We rented a tiny, one-room furnished apartment on upper Riverside Drive, beyond the fashionable zones, bordering on grimy, noisy side streets. But we had an income; Vene quickly landed a job as editorial assistant at Mademoiselle Magazine. Her boss from the Hamid group, Bill Rolley, knew someone on the staff, high enough up to have influence. It wasn’t a major job, but she was thrilled, always hoping to be a writer on the staff of a major magazine.
WNEW Program Director Mark Olds invited me to come over to make an audition. Walking into the magnificence of WNEW was like walking into some kind of fantasy. The station felt like the BIG time, a far cry from WOND, down a dirt road in the marshes, or WHAT’s narrow dark hallways, or WFLN’s simplicity in Roxborough far away from Center City bustle.
This station, perched high up in a mid-town skyscraper, had gleaming offices, subdued lighting, glass everywhere, and pictures of the d.j. stars lining the hallways: William B. Williams, Lonnie Starr, “Jazzbo” Collins. Olds came to greet me in the lobby, dressed in a crisp white shirt within an expensive-looking suit, and gleaming black shoes which made no sound as we walked down a corridor to his office. I felt out of that league, a 25-year-old kid among adults in the big time real world. It seemed impossible that I’d ever be part of that monument.
We entered the giant record library where Mark told the librarian that I could take as many as 10 LPs for an hour or so. Then we walked along another corridor to a small studio. It had two turntables, a mike, and a console. Mark handed me a sheaf of written commercials and told me to put together a show anyway I wanted. And when I was ready, he’d have an engineer, across a glass window, tape the whole thing. Mark said he might listen while it was happening, if he had the time.
I enjoyed the sound of the records I’d chosen. The music made me feel good. Doing a couple of read-throughs with the copy, hearing my own microphone voice through the headphones, nervousness left me and confidence returned. My audition went well, I thought, polished, friendly, articulate, a whiz at ad-libbing.
When I finished, Mark came into the small studio. “That was great!” he said. “You sound really good. I think I may be able to find something for you. We have an affiliate in Cleveland. I can put you in touch with the program director and send him this tape. I think they’re looking for someone.”
Cleveland? I wanted to be in New York. Trying to hide my disappointment (what did I think? I’d get a slot, even part time at WNEW? Naïve.), I thanked him for his compliment and his offer but explained that, having just moved to New York, that’s where I wanted to try my luck. He wished me all the best, saying to keep in touch. But I never got back to him; I don’t know why.
There was also WMGM, where I called Dean Hunter who hosted programs there. He, formerly known as Gabe Millerand on KYW, Philadelphia, had met my father backstage after a concert and invited him and me to drop in any time at the studios. We did go to see him once when he introduced us to singer Felicia Sanders, stopping by to plug her big hit, “Where is Your Heart?” the theme from Moulin Rouge. That was the only connection I had had with him.
Reminding him of that, he seemed to remember and told me whom to contact for an audition, even though I’d already sent a tape. I could hear him thinking, “Who is this kid, anyway?” I tried to get an interview with the program director using Dean’s name but never could get through.
Well, I’d only been in New York a couple of months, and Vene had a job.
I began making phone calls to stations outside NYC. One of them, WNRC, a pop music station in New Rochelle, made me an offer: a d.j. slot on weekends. Mort Fega had a jazz show there; that was impressive; he was major name in jazz circles. However, the program director cautioned me that he was not sure how long the job would last, that people were trying to buy the station, and the deal might go through any day. No one knew for sure what would happen to WNRC then.
I took the job. Two weeks later the sale came through. WNRC became WVOX, part of a chain of other stations carrying the same programs. Everyone on the staff at WNRC was fired.
My name, however, did appear in a New York newspaper due to the WNRC/WVOX changes. That paper was the weekly Show Business, where November 24th, 1958, Ed Rudy wrote, “This seems like a heck of a way to do business.”
I guess he didn’t know that that was business as usual. Changes in ownership are as common as changes in format in radio, although both occurred together that time.
So, in four years, five stations. The longest job, which I had quit to seek my fortune in New York, was two years. Some kind of record? Probably not. Eventually I’d work at four other stations with ownership changes and, like other colleagues, find myself once again, on the street.
But Show Business reminded me that pounding Manhattan pavements was the route to my other goal: becoming an actor.