Thursday, May 4, 2017

AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY - DTBD THE WLIR STORY

This all started on for me on January 9th, 2004.
Richard Perez & Michael Jon Masilotti in the film Dare To Be Different

The pages of Hockeybird have always been brutally honest, open and completely transparent. There are only two items I don't discuss, one remains private and the other relates to classified stuff I just can't talk about. I have hinted at a bout of depression before and I have been open about all issues in the past. During the making of this film I dealt with something that almost killed me. I made it somehow and that's all I'll say.

My hockey career was ending, my work in intel was about to end and I knew it. It was depressing. I don't handle depression well. So, when 92.7 went off the air that very last time I decided to jump online and look around a bit. I found a place called the New Wave Outpost which was a messageboard and they had a WLIR discussion. This is where I met Richard Perez, a devout WLIR fan. He was a little surprised that I posted there and he coaxed me into telling a few stories. It felt nice. I already had a depressing period before this when I originally left the station and had a very short but failed marriage. I lost my Mom in '93. It took me awhile to get back on my feet. This time was much more difficult in that I now had a real family and couldn't just hide and rest for six months. Internally I was a mess but externally I kept on going. This is a very dangerous situation for those of you not familiar with depression.

I strongly believe that Jan 9th, 2004 was the day I decided to move to Florida. I knew I needed a new start and there was nothing left in NY for me. Without meaningful work and my body could no longer allow me to play at a high level, I had no hockey either. I had Hockeybird.com, I had my family but little else. The intel company owes me $120,000 to this day (which I'll never get) and I have yet to recover. Losing 92.7 was the straw that broke the birdie's back. I couldn't take another set back.......it was time to move on and find a way back to the light.

Prior to my leaving NY, I posted on the NWO and held a record sale. I had way too much vinyl to bring to Florida and couldn't keep it. Many WLIR listeners came to my home and I knew those records found a good home. As much as I hated to see them go, I was pleased they found new homes. I met some real HARD CORE WLIR fans at that sale. I have pictures somewhere. I still can't believe my once 50,000 record collection had to go........but real life and being a dad were what I had to deal with. Again, most of the really rare or WLIR artifacts ended up in the hands of fans instead of some dude who was just in it for cash and that gives me some comfort.

Hockeybird.com at this point was at it's highest level of readership. We had thousands of daily readers from two dozen countries. Some readers knew of my WLIR connection but most didn't, nor did they care. I had some great writers and the place could run itself but I was the captain of the ship and felt an obligation to my readers to make sure we had great content each day. I decided that I needed to write a WLIR article as Richard had inspired me. It would help make me feel a little better about my situation. I was Mr. Mom at the time so when the kids were sleeping, I began to write.

The article was a huge success. No single post in the history of the site was visited and read more. Now let me be clear here, I am not taking credit for starting the online groups that Ellen was inspired by but I do think that the Hockeybird article was part of it. When WLIR signed off, 92.7 was no longer available to us. Sure, the real WLIR ended a few months after I left in '87 and WDRE took over. It was never the same. At some point former owner Elton Spitzer needed cash and sold the WLIR call letters and WDRE became WLIR once again. It was not the same. But at least it was there and many like myself took comfort in popping it on occasionally if only to turn it off in disgust. Once it was gone the void was finally hitting many of the original WLIR listeners just like it had me.

So groups like the now famous "Grew up listening to WLIR/WDRE" on facebook popped up and the nostalgia of those days, those bands, those clubs and most importantly the MUSIC became like candy for many. Ellen Goldfarb was one of many who really missed WLIR and wanted to know what happened. What was the story behind it going away? She's in LA and in the movie biz......let's make a movie about it popped into her heard. Smart move by a smart lady.

I can't be specific about when she reached out to me but I became very enthusiastic about her project. Denis McNamara and I often discussed this idea. A movie or a book. I have a memory of Denis suggesting I continue writing about those days as it could be a good source for a project some day in the future. I did.

