A Day's Work

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Sep 2002 / a day's work :: email this story to a friend

Between the Music
By Ron "Johnny Rabbitt" Elz

Seems there's a natural curiosity about what life's like for those in a business other than our own. I'm frequently asked about the broadcast biz and what's typical for a person on the air — so if you've an interest in such matters, here's my story and an answer to the most oft-asked question. But remember, every radio station is as unique as each personality on the air.

A Typical Week:

Johnny Rabbitt Saturday. Pick up a costume from Johnny Brock's Dungeon in Hampton Village to wear at our regular Monday 11 a.m.-1 p.m. personal appearance at Argosy's Alton Belle Casino. Visit stores (such as Jean Haffner's Record Exchange on Hampton, Dan Warner's Webster Records, or Joe Schwab's Euclid Records) or eclectic collectors like Lester Neal, formerly of the late Great Atlantic and Pacific Music Company, or Professor Tigger (he begs anonymity) in the never-ending search for those certain, elusive songs to play on the air or to use in our daily Kollege of Musical Knowledge games. Next, it's creating a prize list for games on The Belle. The prizes are generally from our station's promotion department, advertisers, music companies and book publishers. This week — since I'm hosting a big band dance at the Alton Belle on Sunday — I'll need prizes for both Sunday and Monday. Between the two dates we'll go through about 30 items. I'll also spend some two hours culling tidbits for on-air use from newspapers and magazines. All in all, I'll put in about six hours related to WRTH.

Sunday. It's off to The Belle at 11 a.m. to set up for the dance with the Original Knights of Swing, an 18-member big band. As host, I'll greet the crowd (a sell-out) and act as M.C. from 1 to 4. After seeing the guests off and shutting down lights and sound, I'll head for home in St. Louis Hills, arriving about 5:30. Including driving, this is a six-and-a-half hour radio-related day. I'll hit the hay about 8:30.

Monday. I'm up at 3, have breakfast, spend a few minutes with Mazie the dog, go over my on-air prep material (I end up using about 25% of this stuff), gather up my Alton Belle prizes and costume and drive to WRTH in our fancy new digs at 11647 Olive Blvd., just east of Ballas Rd. behind the Denny's and next to Kinko's. Using my magic entry card, I enter the ground floor lobby and take the stairs (elevators worry me) to the second level where my card gets me into the upper lobby. Then I flash the card again, which this time allows me entry through the giant door with the bulletproof glass (no kidding), which gets me into an inner limbo lobby. Then after one more swipe of the card, I'm past the final security door and actually in the inner sanctum of radio stations.

WRTH, which is owned by Bonneville International Corporation (The Mormon Church), shares this incredibly beautiful, huge, and better-than-state-of-the-art facility with WIL, WSSM and WVRV. There are six studios on the south side of the corridor and five studios on the north. I enter the vast, dark WRTH studio, flip the lights on and ascertain that the computers that run everything are as they should be; then I set up the mixing board (console) for my "live" show which starts at 6. Right now it's about 5. I download about a dozen feature pages from the Metro Networks terminal (they also provide our traffic reports and news stories). These range from tonight's TV to weird stories in the news, health reports to oldies music stories. Monica Adams, the very fine news director/reporter WRTH shares with WIL, drops off more feature fluff such as "Today In St. Louis History," "Today's Birthdays" and "Today in History." By this time someone, — I've never found out who — has dropped off the morning paper at the studio door. (Too bad it's not the Globe-Democrat, but that's another story.)

I go through this material, check three fax machines for more "stuff" and make an effort to somewhat organize this fresh info with what I've brought from home. I'll next write up a weather forecast and then it's off to my office for "special" contesting music, commercial continuity, ear phones and an emergency supply of appropriate CDs just in case the digital displays disappear, which happens with some frequency. Next I pick up an arm full of notes, copy and the headsets and enter a smaller adjacent studio to "voice track," or pre-record, the 9 a.m.-noon portion of my show. This procedure takes 30-35 minutes. It's too complicated to detail here, but it's actually easy to do, including re-recording voice track selections if you don't like they way they sounded the first time.

Then it's three hours live on the air playing 10-12 songs an hour from artists such as Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Diana Krall, Harry Connick, Jr., Sarah Vaughn, Four Freshmen, Steve Tyrell, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams. In between the music, I juggle NBC News, local news, traffic reports, weather, pre-recorded commercials and from 8 a.m.-noon, "live" testimonial spots for clients such as McMahon Lincoln Mercury, Fasteel Basement Waterproofing, Biggie's Restaurant, Frederic Roofing, Hilliker Corporation, Federhofer's bakery, the Charless Home, Fast Eddie's Bon Air and Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. Then, dropped in through the morning, is some of the feature prep material. This is a low-budget show, so other than Monica doing the news, it's a one-person operation. When 9 a.m. comes around, I put the computer on automation, gather up my collection of goodies and turn off the lights until 6 the next morning. So for 21 hours a day WRTH is automated. "Hmmm, where'd all those DJs go?" I wonder.

Next on Monday, I rush off to the Alton Belle for our weekly party, which I've hosted for over eight straight years. I arrive at the Belle at 10, set up for the show, put on my costume (this week I was Elvis, which included a few moves on stage), then host the party, which includes lunch and bingo. After shaking hands with the attendees and wrapping up some Belle biz, I stop in to see Alton's Fast Eddie, one of my sponsors, and then make the 50-minute drive home where I roll in at a little after 3. Which makes this a solid, 11-hour, non-stop workday.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. A repeat of Monday with the exception that at 9 there are other things to do such as: visiting accounts, going on sales calls, recording commercials, writing commercials and promotional announcements, setting up interviews, recording public affairs programs, answering regular mail and e-mail, returning and making calls, scheduling board operators, etc. No, I don't have a secretary nor an assistant, but I'm not griping. I like it this way. Every day is exciting. It's fun being on the air and before live audiences, helping make people forget their troubles. It's a great life and after 48 years in radio I wouldn't have it any other way or in any other city.

Oh, in my spare time I'm helping develop a Memories Room for the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, writing a book on PROM Magazine, appearing regularly on KSDK's "Show Me St. Louis" with Johnny Rabbitt's Unusual St. Louis, creating trivia nights, and writing for publications such as the nostalgic St. Louis Globe-Democrat and Gateway Heritage Magazine. Then there's serving as MC of Bevo Day, announcer for the Veterans Day Parade, hosting a show called a Century of Media for the Missouri Historical Society, Ghost Tours of St. Louis and... well you get the picture.

I almost forgot. The question I'm most asked is: "How much does a DJ make?" With some 50 stations in this area you could be making as little as minimum wage to the low six-figures, but the average is probably in the $25-40,000 range. For more details contact the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists at (314) 231-8410.

Johnny Rabbitt is the voice of WRTH 1430 AM.

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