R.A.P. Interview: Joey DiFazio

Joey DiFazio, Production Director, WFAN-AM, New York, NY

by Jerry Vigil 

WFAN-LogoThis month’s RAP Interview stops in at America’s top billing radio station. Believe it or not, it’s an AM station, the country’s first all sports station, and home of Don Imus. Handling the production duties for Imus as well as the imaging for the station is Joey DiFazio who has been at the station since it flipped the format switch from country to sports some 13 years ago. Joey gives us a tour of production at CBS/Infinity’s WFAN in New York where networked Audicys handle the daily production load. Check this month’s Cassette for an awesome demo filled with WFAN imaging as well as some work Joey has done for stations he images through his company, Image Audio/Joey Dee Voices.

JV: Tell us about your background in radio and how you wound up at WFAN.
Joey: Well, I started out doing several internships while working a full-time job. That went on for 3 years. Everybody was trying to get me to go to smaller markets to do what I was doing, but I refused to move out of the area. So I did internships in New York at WNYC, WNEW, MJI Broadcasting, and then WOR.

JV: Wow! That’s quite a lineup!
Joey: And the weird part of it was, I went to school because I wanted to be a DJ. But the teacher’s hot clock was just too much for me, so I started fooling around in the studio. One day he came back and said, “What are you doing?” and I said, “Well, just fooling around here.” I showed him some stuff, and he said, “Well, you’re the new Production Director.” So unlike a lot of people who started out wanting to be air staff and for some reason just couldn’t pull it off and ended up being Production Directors, I wanted to do this from the beginning.

After the internships, I was working sort of part-time for WOR, but enough hours to be full-time. I had like 80 hours a week between that and my full-time job, which was driving a truck, believe it or not. That’s when this new station started. It was WHN at the time, a country station, and they were coming on with a new format. I went in and applied for a board op position. This is back in ’87. I guess I said the right things. I think I mentioned the word “team” not knowing what the format was going to be at that time, and they said, “You’re hired.” It just swept me off my feet. I was actually the board op who pushed the button that switched us from country to all-sports.

JV: Have you been with WFAN all this time, since 1987?
Joey: Yes.

JV: How did the Production Director gig open up for you?
Joey: Board op-ing was definitely not my deal, so I pushed for a Production Director’s position as soon as I got here. I helped out and paid my dues working my way up. We had a Production Director here at the time, and I was doing a board op shift in the morning. I guess it was like a year, maybe 2 years later that I got the Production Director position.

JV: That’s pretty fast.
Joey: Yeah, but you know how it’s such a revolving door, and it’s an opportunity thing. Our Production Director at that time was doing Imas’ production, and I used to fill in for him when he went on vacations. Imas took a liking to me, probably because he just thought I was the weirdest thing on two feet, and when the position came open, it was Imas who said, “I want him.”

JV: What are some of the other CBS/Infinity stations in New York?
Joey: Well, we have K-Rock, which is our sister station, and then there’s CBS AM and CBS FM. WNEW is also part of the Infinity chain, there’s a lot of them.

JV: How many of these other stations are you dealing with?
Joey: I don’t deal with any of them, but I hope to in the future—I mean, not doing their imaging or anything like that, because I have enough to do, but I hope to be networking with them using our Audicys. That’s such an open door;  and I hope to be networking with other producers from the stations as well as from home.

JV: What are your responsibilities as Production Director and what help do you have?
Joey: It’s Production Director, but it’s more like a production coordinator. We have one full-time assistant, and we have one part-timer who comes in a couple of days each week. At this point, I’m in charge of all of Imas’ production, station imaging, and exclusive promotions with some of the salespeople when they want something especially unique done for one of their clients. All that’s done in my studio. The other studio is spots, all the repetitious work which my assistant does. His name is Paul Arzooman, and he’s a big help. I couldn’t do what I do without him. I almost think his position is more important than mine. He handles all of the spots. He gets all the talent to come in and voice it. He takes feeds. Whenever I get done with something and have a little time, I go over and help him get through the day. It’s all based around the amount of work that we have coming through here on any given day. I did what he does over there for years and years, and I wouldn’t want to go back to it. It’s just too much like factory work. It’s just endless. Once the sports teams come into play, that’s when I get more active in helping the producers because I do all the opens for all the sports teams. We had 5 at one time; we just lost one. All that gets done through this studio.

