Monday, November 02, 2009

Milestones and Reflections

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 is quickly approaching. I will be fifty years old.

It's at these major milestones that we tend to pause for reflection. For me, a number of milestones have converged. This is not my typical Radio or Not newsletter. It's a bit more personal in nature than I usually get. But I hope you'll read on as I indulge in some mid-life reflection.

I recently wrote about my mom, on the 30th anniversary of her passing. I was an idealistic and, in many ways, naive young woman, a scant two weeks away from turning 20. On the verge of leaving my teens behind and entering adulthood, I was catapulted into learning one of life's toughest lessons all too soon.

The world kept turning, but it was a new era, my life after mom. On my 20th birthday, November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, beginning a crisis in which 53 hostages were held for 444 days. I remembered thinking, as I watched this unfold, that my mother would never know about that.

A year later, on my 21st birthday, Ronald Reagan was elected president. Milestones and Reflections.

Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter in the primary that year. I honestly don't have any memories of that, but I can now only imagine how differently things might have turned out had Ted Kennedy become president. I believe the world would be a much better place today.

I wasn't politically involved as a young adult. I was aware, but not involved. I graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in broadcasting, and soon after moved to NY to pursue a radio career.

Mom never heard me on the radio; that part of my life happened after mom. Aware but not involved, I moved from my first NY radio job (producing the very conservative Bob Grant Show at WMCA) to the pop culture/music world, working with Jim Kerr at WPLJ. In 1987, I headed west, out to Los Angeles, for a man. The relationship lasted a year, but Southern California became my home for fourteen years. My life was music and FM radio, when music radio still held the promise of creativity.

Perhaps some day I'll write a book. My first job in LA was producing the Phil Hendrie morning show at KLSX. Yes, the same Phil Hendrie who had great success years later with his very creative shtick, arguing with himself as the colorful characters he created.

The world kept turning and Bill Clinton was elected president November 3, 1992. Ahh, the Mark & Brian years. About a year after I moved to Los Angeles, a morning duo also arrived. Mark & Brian had a successful morning show in Birmingham, Alabama, and were brought to LA to do something different.

They were unique. A couple of overgrown kids who tried to crack each other up every morning. It was endearing. When they hit the air, I was working at KNX-FM (LA's Mellow Rock), which then became LA's other oldies station, KODJ.

Finally, in early 1990, I was hired to produce the show.

Radio was much less corporate back then.. KLOS was, at the time, owned by Cap Cities/ABC. The Mark & Brian Program was FUN. We did silly things like "stealing" the Bob's Big Boy statue from in front of the restaurant on La Cienega Blvd. and dressing it up like Elvis, and putting it on the top of the Capital Records building so the whole city could pay tribute to "the King". (And, of course, Elvis always wanted to be on Capital Records!)

The Elvis Bob had a long life... he became Franken Bob and Dracu Bob for successive Halloweens, and was the star of the M&B Drive In movie events, at which we'd show double features of the scariest movies.

He became Evel Bob for a trip to Vegas when hundreds of listeners, Tom Jones and Evel Knevil himself were on hand as we launched the Bob over the fountains at Caesar's Palace.

Evel Bob
And we threw skydiving Bob out of a plane, for the thousands of listeners who trekked out to the desert for this bit of live on air silliness.

Music was secondary, but we were allowed the freedom from KLOS's classic rock format to bring all kinds of acts into the studio for our #1 by a huge margin morning show. We had them all... from Bon Jovi to James Taylor to Lyle Lovett to Pete Townshend (pictured below) who led a slew of listeners with their guitars in hand in a parking lot play-along, so they could tell their grandkids they played guitar with Townshend, and more than I can recount here. And many of them took us up on our invitations to perform at the annual Mark & Brian Christmas Show, which was staged, produced and aired live from 6-10am.
peter Townshend WINZ letter
Looking back on those days, I'm amazed at what I was able to pull off as the lone producer of that show. It was pre-internet, and before every desk was home to a PC. "My" computer was actually delivered the day I left KLOS to cross the street to help launch a new radio station, fm 101.9 KSCA.

I had actually decided to leave KLOS about six months before I did. Howard Stern had come to town about midway through my four year run with M&B. He was great at entering a new market and targeting the top morning show in town. He came at Mark and Brian with guns blazing, accusing them of copying his act. Honestly, that accusation couldn't be further from the truth. First of all, they never listened to him - or any other morning show. And second, their act was nothing like his. Although there was some sexual content, it was mostly fun, not creepy. We didn't have naked women in the studio (except for the time they had someone make a mold of my friend Andrea's breasts before she went for breast reduction surgery.)

Kurt RussellClick here for an audio trip down memory lane, from the M&B days.

But Stern did succeed in knocking them out of first place, and bringing lots of tension to the show.

I got into radio in the first place because of my love for music. When I had to choose a major for college, the only thing that really interested me was radio, because I figured I could keep going to concerts and listening to the music I loved. But, of course, I have fairly eclectic taste in music, and no commercial radio stations played what I liked!

