by Dennis Daniel
I changed radio stations. For ten years, I was at WBAB, an AOR station. Ten years! Since I'm only thirty years old, that works out to one-third of my life. I'm now the Production Director of WDRE, a progressive rock radio station, one of the few in the country. We play a lot of new artists: Depeche Mode, Erasure, Concrete Blond, UB40. (I know, a lot of you are saying, "Who?") Our "classic" artists are people like David Bowie, The Cars, U2, Elvis Costello, Blondie, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, etc.. For lack of a better description, it's "New Wave" kind of music (although that term is now demeaned out of style). Quite a change from Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Motley Crue.
Why did I leave WBAB?
About six months ago, many of you read my "Production Stress Anxiety" piece. I didn't know it then, but some of the contributing factors that led me to my panic attacks were work related. Although work related stress is a very common thing, I didn't think of it because, hey, "I love my job! I'm doing what I want to do! I'm working in radio! I know people that would cut off their left (fill in the blank) to be doing what I'm doing! What right have I got to complain? It beats the hell out of building a new third lane on Sunrise Highway!"
If you're reading this, chances are you are a creative person. Let me speak to your creative nature for a moment: Do you feel trapped? Do you feel as if you have much more to give and not enough chances to give it? Have you accomplished all you can at your present job and feel ready for new challenges? Are you really doing what you want to do? My problem was that I convinced myself to accept my current situation for so long, my unacknowledged unhappiness began to eat away at me from the inside. I did such a terrific job fooling myself into believing I was happy, my subconscious (who knew I was miserable) started to attack me at different angles. "You're no good. You lie for a living. Your life is a lie. I'm not going to let you relax." All of these thoughts and more started creeping into my head. I called him my "Phantom."
Okay. So I realize I'm not happy. What do I do now?
I couldn't do a thing.
I had security at WBAB. Hell, I was part of the woodwork. I was a comfy chair that could always be relied upon to get the job done. My GM used to call me "a lifer," someone who would always be there. I used to like that terminology, but now... it sounded like a prison sentence!
I felt a sense of loyalty to WBAB. I accomplished so many great things there: The Clio Award, the International Radio Festival, the Firsty and more. Everyone loved my stuff! They loved me! I was just a kid when I started there, and they gave me the chance to develop into a pro. They were all good people.
My production brethren, the only person you should ever really have a sense of loyalty to is yourself! I'm not telling you to be selfish or to do anything to hurt someone intentionally, all I'm saying is YOU HAVE TO BE TRUE TO YOURSELF! Sure, I won a lot of awards, but I WON THEM! I didn't have anybody's help. Yes, everyone loved my stuff, but that was because IT WAS GOOD! I CREATED IT! Sure, I developed into a pro, but it took TEN YEARS OF HARD WORK! So often we judge ourselves by the way others judge us. BULL#@&%! It's nice to have the praise of your peers, but the final analysis must be found within yourself. If you're happy with what you've done, that's all that really truly matters.
My major problem was that I felt I had accomplished all I could and was now just walking around in circles. My creative self was in limbo. Plus, I had chained myself down with all this loyalty crap and couldn't let go.
Over the years, I received many offers from other radio stations, production companies, and ad agencies to leave BAB and come to work for them. I even had several people offer to open "Dennis Daniel Productions." I talked to them all. I thought about it. It just didn't seem like the right thing to do. First off, there are so many production companies out there, I just didn't feel like competing. (I'm not saying I couldn't. I'm just not into the hard sell approach to make a living. Talk about pressure!) And ad agencies? SHEESH! You're as good as your last piece of work in places like that. Other radio stations? I was rooted on Long Island, married, with a kid on the way. I'm not a single, wandering nomad anymore.
So, what did I do? I stayed at BAB.
It's surprising how things change in a ten year period. When I started, there were five salespeople. Now, there were twelve. As the work load increased, the opportunities to be creative became less and less, while the need for more banged-out product grew and grew. And the people changed too. (This is bound to happen and can't be helped. We all change with time. It's just that some people became worse instead of better!)
