Top Mid-day Host Keeps New Yorkers Upbeat
By Tasha Harris
It's a hot and muggy Friday afternoon as dark clouds move in while shoppers browse in a beauty supply store. The radio is playing and the rich, soothing voice of 106.7 Lite FM's mid-day host, Valerie Smaldone fills the room. Her voice is captivating and tranquil. She reassures listeners that rain or shine it's Friday and to sit back, relax and enjoy the rest of the day. It is little moments like these that keeps fans tuned in and solidifies Valerie's position as one of the top radio personalities in the country and the number one mid-day host in the New York market.
For over 20 years, Valerie has enjoyed success as a writer, producer and host of several syndicated radio shows, in which she has interviewed superstars such as Paul McCartney, Elton John, Sting and Celine Dion. Doubling also as a voice-over artist, she can be heard on over 1,000 commercials, television news promos and movie trailers. She has been the announcer on MSG and Fox Sports Net's sports program, The Boomer Esiason Show for the past two seasons and her pearls of wisdom in breaking into the voice-over business was published in the book, Secrets of Voice-Over Success.
When she's not on the air or recording voice-overs, she returns to her first love: acting. Valerie co-founded the production company, Two Sides of a Coin Productions with partner, Amy Coleman. They wrote, produced and performed in their first play, Spit It Out!, which was accepted at the Midtown International Theater Festival last summer. She is also one of the most sought after hosts for corporate and charitable events. Most recently, she delivered an inspirational keynote address at the Young American Broadcasters Conference and received the 2006 Golden Apple Award by the New York City chapter of American Women in Radio and Television. TIMMAG caught up with her before she went on air to discuss her amazing career in radio.
TIMMAG: How did you get started in radio?
Valerie: My interest in the arts and media goes back to age seven. I can remember defining momentsÉ most of the time it was because I was in theater and I saw something that really moved me or I met some actors and I was really excited to be around them. I also had an interest in media because it was magical. I wanted to do something either arts or media-based and I thought radio was close enough to acting and I might be able to make a living doing it. When I went to Fordham University in the Bronx, they had a radio station on campus, so I walked through the door at age 17 and auditioned for an announcer's workshop. I got in and just continued to work on the air. I had on-the-job training from the beginning. I never took a class.
TIMMAG: How did you secure your first radio job?
Valerie: I was a junior in college at the time. The general manager of a local station in White Plains heard me and wanted me to send in a tape for a job. I did, but I didn't get the job. I figured it's over and my career was done; but I ran into people who worked for him six months later and they said, "Why didn't you send another tape?" And I said, "He didn't like me." They said, "It doesn't mean you can't try again. Do another tape and maybe it will be better." It was and I got hired. I started working Sunday afternoons and when I graduated, they put me on in the mornings.
TIMMAG: You have worked different shifts: mornings, mid-day and nights. Which shift do you enjoy most?
Valerie: I love my current shift: noon to 4pm. I couldn't ask for better. I get to do anything I want in the morning and anything later at night. That's one of things I like about radio. It's not a day job. Luckily it's a four-hour on-air job, not to say that I don't have preparations or don't work afterwards. I do production work and I record. At most radio stations, the plum jobs are going to the morning people because those are the people who get you up in the morning. If a situation arose that was of interest to me, a new position that required mornings, I would do it because I'm challenged by the different types of radio and methods of personality, but I do love the shift I have. TIMMAG: Radio to voice-over is a natural progression, but it's a tough business to break into? How did you get started doing voice-overs?
Valerie: It began back in the days at Fordham when I was at the college radio station. On the bulletin board, there was a college radio network looking for people to read spots. I got the job and I was paid $50. I created a little demo tape. I was good at long format narrations because I'm a good cold reader and I sent it out to production companies in Westchester and the Bronx. I found in the yellow pages, all these companies that hired talent. I thought, "Wow, if I could get one job, I could get two and three of them." I found one job and then kept getting work. I expanded into promos for television. That job I got from being on the radio in New York because a long-time friend of mine, who was working for CBS television needed a female voice to record a spot about women in the workplace. She heard me, hired me and from then on, I started to do promos for CBS. I did work for NBC, Lifetime and HBO because all the producers are sort of in the same circuit and they would take you along if they liked you. Being on the air in New York was amazing for my voice-over career.
TIMMAG: You've enjoyed success as the top mid-day host in the New York radio market. What's that journey been like for you and do you feel any pressure to stay on top?
Valerie: I've been very fortunate to have a run of 22 years at this station. Being number one for so many years and having this tremendous body of listenership out there has been more than I could imagine because when I started here, it was a dark horse radio station. People laughed, "What are you talking about? Lite music is boring. It's elevator music." Back then when we started, the format, the music and the artists were very different. Now, we are much more of an upbeat station. We keep people going while they're working. I knew I wanted to be in the New York City in the worst way. Small market radio wasn't for me. When I walked in the door here, I felt so thrilled to have the opportunityÉ to be one of the few people to work in the top market was beyond my expectations, and then to go to number one and win these awards. I could never imagine that and I am very humbled and very grateful for it.
TIMMAG: How is breaking into radio different now than when started and what advice do you have for those who would like work in radio?
Valerie: There is a major difference in technology. When I started, it was AM and FM. Today, I think it's brilliant that we have so many different ways to deliver content. There's a new way to hear radio. The type of radio that I do is terrestrial radio because it's traditional. Now there's satellite radio. There's podcasting. There is the Internet and it's very exciting because there are so many ways for young people to get into broadcasting. I can see on websites that they're looking for people to start anywhere. Now, they don't necessarily want the polished voices back when I started. It's a bit realer, like reality television. At the same time, there are huge companies that control radio, so there are more companies in terrestrial radio that own these stations. Often times, they are using the same talent in many different markets through a new method of delivering voice. I say to the younger generation, "Don't assume that because you're cute, have a good voice or because you're perky, you're going to get work. You've got to do the work. You've got to learn the industry and you've got to develop a style. I'm afraid a lot of people think because they know somebody or because they're perky, they'll get over. I really feel it's important for people to do the work no matter what it is, in voice-overs too - do the work!"