UTG INTERVIEW: SiriusXM’s Dennis Falcone Discusses The Radio Industry

Dennis Falcone

Dennis Falcone has been working in radio for over 30 years. Today, you can hear him sporadically on SiriusXM‘s decade channels or as a frequent guest on The Opie and Anthony Show. Aside from being on-air talent, much of Mr. Falcone’s work has been done behind the scenes by facilitating the day-to-day operations of radio stations all over New York.

In a climate where Terrestrial Radio is on the downswing and the prevalence of online networks and podcasting is at an all time high, we wanted to get a glance into the classic world of radio and hear what Dennis thought about the state of the industry as a whole.

Check out below the jump to read about his career, his stance on the future of radio and how “Tequila and Donuts Day” led to a completely new branch of Denny’s on-air personality. You’ll even get to hear some first-hand stories featuring Mick Jagger, Billy Joel, and Jon Bon Jovi.

In The Studio

In The Sirius Studio

UTG: So Dennis, what are your current responsibilities at SiriusXM?

Dennis: I’m an Assistant Format Manager. I format music channels. I do some weekends on the ’60s, fill in on the ’70s, you know. I do goofy bits with Opie and Anthony. I wear many hats, you have to.

UTG: You’ve been in radio for a long time, haven’t you?

Dennis: A long time, since 1979. I was interning at a radio station and the disc jockey freaked out at night, his girlfriend was crying to him on the phone. He was working like 7:00 at night until 1:00 am. And he was running the Mets game at the time, and he just freaked out. Just walked out. I called the program director and told him that he’d walked out. He asked, “You know how to run the board?” and I said “Sure.” So I just started doing it part-time, did some weekends for them. Did the Sunday morning religious shows then they offered me a job doing nights, it was just right place, right time. The availability was there so I was able to take advantage of it.

UTG: When you were young did you always know you wanted to work in radio?

Dennis: I was always mesmerized by listening to the disc jockeys in the ’60s and ’70s, you know? It sounded like they were having so much fun. The whole ambience and art, the jingles, all of it. When I went to college I hooked up with the radio station and the passion grew from there.

UTG: After you got started on Long Island, did you just bounce around New York for your whole career?

Dennis: I was fortunate enough to have worked out in the East end of Long Island, I had a job there then I came back to the middle of Suffolk County. Then you get fired from there, you get a job in a Nassau County radio station; you get fired from there. Then I worked behind the scenes at WCBS-FM in the city, doing some programming and really learning how to program radio with one of the greatest program directors in the business, Joe McCoy. Then from there I opened up the Oldies station on Long Island B103, I became the Program Director and we did what was called a “start-up.” As much as I always wanted to move away, there were opportunities here. I had family and friends here. Why move away if I didn’t have to?

UTG: So how long did you stay at the “start-up?”

Dennis: I worked at B103 for six years, then they had a change in management. They bounced a couple of people out, me included. I ended at Sirius when they launched the first time in 2003. Then they brought a bunch of consultants in and changed a bunch of things and they got rid of about 20 program directors, me included. It happens, you have to be able to bounce back. I started doing some part-time at a country radio station up in Westchester, worked out east on Long Island at WALK-FM at the same time. So I was working two part-time radio jobs.

WALK-FM

Long Island’s WALK-FM

UTG: I’ve heard you say on SiriusXM that you can’t be in the radio business without getting fired. Why is it such an ever-changing system?

Dennis: Whenever a new Program Director comes in, nine times out of ten he wants to bring in his people. He doesn’t make a change for the sake of making a change, he makes a change because he can trust that person. Most guys who work as a PD bring in guys that they’ve worked with before. There is a turnover rate. When the people who are working at the station see a new PD coming in, they start getting nervous and jump ship so they start looking for a gig. There just aren’t that many places to go anymore, that’s the sad thing.

UTG: So you said you were bounced from your initial spot at Sirius. How did you end up back now at SiriusXM?

Dennis: I was working back at Clear Channel doing some stuff for Premiere Radio, then on Inauguration Day 2009 Clear Channel had big cutbacks. The thing is, even though I got let go from Sirius, I never badmouthed anybody, I never sent out bad posts or emails. I stayed in contact with everybody. I got back in on the Talk side and I just did what I had to do. They saw that they had a guy that knows the ins and outs of the business.

UTG: And you were committed.

Dennis: Yeah, I should’ve been committed a long time ago for being in this business. Years ago young guys would come up to me and say, “I’ve got radio in my blood! What should I do?” I’d tell them to go get a transfusion.

