This is Dale Mussen's place. He has shared it with many, but the WYRK studios on the 12th floor of the downtown Rand Building have been his spot for decades. Mussen has spent 35 years at the country station. Thirty-one of those years have been on the morning show, which he co-hosts with Clay Moden and Liz Mantel.
Today, the studio is a little more his. A bouquet of "Happy Anniversary" foil balloons are tied to a pair of Pepsi cases. ("I'm a Pepsi guy," Mussen says.) A white buttercream cake sits on the desk near the microphones. It has an edible black-and-white image of a young, still-mustached Mussen and a message scripted in green frosting: "Congratulations on 40 years of radio!"
It's been four decades since Mussen, who was 23 and fresh out of Niagara University, made his debut on WWOL, the now-defunct station then located in downtown's Lafayette Hotel.
Five years later, he joined WYRK and has been with the station since.
I stopped by to chat about Mussen's 40-year mark. Here's an edited version of our conversation:
Q: Forty years ago today, what were you doing?
A: It was June 1, 1977. It was a part-time job. I was so thrilled to be in radio. I was 11 years old when I knew I wanted to make a career out of radio. I remember coming back from my grandmother’s house on a Sunday night and I had a transistor radio. I was listening to WNIA radio. Just thinking about playing music, talking about music, and getting paid for it? Wow, what a great job!
Q: You’ve been working the same shift in the same place for more than 30 years. Are you a routine guy?
A: I get up at 3:40 every morning, take a shower, have some tea and toast, and I’m off the work. We basically do the same thing. I’ve worked with a number of different people over the years, but I’m having the time of my life right now.
Q: What still challenges you?
A: I think the challenges have been social media — trying to keep it up to date and keep it fresh. When I first started in radio, radio was the focus. Then Internet came in. Then it expanded with social media. Trying to cover all your bases, trying to make sure you are reading as many people as possible digitally is always a challenge. Even if you think you’ve done it, you still haven’t done it. There’s still more work to do?
Q: What has been the greatest thrill?
A: The friends that I’ve made. The people that I’ve met. Reba McIntyre is one that I especially like to recall because she will always stare you right in the eyes, and her attention will never be diverted, as if you’re the most important person in the world.
Garth Brooks is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. When you walk out of the room, you wonder, Did that really happen?
The guy I work with, Clay Moden, always has been a big fan of George Strait. George Strait was one of the classiest guys I ever met. Clay actually had tears in his eyes when he met him, because he’s been such a big influence on his over the years.
Those are some of the things I have been really thrilled with, but to hear people come to me and say, “I’ve been listening to you since I was a kid, and now my kids are listening to you,” that’s a thrill. That’s an honor. I guess sometimes you just don’t realize the impact you have on people.
Q: You’re actually a reference point for that in my household. My wife has met a lot of celebrities with me, and is never starstruck. But years ago, we ran into you outside a Tim McGraw concert, and she got really excited to meet you, and that’s because you were the voice in the car with her on the way to work every morning. How did you begin to grasp the power of radio?
A: You may run into people for the very first time, and they start repeating things that you said. They’ll say something you said two or three years ago, and repeating it verbatim. I may not ever remember that I said that, but for me to have an impact — or any of us in broadcasting have an impact — to that degree on anybody, that’s … I can’t even find the words to describe that. It’s overwhelming.
Q: What do you tell young people who want to get into radio?
A: It’s a tough job to get into. It’s a tough job to stay in. I know the passion that I had for it, and I run into so many people that do have that passion. Hopefully they have the talent to do it. Hopefully they can connect with an audience. But there are so many changes in broadcasting, it’s kind of a scary time. I’m glad I have completed 40 years. I don’t know how much further it’ll go. But the advice is, if it’s something you really want, and you’re ready for all the challenges, go for it.