Finding his voice
RadioFirst program manager discovered love of radio at SC4
When it comes to radio there are two types of people: those who think radio is cool and those who love radio. Sean Michaels loves radio.
The Port Huron resident has been a long running morning show DJ at 96.9 WBTI and was recently promoted to program manager at RadioFirst. After graduating from Lutheran High School West in Detroit, however, broadcasting wasn’t even on his radar.
Being a self-proclaimed movie buff, Michaels opted to attend Northern Michigan University to pursue a degree in cinematography with the hope of becoming a movie director.
“I felt like I was very unprepared to go to college, and was disillusioned with the major,” Michaels said. “I didn’t really feel the classes and program were inspiring and I never gave any thought to anything else that I wanted to do. So I was wandering aimlessly for about two years before I left because I had no direction.”
Michaels moved to Peck where he lived with his parents and worked at a pizzeria for five years.
“I decided that wasn’t my best career option and I gave it some real thought,” he said. “I picked up a book on classes from SC4 and I was wandering through it and saw a broadcasting class and I thought, ‘Radio. I have a gift for gab,’ and said, ‘Why not? Let’s go back to school.’”
Michaels started at St. Clair County Community College in 1992 and began pursuing his associate degree in broadcasting.
When he wasn’t in class, Michaels was hanging out at WSGR, the college’s radio station with other students in the program who he said became like family to him.
After a year of classes Michaels finally got his chance to go on air and broadcast a Sunday night oldies show on WSGR.
“I remember I had one month of time on WSGR and John Hill – then the head of the (SC4 broadcasting) program and a morning show host at AM 1380 WPHM – said they were looking for an evening guy at 96.9 and told me to put together a demo tape and résumé and go in and try for the job,” he said.
Michaels put together a demo tape and interviewed with Kevin Miller, the program director and Lee Hanson, the owner. They called him a few weeks later and offered him the job.
“I was stunned because compared to other people who had done radio I didn’t think I was that good and gave myself a million to one chance,” he said. “I got launched into this incredible world and I basically knew next to nothing about being on the radio. I was going in very green. I was learning from people who worked there and other DJs and it was like jumping into a pool and learning to swim. It was amazing and an incredible journey.”
Michaels said he continued to attend classes at SC4 while doing his night show, but after a while the long day and drive began to wear on him.
“Someone said to me, ‘You’re in radio now technically you don’t need a degree,’ and stupidly I listened. I was only three or four classes away,” he said. “I’m going to go back in the next year and take the last few classes; it’s just a matter of finding the time and coordinating that with my job.”
Michaels worked the night show for 96.9 for a year before getting the opportunity to fill in on the morning show.
“I was offered the morning show to do every morning for about 22 years,” Michaels said. “It was fun having the morning seat getting people off and rolling every morning. It is every DJ’s dream to be on the morning drive.”
For the past five years, in addition to doing the morning show, Michaels has been working as the production manager at RadioFirst, writing scripts, recording spots and being in charge of the commercials. Recently the station asked Michaels to be the full-time production manager.
“Doing the morning show, you don’t have to know everything about something but you have to know something about everything,” he said. “It’s almost like being a pop culture brain train. This is a new phase of radio, something new to do. I get to be creative minus the 100 mile per hour pace.”
Though Michaels has grown to be a household name in the Blue Water and surrounding area, he remains humble and credits SC4 with not only teaching him the basics of broadcasting, but giving him the start of a successful career.
“It was a different thing for me in that I was starting later than everyone else who had stayed in college and I felt like I was catching up,” he said. “SC4 was there in my backyard and it was so much fun and gave me so many opportunities and here I am 23 years later with a great career in town and it all started at SC4.”
He also credits SC4 for introducing him to his mentor, Hill.
“I had all around good teachers at SC4, but John was the man,” Michaels said. “If you went to broadcasting class you always talked about what a great teacher he was. He was a constant source of inspiration. Whenever I wasn’t feeling like I was doing my best or I was worried about my future he was very good about building me back up.”
What is Michael’s advice to students?
“You don’t have to rush off to college. There are so many people who don’t know what do after high school. So go to SC4, try this or one of those and see if you like it. The great thing about SC4 is its local and it is like testing the waters for kids who don’t know what they want to do or are intimidated by a university. I think that’s why it worked well for me.”
More about Sean: Sean now works at Port Huron Music.