Radio and the Mind of Mike Morin
Mike Morin has been on the radio for decades. In that time, he has been stalked, buried alive three times, done a striptease in downtown Boston, learned about getting fired in the morning newspaper, been a victim of armed robbery, and talks about all of that and so much more in his autobiography, Fifty Shades of Radio: Being Wired, Tired, and Fired. Mike and I met at his latest gig at the WFEA 1370/99.9 station, the Manchester Radio Group. With over forty years of deejaying radio, he is truly a media man, including author, podcaster, blue-ribbon baker, an expert on candlepin bowling, public speaker, justice of the peace, and has deejayed over 700 weddings.
Mike is one of those people who are immediately open and accessible the way I imagined he would be. He is tall, lean, friendly, and while I assume he has a nice smile, we meet in the time of Omicron, and masks have been mandated at the station once again. I have read his latest book, Lunch with Tommy and Stasia: TV's Golden Age of Candlepin Bowling, but instead, choose to focus on him and what a fantastic career he has had up to this time spelled out so well and funny in his book, Fifty Shades of Radio.
I begin by asking him about his father, Leo Morin. Mike brings up his dad at the beginning of the book, and I want to know more about this father of seven.
"He was extremely laid back for a man that had seven children, and he was just a very practical, internally very creative, but he was also very mechanical and made his money as a mechanical engineer and then a sales engineer. But I just loved the calmness about him when everything else was breaking loose around him."
Both Mike and I had sixties-era Ford Mustangs when we were young, and we knowingly acknowledged that Ford stood for Fix Or Repair Daily. And, true to the anacronym, he tells me about the time his dad came to his rescue.
"My first radio job was about two hundred miles north of Detroit for $1.60 an hour. I would drive every weekend when I was in college. When you're 19, you don't have a good car at that point in your life. I had this great Mustang that was a fastback. It was a cool car, but even for a car that was only a couple of years old, it was rusting out, and all kinds of things were going wrong. So, one weekend on my trip back from Grayling, Michigan, the car just broke down. But I was close enough where I could walk to an exit and call my dad. It was about probably two hours away, at least, maybe three. He drove up, and I'm not sure how we got the car back. Maybe the repair shop worked on it or something, but he had to drag me back home to Detroit."
When Mike was 19 or 20, he worked the night shift at McDonald's. I asked him to tell me about the armed robbery he had endured. I admit that it seems a bit unimaginable to have been a part of something so violent it must have been terrifying.
"It wasn't as terrifying until I got home and thought about it. I'm in bed that night, thinking, wow. A couple of guys knocked on the door at this McDonald's, and we thought it was somebody's dad or mom coming to pick them up. Fortunately, that night there were four of us. Normally, I'd have been the only person. So, somebody opened the door, and these two guys jumped in. They've got ski masks on, and they have blue steel revolvers right in your face."
"They made us all lay down on the floor. They tied our wrists and our ankles. They took one guy in the stock room, so we thought he was gone, and for I would say five minutes, they rifled through the safe. Fortunately, a manager was there and knew the combination. Ordinarily, if I were the only one, well, I wouldn't have opened the door, for one thing. I would have looked through the little peephole. But I would not have known the number, and hopefully, they would have accepted that I'm just the guy mopping the floors, and why would I have the combination to the safe? So maybe they just would have beat the crap out of me and had a hamburger and walked away."
"When they left, the door hadn't been locked yet, and two minutes later, somebody knocks on the door again. So, we thought, oh, they're back for more. I bolted out of the other side of the building, and it turned out to be somebody's parent coming to pick them up."
Mike has built a long career in radio, and with so much time on the public airwaves, there is no wonder why he has had more than one stalker. Listeners fall in love with the voice on the radio, and the DJ plays the songs we know every word, and some are inclined to fall into a sort of mutual understanding relationship. But, unfortunately, some will then take the relationship just a bit too far. And Shirley was one of them he was willing to discuss.
"I was too young and naive to realize, and I'm not even sure stalked is the word that I would use. She was just a lonely older woman who at the time was about what my age is now, but she was easily 45, 50 years older than me, and she was a listener. She lived in subsidized housing, and I don't think her kids gave her much attention. So, she called up the DJ on the radio station."
"I didn't know how to say no to people or to hang up because when you're doing this, radio work, there's a lot of moving parts, and you need to focus and pay attention. She plied me with gifts like mood rings and winter coats. The piece de resistance was when she sent me a naked photo of herself, and it was her at that age or about that age, as opposed to when she might have been my age. I was 25, and I'm estimating she was at least 70 or somewhere around there."
"Not a pretty picture, but it makes for a great story. She was a sweet lady, but at some point, I just had to pretty much; I drew the line at naked photos."
In 1972, Boston radio station WCOZ changed its call letters to WZOU, and Mike and radio partner Brad Krantz were hired to be the morning shock jocks after a short run at Z100 in New York City. I ask Mike to talk about the high jinks that ensued, including wearing a thong at the front of the John Hancock building in downtown Boston.
