by Carrie Frye | Photography by Diana Matthews
Joining 550 AM WIOZ last year as host of “Sunrise in the Sandhills,” Steve Biddle is on the air weekday mornings from 6-9 a.m., entertaining listeners with his humor, the news, weather and plenty of oldies but goodies.
With 45 years of broadcasting experience under his belt, Biddle has a plethora of stories to share from his life’s work and the journey that led him to make the Sandhills his new home.
Inside the studio, we caught up with Biddle after the show to meet the man behind the microphone.
ONC: How did the opportunity with WIOZ arise, and what led you to make the move?
SB: I was doing freelance audio production and copywriting with Muirfield Broadcasting when this opening came up, and they asked me if I would be interested in coming down and doing it. And I said, “Sure.” So, here we are.
This is going back to my roots. I started in radio back in 1972 in Orlando at an MOR station, which is what they call a Middle of the Road station. So, I started out doing that, and now, here I am again doing this. Coming to Southern Pines from central Pennsylvania, my wife was particularly happy when this came up, because she loves warmer weather. She’s from Buffalo (New York) originally.
This is only part-time, but radio jobs are really difficult to get anymore, particularly for someone my age. Most stations, even here, don’t have anyone here live after 9 o’clock in the morning.
Very few stations do. I hadn’t done this sort of radio for many years. I was a newsman and used to work in public radio. I hosted Morning Edition at a station in Winston-Salem, WFDD. So this kind of job is very rare and hard to come by, so we were excited.
Being 62, I can be semi-retired and do this in the morning and feel guilty for not doing anything at all in the afternoon (laughs).
We love it here.
How did you end up in broadcasting?
(Ricky Nelson’s “Traveling Man” comes across the station’s air waves in the background in perfect timing.) I was born in New York state, and my dad was a writer and newspaperman, and we lived in Connecticut.
Right after eighth grade, my dad got a job as the business editor of the
Orlando Sentinel. So we moved to Orlando. I went to high school there and started my career there. I had a short, very unspectacular stint at the University of Central Florida. There, I was a singer in the grand opening of Walt Disney World in 1971. I was one of many in the choir. After we finished singing “When You Wish Upon a Star,” the park opened, and it’s been open ever since. My first serious girlfriend was one of the dwarfs. Dopey, actually (laughs). I worked at Sea World for a while as a ski show announcer. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the world famous Sea World skiers.” I did that. I lived in Hawaii for a couple of years from 1978 to 1980, and then I came back to Florida. My ex-wife and I lived on Long Island for a little while, and then I went back to Florida. I always went back to Florida. It was my grounding place. Because my ex-wife was from Pennsylvania originally, she really loved it and wanted to move home, so I said, “Fine. Let’s go.” And we got established there. We lived out in the country but worked in State College at Penn State and were there for 20 years. That’s where I think of as home now really, because I was so involved in so many things, working for Penn State, doing radio and wrote a magazine column.
Any good stories you can tell from your travels?
I have been a broadcaster since 1972. I have had a very interesting life and career because of that. I was in news for a long time. I covered some of the first space shuttle launches. I was there when Challenger exploded, unfortunately. I was there at the Kennedy Space Center and up the road in Brevard County. I’ve had lunch at the White House. I got invited with a bunch of other small market news directors at the time with President Reagan. It was quite interesting. I was in the right place at the right time for an awful lot of stuff. I was there in the room when President Reagan gave his “Evil Empire” speech. For the longest time, my ex-wife and I had our own business, Flying Pig Creative Services. We did a lot of writing advertising copy, and she was an incredible advertising copywriter, and I was a good radio and TV copywriter, so we combined everything and had our own studio. We were divorced in 2006, and we were still close.
After we divorced, I never got my footing again. We got along, but I felt like I was drifting in the wind for a long time. I worked at Penn State and did the Morning Edition at a public radio station there.
Then, I met my current wife, Tammy, in an interesting way. We were both in State College, Pennsylvania, and she had gotten through a divorce, and I was on match.com and so was she. We went out one time. We really liked each other. I was on the radio, and she said she felt like she knew me already. We went out for dinner, but she was on one path, and I was on another. She had decided to go to Atlanta. Two years later, I was in southern Illinois doing news anchoring for a chain of stations, and I got a Facebook message from her. We started talking every day, and right before Thanksgiving, when I wasn’t looking forward to the holidays since I didn’t know anyone where I was, she said, “Well, what if I come down there, and we spend Thanksgiving together?” And we’ve been together ever since. We were married six weeks later. It is a perfectly lovely situation, and I’m very happy. We’ve been married for six years now.
