Thursday, April 25, 2013

Why I Started Vinyl Schminyl Radio

I haven't blogged much in a while.  I do a lot of Facebook posting as my friends (real and Facebook alike) can attest to but as I have reached the cusp of our third anniversary people and myself ask me why I started Vinyl Schminyl Radio. That's what this blog posting is about.

Why Radio? 

It was many years ago, as a child old enough to go to downtown Chicago on the train by myself (probably 12 or 13) that I picked up the "I want to be a radio announcer" bug. I would first go over to the Marina City 16 story office building where the studios of WCFL were. At that time they allowed visitors to come up and observe through the studio windows the disc jockeys that you listened to everyday.  The ones that were on at the time I was there were Joel Sebastian (died at the age of 53 in 1986) and Dick Williamson (passed away a couple years ago at 78).
I thought that what they did was pretty cool a matter of fact they just raised their hands and the engineer played the music or commercials for them.  How easy was that?  All you had to do is talk and listen to Top 40 music for a few hours while millions listened to you.

I then do the same field trip to WLS at 360 N. Michigan Ave. in the Stone Container building at the corner of Wacker Dr.  They had a visitors gallery as well but it seemed a lot further away from the "action" if you will.  Nevertheless, like John Lennon said when he first saw Elvis, I said "that looks like a good job, I'll do that."

Well, high school came and went (in the prescribed 4 years) and I had not done anything in any kind of radio.  We had a reel to reel recorder at home and my next door neighbor and I used to do funny recordings. (Boy I wish I could find those).
It wasn't until I went to Lincoln College in Lincoln, IL that I found out that there were a few students and a faculty adviser starting up a small 10 watt radio station.  I immediately signed on to that.  The format was AOR (album oriented rock). I had one or two shows a week and playing very NON Top 40 music but becoming quite the aficionado on "progressive" rock which many years later was called "Classic Rock."

My efforts at Lincoln earned me the school's first Communications Award for Broadcasting.  Unbeknownst to me they passed out the award at a ceremony held while I was actually on the air.  If I knew that, I might have switched shifts with someone not so fortunate to be honored.
Since Lincoln was a junior college I was ecstatic when I was accepted to the University Of Illinois, Urbana for my final 2 years and where I knew they had the biggest and coolest student run radio station in the country. WPGU was my home away from home at college.  I spent more hours there than at my dorm or apartment, sometimes staying up all night working at my production craft and co-mingling with fellow PGUers. I rummaged through the extensive music library, I learned the on air studios as well as the politics of this 3000 watt powerhouse.
My first shift there was on DBS (Dormitory Broadcast Service) that just transmitted to the dorms on campus.  I figured if I screwed up I wouldn't offend but a few students that even knew that service existed. I didn't stay there long because I was promoted to the "major league" WPGU with my first once a week shift from 3-6am! It was like going from a small minor league team to playing at Wrigley Field or Yankee Stadium.  It was a brand new studio with colorfully carpeted walls, cooler microphones and a much wider audience. (Yes there were others besides me up that late at night). After a short time on that gig I had a Monday through Friday slot from 12-2am (The show was called After Midnight). I really enjoyed that show because it put me into the regular M-F lineup and I was able to hone my broadcasting skills quicker with the regular work (or play at that point). My senior year finally moved me to "prime time".  The 8-10pm shift where they had the Garcias pizza (best pizza at U Of I) giveaway and at that point of the broadcast schedule everybody was listening, if for no other reason, so they could win a pizza!
After graduation I had this unrealistic expectation that I would start in a major market (preferably Chicago) and my dreams of waiving my hands and having music and commercials being played would be realized. Then I woke up and mustered up all my intelligence and realized that my chances of starting out professionally at a station as well equipped and as cool as WPGU would be slim and none.

 Woodstock, Illinois

My job hunt took me to the historical town of Woodstock, IL where I was turned on to this little progressive rock station, WXRD, where I was offered a weekend shift. I already had a couple of "day" jobs but this was the one that really excited me. Ultimately I was offered a full time slot during the week but that meant I would have to move up to Woodstock and leave the other jobs behind to make less money.  Initially I declined their offer but I then went to an open house they were having in the Old Courthouse (where the station was located) and immediately fell in love with the people and the town.  I asked if their offer was still open and they said it was. I then moved out of the "nest" and rented my first apartment in Woodstock.  At first I worked the night shift and then I finally made it to the morning 6a-10a shift. Having to get up that early was not so glamorous but I felt that is where I would get the most exposure.  At this time in WXRD's history they became less of a free form progressive rock station and more of a semi structured AOR station playing more familiar tunes with day-parting and regular rotation. I didn't feel stymied but I did feel that after a few years making my bones I felt it was time to move on.  I told myself that I didn't want to move from one small market to another across the United States and if I didn't move to a better market by the time I was 25 I would get out of broadcasting and into sales.

So there we were at the cusp of my 25th birthday with no better offers on the horizon.  I needed to start making more money and I stood by my guns (I used to do those kind of things then) and oddly enough the day after my 25th birthday I started selling radio time in Chicago for a somewhat well known buying and selling service. This is the part of my life where I actually had to work hard and face rejection in the process.  If any of you have been in sales, regardless of the product, rejection is a part of the gig.  Although looking for jobs in radio had it's fair amount of rejection too but at least I was making a lot more money in sales while being rejected on a day to day basis. My on the air career had ended. The fun I had doing that became not much fun anymore at my new career.
I had more than a few sales jobs over the years and in the early 90s I even got back on the air for a short time as a weekend host on WCBR in Arlington Heights, IL That perked me up a bit, working for another progressive rocker.  That gig lasted about a year and I voluntarily said that this really wasn't going anywhere.

