By Jodi La Marco
It was St. Patrick’s Day of 1973, and an anxious high school sophomore named Warren Lawrence was about to do something he’d never done before: he was going to host a radio show. When the overnight DJ at Kingston’s WKNY called in sick, Lawrence accepted an invitation to fill in for the evening. Being just sixteen and without a car, his father had driven him to the station. “He was nervous and excited for me, so he drove around with the car radio on, listening,” recalls Lawrence. “The first song I played was Rocky Mountain High by John Denver. I played it because my dad liked it.”
Forty six years later, Lawrence is now the general manager at WKNY. Although WKNY has always been a community-based station, Lawrence has witnessed a number of changes over the years. “In the time that I’ve been here, I’ve probably seen seven or eight different ownerships,” he says. In 2017, the station changed hands yet again when it was bought by the non-profit Radio Kingston Corporation. “When the Radio Kingston group took over our station as the new owners, they kept everything we had, but they added a lot more local community programming.”
From its Spanish-language program, La Voz, to its very own Thursday evening dance show, Drew’s Energy Radio, WKNY’s rich and varied programming is now available to an even larger audience. Ahead of its 80 year anniversary this December, the station has begun broadcasting on both its long-time home, 1490 AM, as well as on its new FM frequency, 107.9 FM.
One of Lawrence’s favorite aspects of his job is conducting on-air interviews. From local entrepreneurs to celebrities, he’s spoken with thousands of people over the course of his career. “Every day, I interview entertainment stars, sports stars, authors, business owners, all types of people from everywhere. I usually program about three or four interviews a day, five days a week on my morning show, Warren in the Morning” he says.
Warren in the Morning is just one of four shows hosted by Lawrence. On Sunday mornings, he also hosts the Sunday Morning Garage Sale. “I cooked this up back in the mid-80s. Listeners can call in, they can buy and sell items, and they can tell us about a yard or garage sale they’re having.” Today, the show runs like clockwork, but on the day of its first airing, Lawrence says he was a nervous wreck. “I hadn’t ever done a live radio show where people call in and I talk with them. We were asking people to call in and to send in items for us to read, but nobody was calling because the show was brand new,” Lawrence says. He spent the next hour combing through the classified section of the local newspaper for sales he could announce on the air. Eventually, the show caught on, and is still broadcast on Sunday mornings from 11am to noon.
On Saturdays, Lawrence hosts an oldies program from noon until 6pm, playing music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. “That show is something I’ve really been proud of, because I created it on my own back in 1974 or 1975. I get in touch with a lot of the music stars from that era and interview them.”
Interviewing stars who were popular during Lawrence’s youth is a special treat for the veteran DJ. “The cool thing with the entertainers from the 60s and 70s and some of the 50s is that I used to listen to these people on the radio. Now I’m talking with them. These are big stars from that era like Connie Francis and Brenda Lee. I had Bill Cosby on before he got in trouble. Don McLean, Tommy James, Darlene Love, Diana Ross. The list just goes on and on.”
Not only has his career as a radio DJ allowed Lawrence to connect with famous performers, it also led him to meet his former wife. “It was in the 70s. At that time, I was working the overnight shift. It was my first full-time gig here. I worked from midnight until 6am. Kingston was busy back in those days. There were businesses that had overnight shifts. There were discos and dance halls. People were out all night long. She would always go out to this place in Kingston, call me up, and ask to hear Times of Your Life by Paul Anka. She called week after week, but I never met her.” Late one Friday night, Lawrence’s bride-to-be came to the radio station with her sister. “She said, ‘Guess who I am.’ I said, ‘I have no idea, who are you?’ She said, ‘You know? Times of Your Life?’ And she looked at her sister and said, ‘This is the guy I’m going to marry.’ And it happened. We got married about a year later.”
Looking back on his long career, Lawrence says he still feels much the way he did on that rainy St. Patrick’s Day in 1973. “It’s the same thrill. I still love what I’m doing. I still love being on the air, and I especially love interviewing people.” And listeners love Lawrence, too. “I have a lot of the listeners who were listening 40 years ago. Some of them have moved away, but they listen online from California, from Georgia, from anywhere,” he says. “It’s been a happy 40 years. It hasn’t been a job, it’s been fun.”