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Interview With "Radio Maverick" Michael Harrison

And now for something completely different. At C. Crane we love radio and radio history. So we thought, what better way to share that with you, our readers, than to seek out some of the most interesting people in the history of radio, talk with them, and share with you their experiences and insights. And today we've decided to begin with one of the most compelling, energetic - some might even say frantic - personalities in the radio biz - Michael Harrison. The founder and editor of Talkers Magazine, Mr. Harrison does the impossible every year by getting together radio hosts, program directors, radio executives and radio aficionados - assembling them in one place, and giving them a chance to talk (and sometimes scream) at each other.

It's an intimidating event, and just the thought of such a colossal task can numb most minds - but not Michael Harrison. He relishes in it - and he thrives in the contagious energy of these Talkers Conventions. And there's no doubt that these conventions have made a major impact on radio in the US - especially when you consider that recent keynote speakers have included the incomparable G. Gordon Liddy, and the soon-to-be-president George W. Bush. So, without further ado, we invite you to share in the pleasure of learning about radio through a person who's been there, done that, and will surely continue to be there for years to come: The Radio Maverick, Michael Harrison. (You can learn more about Talkers at their Web site, www.talkers.com.) Enjoy.

You're called a Radio Maverick - what does that mean to you?

"I'm not certain if I really am a maverick in the literal sense (meaning not being part of any organized or established group or party) because I do work within the mainstream of the industry and am involved with its biggest players. However, I have always believed in the individual and in being as independent as possible. I am not a fan of what is called "conventional wisdom" and I don't like to appease bean counters. Working on the leading edge of movements in which I'm involved and paving new ground has marked my career. When scenes become too commercial or corporate, I might stick around a while to make money, but my heart moves on to something else. In cases in which I've failed it has been because I've been too early on trends that eventually came around. I've NEVER been too late. Of course, the key is to be right on time. Fortunately, that was the case with TALKERS magazine."

When you started Talkers, in 1990, what did you have in mind?

"I wanted to start a trade publication that would fan the sparks of what I saw as the beginning the whole talk radio explosion about to come. As early as the mid-seventies I had a feeling that the nineties were going to be the decade of talk radio. This was a matter of intuition mixed with trend projection. TALKERS was designed to serve the industry by explaining it in intelligent, knowing terms. Many trade publications don't really understand the nitty gritty of their fields and you can tell that the people writing for them never worked in the business they're covering. This has not been the case with TALKERS magazine. Also, I wanted the publication to encourage a sense of community within the talk business. Finally, I wanted to have it promote talk radio to the rest of the world (outside of radio) as a force to be reckoned with. No doubt, these goals have been accomplished and then some."

In your estimation, what's the future of radio?

"In the short term -- meaning the next decade or so -- it will basically remain the same. The big changes of the modern era are those that have already been inflicted by consolidation over the past five years and they are probably irreparable. Radio was better when it was owned by a larger number of small companies but there's little we can do about that now. In terms of the long haul - I see something along the lines of wireless internet being a standard band on your average "radio" opening up infinite worldwide variety on a convenient level to the average person and markedly devaluating what is known in the business as the "stick" (the standard broadcasting station licensed by the FCC to serve a particular market on the AM and FM bands, delivered through the air via a transmitter)."

What's your first memory of radio?

"I grew up in New York in the fifties, so I heard some really historic radio. No doubt, my first major memory and earliest influence was the great Alan Freed on WINS during the dawn of rock 'n' roll."

What got you interested in working in the radio industry?

"Many things. First, I loved listening to radio and popular music. Second, I was mystified by the "magic" of radio. I would sit at night and try to pick up AM stations from all over the country. Third, I had a predisposition toward being in show business and radio is a very accessible form of it. If it were as easy to break into the movies, I might have gone in that direction."

How many years have you been working in radio?

"Since 1967, my second year of college."

What's your favorite food?

"The kind that encourages thought."

Do you have one experience that defines your career in radio?

"No. Just the opposite. I have had a hyperactive career that has taken place on multiple parallel tracks. I've been editor, publisher, columnist or consultant with four major trade publications (Radio & Records, Billboard, Goodphone Weekly, and TALKERS magazine). I've been a rock 'n' roll disc jockey at major stations on both coasts. I've been program director at four major market stations. I've owned and operated a radio station in Springfield, Massachusetts. I've produced hundreds of hours of syndicated music and/or talk programming for almost all the major networks. I served as a talk show host in Los Angeles for 10 years. And I've organized and presented at least 15 national radio conventions. Each of these compartments, if you will, in my career has offered me enough key experiences to write a book. I cannot think of one experience that represents or defines my career."

What motivates you to keep working with the radio industry?

"It's great to be able to make money while being creative. Also, I enjoy and care about the people with whom my work brings me in contact. Finally, I stay in the business because of sheer momentum. There's so much happening in my world it would be hard to get off a moving train. We're already planning next year's convention."

Do you think radio tends more towards reflecting public opinion or directing it?

"This is an extremely philosophical question that is at the basis of the most important theory the true thinkers in our business ponder daily. The simplest answer I can give you: a delicate and fragile balance between both. They play off with each other in a sort of dance."

When do you usually listen to radio?

"All the time. Sometimes, even when I am sleeping."

To view our past articles, please visit our What's in the News Archives.

As always, please contact us with any comments or article suggestions you might have.

If you are interested in using C. Crane's articles on your own Web site, please let me know. I'd be happy to take a look at your Web site and see what we can do. Good-bye for now,
Carlos.

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