5 a.m. Fred
Winnisquam baseball coach Fred Caruso's day job begins much earlier than most
|Fred Caruso broadcasts his radio show on Mix 94.1 last week from the station’s Franklin studio. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)|
July 25, 2011FRANKLIN – It's tough to find anything at 4:30 in the morning. That goes double for a place you've never been before. Driving up and down a street in Franklin last week wasn't my intention, but the darkness of that early hour did little to help in my search of the Northeast Communications Corporation building.
After navigating my way to the building however, I was greeted immediately by a familiar face. Northfield resident and Winnisquam Regional High School baseball coach Fred Caruso met me outside the building, looking wide awake as I dragged my weary body out of my vehicle and into the home to several of the Lakes Region's top radio stations.
Coffee saved my life in a big way as I stepped into the station, as the quietness and tranquility of an early morning I'm almost never awake to see overtook the surrounding area.
"I love these hours," Caruso says as we tour the facility. "I wouldn't trade them for anything."
With the caffeine starting to trickle into my system, I begin to gain my bearings. For Caruso, the program director of the popular Mix 94.1 (WFTN), one of his first trips is into a recording studio to tape the morning sports for sister station 106.9 WSCY. The building also houses the studio for 100.1 The Planet, as well as 1240 and 1300 AM, giving Northeast Communications a wide variety of audiences to sell to potential advertisers.
"It really gives our advertisers a chance to hit so many different markets," says Caruso as we walk down the hallway to his home in the Mix studio.
The clock ticks close to 5 a.m., when Caruso's on-air responsibilities begin after the morning's AP Headlines. With the temperatures outside expected to reach the upper 90s on this particular day, Enrique Iglesias' 'I Like It' kicks off the program at 5:06 a.m. as Caruso unleashes the golden pipes for the first time live.
"You like it hot?" he starts after kicking off with the familiar station call letters. "Well you're gonna love the next couple of days."
We're off and rolling on the five-hour show, a long time on the air when you think about it. But it all comes so easily to Caruso at this point, he's been at this for quite some time. This December will mark 33 years with the company, quite the milestone in an industry that often features fluid turnover. While his early years saw time on 1240 AM, Mix got its start in 1987, five years after moving into the current facility in Franklin. Prior to that, Caruso and Company shared a building in town with a local restaurant. Not exactly the most organic pairing in the world.
"We've been really fortunate as far as layoffs and those types of things," he explains as Taylor Swift croons in the background. "We're so involved in the community and our listeners are so important to us that we've built a really strong relationship with them and that goes a long way."
While he's such a fixture in offices and the work commute every morning, the road to radio wasn't always the intended path for Caruso.
"I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school," the Somerville, Mass. native admits. "But my uncle Carl was in radio and that kind of got me into it as well. So I went to a two-year broadcasting school down in Boston and then made my way up here shortly thereafter."
After taking the gig in radio, Caruso met his wife, Cheri, in New Hampshire, and hasn't left the Granite State since.
The 5 a.m. hour at Mix finds Caruso moving parts of his program around to fit the timeslots better. There's no exact science, but he's got the experience to know what fits and what doesn't to make sure and avoid the dreaded "dead air," an absolutely deplorable term in the radio biz. Broadcasting with 6,000 watts from Calef Hill in Tilton, the station reaches roughly a 30-mile radius around, with listeners north to Plymouth and south to Concord.
It's now 5:45. With the show almost an hour old, Caruso's other on-air half makes her way into the studio. Amy Bates, or 'B' as Caruso refers to her, has been working at Mix for nearly 10 years, reading the news while also engaging in the on-air banter that makes the morning show so entertaining. After a quick introduction, Bates starts her morning off like she does every day, reading the duo's collective horoscopes. I also get the honor of hearing mine.
"You will benefit the most if you socialize and network with people who have expertise in an area you want to learn more about," she says of my Pisces reading.
We all get a good laugh out of how accurate that actually is on this morning of my trip into the studio, and soon after Bates scampers to her adjacent studio to read the morning's news at 6:02 a.m.
With the full morning crew intact, the show starts to move at a brisk pace. Shortly after the news, I get my first mention on-air, as the pair discusses my presence in the studio at 6:10 a.m.
"The word of the day is exposé," Bates remarks on-air, after I brought it up during our introduction. Their unscripted banter focuses on a broken coffee pot in the office, as Caruso appears to be the guilty party.
I make my first on-air remarks at 7:10, during morning trivia. Bates thinks I look like 'the 'American Pie guy,' which ends up being Jason Biggs. I inform her I've never gotten that one before, and the discussion seamlessly shifts from pie to Bates' dislike for frosting and gelatinous foods.
After nearly a decade on-air together, the relaxed chemistry between the pair is abundantly clear. They don't plan any of their talking points, it just starts on a random subject and goes from there.
"Most people think we're married," jokes Caruso. "Her personality is just top-notch. I've worked with a lot of different people over the years but she's the best."
For Bates, working with Caruso is as good as it gets. There's a genuine joy when she talks about her job, and that's especially key when thousands of listeners tune in every morning.
"We have the best time," she says after we chat about playing Angry Birds on her new Android phone. "He's like a fun uncle that I get to just hang out with every morning. He just naturally gets along with and likes everyone. You can't find anyone around here that doesn't like him and a lot of that is because he really cares about the community."
While Bates also spends some of her mornings on-air for the other two FM stations in the building, the Rumney resident flawlessly transitions into her time with Caruso.
"He's such an important person in my life, having spent every morning with him for 10 years," she explains. "I mean, what's not to like?"
The summer serves as a bit of a relaxer for Caruso, as he wrapped up his fifth season as varsity skipper for the Winnisquam baseball team. While he's been involved with the program since the mid-90s, he led the Bears to the Class M state title last year and another Final Four appearance this spring.
"Being able to do the morning show allows me to coach baseball, which I absolutely love," he says. "I'm a huge baseball fan, as is my wife. The spring can get a little crazy at times with the schedule, but I really love being able to do it."
With his mornings beginning at 3 a.m. during the week, Caruso is usually out of the studio around noon. When it's baseball season in the spring, afternoon practices and games take up plenty of time, especially when long road trips to places like Berlin don't have him back in town until late.
"There's some days that 3 a.m. rolls around and I'm not ready at all for it, but the majority of the time I'm fine as long as I get about five or six hours of sleep," he admits.
Coaching the team allowed Caruso to experience one of the best work moments in his career last month, as his senior ace Jordan Cote was selected in the third round of the MLB Draft by the New York Yankees.
"One of the best things ever was to announce that on the air the next morning, leading off sports by talking about Jordan getting drafted," Caruso says. "I got to coach him for four years so to be able to talk about that on the air, I got goose bumps."
When spring is in bloom, Bates also gets a kick out of Caruso's double role. She knows how much the sport means to her cohort.
"It's funny to see him in that role because his love of baseball goes way back," she explains. "He's known so well for being on the radio but he can also be that guy on the baseball field and it's a really cool thing."
It's Caruso's ability to play both roles – radio and coach – so well that makes it all happen. As the twosome sees their program come to a close at 10 a.m., they take solace in the fact that they get to do it all over again the next day. Much like baseball, the radio industry is all about the next morning. You finish one show, you go home and start from scratch the next day. There can be some hangover effect, but the audience counts on you to forget about those bad outings and look ahead. Luckily, with Caruso's experience guiding the ship on the diamond and in the studio, the future of both programs show no signs of slowing down.