 VINYL SCHMINYL RADIO 20 years later (see how I fast-forwarded here?) and being out of radio for that amount of time, PODCASTING was starting to have a rise in popularity. I always knew that if I ever wanted to get back into terrestrial radio I still had "game" and it wouldn't take long to get warmed up.  Kind of like riding a bike. However, this pod casting thing interested me and I thought I would give it a try.  I knew it would be music based.  I had a lot of that to work with. I knew I could do it at home.  I had the equipment. Also I knew it wouldn't cost me much money to do, save the expense of internet hosting and purchasing more music.  I also knew that initially I probably wouldn't make money either. So what do I do to get this thing spinning? I came up with the idea of using my vinyl, digitizing it to MP3 format and come up with a back story and talk about the music being featured.  The harder part was coming up with a name for this podcast.  I was lying in bed one night and in my mind I was playing around with words and I remembered the Harry Nilsson album Nilsson Schmilsson.  I said that's it!! I will call it Vinyl Schminyl Radio. Whoo hoo!! I loved it, my wife loved it and now I could get this thing on the world wide web.

Vinyl Schminyl Radio made it's debut on April 26th 2010.  Our first song was actually from that aforementioned Harry Nilsson album. The cut was Jump Into The Fire ( an appropriate title for my undertaking). I was so happy that my voice and musical expertise were back on the air (so to speak). Every day Monday through Friday I would feature a song and then tell the story about the song. How it charted, sometimes who played on it, how it was conceived etc. I would take Saturday and Sunday off. I did this every week until I decided that I would like to expand what I was doing and create a long form hour show to be posted bi-weekly. And thus the Vinyl Schminyl Radio Hour was born. I still did the Monday through Friday Classic Deep Cuts and every 2 weeks a Radio Hour. The podcast was picking up steam slowly but surely. My pod casting peers were starting to notice.  I became personal friends with some of them.  I was also interviewed about the show by another pod caster. Internet radio stations put me into their schedules and I publicized as much as I could with no money being spent to do it.  I have a website,(that costs a little) I have Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth (those are free).  The only thing that I didn't have  (and still don't)was income from this undertaking.  My dream now is that terrestrial radio stations would pick it up and play it. Also maybe satellite stations too. Maybe this would be a nice audition for a gig on a Chicago station.  The most important thing you have to remember is that this was MY show and nobody could tell me how to do it. They could make suggestions (which I actually listened to and have implemented) I was pretty confident in my abilities as a talker and a music programmer so that I could put all my past skills together and do this the right way to make it a quality product.  Eventually iTunes picked up the podcast as did Tune In Radio  and a few others.  One of the bigger boosts that we got is an interview I did with The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan who I met at an opening for a local wine shop around the corner from me.  Billy lives in Highland Park IL. and I would run into him at various locations from time to time. He agreed to be interviewed by me for a special Radio Hour which with the help of the Pumpkins Facebook page gave us many thousands of worldwide downloads for that conversation.  He eventually asked me if I could do some kind of event having to do with featuring artists with vinyl and talking about them at his Madame Zuzus Tea House, which he opened in September of 2012.  We refined the concept and it turned into me recording 2 live radio hours there for broadcast later.  The first one was this past February featuring the music of Pink Floyd and the second in early April featuring Led Zeppelin.  Billy was in the audience for the latter and appeared on the show with us for a few minutes.  Both were very successful.

So now we are ready to start our 4th year of doing this with over 700 shows, including 63 radio hours, in the archives.  These shows can always be accessed through our website Vinyl or through our hosting service Libsyn.  They can be subscribed to on iTunes or by RSS feed.

The reason I wanted to do this is because I wanted to keep this genre of music alive and ultimately be the definitive source for information on the sounds of our life for the past, gulp, half century. There are many pod casters out there with millions of different topics.  I was asked in an interview recently, what advice I would give to pod casters? My answer was simple.  Make sure you have a quality product because with the saturation of podcasts out there yours needs to stand out.  If it's crap or not compelling enough for future listening it will fail and you will see it fail with the amount of downloads you are getting..or not getting as the case may be. Just because you can do a podcast doesn't mean you should.  Just because you can play a guitar doesn't mean you will be a rock star. Put out the best product you can and people will notice it positively. It still blows me away to think about people in over 160 countries are hearing my voice talking about classic rock and in some cases them being turned on to it for the first time. We have a few hundred thousand downloads so far in 3 years with the rate climbing every month.  There are some real radio stations that would love those kind of numbers.  Yes, I would still like to monetize this but I really do it for the love of the music.  I know it sounds cliche but I really do. Granted it's harder to find songs to feature or themes to come up with but I always do. I actually take a week off now and then but with the amount of songs in the archive there is always something you can go back to.

I hope this gives you an idea of Why I Started Vinyl Schminyl Radio.  Tell your friends.

1 comment:

  1. Bob, this is one of the best blog posts I've ever read. It's well written and really efficient in the delivery. But more than that, it's a recounting of a personal history and how childhood hopes and dreams can fade and then suddenly reappear later in life. In your case, it took an epiphany, some creativity, and technical know-how. I'm in that same stage of life, trying to re-discover what made me happy many years ago. It's not about growing old, it's about growing young again. Rock on.