I love radio. The radio played throughout my childhood. Professionally, I have done radio all my adult life, first at WLNG, an oldies station on Long Island, then at Froggy 97 and Z93 in the great North Country. I have lived it breathed it, eaten and drank it every second of every minute of every day. I dream of music at night.
From the day I got my first tape recorder for my ninth birthday, I pretended to be a DJ. I acted out “Swap and Shop,” a popular local program on WLNG, an oldies station in Sag Harbor, NY. I played the parts of both the DJ and the listeners who were calling in to sell stuff. I’d put records on the turntable… Olivia Newton John, Donny and Marie, or my Mom’s old Brenda Lee albums. When I was a teenager, I started following the Billboard music charts and listening to Top 40 countdown shows. There were three big ones at the time: Shadoe Stevens, Rick Dees and Casey Kasem. I bought all the current hit songs on 45rpm records and sometimes indulged in the newest high tech innovation, CDs. I’d make my own countdown shows, with sound effects and everything. During this time, I also started calling radio stations, for all reasons imaginable… to win contests, to make requests, and sometimes to correct something the DJ had said, as in mispronouncing an artist’s name or giving erroneous information about a singer or band. How obnoxious is that? Not surprisingly, I used different names when I called. (Although, I am lousy at disguising my voice!)
I visited a radio station for the first time in the late 1980s: HB107, a Top 40 station that broadcast out of Hampton Bays, NY. I told them I was interested in radio and I got permission to visit the station for an hour or so when the afternoon guy was on. It was an eye-opening experience. My first lesson in radio was that the people we listen to look nothing like they sound. Randi, the female DJ with the sultry low voice, was actually short, plump and frumpy. Lesson number two: radio people lie. Well, we exaggerate anyway. The jock I sat in with, I think his name was Mikey B, did a daily countdown show called “The Top 5 at 5.” He’d count down the 5 most requested songs of the day, and say: “Coming in at #4, with 15 votes…” Only I watched him take phone calls (he recorded and edited them on a reel-to-reel tape) and the honest truth was he got maybe 15 calls TOTAL in the hour I was there. He seemed embarrassed. Me, I was so flustered and in awe of everything, I couldn’t even bring myself to ask questions.
I began pestering the friendly folks at WLNG radio in 1988. Although they were an oldies station, they did a “Big Sound Survey” countdown of the Top 20 current hits in the nation. I was annoyed by the fact that instead of Warrant’s “Heaven,” they were erroneously playing a different Warrant song. It was like the “B” side of the wrong single! I brought them the correct song on a 45. I remember the station’s treasurer, Ann, saying how nice that was of me, and the DJ, “Big Ed,” saying what a relief it was to play the pretty ballad instead of the mess of hard rock noise that the other song had been. I felt proud of myself! After relentlessly bugging the station’s General Manager, Paul Sidney, I got permission to do a “new music spotlight” segment, as “Holly C,” where I gave a bunch of info on a certain artist in all of 60 seconds, then segue into their latest song. This evolved into me co-hosting the Big Sound Survey, first with Ed, then with Bob Aldrich, and then with another Ed. I loved it! I had to, because I didn’t even get paid for it! Eventually, I landed a paid shift, doing overnights. Fun… lots of freedom, and I got to be “edgy,” because surely no one was listening at those wee hours. (Wink, nudge.) When the six-to-midnight guy walked off the job, I was asked to “temporarily” fill in for him. It unofficially became my permanent slot. I did that for about ten years.
Eventually, I got restless. I was sad that I didn’t get a chance to do live remote broadcasts like the rest of the ‘LNG crew. Also, the equipment there was antiquated. I felt I should be learning new technology to better my chances of continuing on to a bigger market. I still loved my job, but I felt like everything in my life had stagnated. My job, my relationship at the time, my finances… I could not afford to live on my own in the Hamptons! I was back living with my Mom. She was my only family, the only thing holding me there.
Also, I had started listening to country music. If you’d told me in, say, 1994, when I was listening to angry rock like Alanis Morissette and Matchbox 20, that I’d one day be a fan of Trisha Yearwood and the Dixie Chicks, I’d have said you’re crazy. But yeah, it was true. I accidentally flipped may Walkman (yes, I’m showing my age) on 92.5 instead of 92.1 when I was lying in bed one night. I heard Pam Tillis sing “Maybe It Was Memphis,” and I was hooked. I started listening to the Y107 morning show, with Jim Kerr and his sidekick, Karen. I felt like I was sitting around the breakfast table, drinking coffee with them. I wanted to create that same feeling with my talent and my listeners, in a country format. I sent my meager resume and a CD of one of my best “airchecks” to some listings on a radio jobs website. A few months later, I received a message on my answering machine from the Program Director of a country station in Watertown, NY, saying he was interested in my demo. At first, I thought it was a practical joke, because he sounded just like a friend of mine. But no… it was a real offer! I researched Watertown, NY. I saw how much lower the cost of living was. I realized this was my chance to make a brand new start.
