| Rocket Ride: The birth, evolution and near death of a Weasel
I could see the radio tower rising out of the grapevines towards the sky as I made the left turn down what I think is a road. I use the word "road" loosely. The pot holes had pot holes. This was the old days. No GPS or MapFace. I was on my own and trying to read my own writing. This can't be right. What have I done? I blew off my JET TV internship on a wing and a prayer that I would score one at ROCKET 101. I had no idea I would be working in a GRAPE FIELD! That's assuming that there is a Rocket 101 at the end of this road. AND assuming they give me one.
My gut says there is no way this is my turn. But I decide to stick with it. As I maneuver my beat up Audio 5000 down the Ho Chi Min trail I see red. Not the bad Warrant song, THE RED ROCKET 101 van. Then another Rocket 101 Van. Then even more red. The ROCKET 101 Car. I made it and there it was: Rocket 101. It was actually a really nice looking building. Out in the middle of grape field, but pretty sweet.
I park the beast (my nickname for my car, that does matter, just not right now) I adjust my hair in the rearview, if you have ever seen my hair you know this is not time well spent. I get out and head in. I need to land this deal or I do not have an internship and I do not get my degree from the Institution of Mediocre Education known as THE BORO. (Go Fighting Scots.)
My appointment is with the man. Rick Rambaldo, owner of Rambaldo Communications. As I wait in the lobby I peer through a giant window into this fancy adjacent office. There is a seemingly hyper guy talking on two phones at the same time. Seriously! One receiver in each ear. "I know that guy." I say to myself. "How do I know that guy?" The blazing hot front desk lady tells me Mr. Rambaldo will see me now. And leads me to the door of the office I have been covertly examining for the last 15 minutes.
A now clearly hyper little Italian guy, in a flashy suit sporting a pseudo mullet, comes around the desk, extends his hand for a shake and tells me to sit down. I got it. I do know this guy. I blurt it out as I take a seat. "You're the Dirty Movie Guy!"
With that statement my future at Rocket 101 was decided. I was in, and my radio career was born.
I grew up in Rochester New York. If you grew up in Rochester New York in the 80s you knew Channel 31. It was a little independent television station very similar to the one in the Weird Al movie "UHF." Channel 31 was Nick At Night before Nick at Night. A mix of Hogan's Heroes reruns and homegrown programming. Ranger Bob was one of their shows. A clearly 20 year old guy dressed like a rusty old cowboy. He did skits for a live audience of kids between cartoons. Their big claim to fame though was movies. Every weeknight at 9pm they played uncensored movies. At this point in history this was a big deal. Each night before the movie the station GM would come on air and give explain that the movie was uncut and why they were allowed to play it. The standard please change the channel if swear words and people in their underpants offends you type speech. This guy became known to teenage boys through out the land as "The Dirty Movie Guy." His real name was Rick Rambaldo. He left Channel 31 to pursue his dream of owning his own radio station. That station, ROCKET 101.
Ron Kline, the guy in charge programming at Rocket, did not want interns. So you can imagine his excitement when Rick walked me down the hall and introduced me as his new intern. He was nice enough though. He showed me where the van was. He showed me what needed to be loaded into it. He gave me directions to the self service car wash. He taught me the skill of putting a "Rock Of Approval" sticker on giveaway CDs. Seems like a crap job. I was out of my mind happy. I was working at a real radio station I also think Ron liked not having to deal with it so we actually got along really well, really fast.
The second week of my internship was winding down. I was washing and loading and stickering and getting ready for a full weekend of what Ron liked to call "dog and pony shows." "Are you kidding me? This late on a Friday you are calling me with this?" Is the PG-13 version of what I overheard Ron saying into his phone. The girl who was supposed to do the Friday overnight air shift was calling off, apparently AGAIN! Not an easy shift to fill. Especially Friday afternoon at five. Ron looked at me and asked me if I thought I could keep the station on the air all night. I was not sure I could, but I told him I could. AND HE LET ME!
"What are you going to call yourself?" Rambaldo asked when he found out I was hitting the airwaves in just over 6 hours. My college radio moniker of "Hurls", short for my last name Hurley, was loosing fashion fast thanks to Wayne's World. Ron and Rick blasted out about 423 suggestions. One stuck though. Weasel. Why? The biggest Radio guy in Rochester NY was a guy named Brother Weese. He worked for WCMF, the station that I grew up on. The reason I fell in love with radio in the first place. Weasel was a tribute to Weese and WCMF. I loved it. I would later start spelling it with a Z because on one of the several nights Mojo and I had been over served he convinced me it would be a cooler name if it was spelled with a Z. How that would come over the radio was really not something we considered. Several years and a station later I would change my name to Randy Hawke and spell it with a cool silent E on the end. That was even harder to portray on the radio.
At the time I started Mojo was the night guy. He did a lot of remotes and I loaded the van and drove him to them. He quickly became my best friend. We were both huge Bills fans and we both really enjoyed drinking seven days a week. When Mojo got the morning gig Mojo convinced the Bull to jump from overnights to his night spot. Then worked Ron and Rick to give me overnights. I could not believe it. My internship was not even over and I was working a full time air shift.
