With the advent of satellite radio programming and Internet music streaming, it seems many FM radio stations have fallen by the wayside — being bought out and changed, or experiencing major turnovers in staff to try and draw more listeners.
This year, however, 101.5 FM WPDH — which bills itself as the “home of rock ’n roll — is celebrating its 35th year of rock radio, and is still going strong. WPDH plays a variety of classic rock (Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Who, and similar artists are staples) with a few current bands thrown in, such as Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Pearl Jam.
During its infancy in the late 1970s, WPDH was more of a prog-rock station, but evolved by the ’80s when heavy metal reigned, and into the late ’80s-early ’90s as alternative rock was starting to push through. Ratings soared, but competition was growing. In 1994, owners Crystal Radio Group — headed by philanthropist Rob Dyson — noticed that other alt-rock stations were causing ratings to slip a little, so they strategically bought an Orange County-based station the following year to play strictly alternative and new rock (now WRRV, which is still thriving as a current-rock avenue). WPDH reformatted itself as a classic rock station. In the last decade, it’s increased its range to include a few current artists, but still mainly sticks to its classic roots.
“One of our challenges is that we play a lot of music that’s 30-40 yrs old, but we want to present it in a fresh fashion for both the generation that grew up with it and for the younger generations,” says program director and afternoon DJ Gary Cee. “With games like Rock Band, a lot of younger kids listen to this station now. The challenge has been to keep the station vibrant interesting for everyone, with a wide range of rock ’n roll.”
Celebrity sightings: Some of the stars in the WPDH photo archives:
Cee, who’s been in radio since 1987, became the station’s program director eight years ago when he moved to Lagrangeville from Queens. To keep things interesting, he organizes themed “decades of rock” weekends, “time-warp” weekends — during which they’ll play music from a different year every hour — or extreme countdowns, such as the Top 1,015 Songs program that lasts through the course of several days, the next one taking place through Labor Day weekend.
What else has kept WPDH a favorite among local rock ’n roll enthusiasts? “We really put a great emphasis on the community,” Cee says. “We do a lot of work with charities — including ones that benefit juvenile diabetes research and muscular dystrophy organizations — and we started doing a “Let’s Go Vets” weekend, that features local veterans doing one-hour shows — it affects me emotionally, all these terrific people talk about their experiences in between songs. They love doing it. So do we.”
(Continue to next page for Q&A with morning show host Mark Cooper)
To view a listing of upcoming events the station’s involved with — where you can meet some of your favorite DJs — visit www.wpdh.com.
“Coop must be doing something right because he’s been accused of being a right-wing zealot and a left-wing advocate at the same time,” says WPDH program director Gary Cee, referring to the boisterous co-host of the station’s popular morning show, “Coop and Mulrooney.”
The topics that Mark “Coop” Cooper and John Mulrooney — along with sidekick/feminine-voice-of-reason Kricket — discuss are often comical-yet-crass, relevant-yet-ridiculous. The morning show doesn’t play much music, choosing to focus more on provocative discussions (political debates, trending stories), local and national sports, and slinging around dirty jokes (from which not even Coop’s mother is safe).
The entire crew, plus whichever guests they have on that morning, have a great rapport with each other both on-air and when the mics are turned off. It’s one thing to hear this as a listener, but what’s it like behind the scenes of the show?
The studio has a friendly, laid-back atmosphere; everyone there seems upbeat — dare I say happy — to be awake and working at 6 a.m.
During commercial breaks the hosts chat about music, sports, or their families; they get up and move around, or sit back and throw their feet up on the desk (“What? I’m stretching. I went for a run yesterday,” Mulrooney says.) But when it’s time to come back on-air, they all snap to attention and proceed without a hitch.
And while working for radio might not actually be as glamorous as Hollywood sometimes makes it out to be in movies, it’s fun. The DJs are encouraged to be themselves — and they aren’t afraid to be.
