Today, Jj Johnston Salutes Pat Holiday
Welcome to JJ-365 Salutes. Over 2018, we pay tribute daily to one of “The Good Ones”. Today we are shining the light on Pat Holiday.
What can I say about Pat? How about one of the nicest, most sincere, talented and smartest of them all? When I moved into Toronto to work with Standard I was so excited to work with Gary Slaight and all his brilliant General Managers, and Program Directors. Like all of them, Pat was very welcoming, helpful and respectful and I appreciated that.
I learned a long, long time ago to ‘know what you don’t know’ so I always migrate to those who have the knowledge, experience and success. That’s Pat. I well knew of his extensive background in North American radio, and we were connected in a number of ways of separation. He is always so cool to talk about radio and people with. I learned a lot from him. The guy is a legend, but you would never know it talking to him with his easy going and down to earth demeanour.
Pat says three odd events have shaped his entire life and time in radio as a kid:
- In 1964 he was riding in a car that drove off a sheer rock cliff doing 65 kilometers an hour. It was a Ford Falcon with a full tank and they should have all died in a fiery ball but didn’t. He truly felt someone was looking out for him and there was some reason he was spared, which in retrospect made it easy to gamble on risky career decisions. It always seemed like he had invisible help.
- The Beatles hit Ed Sullivan in February of the next year, which of course was a game changer for all of us. He wrote his English Senior Thesis on them, and his teacher gave him a measly 'C minus'. His words were something like, “your written English is good, but this subject is trite and totally unrealistic. A waste of paper.” The thesis was, ‘The Beatles – Why this band was going to change the world’. Pat still has the paper, crap grade and all. It was the first of many instances where he came to realize that people in authority can be epic-ally wrong. “Anyone has the ability to see things that others can’t. So, take with a grain of salt anything negative someone tells you, and listen carefully when someone tells you something that at first seems weird. It may only be weird to you.”
- Early on at his first radio job, he saw the morning news guy have an on-air stroke, and never return. This was someone who Pat says did two boilermakers at 5 am to stop his hands from shaking. He had been the afternoon anchor for the Mutual Broadcast network, making 70-100 grand in the 50’s for years, and lost it all. “It would be like Walter Cronkite losing everything and having to work in a tiny little station to survive. I was 18. That became my definition of failure, and it wasn’t happening to me.”
Growing up in the Catskills in the mid-60’s, a few miles from Woodstock (yes, that Woodstock), it was commonplace to go bar hopping on the weekends and see people like Bob Dylan, Joplin, Hendrix, Todd Rundgren (he had Bearsville Studios there), members of the Band and lots of other big singers/bands etc., just hanging out or even walking up onstage to play with house bands. Logically, like every other teenager, he wanted to be in a band too, to get girls easier, in theory, he says-:). He started one in college, and they played some clubs and lots of college keggers.
One of the guys in the band got him a summer job at night at IBM. One night after the shift, the guy grabbed him and a couple of other guys and said 'come on, we’re going to the radio station'. "So, we get in his car, grab a pizza before they close and go to see the ‘all night jock’ at WKNY, the only station in town on at night.
Around 3:30 the jock turns to us and asks if anyone wants to read the weather. Everyone says no, but me. He puts me in the news booth, hands me some AP wire copy, and points to me 3 or 4 times during the night.”
The next day, Pat gets a call from the Program Director, who was up on an all-night bender and had the station on. He figured someone was in trouble. Instead, the guy offered him the Saturday night all-night show then and there. He was literally on the air with his own show a week later. He had zero experience and about 15 minutes of training on how to cue records, take meter readings, work the carts and master control board. He asked, “What do I do?“ The reply was “Do what you want. Just don’t play a lot of jingles.”
Four years later Pat was the 3rd most listened to human on the radio in North America, doing drive at CKLW, the Big 8. The year after that he was doing nights in NYC on 98.7 WOR-FM, America’s most listened to FM station. He often wonders what would have happened had he said “no” to reading the weather like the other guys.
He was doing radio part-time while in school when a clerical error took away his college deferment. He came home and joined the US Army National Guard for six years. Going through basic training during the war (Vietnam), he says you learn pretty quickly that people under you depend on you for their lives. A big lesson for a boss. The NY Army commitment forced him to leave the University of Houston and either do accounting, which he had a degree in, or try full-time radio. He gave himself 2 years to ‘make it’ in radio or quit. At the time that seemed realistic.
A year later he sent out airchecks from Albany to WORfm, WRKO, and CKLW. Out of the blue, he got offered a job in Hartford at WPOP, one of the major medium market stations that all of the Drake stations stole jocks from. He was there two weeks when Frank Brodie (one of his idols at the time) called and offered him nights on the Big 8. Crossing the border into Windsor was surreal. He couldn’t believe he was there. He got ushered into the PD’s office, and it wasn’t Frank. Apparently, Frank didn’t like being PD. It turned out to be the late and great Alden Diehl, his first day, and Pat’s first day. Alden says “Who are you?” Pat says “I’m the new jock. Who are you?” Alden, “I’m the new PD.” Pat thought oh boy, this isn’t going to end well. But it did. He did 9-midnight for a week and then the afternoon guy had a nervous breakdown on-air and got fired. Now, at 22 years old, Pat’s doing afternoon drive to a couple of million listeners across North America.