My last day at WLNG was August 3, 2001. My first day on Froggy was August 6. I started out doing middays. Oh, and did I mention that my new name was “Cricket”? It was a choice between that, Sally Mander or Polly Wogg. I chose Cricket. It fit. I’m tiny. I had never had a nickname before. Now, I’ll never get rid of it.
My early days on Froggy were shaky. I had to learn the “clock.” I was giving the weather at the wrong time, that kinda thing. I talked too fast. I got called out on my Lawn Guyland accent. “Whatta ya tawkin’ about?” I replied. I had to learn to sound like I could be from “anywhere.” I over-compensated by enunciating a little too strongly. Eventually, I found myself. Then I got moved from the midday shift to morning show co-host. And it was like starting all over again.
James Pond and I never hated each other. But we did not click right away. The listeners hated me, because they missed Beanpole (James’s former co-host and the guy that had hired me.) James didn’t like my sense of humor, nor the fact that I didn’t laugh at his jokes. He didn’t even like my trivia questions! But six months into our partnership, something “clicked.” Literally, one day we just had a really good show, and we looked at each other and knew that something had changed. From then on, the Morning Splash became a force to contend with! I am proud to say that we won the New York State Broadcasters Award four times!
As Cricket, I had so many unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime, priceless moments… Interviewing and meeting Keith Urban, picking up Pam Tillis at the airport (and taking her on a beer run!),, opening (with my short-lived band) for Aaron Tippin), giving away thousands of dollars on the air, and meeting countless wonderful people, our LISTENERS AND FANS, who weren’t even famous. Regular folks who were handicapped or who had cancer or were otherwise disadvantaged, who counted on US to make them happy… just by being ourselves. What a powerful, satisfying, wonderful feeling that was. I never took my job for granted.
Working at our sister station, Z93 was a blast, too. After 12 years of being happy Cricket, I could visit my darker, edgier side, as the newly anointed “Holly Rivers.” And I got to relive my youth (for better or for worse) by playing music that I enjoyed in my teens and 20s: Aerosmith, Alanis, Nirvana, Joan Jett… and the list goes on. Jay Donovan and Dianne Chase are wonderful people to work with.
It has been a rare thing when my personal life has interfered with my work. When my mom died on December 12, 2006, I took the rest of the year off. But I never talked about it on the air. I had the occasional sickness and hospitalization, but I always bounced back, good as new. But this time…
I was born with a genetic disorder called Neurofibromatosis, or NF for short. It makes benign tumors grow all over my body. It also causes bone deformities and hearing, vision and dental problems. Many NFers I know lost all their teeth in their 30s. In my case, I have had problems wit receding gums and loose teeth over the years. I thought that was as far as it went. But it turned out to be far more serious.
Recently, I experienced extreme pain and sensitivity in my mouth. Specifically, the lower front teeth. This would be a nuisance to anyone, but to someone who earns their living talking… well, it is a detriment, an almost impossible obstacle to overcome. It is something you cannot ignore. I had to- for the first time in my career- leave my shift early a couple of times, because the pain was too much to handle. After visits to Urgent Care, the ER, and several dentists, I had my official diagnosis: severe periodontic disease. Really severe. As in: 60 to 80% bone loss in my lower jaw. 50% bone loss in the upper jaw. Terrible, nasty, horrid infection in my lower front that would not respond to antibiotics. I could tell it was starting to affect my speech on Z. I used to be the Queen of Information, but now I didn’t want to say anything more than I absolutely HAD to say. I felt so sick, I literally thought I was dying; that my mouth was killing me by slowly dripping poison into my system.
What is the solution? Well, it costs about $25,000, which I do not have. I also do not have insurance. I need teeth extracted, bone grafts in my jaw, dental implants, dentures… an expensive, painful, 8 months-long process. I will have to temporarily, indefinitely be off the air. My livelihood. My outlet. My world. I feel lost and afraid. Putting my trust in the hands of a virtual (but very smart, skilled) stranger. Hoping that I will be able to speak “normally” again when all is said and done. Praying that there will still be a job waiting for me once I am healed. Not knowing where the money’s gonna come from. Trying to trust in God.
Hope to talk to you all soon…