That is, until around 1994, as a new format was just starting to pop up in some cities. KBCO in Boulder, Colorado had actually been around for a while, and is still considered one of the founders of the Triple A (Adult Album Alternative) format. Dennis Constantine had been the Program Director and was now consulting other such stations.

I had reached out to him, longing to work at a radio station that actually played the music about which I was passionate! After he responded to my letter with a standard "let me know when you're in town, and we'll talk," I flew out to Boulder to meet with him. I learned that Constantine had been speaking with the late, and greatly missed, Bill Ward, GM of LA's KLIT, the last remaining station in the Golden West Broadcasters group owned by Gene Autry.

The weekend of July 4, 1994 saw the launch of the new fm101.9, Southern California's Album Alternative! We made magic. KSCA was my favorite radio station ever, and those 2 1/2 years remain among the happiest in my professional life.

At KSCA, I got to interview some of my biggest idols

WINZ letter
(Jackson Browne, Ray Davies)
Ray Davies

and introduce listeners to others (Dave Matthews first LA radio interview, and
Ben Folds Five's first one too!)

Ben Folds Five

Unfortunately, Bill Clinton threw a wrench in the industry. He signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law, which did away with all the ownership rules of broadcast stations. The era of consolidation had begun, and brought with it the end of local, creative. adventurous radio.

In February of 2007, owners Gene and Jackie Autry sold KSCA to Entravision, who changed the programming to a Spanish language format.

I moved to a radio and record trade magazine, the now-defunct Album Network, where I wrote about music, then down to San Diego for a stint as co-host of the 91X "Brand X Morning Show", when I heard that Clear Channel (who had now grown to gargantuan size during that consolidation frenzy) was going to flip two small signals in Santa Monica and Newport Beach to Triple A.

They brought me back up to Los Angeles to be Music Director and afternoon host at Channel 103.1.

Tom Petty

Before Bill Clinton's monstrous gaffe, companies were permitted to own one AM, one FM and one TV signal in a market, with a cap of 40 stations total. After the Telecom Act became law, companies were, and still are, (generally speaking) allowed 8 stations in a single market, with no cap on the total number of stations they can own. Clear Channel now owns somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 radio stations!

By 2000, after merging with yet another company, Clear Channel owned more than their limit of stations in LA and, since we were actually two stations with less than full market coverage and a niche format, we were the first to go. And to another Spanish language format it went!

In the year 2000, the internet was becoming a force for radio to reckon with. Clear Channel had been one of the earliest radio companies to launch an internet division.

Charlie Rahilly, now the CEO of Premiere Radio, was the force behind Channel 103.1. He believed the format would work in LA, and he agreed with me that we could make history by moving it seamlessly from over the air to online only as

You can read my first-hand account of that transition here.

Unfortunately, the story didn't have a happy ending. We were just too early! Broadband was still a rarity, and people just weren't listening to much music and certainly not radio online yet! Then the dot com bust happened and, the rest, as they say, is history.

Meanwhile, I had adopted my daughter from Kazakhstan (you can read all about that journey here), and I was out of work. I was already ready to leave LA when 9/11 happened. I wanted to move as far away from a big city as possible, so I sold my wonderful home in Culver City (stupid, stupid, stupid!) and moved to Taos, New Mexico.

I was told that Taos Mountain either welcomes you or it doesn't... and, in my case, it didn't! After a few months with at KTAO, I once again picked up and moved back home to Florida so my daughter could know her cousins and her Pop-Pop.

Another job brought me up to Boston for a year, but it still wasn't right, so we came back to South Florida, where I decided to start my own video production business, helping families transform their stories, photos, home movies, etc., into DVDs they could hand down to future generations.

But a funny thing happened. While doing the video production work, instead of listening to music, I had the radio tuned to the local Air America affiliate.

Thanks to my dad, I had always listened to talk radio. I even started my professional career in talk in both Tampa and New York.

But back in South Florida, where music radio is abysmal, it was Air America radio keeping me company.

It was also a sign of the times. George W. Bush had squandered the budget surplus left by the Clinton administration, and lied us into a war in Iraq.

Day by day, this aware but not involved woman morphed a bit more into a concerned single mom wondering and worried about what was happening to this world her daughter would soon inherit.

Although I loved the creative side of my video business, I loathed the selling part. I remembered the feeling of loss on 9/11, but not in the way you'd imagine. Having worked my entire professional life in radio, my first thought any time there's a major tragedy or disaster is to run to the radio station and help!

This wasn't just an event; our world was being destroyed by the administration!

I contacted Peter Bolger, then-Program Director at WINZ, the then-Progressive Talk station here in South Florida. After a six month courtship, he finally hired me to produce a new local morning show, hosted by newspaper veteran Jim DeFede. After a year, Jim moved on, and I took over hosting the show.

I found my new voice. I still love music, and work it into my show whenever possible, (like this interview with Neil Finn from last Thursday night!).

