The Slow-Motion Suicide of Broadcast Radio

On March 18, 2014, the one radio personality who I never thought would leave radio for the greener pastures of the internet announced that he’ll be premiering a subscription-only podcast beginning April 1. The Don Geronimo Show is officially moving to the RELM Network — the same flotilla of podcasts that happens to also feature the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show.

To fully understand the monumental nature of this move, you have to understand several things.

First, Don is one of those mythical half-man, half-console chimeras who breathes radio waves and can talk up any song ever recorded precisely to the downbeat just before the first lyric. Don might be the greatest all around deejay since, well, ever.

And secondly, radio has systematically purged Don and so many others at the expense of its own relevancy.

Make no mistake, on one hand, Don’s announcement is absolutely a positive development, but on the other hand, to me at least, 3/18/14 marks the end of broadcast radio as we know it. Before we get into what happened, a little background on my association with radio and with Don.

It sounds hokey to say this but what the hell. I always wanted to be on the radio. As a kid, I used to tape-record fake radio shows using an old phonograph and the same three (very scratched) albums. Eventually, I upgraded to two record players and a Radio Shack-enabled telephone system for making “on air” calls to friends (and more than a few prank calls). My parents probably thought I was nuts.

But it was both the classic TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati and a real-life deejay named Don Geronimo who most influenced me to pursue radio as an actual career — and not just music radio, but personality-driven radio in which the deejay, not the music, was the focus of the show.

When I was in my early teens, Don was the afternoon-drive deejay on WAVA in Washington, D.C. His show was unlike anything I’d heard before: equal parts slick Top 40 music, extended comedy segments, listener calls and anarchic David Letterman-inspired stunts. The show eventually moved to mornings and became one of many “morning zoo” shows found across the dial in the middle 1980s.

Fewer than ten years later, I found myself working for Don at WJFK in Washington, first as an intern and then as a production assistant for the Don & Mike Show’s newsroom, run by anchor Buzz Burbank who became my broadcast mentor and close friend. This was the early 1990s and the height of syndicated FM “shock jock” radio, which developed out of the morning zoo shows of the ’80s, and I had the rare opportunity to observe it from the inside. The same radio station hosted not just Don & Mike, but also Howard Stern and G. Gordon Liddy (Liddy’s nickname for me was “High Pockets” because I’m, you know, tall).

From that lofty platform, I was able to find work in talk radio, news radio and Top 40 radio — versatility that I fully attribute to having worked with Don and Buzz.

But after five years, the soul crushing aspects of radio drove me away — the ridiculously low pay, zero job stability, oppressive management and what became my ultimate breaking point: being forced to use a wacky deejay pseudonym because my actual name was “too ethnic” for the Allentown, Pennsylvania radio market… READ MORE

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  • Mike_Norris

    I grew up listening to Larry Lujack on WLS 890 in Chicago playing top 40 tunes on the AM band. Now that was radio!