive - 2000-2004
  • KLDE/Houston, TX - Morning Drive - 1998-2000
  • WROR (105.7)/ Boston - Afternoon Drive - 1996-1997
  • WROR (98.5)/Boston - Morning Drive (Sat. Night Oldies Show) 1979-1995
  • WQTV-TV (Channel 68)/Boston - (Movies Show) 1990
  • WFXT-TV (FOX)/Boston - host TV-POW & "Is That Me on TV."1988-1989
  • WCSH/-A/Portland, ME 1976-1979
  • WIDE-FM/Biddeford, ME - 1974-1976
  • WLOB-A/Portland, ME - 1972-1974
  • WLW/Cincinnati, OH - 1970-1972
  • WGAN-A/Portland, ME - 1967-1970
  • WMTW-TV/Poland Spring, ME - (cameraman)1963
  • WIDE-A/Biddeford, ME - 1962-1967
  • WCSH-TV (Channel 6)/Portland, ME -(anncr)1962
  • WFAU-A/Augusta, ME - 1962

1) What Got You Interested In Radio? Was there a defining moment in your career when you knew this is what you wanted to do?
At around the age of seven or eight, I heard the dulcet tones of "our announcer," Fred Foy introduce us to The Lone Ranger on radio, and Paul Sutton as Sgt. Preston "mush on" Yukon King and the rest of the pack of Huskies. I was hooked! Later, I learned how to "sell" a commercial by listening to radio's great personalities, Arthur Godfrey and Don McNeil.
In high school in the 50s, I really got the radio bug by listening to great Rock n' Roll DJ's like Alan Freed! As a teen, I was not unlike many other radio wannabes. I built a radio station in our basement, and along with my school pals we played all those "platters that matter." I also got to spin records at our school dances. Radio is ALL I ever wanted to do. I was one of the fortunate ones who, as an adult, got to do what he dreamed of doing as a kid.
2) Please tell us about your new book, "Radio Pro: Radio Pros & legends Share Their Secrets To Success?"
"Radio Pro" is actually several books in one. Minneapolis Radio Pro, Dave Ryan and my long-time friend, Jordan Rich of WBZ-Boston, kindly refer to my book as "The Bible of the industry." I'm not sure it deserves such a wonderful comparison, but I thank them for their kind comments. What I honesty tried to do was cover all the bases of what goes into, and what it takes to be a "real" on-air and on-line air personality. Thanks to help from many broadcasters, both on and off the air talent, management and PDs, etc. I hope we have accomplished our goal!
I also include a history of personality radio dating back to radio's first pioneer broadcasters, including profiles on Will Rogers, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Kate Smith, Bob & Ray, and many others right up to the present crop of music, News, Talk and Sports on-air personalities. My hope is that my book will be used as a teaching tool and guide for future radio stars and as a refresher course for seasoned pros.
3) You started in radio since the early 1960's. Please tell us about your career?
After stumbling my way through night classes for radio at Emerson College Boston in the early 60s, learning how to slip-cue records on the college closed-circuit station, WECB, I got my first full-time air position at WFAU Augusta, ME. I was thrilled to finally be on a real radio station. Deciding on my own that the night format was way too stodgy, I changed the night music policy from Sinatra, Doris Day and Big Band to Elvis, Fats and Ricky Nelson. In doing so I was promptly fired. I quickly learned radio station management doesn't particularly enjoy having their format changed without their permission. I was devastated. It was a lesson learned the hard way. I survived and went on to work both on-air and off-air, in PD and management positions at several Maine radio stations. WIDE Biddeford, and WGAN, WLOB and WCSH were all AM's in my hometown of Portland.
My first taste of BIG TIME radio came in 1970, went I landed the all-night show at WLW-Cincinnati, "The BIG 700 Clear Channel voice of the mid-west." Working all-night radio afforded me a fun opportunity to chat with night "niks" in 37 states and Canada. Working all-night can be a kick for the air personality, but not so conducive to having a blissful and amicable marriage.
Back to Portland, I struggled to find a radio job. Thanks to the late Bob Anderson, I was handed the reins to the morning-drive slot at WLOB-A (1310). Back then, "LOB" was the #1 Rocker in my hometown. Later, I moved around a bit, winding up at one of the first stations I worked at, WIDE. Talk about déjà vu'! Next, I grabbed the night shift as a "news" guy at WCSH Portland. (Hey, when you're hungry, and have a family to feed, you take any job you can find, especially when it involves being on the radio). Something I loved doing!
Somehow I managed to work my way up to manage the station (let's just say, I wasn't cut out to be a bottom line guy) coupled with the fact that I really didn't enjoy firing folks.