So, here I am, going through anxiety and panic attacks, paying to see doctors and therapists, reading books about self-improvement, and praying to God that I get out of this blue funk.
Then, the phone call came.
"Hello, Dennis, this is Abe Goren, the General Manager of WDRE. I have something I'd like to talk to you about. Can we meet somewhere?"
I thought to myself, "Abe Goren? Oh yeah. We've met a few times at radio functions and the like. He seemed like a very nice guy. I wonder what he wants to talk about?" (Yes, I was dumb enough not to even consider the fact that he would want to hire me! I thought he wanted my advice on something. I've advised other radio stations before about production techniques.)
"What do you want to talk about Abe?"
"I'll tell you when I see you."
We met at a Chinese Restaurant about a mile north of WBAB. It was raining very heavily that evening and Abe was late (although he did call from his car to tell me). As I sat waiting for him, my mind raced! "What could he possibly want?"
When he arrived, he was not alone. With him was Denis McNamara, the Program Director! He's been on Long Island for years! What was HE doing here! Well, after the initial chit chat, it didn't take long to find out.
"Dennis, what would it take to have you come over to WDRE?" asked Abe.
My God. I couldn't believe it! My heart raced with excitement and fear at the same time. Another offer. What do I do?!
"Well, if I did decide to come over, you'd have to hire my team (Steve Morrison, my writing partner, and Barbara Grant, my assistant). I'd also need all the latest state of the art effects libraries on CD, along with a computer and a salary increase (although I didn't ask for too much). You'd also have to rebuild your studio set up. I'll need at least a 4-track facility, an 8-track would be even better!"
Abe and Denis told me it all sounded fine and that they'd talk to the owner and would give me a call the next day.
Now let me tell you something gang. Never, and I mean NEVER did I expect them to go for all this. Too expensive, I thought. They probably didn't realize that I had other people working with me. That's two other salaries to consider! Not only that, but a new studio too? A computer? Effects Libraries? They both were very nice guys, but maybe they didn't realize what it truly takes to make a great production department.
Abe called the next day.
He said, "You've got it. No problem."
Now came the toughest part of all. Telling the people at WBAB that I was leaving. Without mentioning any names, let me give you a few outstanding quotes from their reactions:
"I feel like I want to vomit."
"You're out of your mind."
"It's the biggest mistake you'll ever make in your whole life!"
"You just went from the top of a twenty-five step flight of stairs, right to the bottom step."
Plus a lot of other things not worth repeating.
Now, I don't blame them for reacting this way, but I will tell you that it hurt for me to hear it. It scared me. After a while though, they came to accept my reasoning (at least, I think they did). I told them that I didn't have any bad feelings for anyone there (which was true). I told them that I needed to grow as an artist (which was true). I told them I felt I had accomplished everything I could at WBAB, and it was time for me to move on. I even stayed an extra five weeks and helped them hire my replacement. I walked out clean and felt I left behind friends. My assistant, Barbara, stayed seven weeks! (She felt she owed it to them for giving her her first big break.) If all my years in radio taught me anything, it's this: NEVER BURN A BRIDGE BEHIND YOU.
WDRE is a fantastic place to work! The air is charged with excitement and growth potential! The station catch phrase is "Everything Else Is Just Regular Radio." Indeed, this is true. The format is unlike any other in the market! It's privately owned and Ron, the owner, has been a professional VO talent for over 20 years and has done national ads for just about everyone! He's someone I can really relate to! Since I've started, my whole attitude has changed. I feel more alive, more positive and more appreciated than ever before! I've also been going to a holistic doctor who's helped me to feel much better physically and mentally. I receive reflexology (massage of the head and feet), acupuncture, and I have a new, wonderful psychiatrist, Dr. Mel Katz, who has been helping me tremendously! In short, I've been reborn.
If you find yourself in the same situation that I was in, don't let it get you down! Work hard. Develop a style and technique. Sooner or later, if you're good, an offer will come to you. Either that, or you'll see a golden opportunity. I'd like to leave you this month with the words of Joseph Campbell, the great professor of mythology: "When all else fails, FOLLOW YOUR BLISS." ♦