Thomas Waterman’s radio career spans four decades but chances are not many people have heard of him. Not by that name, anyway.
Waterman got his start listening to WNBC as a boy in New York. Born in Brooklyn, he and his family moved to Long Island.
“My sister and I had a pretend station that we recorded stuff and made tapes for,” he says. “WBLN. Our call sign stood for ‘We Blast Loud Noise.’”
In junior high, Waterman met classmate Gary Dell’Abate — later known as Baba Booey, the producer for The Howard Stern Show. “We were on the bowling team together. He’s retired now. When you make $4 million from radio, you can do that.”
Waterman admits that his experience has been different, especially since he’s an industry veteran. Broadcasting still attracts a steady stream of newbies.
“The dinosaurs, the seasoned professionals who could walk in, know the software, do the job — [stations] don’t always want to pay them when they can hire younger, less experienced broadcasters who’ll work for less. You have to go to the large markets.”
Waterman prefers to stay on the Treasure Coast. And unlike other media that has been hurt by the internet, he says that radio is here to stay.
“Terrestrial radio has to be around for a long time, because all the apps — podcasts, streaming — originate from terrestrial radio. That’s where the content comes from. Over 9 percent of people listen to terrestrial radio without realizing it.”
Immediacy is radio’s beauty, he explains. “Radio is quicker than any other medium. With a newspaper you have to print it and it goes out the next day. With television, you have to put the story together and then put it on the next newscast. With radio, I can get the same thing on after the next song.”
Waterman helped put what is now Indian River State College’s WQCS on the air in 1982 and was one of its first broadcasters. After graduating from Connecticut School of Broadcasting in North Palm Beach, he launched his commercial career.
If the name Waterman doesn’t ring a bell, however, there’s a good reason. When Barry Grant, station manager with Stuart’s WSTU and WHLG, hired Waterman in 1985, he gave him an on-air persona: Ray Thomas. Waterman says that’s a common practice, to keep personal lives separate. “You don’t necessarily want people finding you in the phone book.”
Waterman has experienced his share of pranksters, stalkers and other characters.
“It’s flattering but a little scary when they call every day,” he says. “One thing about radio — you gotta have tough skin. But if you’re going to be a jerk when you call, guess what? I have the power to hang up! I’ve got the mic. But you do want people listening in; we like conflicting opinions. It’s great. It creates more chatter and banter.”
For several years, starting in 1985, Waterman worked full time in radio and at the television station WTVX in Fort Pierce. “Four days a week I was the floor director, master control operator, cameraman, teleprompter, doing voice-overs. Six days a week I was on the radio from six until midnight. I didn’t get much sleep.”
In 2006, Waterman temporarily signed off to return to Connecticut School of Broadcasting as an administrator. Going to the Orlando location was “like coming full circle. I went to school. I was successful in broadcasting. And then I was back there.”
The school trained people to work behind the scenes and on-air for radio and television. “Lucky for me, I’d done both,” Waterman says.
He helped cultivate the curriculum, hired staff, recruited students and was regional director for their Texas locations. He helped several hundred students advance their broadcasting careers. “I think that’s what I’m the most proud of.”
Currently, Waterman engineers a Sunday radio show in addition to other responsibilities and programs for WPSL. “I’ve got wonderful bosses, Carol and Greg Wyatt, one of the first anchors on ESPN. They’ve been doing Christmas Kids Toys Program every year for a long time. I love radio — it’s a great opportunity to help.”
A great voice, however, isn’t essential. “I’m lucky enough to have a good set of pipes but knowing how to use what you’ve got is more important,” Waterman says. The biggest challenge is multi-tasking. “You have to make decisions instantaneously when the computer’s not working or there are technical difficulties.”
Waterman has worked for stations in Stuart, Key West, Orlando, Arkansas, West Palm and Vero Beach, adding retail jobs and side gigs along the way. “I’ve worked two or three jobs most of my life — liquor manager, auto parts, DJ.”
And today? The same. Although Waterman would love to expand his radio or television presence, driving for DoorDash Monday through Saturday is more lucrative, more flexible.
Who knows? The next delivery man to show up at your door may have a voice exactly like that of WPSL’s Ray Thomas.
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Radio broadcaster; DoorDash driver;
Legal Shield associate
Family: A brother and a sister
Education: Uniondale High School in New York; Indian River [then] Community College; Connecticut School of Broadcasting in North Palm Beach
Hobbies: “Not a whole lot. I used to work on cars a lot and was sports-minded before some injuries.”
Who inspires me: “I always wanted to be a baseball player like Tom Seaver of the Mets. When he passed away, it broke my heart. I was pretty good, but you can’t be good. You have to be great.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I’m into Golden Tee golf, which is one of the most popular sports bar games.”
Jan. 12, 2023