My big major-market career break came in October 1979. Gary Berkowitz, then PD at the original WROR (Golden Great 98.5)/Boston, hired me as a fill-in weekend guy. That quickly led to full-time air-work in morning-drive. A position I held as a solo host from 1979-1982 and again from 1992-1995. In between, I had a partner, the late Andy Moes, from December 1982 to Spring 1992. Unexpected happens in life and I was no exception to that unwritten rule. In November '95, I was rushed to the hospital with emergency lung surgery. During surgery, something spiritual happened to me. I almost passed-over and was blessed to "see the light." But, that's another story for another time. It was a painful time and one long recovery period. I was out of work for a full year, but I held on hoping I would be on my feet again, doing what I loved, being on the air. Thanks be to God, I did return to Boston airwaves in the fall of '96 at the New WROR in an unfamiliar time-slot, afternoon-drive. Suffice to say, it was not a good fit. I'm a morning-drive guy.
Next radio stop, Houston, TX and AM-Drive at KLDE-FM, the Oldies station. Things were humming along nicely for a couple of years. I was blessed with loyal listeners and top ratings. In May of '2000, the "Fickle-Finger of Fate" singled us out again. I underwent emergency triple by-pass and open heart surgery. Management must have thought I wouldn't be able to resume the rigors of returning to my morning-drive show. Even though I recovered quickly from surgery I was cut loose. This time I felt my radio days were really over. Gary Berkowitz called and asked if I'd like to do mornings at WEAT (Sunny-104.3)/West Palm Beach. I was anxious to be back on the radio so he didn't have to ask twice. My time on-air at Sunny, almost four years, was great. But, in May of 2004, I lost my voice. Doctors discovered three nodules on my vocal cords. I wasn't allowed to speak for 31 straight days. Not even a whisper. Thankfully, I'm Italian and learned to talk with my hands at an early age. My wife and I wrote notes to each other. Another plus for Kim, it was the first time in our marriage, she could complete a complete sentence without my constant interruptions.
No voice... no radio show, and after 41 years, my on-air career was over. After a year of voice therapy, and many prayers from family and friends, my voice returned, but not to the strength required to handle the rigors of a daily air shift. During this time, my wife was diagnosed with melanoma. Faced with serious health issues, and no job, we decided to move to Western Colorado. It's where my wife was born and she has family.
Since I had plenty of time on my hands and not wanting to drive my lovely wife totally out of her squash, I decided to write "Radio Pro." I wanted the book not only to reflect my own career, but those of other radio pros. I reached out to over 150 broadcasters for their input and candid opinions. The result is a book that I feel "tells it like it really is"... the good times, and the not so good. The ups and downs of what a career as a radio personality is really all about. I wanted to give back to a profession I love, while at the same time, alerting future radio stars to the pitfalls and stressful times one may encounter. And, that brings us to the present...and my book, "Radio Pro."
4) In your book, you compiled insight from over 100 broadcasters over a six-year period. Please tell us about the process that you went through to gather all this information from all these legendary broadcasters?
I simply began reaching out to people who I worked with or knew of by reputation, strictly via the web and E-mail. When I first began writing "Radio Pro," I could not talk on the phone for more than a few minutes without coughing and losing my voice. Doctors theorize I was trying to "project" my voice too much on the phone. Almost like I was on the air and it would result in me not being able to speak. So, I had little choice, but to rely on the Internet. It was tedious and required lots of work. First, I had to locate the person. We all know how radio folks move around. Next, I would go on their station website doing my best to locate their E-mail address. Reaching out to friends or former co-workers usually resulted in an "ok" from them to comment for my book. Knowing how busy broadcasters can be, especially morning-drive talent, I tried to be respectful of their time. I would only send them three or four questions. It worked fine with radio people I knew. With very few exceptions most graciously consented to comment for my book. Not so easy were folks I only knew by reputation. We all know how E-mail can be misconstrued and sometimes it took more than a couple of back and forth messages before they felt comfortable with me and agreed to participate in my book. I'm pleased to say that of the over 150 radio people I contacted, only a handful either didn't reply or refused to participate. I am most grateful to each of them for their time and comments.
5) Who was the most memorable artist you've ever interviewed? Do you have any interview techniques you would like to share with our readers?
I was fortunate to interview many celebrities and personalities during my 41 years on the air. It is difficult to single out just one. However, a regular favorite who was always generous with his time was Dick Clark. Many others, I had the privilege to interview are acknowledged at the beginning of my book.
One of the most important qualities of being a great interviewer is to be a good listener. Listen carefully to what your "subject" is saying and respond accordingly to what they just told you. Know your subject! In prepping for my interview with Paul McCartney (whom I had never met before) I learned we shared the same birthday month. Upon meeting him, I wished him a happy birthday. He was actually floored that I knew his birthday, which was obviously important to him. It warmed the new relationship and resulted in my having extra time to spend interviewing him. By the way, a list of prepared questions is a good tool. It should only serve as a guide, and should never dictate which direction your interview should take.
