By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday
Michael Harrison, founder and publisher of TALKERS, and the man who invented the term AOR – let’s not forget – strongly requested that I share this story about a remarkable event we experienced. Michael describes it as the “greatest promotion” he ever witnessed at a non-commercial function involving broadcasters… so I really have no choice but to accommodate him.
Deep background: My wife Katie and I amazed each other that for all the zillions of hours of TV we watched, we agreed that this scene from X-Files (see the still below) was the best ever: https://youtu.be/wUL7y8AMeU8. This single realization rushed us to a marrying minister. Really, who falls in love over a common passion for a scene like that?
Married six years, I wanted to create a memorable event that would “promote” our marriage. I know! My mania dropped this idea in my brain-on-fire: Recreate that scene with the actual actors – LIVE! I had time. Six months to our anniversary.
William B. Davis, who plays “cancer man” on the series, owned an acting school in Oregon – it says so in his biography. I wrote him a letter inviting him to fly to New York to perform the scene live at our anniversary lunch at the National Arts Club. Two appealing prospects: Manhattan and the famous Club on Gramercy Park. Shockingly, he actually called and said if I would also fly his girlfriend in, he would do it! HE WOULD DO IT. Crap, now I had to do everything else. Invite all 200 wedding guests, stage a show, and not tell anyone that it was going to happen. Katie did not know.
But contacting the alien, Roy Thinnes, was harder. I didn’t want to call his listed agent because his listed agent would quote me a real performance price. But Roy was in a soap opera. From my days at ABC, I became friends with several stars of “General Hospital,” including the kindest person who ever Lived, Jackie Zeman. I called her and asked if she knows how to contact the alien. Miraculously, she said, “Oh I know Roy. I’ll tell him you’re going to call.”
One month out, I called Roy who thankfully lives in Westchester, New York. Roy answered the phone in a 20-ball voice… terrifying. Skittishly, I told him my plan. LONG, PAINFUL PAUSE. Painful. Mr. Thinnes answered, “It would be good to see Bill [Davis] again.” He wanted nothing, neither a limo nor car fare.
Every guest from our wedding showed up including TV reporter Sandy Kenyon, Bob Weinstein of Miramax (the good brother), Kurt and Terry Johnson of
Townsquare fame, Bob McAllan – partner in Press Broadcasting, Michael Ewing and Jay Clark who saved my butt on several occasions, the most powerful people in the room, the owner and staff of The Bagel restaurant in Greenwich Village, TV whiz Edward Hersh and his wife Hillary and, of course, Michael Harrison. That’s a lot of pressure.
Working with a video savant, we found the “X-Files” scene, put it on a DVD and pretended to be ready to show it to the audience as a tribute to our happy marriage. Moments after it started, we made it look like it was skipping. Appearing disappointed and frazzled, I apologized to the crowd and stammered that, we would just have to perform it LIVE. The two stars came from behind a curtain to gasps from the crowd and performed the scene. Wife was thrilled, guests were amazed. I was grateful. It all worked.
Magic. Unexpected. Those are the ingredients of great radio. Unexpected comes from show prep content that stands out, doesn’t fit in. The difference between a person on the radio and a star on the radio is unexpected, surprising content. The stars showed up to the lunch because I asked them. I did not know them nor them me. I asked for what I wanted. And Magic. That’s your talent.
Walter Sabo was the youngest Executive Vice President in the history of NBC. The youngest VP in the history of ABC. He was a consultant to RKO General longer than Bill Drake. Walter was the in-house consultant to Sirius for eight years. He has never written a resume. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. or mobile 646-678-1110. Hear Walter Sterling at www.waltersterlingshow.com. Meet Walter Sabo at TALKERS 2023 on Friday, June 2.