Today, I had my final aircheck with Samantha Strong. But before I share what that was like…
Samantha Strong is retiring from the airwaves on Thursday, January 13th after working at Mid-West Family for over 35 years. In October 1992, Samantha hired me to be a part-time DJ on Z93. She was the Program Director (and the better half of the morning show) at Z93. I was 19 and going to school at WWTC for Police Science along with working part time at Walmart. I pestered her long enough to put me on the radio.
If you didn’t have any experience, you started by working Saturday and Sunday mornings at 6am pushing buttons for Rick Dee’s or Shadoe Stevens. These were syndicated shows that showed up in the mail each week on CDs. My job was to play each track and when it finished, play the local commercials. Once an hour after the last commercial, you’d do a local weather forecast and then start the next track on the Rick Dee’s show.
In the equipment rack, there was a magic machine that you would throw an old tape in and it would automatically start recording whenever the microphone was turned on. You ended up with a tape full of you talking and whatever was on the radio. When you did these shows, you ended up with a tape with you just doing the weather… over and over.
Once a week, I’d sit down with Sam and we’d listen to the tape. They call these sessions “airchecks”. They were coaching sessions where she would give us feedback on ways to improve. Airchecks were stressful at first. You’d listen for a while and know it was bad. “ugh.. what am I doing” I’d look up from my hands and Sam would smile and say…”Oh, pumpkin… it’s not that bad!” I distinctly remember Sam taking the tape out and putting it in her desk. She said, “Look, I’m gonna keep this and we’ll listen to it again down the road. It’ll be fun to see how different you sound in six months or a year!”
It didn’t talk long before I really looked forward to airchecks. Oh, there was still the stress of listening to your work and hoping it didn’t suck… but Sam made these meetings awesome. Eventually, she even let me do more than just the weather! Aside from listening to my tape, she told stories, shared experiences, gave advice… she was our den mother.
Those first few years of working at Z93 were some of the most FUN times I can remember. Keith, Sam, Jimmy G, Kelly Wilde, Tom Stryker, John Cory, Skylar Thomas, Stan Styles, Mathew Street, Casey B, Casey Moo, Alan Shepard, and probably others I’m forgetting. Sam was the ringleader. There would often be a line of people waiting to meet with Sam to listen to tape and find out when we’d be working next. Over the next few years, I learned about remote broadcasts, scheduling music, promotions and everything else that went along with running a radio station.
Yesterday, I went to my mailbox and found a cassette with my name on it and a date of 11/10/92. Sam put it there. She was cleaning out her desk and found the tape she saved when I started. Today, we went into a production studio, and we listened to it. (finding a cassette player wasn’t easy btw) I guess it was my last air-check with Sam. We laughed and reminisced about all the crazy things that happened at our radio station “back-in-the-day”.
Although regular air-checks with Sam stopped a long time ago, I’ll never forget the things she taught me about this business and just life. I never would have guessed, back then, I’d still be working with Sam today. That all ends tomorrow, and it really won’t be the same.
Sam, thank you. Thank you SO much. Thank you for making this such a great place to go to work everyday.
Enjoy your retirement!
Oh… and if you’re curious about what was on that tape, here’s some of it. Have a laugh. We did.