April MD of the Month:
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Tell us about Altrok Radio. How it got started and what makes it unique in your radio market.
Altrok Radio was named sarcastically, because our market had a long-established alternative station that evaporated in favor of a station whose definition of “alternative” was Maroon 5. And so I figured, if I called what I’m doing “Altrok” and while doing so kept paying attention to the bands and styles that established the genre, how could anyone argue?
How long have you been Content Director for Altrok Radio? What came first? Altrok Radio or the show on WBJB?
I became Content Director for Altrok Radio when it started on HD in 2010, but I’d been directing Altrok’s content for far longer. Altrok actually started as a blog around 2002 at altrokradio.com, where I’d opine about the sorry state of commercial alternative radio in general. (I’d also marvel at how easy it was to link up to new avenues of music discovery, so it wasn’t entirely splenetic.) In 2003, Bill Stella, then at WRSU, invited me to turn my online whining into radio – which I’d done throughout the eighties and early nineties at WRSU and at WHTG FM106.3, but had abandoned in favor of a “real” career. (Which continues to be real to this day.) It became The Altrok Radio Showcase, a weekly sojourn into what I felt was relevant from the classic alternative period, and also what was happening right then during the dancepunk renaissance of the early 2000s, mining heavily from the music of my salad days. By 2005, some of my former compatriots from FM 106.3 had found a home at 90.5 The Night, WBJB-FM, and they suggested I come along with the Showcase as well. When multi-channel HD Radio arrived for us around 2010, I already had a format ready to go and was asked to make it do so, and that continues from our home base at WBJB as today’s altrokradio.com. So the actual short answer is, blog, then show, then station, though all three co-exist today.
What is your screening process for the music that comes in each week? What factors go into what gets added?
First and foremost, it’s got to make me move, preferably with rhythm, though sheer intensity occasionally wins the day. As a former FM106.3-er and a student of WLIR back in the eighties, I’m still kind of drawing a line between myself and the kind of self-indulgent corporate or prog-ish rock I rebelled against at the start of that era. Which is why I never understand why anyone would enjoy throwbacks to that era of rock bloat I was so desperate to get away from. The closer a track is to “dancepunk”, the more likely I am to add it. Also, a data point: on average, I find women are making more interesting music these days than men, full stop. Altrok Radio’s playlist reflects that; “I’ve already added enough women” is not a rule I have. However, “I only have ten adds” *is* a rule I have. So it’s kinda competitive.
What is your personally most anticipated upcoming release for 2019?
The one I don’t see coming. The Cure will have a new release out, and I anticipate giving it a fair hearing, but it’s by no means a slam dunk. It’s still gotta be good. If it wasn’t and I were to add it anyway, knocking a new artist with a good record out of an available slot, I wouldn’t be doing my job.
Do you have a favorite artist or album you never get tired of listening to?
Too many to mention. They’re all in classics rotation on Altrok Radio, and I grin from ear to ear three times an hour when they come on.
What is the best live show you have ever attended?
As a starving college student too young for his class (I started college aged 17 years, 2 months) I didn’t have the money to do a lot, and I didn’t have the age to get in the door if I did. It was only after I got to commercial radio that I finally got to see good shows – usually comped, since radio actually didn’t pay much. But one night seeing Husker Du at The Ritz (now Webster Hall) in New York, my friend Liz said “we’re gonna be telling our grandkids about this, aren’t we?” I plan to.
Who is an artist or band completely outside the realm of college radio that people might be surprised to know you love?
I’m married to a truly dyed-in-the-wool Bruce Springsteen fan, and in the process of internalizing every little piece of trivia I can find about the guy to keep up with her in conversation, I’ve unwittingly become a fan myself. Besides, I figure a guy that covers The Clash and Suicide (and who was present for the recording of one of the latter’s albums) can’t be a bad guy at all. It was only relatively recently (geologically speaking) that I found he was a fan of WHTG-FM 106.3 back when I was on the air there, so that didn’t hurt his standing with me.