Being alone, living a block from the station, and scared to death of blowing this amazing opportunity, he would typically go into the station around 11 am to prep for a 3 pm show. Little by little he would end up for HOURS in the music library every day with the great Rosalie Trombley and her assistant. He learned more from Rosie about music, listeners, and what makes a radio station a winner versus any others. He heard inside conversations every week by national promo heads and major stars. Frustrations, their jobs, priorities, plans. Plus, Rosie would rehash her conversations with 20-30 record store owners each Tuesday on what was selling in different parts of Detroit; affluent suburbs, ghetto, etc. which were very varied areas. Pat says being a constant part of those conversations was rare and extremely precious. Rosie was his immigration sponsor that led to Canadian citizenship and is one of his oldest and dearest friends, more family than friend actually he says.
Pat says: “Crazy start huh? Along the way, I’ve jocked at, or programmed, or GM’d (is that a word) a bunch of wildly successful stations. One of them, The Big 8 CKLW, was recently voted by RADIO INK readers as the greatest Top 40 station of all time. Amazing since its been gone for almost 30 years and yet still stirs that much passion. The talent in that building, both on and off the air, was immense. So lucky to have been a jock there and ultimately, it’s PD.”
Stops along the way for Pat included: WPTR Albany, WPOP Hartford, WOR-FM New York City, WNIC Detroit, WLTI Detroit, WHYT Detroit, WARM98 Cincinnati, MIX96 & CJAD Montreal, CJAY82 & CKMX Calgary, and of course CKLW Detroit/Windsor and MIX999/Virgin999, CFRB, & EZ Rock Toronto. And finally, he became the National PD for the English Astral stations. After they launched the Virgin stations across Canada, Pat figured it was time to go saying “how do you top that?”
Milestones, big moments beside being hired at The Big 8? Probably not what you’d expect, says Pat. “Around 1976 I had a board operator at CKLW who got me interested in this new thing called a computer. So, I went to St. Clair College at night for a computer programming degree. When PC’s finally debuted 5 years later, I already had the knowledge to easily write dozens of high-level computer programs for radio tasks that no one else had yet. It was a huge PD advantage that got even better when the internet started hitting.”
Pat’s wife, Vivi always kids him that his default is to always side with the underdog. “Which is probably why one of my proudest moments was staffing WLTI’s entire air staff and the newsroom with great air talent that other stations wouldn’t hire. Too old, too set in their ways to adapt, too black (one was industry blackballed for suing the ABC network for race discrimination and spent a decade painting houses to survive). All dumb reasons. I hired them all with great success and restarted their careers. One was a kid I hired on the phone, to do character impressions on our morning show. He could imitate anyone. It was his first real media job and he was amazing. We never actually met. I’d call or send him funny copy; he’d mail back tapes from Orlando. Ten years later I finally got to see what Darrell Hammond looked like during 15 seasons of Saturday Night Live.”
Pat was part of getting fired 3 times in 3 years, because of new owners and he is glad that happened. It gave him the perspective that radio is a business and to not make it personal. He says, “you find a boss loyal to you-you need to be loyal back, and although it may be their station, it’s your career. If you don’t like your job, leave and find a better one regardless of where it is. It’s a big world – see it. (maybe this was easier for me than most given the whole ‘going off the cliff’ thing). And…working for Standard. I never viewed it that I worked for Standard, I simply worked for Gary. I liked Gary Slaight from our first meeting and despite the early days at 2 St. Clair that were…what’s a good description?.... an adventure. I recognized that he just was fixated on building something great and wildly successful, not just ‘ok.’ Like 365’ers Marty Forbes and Rob Braide have echoed, those days as part of Gary’s guys were special and priceless. We all felt invincible because of him. You know how hard that is to create in people who work for you? Virtually impossible.
Very few people ever get to be a part of someone building a small business into a billion-dollar business. It takes a special person. I saw Gary do that first hand and will be forever grateful for being a small part of it. He was fiercely loyal to his people too. Something I admired big time.
Pat sums up: “I still do some consulting when asked, but I don’t seek it out. Currently, I’m doing a couple of significant video projects. Love working in Final Cut. As golf metaphors go, I’m standing on the 18th hole of life and about to tee off. Not a lot of swings left (don’t believe that).
Age definitely changes perspective. Accomplishments like ratings, turnarounds, and job titles mean very little. It’s all the great people I’ve gotten to work with and think of as good friends. That’s what matters. It’s so cool watching so many go on to great careers; major market PD’s, successful GM’s, VP division heads, network TV voices, cable honchos, GSM’s and outright morning stars. Kind of like a proud dad. It’s a great feeling. Like maybe a little bit of me rubbed off and is still going.”
Pat has had a tremendous career and accomplished so much in his time. He has touched and helped hundreds (maybe more) in his time. He’s genuine, positive, talented, intelligent (he thinks in different ways), hard-working, caring, respectful, present, and all with a disarming personality that makes him virtually impossible not to like. While I say these things from my perspective, I am sure I speak for the multitudes. Anyone who has come in contact with Pat has come away a better person and performer. He’s the real deal, and with his golf metaphor in mind, I think he is more like he is early on the back nine! Atta be Pat.
Thank you, Pat Holiday for being one of “The Good Ones.” Feel free to like and share Pat’s positive story. Who is the subject of tomorrow’s JJ-365 Salutes? As they say, stay tuned.
-- Jim JJ Johnston is the CEO, President and Chief Talent/Content Coach for JJIMS INC. and works with talent in many different industries.