But by being able to talk for more than 30 seconds at a clip, by being able to voice an opinion, by being able to interview newsmakers and others with their own opinions, I felt, for the first time in a long time, that I was making a difference! I was loving being creative, and doing something really worthwhile at the same time!

Unfortunately, the consolidation era in radio was just a symptom of a bigger problem. Radio had become like most other industries in our country-- a tool to feed Wall Street. The product was no longer important; it was all about the bottom line.

I was always attracted to radio because of its immediacy and the personal nature of the medium. TV talked to the masses; Radio was the private, intimate medium.

But now it's about voicetracking and syndicated programs.

Most local radio stations' broadcast day is filled with national talent. The rare local talk show is usually found in morning drive only, which is where I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with the people of South Florida for a couple of years.

August 22, 2008, the Friday morning before the Democratic National Convention convened in Denver, I was let go from WINZ, only to be replaced by Don Imus. So much for "progressive talk" in South Florida. Six months later, the whole station was gone. WINZ now offers South Florida's fifth sports talk format!

Thankfully, I was introduced to the people at Air America, who gave me my first shot at a national audience about six weeks after losing my morning show. I guest hosted The Thom Hartmann Show. What an honor! To me, Thom is the most knowledgeable, respected voice in talk radio.

new aar logoAir America has been my lifeline! As a listener, their programming moved me from aware to informed to involved.

They suffered through a number of management and ownership woes, but continue to survive and, I hope, to thrive. The right constantly refers to the liberal media bias but, you and I know that that's a myth. There are too few liberal voices on the airwaves, and too few radio stations offering Air America's programming.

Since that first day filling in for Thom Hartmann, I've been honored to guest-host for Rachel Maddow, Ron Reagan, Ron Kuby and Montel Williams. And for the past four months, it's been my privilege to host a nightly program on Air America radio.

I've come a long way, and I'm truly grateful for the wonderful notes of support and encouragement I receive from listeners; from the new ones who've just found me on Air America to the old M&B fans who are still listening!

On November 4, 2008, my 49th birthday, Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. We had so much hope.

How audacious of us. To believe that a bright, young, good looking, dare I say Kennedy-esque man could appear out of relative obscurity to bring this nation back to the promises and ideals of those pre-Reagan days. Back to the security I felt when I was still in my teens, and could go home to the safety of my mother's arms.

OK, I got caught up in the hype too. But this president was supposed to be different from the rest. And as I'm fortunate enough to be able to talk about every night on Air America, we've still got a very long way to go!

This Wednesday, November 4, 2009, I will turn 50 years old. As I take stock of my life in this rambling note of reflection, I realize that I have lots to be grateful for. I have a healthy, happy, beautiful, energetic, creative daughter (and I must remember those things when the less than joyous traits of her complex personality surface to infuriate me). I have a wonderful, loving, generous, patient, smart, compassionate, politically involved, brilliant boyfriend who loves me dearly (and I must remember those things when I get frustrated at the complexity of relationships and the lack of simplicity implicit in them).

I have a voice and an opinion and the opportunity to share them and, perhaps, have some sort of influence in an increasingly difficult world. I get to interview and ask tough questions of some of the best and brightest people who are truly working to change our country for the better, and challenge many of those, personally, whom I feel could be doing a much better job on our behalf. And I still get to listen to great music and introduce what I love to listeners who might otherwise not get to hear it.

I'm fifty years old this week. I lost my father six years ago. After he died, I learned that his degree from Boston University was in radio! He never told me that. He was very proud of me and happy for the success that I enjoyed during the good runs, and was always supportive when times were tough.

I'm now the parent, with my young daughter on my mind every day. She motivates me to try to make the world a better place.

The day I turn 50 will mark one year since we elected Barack Obama president. His year in office hasn't miraculously transported us back to my early childhood, when JFK was president. We haven't been returned to the peace and prosperity of the Clinton years, when I crossed the globe to adopt my daughter.

Obama isn't the hero so many of us thought he would be. What I've learned, aided by the wisdom of my years, is that nothing worthwhile is easily attained. And I don't think we'll ever have the answers. But we have to keep plugging away.

We leave childhood behind because we can't live in that state forever. But we must also fight for those things that are truly important.

I'll keep talking about what I believe, exposing truths and looking for answers. I'll keep listening to great music, I'll continue trying to teach my daughter what's important, all while trying to change what I can and be grateful for all I'm so lucky to have in my life.
Nicole and Alison Sandler

Ever evolving, growing, learning, loving. Remembering the past, but moving forward....

Thanks for your continued support. It means more to me than you know.

I hope you'll share this with any friends who might be interested in my thoughts, activities or whereabouts! I also hope you'll find me on Facebook, where I tend to post a lot of information, and at my podcast/blog at

And, for as long as they'll have me, I'm on Air America Radio, every weeknight from 11pm-1am ET, streaming live here!

Here's to making the next fifty better than the first. At least I know I'll die trying!