(or is that St.'s?) preserve us, Commissioner
We began this HZ at 102.7, so perhaps now we come full circle. In this, our
third-so-far edition of 20 Questions (we'll think of a more original name someday,
I promise), we grill a guy who has excelled at so many things radio-related it's
plain scary. Certainly for most in this business, being a great format jock (in
several formats, to boot) would be enough. Being a walking encyclopedia of rock,
soul and blues, getting to talk to your idols and getting to write about it in
magazine articles and CD liner notes would be enough. Being an in-demand voiceover
talent would be more than enough. Imagine then taking a few cells from Dan
Ingram, David Wilde and Ernie
you'd get some crazy clone, but it still wouldn't
be an original like Pat St. John (www.PatStJohn.net, where else?).
For those of
you who don't know Pat (and, hey, shame on you if you don't - did a dog eat that
homework?), here's the snapshot. Pat St. John came to New York by way of Detroit,
where he was on-air at the legendary CKLW fresh outta school. From there it was
"Keener 13", " ABC's FM rocker 'RIF and then on to business in
the Big Apple, where Pat had two long-running gigs at two famous addresses: 95.5
WPLJ (where he was, and I quote ARB here, "the most listened to afternoon
drive jock in America") and 102.7 WNEW-FM (back when they had both eyes open).
These days "the Pat St. John show" can be heard on oldies behemoth WCBS-FM.
Pat's also consulted Sirius' Rock channels, hosted syndicated radio series and
specials, been credited on several Motown projects, been seen on national TV (perhaps
most notably on "Search for Tomorrow" playing the part of, well, Pat
St. John - how this got by the daytime Emmys is anyone's guess), and of course
voiced so many projects over the years, from both Coke and Pepsi (hey, Pat, make
up your mind) to Chevrolet and Mattel to "Dick Clark's
New Year's Rockin' Eve" and The American Comedy Network. Not to mention that
he's been a regular pain here, which oughta count for something.
1. You've contributed some
really insightful stuff to this space, much of which suggests that music was a
major part of your upbringing. Tell us about Pat St. John, the early years? From
the time I could focus on a TV, my favorite shows were the ones that featured
Rock'n'Roll. I remember seeing Elvis on Sullivan the first time, & I was 5.
My favorite show was American Bandstand; I'd watch it every day. First 45 I ever
got was "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis. When I was 8, (in
'59) my cousin went into the Marines, and I guess he thought he was never coming
back, because he gave me his record collection consisting of around 2000 45's.
What a start! I knew every flip side, label, length etc., of every one of those
records. Gave me a good foundation!
2. You were barely
the big 18 when you went to work at "The Big 8." How exactly did that
come about? And, what'd that feel like, turning up the mic and knowing you were
being heard over much of the northern part of the continent? I had
gotten a job at W4 in Detroit two weeks after graduation. At that time, it was
an automated "beautiful music station" & I worked an 8 hour shift
pre-recording weather, news headlines & liners, and then feed 'em to the automation.
What I'd do was spend the first two hours & the last two hours of my Midnight
to 8am shift "replenishing", then I'd spend the middle 4 hours making
audition tapes, & I'd send 'em to CKLW, which was the only place I'd send
them. It was where I wanted to work. I'd call occasionally; they'd say "nothing
happening now" & that'd be it. If they'd ever said to "never call
again" I wouldn't have, but one day I got a call from the new PD Jim O'Brien
who'd found my tape & said to c'mon over. Man what a day that was! I went
over, had dinner with him & the News Director Dick Smythe & they hired
me! Three DJ shifts a week, 2 days driving the CK Camaro gathering news actualities,
& one day a week doing a 20/20 news shift, then part-time booth announcing
on Channel 9! Again, what a way to start, what a foundation! As far as part 2
of your question, I never really thought about that. I was just happy being on
the station I dreamed of being on, and getting to say those call letters for real,
and not just onto a reel.
