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Airwaves: May 8, 2009

Emmis Fun

In a previous column, I took radio station owner Emmis to task for essentially pulling the plug on Movin’ 93.9 and selling out to a foreign-run company just when Movin’ was on the move, so to speak. I stated my opinion that many of the successes Emmis had in programming stations was by accident, and used Power 106, one of Los Angeles’ most successful stations over the past two decades, as one example. Excessive research was -- and is -- my pet peeve with the company.

But that’s just one side of Emmis, and I want to take the time today to stress that in many ways, I admire the company. For it was a local Emmis station, Magic 106, that took a lowly radio star-struck college student in as an intern back in 1984.

Now let’s make something clear from the start: an intern is essentially slave labor. No pay, no guarantees. But that didn’t matter to me, I just wanted to see what it was like to work in a major market radio station.

My first job was to act as producer for the Sonny Melendrez afternoon show, which meant getting the music and commercials together and ready to play -- they were all on cartridges resembling 8-track tapes back then -- along with answering phones, logging requests and the like.

Soon I was being shown how to put commercials on tape for airing, sitting in on commercial tapings, expanding my producer duties to other shows (Laurie Allen, primarily, though I worked with Brian Roberts, Charlie Fox, Haagan Higgins and a few others). I even worked at live Breakfast Broadcasts with Robert W. Morgan; imagine working with one of the most legendary jocks in all of Los Angeles radio!

I was allowed to “play” with the production equipment, where I learned how to correctly splice reel to reel tape for editing commercials and phone calls for playing on the air. And I hung around the engineering department long enough to become friends with engineers Tom Koza and Terry Grieger, who trained me for great things when I became Chief Engineer at UCLA’s student station, KLA.

I was in heaven. I absolutely loved working there, and much of it had to do with how well everyone, and I mean everyone, treated me, and trusted me. I was as much family at that station as anyone else. I hung out with Al Tavera in the music department and Ron Rodrigues (later Jeff Wyatt) in programming. I met some talented production directors who taught me well, from Joel Salkowitz to Tony Gage to Douglas Brown and, when the station became Power 106, Eric Edwards.

Even the bigwigs from Emmis corporate treated me well, including Rick Cummings and others who let me sit in on some of their dinners where they strategized the direction of the station.

I don’t know if the corporate culture at Emmis is still the same as it was 1984 - 1986, but I will agree with one former employee who stated that they never worked at a job that was so much fun. I know that I gained far more from my experience there than any other job I have ever held, and I still have very fond memories of my experience. So this week I want to extend my hand out to everyone at Emmis and say, “thank you.” Thank you for one of the best experiences I have ever had. I will always treasure the memories.


Copyright © 2009 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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