JV: What’s a typical day like for you?
Joey: Well, it starts at 5 o’clock in the morning producing the Imas Show. Now most of the stuff that I do, and the station knows about this, is my own stuff with Image Audio/Joey Dee Voices, a company that I have that services modern rock stations around the country. I do exclusively modern and active rock. I mean, way, way, over the edge, in your face. I think they call it confrontational imaging. So, while I’m here, I make my services useful to Imas, and he’s happy to have me around. I do a lot of stuff for him. At the drop of the hat, he can call me back here and get me on something, so it’s a give and take sort of thing. For example, yesterday, one of the performers was here, Rob Bartlett, and we needed to do a song parody. He was here with his group of singers, and we did a complete recording session of Kid Rock’s “Cowboy,” which has been airing all throughout the day today. And that’s like major stuff with all the singers, laying down different tracks on the Audicy and mixing that down. We were in here at around 8:30, and we were done with the song by about 1 or 2 that afternoon. Imas loved it.

Yesterday was a perfect example of a typical day around here. Stuff is coming in, and in the meantime, the Program Director has stuff that starts ASAP. That means we get our station voice in here, Paul Turner, and his stuff needs to be checked out, mixed down, and gotten on the air today. And the PD understands what I’m going through with the Imas program and all, so that’ll be a time when I might load stuff into the Audicy, put it into the network, and then get my assistant to edit it up, get some music behind it, and get it on the air.

AudicyJV: There are two production rooms with Audicy’s networked together?
Joey: Yeah. One is an upgrade that we have in the sister studio. The other is a regular Audicy that we have here in my studio, and they’re linked up via a common server. I have all kinds of production music and elements, and we have the server divided up into all types of screens. There are sports screens, sales screens, promo screens, and things like that. The thing that really makes it work for us is that we don’t need to go through CDs looking for stuff. We have the assistant come in, and he loads in all types of music and effects. Then Paul and I can go in at the drop of a hat, find what we want in the library, review it before we even load it up, and then, like within 15 minutes, we’ve created promos that sound like they had taken a couple of hours to put together.

JV: How much storage space on the server?
Joey: I think 8 gigs. But we have Jaz backups too, which serve as extra hard drives. Anything we think we may need to get back real soon, we’ll put on the Jaz and put away. Anything that we feel we’re going to need in the future, in the long term, we’ll put on the data DAT backups. Plus, each one of the Audicys has 4 gigs, so we have plenty of room to do stuff.

JV: How close are you to networking with the other Infinity stations?

Joey: Not close, only because my priorities are moving in a different direction. They’re moving more towards going on the Internet and grabbing pieces of things and searching out topical stuff. I’m a big topical guy, especially when it comes to doing my stations and doing Imas’ stuff. My head is in the trades. I’m on-line at different music sources getting ideas and downloading things, mixing them up and making bumpers out of them for Imas, or making different types of weird stuff for the stations that I service. Obviously, I want to be able to do this stuff from home, and that’s where the link would come in for the Audicy. I’m an hour away from the station, so there’s 10 hours a week right there that I could be doing more useful stuff.

JV: How long have you been doing imaging for other stations?
Joey: Since ‘95. It really hit big with the advent of modern rock. I had about 10 stations at that time. It’s dwindled off since them, but I’m glad because I’m working on a new project which I can’t get into right now.

JV: Are you doing the voice and the production for these stations or just delivering voice tracks?
Joey: I’m doing both. I have a set of templates. Each one of those templates is 15 fully-produced liners, which is what I offer them a month, and it’s based on market size. Each one of those templates could take me two weeks to put together. Stations can also call on me and give me some liners to do that might take me 2 or 3 days to produce.

JV: You mentioned plans to get an Audicy hooked up at home to network with the stations. Do you have a studio at home now?
Joey: No. We recently had some structural problems with our house, and we had to call in some people to redo our house. I’m a pretty handy guy, and I’ve been doing a lot of it myself, which is saving us some money. I was right at the point where my home studio was all professionally wired up, sound stuff was all over the walls, then I realized that I needed to get this structural work done. So I put the studio on the back burner. That’s been about a year and a half now, but the house is done. It’s got a brand new upstairs, and I have the wire work done to link an upstairs office to the downstairs studio. So we’re at the point now where we just need to paint the drywall and put some floor and stuff up there, which will be up there by the summer.

