R.A.P. Interview: Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll, President/Director, Mark Driscoll Productions, Philadelphia, PA

by Jerry Vigil

For most, Mark Driscoll needs no introduction. His career in radio spans nearly three decades, and his resume is replete with such powerhouse stations as WHB/Kansas City, WRKO/Boston, WIBG/Philadelphia, WOR/New York, KLOS/Los Angeles, WRC/Washington, 13Q/Pittsburgh, WWDJ/New York, KSLQ/St. Louis, WNBC/New York, WMJX/Miami, KIIS/Los Angeles, Z100/New York, KSTP/Minneapolis, WNOE/New Orleans, WDRQ/Detroit, and on and on. He made his name as a Program Director, APD, Music Director, and drive time jock, and his creative production and voice-over expertise has been with him all along the way. Today, Mark heads up Mark Driscoll Productions & Broadcast Services, providing creative services and "voice print" for various stations worldwide. Other services include consulting, studio design, workshops, research and development, and talent search/training. This oftentimes controversial man is despised and shunned by some, admired and respected by others. Despite the mixed criticism, one thing remains constant: Mark possesses a remarkable understanding of radio and an ability to successfully transfer this understanding to the airwaves.

R.A.P.: What are some of your earliest thoughts about radio, and where did you get your start?
Mark: I think I was very lucky. The whole radio thing was an adventure for me. It was so mystical. Radio was something you could pick up for hundreds of miles. I remember my dad helping me build my first coil radio that I used to go to sleep with every night. I used to hear stuff from all over the place. Back then, I never really had any aspiration to do radio. I was just totally infatuated with this mystical medium that was everywhere.

I was a karate teacher at a very young age. I had a student who was a disk jockey, and we hit it off. I think he was trying to figure out how this little kid was basically knocking him all over the place, and I was real impressed with the fact that he talked on the radio. So, he invited me to the radio station which was KELI-AM in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I got to rip the AP wire and cut it up for him, answer the request lines.... Then I discovered the production room, and I felt like the Wizard of Oz. You could pull the curtain, and nobody bothered you. You could do all kinds of stuff in there. I had no idea what I was doing. It was instinct. I think it was that instinct and whatever you want to call it -- higher power, God, gift -- that made me want to really jump in. There was no question I was a very right hemisphere, creative thinker who loved the opportunity and was very enthusiastic about the business, even through its dips. At a young age I was very impressionable, and I met so many incredible people along the way which was to my advantage.

I don't know that I was ever really a very good disk jockey. I think the FCC helped a lot by me having a first phone. That enabled me to get on the air at a young age when nobody else could. There was this kid in high school who was talking to another kid about the radio business. I overheard the conversation and just locked in on him. I went over to him, introduced myself, and talked to him for a minute or two. We chatted, had subsequent conversations, and he told me of his plans to go to Elkins in Dallas to get a first class license. I asked him what that was all about. He said that with the license you could be a disk jockey at night, and you were likely to get hired.

Well, my mother played bridge with the wife of the manager of KELI in Tulsa. During a bridge game, she mentioned the fact that I was going to get my license. Of course, my parents thought that being a disk jockey was not a real job, so they gave me permission to explore it, having no idea that I would explore it to its fullest. At any rate, this woman came back to my mom and said, "My husband said that as soon as your son finishes high school and gets his first phone...just tell him to look me up, and I'll bet you we can find a place for him in Tulsa at KELI." Well, I heard that and I just about jumped out of my cowboy boots. I knew by then that Elkins was a fast food, first phone place where you got that thing, and it was worth its weight in triple platinum. So, I tagged along with these two guys and went to Elkins.

I went through the course and got the license. Elkins had a big job board on the wall. There was this station in Muskogee, Oklahoma, KBIX -- a gigantic 250 watt daytimer. Muskogee wasn't too far away from Tulsa at the time. Now it's a suburb of Tulsa. Anyway, they needed a Chief Engineer, some salesman, and some disk jockeys. I hammered out a real quick letter. I had met Charlie Van Dyke when I snuck into KLIF one day, so I mentioned his name and a couple of others I hardly knew. I sent this guy this letter. Later, my mother called me in Dallas and said, "There's this fellow on the phone calling from Muskogee saying he got a letter from you and he has a job for you on the radio. What's this all about?"

My mother was a great supporter. My dad thought I should have been an architect or something. He was a pilot, and every once in a while he would fly me around, just to be with him. We had flown someplace in Texas to drop off a client. It was August 8, I remember, when I was supposed to show up for the interview at this station. I didn't know I was going to get the job and go on the air that day. I remember my father calling the tower at Muskogee Airport to have them relay a telephone message to this radio station that I'd be late -- and I've been late ever since. (laughs) The guy's name was Gale Lee, and he was the Manager, the engineer, the salesman, a disk jockey, everything in the world. When the airport called the radio station to say that Mr. Driscoll was flying in from Tulsa and was running about twenty or thirty minutes late, these people were freaking out. It was like, "Who is this guy?!"

Well, I was still in school, but I moved to Muskogee. My mom was a big realtor in Oklahoma, and she found me a little duplex that the original Johnny Dark had once occupied. My mother and father actually allowed me to move away and go to school in Muskogee, Oklahoma to pursue this ridiculous career. I think they were so stunned that they had no idea. Again, my mother was such a supporter that she made it happen. So, there I was, making eighty bucks every couple of weeks after taxes. The duplex cost sixteen bucks a month or something ridiculous like that. It was something else, but it was great.

We had an old Collins board, some cart machines, and QRK turntables. We had really high ceilings, and there were about six of those microphone snakes connected together, hung from the ceiling with a coat hanger, and that was the mike stand. On the end of it was an Electro-Voice PA mike. Of course we had the "Maggie," the Magnacorder, and you had to learn how to count spots by how many flips hit your thumb while you were doing the weather to figure out what commercial you were supposed to play, all the time running, what was then known as a "tight board" which was kind of hard to do. And of course, there was no processing. I think that was the year that I first heard of something called a Level Devil...and by the way, we didn't have one. I used to listen to WLS in Chicago back then, and I always wondered how they got that warm sound to their microphone, so I tried everything. I guess I was a processing freak from the very beginning. I finally found a rag that I put around the microphone with a rubber band that cut off the metallic sound and somewhat directionalized the microphone. It was kind of muddy, but it was certainly a lot better than it was.