"I'm pretty uninhibited, and I realized that goes with being a morning zookeeper. You have to do stuff that's going to get you publicity. That's what the station wants you to do. My career is riddled with lots of those types of things. It was Secretary's Day, and we thought we would treat the secretaries to a little male strip show outside of one of the big buildings in downtown Boston, the John Hancock. We brought a boom box with some music on it. We just put it on the sidewalk, and of course, all those security people are trying to shush us away. We stripped down. We have black thongs on, as I recall. That didn't last long because we were escorted away. But it was pretty funny."
That conversation turns to when he read about his firing in the Boston Herald, where I worked about the same time he was fired. I, too, read all about it.
"If you want to move up, you do have to be ready to be in the firing line. I tell the story in the book of reading about our firing from WZOU that morning in the Boston Herald. I don't know if you remember Norma Nathan, The Eye."
I say that I do, and he tells me that Norma, "Eye'll think of the Name, Nathan, the Herald's premier gossip columnist, knew about the firing before he did.
"It appeared Friday morning in the Eye column. We had a few run-ins with her again on purpose because she always wrote very disparaging things about us. But, hey, we're the new kids in town, were taking shots at Matt Siegel, Sunny Joe White, and all these icons in the market because that's what they want us to do, and we don't care. We're here to see if we can extract a little blood."
"We're doing our show on Friday morning, and we're reading on the air about our impending dismissal, which didn't surprise us. At 9:00, the boss shows up, Pat McKay, who, by the way, is the name of my boss here at WFEA at the Manchester Radio Group."
"At this point. I was across the hall at WZOU for about 20 years, including a lot of years as the morning guy. This guy comes running into the studio. He says, "stop talking about getting fired. Nobody's getting fired". Right? So 10:00, we're off the air. I'm asked, can I see you in the office? Well, guess what? They trash me. They kept Brad because this Pat McKay guy wanted to do the morning show and play my part. I got fired. After about three days, Brad hated the guy, hated what they did to me. So, he quit. I got a good severance because I was fired. He didn't because he quit. I always admired him for just standing on principle and walking away from probably $15-$20,000 at that point."
While Mike admits he is uninhibited, there is one thing he won't do as an attention compelling stunt: jump out of a plane. However, what he has done has been buried alive on three separate occasions. This is clearly above and beyond the call of duty for free publicity. I asked him why he would agree to such a thing and how he got through it.
"Well, first of all, I'm not claustrophobic. A company went around the country and worked with radio stations. So, I said, yeah, I'll do it. They gave me a decent amount of money to do it as well, at the time, anyway. I crawled into the box. (Mike mentions later they nailed it shut.) There's probably a photo of the day I was hypnotized. But the most fascinating thing about this is the guy, the host, the MC, the sideshow carnival barker because that's what it reminded me of. His name was Dr. Silkini. He said I'm going to hypnotize you so that you can do this. I had been hypnotized about ten years before, and I loved it. It was one of the coolest things I ever did. I said, sure. If that's part of the act, I'll do it. Well, it must have worked. What he did was ask me to lay between two chairs so my head would be on one chair, there would be no support, and then my feet would rest, my heels would rest on another chair five feet away. I would be there basically with no support. He hypnotically had me close my eyes. He would talk me through, and you know how they suggest in a very staccato kind of way, just pretend like you're a steel beam. Put your arms on the side of your body but get as rigid and as stiff as you can. I did, and a few minutes into this, I felt this very light rubbing on my stomach. But I kept my eyes closed, and I was clearly in a trance or at least in a hypnotic state. About probably ten, twelve years later, I finally saw the video of that moment and what I felt was just the very light rubbing on my stomach was this guy walking on me with no support at the hypnotic suggestion. It blew me away. He was not a big guy, but we were about the same size. I probably weighed at the time 140 pounds, and he weighed about the same, but still."
We close our conversation with the state of radio and, similar to newspapers circling the drain, how will radio survive.
"Radio has spent some time circling as well. Radio is corporate now. A lot of it is done by satellite. Voice tracking is very popular. Voice tracking means that you've got a deejay that will sit down, has their list of music for a four-hour show, and a computer and they will sit, and they will inject their comments that will then, by the computer, be inserted into it. You will have no idea that it's not a live deejay at that time. There's a lot of that going on, and because of that, there are fewer people who have jobs because if you have a large chain of stations, you might get a deejay in Houston who might be tasked with recording voice tracks for sister stations in maybe three or four other cities. So, there are three or four other people that aren't working."
"Howard Stern, another example, when he was on terrestrial radio, or Rush Limbaugh, or you name it. All these people basically took the place of local radio people. If radio is going to survive, live and local is what it should be. But the economics of it, what the bean counters have decided, it's more important to make money than to create a good local product. Not everybody, but most large companies."
"Saga Communications own this out of Detroit. (The station where Mike currently works.) The guy that owns it is a real radio guy, and he likes it to be as live and local as possible, but it isn't always. It usually is. I do appreciate the culture here compared to other places I've worked where the first thing is, all right, we got to voice track these three hours, or we have to send this to Portland affiliate, so we got to get so-and-so to sit in the studio for a half-hour and cut voice tracks. That's not the radio I started in in 1971 in a little town in Northern Michigan."
"There will be enough stations that will be able to survive because they'll realize how we got to be local, we have to talk about things happening here, we have to be efficient though when we do it. I think there are more station failures, but I think radio's going to be around for a while."