My ten most memorable moments during my NJ101.5 career
After over eleven years, this week is my last at New Jersey 101.5.
For more than a decade many of you have gotten to know me and watched me grow into the person, as well as the broadcaster and writer, I am today. I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have had this opportunity.
You might not know this because 101.5 has been part of Jersey vernacular for generations, but this radio station is widely regarded as "legendary" in the broadcasting industry. Not just here in New Jersey, I'm talking nationwide. There are very few places like this and the ones that do have similarities don't do things the way it's done here.
When I was 11 years old, my mom was looking to move from Staten Island to New Jersey. I vividly remember driving around Brick Township when Carton & Rossi, "the Jersey Guys," broke the news of the Governor McGreevey scandal that hit front pages across the world.
I leaned up from the backseat and said to my mom, "This is what I want to do for a living."
Roughly ten years later I walked into the building to take on my first opportunity here: Producing for the aforementioned Ray Rossi on an overnight show he used to host.
As my time here at New Jersey 101.5 comes to an end, I have compiled ten of the most memorable moments I can recall. Some happened on the air, some off, but trust me ... they happened.
Here's what I was able to come up with, in no particular order:
1. Spending the beginning of Superstorm Sandy with Governor Christie and his family
A lot of New Jersey 101.5's newer listeners may not know this, but there was once a time when the sitting NJ governor would come to the radio station once per month to do an hourlong program with Eric Scott called "Ask The Governor." The program still exists, but Governor Murphy has declined the invite every time, with a few exceptions.
When Governor Chris Christie was in office, it just so happened that his monthly "Ask The Governor" appearance was scheduled on the same day that Superstorm Sandy hit shore in South Jersey.
Most political leaders would have canceled the appearance, but Governor Christie, along with his wife and kids, showed up to New Jersey 101.5, and the governor proceeded to turn the next hour into a crash course in storm preparedness for the people of NJ. Once the program was over, we ate pizza and talked about what we should expect once Sandy got to Mercer County.
2. The time I thought I was going to get fired after my very first shift
Speaking of Eric Scott, he was present for one of the most frightening days in my entire broadcasting career.
After a week of training for my new overnight shift, it was finally time for me to take over the driver's seat. I was shown the ropes and felt I had a pretty good idea of what to expect as the overnight went on. The way it worked was I would produce Ray Rossi's overnight show from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. when it was over. From 3 a.m.-5 a.m., my job was to stand in the studio and play the replays of the shows that aired the day before, while introducing traffic and reading the weather forecasts in between.
Once 4:55 a.m. came around, I was done, and the board operator for Eric Scott's First News was set to begin. Controlling the audio elements for First News is an entity unique unto itself. The only person who knew how to get the job done was the aforementioned board-op.
As luck would have it, the board operator was late on my very first day, and I was the one who had to "wing" it. It didn't go very well. We were off the air for about two minutes, but it felt like seven hours.
I thought I was going to be fired, but Eric and management were very cool about it and instead decided to mock me for how much I panicked. I would have done the same thing.
3. When a viral video accidentally captured a very stupid discussion between me and Jeff Edelstein
One afternoon during the summer of '17, I was co-hosting with Jeff Edelstein. Jeff and I always had a great time hosting together with an emphasis on mindless banter. For whatever reason a particular conversation we were having turned into our thoughts on wet dreams. But little did we know the aside would live on forever.
In a video that went viral across the state, you see an SUV with a trailer attached overturning on the Garden State Parkway. But the soundtrack to the crash is none other than Edelstein and myself.
4. Coming out as gay on the air
The New Jersey 101.5 audience has watched me grow up in more ways than one, but perhaps my biggest coming of age moment came the Friday before the Pope's big appearance in Philadelphia back in 2015. I was producing for Deminski & Doyle at the time and was experiencing a huge change in my life. I had come out as gay to my friends, family, and co-workers that year, but I hadn't yet broken the news to our audience.
While I never thought my homosexuality would be a problem with the listeners, it did take a decent amount of time before gathering up the courage to break the news. Mostly because I didn't want to just barge into the studio and yell "I'M GAY. OK BYE!" and walk out. I've always made it a point to be as transparent as possible with the audience, but to proclaim something like that with no reason seemed strange to me.
The opportunity to bring it up naturally finally came, and I haven't looked back since.
This moment was one of the first to inspire me to become an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ+ community in New Jersey and around the world. But the moment that inspired me the most isn't exactly as uplifting as a coming out message ... in fact it's the complete opposite.
5. Being on the air the Monday after the Pulse Nightclub shooting
In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016, a 29-year-old man killed 49 people and wounded 53 more in a mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in central Florida. It was the first time in my life I felt unsafe in my own skin.
