Greg Gattine can remember what lured him back to radio, at a time, 20 years year ago, when the programming director and host thought he was all but done with the medium. “I thought I had retired from radio after I saw the direction the industry had taken. The rock station I was programming had gotten down to about a 300-song rotation and consultants and consolidation made this the norm across the country,” he tells American Songwriter.
“One day I did the math and figured I had played “Walk This Way” about 3,000 times.” Then he got a call from the general manager at Radio Woodstock. “Listening to the station I heard how much freedom each DJ had and how much new music the station was playing.” It was enough to hook Gattine right back in, and this year, he celebrates 20 years with Radio Woodstock (100.1 WDST), as the station itself celebrates its 40th anniversary.
Reflecting on his first days at the WDST, Gattine says it was meeting the staff and understanding the mission of the station that brought him back into the radio fray. “I knew I could add some structure and excitement by creating a team environment and capitalizing on the creative strengths of each individual,” he says. As programming director, that’s what he’s sought to do over the years — all while being on the lookout for the “next great song.” There isn’t one specific genre the station plays, although it’s known for its connection to being in the same area as the historic 1969 Woodstock festival.
“I don’t think genres or categories matter too much to our audience,” says Gattine. “They have broad tastes and like the fact that we play 50 years of rock ’n roll records.” So much so, he doesn’t believe the station’s music policy has changed much over the 4 decades. “Everyday I’m still looking for the next great song. Whether it comes from across town or across the world, if you’ve heard it please send it to me.”
What has changed over the years is the experience listeners have of WDST. The station branched out into the concert and festival business, putting on The Mountain Jam Festival in 2005, as a 25th anniversary concert, at Hunter Mountain ski resort upstate. It’s been one of Gattine’s highlights. “To see so many artists for the first time and get to interview them and hear their stories will always stand-out,” he says. The list of memorable moments is long: “seeing Levon Helm sing “I Shall Be Released” from a few feet away, seeing Michael Franti every year, getting to see the Allman Brothers one last time and Tom Petty on his final tour. Seeing Leon Bridges & Sharon Jones for the first time…”
Beyond the music is the connection that Gattine saw in his very first days at the station. “The best moments for me on the air are when we have people who are helping people on the show,” he says. In 2015, WDST started The Radio Woodstock Cares Foundation which makes donations to local non-profit organizations, as a way to be more involved in their communities. “When there’s a need in the Hudson Valley, there are always people with answers and our audience is always willing to be there. Making that connection is a big part of what we are trying to do.”
The need for connection is still underlying WDST’s modus operandi now, even though the pandemic has affected it. The station had to cut staff when advertising revenue grinder to a halt and the station has had to take all precautions to keep its on-air staff healthy. “Our promotions department moved events on line and some great artists have stepped up and done some great shows for us,” says Gattine. WDST’s weekly Sofa Sessions let’s listeners experience live music in a new way, while in-person concerts remain a challenge. “I know when we get back to concerts, we’re gonna remember how much better life is with the live music experience,” adds Gattine.
Whatever happens over the next 40 years, Gattine is hopeful about radio’s endurance as a medium. “I know that radio has been declared dead every year since Marconi died and I know it becomes more important with each crisis. I know that we need to continue to balance local and global wants and needs, and we’ll continue to survive through our Supporter program and with our local advertisers,” he says.
And, as long as musicians continue to make music that speaks to listeners, radio will keep playing it. Gattine points to the likes of bands like Caamp & War And Treaty, Black Pumas and Bully as examples of artists WDST plays that are making music he thinks will last. “Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, Tori Amos keep writing important songs, too” he says. “I think we’re at the head of a wave of socially-conscious music that will have the same effect as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye had in the ’70s.” Here’s to it all.