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Goin’ to Disney World in 1972, of course! (And there are those – who you’d never expect to do so – who perk up when you casually drop a mention of John Hench, Ward Kimball or Mary Blair into a conversation. You know who you are…)
What event/or individual in your life would you say shaped you the most as a person?
What I am now, as a person, was absolutely informed by my parents. I see them in me pretty much everyday. As a person who plays music, I can run through every person I ever heard on radio in New York, from William B. Williams, Ted Brown and Jim Lowe on WNEW (AM), to Jimmy Fink, Pat St. John and Carol Miller on WPLJ, to Joe From Chicago, Meg Griffin and Jane Hamburger on WPIX-FM, to Denis McNamera, Donna Donna, Mark The Shark, Malibu Sue and Willowbee on WLIR. And then there’s Steve Maffei and Tony Dell’olio at WRSU who showed me how to actually make radio happen, and who assigned me to a mentor at WRSU that couldn’t love the music any harder, Matt Pinfield. He showed me how to open up the mic and really be something back in 1981. And before this gets too long (too late) I’ll mention the guy that gave Matt and I the wave over to commercial radio in 1984, then-FM106.3 MD Mike Marrone, and the PD that actually believed in what we were doing enough to hire us, Rich Robinson. Rich is now my PD when I’m on FM at on 90.5 The Night today, so old habits die hard.
If you could choose, what time period in the past would you most want to travel back to and visit and why?
I’m fascinated by the late fifties and early sixties, especially by firebrands in that era like Rod Serling and Ernie Kovacs. But I know enough about that era to know how it’d likely disappoint me if I actually set foot in it. Here and now is pretty good…though I’d hope someone from a better future would think the same of these late teens as I do about the fifties and sixties.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in town that you always make sure to take guests/visitors to?
Since I’m in central Jersey (closer to “The Shore”) there’s a lot of “in towns” I tout. If I’m in NYC’s Lower East Side, there’s Marshall Stack and their broiler menu, and Vandal if you’re looking to spend a bit. In Asbury Park, Reyla does terrific Mediterranean, and the Asbury Park Distillery has the best craft cocktails one can lay lips on, but every corner has another interesting food spot.
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Demand Pay or Play contracts. Yakko, Wakko and Dot would never steer me wrong.
Dog or Cat? Yes. (A few of each.)
Cold drinks or hot ones? The later it is, the colder I like ’em. (Just to verify: We were talking about DRINKS, okay? DRINKS!!)
Morning Person or Night Owl? In this business? Insomniac.
City or Country? Oliver and Lisa both make good arguments. But I couldn’t say “Goodbye, city life!” permanently; I have to stop in regularly for a recharge.
Watch TV or Read A Book? I’m usually on a computer, so reading the TV?
Winter or Summer? Summer, but really Spring or Autumn. I’m celtic, I get crispy. Winter sucks though, that’s for sure.
Dine or Delivery? Dine, absolutely. With a blonde and a good bottle of wine. (My wife’s a blonde, y’see, and she agrees about the wine.)
Fly or drive? I’m a sucker for an expanse of previously unexperienced roadway.
Pants or Shorts? I wear shorts under protest – mostly from the people who see me in them.
Do you have any current favorite TV show obsessions? What is the best movie you’ve seen recently?
My free time is beholden to the radio, but “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has caught my eye, though I’ve really only gotten through a few episodes (and spoiled myself on the rest.) I’m very interested in what Jordan Peele will bring to “The Twilight Zone”, though. I caught the original Twilight Zone episode “The Invaders” last night on Hulu and found Agnes Moorehead’s wordless performance mesmerizing once again, even though she does take an axe to the spaceship prop from the movie “Forbidden Planet”. Movies? Who has time?
Finally, has it been your experience that April showers do indeed bring May flowers?
Yup, and they keep the March weeds green, to boot.