Thursday, April 7, 2011

Your Good Neighbor Station

It took me about an hour and ten minutes or so to make the drive each evening from

Mansfield over to Canton. Usually, though, when I arrived downtown at WHBC, I was pretty exhausted. Trying to hold down two full-time jobs will do that. But, we needed the extra money. We always need the extra money. Opportunities to work for the hometown radio station that I grew up listening to didn't happen very often. But I couldn't pass up the chance to work at the same station as Skip Hornyak.

We were living in Wadsworth at the time, so my day was a long one. I was doing the Midday show at Y-105 in Mansfield. It took about an hour to drive from home down to the station, which usually put me there at around 9 o'clock. I'd do my show, and then record commercials for a couple of hours in the production studio. At 5 o'clock or so, I'd jump back in my car and head directly east on Route 30 to Canton, about an hour away, into downtown where the WHBC studios resided.

At 'HBC, I basically played records, starting at 7 o'clock. The songs I played in the evening were remarkably different from the ones I'd played earlier in the day. I'd trade in Madonna, Taylor Dane, and Hootie and the Blowfish for Lou Rawls, Glen Campbell, and Ferrante and Teicher. Oh, the occasional Seals and Crofts tune would pop up, or perhaps something from the Beatles, but not very often. My show was interspersed with news every 15 minutes, read by the evening news person from another studio. Then, at 11:20, the music would end, and I would become the host of the long-running talk show "Viewpoint".

I hated being the host of "Viewpoint". Mainly because nobody called. I didn't know the first thing about doing a talk show, and it showed. The people who would occasionally pick up the phone were the same recognizable voices that had called the show when, as a kid, I used to lay in bed at night listening to Jim Roberts behind the microphone. Usually they were people proposing conspiracy-theories or tossing out Scripture quotes. But when I hosted the show, I'd rarely get callers. I'd suggest topics, look down at the phone bank, see all the open lines, and announce "we'll be right back", while dropping a PSA into the cart-deck or a commercial, if one was scheduled. I couldn't wait until the clock struck midnight, because "Viewpoint" would be over, as would my work-day, finally. I'd run over into the production studio, record my assigned-commercials, and then drive the 45 minutes back to Wadsworth, usually well after 1 o'clock in the morning.

It was during this work-saga that I finally met Skip Hornyak. That name will more than likely mean nothing to you, but to someone like me who knew exactly what they wanted to do from a very early age, this was magical. To me, Skip Hornyak was Canton radio. Sure, he had a good voice, but I could feel his enthusiasm and good-natured charm oozing through the speakers of my transistor radio. Skip was buttery smooth.

By the time I arrived at WHBC, the station had changed. Many of the announcers who I had grown up with had either moved on or had passed on. And I'm not sure what prompted the station to do it, but for some reason the legendary Skip Hornyak was sentenced to "run the board" on the overnight shift. Most stations don't have a need to have a "live body" in the building because of complex automation systems, but back then there was almost always someone in the building of a radio station. Being "the overnight guy" could mean a couple of things. Both of them were usually not good. Either the person was a newbie who couldn't be trusted to crack the microphone when "normal" people listened to the station, or the person was tossed out into the graveyard because management didn't know what to do with him. Skip was the latter, given the duty of reading the news at the top of the hour for 5 minutes before hitting the switch on the control console that would then put on the air the nationally-syndicated "Tom Snyder Show".

Skip, in person, was the exact identical person that he was on the air. Gracious, helpful, fun, and engaging. He seemed a bit embarrassed when I first told him that he was my idol growing up, but that's probably how I expected him to respond.

Skip would come in at about 11:15 in the evening, about 5 minutes before I'd start the "Viewpoint" show. To the left of the main on-air microphone was a window that looked out in to the lobby. To the right was another window where you could see broadcasting gear and other equipment. At almost the same time each evening, I'd see Skip in my peripheral vision, to my right. He'd smile, wave, and start his process of preparing the tapes that would be used to record and, later, playback the Tom Snyder Show. He'd also use some of that time to go into the production studio and record the commercials that had been assigned to him earlier in the day.

Sometimes after I'd finish my duties in the production studio, I'd hang out for a few minutes with Skip. We'd talk about his time at WHBC, about some of the other announcers he worked with. We'd talk about my situation, too, about my marathon work-days divided between Mansfield and Canton. Or about my goal to get to a little bigger radio market. I tried to get him to open up about why they sent him back to the Overnight show, anticipating some heated rhetoric about management. But never once did he say a disparaging thing about them. He wasn't happy about it, nor was his wife. But whatever disgruntlement he felt he kept to himself. Like me, he did, though, complain about the music. "Wouldn't it be great, " he said one night, "if we played some Dire Straits or Bob Seger? I wonder why they won't put some of those songs in?"

I was exhausted one evening as I prepared to do "Viewpoint". In addition to working at Y-105, I had to do a live broadcast for a client. I barely made it to Canton for my show at WHBC. The weekday grind was taking its toll. Skip must have sensed something. After another evening of limited phone calls, I was anxious for the clock to hit midnight so that I could jump in the production studio and then head for home. I walked over to my mailbox to retrieve my production orders, but my box was empty. It was strange, because I knew that I had work to do, having seen several orders lined up in it prior to the start of my show. "Did I leave my production stuff in here?", I asked Skip, as I walked back into the main on-air studio. "No, " he replied, "I knew you had a tough day and a long drive home so I went ahead and did your spots for you."

My idol did my production for me. In fact, he did my commercials for me for the remainder of my time at WHBC.

I regret not staying in touch with him after I left. After returning home from the CBS station I worked for in Washington, DC, my mother told me that she had read in the paper that Skip Hornyak had retired. And, like so many things that you think about doing but never get around to following up on, I neglected to contact him or find out how he was doing. The only other news I'd heard about Skip was the announcement on All Access last week that he had passed away.

If you open a book that chronicles the legendary announcers in broadcasting, you probably won't find Skip Hornyak listed. You more than likely won't find old airchecks of Skip archived in some vault on-line, either. And that's ok. None of those things have anything to say about the kind of person he was, or about the help that he gave to a young, struggling broadcaster. They don't make them any better than John W. "Skip" Hornyak.

-30-

1 comment:

Gary D said...

Zed,

Loved this post. I remember my dad listening to Skip every morning before work on his RCA little transistor radio.

Awesome.

Gary D