Radio Free Agency: WHNZ, 1993

Once the Sun Radio Network was in the rear view mirror, it was time to land another radio job.  I had four stations in mind to work for, it was just a question of who would hire me, if anybody.

WFLA was the local talk giant, so I went to them first, got nowhere.  WFNS Sportsradio 910 was the first all-sports radio in the market, located in eastern Tampa at the time, not too far from where the Seminole Hard Rock casino now sits.  Met ex-Buccaneer Scot Brantley when I applied, thought he was a nice guy.  But no cigar there.

I also looked into working for Sonny Bloch’s Independent Broadcasters Network.  A lot of SRN employees had defected there, so it seemed like the perfect fit for me.  Steve Wiegner, my first operations manager, held the same position there at IBN.  But here was the rub: they wanted to start me as a part-time employee, and I thought it was bullshit.  I had already proven myself at SRN for the same guy, so why should I go through the same rigmarole there?  Didn’t make any sense, and I smelt a rat.  So, I passed.

WSUN seemed like another place I could wind up.  They had who I considered the king of talk radio in this market of the era: “Mad Dog” Bob Lassiter, along with several other shows piped in from WIOD in Miami, including Neil Rogers.  Neil was an openly gay talk show host who could spout an opinion on anything at a drop of a hat.  The only problem there was that Cox Broadcasting, who owned WSUN at the time, also sounded like an openly cheap organization.  I would try WHNZ first.

WHNZ, 570 on the AM dial (before Clear Channel bought them and move them over to 1250 in the late 1990’s), was just starting up and all news format during the day from 6am to 7pm.  Rich Carey, a taskmaster of a boss as I would soon find out, was the program director.  But there were a few familiar SRN refugees over there too, including Frank Kinsman, who was one of our top people there.  They carried CBS Radio News at the top of the hour, so I’m thinking this might work.  It also might not.  All news at day and all sports at night also struck me as a station that lacked identity.

Then I saw the more disasterous side.  WHNZ had these computer monitors that would play audio when you touched the screen at a certain spot.  Now remember: this is 1993 we’re talking about, a long way removed from today’s computer technology of Blackberries, IPads and IPhones.  Not hitting that certain part of the screen totally within the framework of the small button would fire off two pieces of audio at the same time instead of one.  You had to have good reflexes and touch to work those screens, and some of the employees of a certain age couldn’t do that.

I was hired to be what Carey called a “jack of all trades” kind of employee, who could come in and do anything that was needed.  At first, I would run the board for the newscasts,  but that required me to keep a few balls in the air.  I had to record the top-of-the-hour CBS news for replay at 8 minutes after the hour and put it on a cart, and I also had to record CNBC business news at a certain point of the air.  Let’s just say there were times I forgot to do one or the other, which drove Rich reasonably crazy.

In fact, everyone seemed to drive Rich Carey crazy at one point or another, and you couldn’t talk to the man from a rational point of view when he wanted to rant and rave at you.  Now, I could understand being yelled at if you were an athlete.  Physical activity does seem like it can activate your primal urges.  But I don’t think being yelled at when you fucked up worked in the radio business.  I always felt positive motivation when things went wrong always went farther.  Bill Wardino and Stan Anderson at SRN understood that.  When I had problems there, they asked me what went wrong, and what could be done to make things go right.  Not a lot of judgement, just fix the damn thing.

After a few weeks of that, I was placed on the overnight shift on weekdays, while doing a morning to midday shift on Sunday.  Overnights were all-sports programming, with sports shows out of Orlando and Miami before going to syndicated programming out of Las Vegas.  My job didn’t get any easier with the change of hours.  I was expected to do “beat checks” that required me to call up the local sheriff’s offices in the various local counties to see if anything newsworthy had happened.  And that was fine.  If my timing was right, I’d find a story and occasionally beat WFLA to the punch with it.

On top of that, I had to record all the CBS commercials once a week, and make sure I recorded their close circuit feed of “cuts” which are sound bites stations across the country would use in their news and sports segments.  If that wasn’t enough, I also did a two minute newscast during the overnight hours.  Occasionally, I’d get bitched out about the story I ran.  Why didn’t you go with THIS story, our THAT story, my colleagues wondered.  Gee guys, can’t you see I’m JUST a little busy here?

By early September, I wanted out of WHNZ in the worst way.  I was a board operator first and foremost, and with all these duties to do, listening to “my board” was a distant priority.  How could one do his job when he was required to be distracted from doing it? So one Thursday night in early September, I came in, typed my resignation, and went back home to Largo.  I still had some friends in the business who could help me find work.

The next day, Rich Carey calls my answering machine.  What he said to me remains a mystery, as I never listened to that message.  WHNZ was now in my rear view mirror, too.  They would last a few more years as a half all-news, half all-sports station before going back to all talk in the late 1990’s, and merging with Clear Channel after that.

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