During a recent show, for example, Coop announced and played Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels;” once the mic went off, the scene was like a bunch of friends jamming out in mom’s basement. Coop turned the volume way up and started singing and air-drumming, while Mulrooney and guest Vic Delicious (a local wrestler) both nodded to the beat. Celebrity-chef Johnny Chow — another on-air guest that morning — walked in mid-song, gave approval of the tune, then whipped out a harmonica and started playing along.
Perhaps not every day is this exciting, but as the adage goes, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“Honestly, the hardest part of my day is getting here,” Coop says, with a laugh. “ I’ve got it good. I love what I do.”
WPDH morning show co-host Mark “Coop” Cooper has been with the station for 10 of the last 13 years. Since that’s roughly one-third of the company’s history, we sat down with him to discuss his favorite memories, what he loves about the Hudson Valley, and how he got that one-of-a-kind voice.
What’s one of your most vivid memories from your time here?
When we did Roof-a-thon about eight years ago, I said on-air that if we raised $15,000 the first night, I’d eat a rat. We never gained that much in one day before, it was always like $4,000, so I figured I’d be bold and shoot my big mouth off. A good friend who worked with the Teamsters — who bring a giant inflatable rat to protests — came up to me at the event with this Chesire Cat grin on his face, and he’s like, “Hi Mr. Cooper, I’m here to make you eat rat, my friend!” He promoted the cause and managed to get $15,000 worth of donations; he had the checks in his hand. The next day, celebrity chef Johnny Chow prepared it and my friend and I both had to eat it. By the way, my biggest phobia is rats.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I’ve met cool celebrities and had professionally satisfying moments, but the thing that sticks out to me is interacting with the community. It sounds like BS, but it’s the truth. For example, when all those toys got stolen from the Salvation Army last year, we held an emergency toy-drive down at Newburgh Park Motors. When I saw the number of toys people brought out in a bad economy, in a tough time; literally, this car showroom was filled with toys because people were like, “No, that’s wrong, we’re not going to let this happen.” I dig that so much.
When many stations have folded, what’s helped WPDH to stick around for so long?
Honestly, in the entire time I’ve worked here, the most talent in this market has always been in this building. And a lot of places play music and do events, but this place really has always had an underlying current of “what can we do to help the community.” And that’s part of having a heritage of 35 years, our audience trusts us to do the right thing.
What do you do off-air?
I eat Doritos [laughs]. No, I’ve got a family and friends I hang out with in the daytime to kind of decompress afterwards. Sometimes I’ll go home and watch a movie or the History Channel, or read a book and just relax.
Do you ever get sick of talking?
That’s a big thing with my wife — a lot of times we’ll get lunch on Fridays and she’ll be telling me all kinds of things, then ask why I’m not talking. Sometimes I’m like, “I just have nothing left in me.”
Many people know you by your signature voice — was it always that raspy?
When I was 14-16 years old I coached soccer and I was a yeller — not at my team, but for my team. Every day I’d come home barely able to speak. I destroyed my vocal chords. I went from having this beautiful voice — I was voted the best singer in my class in 8th grade — to this. Then smoking and drinking found its way into the equation, and it ended up this way. But thank God — because of it I found what I’m supposed to do.
How long do you think you’ll work in radio?
Until I die. I probably will die on the air. And I’m really lucky to work here, in particular, and that’s not blowin’ smoke. I really like our listeners; I meet them all the time and have made some great friends. A lot of people here make a lifestyle choice: “No, I’m not going to go live in the city, I might be able to make more money or have what some would call a more ‘successful’ life, but I’m living here.” I think up here, we define success a different way, there’s more of an emphasis of quality of life and that draws a certain type of person. And I dig the fact that I’m the morning guy on the station listened to by this type of person. I’ve had chances to go to other places, but I’m home here. I grew up in Rochester, only lived here for 13 years, but this is my home. And I’ve felt that way from the beginning.