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Friday 16 Nov 2018

Broadway Bill Lee
Matt Seinberg

Hardly, is there a need to introduce Broadway Bill Lee to any radio audience, unless they've lived under a rock for the last forty years. For ten years, Lee has done 3 pm to 7 pm, weekdays, on WCBS-FM, New York City. Lee is a huge part of the WCBS-FM line up, which ranked number three in the June 2018 Nielson ratings.

Recently, I had the chance to talk, with Bill Lee, regarding his career and radio. Here’s what he had to say.

Matt Seinberg When and how did you first get interested in being on the radio as a career?

Bill Lee I was five-years-old, growing up in Cleveland, OH. I listened to WHK-AM and I knew I wanted to be on the radio. My influences, when I was in fourth grade, were Johnny Holiday and Pete "Mad Daddy" Myers, the night jock. When I went to bed, I'd keep the radio on in my room under my pillow.

MS What stations have you worked?

BL I did afternoons at WLYT-FM in Cleveland. Then I worked with Bill Paris Programming; he consulted the station. Paris made me Programme Director (PD) of another station he consulted, WCTQ-FM in Columbus, GA. I did that for about 3 years; then went to work with Mike Joseph at WTIC-FM in Hartford, CT, in 1978.

After Hartford, I went to KFRC-AM. I did afternoons for three years or so. KFRC-AM fired me and I went to work, with my friend Harry Nelson, at a network of five stations in Fargo, ND, called, Double K FM, in 1981. I only could take the North Dakota weather for six months; I left for WLOL-FM, in Minneapolis, MN.

Then I moved on to KPKE-AM, in Denver, CO, that was in 1985. From there, I worked WQHT Hot 103, in New York City, in 1987, and went back to San Francisco to do mornings at KMEL-FM, in 1991. Then it was back, again, to New York City to do afternoons on WKTU-FM; that was 1996. WKTU-FM fired me in 2008 and WCBS-FM hired me.

MS What happened at WKTU-FM?

BL I understood the cluster mentality that Clear Channel had at the time. WKTU-FM wasn't a star, it was a blocker of Z100 and Lite FM. When another station went after them, WKTU-FM stood, in terms of format, against that competition.

The firing was devastating. I had never worked any station for that long; ten years. My firing was a budgetary move.

It not only hurt my feelings, it bothered me how the Clear Channel chain considered WKTU-FM a second-class radio station. My attitude started to reflect it. I started not to try as hard as I had for ten years. Still, I was grateful to be at the station as long as I was.

MS You did weekends at WBLI-FM, on Long Island, for a time after you left WKTU-FM.

BL I have this method of operating (MO) where I call stations and ask them if they need any weekend help. This keeps me fresh. Jeremy “JJ” Rice, PD of WBLI-FM, said, “Sure, come out and do weekends.” I was only there for a couple of weeks.

MS Why did you work, for a time, as Billy on Fresh 102.7?

BL Circumstances; I wanted to work on the radio and CBS wanted me in the rotation of people they could call on. I didn't know, at the time, CBS Radio was going to crank up WCBS-FM. Still, they wanted me to hang around.

I ended up doing a combination of what they wanted and what I wanted. The executives at CBS required, for example, “Talk four seconds in the donut of a jingle.” I wanted tape, CBS wanted format. I knew it would never work, but I did it for a couple of months.

MS Then it was onto WCBS-FM.

BL Yes, I had been talking to CBS Radio about going back to KFRC-AM, in San Francisco, again, which was going to become a greatest hits station. Then I got a call from Brian Thomas, PD of WCBS-FM, telling me that Dan Mason, the President of WCBS-FM, would prefer I work at WCBS-FM, instead. I said "Hell yeah! I'd prefer that, as well.”

MS How did it feel the first time at CBS-FM?

BL It wasn't as good as I hoped. The old software, the old boards, the old studios; the consoles were very low, not a stand up set up, which I use. It took me a couple of years before they built new studios. Then I was able to develop, to shine and progress again.

