RAP: How did you wind up at WEGQ in Boston?
Willie: When I got to Saco in '92, I set a goal to be working in Boston within two years. In October of '94, I was hired by American Radio Systems, specifically WEGQ which had just been bought from Curt Gowdy. It used to be WCGY. We fired up Eagle 93.7, The Hits of the Seventies. I was brought on board to be the Production Director and afternoon drive. That put me in Boston, and that put me in touch with the first analog 8-track and the first slide pot board I'd ever seen in my life.
Up until this point, I was working with the typical equipment you'd find in any small to medium size market. I remember having an equalizer at WERZ, and we were so close to the AM transmitter three doors down that it would be picked up over the equalizer or any electronics that I had in the room. So, when I was looking to produce a really specialized stationality spot, I'd actually sneak down to the other end of the hall and pump the power down on the AM transmitter for sixty seconds while I did my final mix. It was either me, or I'd have someone else strategically in place. When I was done I'd yell out the production room door, "Okay," and we'd pump the power back up. I remember one time I actually forgot to turn it back up, and the people on the listening fringe started calling the switchboard to say that something had happened to the radio signal. At that point, Pete Falconi and I had a discussion about maybe limiting that type of production until after the AM powered down in the afternoon. It was a daytime AM.
So that was another thing that I had the chance to discover here at WEGQ; there was no RF in any of the equipment. When I was hired by Greg Strassell, I was hired as Production Director and afternoon drive, and at this point I was telling him I didn't really want to be on the air. I just wanted to focus on production. But it was a start-up station, so I did the afternoon shift for the first six or seven months. Then we hired Pete Falconi to come in as PD, and he eventually did afternoon drive. This was the fellow I had worked for in New Hampshire, so once again I was working for Pete which was nice because he's just a great guy.
I was able to cut back to a two-hour shift working two until four while focusing on production. One thing led to another and Greg Strassell was in need of another Production Director for our sister station, Mix 98.5, WBMX. He asked if I could take care of both properties and, of course, I jumped at the chance. At that point, American Radio Systems started its initial growth, and we owned WRKO, WEEI, WEGQ and WBMX, all located in the same facility at 116 Huntington Avenue. Expanding over to WBMX meant that I didn't have to leave my studio. I continued to do exactly what I did. I just had another station to take care of. At that point I came off the air completely and was just focusing on the production for the two radio stations.
RAP: When you got heavy into production, it was commercials first, right?
Willie: Yes, and I actually worked for a couple of advertising agencies out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. When they had some clients that needed special attention, I was fortunate to establish a relationship there. As time went on, I moved into more of the stationality type production for WERZ and was doing a limited amount of commercial production.
RAP: So it has only been in the last couple of years or so that you really started doing station imaging production.
RAP: And you're doing imaging or stationality production for how many stations now?
Willie: I would say probably fifteen or twenty radio stations. It's funny. There's one market, and I'd just as soon not say which market it is, but there's one market where I actually take care of two radio stations. I haven't mentioned it to either one of them. The styles are different, and they're not really head to head competitors. One's a rock and roll station and one's a Mix formatted station. So we clearly have one that's male oriented and one female oriented, and that's what is fun, trying to be diversified so that you can't recognize the production from station to station.
RAP: You must be using voices other than your own.
Willie: Yes. As a matter of fact, the niche that I've found is in doing all of the stationality production using the station's voice. I thought that was a smarter move because, even though I do voice-over for some radio and television stations, we all know that your sound is as good as today, and who knows what's going to happen tomorrow? If for some reason one of my clients decides to use another voice, that means I end up losing that client and have to fight to get another client to replace that one. By focusing on production of a stationality product, I can change with the times and give my clients exactly what they're looking for, whether it's a hot Alternative station, whether it's Classic Rock, whether it's Modern Rock, whether it's Top Forty. I can work with a voice talent they already have. In addition, if they're looking to expand their voice talents, I can lend myself to that, or they can pick from a stable of people I've met over the course of the last two years who also are in the voice-over business.
RAP: You mentioned in a previous conversation that you had discovered some of this talent yourself.
Willie: Well, I don't know that I would say "discovered." I would say I realigned this talent. There's one fellow who is just absolutely amazing, and his name is James Justice. He's in New York, and he works for United Stations and does a great job for them. He is recognized by his voice-over work. Most recently, it was the Budweiser campaign for the Olympics. You may remember the television commercial where the blimp is flying over the different countries. In the back there's a song playing by Elastica, and he comes on and does the voice-over: "Hey, it's gonna be a hell of a party...The Budwill Games...." That's James Justice. He is a friend of John Lander, a legendary morning host who most recently was at Z100 in New York and is now the morning show host here at Mix 98.5. James walked into the studio, and I had been told that he was the guy who had done the Budweiser campaign. Come to find out, he had voiced something like thirty or forty of the Budweiser spots in addition to several nationally known television spots, and he had a background in radio but hadn't done any radio production outside of the program syndications he's been working on now for quite some time. So I asked him to step in front of a microphone and handed him a script, and now James is on probably ten or a dozen radio stations in a period of four or five months. He's a great sound of the nineties.
I've had the fortunate luck, also, to discover probably the premiere female talent in the business. She works right here on the morning show. Her name is Lynn Hoffman, and she is doing voice work now for probably half a dozen radio stations. She's the primary voice for WTIC in Hartford, and they've had some legendary voices there. And right next door is another wonderful talent named Patricia Fox who can be heard on several radio stations.
It's a matter of recognizing the talent, dragging them into the studios, sitting them down and chaining them to the chairs and saying, "do not move until you read these scripts." And with today's technology, with ISDN and this wonderful Zephyr I have next to me, I'm able to tap in to any one of these VO talents all across the country. I also have the fortunate luck to work with one of the great voice-over talents in the industry. He's one of the primaries for CBS television. His name is Chuck Riley, and Chuck is the voice of WEGQ, Eagle 93.7.