Next Monday, radio personality Don Geronimo will join local talk station WGMD-FM (92.7, Rehoboth Beach, DE) as its midday host. All signs point to a train wreck.
But not so fast.
I don’t personally know Don Geronimo (real name: Michael Sorce) but I have followed his career sporadically over the past decade. He is a year younger than me…but started working in radio at an astounding age of 13. He’s worked at some of the best radio stations in this country, and most recently was part of the Don & Mike Show…syndicated nationwide out of WJFK in Washington, DC. I listened in when I could…usually in small doses, and almost always when I was in the car alone, since I was afraid of what they would say when I had other people, including my kids, in the car. Don & Mike were laugh-out-loud funny. I suppose I was smack in the middle of their demographic – and they connected with me when talking about TV, pop culture, celebs, music, and so on. They were also shockingly crude. Don shared things on the radio that I wouldn’t talk about to my best friends. And I suspect he did it just to be shocking. Why else would they have their voice guy record a bumper that simply said “God Damn It. This is the Don & Mike Show.” I figured they did it because they could get away with it, though it never struck me as funny.
I always thought Mike O’Meara was the more talented and funny of the team. His impressions were dead-on and his wit was fast and furious. Plus he has a better voice. But yesterday, I was on a video shoot in DC and I tuned in Mike (who now hosts The Mike O’Meara Show on WJFK with former Don & Mike sidekicks Rob and Buzz) and it was flat out boring. I tried listening a few months ago, and was disappointed. Mike without Don was flat…and it made me think I hadn’t given Don fair shake in the partnership.
Don’s wife Freda was killed in a car accident in 2005. I always enjoyed the D&M Show when Don put Freda’s phone calls on the air. And I especially liked it when he talked about Ocean City – since it’s rare to hear a national show reference a local town. When Freda was killed on Route 90, it hit me very hard for some reason – even though I had never met her or Don. Don returned to radio a few weeks later, but spent a lot of time talking about retiring when his contract expired. And in March 2008 he did just that. He got remarried, and has since sold his home in the DC area and now lives full time in OC with his new wife Janet & dog Oscar (I follow him on Twitter, that’s how I know Janet and Oscar’s names!) Don’s contract with CBS (they own WJFK) prohibits him from working in radio in any market where CBS has a station. So after some time off, he went to work for WOCM in Ocean City…but left the station after only a month in an unfriendly parting of ways.
While at WJFK, Don would frequently berate the management of the radio station..and the Wigs at CBS. He does not suffer fools lightly. Especially if they operate radio stations. And he has already promised on his blog to dish some dirt on WOCM once he starts broadcasting from WGMD.
And that brings us to the potential train wreck.
Washington, DC is the 9th largest radio market in America with over 4,000,000 people. Salisbury-Ocean City (the rated market where WGMD doesn’t even have a blanket signal) is ranked 143rd with just over 300,000 people. Salisbury-Ocean City was traditionally the market where people learned the craft of radio while aspiring to work in markets the size of DC. And the differences go far beyond population.
This area is more conservative, religious, slow-moving, and less tolerant and open-minded than a major city. Don & Mike entertained with strippers, stories about masturbating and double entendre that was about as subtle as a hand grenade. I’m not exactly a prude but it was often more than I could handle – and I am trying to imagine how that is going to play in Sussex County. I’m thinking about the regular callers that I hear on Dan Gaffney’s show – and my mom & dad – and their friends…and I’m trying to imagine how Don’s brand of in-your-face-radio is going to play. And I see the train wreck.
Then I see Dan getting a flood of phone calls, and advertisers threatening to stop advertising (and WGMD is possibly the most advertiser-centric radio station I have ever seen) and I see Dan telling Don he has to tone it down; clean it up. And then I hear Don spending a large portion of his shift running down WGMD and our community because we are hicks and don’t get it. And I see a train wreck.
But something in my gut tells me this could be different. That maybe Don has changed – and this is exactly what he wants right now…and not just something to bide his time until the CBS non-compete expires. I sense Don has mellowed. Losing your best friend when she is young and healthy will certainly make you reevaluate your life. Leaving a high pressure job and taking a year off should help even the most wound-up individual decompress. And leaving the city and waking up every morning at the beach with a new wife & a fresh start can take the edge off the jadedness that accumulates after a career in the cut-throat entertainment business.
WGMD is a rare commodity in radio. Honestly, some of the things they do…like extended in-studio advertiser segments…drive me up the wall. It is horrible radio programming. But brilliant from a sales perspective. They are all about results for their advertisers…and disclaimer here: I am one. Albeit a small one. They have some decent talent – I think Dan Gaffney is one of the best communicator’s behind a mic anywhere – and some announcers who I think are probably in the wrong business. But despite that, I am what radio consultants call a P1 listener. That means the #1 preference preset button on my radio is set to 92.7.
I listen because WGMD epitomizes what radio is supposed to be. They are LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL…and they super-serve their community. If I miss a day or two without listening to WGMD, I feel out of touch. When I travel, I check their website every day or two to see what is happening. I frequent their advertisers whenever I can, and I recognize many of the regular callers even though we have never met and I wouldn’t know them if I ran into them at the supermarket. WGMD is one of the few stations in the country that is independently owned and operated. They don’t have the same pressures the larger groups have – and they are the better for it.
Perhaps this unpredictable hiring of Don Geronimo at small market WGMD is the perfect storm. It’s hard to tell how much of the Don Geronimo I know through his previous stints on the radio is the real Don (after all, it’s even a stage name). But what I DO know is that Don Geronimo understands radio like few broadcasters do these days. I also know that Dan Gaffney knows radio. Dan has the chops to be in a much larger market, but he has chosen to stay on Delmarva. Don has proven his chops, and left while on top – making big bucks and pulling in decent ratings. And he has chosen to live here too.
If Don Geronimo can bring his sharp humor and insight on this crazy world down a notch or two – and still communicate to us small-market radio listeners, he and WGMD just might have a happy future. The midday show is the cake of a shift…no 4am alarm clocks, breakfast with your wife, and home for dinner. And from all accounts, he doesn’t need the money..he just needs an outlet for his creativity.
I personally can’t wait to hear The Don Geronimo Show next Monday at 9 on WGMD…and I hope my friend Dan survives this gutsy move and everybody calls him a genius a year from now.
The potential for a train wreck is certainly there. But so is the opportunity for Don to once again enjoy radio for all the reasons he got into the business 37 years ago…and for all of us to enjoy some great radio on WGMD.