UTG: The first time I heard you was through Opie and Anthony. How did you end up linking up with those guys? They’re a far cry from the 60s on 6.

Dennis: They were doing a bit last year called “Tequila and Donuts Day,” and Erik Nagel who is one of the producers was walking around saying he needed people in the studio. They asked me to come in and have some tequila and donuts, and I thought to myself, “Well, it’s seven o’clock in the morning, why shouldn’t I be drinking some tequila and having donuts?” So I came in, we started chatting it up. They asked what I did, and I explained my background. We started talking up records and doing some goofy bits. We have fun, they’re really good guys. Opie and Anthony, and Jimmy [Norton], they’ve been kind to me. We just have a good time. It’s a crazy environment, I feel like I should be wearing a bulletproof vest when I go in there ’cause they’re always throwing stuff at me. But that’s who they are and they have a good following. They’re a good bunch of guys.

Bob Saget

Dennis with Bob Saget

UTG: So you started as a random guest. Now sometimes you’ll even host their after-show. How did that transition happen?

Dennis: The day before that happened they said, “Hey, Sam [Roberts] is sick, can you host the after-show?” I said “okay”. I’d never done straight talk radio before and for anyone who thinks you can just get on there and talk, you have to do a lot of prep work. You have to do a lot of stuff. Sam always does that show and Sam is a pop-culture vulture. I know it rhymes and it sounds cute but he knows what’s going on and that so-and-so has a new movie coming out starring this person, he just knows all that stuff. You have to do your homework and it’s a tough thing doing talk radio.

They told me they just wanted me playing some cuts and interjecting here and there talking about the show. It’s fun. I’ve done it two or three times. Sal, he’s a 25-year-old guy and he’s 30 years younger than me and he said, “Hey Denny, I think you should work on this and try this.” That’s fine. He does this everyday. It’s not like I’m gonna say, “Hey Sal, you’re just a kid, get the hell out of here!” No. How can I improve? How can I make myself better? You’re never too old to learn something in this business.

UTG: You said before you feel like you need to go in there with a bulletproof vest. Is it intimidating working with those guys in such a different format? Not many shows exist like that one.

Dennis: No, because they’ve made it easy. I know that what they want from me is to be that corny radio guy, but I tell them, “This is what we used to do.” They laugh, but when I got into radio there was a group called Supertramp who had a great song called “Breakfast in America.” I remember working at an Adult Contemporary radio station and they said, “Whatever you do, don’t say the name of the group, Supertramp. Because “tramp” was too risqué. They’re shocked and give me garbage asking why I didn’t fight it, but that’s the way it was.

I didn’t want to get fired. Those guys get fired for what they do, and sadly there are a lot of guys who’ve tried to copy what Opie and Anthony do or what Howard Stern did and they go into their smaller and medium markets doing that stuff, and they get yanked out of their chairs and they’re fired. You have to be who you are.

UTG: Are they total anomalies?

Dennis: I think so. There are other guys, Bubba the Love Sponge who does radio like that, there is a guy in upstate New York, Brother Wease who was a big inspiration to Opie. There are certain guys who can do stuff like that. You have to be able to let your guard down about your family, about your sex life. I can’t be that honest. That’s not me, it’s not who I am. I’m just some goofy guy talking up The Grass Roots or playing The Tramps or some bubblegum top-40. I like that music and there are other people who like that music too.

Jeffrey Tambor

Dennis with Jeffrey Tambor

UTG: Have you ever worried that “working blue” with those guys could taint your reputation as the happy-go-lucky host?

Dennis: No because I’m still true to what I do. If I’m on the ’60s channel on Sunday nights and I say “Hey, by the way, if you ever hear me on my other life here at Sirius I was hosting the after-show on The Opie and Anthony Channel. Make sure you listen to that with earmuffs and put the kids in the kitchen!” I’ll say goofy stuff like that. I watch what I do and I have a lot of fun with those guys. They’re not going to put me in harm’s way.

UTG: Given the shift away from Terrestrial Radio and the rising popularity of online sources and podcasting, do you see a shift happening in the industry? Or does classic radio have some life left?

Dennis: I hope that radio has some life left in it. It has to reinvent itself as they say, but that might be a little too cliché. The thing I say about radio is that it got “out-teched.” This thing called the internet came along and it hurt a lot of businesses, not just radio. All of a sudden like you said, there are podcasts, there are a million online radio stations. I could listen to an Italian Disco radio station from Japan playing music you’ve never heard before. There are a million things to find online, do all people reach out and find that?