3. I remember listening
to the great Chuck Williams on CKLW during that period. Who on that station was
it a thrill for a kid like you to be working with? For that matter, who were your
own radio gods growing up? For me, getting to work with Big Jim Edwards,
Tom Shannon & Charlie Van Dyke were the ones that first come to mind. Loved
those guys. My radio heroes growing up in Detroit were Lee Alan on WXYZ and Scott
Regan & Dick Purton on WKNR. There were more, but those are the first to come
4. Having jocked
at both CKLW and "Keener 13," can you put the Detroit radio wars in
perspective for us? What made each station distinctive...aside from you having
worked at each, that is? CK was a tighter machine, with a more defined
format. There was actually a "manual", but it laid out the basics, not
only of The Big 8 specifically, but (for me being as "green" as I was)
of Top 40 Radio in general. I had to learn a lot very quickly, as getting there
at my age without a history of doing real radio was a real lucky break (an understatement
for sure). "Keener" had more of a local feel to it. Legendary it was,
with an incredible history of phenomenal talent, yet it was more of an independent
station, as opposed to CK, which was part of the Drake "chain" of stations.
Keener was a little more supportive of letting you do more "personality"
type stuff. Both were great stations, yet very different from each other. It allowed
me to take in experience from two different approaches.
5. Considering you
both grew up and began your radio career in one of the best places for homegrown
music - and you got to play a lot of that music on the air - surely that influenced
your personal tastes? Well, I was just a fan. Since I was born there,
listening to Motown, Bob Seger and all the great Michigan music was "just
the way it was" for me. I can tell you this: "Respect" was a garage-band
tune by The Rationals that just rocked! I heard that way before I heard Aretha's
version & found out it was an Otis Redding song.
6. Was the move to
FM and album-oriented radio a natural outgrowth then? Were you, like many others
doing top 40 at the time, frustrated with the format?
Moving over to "FM" was absolutely a natural move for me.
I wasn't frustrated at all with the Top-40 format; it's just that my musical tastes
were expanding, as I'd get deeper into albums. It was strictly the fact that I
was such a music fan that made AOR so appealing to me, and that's why & when
I went to WRIF, besides the fact that Keener was soon to go down (in '72).
7. Was there any
kind of learning curve involved in moving from market #5 to #1...with a bullet?
Not really. The Motor City was always such a great radio town, and
like you mentioned was home to such great artists. The funny thing was, WRIF and
WPLJ (both ABC O&Os) had the exact same format, at the time "Rock'n Stereo".
When I went on the air at PLJ, the only thing that changed was the frequency &
call letters. Because of course the environment was so different, I never said
the wrong call letters by mistake (though about six months into the gig I did
begin a forecast by saying "Detroit Weather
8. You spent maybe half
of your radio career at WPLJ. Do you ever get nostalgic for those days and play
your music at home at a much faster speed? First off, I HATED that
for a period the music was sped up, nor did I appreciate edits. Since question
#6 mentioned "frustration with the format", the answer to that question
applies more to this question. PLJ was great, ratings were high, but I did have
many "philosophical differences" with Larry (Berger). We still managed
to "get the job done", & the contracts always renewed, but I truthfully
admired 'NEW FM that whole time because they seemed to care about the music and
respect the music more than just the ratings. At PLJ, though I was able to do
creative things (while staying within the format, which is a challenge that I've
always managed to do), I always yearned to really be able to "stretch out"
just a little more. In '87 I finally got the chance.
9. I was one of those
'top 40 or death' kids until I came to New York in the summer of '78 and heard
you on 'PLJ. I'm guessing I was typical of a lot of listeners? Did you get a constant
influx of fresh graduates of WABC? Yes, I suppose I did. I think that
was just a natural evolution of most music fans, just growing up and getting more
into their favorite artists. Of course around that time as well, disco was really
infiltrating the charts, and album rock was getting more diverse. I suppose another
factor was a somewhat more natural DJ delivery, combined with conversation that
was more informative about the music, which was what was bringing them to FM.
The stereo quality was certainly another element.
