During the day, Tony Long makes his living as a systems engineer in Atlantic County.
But after midnight on Saturday mornings, Long walks into radio station WLFR-FM 91.7 at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona and transforms into DJ Tony Ton, the best friend of the all-night partyer and the insomniac.
The high-energy electronic house music of his "Ton's Clubhouse" show starts at midnight and keeps the beat moving until
"A lot of the nighttime shows, you think more of the slow type, the after midnight, or the quiet storm. For me, it's the opposite. It's the weekend. It's time to get hyped, pumped and to try to start the party," said Long, who added his uptempo music keeps him awake late into the night.
Late night DJs hold a special place in radio lore, smokey-voiced souls reaching out to connect to small, but loyal audiences in the darkest, loneliest hours of the night. But these days, there are few DJs who actually broadcast live in the late-late hours. Technology and station consolidation means if you turn on the radio late at night these days, you're probably listening to something taped earlier or a syndicated DJ talking from somewhere far away.
In southern New Jersey, there are no commercial radio stations with live DJs on the air after 11 p.m. It is only WLFR and WGLS-FM 89.7 at Rowan University in Glassboro, Gloucester County, where you can call a DJ and request a song to help ease a case of 12:30 a.m. heartbreak.
Because Long does a danceable and not ballad-heavy show, he receives calls from people heading to clubs and making a night of it.
Long, who did college radio at Rider University in Lawrenceville, Mercer County, has become an institution at WLFR. He did his first Stockton show in the fall of 1990 and has been there ever since.
During Long's show, he has a regular cast of characters who call, including Go Go Glow, Meryl the Pearl and Latasha Monique, to request their favorite jams and give shout outs to each other. His loyal listeners know if they call him, and he doesn't pick up the phone at first to call back because he is in the midst of making a seamless transition from one song to the next.
Besides the party people, many of the Stockton students will call in and make a request when they are on campus during the school year, Long said.
"Then, you have the casino people. There are a few regulars from the casinos, who will call when their shift is over. A lot of them say they are just leaving work. Sometimes, when they are going in, they will tune in from the car, listen and request," said Long, who has the only house-music show in southern New Jersey.
Long arrives at the station with anywhere between one and three bags packed with cables - in case something happens to the equipment while he is on the air - and hundreds of songs on vinyl, CDs and MP3s. Sometimes, he takes a nap before he heads to WLFR and will bring fruit, candy, cookies or juice, so he has some nourishment during his hours in the studio.
The late-night radio gig a student or community member does in college does not exist at commercial radio stations in the Atlantic-Cape May radio market, which is a medium-size market. Late-night radio attracts smaller audiences and less money in advertising revenue than daytime shows.
Stations invest their money in the time slots with the most listeners. That's why commercial stations have moved away from live late-night DJs.
"The DJs go where the listenership and the revenues are, so if there aren't a lot of revenues at night to support the need for a personality, they generally aren't staffed during that period," said Gary Fisher, president of Equity Communications in West Atlantic City, which operates seven southern New Jersey stations, including WAYV-FM 95.1, WZBZ-FM 99.3 and WZXL-FM 100.7.
Late-night radio always had a small audience, which made it the training ground for novices, but digital automation's arrival changed the game.
"With digital automation and voice tracking, you can have the sound of a DJ and the presence of a DJ without paying for the actual employment," said Fisher, who added digital automation came into this market in the late 1990s.
College senior Rob Cunningham, 22, of Egg Harbor Township, did not want a daytime show on WGLS, the Rowan University station.
The daytime shows follow a classic artists format, which features music from the 1960s through the early 2000s, and includes R&B and pop in addition to classic rock acts. Cunningham wanted to crank the 1980s hard rock, heavy metal and classic rock his father turned him onto, including the Scorpions, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and Motley Crue.
Cunningham's "The Late, Late Rock Show" was born in the fall of 2011. His show attracts night-shift workers, who might stumble upon it and like what they hear.
"It's nice because I'm the only person in the station at that time. I get to do my thing, turn the speakers up a little bit," said Cunningham, a 2009 Egg Harbor Township High School graduate. "It's a little tough. I'm sure not many people are listening to me at 11 p.m. at night. I don't get many requests. I've only gotten less than a dozen in two years, but it's still good though. I get to ... have fun doing it, listening to music that I like," Cunningham said.
One of the advantages of the late-night show is if Cunningham makes a mistake on air, it is not immediately fatal.
"A handful of times I've accidently played profanity, but no repercussions have come from that," Cunningham said. "We have the Internet on one computer in the studio, so I can pull the lyrics up online and follow along, and then, when it comes to that part, I can just quickly pull the fader down," Cunningham said.
Paul Kelly is the vice president of broadcast operations for Longport Media in Linwood, which operates five southern New Jersey radio stations.
Kelly started his professional radio career in 1994 with a few months on the midnight to 6 a.m. weekend shift at WAYV-FM. He did late-night radio on a commercial station that has a more powerful signal than a college station and at a time when the late-night DJ was still common.
It was a strange feeling being the only person in the building, but people would still call on the request line, Kelly said.
"You would get all kinds of people, who didn't want to call and request songs. They would call just to have someone to talk to," said Kelly, 39, of Egg Harbor Township. "You would get people with all kinds of problems that they wanted to talk to you about, but more than anything, they just wanted some company."
Kelly felt bad not being to talk to the folks for as long as they liked. He had to be professional, to thank them for the call and move on after about two minutes.
In an effort to make it through the night, Kelly would bring a meal, a snack and big bottle of diet Pepsi with caffeine. He had a system in place for when he needed a bathroom break.
"We were playing all of our music off of CD or off of carts. A cart is basically like an old eight-track. We would have, our engineer, Mike, set up six or seven cart machines in a row from left to right. What you could do was you could load those up with stuff, and there was a button you could hit that would allow those to play one after another after another. That was the way we played our commercials. If you line up seven commercials in a row, you could run to the bathroom," Kelly said.
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