That Sunday, I sat on my front porch in Freehold from dawn 'til dusk, just sitting, thinking, and wondering what kind of world we were living in. It wasn't until I received word of a candlelight vigil taking place at the legendary Georgie's Bar in Asbury Park (pictured above) that night that I was mentally able to leave my property.
It just so happened the very next day I was set to co-host with Jeff Deminski.
Deminski, who not only knows me extremely well, but also gave me unlimited opportunity to spread my wings when co-hosting with him, knew the shooting was all I was thinking about. So he let me take the lead on the conversation we were having about it.
From that day forward I made it my goal to not only be an outspoken part of the LGBTQ community, but also someone who people could turn to with questions about what they are going through. As many of my fellow advocates will tell you, despite same-sex marriage being legalized, there is still a lot of work to be done before we can truly feel safe.
6. Meeting my favorite musician of all time, Bruce Springsteen
It was a muggy September day and Bruce Springsteen was going to be at the Barnes & Noble in his hometown of Freehold for a book signing. The Boss was going to be there during my usual work shift, so my actual boss, knowing how much of a fan of Bruce I was, told me to go to the signing and cover it for the radio station.
I don't think I ever jumped for joy higher in my life. I was giddy like a schoolgirl.
One standout memory from this day was hearing the security guards tell fans over and over that they cannot talk to Bruce. "Just walk up, take your picture, and move on so he can get out of here." Of course I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize my chance to meet him, but as I got closer, I noticed something interesting. Despite the commands from security, Bruce was shaking hands and having small conversations with every person who went up there.
When it was my turn I figured I'd do what security asked, but it was Bruce who said, "Hey, where you going so fast, come back." We talked for another 30 seconds or so, and I've been riding that high ever since.
7. Interviewing another one of my music heroes, Brian Fallon
NJ-based singer-songwriter and Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon is another musician on my Mount Rushmore. So much so that I convinced Deminski & Doyle to use Gaslight Anthem's "Howl" as their theme song.
In 2018 I had the chance to interview Brian for his solo album "Sleepwalker." Over the years I've been lucky to interview various celebrities I admire, but few were as enjoyable as this one. You can hear it below.
8. The time I played 'Guess What's In The Dumpster' with D&D and realized a live rat was next to me
Deminski & Doyle are known for their entertaining variety of Friday night games. Perhaps the most famous is the sporadic "Guess What's In The Dumpster." If you aren't familiar, here's how it goes:
The producer calls the hotline, then proceeds to stay on with D&D for the duration of the hour. During that time, Jeff & Bill ask callers if they think the producer will find a certain item inside the pile of garbage they are standing in. The caller gives their guess, then the producer rummages through the trash to see if they can find the item.
This one particular time, I was supposed to be looking for some sort of discarded food. I thought I had successfully located it, but instead, as I got closer, I realized it was actually a New York City-sized rat chomping away on a leftover blueberry muffin. I can't remember the last time I screamed so loud.
9. Getting to cover the festivities surrounding Super Bowl XLVIII, the first and only "Big Game" played in New Jersey
The New Jersey Super Bowl brought a unique buzz to the tri-state area many of us have never experienced before, and haven't since. By far the biggest sporting event in the U.S. was to be played in our own backyard.
Management allowed me to spend the entire week before the Super Bowl in Times Square, NYC, where all of the press tours before the game were taking place. Practically every radio station and sports TV outlet was in one room, as A-List athletes, actors, musicians, and comedians came in one-by-one.
Along with having the chance to fine-tune my sports reporting skills, I also had the chance to interview people like UFC fighter Chris Weidman, as well as Miss America. Then I was able to partake in Media Day, where I asked questions to players on the Broncos and Seahawks, including Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning.
During that week I met the likes of actor Aaron Paul and comedian Denis Leary. I even got to share an elevator with the one and only Jerry Seinfeld. I still pinch myself when I think back on this.
10. Getting to ride in a blimp
What's the big deal about going up in a blimp, you ask? What if I told you there are only 25 blimps in the whole world! Jeff, Bill, and I had the chance to go up in the Horizon Blimp back in 2013.
I didn't know what to expect, but we were treated to a good half hour of beautiful views of the ocean and large portions of Monmouth County.
There are so many more memories, too many to list. But the list goes on, and I'm sure if you ask me in a month I'd have a whole new top ten for you to read through.
Once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me into your lives over the years. I would not be who I am today without you. While I have made some lifelong friends here and learned a lot about radio, writing, and broadcasting in general, it's the listeners that have taught me some of the biggest life lessons.
As every millennial's high school yearbook has declared all over it, have a kick-ass summer!
Until next time.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 producer, writer, and host Joe Votruba. Any opinions expressed are his own.
Questions, corrections, or comments? Send Joe Votruba an email. Follow Joe on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.