A crowd gathers around a storefront next to The Paramount in Huntington. Despite a chill in the December air, the windows are open, and music shoots out the speakers as cars slow down to catch the action. New York Avenue is popping on a Tuesday night.
“I took the day off from work and got here at 10 a.m. to be upfront,” says Val Marin, 36, of Woodside.
“I love his lyrics. His music has gotten me through a lot in life,” says Angela Ayala, 35, of Farmingdale.
“His voice just melts me,” says Michele Weiner, 49, of Plainview.
These women are gathered on the sidewalk at 6 p.m., waiting for Matchbox Twenty lead singer Rob Thomas to arrive at The Paramount’s own radio studio, just hours before he takes the stage at the venue.
When Thomas shows up for an interview with WALK/97.5 FM’s afternoon DJ Nick Parker in front of the curbside crowd, he’s amazed by the scene.
“I don’t think anybody has ever built anything like this before,” says Thomas as he waves and shakes hands with fans through the window. “It’s hard to find a new way to make interviews fun, but this is ideal.”
Anthony Raffa, 56, of Huntington was picking up dinner when he heard Parker give WALK listeners a code word (“tinsel”) and told them to come down to The Studio and say the word to win free tickets to Thomas’ show. “This setup is genius marketing,” says Raffa, holding the winning pair of tickets. “It’s very inviting to the community.”
Artists who headline The Paramount are invited to drop by The Studio for an on-air appearance before showtime. Concertgoers can witness the interview live if they arrive a bit early.
“It’s rare that people get the opportunity to see how a broadcast works and get up close and intimate with an artist. This studio makes both of those things happen,” says WALK’s midday DJ and program director Tommy Conway. “It gives them a little taste of the community. The artist gets to be a Long Islander for a few minutes. It brings a different energy when it’s time for them to go onstage.”
The radio stations, under the Connoisseur Media Long Island umbrella, rotate depending on the artist featured at The Paramount. When a hard rock or heavy metal group comes in, like Judas Priest, The Shark (WWSK/94.3 FM) takes the reins.
“I’ve never seen less than 30 people standing in front of those windows. For Judas Priest, we had 300. It was mayhem,” says Shark morning DJ Brian Orlando. “As guitarist Glenn Tipton was playing ‘Breaking the Law,’ the fans acted as a percussion section outside, stomping their feet on the sidewalk, keeping time. The entire block shook. It was amazing.”
SING A SONG
Orlando is known for tricking artists into playing a song in The Studio, where a rack of acoustic guitars are available for those inspired.
“My standard pickup line is, ‘I’m just learning how to play guitar. Can you recommend a song?’ ” Orlando says. “It works every time.”
Longtime Long Island DJ Ralph Tortora, once on WBAB, is now spinning afternoon drive for MAX (WBZO/103.1 FM). He sits down with Michael DelGuidice of Big Shot just before he goes on to discuss when Billy Joel asked him to join his band.
“It was right here at The Paramount, backstage at the top of the stairs,” recalls DelGuidice of Sound Beach, who has toured with the Piano Man as a guitarist and backing vocalist for the past two years. “Every night I pinch myself and say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me?’ ”
Andy Grammer was the first artist to christen The Studio, when he performed a three-song set in July that included his hit “Honey, I’m Good,” for a crowd of 100.
“It’s kind of like ‘Good Morning America’ on the radio,” says Jim Condron, general manager of Connoisseur Media Long Island and co-owner of The Paramount. “Before his last song, Andy said, ‘I love this venue, I love this town, and I love this radio station!’ That’s what we want every artist saying when they leave here.”