(VIDEO) Forty Years in Radio for WCBS-FM’s ‘Broadway’ Bill Lee, Who Says the DJ is ‘Just About Gone’
WCBS-FM jock “Broadway” Bill Lee has been a mainstay on afternoons since 2007. The veteran New York DJ is a classic air personality celebrating his 40th year in the business.
Lee, 60, maintains the same high energy that he has infused on-air for several decades. With Lee, every time he cracks the mic it’s a treat for listeners, having fun with as few words as possible, while keeping the music moving. But a key ingredient for his good times is standing up.
“I had to sit down, and these guys [at CBS-FM] had stomachs out to here, so they had the chairs really low,” Lee jokes. “I was really in hell.”
Lee couldn’t be himself on-air until a temporary stand-up studio was built at the station’s complex on West 57th Street. In 2009, CBS-FM headed south to Hudson Street and the state-of-the-art facilities for the New York cluster of stations.
“This is fabulous,” Lee tells FishbowlNY. “The nice part about this buildup is you’ve got all these stations together and all these people together make it just about the same size staff that an old radio station used to be. It’s very cool.”
Within two floors at the Hudson Street studios, CBS-FM joins sister stations NOW FM/WXRK, Fresh/WWFS 102.7, WINS, WCBS-AM, and WFAN. Lee enjoys the throwback feeling that the camaraderie and synergy bring.
“When you have operating, full-blast newsrooms going,” Lee says. “Oh, my God, that’s like the great Top 40 stations of the 60s.”
Lee, a fan of radio since growing up in Cleveland in the mid 1950s, “arrived” in New York at Hot 97 in 1986. He had another successful stint at WKTU.
A staple of his on-air experience for fans has always been integrating phone calls into the broadcast.
“The more I can put listeners on the air, the better,” Lee admits. “It really makes them, not only feel like they are part of the show, but it makes me much more approachable.”
The art of good phones helps a good DJ be great and in Lee’s case, makes a great jock become an all-time favorite.
“[It's] the need for quick interaction between records so that it doesn’t interfere with the music, yet gets a real interaction between listener and disc jockey, almost eavesdropping on the conversation,” Lee says.
Unfortunately, many of Lee’s contemporaries struggled to keep the conversation going in today’s radio climate.
“Any distraction whatsoever was bad and wrong,” Lee admits. “I had to really change my thinking along the way, and I think that’s where a lot of disc jockeys had to leave or they got fired, or they couldn’t understand and make that transition. Because it’s totally the opposite of what we were all taught back in the 70s.”
An old-school jock, Lee is thrilled to see technical advances for radio in the 21st century.
“I absolutely love the improvements. I love the digital improvements in editing… and the way we can just move things in and out of here so quick. I think that’s fabulous,” Lee says. “I’m really glad to still be around for this.”
But he cautions the budding broadcasters that DJs are a dying breed.
“Rightly so,” Lee admits. “We’re the last ones… The disc jockey is just about gone.”
Lee, named Personality of Year several times during his standout career, has made CBS-FM a Top 5 winner in afternoons. Overall, the Classic Hits station is traditionally number two, trailing only WLTW/Lite FM in the ratings.
“I’d like to think that I understand the listeners at this time of day because I’ve been doing it so long,” Lee says. “And I understand that everything has to be done very quickly.”
That means a balancing act between how much talking and tunes per shift.
“Whatever I do has got to be pieced together with the music, but not so much that I interfere with the song,” Lee says. “As long as I keep that in mind, people love me.”
Although he didn’t have Oldies or Classic Hits experience when program director Brian Thomas hired him in 2007, Lee says it was his destiny.
“I envisioned myself being here for years,” Lee says. “The five last years at WKTU, I told people that I’m going to work [at CBS-FM].”
Complete with on-air rhyming reminiscent of jocks from a bygone era, Lee’s style is perfect for CBS-FM’s p.m. drive.
“Somewhere along about the 90s, I learned to interact and use the audience, and just about the same time content became very, very important,” Lee recalls.
The popular jock also feels connected to the discography.
“My memory of pop music goes from 1955 all the way up to the present, because I was working at ‘KTU on a current music station up until 2006,” Lee says. “You find me a lot of guys like that, I don’t know if there are. But it puts me in touch with every listener that could possibly be out there waiting to hear a song.”