10. 'PLJ struck me
as one of the tightest-sounding FM stations of that time - moreso to my ears than,
say, 99X, which was actually doing top 40 then. Were you not the only personality
there with a background in top 40? I think the idea was to have a tighter
play list, yet presented in a way that sounded as if we were just playing what
we wanted. Besides my Top 40 background (which gave me the advantage of verbally
editing my talk breaks, in other words, if you can say the same thing in 30 seconds
instead of 90, do it), there were others with "AM's" on their resumes:
Jim Kerr had worked at WLS in Chicago and in fact, WKNR in Detroit with me. I
think Tony Pigg had done some Top 40 early in his career as well.
11. So, who had longer
hair then, you or Carol Miller? Me.
12. You always sounded
to me like you were having a good time on the air during the years in the '80s
when 'PLJ - or should I say Power 95 - went over to top 40. What's your take on
that? Really, I always have fun when I'm on the air. When PLJ went
CHR June 30th 1983 I was fine with that, or should I say I decided I was OK with
that. We had around a 4.5 share at the time so it was kind of a strange thing
to happen. I justified it in my own mind for a couple of different reasons. First
off, I was so tired of playing "Roundabout" as an example, that not
playing the same tracks off the same LP's (feels good to say LP's again) had a
certain appeal. Secondly, I still got to play Van Halen & Bob Seger, but now
I got to play Marvin Gaye again, which I certainly didn't mind. The "Kajagoogoo"
type stuff I wasn't crazy about, but I was paid to do a job, and I still enjoyed
it. By that time as well I was running my own board again, playing jingles, &
talking up records, so really what's not to like? By the way, the reason I remember
the exact date of the format change is because for months we'd been giving our
listeners tickets to a 4th of July boat ride around Manhattan on The Circle Line.
Here we were, for three hours on a boat where we couldn't escape, with "Lynyrd
Skynyrd" people coming up & asking us what the F*CK were we doing playing
Madonna now? Rough crowd that night!
13. While at WNEW-FM you
were PD for awhile and did mornings for awhile. Over the decade you were there,
what were the most rewarding aspects of working at the place "where Rock
lives" (or would that be lived)? I
really just loved the whole experience of working at 'NEW. It got tough though
over the years because it changed ownership so many times. Every time that happened,
changes went down and the station would shift direction. Not totally, but enough
to slow down any momentum we were making. When I became PD, I really wanted to
get the station back to a much broader play list, with "deep cuts",
cool special events, concerts, etc., more of the "feel" of the WNEW
FM people grew up with, but I really wasn't given enough time for it to establish.
I also wanted to make the station fun as well. I wanted to be serious about playing
great music, but not too serious. I remember putting some different sounding IDs
on the station. One of my favorites was "Let's face it, New York Radio Sucks,
We Just Suck Less!" It was just a joke, an attention getter, but there were
jocks at the station that were offended by it. Lighten up! When they asked me
to do mornings (which I did for three years), I really didn't want to do it, but
they made me an offer I couldn't refuse. I gave up the PD gig, took mornings knowing
I wasn't going to beat Howard and did the best I could. It started out OK as I
was at least going to play "music in the morning". Then they told me
I had to do "bits", and then the next PD said I had to have lots of
guests. Not just rock stars, but authors & people promoting whatever. Then
it was "famous" people. I had everyone from Bozo The Clown & Captain
Kangaroo to Mary Tyler Moore, Chris Rock, & Jerry Springer, to The Dunkin'
Donuts guy & Ronald McDonald. Then, the station became "New York's Rock
Alternative", which was a very bad move, because it wasn't. No consistency
at all for those three years. Without consistency (and without promotional support)
I had no chance of getting big ratings. Must tell you though, I still managed
to have fun. It was a challenge and hard work and sometimes frustrating, but I
still had fun!
You've gotten the chance to meet and interview so many recording acts over the
years. Can you boil all that down to a few real highlights? Just call me the
luckiest guy in the world. I've met just about every musical hero I've ever wanted
to meet. The Beatles, The Stones, The Who. Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, John Lee
Hooker, Marvin Gaye, Bob Seger, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band, really
an A (Aerosmith) to Z (ZZ Top) list. Favorite in studio guests with their instruments:
James Taylor playing his guitar, and Leon Russell with his keyboard. Unbelievable!