JV: And then you’ll put an Audicy up there?
Joey: I’ll put an Audicy in the studio downstairs and link it up with some CAT-5 cable to a server that’ll be upstairs. And what I’ll do is go online, visit different sites, get ideas and download stuff; and that I’ll do in the upstairs office. Then I’ll ship it downstairs to the Audicy.

JV: Why not have everything in one room?
Joey: When I’m in the studio, I don’t want any windows because it’s distracting. And when I’m going online, collecting the information, doing some daydreaming, that stuff I do in my office which is upstairs where I have a view of this big field.

JV: Are you hoping for the day when you’ll be able to knock out the stuff for WFAN at the house and ship it down a network line?
Joey: Yeah, that would be nice, but obviously I’m going to be coming to the station. But it won’t be like I have to be here 14 hours a day, which is what I’m doing now between the work for WFAN and my own stuff. So it would be nice to be able to leave after Imas’ production at 2 and go home. I’ve already put in a 9 hour day by then, and I can go home knowing that I can still be productive at home, but be around my wife and my dogs at the same time.

JV: Where do you go when you’re surfing the Net?
Joey: I read a lot of trade magazines online, and I like to keep up on current bands, especially if they’re up and coming way, way, way before they’re popular. And it’s great to be able to go online and try and find clips of them and hear what they sound like. It’s one of the things that I enjoy doing, and it keeps me on the forefront of what’s going on out there. I’ve always wanted to be able to look in some of the listings in Radio and Records of the new bands that are coming out, and be able to say, “Hmmm…Cold Chamber, I wonder what they sound like?” and press a button and hear it. Well, now I can just go to cdnow.com and download an mpeg and hear it. That’s great. And that’s really all I’m looking for. I want to be able to say, “Yeah, I’ve heard of that band” you know, “they’re good” or “not good.” I want to be able go to Imas and say, “This is something that’s gonna be happening,” and make a bumper out of it or whatever. I’m not a big fan of Marilyn Manson, but there were a few interesting things that I made a bumper out of about a year before he became as popular as he did, and Imus really liked them.

JV: Keeping abreast of the new rock probably helps a lot with your imaging of these other stations as well.
Joey: Yeah, and it’s really an enjoyable thing. I guess I’d rather do that than watch a movie or sit down and watch TV.

JV: How much of your time is spent on stuff for Imus?
Joey: I’d say it varies between 1/2 of my day and 3/4 of the day. Sometimes he hits you with a lot of stuff all of the sudden, so you learn to accept the slow times and appreciate them. Then when the tough times come, you just put your nose to the grindstone and get into it.

JV: What’s he like to work with?
Joey: He’s a great person to be around. He’s demanding—of himself as well. The best way to keep out of trouble is to just take him by his word, listen to what he’s saying, and do what he’s asking. Now it’s to the point where I know where he’s going, and I can almost have it there beforehand.

With Imus, most of the production for him is 90% preparation and 10% actual doing. So I’ll touch base with these guys all during the day and get calls from the actors and such as they’re on the road coming in. There’s a lot of prep work, and I’ll visit his office often and ask, “Is there anything I can do to set up for what we’re doing?” I try to stay a step ahead, because when he comes back here, it’s got to be instantaneous.

JV: Well, the Audicy is certainly good for taking care of some business quickly.
Joey: Yes, and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, and even into some arguments with some people about competing formats, and you know, every one of them has their own unique quirks that people get used to. The thing I say is, you can do everything the Audicy does on anything else out there, except it’s faster on the Audicy.

Back when we had the AKG DSE7000, I ran a video camera, recording what I was doing. I was involved with the work that was on the screen, and I was moving my hands at the normal pace. But when I look back at the video, I could not even follow my hands and what I was doing because they were moving so fast. It’s almost like playing the piano.

It’s handy, especially around here with everything that goes on. Four or five minutes before a show starts, the talent is demanding a production piece. The producers are back here feeding me clips, and we’re literally hot carting it a minute before it airs, mixing all the tracks to a cart. You need to be able to rock and roll on this thing.

