At 64, Mike Merino says he’s only now learning what life is all about. It’s a tough lesson, with cancer serving as his teacher. But Mike tells Growing Bolder he has more hope than ever that the rest of his life can be the best of his life, and he’s inspired to help others get healthy and fit in their lives. Mike is sharing the story of Tedd Webb here.
Over the years, the Tampa Bay radio scene has had its share of great ones who have come and gone. But amidst the sea of countless music and talk show personalities that permeate that magical box on the dashboard of our cars and home stereo systems, few have stood the test of time as successfully as WFLA 970 radio host Tedd Webb. His name and voice have been a mainstay in Tampa’s nationally recognized, and always growing, entertainment market. His social and intellectual impact on the Tampa Bay community is immeasurable. Tedd has been in the public eye for more than 53 years, and there’s no glimpse of retirement in his future. I sat down with Tedd to get some of his thoughts on his illustrious media career and the state of radio’s future.
Why did you choose a career in radio?
I was singing with a band for two years, but my voice started cracking and they kicked me out. I was 14 years old at the time. A friend, John Madiedo, told me WALT radio station was having a “contest” and if you won, you could be a disc jockey on weekends. I went to the station for the so-called “contest,” which turned out to be an audition for a weekend slot. I didn’t get the job. I was pitted against a bunch of 20- and 21-year old guys with experience. I saw the guy on the air working in an air-conditioned room – we didn’t have AC at my house growing up. He had 10 phones loaded with young ladies calling in requests, AND there was no heavy lifting: BINGO! I found what I wanted to do for life. I hung around the station and Paige Kinsey, one of their weekend guys, gave me “hi time” and instructed me on how to run the board [controls] and how to ready commercials. He would tape me after the station went off the air and allowed me the chance to learn. Before long, I became one of their high school correspondents [Jesuit High], and from there to a weekend slot. The rest is history. Here I am 53 years later.
What’s been your most significant radio accomplishment?
In 1986 I was awarded the Toastmasters International Communicator of the Year. I took a nun, Sister Rosalie, as my date that night to receive the award. She inspired me to be a public speaker when I was going to school at St Joseph’s. She forced me to give five-minute speeches, while others were only given a two-minute assignment. I owe everything to her!
Who was the craziest celebrity you ever interviewed? What did he/she do that was so memorable?
National Football League bad boy John Matuzak, who is now deceased but was 6’8” and 275 pounds, showed up at the radio station with a girl whom my mom used to babysit. Her name was Eileen, but she was going by Candy then. When he found out we knew each other he got jealous and threatened to kick my ass. Because of the massive amounts of steroids he was taking, he thought she was an ex-girlfriend of mine. We went to commercial break for eight minutes before the situation was settled. WOW, that was a close one!
Has social media changed radio?
We at the station are doing a great job with social media. It has become the focus of what we do; the on- air stuff is secondary nowadays. Our streaming numbers are through the roof and we utilize the Internet as much as possible. We have adapted rather well and use Twitter and Facebook a lot to promote the show and other interests that I have.
Where do you see radio in 20 years?
I think radio is shrinking in influence. Young kids don’t rely on the radio to determine what is hip – they get that from social media and other sources. They download their music from the Internet; they don’t sit around waiting for the same seven songs to be played every 63 minutes. Radio is a compacting business, not expanding. When Rush Limbaugh is heard on 600-plus radio stations, it means he’s put 600-plus announcers out of work. Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, etc. – do the math, that’s a lot of announcers replaced by syndication. On the music end, there is voice-over DJs. One guy gets off the air, goes into another studio and does voice tracking for four or five other stations across the country. There goes another four or five jobs. Not a good sign for the future if you are starting out in the biz.
What is your advice for young people entering the industry?
I tell them not to get in the business. Why? It’s like pro athletes. Only a handful of the many who try are going to make it. Go to school. Earn a degree in a profitable field with a future. Go to school or learn a trade, but broadcasting is not one of those fields I would recommend to anyone.
You suffered a heart attack in 2011 and have faced other challenges (diabetes, a quadruple bypass operation after an earlier heart attack in 1999, ongoing issues with congestive heart failure). Why aren’t you slowing down?
Some people asked me why I would go to work 3 days after my heart attack? Because I wanted to recover as quickly as I possibly could. Im not a good patient that can lay around for a few weeks. I did it, and it felt good to get up from my hospital bed ad be a functioning individual again. Plus I didn’t want my kids to think I was dying. I wanted to show them I was alright.