As the point man on Marty Walsh’s staff, Dan Koh is part of a dynamic…
The Well Done Man – TJ Taormina
The Well Done Man is a biographical interview with a Bostonian who is doing exceptional things. It is meant to give insight and knowledge regarding each interviewee’s vision of success and how, beyond their obvious talents, they have reached this point in their lives and careers.
TJ Taormina, is the host of The TJ Show on Boston’s 103.3 AMP Radio and is one of Boston’s most listened to radio personalities. Since the age of 13, TJ was drawn to radio and after starting his career as a college radio intern, he has worked his way up through the very competitive audio entertainment industry. We sat down with TJ to get his story, find out how to create a successful radio show and what the changing media landscape means for audio entertainment.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in Hillsdale NJ, which is in North Jersey and about a 30 min drive to Manhattan. When I was in High School I fell in love with listening to the radio so I started asking people how I could get into the industry. Someone suggested I call a bunch of local college stations. I called about 20 stations and one of them got back me, Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck NJ. They needed someone to run their public affairs programming on Sunday mornings. So my mom would get up at 4am every Sunday morning and drive me to the station. When I turned 17, I got my license and after that I was there every single day. Luckily during my senior year my teachers recognized my interest in it and they allowed me to take a study and a lunch as my final periods. Through my senior year I was skipping out of school early every day. I had great mentors at Fairleigh Dickinson named Barry Sheffield and Carl Kraus. Studying with them gave me a great foundation of knowledge for working in the radio business. Eventually that station, WFDU, got a call from Elvis Duran’s executive producer, David Brody, at Z100 in New York City. After an interview, they offered me a morning show internship. Barry always gave me great advice and he was the one who told me I should take it. I knew so little about the business at that point, I didn’t even know if it was something I should do.
In 2002, I started an internship with Elvis Duran (Z100 morning show host). I was in paradise at Z100 because I had access to this massive radio station with all of this great equipment and they encouraged me to try new things so I was always learning. After my internship, Elvis hired me as his assistant producer, then producer and eventually an imaging director working on creative production pieces. All the while, I would work on getting bits on the air. I would lock myself in the studio for hours, work on phone pranks, and eventually Elvis started playing them on the show. I ended up getting featured more and more often. About seven years in, I got the opportunity to be a co-host on the show and I took it. I held that position for nearly 3 years. Elvis treated me very well and I loved working for him but he knew that I always wanted to do my own morning show. When this opportunity in Boston came along, he told me to take it. Now I work for CBS’ 103.3 AMP Radio and it has been a fantastic team to be on.
So you’ve wanted to be in radio since you were a little kid, was there a particular moment in time that really lit that fire?
Yes, I know exactly what it was. I was 13 and I discovered the Howard Stern Show after seeing his movie “Private Parts.” Until then, I thought radio was just a bunch of old guys screaming about politics or a baseball game, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as entertainment talk radio. I asked my dad what channel Howard Stern was on and he wouldn’t tell me. I woke up early the morning after watching his movie and went through every station until I found Howard on K-Rock and I totally fell in love with the show. I would record his show every day and would listen when I got home from school. At some point I realized that I didn’t want to do what my Dad did for a living. He’s a window contractor and he makes a great living, but I never had an interest in it. My grades were horrible so I knew I had to figure something out. Knowing I wanted to do something I love every day is what originally pushed me to find out more about radio.
What was it about Howard Stern that inspired you?
When I listened to Howard, it was just so funny. I had never laughed so hard just listening to audio and I love comedy. That drew me into it. It was also really interesting to me that you could make a living going on the radio and just talking. When I started working for Elvis, I thought it was so fascinating that he was such a positive influence on his audience. He showed me that you could be a bright light in a person’s day. I thought it was so cool you get to have this connection with people and encourage them to be happier. Also, I had a very small group of friends growing up so when I’d walk to school in the morning I would listen to the radio and it felt like I was a part of this community. As a kid, even though I didn’t know them personally, I felt like I did and I felt accepted by them. I had a lot of anxiety as a kid and listening to radio always put my mind at ease. Now I feel like it’s an honor to have the opportunity to serve people in that way.
How do you prepare your day?
I’m still very involved with a lot of the editing. Typically, I read all of the day’s headlines, I meet with my producers to discuss what’s going on, and plan what we’re going to talk about on the show. We have a lot of benchmark segments that happen every day or every week but there are a lot of things that might happen the night before or throughout the day that we will talk about on the fly. The show is Monday through Friday from 5:30 – 10am.
Does the TJ Show have a traditional format?
I would say it’s an entertainment talk and music show. I’m a huge fan of talk radio and that’s what I love. I’m passionate about music but I didn’t get into radio for music. We can see how much time we talk throughout the show and in our first show we talked for about 35 minutes. Now we’re at about an hour and half of talk so it has increased quite a bit. I’m constantly trying to grow that side of it but you have to earn the right to talk more.
Most media companies are in a state of flux right now, how is technology affecting the radio industry?
I think it’s a great time to be on the talent side of the business. There are a lot of different audio delivery systems being tested and fighting to be king right now. Every week, over 90% of people are still touched by the AM/FM transmitter. That means terrestrial radio is still thriving. Whatever the next big audio delivery system is, whether that’s the transmitter, podcasting, streaming, satellite… there is still going to be a need for audio entertainers. It’s a cool time to be in this business because there is so much opportunity. Whichever technology wins out, all of these formats are going to need great content. That’s exciting if you’re in the content creation business.
Can you tell us about one of the more popular segments of your show?
We have a segment on the show called “The Street Match.” Our Producer Matt will go out and ask a stranger on the street five questions and then we will ask a caller the same five questions. The caller gets a prize for every answer they match. The people on the street are such characters and it’s all 100% real. There’s nothing better than unscripted real people. The results are always so much fun.
What is your biggest challenge as a radio host?
The biggest challenge is that we’re in a very competitive radio market. Boston is awesome because of that and people are so loyal to the core. Listeners are super dedicated to shows that they have been listening to for years and years so it’s a challenge to convince people to give you a chance. I understand that mentality because when I was a kid, Howard Stern was my show and I wasn’t interested in listening to anyone else. I’m constantly telling new listeners, “just give us a chance.” It’s very encouraging to see when people do give us a chance, the majority love what they hear and stay with us.
What is something you love about radio that people might not realize?
I feel like everywhere you turn lately, people are taking themselves so seriously out there. Thankfully, radio is still a safe zone where you can bust each other’s chops and goof on each other. Matty is my big competition in the morning and he’s been on Kiss for over 30 years, which is an amazing accomplishment. It really is a remarkable career that he’s had and he’s a natural comic. When I got to town he started goofing on me about how young I sounded and called me a kid trying to run a big radio operation. I totally laughed at that (I took jabs at him too) but it was all in good fun. When I finally met him randomly at a bar one night he said, “Hey TJ, it’s all just jokes.” I loved that he said that. It made me think, “Finally! Someone still has a sense of humor our there!”
Any advice for aspiring radio talent?
I get that question all the time from radio students. I always tell them that radio is a tough industry but these days there are more audio entertainment opportunities than ever before. If you’re good, there are so many ways to get your stuff out there. The way you get great is by working harder than anybody else. If you do that then your work will eventually rise to the top. It’s such a fun business. If you love it, go for it.