They tell me you always have a funny story…
I was on “Jeopardy” in 1988, and my ex-wife kept all of my “Jeopardy” fabulous prizes. Back in those days, the second and third place won fabulous prizes, so I won an entertainment center and a ceiling fan, and they’re in my ex-wife’s house. It was kind of fun. I’ve got the DVD around here somewhere.
Were you worried about stepping into an existing morning show?
I wondered about that for a while. I understand Billy Bag-O-Donuts had quite a following. I don’t know if I can duplicate that. I just have to do what I do. I hope to be able to take calls and speak with listeners and involve listeners more. It is hard to figure out what to do on an AM station. Radio now is not what it was 10 years ago.
How has radio evolved during your career?
It is completely different now. When I started, we did not have computers, so we did everything on tape cartridges and played vinyl records in my rocking Top 40 disc jockey days. I have a flat spot on my thumb here that shows up from when I lopped off the tip of my thumb editing tape, because you did it with a razor blade. Now, you can do it all with a computer, which is much better and easier. Things have changed considerably, but the business has, too, because of the Internet, and the fact that AM is a tough sale. People here have embraced it, though. Music on AM is a tough one, but I love it when I go out, and it’s playing in a store, which is always nice to hear. FM radio, too, is running into a lot of challenges, because you have satellite radio, and people carry music around in their pockets. People have options now. I really don’t know where it is all going to wind up, but it’s all I know how to do.
What’s your evening and morning regimen for the show?
I usually go to bed right after “Jeopardy” at 7:30 p.m. I love watching it. It is easier to go to bed at 7:30 this time of year, but in the summertime, it’s harder, because all of the other kids are out playing.
Then I get up 3:30 a.m. and go directly into my home studio and drink coffee until I stop crying (laughs). What I start with is putting together newscasts for us and for the FM side. I write them anyway. I will dig things up that I think are obscure things to talk about. Unusual news. I try to find something, and I try to do everything with a sense of humor, maybe not a hilarious sense of humor, but gently humorous. I like to talk about the music a bit. I just want to be a comfortable companion in the morning.
My wife says she can’t count how many people come up and tell her, “I wake up with your husband every morning.”
I have been doing morning radio on and off for many years, so I am used to it. And this is better than when I was in Winston-Salem, when I had to be on the air at 5 a.m. and I had a 30-minute drive. So I had to be up at 2:30 and that’s not getting up early in the morning, that’s getting up late at night. So I get up, stumble and get my coffee and get on the computer and see what’s gone on overnight, if anything. Black coffee, it’s probably a myth, but it seems like it works better. Black coffee is serious work coffee. I get here around 5 a.m. and go on the air from 6-9 a.m. Then I get to go home and watch “Dr. Phil” in the afternoon. I’m a closet “Dr. Phil” fan. And now, we are hooked on “This Is Us,” but I have to DVR it.
What are some of your favorite oldies to play for your listeners?
I love Carly Simon’s version of “In the Still of the Night,” Michael Buble’s “The Way You Look Tonight” and Nat King Cole’s “Joe Turner’s Blues.” I can’t play them every day, but I work them in. One of my favorite songs of all time, and I have been playing since 1972, is “Goodbye To Love” by The Carpenters. What a song. It has got her voice, which is incredible, and a great guitar solo. I remember seeing them in concert in 1973 in Orlando, a great show.
Can you imagine doing anything else other than broadcasting?
I always wanted to be in radio. My mom told me that when I was 5 or 6 years old, I used to make Tinker Toys into microphones and shove them in people’s faces and interview them. I don’t remember doing it, but I am pretty sure she was telling the truth. I pretty much always wanted to do this, except for a brief of period time when I wanted to be a surgeon … and a brief period of time when I wanted to be an astronaut, but then I went back to radio. I think it’s been a great choice. Altogether, I have had an interesting life. I have met a lot of people I never would have otherwise met. I have been places I never would have otherwise been, and I just feel really lucky. I love the folks here. They’re the nicest group of people I have ever worked with. I am not leaving here until I die (laughs).