In his 4 decades in radio — 3 of them as one of New York’s most popular DJs — Ian O’Malley has broadcast from many venues: the top of an Alaska mountain. The Maritime Provinces. A blimp.
Until last weekend though, he’d never done a show from his basement.
The cornoavirus has upended even Q104.3.
O’Malley usually works weekends. The commute from Westport to the Tribeca studio is not hard.
It’s a happy place. Besides the classic rock station, the 6th Avenue building is home to Z100, Hot 97, Power 105.1, Lite FM and WKTU.
But when a worker on the floor below fell ill with COVID-19, the decision came quickly: All shows would now be done from DJs’ homes.
While some colleagues broadcast from closets, O’Malley was lucky. He had already set up his Greens Farms basement for voice-over work. (You’ve heard his voice. Plenty.)
It’s well soundproofed — but not perfect. Last Sunday afternoon, he heard his young sons racing around upstairs.
His many listeners were probably unaware of the noise. Even if they heard it, they would not care. O’Malley was on the air, a familiar presence playing classic rock and telling classic stories.
He works mostly weekends now. The rest of the time he’s a very successful real estate agent with the Higgins Group.
He adapted to home broadcasting more easily than some colleagues. “DJs like routine,” O’Malley notes. “This was out of their element. They were nervous.”
He was too — for the first 10 minutes. Then he realized he was doing fine. He and his listeners were having fun. He was back in his groove, easily mixing music and conversation: stories about Van Halen, shout-outs, birthday greetings. “Sitting around the campfire,” he calls it.
Just as in New York, all the songs were pre-loaded into a computer. His laptop showed exactly what he would have seen in the iHeart studio.
Still, he says, this time he was completely in charge. He constantly checked his mic and sound levels.
“I really had to be on top of my game,” he says. “That makes it interesting and exciting.”
Another difference: Usually, he gives away concert tickets. Those have all been postponed.
At any rate, he could not have done it from home. O’Malley did miss taking listeners’ calls.
Many listeners had no idea he was broadcasting from his basement. Those who did, appreciated hearing his familiar voice.
“They said it was calming. It makes you realize that music is important,” he says.
O’Malley has always enjoyed working in New York. But, he admits, “It was pretty nice to hop downstairs. During long sets, I could grab something to eat. And when I finished my show, I was done. No train. I just headed upstairs.”
He heads down to his basement again this weekend (10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday). For those 5 hours — as Huey Lewis sings — the heart of rock and roll is still beating.