JV: What are some of the unique aspects of producing for sports radio?
Joey: Well, the odd thing is, I’d never really got into sports, but I know a whole hell of a lot now than I did when I started. I know all the names. I meet a lot of the stars. I know who some of the coaches are and things like that. The main thing is, I’ve learned how to cut up play-by-play, even though I’ve never played sports, and that’s a big plus because producers can shoot stuff back to me, and I can do production pieces without having to drag them back to help me.

JV: Does your “rock” style of imaging spill over into the imaging work you do for WFAN?
Joey: Yes is does. And Mark Chernoff, the Program Director, is very understanding. He’s the greatest Program Director I’ve ever worked for. He gives me a lot of leeway in what I can do. And the beauty about this station is that you’re servicing so many different generations of listeners. I can go from a modern rock piece, to a swing piece, to a hot AC piece, and I know how to do all those styles of production. And I have a chance to do that on a routine basis. I can cover all the formats, and it’s such a refreshing thing to not have to do just one thing all the time. I can do all kinds of stuff anytime I want to. I can even put several styles all in one promo. And oddly enough, that ties into what’s going on out there in the world. I mean, everything is such a mish-mosh of different styles. It’s really a big help to be able to tap into all that stuff.

It’s weird how life almost comes full circle. I was raised in a heavy music background, in choir for my whole life, took music classes through high school and all that stuff. I always wanted to be a rock and roll singer, and although that never came to fruition, I do get to do song parodies and such on a regular basis for Imas. So it’s weird how all that stuff comes back to you and comes into play later on in life. Everything that I ever was trained for, I’m using now and doing now.

JV: What’s a memorable promo you’ve done for Imus?
Joey: I’m rolling tape all the time, anytime we do stuff out of the ordinary. There was this time when it was me and the actors in the studio, and Imas was out at the ranch, that ranch he has going for kids with cancer. It’s a working cattle ranch, and kids can go out there and relive the western experience. So they built a studio out there, and Imas was in it. In the middle of production, while we’re rolling, chickens come walking into the barn, and he just went nuts trying to get them out of there, screaming at them, cursing at them, and the guys back here were in hysterics. I did a little creative editing, and we made a promo that came out to 60 seconds. It’s still one of the favorite promos around here.

JV: You’ve worked for a long time at a legendary station. Do you have any neat stories from the archives?
Joey: When we purchased NBC, they sent me and the Production Director at the time over there. It was a sad time, and I felt bad for the people over at NBC at that time because everybody was down. They were leaving their jobs and all that stuff. And so the management at the time said to the Production Director and me, “We need you to go over to NBC and clear out all the albums and things.” That was the most memorable experience for me in radio. I think it was 1989. It was just a couple of years after we became a sports radio station. We went over there and walked into 30 Rock, and it was literally like everybody got up out of their seats and walked out of the building. It was the strangest experience. It was like everybody just evaporated. There were still cups of coffee and people’s pens and papers and stuff around. Our job was to go through there and collect all the albums and things like that, plus a bunch of the stuff that Imas needed to bring over to where we were. I didn’t even know that I was walking through history at the time. Now, I look back on it, knowing what I know about it, and knowing about Imas and everything, and I realize that it was really something else. I managed to latch onto Imas’ rubber chicken at the time.

JV: There are only a few great AM stations out there. It must be nice to be at one of them.
Joey: Yes, and I think they ranked as the number one biller in the country again this year—67 million dollars, or something like that. It’s incredible. We have 30+ sales people, 5 sports teams, and 2 and a half production people.

JV: It’s just one station, and two and a half guys can handle all the production, but I’ll bet nobody’s taking many breaks over there.
Joey: No. Lunch is not an option, and we wouldn’t be able to do it without the Orban. It’s just made things just so much easier.

JV: Any parting words of advice for our readers?
Joey: Never be satisfied with where you are. Even if you get to the point where you want to be, even if it’s a major market as a Production Director, always be thinking about what you want to do next. And I would say you should be leaning more towards taking stock in yourself as your own entity. One of the best things I’ve ever done was start this business of mine, and that was back in ’89. I haven’t made a lot of money with it, but it’s been nothing but a benefit from the start. I went in as a sole proprietor and hung a plaque outside my door, and it’s done nothing but help me.

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