Loving the biz


For many of us in the industry, we remember the exact day and time we fell in love with radio and for nearly all of us we remember the matchmaker. You know that individual that introduced you to your passion. For me it was college and a guy by the name of Greg Passey.

I was a music major and hated everything about it starting with a 7:30 am percussion class. Greg was a few years older, a fraternity brother and a brilliant communications major. As I sat complaining one night Greg took me aside. “Number one, he said, “you have a great voice. Number two you are funny and have a great personality. Number three, you’re too damn short to be band teacher. The kids will never see you behind the music stand!

Of course Greg thought that was funny but he hit a nerve and it got me thinking. What the hell was I doing? Greg suggested I do two things. Change my major to something I actually liked and let him introduce me to guy he worked for that owned a radio station. Greg had been on the air since his early teens. We all thought it was cool because he was doing an air shift while we worked in the library.

Greg had it all figured out. He decided I needed a tape to take with me when he got me in front of the owner and arranged with a buddy of his to rig a “Be a DJ for a Night” contest at a local Top 40. I had never been in a radio station in my life and was scared as hell. The jock that met me at the studio was cool and he showed me a few things. He showed how to cue up a cut and had me load my first record. A song, he assured me, was going number one.

I’ll never forget throwing open the mic, hitting the start button on the turntable and front announcing Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Southern Cross”. It was the scariest and most exhilarating eleven seconds of my life and I was instantly hooked.

When I got home that night I was met at the door by Greg and my roommate Dave. They were hollering like I had taken man’s first step on the moon and in some ways I felt like I had. Greg had recorded my contest hour and we headed out the following Monday to meet the radio station owner.

I asked Greg what air shift I might get when he dropped the bombshell. No air shift. Sweeping and garbage. He explained the owner was not only 72 years old but old school. Nobody got a shift, part time or otherwise without learning to love the place and his idea of learning to love it was from the business end of a broom.

To say I was disappointed was an understatement but I was committed and in Greg’s car. We pulled up in front of a cracker box in the middle of nowhere in Tremonton, Utah, about a thirty minute drive from my fraternity house in Logan. It was a thousand watt pea shooter.

The owner’s name was Glacus Merrill. He asked if I was trustworthy and if I thought I could handle a broom. I assured him I was and could and handed him my tape. He threw it in the garbage can beside his desk. After tossing the most exciting moment of my life in the garbage can Mr. Merrill sat back in his chair and stared at me. I stared back. I didn’t know what else to do! He finally leaned forward and this is what he said. “Kid either make them love ya or make them hate ya! Either way…they’ll listen. There is no in between if you want to do this”.

I nodded my head like I knew what he was saying and he pushed up out of his chair and led me to the control room where he introduced me to Darla Dee, a legend in Cache Valley radio.

Darla Dee was his daughter. After shaking my hand she got up out of her chair, handed me a wad of teletype print, wished me a good afternoon and walked out. When I looked at the owner, obviously confused he said, “If you want a job sit down! Your shift ends at seven and he walked out.

Johnny Paycheck was appropriately playing “Take this job and shove it” on one turntable and there was nothing on the other one and I had NO idea what was on the teletype print. Knowing I only had maybe thirty seconds before dead air, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I started screaming for Greg. He had disappeared into a small production room when we got there and was shocked I was sitting in the control room, sitting in for Darla Dee and not sweeping something.

He helped me load up another record when Mr. Merrill came stomping back through the door. He looked at Greg and told him not to help me and suggested Greg saddle up and come back at seven to get me and he stomped back out. He was driving Darla Dee to a doctor’s appointment in town.

I left pots turned down, left the mic open when I was taking a request and swore on the air on accident. I had no idea what to play and murdered several weather forecasts and by seven still had no idea what to do with the teletype paper.

Greg arrived in time to turn the transmitter off and do shutdown for me. He never said a word and when I walked out to get in his car he had a look that said “Dead man walking”. I figured my now four and half hour radio career had just ended.

Greg barged in the next day and told me Glacus wanted to see me ASAP. I figured he would do about a five minute routine on why I should NEVER be in the business and dreaded the thirty minute ride. When I walked in I was partly right. He was hot. I did not separate the teletype and hang it on the right pegs, forgot to take readings and I never emptied his garbage can. He then handed me a schedule for the next week and told me to get out before he changed his mind. I ran to my car and looked at the schedule. I was on afternoons three days that week and I never had to sweep!

That was 28 years ago. Greg came to my wedding, worked for me later on when I went on to program a station in Salt Lake and we drifted apart when I moved to follow my career path. I found out last night that Greg Passey, my mentor had died nine months ago.

For 28 years I have lived a life where I got to look forward to each and every work day and Greg was the reason. I realized last night I had never thanked him. The point is this. We all started somewhere and somebody gave us a chance to live our dreams. First of all find them and thank them if you can and secondly, open up a couple of weekend shifts and a couple of entry level sales positions.

Find and attract young people so they can have what we have. Create an opportunity to work in the greatest business of all time. For our business to continue we have to breed a new generation of broadcasters and we have to start now.

Thanks Greg. They loved you and they listened.

–Darrell Calton
GM, Impact Radio Group