Yet, two of the coolest things for me happened this past two weeks. This past
Friday I introduced The Funk Brothers at The Hammerstein Ballroom, and two weeks
ago I flew to St. Louis & spent the weekend with Rock'n'Roll Hall of Famer
Johnnie Johnson (www.Johnnie.com). While there I interviewed Johnnie, and my interview
with him will appear as a bonus disc on his new album "I'm Just Johnnie"
which hopefully will be released on his 79th birthday in July. He's got special
guests Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby, Johnny Rivers, & John Sebastian already
in the can, and more special guests TBA, and boy does it ever sound great, and
I just heard the "rough" mixes. What a thrill!
Doing airwork at CBS-FM these days must be like coming full circle, since you
get to play many of the tunes that were hits when you started out. Has it hit
you that way at all, or what's the thrill of doing oldies radio on a station with
so many legendary personalities? Yes, it's like it has come full circle. I'm
having a ball at CBS FM, such fun being on the air there. I've known Cousin' Brucie
& Dan Ingram since I came to New York as WABC was right across the floor from
'PLJ. Really they're all great, and CBS FM has ALWAYS been a pre-set. I've still
got a CBS FM "listener card" from the 70's that I never told anybody
I sent for to prove it!
While a few of us might remember April 9 as the day that statue came down, the
rest of us know its real significance, that being your 30th anniversary on New
York radio. Are you the kind of guy to reflect upon that, and, if so, would you
mind terribly sharing some of those reflections? When I first decided to accept
the job in New York, Jan and I hoped we'd be able to stay for two years, 10 years
as our wildest dream. I can only tell you that these 30 years have flown by, and
I've loved every minute of it. (Our 30-year wedding anniversary's coming up next
month, our daughter Karson's now graduated from college, and our daughter Tierney's
about to start. Those are the most important reflections I could share with you).
Regarding your voiceover work, you once told me a story about answering a call
for a "Pat St. John-type voice" and not getting the job. That's probably
not the strangest thing that's happened in your other career, is it? Oh man!
Alright, I'm going to give you just one here. I've never admitted this before.
I'm the narrator on the "book-on-tape" titled Vanna Speaks. Yes, that's
me reading compelling copy such as "Vanna White's life began as a little
.". Pretty impressive, eh?
Then there's "New Year's Rockin' Eve." How'd you hook up with
Dick Clark, anyway? That gig was one my agent arranged. I think they sent
Dick Clark's people their announcer's reel & I was picked. Funny, I watched
him when I was a toddler, and now I introduce him on ABC TV every New Year. There's
some sort of synergy happening, kind of like the magic that's been happening all
my life. I'm telling you, just call me the luckiest guy in the world!
In recent years you've done some work on Motown's boxed sets, and currently you're
writing about music for The Audiophile Voice.
Is there a book in Pat St. John? There might be some day, but not yet. I am
working on really expanding my web site though. Right now it's basically just
my Voiceover page at PatStJohn.net, and I'm just finishing installing a home recording
studio, so I'm pretty busy. Putting together a web site is a very time-consuming
thing, and when I launch it, I want it to be fun for everybody. Sure it'll be
sort of a scrapbook with photos & stories & stuff, but lots of sounds
too that I think people will enjoy. Interview clips, the "Big Montage",
special segues & sets people may remember, maybe music trivia, and an "Ask
Pat" section so we can talk about radio & music together. I'm working
on it, yet I'm not going to launch all the other pages 'til it's all ready. That
will probably be my book.
This probably sounds horribly cliche, but, what haven't you done that you'd
like to? Two things come to mind. 1) I'd like to have a hit record, and 2)
I'd like to be in a hit movie. OK, now that I've answered your 20 questions, I've
got two for you: 1) Do you think that the fact that I can't sing or play an instrument
will prevent me from achieving #1? And 2) I'm really not a very good actor, do
you think that'll hurt my chances of being cast in a hit movie?
put: 1) Fabian, and 2) Fabian. Now, give your agent his marching orders.