Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Out of the Closet

This blog entry is not a warn and fuzzy one or a rant. It's just something that needs to be said.

The theme song from the film Mash was a song titled: Suicide is Painless.

That is the furthest from the truth. The pain is felt by many: family, close friends and if you are a celebrity, your fans. The recent headlines containing the news of the suicidal loss of Robin Williams brought great attention to the stigma of mental health disorders.

This issue is certainly known in my own family. I am the unofficial historian for several of my ancestral families. While doing the research on my paternal grandparents I discovered that my great grandfather, whom the family never talked about, committed suicide. Not only did he take his own life, but he staged the event so his family would see the results when they returned from a trip to the movies one evening in 1927. No one knows the real reason he did it, other than he was in poor health physically but certainly his mental health was not good either. This event was kept a secret in my family for several generations. The stigma was so strong that when I revealed this in a document I prepared for our family history some members of the family were flabbergasted and told me that I should remove the information suggesting that “this was not something you want to read about in a family history.”

If you visit the Veterans Administration Hospital in Syracuse, NY you will not see the “Behavioral Health Unit” listed on the floor directories. You will see the sixth floor and the eighth floor, but the seventh floor is not listed. It's not like the 13th floor in a hotel that doesn't exist. It's there but just not spoken of publicly. The stigma associated with mental health is still very prominent.

It is time we started talking about mental health issues, openly. If you know someone that is in trouble, seek help, not only for them but for yourself to help you help those in trouble. Like many other issues in our lives once taboo, it's time to bring mental health “out of the closet.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

It Has Been An Interesting Ride So Far

It's been a while since my last blog entry. It's not that I haven't thought about it. It's just that every time I sat down to write something I ended up scrapping what I wrote. Plus there are times when other events in our lives take over and get us sidetracked.

I reached another birthday milestone this summer, number 67. I also realized that it has been ten years since my wife of 36 years passed away. On a happier note, I celebrated year number nine with my new partner in life. I continue to believe that the voice over business will be fruitful in my senior years, despite the constant call for young voices. One day they (whomever they are) will realize that to reach the people that have all the money (retiring baby boomers), they'll need someone that can “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.” 

Damn it's been interesting ride so far. So, I decided that it might be fun to do a little biographical sketch. Who am I and where did I come from?

I grew up in the small farm community of Schuyler Lake, NY, those were my pre-teen years. As a teenager, I discovered that I wanted to be a radio announcer and disk jockey. I practiced and practiced and practiced. I did everything the experts suggested. I studied and got the necessary licenses that the FCC required. I apprenticed under the top pros in the market. Then I applied for my first job and they hired me at the top popular music station in Utica, NY. That was at the ripe old age of 16. It was only a Sunday night gig that summer but I was happy playing the hits. Then my dad was transferred at the end of the summer and I had to give that up. So, I had to start all over again in a new location. It took a few months of hanging out at the local radio station before I landed my second job in radio which launched a career that spanned two decades. It was something that I wanted to do and I did it. At the age of 19, I joined the U.S. Air Force and was fortunate to be classified as a Radio and TV Production Specialist and served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. During the time I served with the Air Force and the years after I landed on air jobs in Denver, Colorado and San Angelo Texas, then back to New York to Watertown, Binghamton and Endicott. It became clear even back in the 1970s that the income I needed to raise a young family was not to be had as a DJ. So, I decided to develop and launch my own business, a radio network.

So, after 15 years as DJ, announcer & program director, I started the RFD Radio Network, which later would be known as the Northeast Farm Report. The idea was to provide radio stations with a daily rural and farm news and interview program. It caught on quickly and became popular with the audiences of 43 radio stations in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. I had an opportunity to sell that network in the mid 80s to a company that wanted to merge my network with the farm news offering it had with the radio station it owned. I suddenly found myself back in Utica NY after being away for nearly 20 years. I continued with the newly merged enterprise for three more years.
It was during this time that I made the acquaintance of some people what were starting a new video production company concentrating it's work in the area of dairy farming and other agricultural topics. They needed a voice-over talent and on-camera presenter. I traveled across the county with this group to do work for The National Milk Producers Federation, Eastern Milk Producers Cooperative and more. That work was noticed by others and I started doing both voice-over and on camera work for other production companies with clients such at Syracuse Research Corporation, Crouse Hospital, & Amoco Oil.

Then came a new opportunity. Some farmer acquaintances, prominent beef producers in New York State, had formed an organization, The New York Beef Industry Council, to promote beef consumption to consumers, but were struggling to do that work over the farm kitchen table, as volunteers. So, they decided to hire a staff to do the work. I applied and became its first Executive Director and with a staff of four we were tasked with collecting the promotion funds from beef producers and then coordinate promotion efforts with other state beef councils as affiliates of the national beef promotion program. The well known “Beef It's What's For Dinner” campaign came from that affiliation. Beef was my thing for the next twelve years. I even managed to get the opportunity to be the voice of a national radio commercial for Veal, The Special Choice. But as promotion money started to shrink, due to changes in the cattle industry, after 12 years I sought out a new opportunity.

The state's major farm lobby group, The New York Farm Bureau, needed a director of communications to replace someone that that secured a government appointment, which was not all that uncommon for them. I applied and was appointed to that position. I continued to do voice-over and on camera work as a side venture. The experience at New York Farm Bureau was a brief two years and came to an end when my wife's declining health required that I spend more time looking after her. A job two hours distant was making that difficult.

Another farm acquaintance that had become the Director of Media Relations for The Oneida Indian Nation, was looking for someone to join his staff to help with media relations as the Oneidas were growing their resort and casino, as well as other business ventures. Since this opportunity was closer to home, I joined them and would work with the Oneidas for the next eleven years as I continued to doing voiceover and on-camera work for production companies as well as the production company owned by the Oneidas. It was in 2011 that the communications department there was restructured, just the incentive I needed to focus on my voiceover business and make it full time. So here I am and as they said in the famous Virginia Slims Cigarette commercial: “You've come a long way baby.”