Adventures in Radio

Talk of the Town - Utica, NYTalk of the Town radio show, Utica, NY – 100.7 FM
Mark Piersma and Frank Elias
7:00-10:00 am, weekdays

Last week I was invited on Talk of the Town, to discuss Moss Island Sounds. Producer Jason Aiello contacted me shortly after noon on Monday, and I was in the studio at 7:30 next morning. Nowadays I rarely turn on the radio – my phone is filled with audiobooks and podcasts. I used to listen to AM talk shows when I drove home from the cinema after midnight, a 30-minute commute. Usually Larry King, whose program ran midnight-5:30 am.

So I panicked a little. I’ve been on stage, and I sing every week, but I’m still nervous. Every. Single. Time. Plus, I didn’t think I’d seen a radio station in person. So I crammed: downloaded videos on public speaking, sat with a media savvy friend who did a mock interview and offered pages of notes, tips and tricks. I woke up an hour earlier than usual and typed a cheat sheet.

“Take the elevator to the 15th and then the stairs to the top floor.” The station is not a glamorous place. This is what I pictured: dark wood paneling, tasteful, quiet, with a window looking in to the studio. An “On Air” sign. Technicians with headphones on, the broadcast piped through the halls. (They did have an “On Air” sign.)

My mouth was dry. Heart racing. Act calm. I met Jason; he asked if I listened to the show. (I’m usually at work by now. Lame.) I met Mark; he asked if I listened to the show. (A GREAT start.) The studio was a tiny box with a single window to the outside, high on one wall. A low couch, small table, sound board and a couple of computers for the hosts. Mark and Frank sat in chairs – I looked up at them. The only thing resembling my imagination were the microphones, on swivel booms. Nobody did a sound check.

The interview flew by. I remember brief pieces. (You can listen to the audio at the bottom of this post.) At the end, Frank gave me a thumbs-up and said I should come on the show again. I left in a daze. Called Susan: “That was incredible! I thought they were going to tear you apart!” (They’d been riffing viciously on Al Sharpton before me.) “I’m so proud of you!”

One thing I remember: Mark and Frank asked me to review their show. I smiled politely (I think). When I got home, I started listening. I’ve spent the past week with Talk of the Town, and although I don’t know much about commercial radio today, I have a few opinions. Here’s the review.

What I love: Talk of the Town is unabashed in its advocacy for what has become my hometown – Utica, NY. The best parts of the show are guests who discuss what’s happening in and around the city; this is when Mark and Frank are at their most generous and appealing. (As they were with me.)


It’s a noisy program. The sound profile is similar to the Howard Stern Show, or Rush Limbaugh. By that, I mean people talk loudly, excitedly, quickly – nothing wrong with that, but it gets tiring. (It works best if all you want is company – don’t listen for content, just play the show in the background.) Sound mixing is nonexistent – Mark constantly overdrives his mic, everyone else is somewhat distant (it doesn’t sound like Frank is in the same studio.) Many of the regular voices on the program would benefit from public speaking classes (e.g. Toastmasters) to reduce space-filling “um’s” and “ah’s.” (I expected this to be an non-issue.) When the news is read, the sound picture is identical regardless of content – peak in the center of a line, drop off and extend the final syllable (fun to parody.) There is no audibly discernible difference between a homicide and a road closing.

Mark and Frank seem to position themselves as point/counterpoint. Conservative and liberal. Sometimes it works, but the schtick is not as well-defined as it might be. Think about Stephen Colbert, who stuck to a part on his show even if it wasn’t always what the actual man believed. The first 30 minutes of Talk of the Town are basically “news of the day,” or the equivalent of the late night monologue. I’d love to see more structure in this part – preparation, with an objective in mind. (Why are we talking?)

The social media component of the show is not currently working. Here’s why. When Mark and Frank talked about education reform last week, they requested input on the show’s Facebook page. I posted a comment; it was the only one. My comment wasn’t acknowledged on Facebook or the show. A quick scan of other posts reveals the same pattern – single, unacknowledged comments. Which leads to audience disengagement. (Why bother?)

I love the idea of an FM morning talk show, especially one that boosts the region. Three hours seems like a lot of time to fill, but Larry King used to do almost twice that, in addition to his CNN program. Mark, Frank and their team are filling a niche in Utica, and they provide a pulpit and megaphone to many worthy organizations. I’d like to see the platform reinforced and decorated a bit, but I’m glad it’s there.

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Here’s audio from the interview on 2/10/15: