Thursday, October 27, 2016

Video Made These Radio Stars

The year was 1983. MTV was broadcasting music-videos into the bedrooms of virtually every teenager across America. And the Greg Kihn Band was riding high on the pop-charts (and receiving steady video airplay) with its biggest hit, Jeopardy.

          Flash forward thirteen years and Greg Kihn found himself riding a whole new wave of popularity – as the host of the # 1 rated FM radio morning show in the San Francisco Bay Area. A pop-star turned radio star, Kihn served as the wake-up voice across northern California for nearly two decades. A stark contradiction to the declaration made by the Buggles in their 1980 landmark hit, Video Killed The Radio Star.

In my novel, Poet Of The Wrong Generation, there’s a scene in which our protagonist, Johnny Elias, is visited at home by an iconic (fictional) radio personality, Larry Jacobs. Johnny, once a burgeoning pop star, is now living in suburbia and self-imposed obscurity after a major tumble from grace. Initially, Johnny suspects that Larry Jacobs is attempting to recruit him as a DJ on (the fictional) WNYR classic rock station. Mr. Jacobs clarifies his true reason for visiting, but also cites a handful of former popstars who went on to enjoy successful careers as radio personalities. The list is quite fascinating.
Greg Kihn as a radio host
Greg Kihn and his band were hardly a one-hit-wonder. After a decade of releasing mildly successful albums in the 1970s, the band broke through in 1981 with their first top-20 hit, The Breakup Song. Jeopardy would hit # 2 on the singles chart, and was later famously spoofed by Weird Al Yankovic. But by 1987, musical success had dried up and the band went their separate ways. Following a pair of largely–ignored solo albums, Kihn got a tryout as a late-night DJ in San Jose. A year later, he was offered the morning show, which he successfully hosted until 2012.

Dee Snider was the flamboyant front-man of the 80s hard rock group, Twisted Sister. His band peaked in 1984 with their album, Stay Hungry, featuring the hit songs: We’re Not Gonna Take It and I Wanna Rock. When Twisted Sister’s cycle of popularity ran its course, Snider moved behind the radio mic. In 1997, he began hosting a nationally syndicated heavy metal program aptly named House Of Hair. In 1999, Snider became the popular morning man in Hartford, CT on radio 104 FM – a position he would hold through 2003. After stints in a variety of reality TV shows, Snider again returned to radio, hosting a show on Sirius satellite radio.

Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman are best known to music fans as Flo and Eddie. From 1964 – 1970, the duo performed as the classic rock group, The Turtles. The band scored a series of top-ten hits throughout the decade including the #1 smash, Happy Together. In 1970, Flo and Eddie joined up with Frank Zappa’s band, Mothers Of Invention. By the early 1980s, the duo set their sights on broadcasting. A tryout at a Los Angeles FM station (KROQ) led to a weekly show on Sunday nights, and eventually an afternoon show on KMET. Their program consisted of a blend of interviews with rock stars, comedy bits, and snippets of classic rock songs. From 1989 – 91, Flo and Eddie moved to NY, where they hosted the afternoon drive program on 92.3 FM, K-Rock. Eventually, they got back to live concert performances and left the radio business behind.

Mickey Dolenz rocketed to fame as the lead singer and drummer for The Monkees, a TV sitcom band who evolved into a much celebrated rock group. His lead vocals can be heard on the hit songs: I’m A Believer and Last Train To Clarksville. Dolenz continued to act on TV and in films after the Monkees break-up. He also performed on a variety of Monkees reunion tours throughout the decades. In 2005, Dolenz was handed the reigns of the morning show on WCBS-FM, New York’s legendary oldies station. Much fanfare was generated for the new program, which garnered strong ratings in its first three months. But on the very day that he celebrated his 100th show, Dolenz learned that CBS was scrapping their oldies format for all-music programming with no DJs (JACK-FM). Dolenz was unceremoniously dumped, along with all of the on-air talent at the station.  He would soon return to the concert stage, but never again to radio.

Country music fans across America have been in love with Kix Brooks since 1991. That was the year that he and Ronnie Dunn teamed up as Brooks & Dunn, the most successful duo in the history of country music. Brooks provides lead vocals on the #1 smash, You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone, one of twenty Country chart-toppers for the duo. In 2006, Brooks became the nationally syndicated radio host for America’s Country Countdown – a weekly Top-30 program. He took over for Bob Kingsley, the show’s longtime popular host. In a style similar to Casey Kasem’s American Top-40 program, Brooks introduces the bestselling country songs of each week, reads listener requests, and shares stories about the artists in each 4-hour program. It is currently heard on 103 FM stations across America.
The advent of radio subscription services (Such as Sirius and XM) have turned other mega music stars into occasional DJs. Artists such as Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffett and even Bob Dylan have recorded a handful of pre-recorded studio banter on their artist-branded stations. It’s not quite the regular gig as cited in the examples above. However, the concept of popular recording artists transitioning to radio hosts is a trend we are most likely to see continue long into the future. An opportunity for heritage artists to keep in touch with their legions of fans, while also providing a deeper glimpse into their off-stage personalities.
Suffice to say, video did not kill the radio star. But in some cases, it may have enabled a few.

Poet Of The Wrong Generation by Lonnie Ostrow is now available for pre-sale in paperback and eBook format. It will be published on November 10th. CLICK HERE TO ORDER YOUR COPY.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Poet Of The Wrong Generation

I guess the best place to start is to welcome everyone to my new blog forum. It's been a LONG time in the making.

For over twenty years I've been known as an innovator, storyteller, promoter and celebrity-insider. And now I am remarkably proud to add "published author" to the assortment of feathers in my cap. My debut novel, Poet Of The Wrong Generation, will be published on November 10th from Harmony River Press. This rock & roll love story combines all my unique experiences to bring you a novel of love & betrayal, music & fanfare, downfall & redemption -- a fable of stardom’s rewards, set in New York City during the 1990s. 

I’ve always loved storytelling. Growing up on Long Island, I was captivated by make-believe since I first learned to read. Even when I struggled with math in the 4th grade, my teacher allowed me to submit a series of rambling, but creative short-stories for extra credit. Writing has always been my greatest ally.

Poetry has been another fascination of mine. As a child I often found myself jotting down lyrical, rhyming messages for friends and family to celebrate milestones and holidays. In my teenage years, poetry was my expression of affection to girlfriends, and later a social commentary on the news and events going on around me. Eventually, poetic stanzas evolved into songwriting, which impressed some close friends, but ultimately stalled when my professional trajectory began in earnest.
Lonnie Ostrow in 1992

In my senior year at Adelphi University, I was assigned to pen a screenplay for a class project. A song I had composed a year earlier - Poet Of The Wrong Generation - inspired me to write the fictional tale of an unlikely pop-star motivated by a tormented relationship. I managed to weave six of my original songs into the script. The assignment earned an "A" and visibly moved some of my classmates. And then I tucked away the pages in a drawer, more-or-less forgetting about it for the next decade.

In 1995 I stumbled upon a pop-culture phenomenon. One that would take me around the world, working with most of my boyhood heroes over the next seven years: The Living Legend Postal Salute.

As director of PR, marketing and licensing for the world’s largest postal agency, it was my job to generate new excitement into the tired stamp-collecting hobby. Up till then, governments around the world had resisted in honoring living legends on legal tender for various concerns. Then along came Barbra Streisand. A Caribbean island (St. Vincent) agreed to honor the world famous singer/actress on a postage stamp, which would be unveiled at a concert in Las Vegas. And just like that the floodgates burst wide open. Before long, every celebrity-publicist, fan-club leader and talent-agent were lining up at our door, seeking to secure the next living icon to grace legal tender. I got to work with the likes of Sylvester Stallone, The Bee Gees, Bob Hope, Bob Dylan, Kirk Douglas, Jackie Chan, Elle Macpherson, David Copperfield, Hulk Hogan, Joe Montana, The Doors, NSYNC, Maya Angelou, Sidney Sheldon and Monty Python among others. It was an exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime thrill-ride. I got to rub shoulders with some of the world’s most beloved entertainers and gain insight into their lives and personalities. One day I’d be presenting a stamp design to David Copperfield at his spectacular Manhattan penthouse. The next I’d be racing out to introduce Mario Andretti at the Nazareth Speedway. Not to mention the night I celebrated New Year’s Eve with Jackie Chan in the back of his yellow Lamborghini in Hong Kong.

Most of these projects culminated with high-profile “unveiling ceremonies” which I organized and hosted in cities around the globe. The publicity was staggering, much to the delight of the honored celebrities and the participating governments. Best of all, it helped put stamp-collecting back in the news with a positive vibe.

When the living postal tribute had run its course in 2001, I moved on to a boutique PR agency for a short, but memorable stint. My biggest splash was in December of that year: a Guinness World Record attempt to build the largest ever Lincoln Logs structure, marking the 75th anniversary of the classic construction toy.

I became immersed in the publishing arena during my PR agency days. A postage stamp project I'd arranged with The Doors had led me to a freelance book publicity campaign for the band’s legendary keyboardist, Ray Manzarek. Now, I was asked to lead the book launch campaigns for a variety of first-time celebrity authors including Sandy Allen (the world’s tallest woman) and veteran TV actor, Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies). One year later, I took on a new career as the in-house marketing director, researcher and social media manager for the iconic bestselling novelist, Barbara T. Bradford. It is a position I have held for 14 years. There’s nothing quite like having a front-row seat to observe such an accomplished author work determinedly each year, creating yet another worldwide bestseller.

It was during my early days at Bradford that I found the motivation to attempt my first novel. My skills had been kept sharp by writing feature articles for newspapers and magazines through the years. Now reading the prose of other authors convinced me that I too could write fiction successfully. All I needed was a good story to tell. That’s when I remembered the screenplay that brought tears to the eyes of my college classmates eleven years earlier. I dug up the dusty artifact from a desk-drawer, hoping to adapt this story into a full-length novel.

It took me four-months of all-night writing sessions to put the full story to paper. I was a new father back in those days and vividly recall my daughter, Amber, hiding out under my desk, seeking attention from her seriously distracted dad. The first draft was far from perfect, but still felt like a life-changing accomplishment. I’d even managed to seamlessly incorporate a dozen of my songs into this musical story. I shared it with family and friends, who touted me as the next Nicholas Sparks or Mitch Albom. Then reality set in.

Feedback from publishing industry contacts made me realize that I required an experienced editor. Someone who could point out where action should replace narrative summary, or where my dialog sounded anything but conversational. I was amazingly fortunate to have found Jeannette de Beauvoir, a tremendous writing coach and successful author in her own right. It took months of rewrites, cuts and polishing before we could call it publication-ready.

The balance of this roller-coaster ride is a potpourri of agent rejections, partial manuscript requests, constant tinkering, heartache, pep-talks from my wife and more query sendoffs. I would eventually land an agent who touted me as the next Erich Segal and predicted a six-figure advance. But an impasse was reached when our vision of adult fiction differed over the degree of “adult content.” And so it yet again was tucked away, unpublished… until now.

I’ve had a handful of offers in recent years to finally see the realization of my literary dream. Stubbornly, I held out for that perfect opportunity that always seemed within my grasp, yet just beyond the horizon. The demands of a career, raising two daughters and paying the mortgage always took priority. But then a brilliant cover design by my artist friend, Robert Sauber proved the ideal stimulus to jump-start the process. Then came an offer by a musical friend, Michael Nadata, to create a mini soundtrack by recording a pair of my original songs from the pages of the book. Harmony River Press presented the right publishing platform to promote my debut novel as the nostalgic, heart-string tugging, musical epic that I always envisioned this story to be. And here, finally, after a 14-year saga of real-life twists and turns, I am proud to share the fictional journey of Johnny Elias and his fable of stardom’s rewards: Poet Of The Wrong Generation. I greatly look forward to your feedback and reviews.