MS What it like following Bob Shannon, who AM Drive at WCBS-FM, when you arrived?

BL Interesting, as I always listened to Shannon from afar and I always wanted to work with him. He had such a rich history in radio. He had such a long history at WCBS-FM. We got along well and enjoyed each other's company. I spent a great deal of time with him, after he left WCBS-FM. I'll treasure my time with him.

MS Which station did you like working the most?

BL I appreciate every PD for whom I worked. Each one gave me something different. Gerry Cagle at KFRC-AM wasn't that strict; he gave me a lot of inspiration to go ahead and develop my act.

Joel Salkowitz, at Hot 97, worked for me at WTIC-FM. He produced the entire Hot 97. It sounded like a seamless mix. I learned a great at Hot 97.

Frankie Blue at WKTU-FM was open to anything. We created that radio station. Brian Thomas hired me at WCBS-FM and he was great.

Jim Ryan, the fellow I'm working for now is a PD, not a brand manager. He's encouraging; he goes into the sales office and yells at them when they screw up a stop set. He runs WCBS-FM as Scott Shannon used to run Z100, in the 1980s.

MS What was your favorite station to work?

BL It's a toss us between KFRC-AM, WKTU-FM and WCBS-FM. Although I have to say, now that I'm in my sixties, I'm having more fun than at any of those other stations. At CBS-FM, I get to play all the music I want to play and I like what I play. I have all these memories, years and a wealth of knowledge that I remember how to do certain things over certain songs. I get to do everything instead of being restricted to a much narrower format.

MS How did you get the nickname of "Broadway?"

BL Vanna White, of Wheel of Fortune, gave it to me. When Hot 97 moved to Broadway, she said we have to call you Broadway Bill, now.

MS How do manage to do the rhyming? Do you plan it out before hand?

BL I plan it about two or three minutes before I play the song and perform the rhyme. I don't write it down. It is spontaneous based upon the beat of the music and my experience.

When I was a teenager, I was in a rock band; I played guitar. I have the understanding of music, meters, beats and bars of music. When I hear the intro of a song, I understand it; I don't have to look at a clock.

Then, I think lyrically, like writing song lyrics and throw in the ingredients, title, artist and whatever else that I'm going to say. Then I fill in words to enhance the thought I'm coming up with the rhyme and I perform it within 30, 40 or 60 seconds.

MS Do you try to work a rhyme or rhythm into every break?

BL I have a little bit of hypomania when I'm in the studio, if I'm in the zone. When I was at KFRC-AM, in the 1980s, it was easy to stay maintain a momentum. We had to intro every song; something along the lines of twelve breaks an hour. We worked much harder in the old days.

MS What's your favourite part of your show?

BL My programming philosophy has been the same since the 1970s to this day. I’m Portable People Meter (PPM) friendly. Don't stop for anything, keep crushing and rolling the music. In the afternoons, listeners hit the gas and want to get home with a smile on their face, which I provide.

MS What advice do you offer for those aspiring to a radio career, today?

BL Be prepared to work, hard. Know what you want to do on radio, music, talk or spoken word. Learn as much as you can. Practice all the time.

Only the great DJs have had years to practice. Be prepared to start out as a Board Operator. Unless you know the technical aspect of the business, you won't be able to work well in a personality capacity.

MS What do think of radio, today, after a generation or more of quick changes?

BL It's still the number one platform for listening. It’s in the car. It's still the best way to entertain listeners in cars.

That's not necessarily true of the self-driving cars coming in the next decade or so; that could change. If you're sitting in a vehicle and you're not looking at the highway, you could look at a video screen, read a book or have a conversation with other people. I don't know if that will be the case or if it will be a choice for that platform any longer.

I agree with David Field, the President of Entercom, when he says that radio is still in the position to hold the upper hand with all other media.

MS  How is radio, today, for you?

BL It keeps getting better! The older I get, the better it gets!

Click here to listen to a scoped air check of Broadway Bill Lee on WCBS-FM from Friday 6 July 2012.

Click here to watch a few seconds of a Broadway Bill Lee video.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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