Behind the mic at WSPDWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
It has been a long time, but I know what tough physical labor feels like. I have worked stints landscaping, loading packages for UPS, bussing tables at Bob Evans and assembling beds and furniture for a waterbed store. Guest-hosting a radio show does not align with the physical effort required by those jobs, but as I recently learned, there are myriad ways to define “exhausting.”
As part of a new alliance with 1370 WSPD, I have taken on responsibilities as WSPD news director and vacation fill-in guest host for the morning and afternoon programs. To kick off this new era with a trial by fire, I sat in for six straight days while morning show host Fred LeFebvre traveled to Colorado for his mother’s 95th birthday. I co-host a weekly one-hour arts and philanthropy show at 6 p.m. Fridays on WSPD, “Eye on Your Weekend,” and I have guest-hosted on different shows in the past, but nothing like this six-day commitment.
It helped tremendously that I was guest-hosting during election week; that guaranteed guests, callers and content for most of my time in the chair.
Casual listeners may think a radio news talk host saunters into the studio at 5:45 a.m., grabs the mic at 6 a.m., slams coffee, wings his or her way through three hours filled with news breaks, commercial breaks, traffic breaks and syndicated feature breaks, goes home to nap and then has an open afternoon and evening to write poetry and organize a stamp collection, in between cashing fat checks and navigating groupies.
But in my limited experience, only one or two of those perceptions are true.
My first morning filling in was a Friday, Nov. 1. I started planning and worrying about content nearly one week in advance. Which candidates and nonprofit representatives would I invite on the show? What backup stories would I have ready between guests, or worst case scenario, if a guest failed to show?
Writing a newspaper column for 20 years (I know, you’d think I’d be better at it by now) has trained me to work without the need for instant feedback; it’s not like stand-up comedy, where audience reaction can determine the pace and flow of a show.
It is often three full days between the completion of a column and the first time any readers begin calling, emailing or posting comments to Facebook. Radio offers much quicker feedback but it is still not instantaneous; many minutes can pass between a comment and any contact with a caller. Part of the game with live radio, especially for a relative amateur like myself, is to try to judge when conversation is compelling without immediate live response.
During my WSPD stint, the morning show crew of Don Zellers and Adam Ragle were more than integral; they were indispensable members of a team effort to keep a three-hour show on track. Any success I had at hitting news breaks, commercial breaks, traffic breaks and syndicated feature breaks was due entirely to them; the failures were strictly mine.
I was surprised at how completely the three-hour show dominated my mindset throughout the day. Nearly everything I read, watched and heard went through a “Could this be used on the show?” filter. A lot of that may have been the learning curve, but I suspect that it is part of the job; it’s not so much show prep for the day as it is a mindset for a profession.
That first Friday went well, with guests such as Dock Treece, who is in the center of a major news story concerning the future of Toledo Express Airport; Toledo City Council candidate Joe Celusta; Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education incumbent candidate Bob Vasquez; and lifestyle news with guests Casey Pogan of The Town Center at Levis Commons and Suzanne Carroll, who was just 48 hours from her final broadcast of the long-running “Jazz Brunch” radio show. I am comfortable with an interview format and did not leave myself much nonguest time to fill. I ensured that by having the “Eye on Your Weekend” team — film critic James A. Molnar, pop culture Jedi Jeff McGinnis, comic book expert and pulp fiction author Jim Beard and actor/director Matthew Gretzinger — on hand to fill any open air.
The centerpieces for Monday’s show were two one-hour interviews with the mayoral candidates, incumbent Mike Bell and Councilman D. Michael Collins. The one-hour format allowed us to focus on the last-minute issues and concerns callers raised and I was grateful for the participation of both men. I asked them both to keep some time open for a return visit on the day after the election, knowing only one of them would have to make the trip to the studio.
Election Day was filled with levy talk; after an interview with Toledo City Council incumbent candidate Adam Martinez, listeners heard from TPS Interim Superintendent Romules Durant, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority CEO and President Paul Toth and Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities Superintendent John Trunk.
The first three days flew by and I was nine hours into the 18-hour run. I knew the post-Election Day would provide plenty to talk about, but Thursday and Friday were looming large with more air time depending on me and less on guests. I know a host like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck can fill a week of programming with their opinions and few to no guests if they choose. But operating more from a news platform than an opinion one, and not yet confident in my on-air skills, I was hesitant to leave too much open time.
There is also a line to walk when working with newsmakers; my responsibilities to Toledo Free Press and WSPD are primarily news gathering. I can separate my opinions from news coverage in print by containing the former to Page 3, but it’s a different challenge with radio and requires more nuance. One of the inevitable message board critics described me as “wishy-washy,” but that’s more a reflection of his/her lack of sophistication and inability to discern subtlety than it is of my reality.
A show host unencumbered by journalism parameters can use a sledgehammer at will; my main available tool is the ice pick.
Because while I am ethically bound to leave that sledgehammer lying there, tempting as it often is, I use the ice pick to communicate opinion with almost every decision. Which pre-election guests did I book? Whom did I invite on for Election Day? Who was on post-Election Day? Those choices are strong opinions in themselves. My conversation may be moderate but I am telegraphing to you with every second.
If you do not understand the mechanical differences inherent in those tools — and if you require opinions be funneled to your brain through a megaphone instead of presented to you for your own decisions — that’s your intellectual defect, not mine.
It’s not heavy lifting, but it’s a heavy challenge — and one I am looking forward to meeting.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press
and Toledo Free Press Star and news director for 1370 WSPD. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: 1370 WSPD, actor/director Matthew Gretzinger, Adam Ragle, Bob Evans, Casey Pogan, Colorado, comic expert and pulp fiction author Jim Beard, Councilman D. Michael Collins, Don Zellers, Eye on Your Weekend, Facebook, film critic James A. Molnar, Fred LeFebvre, Jazz Brunch, Levis Commons Suzanne Carroll, Mike Bell, pop culture Jedi Jeff McGinnis, Radio, Toledo City Council candidate Joe Celusta, Toledo Express Airport, Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Board of Education incumbent Bob Vaquez, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority CEO and President Paul Toth, TPS Interime Superintendent Romules Durant, UPS