Richard Perez & Bird at the Paris NY reunion
It wasn't easy trying to work out the filming as while many stayed in the NY area many like me left the tri-state area for places all over the country. I'm in Florida. Our first attempt coincided with a Paris New York reunion. Sadly, the film project had to cancel the shoot for that date but I was already going. It's not easy for me to leave as I have a family and a job. We aren't rich by any means. Paycheck to paycheck. There was a movie guy who showed up (3rd party) but he handed me a contract to sign that gave him rights to the footage and points on the film. Sorry bud, you're lucky I didn't kick your ass. Slave was awesome that night and it was wonderful to see so many of the Paris New York faithful. I even met Richard Perez in person!

Ellen, Bird, Denis & Roger at shoot on Long Island
We then set up a different shoot. This one was very successful. That story can be found here. Over the last seven years, Ellen and Roger crisscrossed the globe doing shoots just like mine with listeners, other DJs and of course the bands and music biz execs. Once done filming the work of editing seven years into 92 minutes began. I'm not sure how they survived the process. I can say, they did it right and made an outstanding film!

I don't know the story on how they scored the Tribeca film festival but they got it. Now we had a date to premiere the movie and I had to figure out how to get there. It wasn't easy but I managed to save up enough cash to make it happen and that brings us to Thursday, April 27th, 2017. I woke up at 5am as usual to get my youngest, Juliana to school. Then back to the house to shower and grab my luggage as my oldest, Alexandria was driving me to the airport. She would drop me off then take the car to school. I was early and lucky enough to catch an early flight and off we went. New York was only three hours away.

A Mural in Forest Hills, NY
Landing at LGA I hopped into a cab and went to Forest Hills. The place I ended up staying at was the home of one of Joey Ramones high school buddies and he had in fact used the very same bathroom I used. From there it was a train ride into NYC and because of time and traffic I made a B line for the venue hosting a VIP party before the film. As I walk in, there they are......Denis, Donna, Larry the Duck, Jeff Beck, Nancy, Steve Jones, Malibu Sue, Maxx, Bob Waugh.... all those wonderful people I had worked with at the Station. I was of course blown away with emotion. There were people there who also worked at the station and a large amount of very famous people. Saying hello to everyone seemed impossible and I apologize if I missed you.

Off to the theater we go and the excitement levels are pretty high. The Red Carpet.....you know I'm a ham and I hammed it up. The paparazzi were fun and there were two kids interviewing us as we passed down the line. A very surreal moment for me. Eventually we are lead to the actual theater and we settled down into our seats. Ellen made a brief speech and then Dare To Be Different began. What an even more surreal sensation!


Mike Peters performs at Tribeca
 The crowd was populated with many WLIR hardcore listeners and they were not afraid to make themselves heard. As each DJ appeared on the screen they cheered. Even for me! The film itself was so good, so much better than I had anticipated that I was stunned. It all happened so fast. As the credits rolled to thunderous applause a crew began to set up the stage for the concert. Denis was introduced and spoke a bit about the FCC which is covered in the film and the audience ate it up. A smoke machine was turned on, some lights flashed and out came Mike Peters and the Alarm! Dave Wakeling form The English Beat & General Public came out solo and sang and played a few songs. This was followed by a short 20 minute set by A Flock of Seagulls. An absolutely unbelievable night.

The movie itself deals with the years that I was there for the most part. It explains the FCC licence issue (um, well........it tries) and it actually begins at the end in 1987. It doesn't discuss WDRE or even our sister station WXXP. The film does however explain the music selection and the effect it had in NY and everywhere else. Music history is recorded here, the part about Live Aid and Nelson Mandela shows the impact we had world wide. A Buddy of mine, Jim Murtha is only in the movie for a second. He was a U.S. Marine and he and I met online because of hockey. It wasn't until later that he and I discussed WLIR. Turns out he had his cousin send him tapes of my show to listen to while deployed. Jim has since passed so I'm so happy he's in it. Ironically, several weeks before the debut, another military guy told me a similar story. Bruce and I met on Thursday night. Thanks for your service guys!