6) You spent much of your career doing mornings at legendary stations such as WROR (Golden Great 98.5)/Boston, KLDE/Houston, and WEAT in West Palm Beach, FL among others. What are your thoughts about the evolution of the radio business and on-air talent over the past decade?
I talk about this at great length in my book, particularly the last Chapter #21, "The Future of Radio." When I first began in radio in a small market in the early 60s, in small market, we had to do it all and loved it. Between records, you could go on the air and talk about almost anything and everything... as long as it was "clean." Sad to say, most of those "mom n' pop" stations in small and medium markets are gone. Big chains have eaten up radio stations and either "voice-track" programming from a major-talent in a larger market, or pick up syndicated shows. This is most evident in the "talk" format, where local stations "usually" only employ board-ops to insert commercials and local News/Weather in the formats. There is no longer a "farm system" where personality radio can be developed by being on the air. I am excited that today, future radio stars can "develop" their personalities by creating their own on-line shows. If you have the passion and talent, almost anyone with a computer and a mic can be "on-the-air." This is something we never had at our fingertips back "when." I am hopeful that more radio stations will go back to being "local" and give aspiring radio wannabes a place to develop. There's nothing quite like being on-the air in a real radio station.
7) What do you view as the most important issue facing radio today?
Commercial radio needs to cut back on the number of commercials aired. We all know radio is a business, but management needs to recognize that their "listeners" use radio because they enjoy what they hear and that "ain't" because of too many commercials. Up the spot-rate if need be, and give the air talent room to breath. Even in talk radio there are too many commercials. Adopt the Glenn Beck policy, which in my opinion is a great one (one sponsor per half-hour). Make 'em pay a premium. It will cut down clutter. Radio also needs to go back to being "local." Local personalities, whether it's music, Talk or Sports formats, should be the primary station focus in ALL size markets!
9) What advice would you give to people new to the business?
Do whatever is asked of you by your PD and management (within reason of course). Keep your mouth shut, except when on the air. Only offer your opinion when asked and then keep in mind one important thing, "the toes you step on today may be attached to the butt you may have to kiss tomorrow."
10) As you look back over your 41-year career ... any regrets? Missed opportunities?
Oh sure, a few. The two biggest, not taking the morning-drive show at Oldies103 in Boston when then GM Bob Pates offered it to me. Also, after losing my voice, my plans to syndicate my Oldies show never came to fruition. Now, that my voice is back in top form... who knows? :-)

Bonus Questions

What does it take to be a successful on-air personality?
it is ALL consuming and requires lots of time. It's more than just your time on the air. It's hours of show-prep, personal appearances, working weekends, holidays and so on. Don't forget to find time for those who love you and always stand by you through thick and thin. Next to your loyal listeners, they are the most important people in your life. Having a balanced career and home life is so essential and will prevent you from popping the purple pill... or worse yet winding up alone!
Where can we buy your book?
The best place to purchase a copy of my book, Radio Pro is directly from my publisher atwww.bearmanormedia.com or on www.Amazon.com.
Who do you consider your radio mentors?
I have so many mentors, but first and most importantly Bob Arnold who gave me my first radio on-air experience as a high school reporter on his weekday afternoon show on WCSH/Portland, ME. I am also indebted to, Bob Joyce, Tom Shovan, Alan Jasper and Gary Berkowitz.
Who is the most amazing talent you've worked with?
Two talented guys I shared a mic with, Bruce Glasier at WCSH Portland and Andy Moes during our ten years together on WROR Boston.
Who is your best friend in the business?
Actually, I'm blessed to have three best buddies in the business. Doug LaVallee, Steve Feldman and Les Jacoby. I have worked with all three, and we've known each other for so many years we've stopped counting!
What's one thing that would surprise many people to learn about you?
I toured with Clayton Moore, television's original "Lone Ranger" when he was fighting to regain use of wearing his mask to make personal appearances. I was accompanying him to introduce him and lend support, both in NYC and Chicago. It was Midnight, when the phone rang in my room. It was Clay. He had been watching Johnny Carson and asked if he could stop by my room. "Sure" I replied thinking he couldn't sleep and wanted to chat. A few minutes later, there was a knock at my door. Upon opening it, Clayton stood there, wearing his maroon smoking jacket, slippers and sporting his mask, actually, Foster Grant sun glasses since at the time he wasn't allowed to wear a mask. Inviting him in, he handed me a silver bullet and said, "Joe, wherever the mask man appears, he gives a silver bullet to someone who embodies what the mask man stands for. You are the Lone Ranger." And with that, he bid me good-night, turned around and walked off into the fading light of the hotel hallway.

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