Most people over 50 jump in the car, hit the button, and it’s there. It’s like the sink, you go to the sink and you turn on the water. People in a certain age group are accustomed to going to the radio, going to a car dashboard. They aren’t used to downloading and putting a cable into the radio and dialing this up and signing in. There are a lot more steps; as it gets easier and easier sure, you’re able to get a lot of things in the car once the internet is in it. Look, I take the Long Island Railroad everyday. They don’t even have WiFi on the train. Am I really gonna use my data on my phone? In a way, people say that they won’t pay for radio, but you’re paying for it if you’re online. Terrestrial Radio stations are looking towards these online platforms, but in the long run it’s going to cut away from their talent.

WCBS

NYC’s WCBS-FM

UTG: Is one of the coolest things about working at SiriusXM how diverse it is?

Dennis: Exactly. Today DJ Vice came in. He’s an EDM guy and he’s real cool. He was hanging out in the lobby and then Whoo Kid came by. I look in the studio next to me and Jose [Mangin] from the Liquid Metal channel had some new metal group in the studio. Yes, there is that diversity and there is so much life up there, that’s really why I love working there. I go to work every day and I thank God every day for that job.

UTG: I’ve heard you on-air when someone has named a song and you could just spit out the year it was released. Do you have an archive in your head?

Dennis: I won’t remember what I had for breakfast, I don’t know how to balance a checkbook, but if you asked me what Bachman Turner Overdrive’s second album is, I just know that stuff. I used to sit in school with an AM transistor radio in my shirt pocket with the chord running up behind my ear resting my hand on it. Listening to songs and writing them down, then I’d go home and go to the record store to buy the 45.

UTG: Do you have the ability to associate music with certain times in your life?

Dennis: Exactly–if it’s 1973, “Hey maybe you were watching the Mets lose the World Series to the Oakland Athletics, sadly I was watching too. Here’s the Allman Brothers’ ‘Ramblin Man’ that came out at this time.” If you don’t know, you look it up. Do some research. In this day and age, any radio host or DJ who says “I’m not sure, but I think…” is not doing their homework. Look it up. Google it. Make sure that you know what you’re talking about before opening that mic.

Joe Torre

Dennis with Joe Torre

UTG: You’ve been in so many radio stations over the years. You must have some good stories.

Dennis: It’s interesting when I run into people. Once I was working at CBS, I got in the elevator and Mick Jagger was there. I’m not gonna go up to him and say “I have all your albums!” I asked him what he was up to in the building.

Last week I was in the men’s room at SiriusXM and Billy Joel was in there. He had his hat pulled down. The guy wanted space and wanted to be alone.

I remember a few years ago when I was at Premiere, Bob Costas who used to work on The Bob Costas Show was there and George Clooney was there to promote his football movie Leatherheads. They asked me to escort Mr. Clooney up to the studio, I sat in the studio with him and we were talking baseball for a half hour. I told him I used to work with his late Aunt Rosemary Clooney–she was a great singer from the ’40s and ’50s. I told him how I’d always admired her music. I wasn’t gonna say, “Oh I loved your movie Ocean’s Eleven!”

Once Bon Jovi came up and I was asked to escort him to the men’s room. I looked at him and said, “Jon, do you know how to use the bathroom? I’ll show you where the door is but you’re on your own from there.” He started laughing. We talked Giants football, because I know he’s a big football fan.

UTG: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the world of radio?

Dennis: A great DJ at WABC-FM, Dan Ingram, said he never liked being called a DJ. He said he’s a personality, an entertainer, a broadcaster.

If I meet someone that wants to do radio, I’ll tell them what they’re up against. You’ve got to travel. If you’ve got to go down to Georgia and be the morning guy on the country station, voice-track the afternoons on rock, and they’ll give you a glorified title like “Operations Director” but you’re going to be running three to four stations. If you want to go to Alabama and say, “Hey, here’s my plan. I’m going to give myself five years, if I’m not seeing this career go anywhere, then I have to make a decision and do something different.” You need to look for the upward mobility. The whole landscape has changed.

To have Dennis host your party or event, visit his website.

Interview conducted by: Derek Scancarelli
Check out D. SKANK PHOTOGRAPHY.

Derek Scancarelli

Derek Scancarelli is a feature writer, interviewer, videographer, photographer, radio-er and more. In 2015, he received his MA in Journalism in New York City. In addition to Under The Gun Review, Derek has worked with Noisey (VICE), Alternative Press, New Noise Magazine and many more. He also pushes some buttons at SiriusXM.

Comedian Jim Norton once called him a serial killer on national radio. Enjoy the internet with him on Twitter.
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