R.A.P. Interview: Sandy Thomas

Sandy Thomas, Production Director, WXDJ-FM, Miami, Florida, and Owner of Sandy Thomas Production

by Jerry Vigil

He's not a twenty year veteran of radio, but he's in the 11th rated Miami market. Outside of college radio, his experience barely spans five years, yet he has already left the DJ's chair for the full time production gig and has started his own freelance sweeper/ID company. Our interview with Sandy Thomas didn't reveal a story about high tech studios, top rated radio, and a six figure income. Instead, we got a good glimpse of radio production in the trenches and a story about how passion and determination have carved a bright future for one of our colleagues.

Sandy: I went to school in Gainesville at the University of Florida starting in 1982. That's where I took my first broadcasting course, so you might say my radio career started there. From that point on, I knew what I would be doing for the rest of my life.

R.A.P.: After going the college station route, would you recommend it to someone wanting to get into radio?
Sandy: I suggest to anybody wanting to get into radio to go to a college where you have a radio station. You can acquire three or four years of experience before you're even out in the job market. Then you can walk into a medium or small market, get a job, and be solid. That's the problem with a lot of people that go to a broadcast school. Even after six months at a broadcast school, you still don't have the fundamentals to get a job.

I was fortunate to be in a situation at the university where I was around a commercial station. The university owns it, but it's run like any other commercial station. You have a Traffic Director, a Program Director, salespeople, and so on. The only part of the station that's run by college students is the announcing staff. Everybody else is on salary. Usually a college station is some 200 watt FM playing whatever you want to play. WRUF is formatted. It pumps a hundred thousand watts. There are spots and promotions, and the FM is the number one radio station in Gainesville. When you're in that environment for 3 years, you come out with some pretty solid experience.

R.A.P.: What did you do at WRUF?
Sandy: The AM was a beautiful music station and the FM was rock. I could never get on the FM because I had a heavy New York drawl, so I was on the AM. I could never convince the Program Director to put me on the FM, but I did production for him. I wound up doing production for both the AM and the FM, and did middays on the AM for about two years.

I stayed in that production studio every single night making air checks. I'd get home at about four in the morning. I think people starting in the business need to know that it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of time to grow. You probably improve about one notch every six months.

R.A.P.: What happened after college?
Sandy: I left Gainesville in 1984 and went to Miami to try and get a job. I couldn't find one. I got a few offers in some small towns, but I wasn't ready to do that. I was determined to try and break into the Miami market. I went back home to New York and started sending tapes out.

Getting my first job was a real long process. I bought a little Radio Shack mixer and made a little disc-jockey booth in my room. I would practice for about five hours a day, every day. I wasn't a nut or anything like that. I had my friends, I hung out, and I had my side jobs at restaurants or whatever, but I couldn't get a job -- I sucked. So, I just sat in that room every day and played disc-jockey. I'd do breaks and listen to radio a lot.

I think the best education in radio you can get is to just listen. Listen to the TV. Listen to national commercials. Listen to the inflections. Listen to radio. Listen to how disc-jockeys speak and be conversational. It's so ironic that we strive, in this profession, to just be who we are. What you want to achieve on the radio is just to be conversational, just to be yourself; but once you get in front of that mike, it's Mr. Disc-Jockey. If you just relax and talk, you're fine, but we get so uptight in the beginning that it takes a career to get to who we are anyway.

My parents would say, "Go out!" I'd tell them there was no way I was going to make it if I didn't practice. I'm going to have to practice. Finally, I got a little hit up in West Palm Beach. It was at WSBR, a little AM station just outside the Miami market. I interned at a couple of major stations in Miami, but as far as my first real job offer at a commercial station, it was WSBR in 1985.

R.A.P.: Tell us about your internships.
Sandy: I had one internship at Magic 102 helping out the morning guy. While I was interning, I would constantly try to get on the air. The PD at that time was Bob McNeal who is a big time country consultant now.

My other internship was at WSHE in Miami. I was like a production assistant there. I was filing tapes and stuff like that, but I started to progress. I started doing tags and even some full spots. Their morning guy was Jim McBean, and I think I attribute my mike technique to him. "Eat the mike," he used to say. I asked him how he got that nice delivery on the air, and he'd say, "Just get up on it and eat the mike." Watching and listening to him definitely affected my style.