The Mojo and Deb show started at 6am. My show ended at 6am. I would hang around and watch, learn, help and get in the way for an hour or so after my shift. This led to Ron and Mojo decided why don't we let Weazel go out and do stupid stuff in the morning so we can laugh at him. Weazel the stunt boy was born.
That would lead to some of my favorite moments in my career. The most famous I guess was the "Caught You Late For Work" bit. People would call and turn in their coworkers that were constantly late. We would show up at that place just before the person was supposed to show up. Go live on the air and countdown to the person being late. We would then tell the listeners what the victim's car looked like and the route they were driving to work. They would usually show up 10 to 15 minutes late with a line of Rocket listeners driving behind them honking their horns. We would then reward the tardy victim with something awesome like a local band cd or monster truck tickets. Only a few of 'em lost their jobs.
My favorite morning show bit though was one of the simplest things we ever came up with. Somehow a tiger had escaped from a circus train that was coming through Erie. So there was this GIANT manhunt for this thing. So I went out in the Van and drove all around town "helping" to look for it. I showed up to the search points with kitty treats and my now famous bullhorn and just started shouting "Here Kitty Kitty." Mojo and Deb were trying to talk to me but all that you heard on the air was "Here Kitty Kitty Kitty." Even the cops were laughing their asses off. They made me leave, they were laughing while they did it, but booted me nonetheless.
The first time I drove down that beat up path of a road to the Mecca of Rocket 101 I spotted it. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. One finely tuned, precise combination of steal and fiberglass molded to perfection. It looked like one of those things you saw on TV driving 300 miles an hour down an old airstrip in the desert breaking land speed records. The Rocket Car. It was red, it was awesome, it was DEADLY. Holy crap! You could not see a thing out the windows, even if you did actually catch a glimpse of another vehicle it just scared you even more because the other drivers were to busy looking at the rocket car to pay any attention to the road. Every trip was a near death experience.
That was not my only near death experience at Rocket 101. There was the time they lowered me into melted chocolate. The bungee jump at Conneaut lake. The trip out into a choppy lake Erie in a horrible excuse for a row boat that ended with me scaling the wall of and boarding a navy destroyer. And the plane crash.
YES THE PLANE CRASH!
Rocket had an insane amount of remote gear. A money machine, a tent, the rocket car. Often times we needed to rent a truck to get it there. Which meant I would have to drive the beast (told ya it would come back) to the local Ryder rental store and grab a big truck. This was one of those days.
"Where's Weazel?" was the question echoing through bag phones ringing all across Erie. "Have you seen Weazel?" "Nope" was the common response.
Finally Natalie tracked me down and asked if I was alright. "Yeah. I am fine." Big Andy (the head van loader, washer and sticker placer) and I were downtown setting up We Love Erie Days. "Why do you ask?"
She went on to explain that a small plane crashed into the Ryder truck rental place. Everyone was watching it on the news and they could see my car in the middle of the debris. Damn it. I paid $800 bucks for that car 4 years ago.
The beast took a hit that day. Dirty movie guy to the rescue. Rick gave me his ex-wife's old car. A Chevy nova. That was the very car that I would load my belongings into and headed west on I-90. I was off to eventually become the Program Director of WAPL in Green Bay Wisconsin.
Every morning I was out and getting all those laughs Ron Kline was behind me feeding me lines and coaching me. Every time I moved into a new air shift Mojo was there to coach me. Every time I needed someone to put me back in line Natalie was there. And every time I was in trouble and needed help Rick was there. I learned everything I ever needed to know about radio at Rocket 101. I was able to do that because they wanted to share it with me. Those people are all still in Erie. They don't have to be. They are some of the smartest people in this industry. They are there because they want to be. And that is something Erie can be proud of. Rocket 101 is something to be proud of.
I could write 10 more pages. The Alice in Chains low dough show. Van Dusens hair and half shirts. My silent crush on Deb Ireland. I look back at my time at Rocket often. The S bars. Scully's, Sherlocks and Sulivan's. Jack's Place. Being the first person to play Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam on the radio in Erie. Jakes Blues. The Slider. The Delhurst. The Rook. Man did I hang out at lot of bars. A portion of my heart and liver will always be in Erie and with Rocket 101. Thanks Rocket 101 for letting me be there and Thanks Erie. You had a choice and you chose to listen to me and I am forever grateful.
1) Positions and when you worked them here at the ROCKET...
1) Van Loader 1991
2) Overnights/Mornings whipping boy 1991/92
3) Nights/Morning Whipping boy 92/92 "Weasel Wednesdays" [Listen to the Weasel]
4) Afternoons/Morning Whipping Boy/Production Director 93/94
I am currently the Operations Manager for 4 stations in Madison Wisconsin. 94 1 JJO (rock) 93 1 Jamz (Hip Hop) 1670 WTDY (Talk) and LaMovida (Spanish/Regional Mexican). I am on the Air from 1p to 3p central on JJO. I also program the nationally syndicated show HardDRIVE XL heard through out the US and Canada. I am married to my amazing and smoking hot wife Heidi and have two children. My son Aidan is 5 and Daughter Reese is 3.