We exited the movie with huge smiles and a sense of satisfaction. Several of us ended up in a pub close by and had a beer and a burger. I got to spend a little time with Paul Cramer of WXXP fame. He still doesn't believe me that I got him hired.....but I'll never forget listening to the tapes Denis sent me and picking him out.
9/11 Memorial
It was late and the next day was already upon us. Friday was suppose to begin with a press interview. We gathered at a hotel and I finally got to meet in person, Bob Kranes. It was his going away party at the Malibu Night Club when he left WLIR for WBCN in Boston that Denis McNamara on his way home, stopped at Paris New York and hired me the next day.

After leaving the hotel press gathering we had some time to kill so it was off to another pub for a beer and some food. Donna and I were to be onstage that night after the screening to do a Q& A with the audience. After the pub we still had time so I finally went to the 9/11 Memorial. I'm not sure I can describe what I felt. I realize that I had no direct connection to the events that day but guys I worked with later did and I've always felt like it happened on my watch and feel responsible in some way. I had avoided the area since the attack on purpose.

Moving hardly expresses the way I felt. But, I couldn't help but notice a young man in his early 20s crying and praying at one of the names carved into the reflection pool. It was well over 15 minutes when I couldn't stop myself and went over to him. We shook hands, then with tears coming down our cheeks embraced. I will never forget that as long as I live.

Whoa......now it's time to see the movie again.

The Friday night showing was different. It was a real movie theater complete with seats that reclined and a kick ass sound system. I really had the opportunity to watch it this time and I was blown away. During the story of U2 and Live Aid, it all hit me. I got very emotional and tears began to trickle. I was a part of the WLIR story and a part of the U2 story and there it was on film for all the world to see. I tried hard not to break down.....hockey players, even retired ones don't cry in public unless you're Mark Messier. As the film ended there was silence. No way could I let that stand so I stood up and yelled, "To hell with silence, let's hear it for Ellen!" The place erupts into applause.



Denis, Ellen, Donna, Roger, Jay and I got up on stage and took some questions. It was really very cool for Denis to say that I had run our sister station,WXXP in front of all those people. I never get credit for that. Friday night was just an incredible experience and it's hard to find words that truly represent how it made me feel. Let's just say I was humbled and proud at the same time. All of us are exhausted by this point, especially the filmmakers who had been working 24/7 type weeks for a long time. Yet, Denis and I had a chance to sit outside a hotel with my friend Lisa and we traded stories for hours. Like a scene out of a movie.....there we are in NYC just reliving all we had done over the years. It was as enjoyable as it gets.

I finished my trip with a visit to Long Island and I popped on stage with Joe Rock & The AllStars in a roadhouse in Kings Park. I visited my old town and the house I grew up in on Bent Lane in Levittown.

Look, this movie was a work of passion. Because that is the basis for my DJing in the clubs and my work at WLIR I understand that. Ellen Goldfarb, Roger Senders produced and directed a wonderful look at how WLIR happened, what happened and how it ended. Jay Reiss wrote the story and I couldn't be happier (sure, I'd love to get more U2 credit but I digress). It is well worth seeing whether WLIR was a daily part of your life or not, it's that good.

All in all, I really thought this was the end of something. I imagined it was a "mic drop" moment for me and this DJ Bird character I play. It seems not to be the case. This is more of a beginning than anything else. As of now a world wide theatrical release is in the works. Follow the story here at the movie's website as release details will be posted as they become available.

For now I just want to thank the listeners of WLIR. This movie was made because of you and for you. Your undying support over the years is truly amazing and it means a lot to all of us. You came to my clubs, listened to my show and somehow still care. That's just flat out awesome!

One last thing. Denis McNamara.....what can I say buddy? You gave me a shot and had Elton hire me. You allowed me to run WXXP in Pittsburgh and this dumb kid from Levittown got to live out my dreams. Perhaps I'd have a bigger WLIR presence if I didn't go to Pittsburgh as it was during the height of the WLIR story. I'm glad I went to Millvale. I'm glad I came back to WLIR and I'm thankful for the job offer when I left. At each stop you have been my friend, you treated me with respect and my god, you gave me the chance to do things most people only dream about. I hope that in some small way I returned the favor. I am forever in your service and as long as Emily allows it, happy to take the next journey.

----}- Bird

2 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Awesome story Birdie! Bruce.