By Bob Burnham
I grew up in the midst of radio and music. The Motown Sound was part of my background, but so was the Chicago Transit Authority album in the 1970s.
I found an old raw speaker, mounted it in a shoebox, snipped off the earpiece end of the earphone of my transistor radio (which I’d won in a TV contest), connected to the speaker terminals…plugged it into the radio’s earphone jack, and of course, it worked. The “shoebox speaker” sounded better than the radio all by itself.
That was one of my earliest radio “experiments” I can remember. I must have been about 10 years old at the time. Throughout my life, my “experiments” got more and more advanced, until eventually I was able to earn a salary doing stuff I enjoyed doing
HOW I GOT INTO IT (GET NOTICED)
Being in broadcasting and music was just a matter of knowing the right people at the right time. Whether I worked on those crafts as a hobby or a source of income, enough of the right people took notice, and here I am today.
I could have easily gotten work in fields that paid better, even gotten a business or journalism degree, but that’s not what I wanted..
STARTING OUT (RECOLLECTIONS)…
In the mid 1970s, Eastern Michigan University actually paid us to put in time at WEMU.
I did an afternoon show and was paid $2.90 an hour (minimum wage at that time was $2.65). I thought I was doing well, but as a Commercial Radio Guy, I didn’t quite fit into their National Public Radio “sound”! I loved Detroit’s WJZZ, but that’s not the approach THEY wanted (and I heard about it, too!).
I’ll never forget the PD (later GM), Art Timko’s words: “So you’re leaving us to become a superstar, huh!?” Art was a good guy though, but I was a commercial radio jock!
STILL TIME TO HAVE FUN…
Somewhere it the midst of it all, I was also spending time doing album rock overnights at Southfield’s WSHJ under Bob Sneddon. Of course, it was a volunteer situation, but I didn’t care…in the least! This was what I loved to do.
(If you’re in the Detroit area, several of us from that WSHJ era are planning to take over the station on April 29…88.3 starting at 4:00)
TREAT US WELL OR WE ARE OUTTA THERE!
Next, I was on the air mid-days at the long defunct, WBRB-AM out of Mt. Clemens, Michigan. I was paid a fixed salary of $150 per week. There was some things I wasn’t happy about, as when I say “fixed” salary, it truly was. Remotes were frequent and sometimes out of range of the stations’ signal. I was expected to wear a sport coat and tie even on hot summer days when the air conditioning was busted in the remote trailer. There were no gas allowances or talent fees, and they expected me to do shows on weekends in remote locations almost at a moments notice. When they hired a new PD who took my shift, I was busted down to part-time and they STILL expected me to do those remotes. I probably could have negotiated for a higher rate of pay, but I was already burned out from the whole situation.
ANN ARBOR & BEYOND…
Being at the right place at the right time, I was introduced to Jack Hood, then Operations Manager at Ann Arbor’s WAAM. Jack and I got along great. He took me under his wing and soon gave me the title of Production Director at WAAM while I was also on the air full time. Those years I always say were career highlights. I don’t even remember what I was paid, because it was never about money. Hearing tapes of my work at that time, you can tell I was having a good time. Not every day was great and after Jack and our original General Manager left, I saw the end of my time there closing in.
It took a while, but eventually I hooked up at WKHM in Jackson Michigan, briefly got rehired at WAAM, and after a few more stops, wound up at WCAR in the Detroit area, and the story goes on from there. Every station that actually hired me for money came from contacts I had developed or again, being in the right place.
It’s not about how good you are, what your demo sounds like, or how fancy your resume is. Those things certainly help, but mostly it’s about the people you know and being in the right place at the right time.
There’s a lot of people who helped me get to where I am, and you will encounter similar people down the path of life if you pursue it to the extent I did. If you want to make a lot of money especially in the beginning, you’d better find another business.
But if you want to be involved in a tough meaty business that you can really sink your teeth into, and hang with some of the coolest people anywhere. Do what I did: Go radio.
Just make sure you develop those CONTACTS!