Who did you idolize growing up?
When my wife read that this was the next question on the list, she asked me “Are you going to write about Bon Jovi?” No, I’m not going to do Bon Jovi. It is true, in my early college years I was somewhat infatuated with his hair, as it was cut circa 1992, when the video for Bed of Roses was released. And yes, I have been a fan of his music for a while and, yes I saw him in concert in Nashville twice; both times on Valentine’s Day. I am, or at least I was, a pretty faithful Bon Jovi fan. Though, I think we can all agree that he hasn’t put out a decent record since Crush in 2000 (that was the one with It’s My Life on it). Okay, maybe we can’t agree on that point, but it happens to be an accurate statement.
My idolization of Bon Jovi however did not come until I was in high school (a decade later than anyone else that idolized Bon Jovi). The real, honest to God, idol of my childhood was a local DJ on Electric 94.9, WAEZ in Johnson City. His name was Chris “Hollywood” Mann, and he was hands down the coolest person I’d ever heard speak. 94.9 was (and is) the top 40 station for the area, and he was the prime time guy. In my early teens, I found myself listening to the radio nearly every night at 9pm to hear him count down the top 10 songs of the day. He was smooth, funny, and he had the perfect high energy radio voice you would expect from a great top 40s DJ. His energy was so infectious that I immediately decided I wanted to go into radio and held onto that desire for a few years at least. I couldn’t be convinced of anything better than to be paid for talking, playing music, and being all around cool.
Having decided that I now wanted to be a DJ, I decided to call in to the radio and chat with Chris “Hollywood” Mann. At first I would call in and request a song (usually To Be With You, which is my favorite song to date) or cast a vote for the number 1 song of the day. He couldn’t have been nicer or more patient to the kid who was convinced he wanted to follow Chris’s career path. He began putting me on the radio, allowing me to list off one of the top 10 songs or contributing a few thoughts on whatever topic he was talking about that evening. I couldn’t be more excited to do it. He gave me the nickname “Dan the Man” and I became a regular call-in voice on his program. I was often complimented by him and others at the station for having a radio voice, which in fairness, might have been more of a comment on the fact that I have no trace of a southern accent despite having lived in the south all my life. My non-accent was certainly a contrast to their typical callers at 94.9.
They say you should never meet your heroes. I didn’t hear that advice until later in life, and I can’t be sure I would have heeded it anyhow. I met Chris one Saturday afternoon while he was doing an on-location broadcast from a local strip mall. This all took place in the days before the internet was an everyday, every moment tool, and so it had never occurred to me to look up a picture of him. He didn’t look the way I’d envisioned him, but he’s a perfectly charming guy. He is on the smaller side, only slightly taller than the 15-year-old version of myself, with a short buzzed hair cut and a big smile. He chatted with me for a few minutes, and then he gave me a CD and I was on my way. I remember being slightly disappointed because I wanted to spend hours with the guy. I wanted to know how his mind worked, how a master of radio like himself would have me navigate my way into the biz. But he was on the job at the time and was a professional through and through. I have since found that there is no complex formula to breaking into local radio, that it is a job like most others where you work your way in incrementally through education, applications, auditions, and interviews.
Chris eventually transferred to another radio station in a different city. My passion to be a DJ fizzled out as I proceeded through high school. By graduation, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer so that I could stand in a courtroom, in an exquisite suit, and argue with someone for hours a day. Recently, a friend of mine who works for a local radio station came over to my apartment for some dinner and we talked about what it would look like for me to volunteer or even apply to the radio station at which she works. I was a bit disillusioned when I found I wasn’t able to quickly and accurately spit out promotional consideration information or weather updates, rather I found myself stumbling through them. After a few attempts that didn’t go perfectly, I got stuck in my head and was completely helpless in the task. I haven’t yet gone back to attempt it again, but after hearing Ira Glass do it earlier this week, and with all this radio talk, perhaps I’m ready to give it another effort.